Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Chicken and sausage jambalaya

  • 1 box Zatarain's Jamalaya mix
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (2 teaspoon if you're not a wimp)
  • 1/2 pound chicken breast meat
  • 1/2 pound andouille sausage or fine kielbasa sausage (andouille is best, but often unavailable)

Dishes required:

  • 4 quart covered saucepan, non-stick
  • Small stainless steel pot
  • Bowl
  • Wooden spoon
  • Plastic spoon
  • Using scissors, cut up chicken breast meat into thin strips as if you were about to stir-fry, then cut strips into smaller chunks.
  • Put olive oil into stainless steel pot
  • Put crushed red pepper into olive oil
  • Put pot on stove, turn burner on high
  • When crushed red pepper begins to sizzle, use wooden spoon to shove it around a little to make sure it all gets coated with oil and cooked, then toss the chicken into the pot and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until all chicken is coated with pepper and oil and is seared white on all sides. Remove pot from heat and pour chicken into bowl and set aside.
  • Toss the wooden spoon in the sink (it touched raw chicken)
  • Using scissors or a knife, cut sausage into chunks.
  • Cook the Zatarain's in the saucepan according to the directions on the box, putting the chicken and sausage into the mix mixture at the appropriate time.
  • Enjoy!
The chicken, cooked this way, is extremely tasty (and spicy!) and combines well with the sausage. The only other thing I would do would be to add some fresh bellpepper (chunked) into this, that's the only thing it really lacks. The local chefs go nuts with their jambalaya, but let's remember that this was invented as a peasant food to take advantage of leftover meats, and thus should be simple. The Zatarains mix already has a fair amount of spices in it and the crushed red pepper and fresh pepper oil adds more, the need for bellpepper is equal parts flavor and texture.

Oh - be careful with the raw chicken, y'all. Make sure you wash your hands well after handling it and don't re-use instruments that touched raw chicken. Salmonella is rampant in raw chicken nowdays.

-- Badtux the Lazy Cook Penguin


Posted by: BadTux / 7/05/2007 09:55:00 PM  1 comments  

Monday, May 28, 2007

A side discourse on camping and trail food

Minstrel Boy claimed that MRE's taste "like sawdust". MRE's are actually quite tasty, I ate several of them this trip and they were pretty yummy. He likely was thinking of freeze-dried food, which is pretty awful. But MRE's are quite heavy as well, so my trail food does not include them.

Unfortunately I make the decision to leave town with about five hours' notice, so I was not going to cook hardtack or carry hard salt bacon or do anything like that prior to leaving. I was hard pressed enough getting all my camping gear out of the plastic bins that I'd hauled back from storage the previous evening (I'd hauled it to storage when I thought I was going to move, as one less thing to move on moving day). So I tossed some MRE's into the big black bear canister for car camping, and tossed some freeze-dried and some tuna (pouch) and ramen noodles into the small bear canister for backpacking, and headed out. Luckily I like tuna and noodles. And while freeze dried is nasty, there's a few freeze-dried that taste okay either with MRE crackers (sorta hard-tackish) or with enough Tabasco. Still, if I were planning a long trip, this is not what I'd do for food.

But, alas, that is what happens when you are a penguin pining for snow and suddenly realize that there is still snow in the Sierras...

Hmm. Between the MRE's and what little freeze-dried I have left and the stuff in my pantry, I have enough food for several weeks. And the white gas, propane, and isobutane to cook it. Not bad for disaster preparedness, even if it's accidental...

-- Badtux the Camping Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 5/28/2007 09:04:00 PM  6 comments  

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The American diet

One blogger, who shall remain nameless, put up a label of a can of soup with the sodium number circled and said "See? That's what's wrong with the American diet! Look at all this sodium, it causes heart disease and hypertension! Our forefathers who ate natural foods didn't eat like this."

Uhm, no, young lady, what, exactly, do you think was used to preserve meats in the time before refrigeration? I'll give you a hint. It was salted and smoked to the tee.

For those of you fortunate enough to never have lived the subsistence life, I'll give you guys a little primer. Yeah, growing most of your own food is great and all. But healthy? Not really. My mother grew up in a four-square tar-paper shack in the hills of North Louisiana where they did not have electricity until 1957 or telephones until 1959. I will describe how they ate to you. I have read letters sent back home to their families by Union troops who marched through the same general area back in 1864, and it was pretty much the same.

First of all, no steak. The only cow they had was a milk cow. The fresh milk came into the house and was drank immediately before it curdled. Any that remained was allowed to sit and the milk fat skimmed off the top and put into a churn for making butter. The butter was heavily salted to help keep it from going rancid. The heavily salted butter was then put into a container and dropped in the well (at the end of a rope of course!) to keep it somewhat cool. No electricity, remember? Remember, *salt*. Lots of salt.

Breakfast was generally fried eggs (fried in saturated bacon drippings) and hominy (corn) grits with some fried cornbread or biscuits. Sometimes they had bacon. That's because they grew corn and had chickens. and while they preferred the biscuits, the biscuits required a lot of store-bought flour as well as a lot of fuel to bake so often it was a case of forming up corn mush balls with flour (and SALT) and frying them in the hot bacon fat instead. Bacon fat because hogs don't require as much land as cows, just corn, and they grew corn remember? They also sometimes had sausage. But by the time I came along store-bought flour was a sufficiently cheap commodity that the fried cornbread was only used on mornings where there was no time to bake, such as Sunday mornings, where you had to get ready for Bible school. The biscuits were heavily buttered with that heavily-salted butter. Yum, saturated fat and salt.

Lunch was the big meal here. That's because it was way, way too hot to do any real cooking in the afternoons here in the American South. Lunch varied according to the season. In the winter, dried or pickled or preserved vegetables were used. So here's a winter lunch:

(Dried) purple-hull peas (sort of like black-eye peas, but grew better in the Southern soil and climate), cooked with a hunk of dry salt pork or pickled (in salt brine) hog jowl or pig foot for flavoring and fats and salt. A big pone of cornbread. Some canned (in jars, from their own garden) okra-and-tomato pickles or canned "chow-chow" (a somewhat spicy cabbage and onion pickle). Some boiled potatoes (boiled almost to a mush) maybe with some turnips. Occasionally for a treat there would be a pecan pie, or a peach cobbler. Made with that real butter of course. And pecan pralines. Which are almost 100% sugar and butter with a little milk. Yum, saturated fat and salt!

Spring lunches got fresh turnip and mustard greens boiled to a mush in place of the pickled vegetables. Radishes added a nice little bite. In late spring, cabbage came along. Turnips were raised mostly for their leaves, because the long turnip roots don't work right in the heavy clay soil. Same deal with carrots. Potatoes only barely work, and only in certain places where you can turn a lot of leaves into the soil, and they often come out looking rather weird if allowed to grow to full size around all the rocks in the soil so "early" potatoes are the most common, but "early" means "mid-summer" here. In early summer tomatoes started ripening. The green tomatoes were battered with a salty batter and fried in bacon grease. Yum, salty fried green tomatoes! Fresh salad wasn't eaten. No lettuce. It doesn't grow well in the Southern climate, which is too humid and too much sun. No fresh greens salads. Turnip and mustard greens both have pungent tastes which they found distasteful and needed to be boiled to death before they were deemed edible.

In summer, it got too hot for the fresh leaf greens, they all bolted and died under the fierce Southern sun. The collards were still too young to get a lot of greens off of, but there was poke salad and dandelion and other natural greens that could be scavenged. The collards were boiled to death with a hunk of salt pork. Cabbage was harvested in early summer, and it too was boiled to death with a hunk of salt pork just for general principle, and pickled along with onion for the upcoming summer. By mid summer the over-ripe tomatoes were cooked down with the early okra and made into okra and tomato pickles, and fried okra (fried in bacon fat, very salty) hit the menu. If it wasn't fried or boiled to death, it wasn't food. Cucumbers came around and were the sole exception to this, they were merely pickled in vinegar brine or salted and served fresh.

Fish hit the menu from time to time, mostly in the fall after the harvest was in because spring and summer were too busy turning dirt. It was battered and pan-fried in salty bacon fat, of course, to make it healthily fat-filled and salt-filled. Also in fall and early winter was hunting season, and thus game. Deer, rabbit, dove/quail and squirrel were the most common targets. Small game went into soups and stews, deer got turned into a salty/spiced/smoked sausage mostly and served along with meals because it was too much meat to eat all in one setting and that was the only way to preserve it for a while. This was pretty much the only time salt pork wasn't a major component of the diet. Also a fall harvest of turnip and mustard greens was accompanied by melons and revitalized tomatoes (which quit making in the depths of the summer heat, but if the plants are watered and allowed to survive until fall will make lots more tomatoes before the first freeze kills them off). The collards are now waist-high. The peaches and pears and plums are bearing and preserves are being made left and right. Peach cobbler is a yummy delight. Made with lots of lard and butter and sugar, of course.

Anyhow: fat and salt were enormous parts of this diet, which was pretty much constant from the 1860's to the 1950's. The other major component was corn -- corn grits, corn bread, fried corn patties, hush puppies, corn, corn, corn. Beyond that, it was whatever was in season, or whatever could be dried or preserved, salt being an important part of preserving things (salt and vinegar brine helped keep pickled vegetables from spoiling even before pressure cookers). Other than in the spring (blackberries) and fall (tree fruits), fresh fruit wasn't on the menu. Fresh green salads were not on the menu either, due to the fact that salad greens without a pungent taste don't grow well in the hot climate and thick clay soil (carrots? Nope. Lettuce? Nope). Collards need to be immediately dropped into *boiling* water else they are bitter. Same treatment also helps the taste of mustard and turnip greens, the other two main greens grown in the garden, and makes cabbage taste a little less bitter too. Other than spring and fall, fresh vegetables generally were not on the menu either. It was pretty much beans and cornbread, peas and corn patties, corn grits and corn hush puppies, all with healthy dollops of bacon grease and butter fat. They didn't starve -- it was hard to starve as a small subsistence farmer in the rich soil and rainy climate of Louisiana -- but the climate imposed its own limitations on what would grow (e.g. leafy veggies simply won't grow in the heat of the summer, and tomatoes won't fruit), meaning the diet got pretty darned monotonous other than in the spring and, especially, the fall.

As for the notion that they ate less salt than we eat today... hah! *everything* was heavily salted, either as a preservative, or else because the preserved foods had adjusted everybody's palate to think that if it wasn't salty it wasn't any good.

In short: We have a poor diet today because we choose to have a poor diet today. We have far more choices for a healthy diet than my grandmother and mother did while growing up... but we choose not to exercise those choices. The "good old days" were not so good, when you know the real story.

-- Badtux the Elderly Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 5/24/2007 08:35:00 AM  14 comments  

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pizza for breakfast

So last night I get home and go to the mailboxes. I look to the side at the trash can and... what's that? Pizza coupons? I frantically open my mailbox and yes! Pizza coupons for Premier Pizza, a local high-end pizzaria!

So I hurriedly snarfed up all the pizza coupon fliers that were scattered around the mail area until I had a card deck of the things, and right there, on my cell phone, without even waiting to get home, called Premier Pizza and ordered a two-topping pepperoni and jalapeno for $10.95.

So after I get changed into more comfortable clothes I head over to Premier and pick up my pie. On the way out I see the cheese and pepper bins by the door. So I open up my pie to add some red pepper and... OMG. There is SOO much jalapeno on this thing! Okay, so no pepper needed. So I open up the cheese bin and... OMG! *real* freshly-grated parmesan cheese, not that powder crap! I hurriedly scatter some on my pie, close it back up, and head home.

Verdict: This is an excellent thick-crust pizza. The crust is light and wonderfully bread-like and obviously rose properly before having the toppings put on it. There is a *gigantic* amount of toppings on this thing to balance out the crust. The only weakness is that to avoid being soupy, it's a little light on the sauce to balance out the crust. Even with that limitation, this is a delicious and wonderful pizza.

And yet... yet... the frozen pizzas have gotten so good, that even this very worthy pizza is not going to get regular chew-downs by me. The Freschetta Brick Oven pizza is just as well balanced and its crust is even yummier, having a pleasantly toasted taste to go with the bready taste. And at the regular price of $21.95 for a large two-topping, vs. an average of $5.50 for the Freschetta, no WAY am I buying this pie at full price. It's good, but it's not that good. Even with the coupon, I think I prefer the Freschetta, though granted part of that is because I prefer thinner-crust pizzas. Still, if you are in the San Jose area and like thicker pizzas, Premier Pizza is definitely a great place to get some really yummy pizza...

-- Badtux the Pizza Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 5/22/2007 08:59:00 AM  6 comments  

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Pizza comparison: Frozen vs. Little Caesar's

As you know, I did a long frozen pizza bake-off. I found that the best frozen pizzas were actually quite tasty, not at all like the stale lardy pizza-like manhole covers of yore. The average price of the frozen pizzas that I tested was approximately $5.50 apiece, so we aren't talking about 50 cent Totino's pizzas, but we're still talking cheaper than the typical $11-$15 pizzaria pizza.

Recently, however, a pizza chain called "Little Caesars" opened up a shop near where my iceberg is currently docked, and advertised a $5 "Hot and Ready" pepperoni pizza. If you go there between 5PM and 8PM, they also advertise a $6 "Hot and Ready" thick-crust pepperoni pizza. So how does this "Hot and Ready" pizza compare to the best frozen pizzas?

Well... badly.

Crust: This is actually the best part of the Little Caesar's $5 pizza. It tastes like fresh bread, exactly like pizza crust is supposed to taste. The crust on the $6 pizza, on the other hand, tastes more like grease. The crust on the $6 pizza is utterly inedible.

Sauce: Too little, and somewhat watery, without the tang of the best sauce (the tangy sauce used on the Schwan's Freschetta and Red Baron brands). The lack of sauce is especially pronounced on the $6 pizza, where the taste of greasy crust is all you can taste.

Cheese: Too little, and little flavor. Nowhere near as good as the rich flavorful cheese flavor on the Kraft pizzas (Digiorno and Tombstone). Maybe as good as on the Red Baron pizzas (Schwan's doesn't do cheese as well as Kraft does, hmm, go figure). But if so, only barely.

Pepperoni: You get maybe two pepperonis per slice. All of the best frozen pizzas had more pepperoni.

All in all, my rating is: $5 hand-tossed: Edible. Barely. And only because of the nice bready crust. $6 thick-crust: Inedible. Utterly inedible.

The one and only reason to buy one of these pizzas is if you're in a hurry and not willing to wait the 14 to 24 minutes needed to bake a good-quality frozen pizza. Otherwise, if you are wanting a thick-crust pizza buy a DiGiorno Rising Crust Pepperoni (NOT the "garlic bread" crust one though, that one is nasty) or the Freschetta Naturally Rising Crust Pepperoni. If you are wanting a thin-crust pizza, get the Freschetta Brick Oven Pepperoni or the Red Baron Ultimate Pepperoni Thin Crust pizzas. All of those frozen pizzas are far, far, far superior to the Little Caesar's pizzas. Indeed, they are so yummy that just writing about them I'm *almost* hungry for a pizza, despite being somewhat pizza'ed out after eating pizza for 10 days over the course of two weeks. But I shall resist, because 10 days of pizza also equalled 5 pounds of weight gain. Ah well, the sacrifices that a penguin must make for science's sake...

-- Badtux the Pizza Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/29/2007 09:30:00 PM  6 comments  

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Frozen Pizza bake-off: Day 10

Okay, this is the last of the edible frozen pepperoni pizzas available at my local supermarket. It's a rather unusual one in that it appears to be the last-man-standing of stuffed-crust pizzas.

At one time there was a whole hoard of stuffed-crust pizzas. Cheese-stuffed, sauce-stuffed, garlic-stuffed, crap probably even catfood-stuffed. Nowdays, though, there's this one last survivor in the supermarket: Tombstone Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza (Pepperoni made with Pork Chicken and Beef) More 40% Cheese than Tombstone Original Pepperoni Pizza made with 100% Real Cheese.

So what does it taste like? Well, what do you think? It tastes like, duh, cheese. Pretty good cheese, actually. The crust does a good job of complementing the cheese too.

The other toppings are more mediocre. The sauce is plentiful but rather bland. There is a lot of pepperoni on this pizza -- they stole the Schwan notion of putting little baco-bits of pepperoni as well as round disk pepperoni onto the pizza -- but it isn't the best quality pepperoni around.

Still, this pizza has a rather pleasing blend of flavors. It isn't the Digiorno Rising Crust or Freschetta Brick Oven pizza (the two top pizzas in this contest), but it's still quite tasty, especially if you like cheese.

-- Badtux the Pizza-lovin' Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/21/2007 09:42:00 PM  4 comments  

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Frozen Pizza bake-off: Day 9

Sadly, we are coming to the close of this series of food-like product reviews. I have only one more frozen pizza in my freezer, then I have exhausted the supply of edible frozen pizzas available at my local Safeway and Food Saver stores. Sorry, I do *not* intend to do an in-depth review of Totinos or Tony's pizzas, neither of which is edible enough to justify any more review. I also will not review "fancy" pizzas (i.e., those with meats on them other than pepperoni), which rules out the California Pizza Kitchen imprimature (which actually is a Kraft-produced pizza).

Today's pizza is the "Freschetta Naturally Rising Bake To Rise Crust Pepperoni Pizza". This is a good rising crust pizza, but the crust lacks just a tiny bit compared to the Digiorno rising crust, which is still "the" standard by which rising crust pizzas must be compared. Still, it is quite good, and has one advantage over the Digiorno pizza -- it has slightly more pepperoni. Still not enough to match the amount of sauce and cheese on this crust though. The sauce is Schwan's typically peppy sauce, used on all their pizzas, and in good quality to offset the bready taste of the crust. It is a better tasting sauce than that on the Digiorno pizza. The cheese isn't quite as good as on the Digiorno pizza though, probably because Kraft (the maker of Digiorno) is a cheese whiz.

All in all, I have to rank the Digiorno just a hair better than the Freschetta. But it's close. Real close.

My personal favorite is still the Freschetta Brick Oven pizza, which has a wonderful toasty crust. But that is more because I prefer thinner-crust pizzas. If you like thicker-crust pizzas, this is certainly a worthy pizza to honor your oven with.

-- Badtux the Pizza Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/19/2007 09:17:00 PM  1 comments  

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Frozen Pizza bake-off: Day 8

Today's Pizza is the "TombStone Original Pizza Pepperoni Made With Pork Chick And Beef Made With 100% Real Cheese". (Whew!). Unlike the other pizzas tested so far, this did not come in a box. It came in shrink-wrap with a cardboard back and a paper front.

The cheese on this pizza is good. It is abundant and has a pleasant cheesy taste that goes well with the bready taste of the crust. The sauce is abundant but somewhat thin in taste, not the tangy sauce that the Schaum brands use. The pepperoni...

Ah yes, the pepperoni.

I was surprised to find a vague medicinal aftertaste upon my first bite into this pizza. Yet this rather nasty taste went away as I ate towards the outside crust. But then it came back again when I started on the next piece. But then it went away.

After some experimentation, it appears that this taste is the grease from the pepperoni. It runs down to the center of the pizza, which is why my first bite, near the center of the pizza, had this rather odd and obnoxious aftertaste, the taste of rancid chicken grease.

It's a pity, really. Other than that rather nasty taste near the center from the pepperoni grease, this pizza has a lot going for it, especially if you like cheese. It isn't as good as the Frescheta Brick Oven pizza, but then few pizzas are. It is, rather, a solid well-conceived well-balanced pizza... except for that rather nasty and medicinal-tasting pepperoni grease.

I have to, therefore, reluctantly give this pizza a grade of "F". It's a shame that Kraft (the maker of this pizza) cannot put a good-quality pepperoni on their pizzas. Rancid chicken grease is not appropriate for any pizza with even the vagues pretensions of being edible, and as long as the pepperoni has enough chicken fat in it to produce that rancid chicken grease flavor at the center, this pizza is disqualified from the edibility sweepstakes.

-- Badtux the Pizza-lovin' Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/18/2007 10:15:00 PM  3 comments  

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


From Sumo Merriment, I find out that big corporate chocolate-makers want to adulterate our chocolate. They want to replace the cocoa butter with vegetable oil, and replace the whole milk with "milk protein".

Boo! Hiss! Heretics! Barbarians! Clicky-click and let the FTC know before April 25th that you don't want chocolate standards relaxed. The fate of our civilization is depending upon you!

-- Badtux the Chocoholic Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/17/2007 04:03:00 PM  4 comments  

Monday, April 16, 2007

Frozen pizza bake-off: Day 7

Yes, ladies and germs, I've re-stocked on frozen pizzas and am back in the saddle again!

Today's pizza is the Freschetta Brick Oven Fire Baked Crust Italian Style Pepperoni. This is thus far the best balanced of all the pizzas. The crust and cheese are especially good, the sauce is not quite as good but is plentiful, and the pepperoni is abundant without being overwhelming. While I still personally prefer the Red Baron Thin Crust Ultimate Pepperoni because I love the kick of all that pepperoni, I must admit that the Ultimate Pepperoni kinds overdoes it with the pepperoni -- the taste of the pepperoni overwhelms everything else. Not so with this pizza. There is plenty of pepperoni, but not too much. Unlike the DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza, which has a great crust, but not enough pepperoni to balance it out.

One hint though -- cook it on the rack, and if the back says "baking time 12-16 minutes", cook it for the 16 minutes. Getting the crust nice and toasty is the secret to this pizza. Yes, the cheese on the edges will start looking a bit overdone. But that's okay. It's all good. You have to get the crust well toasted in order for it to balance out the flavors of the rest of the pizza, and a slightly toasty taste to the cheese on the edges doesn't hurt the taste of the pizza at all.

-- Badtux the Pizza Penguin

Want your favorite frozen pizza reviewed? Here's the ground rules: 1. It has to be a PEPPERONI pizza. Not one of them fancy multi-meat kinda pizzas. 2. It has to be available from a regular grocery store in Santa Clara CA. And 3. It cannot be a Totino's pizza! ICK! Anyhow, leave a comment if you see your favorite frozen pizza missing!

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/16/2007 10:29:00 PM  1 comments  

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I probably should have ate the cat food

In my search for the perfect can to use to make the perfect alcohol stove, I brought home two cans of cat food, a can of "Deviled Chicken Spread", and a can of "Potted Meat Product".

Having fed the cats the cat food and seen them noisily guzzle it down, then subjected my gullet to the "meat product", I have to say the cat food looked and smelled a lot more appetizing. The cats seem to agree too. When I put the leftovers down after making sandwiches, they walked over, sniffed, turned up their noses, and ignored it from thence onwards.

Yeah, maybe I shoulda ate the cat food, and given the "meat product" to the kitties. On the other hand, I have to sleep tonight, which might be hard with irate kitties yowling at me that I ate the good shit and gave them the crap...

-- Badtux the "this is supposed to be FOOD?" Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/15/2007 11:39:00 PM  0 comments  

Friday, April 13, 2007

Frozen pizza bake-off: Day 6

Okay, this is the last of the first batch of frozen pizzas. There's going to be a few days delay until I get a chance to re-stock from the local supermarket.

Today's frozen pizza is the Red Baron Gold Edition Naturally Rising Crust Pizzeria Style Pepperoni Pizza (Pepperoni Made With Pork, Chicken, And Beef). Yes, that is what it says on the front of the box.

Kraft actually sued Schwan over this pizza, claiming that it is the result of corporate espionage. Apparently one of the top dudes in their pizza division quit during the development of the DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza and went to work for Schwan for a ginormous salary (BTW, Schwan has also sued Kraft over their "brick oven" pizza, these two companies do *not* like each other, they have lawyers who do nothing but sue each other!). But Kraft needn't have bothered. Schwan's spy did a lousy job.

The fundamental problem with this pizza is the crust. It just plain doesn't do much rising, at least not when cooked on the rack (there are two ways on the box to cook it -- on a cookie sheet or on the rack -- I chose the rack for a crisper crust). The crust is a dense chewy thing that tastes suspiciously like raw dough near the middle. The taste is sort of a vegetable oil taste too.

Above that, the sauce is Schwan's trademark peppy sauce in good quantity. No problem there. The cheese is in good quantity too, and provides a good base of taste.

There is a lot of pepperoni on the top, but Schwan makes one more mistake there. In order to balance out the thicker crust with more peppy pepperoni taste, they added little pepperoni nuggets in addition to the round disc pepperoni. Unfortunately, these pepperoni nuggets are small enough that they completely dry up and taste like hard little chunks of bacon, rather than pepperoni. While it's not a bad taste (a pepperoni and bacon pizza?), if you are looking for copious amounts of pepperoni flavor having something that tastes suspiciously like a bac-o-bit go crunch in your mouth is somewhat disconcerting.

All in all, it's not a bad pizza, but in the battle of the rising crust pizzas, DiGiorno is still #1. Sorry, Schwan. You overpaid your spy. His rising crust sucks.

-- Badtux the Pizza Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/13/2007 09:00:00 PM  1 comments  

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Frozen Pizza bake-off day 5

Today's pizza is "DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza" (Pepperoni Pizza). "Made with pork, chicken, and beef".

Kraft Foods (yeppers, the mac'n'cheese people) introduced this pizza back in 1996 with a gigantic $2 *billion* dollar advertising campaign with the tagline, "It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno!". They instantly seized a majority of the premium frozen pizza market from the Schwam brands (Red Baron and Freschetta), which do not have the advertising budget of a gigantic Fortune 50 company behind them.

So, is it any good? The answer is: YES.

The strength of this pizza -- indeed, its basic reason for being -- is the crust. This is a crust with the consistency and taste of a good Italian bread. It doesn't rise as well near the center as it does near the margins -- probably too many toppings pushing down on it there -- but it is, overall, by far the best crust of the pizzas I have surveyed thus far. (But don't go away, there are some more pizzas coming up that will give it a run for the money!).

Now, this is a medium-thickness crust, so it needs a suitably large dollop of toppings to balance it out. And it has them, with one exception that I'll discuss toward the end. The sauce is abundant and suitably tangy and offsets the bready taste of the crust quite well. The cheese is a bit less so, but still sufficient in quantity to provide balance to the sauce and complement the crust.

Indeed, the only disappointment is the pepperoni. The pepperoni is not in sufficient quantity or quality to properly balance the taste of the other toppings. Thanks to the tangy sauce the pizza is still very, very good. But with just a little better pepperoni, it could have been exquisite.

So, thus far, I rank this as the second-best pizza on my list of reviewed pizzas. The current leader is still day 2's entry, which did not have as good a crust but made up for it with toppings that were excellent, especially the suitably greasy and abundant pepperoni.

Still, don't go away. Who knows, tomorrow's pizza might top both of these!

-- Badtux the Pizza Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/12/2007 09:39:00 PM  3 comments  

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pizza bake-off day 4 Part II

As mentioned in Part I, there are health consequences to a diet of pizza. So beware!

Today's pizza is an old friend, the first frozen pizza ever produced that was actually edible. Before this, there was processed "food-like" pizzas that were soggy and limp and tasted ick. But for a time, this was the best of the best. Today it's sold as "Red Baron Premium Quality Classic Crust Pepperoni Pizza" and is at the low end of the Schwan Food Company's line of "premium" pizzas. So how does it fare today, all these years later, against more modern competition?

The first thing I noticed is that this is the first pizza thus far which calls for a cookie sheet. So now a little digression about pizza equipment:

My "cookie sheet" for pizza baking purposes is a heavy-duty non-stick pizza pan. Not a stone, not a sheet, a pan. The other equipment used is a large glass cutting board, a typical disc-type pizza cutter, and a metal pie spatula used to actually serve the pizza. Note that the pizza cutter never comes near the pizza pan, and the pizza pan never goes near the dishwasher -- it is handwashed after it cools down.

Now, back to the pizza: How does it fare? Well, fairly well. This is clearly now the budget entry in the Schwan Food pizza line, and the quantities of the toppings bear that out, but it holds up quite well compared to ringer #1 (the Little Caesar's $5 Pepperoni) and is still quite edible, compared to, say, the icky Totinos that I covered earlier.

Crust: The crust recipe shows its age but still does the job. It is not outstanding in any way, but it does not overwhelm the toppings and it adds a reasonable crunch and taste to the preceedings.

Sauce: The sauce is somewhat on the weak side, but the quantity is good. I would call the sauce "adequate".

Cheese: The cheese on this pizza performs its job of providing a base flavor underneath the pepperoni and sauce flavors quite well. The quantity is sufficient to provide a well balanced mix of flavors.

Pepperoni: This is where Schwan skimps a little bit to hit their price point. The quality of the pepperoni is nowhere as good as what's on the "Ultimate Pepperoni" mentioned earlier. However, the pepperoni is satisfyingly greasy and provides sufficient tang to balance out the cheese and crust flavors reasonably well.

All in all, this is a well balanced mid-range pizza. If you have $3.50 in your pocket and need pizza, you will not regret this choice. However, I do definitely prefer the "Ultimate Pepperoni" thin crust version, which provides a richer taste palate and has better-quality pepperoni on it.

And BTW, I tasted one of the pieces of yesterday's pizza just in case my taste buds were having an off day yesterday. Nope. Still tastes like library paste with vegetable oil, completely overwhelming the taste of the toppings.

So, tune in tommorrow for the *next* exciting pizza in the Badtux Frozen Pizza Bake-off!

-- Badtux the Pizza Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/11/2007 08:31:00 PM  2 comments  

Pizza bake-off day 4

Before we get to today's pizza, first, a slight health message from the Penguin:

One of the downsides of the all-pizza diet is roughage, or lack thereof. If you're curious about why that is a downside, eat pizza for three days straight then you will know exactly what I mean. Your, uhm, eliminatory functionality, shuts down entirely, clogged solid.

What this says is that you need to add roughage to your diet if you wish to retain normal elimination. It may seem strange to see a penguin wolfing down a salad (a very low calorie food) at the same time he is wolfing down pizza. But believe me, the alternative is far, far more painful. Thus as a true bachelor, I buy pre-mixed salad greens from the grocer and add a fine vinaigrette and, if available, a few shakes of Parmesan cheese. The result is normal lower intestinal tract functioning. The other alternative, which I employ whenever I'm not doing pizza taste testing, is to simply pile jalapeno chilis on top of the pizza. While that produces a fire at the other end the next day, lower intestinal tract functioning is NOT an issue at that point.

With that health message interlude finished, we now resume our frozen pizza testing. Check back this evening for the *next* pizza in our bake-off! What kind of pizza will it be? Well, you'll just have to wait and see, hmm?

-- Badtux the Gourmet Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/11/2007 08:35:00 AM  2 comments  

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Frozen pizza bake-off: Day 3

Today's pizza is the DiGiorno Garlic Bread Pizza - Pepperoni.

I must admit that I am largely not a fan of thick-crust pizzas. It is very difficult to get them right. The toppings must be provided in extravagant quantities in order to balance the weight of the dough, and the dough and crust must provide a fine bready/yeasty taste, not heavy and dense and lardy. This pizza fails on all accounts.

The "thud" as this slid out onto my kitchen counter was the first warning that this was not going to be a lightweight experience. This pizza is nearly two pounds of, well, mostly dough. The toppings are scarce and there are wide margins on all four sides of the pizza.

Eating the pizza, you basically cannot taste the pepperoni, or the cheese, or the sauce. None of those are in sufficient quantity to even begin assessing their quality. What you have is the crust, which purports to be "garlic bread". The crust is infused with grease (supposed to be butter, I suppose, but it tastes like plain old vegetable oil to me), and there's garlic somewhere because I can taste it on my breath, but it isn't enough to overcome the heavy density of the doughy taste of the crust.

Really, this crust tastes like someone mixed up school paste with vegetable oil. I've tasted fine garlic breads, and this crust doesn't taste anything like them. There is no fluffiness to it, no yeasty flavor. Just flour paste and vegetable oil. Sadly, I must give this pizza an utterly failing grade. The fact that I could only eat three pieces before I quit eating in disgust is no surprise. Eating this pizza is like being back in the 1st grade again and sticking stupid stuff in your mouth. It's not as utterly disgusting as the Totino's Party Pizza that I tasted a few month's back (which was downright barf-inducing), but definitely this pizza gets two flippers down. Don't buy it!

-- Badtux the Paste-eating Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/10/2007 08:26:00 PM  1 comments  

Monday, April 09, 2007

Frozen pizza bake-off day 2

Today's pizza: Red Baron Gold Edition Italian Style Thin Crust Ultimate Pepperoni Pizza. (Yes, that unweildy name is its true actual name as printed on the box).

This is a round medium-sized pizza. The directions instructed me to preheat the oven to 400 degrees, then remove the pizza from the freezer and place it directly upon the center rack of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. I did so.

First, let us start with its reason for existing: Pepperoni. This pizza has a lot of pepperoni, both round disks and diced chunks. According to the label, this is beef and pork pepperoni. The result is suitably tangy and greasy, requiring very little crushed red pepper to make it palatable to Cajun penguin tastes. The quality seems slightly less than that of the preceding day's Digiorno pizza, but it makes up in quantity what it might lack in quality.

Next, the weakest part: the cheese. Folks, there just isn't enough cheese on this pizza. It is completely overpowered by the tangy pepperoni and sauce. Unfortunately, I suspect that an amount of cheese sufficient to cope with this much pepperoni would be altogether too much for the light crust to cope with.

The sauce is suitably tangy and in sufficient quantity to nicely complement the tangy pepperoni.

The crust is rather puzzling. It is crisp and has a somewhat toasty taste. Still, I will rate it one star above the preceding day's DiGiorno, in that its taste manages to complement the rest of the pizza nicely.

All in all, a good pizza, with no rancid or stale taste and good ingredients. I will give the DiGiorno a slightly higher rating because of the DiGiorno's excellent balancing of the sauce, cheese, and pepperoni equation, but for $3.65 (on sale at Safeway), this pizza certainly presents a fine meal or two for the discerning bachelor. The only disappointment is the poor showing of the cheese. You might consider a bit of shredded mild chedder in addition to the mozzarella that comes with this pizza to give the cheese just a touch more presence to deal with all that sauce and pepperoni.

-- Badtux the Rotund Test Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/09/2007 06:08:00 PM  2 comments  

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pizza bake-off day 1

Today's pizza: DiGiorno Thin Crispy Crust Pepperoni Pizza

The directions give you two ways to prepare this pizza -- on the rack, or on a pizza pan. I chose the rack, in order to give the crust the best chance for carmelization and thus the best chance to contribute to the taste of the pizza. As directed on the label, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, then removed the pizza from the freezer and placed on the rack using an oven mitt. I baked for 17 minutes as directed then removed and let stand for 5 minutes. Then ate. Here is what it was like:

Pepperoni: While the cover mentions that chicken is used in the pepperoni, the pepperoni is still the strength of this pizza. It is suitably tangy and greasy and there is a relatively large amount of it.

Cheese: There is enough of it and it doesn't overpower anything. Not much more to say there.

Sauce: Suitably tangy but not overpowering. Quantity is a bit low though.

Crust: Meh. The crust on a thin crust pizza has a hard row to hoe. There is not much of it, so it must step forth and contribute its taste boldly. This crust, on the other hand, simply lies there. In greater quantity it would provide a good bready base to the pizza, but apparently DiGiorno simply rolled their dough thinner rather than reformulate it for this new application. What works quite well for their thicker pizzas simply isn't adequate for the task of supporting this thinner pizza. On the other hand, it is not greasy or rancid or stale or soggy or otherwise nasty. It just lies there not contributing much.

Cold pizza: Unfortunately, none of the pizza survived to be eaten for lunch the next day. Perhaps I need to re-think that review criteria, especially for thin-crust pizzas which are more likely to be gobbled down in one sitting.

General conclusion: This is a workmanlike thin crust pizza. Given a choice between this and ringer #1 (Little Caesars Hot'n'Ready $5 Pizza), I would definitely choose this one even though it is generally more expensive (I paid $5.50 for this pizza). On the other hand, the lack of contribution from the crust and the somewhat scarce sauce mean that it has some ways to go before meeting my criteria for an "ideal" pizza. We shall see what other pizzas bring to the table in this regard...

Next up: Red Baron "Italian Style" Thin Crust "Ultimate Pepperoni" pizza...

-- Badtux the Pizza Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/08/2007 08:50:00 PM  4 comments  

The pizza-orgie is on!

Okay, here is the test plan for the frozen pizza bake-off:

  1. All pizzas shall be purchased at the local supermarket, in order to insure that this penguin has not been subverted by the frozen pizza conspiracy
  2. Each pizza shall be a pepperoni pizza, with the exception of the California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizza (they do not offer a pepperoni). Pizzas shall be enhanced slightly with some crushed red peppers but not to the extent that it interferes with ability to taste the ingredients.
  3. For comparison purposes, two ringers shall be brought in: A Little Caesars $5 pizza, and a Premier Pizza gourmet pizza.
  4. For comparison purposes, a "home-made" pizza will be created based upon a pizza "kit" provided by a notorious "Italian" chef
  5. All pizzas shall be prepared according to the directions upon the carton. If the directions give a choice between baking it on the rack and baking it on a cookie sheet or pizza pan, the pizza shall be baked directly upon the rack.
  6. Pizza shall be tested in two modes: 1) Hot out of the oven, and 2) cold for lunch the next day.
The following criteria will be used to judge each pizza:
  1. Crust: Thick-crust pizzas should have a crust that tastes like a fine loaf of Italian bread. It should be relatively light and firm, not soggy or heavy, i.e. throwing flour at the problem is not allowed to make up for lack of adequate rising time. Medium-crust pizzas are allowed to have a denser crust but it still must taste like a flatbread, not like the crust of an apple pie. Thin-crust pizzas should have a crust that is firm, not soggy, and somewhat crisp and are allowed to have a sharper taste to compensate for the lack of volume. In no case shall a pizza with a crust redolent of lard or vegetable oils receive a passing grade. This is pizza, not peach cobbler.
  2. Sauce: The amount of sauce must be appropriate for the amount of crust and other toppings. The sauce should have a firm distinct taste with spices rather than taste like watered-down tomato sauce, but should not be so sharp as to overpower the flavors of the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Cheese: The cheese should be a mild mozzarella that provides a stable base of flavor beneath the flavors of the other ingredients, rather than stepping out in front and overpowering everything. The amount of cheese provided should provide ample coverage for the entire pizza, but not to the extent that it is allowed to overpower any other ingredient.
  4. Pepperoni: Pepperoni is of course the main reason for a pepperoni pizza. There should be ample sliced pepperoni to cover a significant percentage of the surface of the pizza. Diced pepperoni is allowed only to fill in between the sliced pepperoni, not in place of sliced pepperoni. Pepperoni must be geniuine pepperoni i.e. an Italian sausage, not a "pepperoni-like food product" that is "enhanced" with fillers. It should be nicely spicy and a bit greasy.

The first pizza is in the oven. Let the bake-off begin!

- Badtux the Soon-to-be-more-rotund Penguin

Note: click on the 'pizza' link below for the latest results!

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/08/2007 06:55:00 PM  1 comments  

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bachelor's Cookbook: Kraft Easy Mac

Macaroni and cheese is of course a staple in the bachelor's diet, but one which does not get made as often as it should because (gasp) it requires DIRTYING A POT! Oh the horrors! So anyhow, I was in Safeway and noticed this new product: Kraft Easy Mac.

It comes bundled two ways: In a styrofoam cup similar to a ramen noodle cup for around 99 cents apiece, or in a box of six requiring you to dirty a microwave-safe bowl. But since microwave-safe disposable bowls are around the corner, do not let the fact that you own no bowls stop you from the latter.

I have tried both ways. They taste identical, and are prepared identically once you set aside the packet of cheese sauce and poured the macaroni into the bowl (if not the styrofoam version). You place a specified amount of room temperature tap water into the bowl, either to a line in the styrofoam bowl or 2/3rds cup into your own bowl. You place the uncovered bowl into your microwave, and nuke it for 3 minutes and 45 seconds. You remove bowl from microwave (it may help to place it on a saucer before nuking to make this operation painless). You pour the cheese sauce powder in and mix well until it is all disolved. Wait about 30 seconds, the cheese sauce stiffens up a bit, stir again. Eat.

And that is it. That's all to it. It tastes exactly like, well, Kraft macaroni and cheese. It's as perfect a food for the dorm or for bachelors or bachelorettes as ramen noodles. Accompany with a can of tuna for necessary protein, and multivitamins and calcium tablets for necessary vitamins and minerals, and you will at least survive. It is recommended, however, that you occasionally branch out to other foods, such as the home-made cheese and bean burritos previously discussed here, and of course frozen pizzas. (Note: The first batch of pizzas will be baking next week! I am currently developing the test plan and will present it to you sometime this weekend for comment and enhancement).

- Badtux the Culinary Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/06/2007 09:39:00 PM  10 comments  

Monday, April 02, 2007

Frozen pizza reviews

In the interests of science, is there any interest in a comparison review of the various frozen pizza brands? Note that this project, if there is any interest, will require me to buy, prepare, and eat one of each of the pizzas that I review (with the exception of the 'Totinos Party Pizza' bleh!). Oh the sacrifices we make for science...

- Badtux the Rotund Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/02/2007 01:52:00 PM  12 comments  

Monday, March 26, 2007

MRE Review: Menu #22 Jambalaya

This is off the 2004 menu, thus why I am eating it (taste and nutrition of MRE's goes downhill after 3 years).

Entre': Jambalaya. This had nice chunks of high-quality ham and shrimp in it. I added in the little bottom of Tabasco and ate it with the MRE crackers and it was quite tasty.

An aside on MRE crackers: These are one of the wonders of the universe. How the wizards of Natick could manage to make a cracker that will survive anything short of a nuclear blast without becoming crumbles is one of those testaments to old-fashioned American know-how that are rare nowdays. They aren't the tastiest crackers around -- they have to be sort of heavy and dense to both a) provide calories to meet MRE calorie requirements and b) be able to survive being dropped 50 feet from a hovering helicopter -- but they are definitely edible and tasty enough after you've been slogging for miles with a pack on your back and are hungry enough to eat a horse, hooves and all.

MRE Bread and Jalapeno Cheese spread -- I've mentioned MRE bread before, which is more a soft dense wheat cookie than anything that you might think of as "bread" due to shelf life and durability requirements. But this makes a nice little meal all in and of itself. Just knead the cheese spread tube until it's soft, snip open the end with the scissors on your pocket knife (note: If you do not have a pocket knife with scissors in it, *get one*, very very handy!), squirt out on "bread", enjoy!

Pound cake: This is good in and of itself. Soft, moist (if a bit dense), little pieces of carrot and fruit. But if you had one of those MRE meals like Menu 16 (Chicken w/Noodles) that inexplicably included peanut butter despite having nothing that would taste good with peanut butter on it, this is a good target for your leftover peanut butter.

Candy - just your commercial Skittles package.

In later years they deleted the candy, cheese spread and crackers and replaced them with the MRE Dairy Shake, which is quite good (albeit a bit lumpy even with a full two minutes of vigorous shaking). The MRE bread tastes okay in place of the crackers as something to eat with the Jambalaya, so I suppose it all works out, you still end up with basically two "meals" (the dairy shake vs. the bread+cheese, and the entre').

All in all, I have to rate this one a winner, whether it's the 2004 version or the later versions. Alas, it appears this one was discontinued for 2007 to make room for "Meatballs with Marinari". Whoa, sounds like the round balls of death circa 1993 the "four fingers of death" ("smoky frankfurters"). Definitely *not* a substitution that I think I'm going to enjoy, but (shrug). If you get dropped old stock for disaster relief, this is definitely one to keep rather than trade.

-- Badtux the Disaster Chef Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/26/2007 12:49:00 PM  3 comments  

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bad MRE's revisited

Menu #24, Meatloaf with Gravy: This was a 2005 MRE rather than a 2004 MRE, so the contents of the pouch were a little different. There was only one tube of grape jelly, and there was a sugar wafer rather than fig newtons. But the verdict remains the same: Friskies cat food. Totally. Same consistency. Same taste. (Oh shut up, we had cats growing up, and I was a curious kid!). Oh, since there's only one heater in the packet, if you don't have a spare heater from another MRE heat up the meatloaf and gravy then pour the hot gravy into the pouch of mashers to heat them up. Otherwise the gravy is really lumpy and lardy and disgusting. Trust me on this.

Menu #14, Vegetable Manicotti. Again this was a 2005 MRE rather than a 2004 MRE. The alarming color of the 2004 entre' with its garish applications of red and green food coloring was reduced, the coloration of the 2005 entre' is almost natural. The taste was still, well, vegetable manicotti. But with crackers it was edible, even though I was out of parmesan cheese powder to put on it. I move this from the "avoid at all costs!" column to the "Eh, bore-ing" column. Unfortunately it appears that we're going to be stuck with this rather blah entre' until 2008, when it gets replaced with vegetable lasagna. Hey, Natick dudes, can you figure out some way to package a little packet of parmesan cheese powder with this thing? Yeah, I know the shelf life requirements are a bitch, but you guys are geniuses, surely you can figure this one out!

Oh, regarding MRE crackers: If I could buy just MRE crackers all by themselves, I'd buy them by the bushel for backpacking. They're lightweight, bullet-proof, filling, and nutritious. I'm not sure how the guys in Natick managed to make crackers that don't turn to crumbles even when dropped a hundred feet from a chopper to the ground, but the result is still visibily and gustatorially crackers, unlike some of their past concoctions (MRE "bread", for example, is good but doesn't really resemble bread very much, nor really taste much like bread... more like a soft wheat cookie, I think).

-- Badtux the Gustatory Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/22/2007 12:08:00 PM  1 comments  

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

MRE Review: Menu #21 Chicken Tetrazzini

Yes indeed, boys and girls, it is that time of year again when I rotate out my emergency supplies. I have a new case of MRE's on the way, and am blowing out the old. Every one must go! (Down my gullet, that is).

Today's meal is Menu #21 from 2005, Chicken Tetrazzini (discontinued for 2006). This basically tastes like Grandma's chicken and noodles. It's sort of bland, but a dash of Tabasco makes up for that. Unfortunately, the extras pouch that comes with it doesn't have Tabasco in it. Use the one from your ravioli MRE (WTF is with putting Tabasco in the ravioli MRE anyhow? Not even this demented penguin puts Tabasco on ravioli!).

For the sides, it comes with the prerequisite MRE crackers, a yummy cookie, and the strawberry dairy shake, which tastes surprisingly good despite its rather... chemical... reputation. It also comes with a small package of strawberry jam. Strawberry jam? WTF?

As noted, this one disappeared for 2006, replaced by Chili Mac. Given that it tasted exactly like Menu 16, Chicken w/Noodles, probably good riddence. And Menu 16 comes with the little bottle of hot sauce needed to make it taste well. Still, if you're rotating out your MRE stock in preparation for a new batch of 2006 MRE's (or even, gasp, 2007 ones!), this one makes a quite tasty little meal.

-- Badtux the Culinary Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/20/2007 01:18:00 PM  14 comments  

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Nutritional crack

Little Caesar's Pizza opened an outlet three blocks from me. $5 for a hot pepperoni pizza, no waiting, any time of the day.

It's a conspiracy, a conspiracy I say, to increase this penguin's rotundity!

-- Badtux the More-rotund Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/14/2007 08:28:00 AM  3 comments  

Monday, October 16, 2006

Where's the party?!

As promised, my review of the "Totino's Party Pizza".

I typically shop for groceries late at night. My feeling is that the time before 9pm is too precious to use for such trivial things.

So I went shopping for the usual -- herring, tuna, noodles, you know the deal -- and they bagged my groceries and I paid for them and they put my groceries into the cart and I pushed the cart to my truck and started taking groceries out and putting them behind the seat (extended cab model). About halfway through, I pick up this bag with five square things in it... hold it, I didn't buy any square things!

So I slid the bag down and... Totino's Party Pizza? WTF? I didn't pick up any Totino's Party Pizza! I looked at my receipt to see whether I'd been charged for these things. Nope. This stuff is so bad that they're giving them away?!

Anyhow, I went home and went to sleep, and a few days later decided to try one of these things. The first warning sign was the nutrition label. Lots of fat but ... not much protein? Huh. So I popped it in the oven and cooked it until it met the requirements for being cooked, then sliced it and served.

Bleh. Just bleh. Utterly tasteless. Just lard, and lard, and lard. Apparently the "crust" of this thing is pure lard. The "pepperoni" is just a sprinkled garnish on top. The "cheese"... I don't think it qualifies to be cheese, maybe "processed cheese-lookin' pseudo-food" qualifies. Bleh bleh bleh bleh bleh.

Lesson: There ain't no party with Totino's, just bleh. Avoid. The other four "pizzas" are now officially dumped in the trash.

Note: If you want a good pizza, any of the Red Baron brands are good (Red Baron owns three different brands, from their "base" Red Baron brand which is pretty good, to their top of the line stone baked stuff sold under the Freschetta name which is darn good). Top with jalapeno of course :-). But avoid this cheap crap like the plague... saving a few pennies over the better brands just ain't worth it.

-- Badtux the Pizza-lovin' Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 10/16/2006 11:56:00 AM  12 comments  

Friday, March 10, 2006

Menu #14: Vegetable Manicotti

This MRE menu is one of the least-loved ones in the MRE repertoire. Let's start by looking at the entre', freshly decanted onto a plate after heating:

Man, look at that alarming red color! And no, that's not meat spilling out. That's zuchinni. The entre' is edible only if you put powdered parmisan cheese on it (which luckily packs well in the field). If you do that, you can eat it without feeling like you're choking it down. Otherwise it is virtually inedible.

It doesn't get better from there. The "Potato sticks" are basically potato chip crumbs because the white-coat wizards at MRE Central haven't yet figured out how to package potato chips so that they won't get turned to powder by a helicopter drop (I must say they do have the proper grease-and-potatoes taste of cheap potato chips tho!). The "pound cake" requires peanut butter to make it edible. Then there's the bag of peanuts -- peanut butter *AND* peanuts, in the same packet? Nobody can eat that many peanuts at a sitting and feel good!

Not even the accessory pouch manages to avoid being a disaster. The accessory pouch contains a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce... which is utterly incapable of making this disaster edible, what is needed is a small pouch of powdered parmesan cheese.

Definitely trade this off to the hard-core peanut lovers in your neighborhood when the Big One hits and you're parcelling out the booty from your last trip to the disaster aid center where they're handing out MRE's. If you must eat it, eat it -- it won't kill you, and if you can scrounge up some powdered cheese it's even edible -- but this one definitely deserves its general reputation.

- Badtux the Culinary Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/10/2006 07:38:00 PM  4 comments  

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Dairy Shake of Death

I *finally* dared the MRE Vanilla Dairy Shake of Death for lunch today.

Verdict: Flawed, but still good.

There are two basic problems: 1) when made with cold water, it turns out pretty lumpy. 2) It's hard to tear open the package without tearing it too far and making it hard to, well, shake (!). So if I had to do it again, I'd open the packet using the scissors on my Leatherman Juice (which goes everywhere with me when I'm in the field... the one I have is the perfect size, big enough to be useful but small enough that I don't feel like I'm carrying a big lump of iron in my pocket).

Still, once you get that all squared away, it tastes fine. Not like a chemical spill, which apparently is what the strawberry or chocolate versions taste like. So it turns out that all the fear and trembling was for nothing. I'd have no problem at all with drinking this thing while in the field.

- Badtux the Satisfied Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/08/2006 04:08:00 PM  1 comments  

Friday, March 03, 2006

Cheeze Whiz, oh my!

Just popped upon the next MRE pouch, "Red Beans, Rice, & Sausage". Two items therein: "Filled Pretzels, Chedder Cheese" and "Cheese spread".

So I kneaded the cheese spread as directed on the package, opened it up, opened up the pretzels, dipped them into the cheese, and... junk food heaven! A bit salty, and HORRIBLY bad for you, being a bit over 400 calories of which almost half of it is fat, but yummy all the same.

If these items aren't a popular trade item for the guys in the field, they musta grown up in a different country from the one I grew up in, 'cause this was, like, the very *essense* of junk food!

- Badtux the Waddling Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/03/2006 07:33:00 PM  1 comments  

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More MRE review...

Well, I still haven't dared try the dairy shake. Instead, I tried another MRE that I had at work: Menu 13, the cheese tortellini.

This was *GOOD*! It might have been vegetarian, but it was quite tasty, sort of like a high-grade Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. Comfort food all the way. I'll trade the "meatloaf" (Friskies) MRE for this one any time of day. The lemon poppy pound cake that came with it, on the other hand, was merely edible. I tried it with and without the peanut butter that came with this MRE. Either way, it was uninspiring. The other stuff that came with it is this:

  • Spiced Apples
  • Toffee with Walnuts
  • and the same accessory packet as the chicken tetrazini, including the worthless "Seasoning Blend, Salt Free". However that seasoning packet might actually improve the cheese tortellini, since it has a vaguely oregano-ish taste to it. I didn't bother, the tortellini was tasty enough without it.
I was full after eating the tortellini and the poppy cake, so I didn't try the spiced apples or toffee. However, in the past I've had happy experiences with the MRE "spiced apples". Unless they managed to somehow ruin them over the past ten years, I bet they're still pretty yummy.

-- Badtux the Fine Cuisine Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/01/2006 12:39:00 PM  2 comments  

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

MRE Reviews, continued

Today's menu is #21, Chicken Tetrazini.

You open up the packet, and here is what you see (other than the flameless heater and spoon that come with them all):

  • One packet Chicken Tetrazini
  • Pouch of strawberry jam
  • Molasses cookie
  • MRE Crackers (I *still* can't figure how they keep their crackers from turning into crumbles!).
  • An accessory packet with "Seasoning Blend Salt Free", apple cider mix, iced tea mix, then the standard stuff.
  • A *BIG* pouch entitled "Dairy Shake, Vanilla".
The first thing I did was heat up and decant the Chicken Tetrazini. Sniffing at it, it smelled sort of like mushroom soup and pasta and chicken. That's pretty much what it tasted like, too. It was, alas, rather bland. I opened up the seasoning mix and tried a little of that, but it was rather bitter -- almost Indian curry powder bitter but without the heat (India Indian, not Native American Indian). Bleh. But still, it was quite filling, especially eaten with the crackers. I rate it about a 5 out of 10 -- edible, filling, no faults, but no real reason to go out of your way to eat it either. But this is one you definitely want to use the heater with, it'd be really disgusting cold. Although CatTux gave it his seal of approval -- usually CatTux turns his nose up at people food (he feels that people food is beneath his dignity), but CatTux decided to lick the plate clean for me this time.

The next thing I tried was the molassas cookie. This was really, really sweet. *REALLY* sweet. Almost unbearably sweet. So sweet that I opened up the strawberry jam and topped the cookie with the jam, because the jam wasn't as sweet. *THAT* sweet. But it was quite good nevertheless, though I suggest that if you're in the field, that you fix up a mug of hot chocolate (instant, from a pouch, a tiny soda-can alcohol burner will heat up a stainless steel mug of hot water to sufficient temperature for hot chocolate use within 3 minutes) to drink with it. That way you can get a *triple* sugar rush! Woo!

Finally, there is the "Dairyshake, Vanilla". Apparently an earlier version of this MRE included a strawberry shake that was entirely unpalatable ("Pepto-Bismol!" was a common description). This enormous pouch says to put a whole six ounces of water into it, which would result in something with roughly the consistency of school paste. It also says it has 450 calories (!), 19g of protein (roughly 1/3rd your daily requirement!), and an awesome 16g of fat. In short, this thing accounts for an enormous chunk of the 1200 calories that a MRE is supposed to contain. I am taking it to work tomorrow and will eat it for lunch, and then edit this review to let you know how it turned out. (And don't worry, I have another MRE at work in case this "dairyshake" is entirely inedible!).

-- Badtux the Gourmet Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 2/28/2006 09:42:00 PM  0 comments  

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Camping food reviews: Meatloaf w/gravy

Today's MRE menu is Menu #24, Meatloaf with Gravy. My review of this one isn't quite as positive as for previous entries.

Opening the meal pouch, what you see is:

  • "Meatloaf w/Gravy" box and pouch
  • Mashed Potatoes box and pouch
  • crackers
  • cocoa drink
  • fig newtons
  • a brown pouch that says "tootsie rolls" on it
  • two tubes of grape jelly.
  • accessory pouch #2, with the iced tea and red pepper rather than with the coffee and Tabasco.
It appears that the white-smock guys in Natick ran out of ideas for meeting the 1200 calorie requirement for a MRE pouch, and tossed the grape jelly in there just to meet the calorie requirement. There's nothing in this meal that would go good with grape jelly. The fig newtons maybe, sort of, but certainly not *two* tubes of grape jelly. In addition, this grape jelly is completely empty calories. It doesn't even have vitamin C in it.

I ate the fig newtons and Tootsie Rolls as desert with lunch. They were fine. The Newtons were a bit squished, but still quite tasty. The Tootsie Rolls were, well, Tootsie Rolls -- once you removed the brown outer package, you find two commercially-packaged Tootsie Rolls in their normal brown-and-white wrappers.

For supper, I heated up the pouches of meatloaf and mashed potatos in boiling water, then decanted them upon a plate. I'm not quite sure how I'd do this in the field, since only one flameless heater is in the pouch. Probably decant them into my cooking pot and heat them up over a flame, resulting in a pot to wash.

The mashed potatoes tasted like potatoes and butter, and were somewhat yellowish with whatever artificial butter substitute was used. The crackers tasted like, well, crackers -- I don't know how they manage to make crackers uncrushable in that foil pouch, but it works. The "meat loaf", on the other hand, was about the same consistency as Friskies cat food. Now I know what those elderly cat ladies taste when they nibble on their cat's din-din. Finally, the chocolate drink tasted like, well, chocolate drink. Amazing, given that it has little resemblance to the commercially pakaged hot cocoa... it doesn't even have any milk in it! (Probably because the Army is increasingly brown and brown people are mostly lactose-intolerant).

Color me unimpressed. While certainly edible, in case of a natural disaster where folks are eating MRE's this is one I'd trade off for something else. I imagine white-bread boys from the Midwest would think it yummy, but this penguin prefers his food to not resemble his cat's food. Still, if it were the last MRE at the bottom of the case and I were hungry, you better bet I'd be eating it up! While not the tastiest thing on the block, it definitely isn't the rancid lard-tasting thing that would make me puke, so... (shrug).

- Badtux the Culinary Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 2/25/2006 06:36:00 PM  5 comments  

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Another camping food review

This one is for "Beef Enchilada in Sauce", a Menu B MRE. I won another Ebay auction so I'm eating up my current stock so I can provide reviews of it all.

The main components of this menu is:

  • Beef Enchilada in Sauce
  • Refried Beans
  • Salsa
  • Jalapeno cheese spread
  • Vegetable crackers
  • Mint chocolate chip cookie
  • Vitamin-fortified powdered orange-flavored drink.

The first thing I tried was, at lunch, the cookie, with some milk. Yumm! But *way* fattening, check out the calories on that thing! (Each MRE is supposed to provide 1300 calories, and the cookie was a lot of them).

At the next meal, I mixed up the orange drink and took a sip of it. Hmm. Vaguely reminiscent of Tang. I heated the Enchilada and Refried Beans pouches in boiling water, then after letting them sit for five minutes to warm up nicely inside.

The first thing I splatted out onto the plate was the "Beef Enchilada in Sauce". Frankly, it didn't look like much -- the handling that this MRE had received had broken up any enchilada into pieces, leaving meat and tortilla sort of mixed into a Chili-Mac-ish looking mix. I topped it with some of the salsa and jalapeno cheese spread, not expecting much, expecting something that tasted vaguely of rancid lard and tomatoes (you have to remember, my iceberg is parked in California at the moment -- lots of real Mexican food).

I then splatted out the refried beans, and similarly topped them with some salsa and cheese. I opened the crackers and put them to the side of the plate, started eating, and ...

Yumm! This is military food?! It had actual flavor! A nice blend of flavor, actually, with enough spices to be interesting, not really spicy hot but still the guys down in the barrio down the street would wolf it down lickity split. This wasn't the icky canned enchilada s*** that you get in Middle America at all! Guess the fact that so much of the military is now Hispanic means that they now know what an enchilada is supposed to taste like (hint: the canned thing in the supermarket ain't it), and forced the military to make an enchilada that actually tasted like real Mexican food.

So once again, I want to compliment the guys at US Soldier Systems Center (Natick, MA) who created the modern MRE after the fiasco of the Gulf War "Meals Refused by Everybody". They have truly done a masterful job, and this penguin gives them two flippers up.

- Badtux the Gustatory Penguin

Note: Still "officially" on hiatus. But will occasionally post recipes or food reviews or such.

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Posted by: BadTux / 2/19/2006 05:52:00 PM  1 comments  

Sunday, February 12, 2006

More camping food reviews

Whereby I talk about a couple of MRE entrees and a freeze-dried entree:


  • Minestrone: Rather forgettable, but quite edible. Tastes like the minestrone soup you get at the supermarket, but surprisingly is less soupy and more chunky. Eat with crackers. I save my MRE crackers from other MRE's to eat with the Minestrone (MRE crackers, unlike regular crackers, appear to be made out of some super-hard material that doesn't turn into cracker crumbs like other crackers do in field conditions).
  • Beef roast with vegetables: Forget about the old Alpo reputation. While this does have a slight tinge of the lard taste that used to characterize MRE's, it is not outrageously intrusive and blends well with the tender chunk of real cooked beef at the heart of this MRE. The vegies are a bit soupy, so the best thing to do with this meal is to serve it over instant mashed potatos and add a bit of Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning and a tiny bit of butter buds to the mashed potatos first. Instant mashed potatos are very easy to make -- simply stir hot water into the potato flakes while stirring until it attains the desired consistency. Pour hot MRE over a bed of these potatos, and your purr of culinary contentment will make your tent hum.
  • Beef ravioli: These were truly put together by a chef. Chef Boy-ar-di, that is. They taste just like the canned ones from the supermarket. When you've come to the end of a long day of hiking, this is pure comfort food.
The freeze-dried entre' that I tried is the Mountain House Freeze-Dried Spaghetti with Meat Sauce. Unlike the last one, this one is actually edible. It is somewhat soupy, so eat it with a spoon. Adding a couple of teaspoons of grated parmeson cheese helps it greatly, both in making it less soupy and in improving the overall flavor. Especially if you get the "Pro-Pak" version, this makes a hearty trail meal that will go down even better when you're tired and hungry.

And that concludes this edition of "how to eat well on the trail." Boy, things sure have changed since the days of choke'n'puke trail foods that required guts of steel and taste buds of stone in order to eat. Today even military MRE's taste like real food -- something that, fifteen years ago, I would have stared at you incredulously if you'd said that was possible.

- Badtux the Satiated Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 2/12/2006 11:45:00 AM  2 comments  

Saturday, January 28, 2006

No longer "Meals Refused by Ethiopians"

In the aftermath of Katrina, I resolved to lay in a supply of MRE's for dealing with the aftermath of any natural disaster that hit my own iceberg. I sort of shuddered at the thought, because the last time I ate MRE's it was a horrible experience -- the taste of lard was the predominant taste. They were referred to as "Meals Refused by Ethiopians" back then, with such choice entrees as Four Fingers of Death (really aweful weenies) and Alpo (supposedly "beef with spiced sauce"). And let's not forget Chicken a'La Death (supposedly "Chicken a'La King", but so redolent of lard as to invoke nausea).

So I headed out to eBay and got case B, which includes the "Louisiana Menu." Military retirees with PX priviliges buy MRE cases from base PX's and sell them on eBay, a practice which the Department of Defense discourages (since it encourages pilfering amongst the ranks if they can hawk pilfered MRE cases on eBay amongst the legit ones), but which they have thus far proven unable to stop. The case arrived today, nice and fresh (four months old is fresh in MRE terms, the stuff keeps for years). I popped out my camping gear and tried the jambalaya first... hmm, put this over a half cup of cooked instant rice (a large box of which is also in my disaster kit), add just a dab of hot sauce, and not bad at all! It's not "real" shrimp and ham jambalaya like you'd get in Louisiana, but it's definitely edible and close enough. I wouldn't mind eating this on a regular basis at all. There's the very faintest lard undertaste from the processing, but it's not obnoxious.

Next, the cookie. And peanut butter. I remember the cookies as being hard as a rock and tasting of lard. I remember the peanut butter as being a substance that was more akin to tasteless grease than butter. Well, the cookie is still hard as a rock. Guess it has to be, to survive a parachute drop. But it tastes like an actual oatmeal cookie, and the peanut butter is creamy and tasty. Spread the peanut butter on top of the cookie, and ... yum!

Next, something a bit harder to get right: Spaghetti. Freeze-dried pasta dishes generally are pretty good (about the only thing freeze-dried that *is* any good... everything else freeze dried that I've tried tastes horrible), but canned ones are typically horrible, whether canned in a can or in a retort pouch. So I heat it up and... okay. So it definitely tastes like canned spaghetti. But it doesn't taste any worse than Spaghetti-O's or any other canned spaghetti you'll find in the supermarket. Just a tiny bit of the lard aftertaste, not the "OMG I just ate a mouthfull of Crisco!" that I remembered.

My congratulations to the folks at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, MA, who have managed to do what I thought was impossible: Make army rations that taste good. This penguin gives them two flippers up!

- Badtux the Impressed Penguin

PS: Natick is continually on Rummy's base closure list, though thus far it has been spared. The very fact that Natick was on the 2005 base closure list to begin with just goes to show how much the Bush administration really hates our men and women in uniform, as if we needed any more proof of that, what with the Bushies sending soldiers into battle with inadequate armor, feeding soldiers rotten foods cooked in disease-ridden waters out of filthy rat-and-roach-infested kitchens, etc...

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Posted by: BadTux / 1/28/2006 08:58:00 PM  1 comments  

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bachelor's Cookbook: Shrimp & Ham Jambalaya

MRE cases can be purchased on EBAY for as little as $5 per meal. If you want some long-lasting food for camping and are tired of pouch tuna and ramen noodles, this is one possibility.

One of the Menu B options this year is Louisiana Jambalaya. Here is how we cook it in one pot at our campsite:


One MRE pouch marked "Jambalaya"
One zip-lok snack sack with 1/2 cup of instant rice
One small bottle Tabasco(tm) sauce.


Place rice in pot
Put 1/2 cup of water into pot (if lazy don't bother measuring, put just enough to cover top of rice).
Bring to boil
Remove flame, cover, and let sit for five minutes.
Remove lid from pot, fluff rice with fork or spoon and taste a few grains to make sure it's cooked. Add MRE pouch contents and a dash of Tabasco.
Turn flame back on (may require re-priming the camp stove depending on the weather), mix well until mixture is nice and warm.
Remove from flame, carry pot to picnic table, eat.

And that, my friends, is some tasty camping food... with only one dirty pot!

Oh sure, if you close your eyes you can still taste a little bit of the lard taste that all MRE's are rendolent of. But the dash of Tabasco does a pretty darn good job of masking that.

In general, for anything with rice or noodles or meat, I prefer the MRE version to the freeze-dried version. For anything pasta, on the other hand, the freeze-dried version is much better -- the MRE version tastes too much like lard. But hey, what do I know, I'm just a good ole' boy from Louisiana, and we don't know nuthin' bout cookin' in Louisiana (heh!)...

-- Badtux the Camping Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 1/15/2006 04:54:00 PM  0 comments  

Sunday, October 16, 2005

What's for dinner?

Okay, last week's entry from The Bachelor's Cookbook (by BadTux the Rotund Penguin) was tuna/cheese melt wraps. Today's is slightly (very slightly) more complicated but has the benefit of using up the leftover tortillas and cheese from last week.

Bean and Cheese Burritos


One can refried beans
Pre-shredded monterrey jack and chedder cheese in a pouch (left over from last week)
Burrito-sized tortillas (left over from last week)
Salsa at your desired level of hotness (since I'm from Louisiana, I buy the "Hot hot HOT!" variety of salsa, damnyankees probably buy the mild stuff).

Dishes dirtied: One spoon, one knife.

Place one tortilla on paper plate.
Open can of refried beans.
Spread beans onto center of tortilla with knife.
Spoon salsa over beans, spread as desired.
Sprinkle cheese over salsa.
Wrap burrito-style.
Nuke in microwave for 45 seconds.
Repeat until full.


- Badtux the Rotund Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 10/16/2005 08:12:00 PM  4 comments  

Sunday, October 09, 2005

What's for dinner?

Tuna melt wraps:

One (1) pouch of Sweet'n'Spicy Starkist Tuna
One bag of burrito-sized tortillas
One bag of shredded Monterrey Jack cheese.

Take tortilla. Place on paper plate. Open pouch. Spread some tuna on the tortilla. Spread cheese on top of tuna. Wrap. Nuke in microwave for 30 seconds. Eat. Repeat until full.

This recipe from The Bachelor's Cookbook (written by Badtux the Snarky Penguin), filled with fine cuisine by bachelors, for bachelors.

Note: Do not use this recipe while girlfriend over. She will not understand. Believe me. That's the time you want to raid the fresh veggies aisle and fresh shrimp counter of your local supermarket and break out the food processor and rice cooker and make her a good shrimp creole... shrimp creole over rice is a sure-fired ice-breaker with those of the fairer sex. One bite, and they're like, "Whoa! What is this? This isn't like anything I've ever eaten before! This is good!"

Unless she is a Cajun girl, in which case she will complain that Grandma's shrimp creole was better. But then, you never win with a Cajun girl, so best not even try (heh!).

PS: Hide the "Enola Prudhomme's Low-fat Cajun Cooking" cookbook before Girlfriend comes over, it sort of ruins the effect...

- Badtux the well-fed Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 10/09/2005 10:44:00 PM  8 comments  
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