Product review: Planters Nuts for March Madness

I’ve never seen such hype around March Madness bracket-wise. There are brackets for everything now, but many of them are food-related. What are the top cereals, the top snack foods, the top fast food. Well, here are some snacks that were sent to us to review during March Madness–Planters Five Alarm Chili Dry Roasted Peanuts, and Dry Roasted Pistachios. As the press release said, before mentioning that these are indeed a healthy and tasty snack option, “What’s a party without Mr. Peanut?”

Chef JimDry Roasted Pistachios–these nuts are roasted in the shell with sea salt added. I was expecting these to be without shells as many pistachios now are, but that’s okay. I think part of the charm of pistachios is opening the shells. It takes longer and makes you eat slower. And they were nice and easy to crack open which is always a plus. Oh, and the taste? Delicious, and a good source of fiber and protein to boot! By the way, remember when pistachios had that pinkish-red dye? You ate them and your hands looked like they were smeared with lipstick. Just thought I would throw that in to reminisce.

Chef JimFive Alarm Chili Dry Roasted Peanuts–One of the biggest complaints I have about spicy snack foods is that they are often not spicy enough. Not so with these dry roasted peanuts. They are spicy in a deceptive kind of way–you pop them in your mouth, and enjoy the peppery/spicy taste of the dry rub. Then a boot comes up from behind and kicks you square in the butt. And one of the best parts? They are dry roasted, so you don’t get oily hands afterward. The peanuts also now come in a plastic jar, and there is a little “green” sticker on it that says “84% less packaging.” Hey, more spice, less carbon footprint. But yeah, these are might tasty too.

So the Final Four starts this weekend, which means more time to enjoy March Madness party food like Planter’s nuts.

Sometimes ya gotta love the French

Sometimes the French get a bad rap. Even sometimes in our American minds, when the stereotype of skinny, stuck up wine-drinking cheese eaters conflicts with the vision of our core audience on, which is more chubby, loud, beer-swilling, bratwurst and Velveeta folks.

But let’s face it–the French make some damn good food, and we sometimes need to give them some love for it.

Such an instance reared its head in my world this past Saturday, as I was heading to the eye doctor. I’d never been to this doctor, and his offices are located in a strip mall here in Madison. Before I walked in, I noticed a French bakery next door, and it was hopping. So as I’m having flashing lights shone in my eyes, and puffs of air shot at my eyes, and having to read these tiny letters on a chart, and picking out glasses (by the way, when did the price of eyeglasses become akin to buying a television?)–all the while I’m thinking about that bakery and wondering what they might have. It didn’t help that my eye appointment was at noon and I was starving.

I went into the bakery and literally the women behind the counter all had thick French accents. This place was REAL. It’s called La Baguette, by the way. First I noticed some fruit tarts….something I don’t normally eat, but they looked amazing. Then I noticed these croissants…real ones, not the thin grocery store croissants. But next to those were something sort of round and croissant looking. I asked one of the ladies behind the counter what they were and she replied in her French accent, “chocolate croissant.” Are you kidding me? Count me in. I bought one of those, two plain croissants and a pear tart. Then I noticed the row of baguettes, and had to have one. It was warm and right out of the oven. Wow. I told the lady I would buy more if I stood there longer, and she said, “Please take your time!”

Needless to say, the baked goods from La Baguette were amazing. I managed to not eat all of it on the ride home, so my wife and I made a nice sandwich with the baguette, and we ate the chocolate croissant for dessert. The next morning we split the pear tart, and then while my wife ran out to an appointment, I made a fantastic breakfast sandwich using a croissant (see photo). I made some bacon, and cooked an overeasy egg and put those right on the croissant, and it was amazing. It helped that I had the perfect vehicle, but the bacon and egg came out perfectly, and that doesn’t always happen.

So hey, for right now anyway, I salute the French and their food. I also salute La Baguette, where I will return when I pick up my glasses next week.

Spring Ahead Sandwich

I’m not sure what prompted me to call this sandwich “Spring Ahead Sandwich,” but I think it has something to do with the fact that it has a hard boiled egg on it–something that may often be associated with Easter or Passover. Anyway, I intended to make this a vegetarian sandwich, until I fed my son some slices of delicious-looking salami for lunch.

So that was that. I picked up some nice long sub rolls, and sliced one open. I piled it with lettuce, salami, sliced hard boiled egg (Trader Joe’s sells them pre-peeled in a bag), sliced kalamata olives, sliced sweet/hot peppers (again, thank you Trader Joe’s for this amazing new treat!). I sprinkled some olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and dried oregano, and closed it up. And it tasted as good as it looked in this photo. Okay, so maybe I’m not the best food photog, but it still looks good for a Blackberry shot!

Anyway, give this one a shot or some variation of it. It was filling, but I did have to stop myself short of eating two of them. At least on that day I did.

Flavor Flav Opens Flavor Flav’s House of Flavor

Whew. Say that five times real fast.

Flavor Flav’s House of Flavor opened yesterday in Las Vegas. Below is the press release we received in advance of the grand opening and all I have to say is, I want to go there now! I am a huge New York Giants fan and one of the best parts of the Super Bowl post game show last month was seeing Flavor Flav hug coach Coughlin immediately afterward. But hey, this is about chicken!


Flavor Flav Now Serving Up Fame And Fried Chicken In Las Vegas: Yeah, Boy!

Las Vegas, NV, March 6, 2012 – Rapper and reality-TV star Flavor Flav announces the opening of Flavor Flav’s House of Flavor with his famous shout out of ‘Yeah, Boy.’ A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for 6:30 p.m. on March 15 at 3333 South Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV. The venture recalls memories of his boyhood, when his father was in the restaurant business; the new eatery features recipes and secret spice rub mixtures developed by Flavor Flav himself over the years and during culinary school.

Flavor Flav’s House of Flavor is a celebrity-centric Las Vegas take out restaurant with a quick-service menu specializing in specialty recipe soul food. The menu includes fried chicken, fried shrimp and Flavor Flav’s signature red velvet waffle, indulgent and delicious. The restaurant is decorated with memorabilia from Flavor Flav’s multi-faceted career as a rapper hype man, reality-TV star and entertainer for audiences around the world. Patrons of the House of Flavor might also expect celebrity sightings.

Flavor Flav is an iconic figure domestically and internationally, having made appearances in over 77 countries to sold-out audiences. Most recently, fans will have spotted him starring with Elton John in the Pepsi Super Bowl commercial premiere; the Super Bowl XLVI broadcast set a record with 111.3 million viewers on February 5, 2012.

According to VH1, 7.5 million viewers tuned in for Flavor Flav’s season finale of ‘Flavor of Love 2’ – this goes down in the VH1 history books as the network’s highest rated telecast ever, propelling the episode to the #1 telecast on cable for the night and the #1 non-sports telecast in all of basic cable for the entire year.

The Flavor Flav Comedy Central Roast was the most-watched, #1 highest rated show ever among men ages 18-34. The star recently donated a signature ‘Clock’ which is displayed in the ‘Enduring Traditions’ Exhibit Hall of the Grammy® Museum. Flavor Flav’s “Clock” is also on display at both the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Museum and the Hard Rock Café.

The Las Vegas based Flavor Flav House of Flavor Take-out Restaurant is independently owned and operated by FLAVOR FLAV and is not associated with the former Clinton, Iowa licensing deal.

Contact: Rassa Eddie
Flavor Flav’s House Of Flavor Restaurant
3333 S. Maryland Parkway
Las Vegas, NV 89169
Phone: (702)735-2869


Product review:

Since March Madness begins this week, it’s another great opportunity to break out some new and different snacks, or to make your own snacks to munch on during the games. And if you are looking for flat-out tasty and satisfying snack foods, log on to and see all of the great items they have on hand; order some up and then impress your friends who will no doubt want to know where these snacks came from. Trust me, I know this because the fine folks at were kind enough to send me some samples. Here are the items we tried:

Chef Jim
Supreme Roasted Mixed Nuts–When they say supreme, they mean SUPREME. These were some of the biggest nuts I’ve ever seen (you can insert your own joke there), and they are way tasty too with just the right amount of salt, coming in a stay fresh zip-lock bag. The assortment contains brazils, pecans, almonds, filberts, pistachios, cashews and macadamias. The best part, in addition to how gigantic the cashews, pecans and macadamias are, is that there are no peanuts. It’s also just $10.99 for a one pound bag, which is an excellent value.

Chef JimCheese Pretzels–Cheese pretzels are one of those snacks that you don’t see very often. But when I see them, I buy lots of bags of them. This is a habit I have with snack foods that often drives my wife crazy. So when I found out that had cheese pretzels, I pounced and asked if that could be one of the products to sample. Ah, snack food nirvana. The pretzels are crispy with the perfect amount of that bright white pretzel salt–the kind that you only see on quality pretzels. And they have that malty pretzel taste with a nice cheddar finish–positively delicious and some of the best cheese pretzels I have ever tasted. (bonus: they are natural, with no ingredients I’ve never heard of). And the price on a jumbo one pound bag is just $4.49, which means I may have to stock up.

There are many other great products available on, and you can check them out at these various online communities:

o website (

o Facebook (

o Twitter (

Now that you have some ideas for snacks, go fill out your brackets and get ready for the Madness to begin!

Restaurant review: Bluephie’s/Madison, Wisconsin

Okay, let me be clear about one thing. I’ve never written a restaurant review in my life, and I don’t want this to be a place where you will find snarky and snobby food critiques. But I will tell you about places I eat at the way that your friend, family member or neighbor would.

So last weekend, my wife and I got a babysitter and went to one of the restaurants we’ve been meaning to try since moving to Madison almost two years ago–Bluephie’s on Monroe Street on Madison’s near west side. The place is known for it’s extremely funky and unique menu–but it’s not pretentious. The menu is very much like interesting takes on everyday food.

Chef JimAnd as we sat down, my eyes automatically slid down to the grilled cheese section–and I couldn’t not order what I saw–a grilled cheese with pulled pork, mac & cheese, and caramelized onions. And I mean, all of those things IN the sandwich. But first we ordered drinks, and I had a Lake Louie Cream Ale–a Wisconsin brew that is just outstanding, and smooth and creamy as its name suggests. We ordered the tater tots as an appetizer, and we didn’t mind one bit that all of our food came at the same time. The grilled cheese was…..I won’t mince words here….ridiculous. And I mean that in every good sense of the word. It was one of the five best grilled cheese sandwiches of my life. The pork was tender and delicious, the cheese was oozing, and the mac and cheese and onions were subtle but added to the flavor. Damn. The tater tots, which are giant balls of shredded potatoes, mixed with cheese, were phenomenal and served with a chipotle mayo. I also had the spinach peanut curry soup–which had lots of flavor without being too heavy on the curry.

Chef JimMy wife had the Chickpea Chop sandwich, which was chickpeas, roasted peppers, artichokes and feta cheese with a lemon aioli. I didn’t try it but she loved it. Then for dessert we had a piece of red velvet cake that was the size of a bowling ball. Well, maybe not that big. Maybe the size of a football. But we had a few bites, then ate the rest for breakfast the next day. Ah, nothing like a happy belly.

The service was also excellent. Our server was informative, efficient and not annoying. That last part is always a plus.

Anyway, if you live in Madison and haven’t tried Bluephie’s, go check it out. And if you’re planning to visit, Bluephie’s is a must for something unique and very much Madison.

Product review: Combos Buffalo Blue Cheese Pretzel and Jalapeno Cheddar Tortilla

It’s funny how yesterday I’m in a convenience store and notice the small bags of Combos, and think to myself how they have had the same boring flavors for years, maybe decades. And then, lo and behold, I turn the corner and notice larger bags of Combos–with TWO NEW FLAVORS. At least, they are two flavors I’ve never seen before–Buffalo Blue Cheese Pretzel, and Jalapeno Cheddar Tortilla. The one common denominator–spicier than the average Combos. And my wife will tell you I’m a sucker for new snacks–change the package, change the flavor, but most of all, give me a completely new product and I have to try it. So these Combos fit the bill. Here are my thoughts….

Chef JimBuffalo Blue Cheese Pretzel Combos–keep in mind that this snack is first and foremost a pretzel, and it’s the filling that makes it unique in relation to other Combos. Of course, they are crispy and tasty in a snack food nirvana sort of way, and there is a nice blue cheese tang and a spicy kick. But the only drawback is that the actual taste of wing sauce is faint, and being that I have this Pavlov’s dog thing to Buffalo wing sauce, I was kind of bummed at the lack of wing zing overall. But a really good snack nonetheless

Chef Jim
Jalapeno Cheddar Tortilla Combos–this is the first Combos flavor I’ve seen with a tortilla as the base–usually it’s pretzel or cracker. And while it’s not much different in taste or consistency from the cracker, the snack itself kicks ass. And I mean it really kicks ass–in a “holy crap is that hot” kind of way, or at least hotter than most snack foods. For this one, the jalapeno taste is dominant, and the cheese taste is more in the background–the opposite of the Buffalo Blue Cheese version. But again, mighty tasty.

So while these two spicy Combos flavors are definitely worth trying, and as always Combos does what it claims to (cheese your hunger away, yo!), I still feel like they could use just a bit of tweaking in the test kitchen. And if they are looking for volunteers to help with that, I can be reached right here on this blog!

Chopped All-Stars Ups The Ante

If you watched last year’s “Chopped All Stars” on Food Network, you know that it was riveting and must-see TV. I, for one, was thrilled to see some of the judges, who were generally very difficult to please and very hard on the contestants, have to compete and see what it was like on the other side. But even better, in addition to the “judges” round, there were three other rounds with themes–former contestants on “Food Network Star,” for instance, and then one final round featuring the four winners. Former “Next Iron Chef” contestant Nate Appleman won last year’s inaugural crown.

So of course, Food Network had to make Season 2 of “Chopped All Stars” (premiering Sunday, April 8th) bigger and better. Seriously, if you are a Food Network junkie, you’re going to freak when you see this list. Here, I’ll just lift it right from the network’s press release:

Part 1, “Iron Chefs Do Battle” Premieres Sunday, April 8th at 9pm ET/PT
Competitors: Iron Chefs Cat Cora, Marc Forgione, Jose Garces and Michael Symon
Judges: Scott Conant, Aarón Sanchez, Geoffrey Zakarian

Part 2, “Prime Time vs. Day Time” Premieres Sunday, April 15th at 9pm ET/PT
Competitors: Show hosts Keegan Gerhard (Food Network Challenge), Jeffrey Saad (United Tastes of America, Cooking Channel), Aarti Sequeira (Aarti Party) and Marcela Valladolid (Mexican Made Easy)
Judges: Amanda Freitag, Aarón Sanchez, Geoffrey Zakarian

Part 3, “Food Network Star Contestants” Premieres Sunday, April 22nd at 9pm ET/PT
Competitors: Food Network Star Season Seven Finalists Justin Balmes, Penny Davidi, Vic “Vegas” Moea and Chris Nirschel
Judges: Scott Conant, Amanda Freitag, Aarón Sanchez

Part 4, “Judge Remix” Premieres Sunday, April 29th at 9pm ET/PT
Competitors: Chopped judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Marc Murphy, Marcus Samuelsson and Chris Santos
Judges: Amanda Freitag, Aarón Sanchez, Geoffrey Zakarian

Part 5, “Grand Finale” Premieres Sunday, May 6th at 9pm ET/PT
Competitors: Prior episode winners
Judges: Anne Burrell, Amanda Freitag, Aarón Sanchez

I mean, seriously? The “Judge Remix” round is going to be awesome, but really, all of them are compelling themes. If you saw “Food Network Star” last year, you know that Penny Davidi is a great cook but also a drama queen who is sure to add to the ratings.

And if you’re not familiar with “Chopped,” the show is hosted by Ted Allen, and the four contestants have 20 minutes to cook an appetizer using four items in a mystery basket, after which one contestant is “chopped,” or eliminated. Then the remaining three cook an entree in 30 minutes, and the two finalists have 20 minutes to make a dessert. The producers of the show, of course, find all kinds of weird ingredients and put items together that should never go together (for example–jelly beans, fish, purple carrots and potato chips). But that adds to the fun.

So there you have it–another great season of “Chopped All Stars” awaits next month. Will you be watching?

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