Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving Recap

Quick recap of my favorite  holiday in the history of the universe because it's the one day of the year where you're actually encouraged to eat like a pig.

First up, my specialty and signature dish: the mashed potatoes:

I wound up mashing 5 pounds worth of potatoes this year. My response when people ask me what my secret ingredient is: love. My response when people ask how much of each ingredient I put in: haven't a clue. I just keep experimenting until it's just right. Yessir, these potatoes may have been my best ever:

Main course:

Got two types of stuffing there; one with sausage and the other with sage. Obviously this is all fantastic but one of the things I love most about Thanksgiving is the return of the mighty CHRISTMAS SANDWICHES!!!

Turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and gravy packed into a dinner roll. It's the PERFECT combination of everything that is right in the world. The only thing that tops it might be this:

The bummer is that these guys are seasonal, unless we bust out some turkey at other points during the year. Remember that Faith Hill Christmas song from The Grinch? There's a lyric in it where she's all like "it'll be Christmas alllll the tiiiiiime!" That should be changed to "it'll be Christmas Sandwiches alllll the tiiiiiiime!" For real. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Hope you weren't fighting anyone in Walmart on Black Friday like a loser! Happy holidays! 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Star Wars Micro Machines

My boss had a birthday recently. He's not a fan of anything flashy but we wanted to present him with something cool and, since he's a huge fan, something Star Wars themed. It may have taken too long to get custom Star Wars pastries made in the short amount of time we had so I thought hey...let's just get the cupcakes and then top them ourselves with...STAR WARS MICRO MACHINES!!!

With all the frosting here they're clearly reenacting the Battle of Hoth

So I grew up in the 90s during the boom of the wildly popular Galoob line of Star Wars Micro Machines. From 1994 to about 1998, Galoob produced a plethora of Star Wars toys including playsets, ships, and action figures, but few matched up to the awesomeness of Micro Machines. 

Virtually every ship seen in the original trilogy, and to an extent the special edition releases of the late 90s, had its own Micro Machine. Even frickin' Dash Rendar's Outlander, which appears as a tiny speck in the re-release of Episode IV, received its own Mini-Me. Business was booming...until it wasn't. Eventually Galoob overextended itself, producing different variations of toys that were already on the market. Sales tanked and they were bought over by Hasbro, who maintained the Star Wars Micro Machines brand for a few years but discontinued it following the lackluster release of The Phantom Menace line. 

Over the years they gained kind of a cult following and certain pieces sell moderately well on eBay. I should know - I started buying certain figures earlier in the year to complete the collection that I started all those years ago - toys from my childhood that I kept. 

With the relaunch of the Star Wars franchise, Hasbro decided to revive the Micro Machines line and they've invaded stores nationwide. I bought these cupcake bad boys at Target for about 10 bucks total. Considering that 3 ships in the 90s went for about $7, I'd say $10 for 7 ships and two figures is a pretty good deal. Are they the same quality? Absolutely not. These ships feel flimsy and are obviously made with different material. Some also sport slightly different designs and colors from the Galoob lines which makes certain ships look like cheap knockoffs that may have been produced to fool people in the 90s. But, hey, they're back and that's good enough for me. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Campbell's Soup is Trash

Allow me to preface this by saying that I'm not a big fan of soup. I just...I don't get it. What's the point of having liquid meals unless your jaw is wired shut? It's just not a food that's really stuck with me. But alas, I found something at the market the other day that really stood out to me that follows the usual pattern of gigantic companies serving us crap. Study this image here:

You could take a drink from the ocean and you'd still find more sodium in this one little can

Guys, I have little girly hands; this can is not that big and it's got 480mg of sodium per serving, and Campbell's wisely divides the serving sizes up into 2.5 because there's always some schmuck out there who wants half a serving of soup. That means the total sodium amount in this one little can is 1200mg!!! 


That's the frickin' equivalent of this:

A Big Mac and large fries has nearly the IDENTICAL amount of sodium as one little can of Campbell's "Healthy Kids" soup. Can you believe that? What kind of health conscious person looking out for their offspring's interest is going to believe that 1200mg of sodium is "healthy" for their child? It's almost humorous how blatantly delusional Campbell's marketing department is. The thing is, people are gonna believe that Campbell's soup is good for you and especially a can like this that's branded as "healthy". Heck, it's even got low calorie and fat content! But the sodium is just as bad if not worse. I mean, I'd take the Big Mac and fries over this any day.

The good news is that Campbell's is currently rethinking their recipes and looking to roll out alternatives with fewer ingredients and, I'm guessing, lower sodium. Their sales are down and tastes are changing because people are catching on to all the bullcrap these giant food companies are slipping out to us. 1200mg cans of "healthy" kids soup is one of them.

Not that I'm a big soup connoisseur as I said, but I'm just sayin'. Give your kid some fruit or make chicken soup yourself using real ingredients. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

What Happened to Chili's?

I recently visited Chili's. I hadn't been to one since 2007 in Santa Clara, but I knew what they were all about; a slightly upgraded version of Denny's with a baby back rib signature dish.

After experiencing a below par dining experience and feeling lost on their menu, all I can think is...WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO CHILI'S??? Guys, what is going on here? 

First of all, let's get one thing out of the way: Why in the HELL is prime rib on the menu at Chili's? What's next? Roasted grizzly bear? When did Chili's go all fine dining on us? Their menu is seriously suffering through a major identity crisis and Chili's has no clue what it's trying to be other than a "one stop shop" for anything and everything. It's like the AM/PM of the restaurant industry. Want a burger? Check. Steak? Oh yeah! Mexican? Absolutely! I guess I can understand this identity crisis as Sizzler has tanked and I'm not sure how good TGIF is doing since I don't hear much about 'em anymore. I guess they had to expand their menu to stay competitive.

But wait! If the food tastes good then who cares if their menu is a little confused? Well, that's the problem: their food sucks, at least at this location. On this particular day I was starving and opted for a ribeye steak...yeah, yeah, after trashing about them about the steaks I go and order one. I'm an asshole, I get it. The steak came with an order of two sides from a list of about six uninspiring selections. The result? The steak experiment didn't really work out:

Ribeye steak, beans, a butter lugey, and crusted mashed potatoes

So I usually order my steaks medium and more times than not they're served to me well done. Today I decided to live dangerously and ordered the ribeye medium rare. Because I had little faith they'd cook it correctly anyway, I figure it'd automatically cook to medium. The plan backfired. The steak came back rare, not the biggest issue in the world, but just, like, why the hell can't anyone properly cook a steak? Gordon Ramsay must be rolling around in his lamb sauce. 

The mashed potatoes were a disaster. Too much butter, not enough seasoning, and for some reason they were topped with this crusty cheese shell thing. Like everything at Chili's, it's just butter, cheese, and salt. That's it. Even the frickin' steak had a glob of butter on it, but it was still okay (despite the wrong cooking temperature). The potatoes? Awful. Since I make the greatest mashed potatoes in the universe, I was especially insulted by their incompetence. 

For an appetizer we ordered nachos, but instead what we got were, like, cheese chips:

Let's just add cheese onto everything to mask the fact that we don't know what we're doing anymore

The last part I'm gonna share is the dish from the other member of my party who ordered a chicken club sandwich thing. The problem? It had so much lettuce on it that even a vegan would complain. Check it out:

The San Diego version of Fangorn Forest

Note the lettuce on the plate; that was actually TAKEN OFF from this half of the sandwich. I DIDN'T KNOW THIS SANDWICH CAME TOPPED WITH A SALAD, CHILI'S! YOU SHOULD UPDATE YOUR MENU ACCORDINGLY! 

The baby back ribs, the original Chili's specialty, now just randomly appear in the menu. It's just very strange how this place has evolved but if you're looking for junk food I'd check out Denny's instead.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Jerk Store Called

On the eastern side of the state of California there are a set of beautiful mountains. Along that set of beautiful mountains is a two-lane rural highway. Along that two-lane rural highway is a little shack in a gopher hole of a town called Olancha, population: 192. In that gopher hole of a town along that two-lane rural highway beside a set of beautiful mountains is a shack known famously as Gus's Fresh Jerky, or as I call it...THE JERK STORE!!!

I had sex with your wife

So yeah, the 395 travels along virtually the entire eastern side of California where you see a bunch of gnarly small towns, old west attractions, and roadside stops such as Gus's. We had passed Gus's a few times before but opted to skip it last time because, well, the exterior looks like the kind of place Jared Fogle would lure young children into so we avoided it. But alas, this time we felt brave to venture inside and it actually has quite a lovely interior. In addition to a plethora of jerky products, it also has ample supplies of honey, pistachios/nuts, and salt water taffy. Prices are a little high, but that's to be expected. Service is nice and friendly and they provide free samples. 

They carry traditional types of jerky such as sweet and spicy, honey, teriyaki, etc. but are also known for carrying more exotic meats such as buffalo, elk, and venison. They happened to be out of elk and venison but wouldn't you know it, they had buffalo in stock so, naturally, it didn't take long to make my selection. That one bag costs $20 though so you would think it would be amazingly delicious, right? Ehhhhh. Not quite.

If a natural flavor is added then does that actually make it natural?

So, buffalo jerky. It's not much, it's stiff, it's got flavor, and it also contains more sodium than a Denny's double cheeseburger. The aroma from this package is so strong that you'll feel like you just snorted a line of salt. The taste is so strong that you'll need chap stick after a few bites to clear the salty residue on your lips. Is it bad? Depends on your taste. It was okay for me but $20 for this tiny bag and a flavor that's dominated by salt isn't really worth it, not to mention it contains sodium nitrate. 

That's another thing: why the nitrate? Why is a jerky that claims to be "really fresh" utilizing the services of a nitrate? "Well, Greg, you idiot; jerky by nature is filled with preservatives and that's what nitrates do." Yes, but nitrates also cause cancer and people are starting to avoid products that contain them as an ingredient. It's also important to point out that some of the best jerky products on the market DO NOT contain nitrates or nitrites. Perky Jerky, Sprouts brand, and Krave are just a few. Pair that with the fact that they have better ingredients, less sodium, and actually cost LESS than crap like Jack Link's and it makes you wonder how some of these nitrate-packed brands even stay in business.

I thought Gus's "really fresh" jerky would be just that: really fresh. But it's kinda sorta not. I get it, though: it's a roadside novelty so it's pricey, it's salty, and it's supposed to be delicious. That's the shtick and the appeal, but it just wasn't for me.

If you're on the 395 and want to try some out for yourself, there's signs about 50 miles in either direction advertising it so it's hard to miss. I would, however, be open to trying the elk or venison, as those are two proteins that Greg's Gourmet is yet to try. If you happen to give them a whirl then let me know how they are!