Category Archives: Eat Your Pop Culture

Easy Cheese Part Deux, I love the smell of cheese in the morning…

A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece taking a look at the general history of that crazy canned, pasteurized, spray cheese known as Easy Cheese (or Snack Mate circa 1966-1984 or so.)  Though I don’t remember when I first came into contact with this wonderfully odd product, I do know that there always seemed to be a can in our pantry.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember my mom ever really using it for snacks and meals, so I’m wondering why she always bought them?  Regardless, I have a lot of fond memories of artistically playing with Easy Cheese in the attempt at creating some sort of impressionist cheese masterpiece on top of a Ritz cracker canvas.  Years before Ritz Bits hit the shelves I was drawing happy faces on crackers, marveling at my work for a second, and then smashing down a second cracker to make a creamy cheese and cracker sandwich.  I also seem to remember also having contests with friends to see who could squirt the most cheese into our mouths without suffocating to death.

Looking back, even though Easy Cheese’s frilly decorative snazzy origins didn’t really stick around very long, it’s interesting to note that Nabisco was still trying to push the canned product as an important addition to any home cook’s pantry as late as 1981 with the release of the Quick’n Easy Ideas with Snack Mate cookbook…

Again, I learned about this cookbook from an old ad I found in Woman’s Day, and I couldn’t imagine writing an article on Easy Cheese without tracking down a copy of this tome to share on the site.  Luckily, I managed to find a copy being sold by an mom and pop cookbook website, and I quickly snatched it up hoping that there were a bounty of mind blowing canned cheese recipes between those 30 year-old covers.  After receiving it and cracking it open I was a little disappointed.  I should have seen it coming, but of the 62 “recipes” contained in this 18 page leaflet, almost every one can be condensed to the following phrase, “…and top with Snack Mate cheese.”  Hey, grab a Triscuit and top with Snack Mate cheese.  Hollow out a cherry tomato and top with Snack Mate cheese.  Boil 4 ears of corn and top with Snack Mate cheese.  The list goes on and on of the various stuff you can top with Snack Mate cheese.  I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, maybe a bunch of cheese sauce recipes or some actually cooking, but again, I should have seen it coming.  Actually, one of the most disappointing aspects is that there was no mention of anything like the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich (which I’ll get to below)…

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some crazy stand-out ideas in this guide book.  In fact one of the weirder revelations was how often the Nabisco test kitchen urged the reader to mix the canned cheese with unlikely products like fresh fruit or desert items.  One reoccurring theme was mixing Snack Mate with canned pineapple, which is about as unappetizing a thought as I can muster, and I’ve eaten a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich (seriously, I’ll get to it in a minute…)  There are also a couple of recipes that call for squirting Easy Cheese on raisin bread, which is just wrong!

 

Well, even if Easy Cheese never really caught on as the home chef’s answer to amazing dinner party preparation, it has achieved a sort of cult status as a weird, truly American product.  I’m sure there are a ton of people who have dreamed about pulling out the little black stopper on the bottom of the can, but have held back because they feared that it would explode like a cheesy hand grenade.  I’d also bet that somewhere out there someone has coined a hilarious term for the hardened nub of excess cheese that forms on the nozzle between uses.  More importantly, Easy Cheese has popped up on the silver screen in a few classic films including the Blues Brothers…

  

Actually, the appearance in the Blues Brothers has kind of stirred up some weird controversy in the pasteurized cheese fan community (and if you through Trekies were nuts.)  Basically, there’s a scene with Jake and Elwood coming home to their apartment and there’s an old guy who stops them and says, “Where’s my Cheez Whiz, boy?”, after which Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) reaches into his pocket, pulls out a can of Snack Mate and tosses it to the geezer.  This one silly miscommunication has led to a belief that the king of pasteurized cheese products, Cheez Whiz, once came in a pressurized spray can.  I can’t disprove the rumor 100%, but I can say for a fact that the can in the movie is indeed a can of Nabisco Snack Mate and not Cheez Whiz.

Here’s the thing, in the zeitgeist of the year 1980 (when the film was released), the Cheez Whiz brand name was, and probably still is, the most recognized term for a pasteurized cheese product known to mankind.  It’s also 3,000% more funny than the phrase Snack Mate, and thus I’d guess that it won out in the wording of that joke (whether it was thought-out and scripted or if it was a spur of the moment ad-lib on set.)  Vice versa, the appearance and packaging of Snack Mate is 3,000% more iconic and side-splittingly hilarious than the Cheez Whiz bottle, not to mention more handy for keeping in one’s pocket and much easier to throw without hurting anyone.  So just by breaking down the logic, I’d have to say that it was an unfortunate amalgamation that gave birth to a rumor that honestly no one really cares about.  Except me.  And this guy.

Another notable appearance of Easy Cheese on the silver screen was in an animated form in a couple of scenes in the Goofy Movie…

  

One of the side characters, Bobby Zimmeruski (voiced by Pauley Shore), was a bona fide cheese-a-holic who can be seen making his own Easy Cheese art and eating the product by the can-full.  A special thanks goes out to Devin who helped me find this scene…

Personally, the most classic and famous appearance of Easy Cheese on the big screen was during one of my favorite all time flicks, Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF!  It’s in this wondrous film that I was introduced to the majesty that is the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich.  After losing yet another menial job, George Newman (Weird Al) tries to cheer up his best friend Bob by making him one of these legendary sandwiches.

Step one, cut a slit down the center of an upside-down Twinkie, taking care not to cut all the way though the cake.  Step two, place a standard hot dog wiener, fresh from the package, inside the slit…

   

Step three, apply a liberal amount of Easy Cheese on top of the hot dog.  Step four, dunk the sandwich in a mug of milk, and enjoy!

   

Actually, there should be a step five, which would consist of making a second sandwich and giving it to a friend…

   

Weird Al mentioned on the commentary track that he probably ended up eating 7-8 of these sandwiches to get the iconic sequence on film.  He even enjoys one of these amazing wonders of culinary delight from time to time, though he’s a vegetarian these days and substitutes the hot dog for a tofu dog.

No article on Easy Cheese would be complete without making my own Twinkie Weiner Sandwich, which is what I did this past weekend with the wife.  I decided to change mine up a bit as I’m not a big fan of eating cold, unprepared hot dogs, so we broiled ours first.  We also went with a more New York deli style hot dog as we generally prefer them to the standard Oscar Meyer wieners.  The resulting TWS was no where near as pretty as Al’s was in the film, but they were still a sight to behold…

So how did it taste you might be asking?  Well, it was both unlike anything I’ve ever eaten, and not nearly as bad as the description makes them out to be.  Actually, it reminded me a lot of eating sweet northern cornbread with barbeque.  The Twinkie was an adequate replacement for a bun, though there was an unfortunate side effect of broiling the hot dogs that we weren’t prepared for which resulted in the Twinkie basically melting and falling apart halfway through the sandwich.  On the upside though, the heat from the dog made the filling inside the Twinkie taste like toasted marshmallow.  The final verdict?  Eating a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich is a lot like what I expect eating one of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s fingers might taste like.  Meaty, sweet, and full of unholy rage!  But more important, the Easy Cheese tied the whole thing together…

Before this cheese was Easy it was the perfect Snack Mate!

A couple weeks ago I was in a rush during the morning routine.  For some reason it seemed like I had two hundred things to do before running out the door to go to work, and right when I thought I’d finished everything, I remembered that I’d intended on updating Branded with a quick post during lunch.  What was I going to write about though?  There was nothing on the hopper and I didn’t have time to sit down and get a bunch of screen caps from a cartoon, so I quickly ran into out home office and grabbed a magazine advertisement blindly from a stack on my desk and stuffed it into my bag.  Problem solved, or so I thought.  When I got to work and got a second to catch my breath I pulled out the ad to see what I’d ended up with.  It was an ad for Nabisco Snack Mate, the spray cheese we know as Kraft Easy Cheese these days, from a 1981 issue of Woman’s Day.  I’d originally torn it out because I thought the artwork on all the little cheesy hors d’oeuvres was fun and it made for a striking image overall.

So I scanned the ad on my lunch break and got ready to fire off a few short thoughts about Easy Cheese when I noticed the small section at the bottom that featured a mail-away Snack Mate cookbook.  How weird I thought, that a culinary product this mocked and reviled had an entire cookbook dedicated to it.  I took a second to try and postulate what sort of interesting concoctions one would come up with that included spray cheese.  Then a scene from Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF popped into my head, the one where his character George and his friend Bob both get fired from their umpteenth lackluster job and in trying to cheer Bob up, George makes him the heartburn-inducing delight known as a Twinkie Wiener Sandwich!  I figured there was no way something that crazy was in the mail-away cookbook, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was in that book.

Before I knew it my lunch was over, I hadn’t eaten a thing, and I suddenly realized that this quick post for the site wasn’t going to happen without some more research.  I felt I needed to get some screenshots of Weird Al building a Twinkie Wiener Dog for starters, but if I was going to mention that, it seemed only natural to mention some other theatrical appearances of Easy Cheese.  Since I was digging that deep I figured I might as well go a bit farther and track down some other Snack Mate ads, as well as trying to figure out where this amazing cheese innovation got its start.  Most importantly I needed to get my hands on a copy of that cookbook!  By the end of the day I’d put the wheels in motion to do just that.

Today I’m just going to concentrate on the history. In addition to the ad I found (at the top of the article), I managed to locate a few more that date back to the introduction of this pressurized pseudo-dairy treat which was introduced sometime in 1966.  The oldest ad I was able to track down is from a 1967 issue of Life magazine and features three of the four original flavors, American, Cheddar, and Pimento (Nabisco also offered the cheese in a Swiss variety.)  From what I gather the canned spray cheese phenomenon began as an affordable and easy way for families to prepare nicely plated and pretty hors d’oeuvres for dinner parties.  Burgeoning household gourmands were popping up everywhere in the 60s, and Nabisco wanted a piece of that action, as well as creating a product that would require purchasing their mainstay line of snack crackers.  Design-wise, I actually think the decision to include the frosting-esque applicator tip was a stroke of genius and it beats the hell out of melting your own cheese and trying to scoop it into and dispense it from a piping bag.

It’s also interesting to note the difference between what was considered pretty and chic (in food presentation) back in 1966 versus what we typically think of today.  Plating was a lot more architectural or sculptural in nature 55 years ago, and the idea of building up a cracker with mounds of immaculately sliced olives (pimento included), lump crab meat, and a heaping yet frilly helping of creamy processed cheese so that it looked like a work of modern art was the goal.  If watching 7 billion food-centric shows on TV has taught me nothing else, today’s presentation is more about simplicity and sparseness.  I’m betting the Easy Cheese (which, let’s face it, would never make it to the plate unless we’re watching an episode of Chopped) would be applied in a single dollop only to be smeared in a pleasing arc along side a crisscrossed stack of two grilled baguette croutons over a bead of lightly blanched asparagus.  Or something like that.

I think by 1969 the idea of using pasteurized, processed cheese in a can for froufrou parties wasn’t catching on and as you can see in the next advertisement Nabisco was having a little more fun with dressing up their crackers.  Now the user was encouraged to make cheesy smiley faces, more along the lines of pleasing one’s family instead of guests.  We also get to see a new option of cheese, French Onion.  Also notice that in the line-up of cracker options there is still a Nabisco bacon variety.  I remember eating these, or something similar, as a kid and marveling at the baked-in bacon bits.  In today’s salty-pork belly obsessed world, I’m surprised these haven’t made a comeback.  I mean Chicken in a Biskit crackers are still around, why not Bacon in a Biskit.  I wonder if that rings too much with a dog treat sort of feel?

The only Snack Mate ad I could locate from the 70s was this next one featuring a much more robust line of spray cheese varieties.  Unfortunately I can’t make out the new varieties, though it looks like one might be a Swiss/American blend.

By the 2000′s I know there were at least seven more varieties introduced including Nacho Cheese, Pizza, Shrimp Cocktail, Bacon, Sharp Cheddar, Roasted Garlic and Philly Cream Cheese.  The product was also known as Snack Mate up until the 80s when Kraft Foods bought Nabisco and rebranded the product as Kraft Easy Cheese.  Today there are only four varieties offered, Sharp and regular Cheddar, American and Bacon flavored.  I’m also kind of bummed out in that the Bacon option has changed over time.  From what I remember in the 80s, there were actual bacon bits mixed in with the cheese as opposed to today where there is just a smoky bacon flavor added to the cheese.  I’m sure it’s cheaper to produce, but it’s kind of a letdown.

Next week I’m hopefully going to have part two of this crazy article up featuring some of my own memories of the product, the various cinematic appearances of Snack Mate/Easy Cheese, as well as a the 1981 cookbook, and a bit of fun with the Twinkie Wiener Sandwich!

Learning to cook with the Muppet Babies!

Last week’s post on the DC Comics cookbook insert from the 1981 reminded me that I have another one that’s been sitting on my desk for almost a year.  I picked up a huge lot of old Woman’s Day magazines a year or so ago and I spent a weekend flipping through all the issues to pullout any interesting ads, article and inserts, and one of the things that really jumped out at me was a 4-page spread that was a mini Muppet Babies cookbook.  Don’t know why I haven’t gotten around to scanning this and sharing it sooner…

This insert is from the January 8th, 1985 issue of Woman’s Day and it features recipes presented by all the characters from the cartoon (well, except for Bean Bunny, but we don’t speak of that character here at Branded.)  Actually, now that I look a bit closer, whoever whipped up this insert snubbed Beaker, and added a drink by the tadpole version of Kermit’s nephew Robin (who did make some appearances on the cartoon), which is kind of irksome as well.  Oh well, Beaker usually gets the crap end of the stick anyway, so why not here as well…

  

Honestly, aside from Animal and Fozzie’s deserts, and the “mixed” drinks, there’s noting all that great to write home about in this cookbook.  In fact Skeeter’s Flying Saucer recipe reminds me of a noxious meal my friend/roommate used to eat all the time.  I lived with this guy for almost three years after high school and every night he’d prepare the exact same dish.  He’d put four pieces of whole wheat bread on a plate, cover two with a can of beans and the other two with a slice each of white American cheese.  Then he’d eat his two bean sandwiches in silence.  For three years.  Egads!

I wonder how many other mini cookbooks popped up between the covers of Woman’s Day back in the 70s and 80s?

Putting the banana in the Batman…

Thought I’d take a second today to share this great gift that I received in the mail in response to my TMNT postcard project from a few weeks ago.  Mr. & Mrs. McFavorite (of the fun podcast Open Your Toys) sent in this awesome vintage mini DC comics cookbook (ripped out of a July, 1981 issue of Woman’s Day magazine)…

Seriously, it boggles the mind.  There were so many geeky awesome kid-centric inserts and advertisements in these 70s/80s era housewife magazines that 30 years later they’ve become a goldmine for great vintage ephemera.  From insanely obscure Transformers comics and cool mail-away and in-store Tron merchandise, to the coolest jungle gyms known to man and advertisements for the one and only Nerd Tuxedo, Woman’s Day was apparently where it was at in the early 80s and I never knew.

This tiny cookbook is no exception and features some food art that I’m sure to try and replicate in the coming weeks at the house of Branded.  Nothing says “Um, um, Good” like a Mild Mannered hamburger…

 

Though in reality there is no conceivable way that the Superman insignia scrawled on top of the cheese would last past the placement of the Clark Kent bun-face, it’s still pretty awesome that the fella or gal in charge of writing this insert thought enough about the character to consider his patented transformation in the recipe.  I guess this is one burger that begs to be eaten open-face style.  As a side note, I never thought about adding wheat germ and bread crumbs to my hamburger patties.  I wonder if it gives the burger a more meatloaf like consistency?

There’s even a “recipe” for constructing an army of villainous Veggie Robots!

Well, at least I think they’re villains based on their threatening posturing and proclamations to destroy some of our favorite foods, healthy or not.  I also love the notation at the bottom that parents could order a copy of this army as a full-sized poster.  “Mommy, I can’t sleep under the paralyzing olive-eyed stare of Broclotron!”

 

Next up we’re charged with solving the case of the Invisible Banana French Toast with Batman and Robin.  Though the writers got a bit cheeky with this entry (“You get that taste by putting the banana IN the Batman…”), I did learn a new term, Alimentary.  By the by, it means of or relating to nourishment or nutrition.

Lastly we have Flash’s Quick Apple Crisp, that actually isn’t all that quick.  I mean, having to peel, core and slice up 5 apples and baking for over half an hour still seems like work to me…

Thanks again Mr. and Mrs. McFavortie, this was an awesome gift!

Molly ringwald wants you to eat your raisins!

I’m breaking out of my post Halloween downtime to remind everyone that back in 1982 Molly Ringwald and who I believe is a very young Emily Schulman (the nosey pugnacious next-door-neighbor on Small Wonder) wanted you to eat your raisins.   If raisins are like the red-headed step children of grapes, then I think the California Raisins Ad Council chose pretty well spokes model-wise.  I mean, Ringwald was one of the girls written out of the second season of The Facts of Life, and Schulman, well, for anyone who’s seen an episode of Small Wonder, is the poster child for red-headed nuisances…

This ad is kind of interesting for Ringwald fanatics as it’s an example of the type of work she was taking in-between leaving The Facts of Life and landing her breakout role as Samantha Baker in Sixteen Candles.  Aside from pimping raisins as Linda, founder of Linda’s Babysitting Service, Ringwald was also spending a lot of time recording vocals for Disney albums around this time.  Alright, back to working on the Up! Fair and junk…

The Great Pudding Pop Wars of 1982…

Thinking about some magical food moments from my past I can’t help but immediately gravitate towards the splenderferious invention that graced America’s freezers in 1982 (by my best educated guesstimates), the Pudding Pop.  Sure, there are other frozen treats that I love, Screwballs, Otter Pops, and Slurpees, but sucking on a pudding pop was like having a symphony in your mouth and it always played the theme to Star Wars.  Seriously though, there was something magical about the smooth, velvety texture of a good pudding pop that other treats (Fudgsicles and ice cream bars) just couldn’t match.

Growing up there was only one pop in my household’s freezer, the Bill Cosby endorsed Jell-O Brand Pudding Pops from General Foods.  Introduced in 1982, these frozen treats were originally available in three flavors, Chocolate, Vanilla and Banana.  Personally I was a vanilla man, though I have a vague recollection of eating a banana pop or two.  One of my favorite food related sense memories is of the thin coating of ice that would envelop the pudding pops.  It was always fun to see if you could loosen it in an entire sheet and slide it off the pop.   This ice coating also made for a great makeshift wall between the bottom of the pop and the stick so that the pudding wouldn’t melt directly onto your hand if you decided to savor the experience.

Though Jell-O was the only brand in my house, there were others available, in particular Swiss Miss, which had a much more robust variety of flavors…

I’ve had a tougher time trying to nail down the date that these Swiss Miss Pudding Bars were introduced, but I’m betting it was in and around 1982 as well based on this television commercial.  The ad above is from 1984 and features no less than eight different varieties including chocolate, vanilla, chocolate covered chocolate & vanilla, chocolate chip, fudge swirl, and chocolate toffee covered chocolate & vanilla.  There were also sugar-free varieties (mentioned on the back of this box in Jason Liebig’s collection.)  On a side note, I really dig the older style Swiss Miss mascot design because she was a claymation style puppet.  Drinking Swiss Miss hot chocolate back in the day was like sipping on a Rankin/Bass Christmas special, and ever since they switched to a more realistic rendering it’s just never been the same (even if it is only in my mind.)

I think it’s interesting that the print ads for Jell-O Pudding Pops strayed away from using spokesman Bill Cosby, and instead focused on the guilt-free aspect of the frozen treat.  As this above ad from 1984 showcases, the pops only had 90 calories and apparently were just as good as eating an apple or a banana.  Insane nutrition claims aside, I do have to admit that, that is one heck of an attractive calorie count.  It brings to mind the other Jell-O frozen treat introduced in the 80s (1981 according to the Jell-O website timeline which suspiciously doesn’t even mention pudding pops, but I’m betting it was also in 1982 alongside the pudding pops), the Jell-O Gelatin Pops as seen in this 1985 ad…

These fruit pops were only 35 calories and were a much slower melting bar because of the added gelatin.  According to the above ad, General Foods also produced chocolate covered Jell-O Pudding Pops, though I don’t remember ever seeing those for the life of me.

Unfortunately, sometime in the early 90s Jell-O Pudding Pops seemed to disappear from our grocer’s freezers.  My guess is that after the line-up of General Foods brands were merged in with the Kraft family of products in the mid 90s (as Phillip Morris owned both by that time), their frozen treats were dropped as Kraft didn’t really have a market share in the sweet end of the freezer section.  As far as the Swiss Miss bars go, your guess is as good as mine.  It wasn’t the last time we’d see Jell-O Pudding Pops though.  They made a small comeback in the early 2000s under both the Jell-O and Popsicle brands, but they weren’t the same product.  Offered in a slimmer Fudgsicle-like stick, the flavors and consistency just weren’t the same.  There’s also a Jell-O branded pudding pop maker for kids, though I’m guessing it’s not much different than sticking a pudding cup in the freezer.

Today there are still some brands of frozen pudding pops though, mainly Kemps and Blue Bunny, but this summer Coldstone Creamery is also presenting a variation on the Pudding Pop with Jell-O branded pudding ice-cream.  It’s not the same, but it’s as close as we’re going to get.

Here are some Jell-O Pudding & Gelatin Pop commercials to take you back to the 80s for a few minutes: 1982, 1983, 1984, 1984, 1985, & 1986.  I wonder if Bill Cosby misses these pudding pops as much as I do?

Twitter del.icio.us Reddit Slashdot Digg Google StumbleUpon

…and I ain’t faking, I’ll bring home the turkey if you bring home the Fakon!

Something that I don’t talk about a lot here at Branded are some of the insane food products that were big back in the 80s, so today I thought I’d remedy that the best way I know how, by talking about pork.  In the 80s I learned two things about pork.  One, it was The Other White Meat.  Two, there were no limits to the ways that companies like Swift and Hormel would twist processed pig to sculpt it into fascinating new products.  And my mom made sure that we tried them all, or at least I thought so before doing a little digging…

If I had to pick one pork related sin, it would probably be screwing up bacon.  Yeah, I know it’s beyond cliché to obsess over bacon in this geeky internet age, and honestly I tend to roll my eyes whenever I see someone extolling the virtues of bacon infused chocolate, bacon vodka, or Baconnaise.  But I am a red-blooded American, and I can’t ignore the beauty of a nice pure crispy piece of savory, salty pork belly.  I wasn’t always so discerning in tastes though, and neither was my mother, which is why throughout the 80s our fridge was always stocked with a package of Sizzlean…

If bacon is the ultimate cut of pork (though Anthony Bourdain and his crispy cheek fetish would probably beg to differ), then the ultimate in processed pork must assuredly be Sizzlean (sorry Spam.)  Touting itself as a healthier (50% less fat) and meatier slice of pork, Sizzlean was truly an ingenious, if not blasphemous product.  I loved it.  Looking back on it now, it seems like it has more in common with jerky than straight up pork, as it was sort of tough when fried up and had a very similar consistency.  My main complaint as a kid was the product’s tendency to contain odd, tough bubbles of fat in the meat which I’m sure was a by-product of the meat processing.  Though they’re not quite Beggin’ Strips, Sizzlean was for all intents and purposes fake bacon, or if you will, Fakon, and I sure do miss it. Also, I have to hand it to the product designers on Sizzlean, mixing sizzle and lean in the name was perfect advertising work.  Here are a couple of commercials for this wonder product by Swift.

Next up is a product I was lucky enough to never have tried back in the day, Hormel canned sausage…

For some reason my mother had an aversion to most canned and jarred meat products, so I never had the opportunity to taste delicacies such as Spam, Underwood’s Deviled Ham, Libby’s corned beef, dried beef, or these incredibly interesting (to me of course) canned sausages or breakfast ham slices.  I did however grow up on a steady diet of smoked oysters and the occasional can of Vienna Sausages, so go I wasn’t completely deprived of weird canned meats.  Out of curiosity, to all the cooks out there, is sausage-shrinkage truly a hurdle that needs jumping?  Also, the tag line that “…only Hormel seals sausage patties in an airtight can to protect their delicious country fresh flavor…” is a little telling.  There’s probably a good reason that no one else was attempting this and why these are no longer available.  Canned ham & cheese anyone?

Next up is another amazing product from the meaty, master minds at Hormel, the Frank ‘N’ Stuff hotdogs!

Okay, who remembers burning the ever-living hell out of their mouths when biting into these insane lava-like chili-filled monstrosities?!?  Granted, filling a hotdog with things like cheese and chili sounds like a good idea, and sometimes it can work (Oscar Meyer Cheesedogs anyone?)  But the Frank ‘N’ Stuff hot dogs were a lawsuit waiting to happen.  Besides, the best way to know when a hot dog is done cooking is when the skin splits a little, and in the dreadful case of these dogs, that means chili seepage.  Now I don’t know about you, but the words chili seepage and appetizing do not appear together normally in the English language.  They’re like opposite poles on a magnet, no matter how much you try and stick them together, it just won’t work.  Alright, even though I do have vivid memories of burning the crap out of my tongue on one of these, I do remember them tasting just fine, but you have to admit that going with a Frankenstein theme was totally relevant (what with the hot dog’s proclivity to turn on its master and all.)

This also reminds me that I need to take this opportunity to point to my favorite Flickr account in the whole wide world, the collection of one Jason Liebig.  I’ve never come across someone so dedicated to sharing nostalgic memories of ephemera, in particular for foodstuffs of days gone by.  I’m constantly amazed and happily shocked at the stuff that he finds and shares.  It’s literally a gold mine of memories.  So if you get a chance, please click on the crazy Hormel Bacon Bits Spin-Off collection below and prepare to get lost in nostalgia.

By the by, how did my mom miss these further Bits products when I was a kid!  We were strong supporters of the Hormel Bacon Bits and Bacon Pieces jars, and yet I never knew of the existence of Pepperoni, Ham, and Cheddar Cheese Flavored Bits.  Oh what will the geniuses at Hormel think up next?!?

Twitter del.icio.us Reddit Slashdot Digg Google StumbleUpon

Fast Food … it’s WAR!

Though I don’t partake in them all that often, I have to say that I’ve been fascinated with fast food restaurants ever since I was a kid.   I think my interest stems from the fact that my parents hardly ever took me out to them (with the exception of Long John Silvers that is), so when ever I did find myself standing under the golden arches (as a fer instance) it was exciting.  Add to this the allure of meals constructed specifically for kids, and the tantalizingness (should be a word) was pretty darn high.  In the last few years the heated competition between the various franchises has led to some interesting and weird menu items, as well as some odd market strategies.  In fact in the last month the whole recession frenzy has seemed to kick this into high gear.

This past February while the wife and I were in Florida on vacation we stumbled into a local Steak ‘n Shake at a particularly opportune time as that location’s manager was giving his entire crew a dressing down/pep talk for the coming year.  Actually the whole experience of having this crew meeting right next to our table was just as awkward as it was exciting to overhear some insider SnS secrets.   Between coming down on the employees for wearing slightly off-white dress shirts and crooked bow ties, the manager shared some interesting facts that I never really thought about, foremost of which was that Steak ‘n Shake was going to debut a new fried fish sandwich during Lent to try and draw in the Friday-meat-fasting religious sect.  I suppose it makes perfect sense, but I never thought of a fast food chain debating the merits of arranging their menu according to religious convictions in order to squeeze out a little more profit.  In the same breath the manager also remarked on how this was going to be a banner time for the franchise as it was a anniversary year and that there were going to be a ton of coupons for months to come.  I have to wonder if there will be fish sandwich coupons, and if so are they going to be geared towards a Friday redemption?

Also discussed during the meeting were other new menu items and the one that I thought was kind of weird were mini-steakburgers.   From the way the manager described them, the mini-steakburgers were going to be the equivalent of White Castle or Krystal burgers, only fried with hand formed patties (instead of steamed & pre-formed.)  Talking it over later that morning with my wife I had to wonder why the chain decided to take a shot at a couple of franchises that didn’t really seem to be competitors, but we came to the conclusion that it was probably not so much that as it was a way for them to horn in on the whole $1 menu craze that’s been reshaping the overall menus at most fast food places in the last decade.   In fact I remember when Steak ‘n Shakes first started popping up in our area back in ’93-’94, and the one complaint that I kept hearing was how expensive they were compared to other burger joints.

Of course in a weird coincidence (or is it?) on the way home from vacation, we stopped at a Burger King in north Florida and low and behold the hot new menu item were the new BK Burger Shots!  More mini burgers (and mini breakfast sandwiches to boot) from another chain that didn’t seem to need to compete with Krystal and White Castle, and one that has been doing the $1 menu thing for awhile.  What is it about small food right now that is so attractive to fast food chains?  I was mentioning the Burger Shots to a friend the other day and he seemed to remember Burger King having a similar promotion back in the 80s that he was obsessed with.  Basically he loved getting small food as a kid just for the novelty of it.

I have to wonder how long it’s going to be before McDonald’s gets into the mini hamburger business?  I thought they already had as I decided to swing by my local house-that-Ronald-built, and saw that the double cheeseburger had been replaced on the dollar menu by the mysterious McDouble.  I was surprised to see the regular double cheeseburger back on the regular menu for $0.19 more, so I hit the internets to investigate.  Turns out the McDouble is practically the same burger, only with one slice of American cheese instead of two (according to mcchronicles.blogspot.com.)  Again, I have to wonder what the strategy is in a case like this.  How does offering the same burger twice on the menu, one being a square of cheese heavier granted, score you more profit?  I suppose a million McDoubles = a million slices of cheese saved.  What does a cubic mile of fast food grade processed American cheese go for these days?


VS.

Also, I hesitate to link to the McDonald’s site as it’s loud and obnoxious, but I’m intrigued by the weird cartoon skits on the dollar menu portion of the website.  Is that H. Jon Benjamin doing voice work for them?

I’ve been trying to think how other fast food joints have tried to finagle the public into picking up their weird new menu items, and I came up with the following list of stuff that I think has been strange:

The half pound meat and potato burrito at Taco Bell (for some reason potatoes stuffed into tacos and burritos just repulses me…)

The square breakfast biscuits at Wendy’s

Speaking of breakfast, the all-in-one combo cups at Krystal seem pretty gross…

The Arby’s Roastburgers (which are just roast beef sandwiches with lettuce & tomato, and slathered with a miscellaneous “roasted burger” sauce…)

…and the new Popeye’s value menu items, including a red beans and rice wrap, or the deluxe loaded chicken wrap (read red beans and rice with a chicken strip.)

Any other weird Fast Food menu items mystify you guys?

Twitter del.icio.us Reddit Slashdot Digg Google StumbleUpon

It’s hard to believe that we’d get Bacon, Egg, & Cheese flavored Combos before something a little more normal like Ranch…

One of the things that I always look forward to on vacations out of town is tracking down new and interesting foodstuffs.  Whether it’s some local flavors that are new to me (as a fer’instance scoring some Cincinnati chili and Chicago-style deep dish pizza recently), or something that’s even more exciting to my pop culture obsessed mind, new brand name product offerings (in particular new soda and snack flavors.)  As I’ve mentioned on the site before we tend to visit Florida an awful lot and I am convinced that the Orlando area is a test market for some of the larger snack, soda, and candy companies.  We always tend to find new stuff there, and it’s always months (if ever) until we see this stuff filter up to Georgia.

This past trip was no exception even though pickins were sort of slim.  Besides finding some single bottles of the all-in-one A&W brand Root Beer Floats (which are only available in hideously expensive 4-packs here), the big score this time were a couple bags of very odd flavored Combos snack crackers.  Now I say very odd, but only one of them was really weird, so I’ll start with the more normal Cheeseburger variety…

Now I grew up with some weird flavored snacks all my life, as there always seemed to be Snyder’s brand chips in our area.  Snyder’s was the brand that had flavors like Steak & Onion, Meatball Pizza, and the almost normal Dill Pickle, so I’m familiar with the idea of savory beef-flavored snacks.  The complexity of intermingled flavors that companies are trying to achieve with Cheeseburger these days though is a little more out of the ordinary.  I first saw this last year when Doritos held their first mystery guess-the-flavor contest.  The above bag of Combos has this zany flavor intermixed with the cheese filling and it tastes almost exactly like last year’s Doritos did.  The problem I see with this odd Cheeseburger flavor is that the food scientists aren’t shooting for any one common cheeseburger flavor (like a creamy beef to simulate the burger and cheese), but practically every possible flavor you might have on a fully loaded burger.  There are the obvious hints of cheese (as the filling is cheese-based, well at least a close approximation of a cheese-like substance) and a more subtle beefiness, but there are also strong hints of pickle, ketchup, and mustard, which end up skewing the overall taste towards a very tart place.  All in all, it’s not as much weird, as it seems to be a misfire, and would be better labeled as “Cheeseburger Condiment Flavored”. 

The second new Combos flavor on the other hand (Bacon, Egg, & Cheese) is just downright evil in both concept and it’s all too accurate flavors…

First off let me just say that snack crackers/chips should never, EVER, be egg flavored.  There is a certain spoilability to the thought of eggs, though maybe it’s just me.  I’ve always been of the mind that eggs should be eaten fast (unless hard boiled, and even then it’s certainly not a tempting idea for a snack chip flavor), and in small quantities, as they tend to get cold and sort of sickening the longer you leave them out.  It probably doesn’t help that bacon flavoring has always been something you’d typically find in either soup mixes or dog biscuits, and it just seems a little weird in chips (though I think Pringles has managed to pull it off in the past.)

Personally, as they Combos are almost as bad for you as eating a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese biscuit, I would much rather just go ahead and eat one that a very disturbingly close flavored approximation of one in snack cracker form.  I wonder if Jones soda will ever come out with a set of breakfast flavored sodas?  If so, I hope they contact the food scientists working feverishly at the Combos Company because they certainly nailed the flavor…

Hot, Hotter, Hot-Test

Do you like spicy food?  Have you ever found yourself standing in the grocery store trying to decide what to buy, but were perplexed by your choices because there were no spicy versions of the products you wanted to buy?  If so, than Frito Lay is going out of their way to make sure that this problem doesn’t affect you when you’re on the brink of making that all too important Cheetos purchase this summer.  They actually already offer most of their snack products in their patented Flamin’ Hot variety, which honestly is pretty hot (and this is coming from a guy who adds hot sauce to already spicy chili mind you.)

But this summer they are offering two addition levels of heat to their Cheetos line of products to make sure that every pallet can be satisfied.  When I was down in Florida visiting the family over July 4th weekend I noticed that the 7-Elevens around us were all carrying new Cheddar Jalapeno flavored Cheetos.  Being a big fan of Jalapeno flavored products and cheetahs wearing cowboy hats, I picked up a bag.

I actually liked them quite a bit though they were very tame on the heat level; mostly they just had a zing of Jalapeno flavor.  What do you call an individual cheeto?  It’s surely not a chip.  I guess it’s a fried corn puff.  Well I didn’t bother talking a picture of the actual fried corn puffs because they weren’t all that interesting, and only had a few speckles of green that were more or less hard to see.

Well, when I went into a gas station the other day I was bombarded by yet another new display of Cheetos, in yet another level of heat, XXtra Flamin’ Hot.  They were advertised as being twice as hot as normal the Flamin’ Hot variety, which actually kind of scared me a bit considering I don’t typically enjoy the normal hot ones seeing as they are more heat than flavor.  Though I love seriously spicy food, it’s not specifically for the heat, but for the flavor that tends to come with hot foods.  I guess I like the way peppers taste, and if you are more or less extracting the capsicum from them to add heat to other things it doesn’t interest me as much.

Well, taste buds be damned, I figured as long as they were claiming monumental levels of heat in their new Cheetos, it would have to be my duty to take them to task and perform my own little taste test.  I poured out the contents of the two bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos side by side to first compare the “redness” of the fried corn puffs…

I then poured myself a glass of water and dove into each stack separately to try and see if my mouth and brain could handle the torture of such insane heat.  In the end, I’m convinced that this is one of the stupidest promotions ever as I couldn’t tell the difference in the Cheetos as all.  The XXtra hot variety looked and tasted exactly like the original with absolutely no discernable difference in the level of heat.  In fact, they both seemed tamer than I was expecting, I guess considering that I was preparing myself for all sorts of “oh my god my mouth is so hot” dancing, compounded by burn blisters, and the eventual development of tongue ulcers.  I barely needed to drink any water afterwards.

I guess if nothing else Frito Lay gets points for at least trying to provide too much choice, which is always favorable over no choice any day.