Tag Archives: Cooking

…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?!?

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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?


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?

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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.

Chocolate Bonkers just seem like mom code for poop…

When I was scanning the Madballs sticker sheet this past weekend it reminded me of a Bonkers candy ad that came out around the time I started collecting comics.  That led me to digging through some of the scanned comic ads I’ve acquired and as I was searching for the Madballs ad (or at least what I thought was a Madballs ad) I thought it would be cool to cobble together all of the Bonkers candy ads I had on hand.  I’m not sure how many ads there were over the years, but I found 6 that represent a nice three year period in the 80s.

For those not familiar with Bonkers candy, it was a Starburst-like fruit chew made by Nabisco under their Life Savers subsidiary in the 80s and 90s.  The candy was packaged similarly to Starburst as well, individually wrapped in a long sleeve, but instead of coming in a mix of flavors, each sleeve had only one.  They were a little bit softer than Starburst and were shaped more like a chunk of gum (think Hubba Bubba or Bubble Yum) and were made up of two sections, an outer layer and a more intensely flavorful inner layer, both usually of the same flavor variety.  It originally came in three flavors, Grape, Orange, and Strawberry, but would eventually be available in a few others, as we’ll see below.  The product’s tag line was that it was the candy that would “Bonk You Out!”  The oldest ad I could find in my collection was from 1984 and it looks like it was introducing the initial product line.

The cool thing about this ad is that it looks like it was drawn by Jack Davis (he of EC comics and MAD Magazine fame.)  Davis did a bunch of advertising artwork throughout his career for but I still find it kind of weird and interesting to see someone’s art who I am familiar with in comics on mass produced products advertising like this.  It’d be like seeing Todd McFarlane doing a Capt’n Crunch ad or something (I bet those Soggies would have been pretty damn cool.)

I was way into Bonkers during my elementary school days.  There was a 7-Eleven at the opening to our subdivision (which was about a mile from my house) and I’d always ride my bike up there after school and on the weekends to play arcade games, drink Slurpees, and to load up on pocketfuls of Jolly Rancher sticks, Nerds, Runts, and Bonkers.  I’m sure watermelon was my favorite flavor, but I know I had my fare share of the three original flavors as well.

This second ad is from 1985 and is more of an order form for a bike bag premium.  By this point they’d certainly come up with their advertising campaign idea of having giant fruit falling down on whoever eats the candy (which made for some fun commercials in the 80s.)  This ad also looks vaguely like a piece of Jack Davis artwork, thought I’m wondering if it wasn’t bastardized by someone else.  The kid just looks too happy and it lacks that sketchy hand that Jack has.  Maybe someone at the ad firm finished a doodle of his or something.

With this next ad from 1985 introducing the new watermelon flavor (which was the big new candy flavor that was sweeping the nation in the second half of the 80s) the art, though retaining a certain Jack Davis quality seems to be diverting even farther from his style.  I’m not positive but I’d have to believe that at this point the in-house Nabisco art guys were talking over.

With the new watermelon flavor Bonkers took a deviation from the normal candy design and went with two colors to more accurately mimic the watermelon eating experience (though as my Mom always told me, eat the rinds and you’ll get the runs.)  When I was reading through other blogs that had Bonkers candy posts there were a couple of people who seemed to remember a version of the candy that was yellow and red (which they figured was probably Strawberry Banana) so I’d have to think that if there was such a variety (which I think there was) than it probably came after Watermelon was introduced.  Of course there were also a few brands of bubble gum that were experimenting with double flavor combos at this time and if I remember correctly they were also shaped like Bonkers (or vice versa) so we all might be remembering that as well.

1985 would also introduce another Bonkers promotion, but this time instead of a silly bike bag, this time you could earn a kickass freaking robot watch (Kronoform watch to be exact.)  God did I love these robot watches to hell and back.  I must have had at least three of ’em in various colors (one of which I think was even Transformers branded.)  These watches were the perfect camouflage for bringing toys to school and they were proven to be 92% less likely to be confiscated by the teacher.  I learned a powerful lesson in the 1st grade when I brought a bunch of my Empire Strikes Back figures to school one day and went home minus a Bespin Luke, an Ugnaut, and my Hoth Leia.  Even if the teacher did catch you with one of these watches, it’s not like they were going to take your watch away.  How would you know when to wait out front to get picked up or when 15 minutes had passed during recess with out a watch?  Hell, kids are stupid, if you tell them they have five minutes to take a potty break and you confiscate their watch they’ll probably sit on the can all day thinking only four minutes passed, I know I would.)

In 1986 there was an interesting if not somewhat disgusting (well to me at least) development in the Bonkers camp, Chocolate Bonkers.  I am seriously not a big fan of chocolate flavored things.  I mean, if you want to eat chocolate, eat chocolate.  The worst is chocolate bubble gum, which just seems like a nightmare made real for my chewing displeasure.  Chewy chocolate should be copyrighted by Tootsie Rolls andyway which is about as far in that direction as I’m willing to go, and even then only for a roll or two.

This all brings us to the reason I started this post, which is the 1986-1987 Bonkers Ugly Balls promotion which coincided with the Madballs craze and had a lot of people like me confused figuring they were one and the same.

Matt over at X-Entertainment did a nice write up on the whole situation, and he even has a bunch of the related commercials for eyeball melting viewing pleasure.  Captain Clueless always weirded me out because for such a clueless guy he sure did look like he could pummel the ever-living crap out of me.  And the blonde hair always seemed weird too, with the red gloves and stuff, he looks like a weird amalgamation of the Hulk, Fabio and DC’s the Creeper.