Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ethnic Gourmet's Taste of Thai: Pad Thai with Tofu

While browsing the freezer department of my local high-end grocer for something new, a red box caught my eye: Ethnic Gourmet.

With a fantastic, absurd, mildly offensive name like Ethnic Gourmet, I had to try it. The specific item I chose was Ethnic Gourmet's Taste of Thai: Pad Thai with Tofu. And let me tell you something This is the best frozen meal I have ever consumed in my entire life.
  • Taste? Perfect.

  • Texture? Phenomenal.

  • Aroma? Palette-moistening.

There's a subtle hint of spice that doesn't make your nose run like so many other spicy Thai dishes. The "mildly spiced" box descriptor is dead-on.

Ethnic Gourmet even makes your house smell good when you microwave it after your cat stinks up the joint by peeing everywhere. True story -- it happened last night (Well, the night before I wrote this a few weeks ago - Nate).

I actually discovered Ethnic Gourmet awhile ago and I have been known to enjoy the Taste of Thai three times per week. I just can't get sick of it.

The Holiday Market where I first discovered Ethnic Gourmet has since discontinued carrying the Pad Thai variety, an event which nearly gave me withdrawals. Luckily, I was forced to go to Meijer for a late-night cold medicine run last week and I discovered a stash of this Asian treat in the bottom of a freezer cabinet. I bought all but one of the $4.99 boxes of dreams -- I had to share the joy after all.

If you are lazy, an office worker, or you love deliciousness, you must try Ethnic Gourmet's Taste of Thai: Pad Thai with Tofu immediately, if not sooner. I give it a 110% rating.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A new personal best shrimp consumption record: A micro update

I have repressed my shrimp-induced stupor long enough to report that I have returned from Red Lobster's Endless Shrimp event after consuming 93 shrimp, two glasses of Riesling, a tossed salad and two Cheddar Bay biscuits. I will have someone report which hospital you can visit me in when the inevitable happens.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

McGraw's Spicy Jalapeño Flavored Corn Chips

Is "warm" a taste? My first impression as I put one of "McGraw's Spicy Jalapeño" Fritos in my mouth was that the corn chip seemed to increase in temperature as it sat on my tongue. And it wasn't because of the spice. It felt like it was a corn chip warm off the manufacturing belt. Perhaps the active ingredient in that KY Jelly warming lubricant is derived from the jalapeño.

Let's put the 2-ounce bag down, lick our fingers and back up for a minute.

I noticed McGraw's Spicy Jalapeño Fritos in the office vending machine when I went on a quest for a mid-morning snack. The milk I brought for my cereal smelled like onions, and the Chocolate Silk soy milk I drank only kept me full for so long. Knowing that breakfast is not the time to experiment with novelty food items, I purchased a bag of pretzels knowing I would return to the machine for the Fritos when the time was right.

When I returned to the vending machine after getting some change out of my car it wasn't a moment too soon -- there was only one bag of McGraw's fried slabs of corn paste in the machine.

The McGraw in question is country singer Tim McGraw, and he sure is smug about having his face on a bag of chips. What's perplexing about this is the fact that the bag provides no context for why these chips might be McGraw's.

The package reads:

"Introducing New FRITOS® brand McGraw's Spicy Jalapeño Flavored Corn Chips - the same classic corn taste and hearty FRITOS® crunch you love simply paired with a burst of jalapeño flavor. Who said delicious had to be complicated?"

I think it was Tim McGraw who said that.

I was expecting a story that began, "As a young buck, Mr. McGraw spent a lot of time on his pappy's farm, playin' in the jalapeño pepper patch ..."

Whatever the raison d'être for these chips, I am sad to report that the main experience with these corn chips can be summed up very briefly:

The first bite tastes like genuine jalapeño for an instant, then disappears. Next, a moment of subdued Tex-Mex flavor is followed by a brief tingle of the tongue and throat, then that "I just ate something sort of spicy feeling" lingers in the upper-rear of the throat. The most exciting part about eating them was when an intense burning sensation slowly crept into my nose and made me sneeze.

It looks like Tim McGraw just pulled a fast one.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Neighborhood chili cook-off : Mundane Monday bonus edition

"Nate! Do you like chili?" asked my neighbor from the other side of the backyard fence. I figured she was going to hand me a couple of one-gallon containers of some of her home cookin' as she is known to do from time to time. My obvious reply: "Yeah."

She informed me that there was a chili cook-off on the next block. Despite the fact that I had plans within the next hour, I knew where I had to go. I even grabbed a pocket-sized notebook to take notes but quickly realized I'd look like an ass in front of all the neighbors I hadn't met before, as I scribbled observations about their culinary efforts. Besides, I didn't want to step on the toes of the "real" food writer who was rumored to be there.

Being without notes, I wondered how I'd even write about all of the chili I tasted. Then I decided that no neighborhood chili is worth review. I'd just write about the experience of attending a surprise chili cook-off. Here's what I remember about wandering down Ferndale's Woodland street on Saturday.

First stop: Garden chili, hangover chili, and something chili. Despite its name, garden chili is not vegetarian. Sure, it had yellow squash in it, but it also had venison. On to the hangover chili. If I had remembered to vote for my favorite chili, this would have been it. It was spicy, but not so spicy that eating it would make me look one of those guys who proclaims he loves spicy food, bro, as his face turns read and he begins sweating profusely. I also picked up some not-so-subtle notes of garlic, once again proving my point that all the best foods are ones that you couldn't eat on a first date. As it turns out, hangover chili was not made to cure hangovers. It was made by a guy who had a hangover, and his hangover apparently gave him great epicurean wisdom.

A few stops later, I was at a house where a bunch of hippies*** were hanging out. There was a chili labeled #17 (all participating chilis are numbered) and an Indian chili. That's Indian like curry, not like "we stole your land." There were some cute but unfriendly girls standing by #17 who did not reciprocate when I introduced myself, but I tried it any way. The experience of consuming #17 was like eating solid water at room temperature. All the ingredients had textures, but there was no flavor whatsoever. Water seeped out of various mushy shapes with each bite. This was clearly vegetarian, if not vegan or maybe even "freegan." Shame on you, #17. I took this as a sign to skip the Indian chili.

After my experience with the water-chili, I began to notice just how many hippies were around. What were all these hippies doing at a chili cook-off? I thought hippies were "cruelty free." Perhaps they only ate free-range beef. Maybe they were just trying to scam some grub 'cause the man's keepin' them down.

Continuing up the block I ran into Chris, a fellow Vespa rider, but not before trying a sample of "chili cheese cake." Until now I struggled to describe it, but now I realize that it pretty much tasted like key lime pie, which is sort of disconcerting.

Any way, Chris was with his girlfriend and some other friends. They turned out to be responsible for the Indian Chili, so I went back to try it. I can't even remember what it tasted like, so take that as you will.

As our travels continued, I tried all kinds of unremarkable chili and a few spicy kinds that tasted like they had booze in them. For some reason, people think that adding booze to food increases its refinement . Maybe it stems from never abandoning the 14-year-old mentality of "Mem-Mem and Pep-Pep made one of those rum cakes for the family reunion and I think I got drunk off it!" Straight liquor tastes bad enough as it is, so why would you want to have that flavor without the intoxicating benefits of alcohol?

Toward the end of my odyssey, we ran into Amber and Other Nate with their awesome dogs. The dogs asserted that they were indeed young and energetic, then everyone started talking about houses they wanted to buy and I took that as my cue to leave.

And, somehow, I didn't get gas or experience any after-burn.

***Chris has pointed out to me that I probably have a loose definition of what a hippy is. No offense is meant, though I tend to inadvertently offend people when writing about other humans so I should probably watch it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The mystery sandwich: A guest column

For the unfamiliar, Zingermans is a deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan where you can get a delicious sandwich for no less than $10. I have only had one of their sandwiches once. It was the best sandwich I have ever consumed, but I the interest from the small loan I took out to pay for it is killing me. Recently, my friend Travis proposed an ingenious plan: Write a guest entry about a FREE mystery sandwich from Zingermans. Here are the hummus-drenched fruits of his labor.

Pre-sandwich thoughts

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my main motivation for writing this piece isn’t the fact that I’ll soon have a writing degree. I am not writing because I am trying to make this blog great, though this will almost certainly be a side effect of my presence here. My motivation, fair readers, is the prospect of getting to eat a very expensive sandwich for free.

I’ve often considered how great it must be to be a food critic. People hand you large sums of money to eat food and write about it. What a life! Granted, my food expertise extends only to those items you can order from inside a running vehicle, I’ve always thought I’d be a pretty good ‘food writer.’ Consider this a small manifestation of that dream. Or see it for what it is—a thinly veiled plot to get free food. Honestly,the last guest blogger spent, what, 89 cents writing his piece? A sandwich at Zingerman’s Delicatessen is like ten bucks. You think Nate foots the bill? Not a chance. Last time I got food with Nate, the cheap bastard found the one Taco Bell with a broken credit card machine and stuck everyone else with the bill. (Not my fault I can’t be troubled with petty cash – Nate).

Anyway, as I write this, I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the sandwich in question. For this column, I asked friend and fellow guest blogger Dan Smith to create a mystery sandwich for me to consume and write about. It is my job to guess the contents. There may be a scoring system …Who knows? Predictably, Dan didn’t come through, so his co-worker (and my roommate) Justin “Admiral” Nelson took up the task. There are just two criteria for this sandwich:

  1. Must be vegetarian

  2. Must be relatively palatable

The rest is left up to Mr. Nelson, who describes himself as “Your friendly neighborhood stoner.” This could be good or bad. I mean, who better to deliver a creative, flavorful masterpiece than a person with chronic munchies? On the other hand, he could just forget what he was supposed to do altogether and bring me a pound of bacon between two pieces of roast beef. He really does smoke that much weed. In fact, he called just now to see if I like spicy food. This should be very interesting. Also, I’m pretty sure the fact he called breaks the secrecy rule of the challenge, but I’d expect nothing less from a pot head of his caliber.


Upon receiving the sandwich, I was fairly certain Justin had just wrapped a phone book in some Zingerman’s paper and doused it in sauce. It was so heavy … and sort of smelly. Fortunately, he hadn’t and my self-imposed I want to be really, really hungry when this sandwich gets here fasting was about to come to an end.

A cursory glance revealed what one would expect in a fancy vegetarian sandwich—tomato, spinach, onion, cheese, etc. Without much thought I dove right in. “Pretty tasty.” Second bite. “This is getting pretty spicy.” As I made my way though the sandwich, I began to wonder what the hell he did to the bread. It was toasted and reddish in color, so I assumed the heat was trapped in its toasted goodness. I really enjoy spicy food, and this was right at the boundary of what’s enjoyable and being a little too hot. Perhaps the heat didn’t mesh well with the rest of the sandwich, as I’ve never quite enjoyed the combination of raw mushrooms and fire before. All I can say is that something about the spiciness was unsettling. Moving on…

The cheese was phenomenal. I remember feeling intrigue at a friend (certified cheese expert, no less) telling me that a cheese exists that does not melt. This sandwich contained this wonderful cheese. (So did the infamous TACO SUB, apparently – Nate). It was a bit rubbery at first, but the flavor is more than good enough to allow this. I was told it’s called halloumi, but it tasted like an exceptionally thick, lukewarm chunk of mozzarella. That doesn’t sound incredibly appealing, but trust me. If I wore a monocle and drove an old-timey car I would eat halloumi everyday ($20/lb? Get out of here). The combination of the cheese and other ingredients somehow made for the perfect sandwich. It’s like all the imperfections I mentioned sort of banded together to give my tongue a giant rainbow hug.

All in all, I’d say the experience was a good one. While not eating until about 10PM sort of sucks, when you get a thirty-dollar (Justin’s estimate) sandwich out of the deal, it’s pretty worth it. Justin was supposed to reveal the contents of the sandwich to me after I ate and had a guess, but he never really got around to it. I guessed quite a few of the ingredients correctly based on sight, and I later learned the insane spiciness was the result of adding Clancy’s hot sauce to hummus. I guess the whole “I’m doing this for the free sandwich” thing came true, as I’ve never actually been told exactly what I ate. So long, suckers.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


An email appeared in my inbox the other morning:

"Ever wonder what that sandwich taste like in the Fresh Food machine but don’t want to spend the $3 to find out you don’t like it.

Join us in the kitchen at 3:00 to taste some of the food items that are available in the fresh food machine. We will have bite size samples of items ranging from Holy Toledo Sandwich, bacon burger, Ham & Turkey club or Mexican breakfast pita. We don't know how long the samples will last so get there at 3.

This week we will be sending out a survey to see what items you would like to see in the machine. Also there will be a list of nutritional values of some of the items available in the machine.

The food is restocked 2-3 times a week, every item is guaranteed fresh and if not you will get your money back. Every item has a sell by date and will be removed by that date if not before."

It was shaping up to be quite the day. Not only did I get tipped off about the presence of Mountain Dew Revolution in the office, I would get to sample the contents of the "fresh food" vending machine for free.

I was obviously the first person to reach the kitchen. With the wide range of choices laid out for me, I wasn't sure what to do. I nearly backed down from the challenge. My eyes scanned the table. Then, there it was. TACO SUB.

Its sesame loaf was filled with orange beef, topped with onion, tomato, yellow pepper rings and a smattering of cheese. I took it back to my desk to ponder whether or not I would be able to consume such a thing. Since the original idea behind Nate's Plate was to document the new "fresh food" machine, I knew I had to.

I took a nibble of some of the spiced meat to see what I was up against. Not bad. I became bolder and bolder with each bite. The cheese strangely hadn't melted after 30 seconds in the microwave, but I never understood cheese any way.

The yellow peppers were remarkably fresh and crisp. They even left a neon yellow stain where they had been touching the bun.

I got about half way through my sample before it started falling apart. It was already cold from taking breaks to type between bites. I decided to quit while I was ahead.

Then, I tried to finish it to be a man, but my last bite revealed something. The outer shell of the bread was of remarkable construction. A bite from either end of the sub went as planned, but a nibble at the side of the bun failed to pierce the skin. It was like I needed a cross-cut pattern on my teeth.

This was surely the result of some sort of anti-sogginess additive, which is probably represented by the random appearance of the number 2008263 in the list of ingredients. If my mom couldn't make a sandwich hold up from the morning to school lunch time, a TACO SUB surely can't last for days in a vending machine without the help of some serious preservatives.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the packaging indicates that the TACO SUB offers .00 servings per container. This could possibly serve as a warning that such an item is not fit for consumption, but I managed.

Five minutes after the end of consumption, I felt fine, if not a bit apprehensive. The TACO SUB was shockingly edible, while undeniably cheap-tasting. The spiciness of the fixins probably aided this in no small way, but that is fine with me. It's highly unlikely that I will purchase anything from the machine again, especially after the incident I had with "BJ's Farms Sausage Breakfast Sandwiches" earlier this summer, but it's nice to know that there's an acceptable option out there.