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Product review: Planter’s Dry Roasted Peanuts Honey BBQ and Roasted Onion & Garlic

Greetings and happy weekend everyone! If you are looking for a snack that has more substance the chips, perhaps more protein without being greasy, look no further than new Planter’s Honey BBQ Dry Roasted Peanuts, and Planter’s Roasted Onion & Garlic Dry Roasted Peanuts. I specifically say chips, because these are flavors most often associated with potato chips.

One of the nice things about these nuts is that the flavors are not super assertive–a good thing if you plan on eating more than a few handfuls. This is also a drawback if, say, you like big and bold flavors.

Chef JimThe Honey BBQ flavor taste like honey roasted peanuts a bit–though not as sweet, and with a background flavor that resembles the barbecue seasoning on, well, barbecue potato chips. For me, the flavor was just too subtle. Of course, my nut of choice in this case would more likely be the spicy ones, a la Planter’s “Heat” nuts.

Chef JimThe Roasted Onion & Garlic peanuts were more flavorful and had a really nice savory flavor profile that was also mellow and subtle enough, but with just the right amount of onion and garlic punch. The thought here is maybe that real roasted onion or garlic is more sweet than harsh. If you have ever had Wise brand Onion/Garlic chips (do they still make those?), that’s what these nuts taste like in reference to snacks I’ve had before. And I did like these more than the BBQ ones.

It’s summer and time for outdoor barbecues and just lounging around outside, and these Planter’s peanuts will definitely be a nice addition to your snack pantry for these occasions.

Does bacon grow on trees? My kid thinks so

Kids say the darnedest things, don’t they?

Well, this past week, my 5 year old son Jonathan attempted to be a trendsetter when the teacher in his 4K class asked each student what they would grow if they had a garden. Most answers were what you’d expect–tomatoes, veggies….and less traditional items like peaches and watermelon. But Jonathan’s answer took the innovation prize–bacon.

Hey, she asked what they would grow, not what type of “produce” they would grow. Besides, to Jonathan, it must seem like Mommy and Daddy pick bacon from the microwave tree for him every morning.

Cheesy Garlic Bread? Really?

Chef JimRemember back in March when we wrote about the Lay’s Potato Chips contest called “Do Us a Flavor?”

Well, last month they announced the winner, Cheesy Garlic Bread, submitted by Karen Weber-Mendham of Wisconsin. I live in Wisconsin, and I love cheese, but this one was my least favorite of the three. I’m not sure who came in second and third, but I liked the Chicken & Waffle the best, followed by the Sriracha. Oh well, I guess in the end most of the country is more likely to opt for a flavor that is classic and a tad more common and old school of an idea. And that’s okay. Or maybe those folks genuinely liked the Cheesy Garlic Bread the best, and that’s okay too.

But the reality that I’d never get to have those Chicken & Waffle chips again kind of bummed me out. Have no fear, the Frito-Lay publicist told me, however. She sent me a bag of the Chicken & Waffles (as well as two more bags of Cheesy Garlic Bread…ha!), and told me the other two flavors might be making an appearance on shelves for a limited time this summer. Lay’s sure has the marketing to this down, because in the end they may satisfy all palates with this contest.

And I’m already thinking about a flavor I could submit next year. How about you? What are your flavor ideas?

Don’t skimp on the salt or the spice

I don’t want you to mistake my message here, and I certainly don’t want my doctor to read what I’m going to write about salt. And my message isn’t necessarily that processed foods need more salt or that you should use as much salt as possible when cooking. I do think you should be generous enough with salt and pepper to bring out the flavor of your food, though. But what I’m talking about here is the salt on commercially made pretzels, and the spice on packaged food in general.

Let’s take the first part of this, shall we? Have you ever noticed that in the last, maybe, 10, 15 or 20 years, that the salt on pretzels has diminished? First of all, I’m old-school in that I like the white pretzel salt, which has a better texture. But in general, I want my pretzel to be absolutely covered in the stuff. I know how bad it probably is for me, but I seek out the saltiest pretzels in the store. I also tend to shy away from over-processed brands (I’m looking at you Rold Gold) and toward the locally made kind or the ones made in Pennsylvania. But seriously. Who wants a pretzel with little to no salt? Yet, if you go to the store right now, you will find bags and bags of under-salted pretzels. I’m not joking–go make this a fun (or not so fun) exercise in futility. But if you seek out the likes of Tom Sturgis or Utz brands, for instance, you will find nicely salted and in some cases, perfectly over-salted treats.

Chef JimSpice. Now, have you ever noticed that when something is labeled “spicy” or even “extra spicy” it’s usually a 3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10? I’ve always wanted my foods, even foods like pickled jalapenos, to be spicier. Other foods like snack foods, dips, bloody mary mix, soups, chili, frozen foods….even “spicy” chicken wings….are just never spicy enough for a guy like me that likes it really hot. But alas, I have found a commercially made food that fills the bill and then some–Claussen pickles Hot & Spicy. I like Claussen pickles–they are somewhat close to the deli pickles I grew up eating in New York. But they still have somewhat of a processed thing going on. However, when I saw their Hot & Spicy variety in a local grocery store, I couldn’t not try them. But I was pleasantly surprised at the level of heat. I mean, I’d say 8 out of 10, which is super hot for a jarred pickle. I bought another jar, wondering if maybe it was a fluke. Dare I say, the second jar was slightly spicier than the first. Damn, Mr. Claussen, you are not messing around with the hot pepper essence. But I freaking love it. Now, if only everyone else would be less wimpy with the heat!

Lay’s Do Us a Flavor contest is a home run

In the PR world, there are gimmicks, and there are the actual bright ideas that, when done correctly, can become a company’s signature. Frito-Lay has, in this blogger’s humble opinion, potentially laid the groundwork for the latter with their new Lay’s Potato Chip Do Us a Flavor competition. When I first heard about the competition on a radio talk show promo, I knew I had to try these chips. The concept? Lay’s asked for suggestions for new flavors between July and October of 2012, and received 3.8 million submissions from which there were three finalists chosen.

When the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange rang on February 12, the three finalists for the contest were on hand along with actress/restauranteur Eva Longoria and celebrity chef and restauranteur Michael Symon to kick off the contest, which runs until May 4, to introduce their flavors to the world. Here are the options and my thoughts on each one….

Lay’s Cheesy Garlic Bread (submitted by Karen Weber-Mendham of Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin) has a big, bold hit of garlic immediately after biting into the chip, followed by a more subtle cheese taste. I’m not a huge garlic guy, and while the flavor was more of a roasted garlic note, it kind of overpowered the other flavors of the cheesy garlic bread. And I think what is a tad disappointing is that, since I live in Wisconsin like Karen does, I would have preferred the cheese to be more dominant.

Lay’s Sriracha (submitted by Tyler Raineri of Lake Zurich, Illinois) has a touch of sweetness at the start, followed by a big chili pepper kick–just like the sriracha sauce. And it keeps getting hotter and hotter the more you eat. I love spicy food and love sriracha, and I definitely dig this flavor, but it still was my second favorite of the three.

Lay’s Chicken & Waffles (submitted by Christina Abu-Judom of Phoenix, Arizona) was the flavor I wanted to try the most, and it wound up being the one I liked the most, and wanted to just keep eating. If you’ve never had chicken and waffles, let me tell you you are missing out on one of the culinary world’s greatest gifts to our palates. The combination of crispy, juicy fried chicken with a light and fluffy waffle, both drenched in maple syrup, has my mouth watering as I type. And these chips had those notes–maple sweetness, followed by a faint savory chicken flavor. It was like a Chicken in a Biskit cracker dipped in maple syrup. Okay, where are my chips? Now I’m hungry for more.

For more information, please visit the Do Us a Flavor website, which also gives options to vote for your favorite, such as on Facebook. As for where to find the flavors, I’ve seen them in various stores, so you should be able to locate the chips easily as well….or you can use their handy store locator. So what are you waiting for? Do the fine folks at Frito-Lay a flavor!

Product review: Barilla microwaveable meals

This has nothing to do with the fact that one of my publicist contacts sent me some pasta to review–but Barilla is my favorite store-bought pasta. So I was thrilled that Barilla has new microwaveable meals. I’ve tried other versions of easy pasta like this, and kind of went into this a tad skeptical, but Barilla exceeded my expectations. There are five varieties–Mezze Penne with Tomato & Basil; Mezze Penne with Traditional Marinara Sauce; Mezze Penne with Spicy Marinara (my favorites); Whole Grain Fusilli with Vegetable Marinara Sauce; and Whole Grain Mezze Penne with Tomato & Basil Sauce.

Not only does Barilla have delicious pasta that cooks up nicely al dente, but this pre-cooked variety was very similar to Barilla pasta that you would make yourself. And these microwaveable meals are incredibly easy to make. You fold back the edge to “vent” the sauce, and warm for one minute. You peel back the entire top, and the sauce portion comes out, after which you pour it over the pasta and stir. A monkey could do this, and I mean that literally. Not only was it easy but tasty–we tried all but the fusilli, and the pasta was perfectly cooked and the sauce tasty as well. The best part of these meals is that they do not taste processed. So often meals like this have sauces that taste like (and probably are) re-constituted powder–not these Barilla meals. They are a home run in every way.

Oh, wait, since we’re talking baseball, here are the other stats–all of the meals are 320 calories or less with no artificial ingredients; they have 9 to 11 grams of protein and are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin A; and the whole grain varieties are a good source of iron.

A delicious lunch–burger and spicy ketchup

I have a confession to make. I have many items that were sent to me that I have on tap to review, and I will start hammering those out in the next couple of weeks. Good for all of you for content, good for me for content, and good for my publicist friends who are being patient!

Now, I have another confession to make. I love burgers, and I found these most excellent Kobe beef burgers at Trader Joe’s. You let them defrost for a day in your fridge (or under cold water in the package if you have less time), and either grill or make in a skillet on your stove. Yesterday I remembered that I bought some Melinda’s Habanero Ketchup, and so I paired the two items for lunch. Even better, I picked up a nice big kaiser roll at the grocery store to put it on. Man, I’m getting hungry again.

So since it was about 95 degrees at lunchtime, and my deck is right in direct sun, I cooked this burger inside, with a dome over the pan to keep the steam and juices all locked in. And for some burgers, you just can’t load on lettuce, tomato or even (gasp!) cheese. So I did this the way I like it–a little salt on the burger, and then just the ketchup on both sides. And I lucked out too by cooking the burger perfectly–a little pink in the middle, and with the juices intact. And with the spicy tang of the ketchup, it was a masterpiece.

The downside? I had to finish working rather than take a long nap.

Product Review: Planter’s NUT-rition Men’s Health Recommended Mix

Chef JimThat’s a mouthful of a title, huh? Well, it’s a pleasant mouthful of nuts too (insert Beavis and Butthead snickering). Seriously, this new Planter’s NUT-rition Men’s Health Recommended Mix is a simple combination of peanuts, pistachios and almonds. And before I get to the health benefits, let me just say that it’s a winning combo. I like having peanuts in my nut mixes, and more often than not lately they are not included. But Planter’s is sort of known for their peanuts, almonds are the new peanuts, and shelled pistachios are becoming more popular as well.

I don’t think this is how it’s supposed to go down, but when I opened the can I inhaled almost half of it. I don’t want to look and see how many servings that is. But they are delicious, fresh, and a filling snack. There are six grams of protein per serving, six vitamins and minerals and 3 grams of fiber.

And not only are these nuts sold in a can, they also sell them in a six-pack of single serving (1 oz.) bags to take on the go–an excellent stash for your desk to go along with all that jerky and cheese sticks (or if you are like me, a bit too much candy and assorted junk food).

Look for a media blitz geared toward guys, but I can tell you my wife took a few bags to work as well and also enjoyed them. Planter’s, you have another winner.

Foods I miss from…..Cleveland

After living in New York from when I was born until I was around 27 or 28, I moved to Cleveland and kick-started my life and career in various ways that, while involving many twists and turns, were somewhat defining. I also went through various phases of food experimentation–and back in the late ’80′s, and ’90′s there was a lot of low-fat this and that, and less meat. Thankfully the pendulum for that stuff swung back toward high protein, low-carb, which is still not ideal (I want to eat everything, yo), but, well, I love bacon. Let’s leave it at that.

Anyway, as was the case when I moved away from New York, moving from Cleveland to Nashville left a void in some areas food-wise. And so here are a few items I miss and still do from the Buckeye state…..

Aladdin’s–okay so this isn’t a food item as much as it’s a restaurant, but it’s something I have to have when going back there. Aladdin’s is a local chain that serves delicious and inexpensive Middle Eastern food. They have great stuff like hummus, stuffed grape leaves and falafel. But it’s more than that–they have some delicious signature items like pita pizzas and one I miss in particular is the one with spicy chicken, peas, fried onions and a spicy tomato mixture. Also, they have these smoothies that you can get with combinations of fruits and vegetables. Seriously, they make veggies more palatable than you can imagine using a blender.

Pad thai–I’ve never had pad thai like the pad thai at Phnom Penh in Cleveland. It’s….wait for it…..Phnomenal. Sadly, I haven’t been back there since moving in 2003, but maybe next time. I mean, we have great Thai and Vietnemese and Laoatian food here in Madison, but….

Pizza–There really is great pizza in Cleveland. There is Mama Santa’s, Tasty, Geraci’s on the east side. There is Antonio’s and Santos on the west side. This is all coming from a New Yorker too.

West Side Market–There is nothing like the West Side Market in Cleveland. It’s an institution, and you can get all kinds of fresh produce, but also the indoor portion has vendors selling meat, bakery products, cheese, nuts, candies, and more. It was always fun to go there hungry, and we try to get to the market whenever we are in town. My mouth is watering thinking of the spicy jerky at this one place, and I think Michael Symon profiled it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network once.

Krispy Kreme Donuts–I don’t think there is a single donut shop in Madison. In fact, you have to go to grocery stores and gas stations to find donuts at all. Yikes. But the ones in Krispy Kreme are freaking heavenly. The glazed ones in particular are their signature item, and it’s quite easy to down five or six at a sitting (no, I really haven’t ever actually tried that. No, really!).

Homemade granola/fruit bars–The Arabica coffee shop at University Circle has these pastries they sell at the counter, and they are like granola bars with a layer of cherry or berry preserves. And I go way out of my way to get some no matter how long we are in town for. In fact, last time I think I brought home a dozen.

Tommy’s fries–Tommy’s in Cleveland Heights has amazing french fries, but also makes some mean sandwiches and veggie creations. Oh, and milk shakes!

I know there is more. But we’ll have to just re-visit this column from time to time!

Foods I miss from…..New York

I have lived in four states in my lifetime, and now live in Madison, Wisconsin. If you are a foodie like me and have moved around a bit in your life like me, that means that when you move from one place to another, there are going to be regional food items you miss from your previous dwelling. This week, I will write about the items I miss about the places I’ve lived–New York (Long Island), Cleveland (Ohio) and Nashville. Here we go…

New York

Pizza, pizza, pizza. With all due respect to you people in Chicago who like your pizza to be a couple inches thick, and everyone else who thinks a large pizza is like 14 inches wide, there is nothing like real New York pizza. Not that it’s all the same, but generally you get a thin crust (not too thin), and the perfect blend of sauce and cheese, a sprinkling of oregano, and that’s it. You take a slice of that 16 to 18 inch pie, fold it in half, and eat like a sandwich. Oh, and don’t forget the shake of crushed red pepper.

Jamaican beef patties–They sell them in every pizza place in and around New York. They also sell them at Jamaican bakeries and in the frozen food section of the grocery store. They are like empanadas–savory and spicy, and with that trademark yellow crust.

Potato salad–If you have ever had the potato salad they sell in German delis in New York, you won’t ever get potato salad anywhere else. I can’t even attempt to make potato salad, ever, because nothing comes close. One question–how do they keep the potato salad looking so bright white and not off white/eggy like store bought salad in any other state?

Nathan’s hot dogs and fries–Well, you can buy Nathan’s hot dogs in most stores. But the fries. I’m not even sure what it is…it’s not like they are super crispy or anything. They are thick crinkle cut, not under cooked and not over cooked–but the perfect companion to a glob of ketchup.

Bagels–Okay so we have Gotham Bagels here in Madison, and they are real New York style bagels. But it’s not near my house, so I have to stock up when I drive past.

Deli sandwiches–Do you sense a theme here? Yes, I miss delis, and you would too if you moved away from New York. There is nothing like a sandwich on a hard kaiser roll–with real meat like roast beef, turkey or ham that was cooked there and sliced thin right there. The roast beef and turkey you get anywhere else is not the same–it’s typically injected with broth and other stuff to preserve it and make it taste processed. Ugh.

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