Tag: Review (page 2 of 2)

Things We Ate At The Minnesota State Fair 2014

The Great Minnesota Get-Together is like a statewide family reunion.

On this Labor Day Weekend Saturday, Jake and I attended the Minnesota State Fair with his brother and my dad. The afternoon was hot and sunny and the density of people was literally shoulder-to-shoulder. You couldn’t find somewhere to sit even if you wanted to. Earlier in the day, the lines to popular food vendors were intimidating, but the fair opened up a bit as the evening approached. The cool evening air helped, too.

We laughed at ourselves as we grumbled about the crowds and the heat and the lines. They’re still all a part of the fair experience that we love and we’d always return, nevertheless.

The Minnesota State Fair vendors’ competitive spirit of food ingenuity builds momentum and makes this fair especially unique. I prepare for our visit each year by studying Heavy Table and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s opening-day reviews of the new fair foods. Part of the tradition is trying the much-talked-about new foods for yourself and comparing your notes with others. Two people will love and hate the same food with equal passion and that’s what makes it fun.

On this year’s visit, sharing foods between four people was much nicer than sharing it between two, though we still had limited stomach space. Here’s what we ate this year:

The Blue Barn
The Blue Barn is a stunning new fair restaurant from the restauranteurs that own the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. We arrived hungry and stopped here first.

Blue Barn

The line was long but moved quickly. We were impressed by how the barn was open for business from both sides.

Blue Barn Collage

From Left to Right: Chicken in a Waffle, Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz, Meatloaf on a Stick

Chicken in a Waffle: I was most curious about this food because of all of the positive feedback.

This food annoyed me. First, the item was $9.75. $9.75! Nothing was technically wrong with the item; the sausage gravy was flavorful and the chicken pieces were crispy and pleasantly spicy. But I had expected the chicken to taste freshly battered or breaded and have more of a buffalo kick. Instead, it reminded me of a frozen popcorn chicken product.

Jake and forgotten to order the Chicken in a Waffle without the malted milk ball in the bottom of the cone. He ended up eating this last bite and described it as “interesting,” in true Minnesotan fashion.

Placing a malted milk ball in the cone reminds me of something a panicked Chopped competitor would do. I have this mental picture of a chef saying, “Oh crap, I have fried chicken, an ice cream cone, sausage, and malted milk balls. I forgot to use the candy and have a minute left on the clock. I know, I’ll drop the milk ball inside the ice cream cone!”

The two brothers really enjoyed this food and gave it high marks, while it was too spicy for my dad who has no heat tolerance. Jake thought the popcorn chicken was noticeably higher in quality and flavor than generic popcorn chicken, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I say this time and time again only because I mean it: To each his or her own ☺

I think I might be alone on this one and that’s ok.

Blue Cheese and Corn Fritz: A Heavy Table staff member gave these fritters a dismal rating, writing that he ordered them “to the garbage heap.” In contrast, this was my favorite fair food. I’m not sure if Blue Barn changed their recipe or execution since opening day, but I found them delightfully crispy, corny puffballs. They had a gentle corn flavor with a very mild blue cheese presence, which might disappoint those who wish for a stronger blue cheese flavor. Together, the fritters and accompanying chimichurri sauce tasted refreshing and herby, hitting all of my favorite sweet and savory notes.

Meatloaf on a Stick: The meatloaf’s price made me cringe at $8.25, but we all enjoyed it. The portion really wasn’t large enough to justify the price, but we found the meatloaf flavorful and moist and liked the sweet and spicy sauce. I always glaze my homemade meatloaf with a similar sweet and spicy sauce, so it was right up my alley.

Corn Roast
The corn roast. Oh, the corn roast. We never miss the corn roast.

Corn

Jake takes his State Fair corn seriously.

This massive ear of sweet corn tasted perfectly toasty and dripped with real butter. Jake is the master of seasoning it with the perfect amount of salt and pepper.

Mini-Donut Beer by Lift Bridge Brewing Company & Indeed’s Sweet Yamma Jamma Ale
Jake and his brother enjoy trying different craft beers and made a point to try these two special varieties at the Ballpark Cafe. Lift Bridge introduced this fair only Mini-Donut beer last summer and brought it back. This was our first taste.

Donut Beer

Lift Bridge Mini-Donut Beer

Jake wasn’t a huge fan of the beer because of its sweetness and his preference for bitter IPA’s. Considering that Lift Bridge was attempting to mimic a mini donut, he felt they executed it well. I like smooth, light beers and thought it tasted pleasant, but neither of us liked the sugar coating around the glass’ rim.

I should preface these thoughts by explaining that when the brothers had first returned from the Ballpark with the beers, one of them handed it to me saying, “Try this!” I took a big sip without asking what kind of beer it was and was not prepared for a mouth full of sugar.

We all enjoyed the Slamma Jamma ale brewed with sweet potatoes. The ale didn’t taste distinguishably of sweet potatoes, but we liked its smooth and subtle pumpkin spice flavor. Mmmm. . . fall.

Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, Food Building
Like the roasted corn, Mouth Trap cheese curds are one of our annual fair traditions.

We’ve tried both cheese curd vendors and prefer the Mouth Trap. The stand is run so efficiently, it’s like a machine and the curds STILL cost $5 a boat. No matter how long the line is, you’ll collect your cheese curds within minutes. I wanted to salute them.

Cheese Curds 2014

The thin, crispy batter rocks and the cheese basically squeaks even after spending time in the fryer.

Other Things We Ate (Not Pictured):

Gyro from Demetri’s Greek FoodJake always visits Demitri’s for a respectable and well-constructed gyro. The meat is sliced nicely, the yogurt sauce tastes fresh, and we appreciate the slivers of fresh tomato and onions.

Fried Jalapeno Cheese on a Stick: Once upon a time in grade school, I ordered cheese on a stick at Valley Fair and it was a crushing disappointment I’ve never forgotten. I thought the batter-covered American cheese was just gross. On the flip side, Jake and his brother fondly remember Valley Fair’s cheese on a stick.

Jake’s brother passed around Fried Jalapeno Cheese on a Stick and I was surprised to find I couldn’t stop eating it. It was still made with white American cheese, but the batter was super crunchy, and, for whatever reason, the salty, gooey American cheesiness just worked (for me, at least).

Pronto Pup
One of my fair food traditions is grabbing a Pronto Pup or corn dog from the vendor closest to the fair’s exit. I love how an employee at this stand carefully brushes your choice of ketchup or mustard on the Pronto Pup. It just feels more special than pumping your own.

pronto pup

I wore this hat all the way home.

This year, we tried a few new foods and returned for many of our favorites. Each year’s food trends may come and go and we may continue to live in different parts of the Midwest, but we’ll always look forward to visiting the Great Minnesota Get-Together with our families.

What were your favorite and least favorite fair foods this year? What do you always get at any summer fair?

Taste Test: Shelf-Stable, Prepackaged Indian Foods

Indian food is one of my favorite comfort foods.

It’s not a cuisine that Jake and I grew up eating, but one we’ve sought as adults. Our mothers’ casseroles and wild rice and chicken soups will always taste like comfort food, but we also seek solace in spicy Indian foods like saag with paneer and vegetable korma.

When you think of Fargo, ND, you might not think of Indian food, but we routinely visited the city’s two Indian restaurants that stacked up against our favorite in the Twin Cities. Both restaurants served dishes in the most complex and addictive sauces and honored our requests for “extra-spicy” and we loved them for it. There were also a couple of stores that sold Indian spices in big bags that I’ve brought with me to Iowa.

There isn’t an Indian restaurant or grocery store in Mason City (yet), so I’ve tried to make a few dishes at home. They taste flat compared to what we remember ordering, so I need to keep practicing.

We’ve tried a few brands of shelf-stable, prepackaged Indian foods available at our grocery stores. They’re far from homemade, but sometimes taste better than my attempts at Indian food and are decent meal options for when I don’t want to cook. I serve them with steamed basmati rice, pita, and yogurt sauce I make from combining plain or Greek-style yogurt, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, lime juice, cucumber and grated carrot.

Here’s what we thought:

Indian Food Collage.jpg

Tasty Bite Jodhpur Lentils & Punjab Eggplant: I picked-up these bags for $2.96 each from the clearance end cap at Target. Of these three brands, Tasty Bite struck me as the least spicy. Both Jake and I liked the Punjab eggplant the best out of all four products. I liked its creamy texture and the flavor didn’t become one-note. I thought the lentils were just ok.

Jyoti Dehli Saag: I’ve found the JYOTI cans in the natural food sections of many grocery stores. They cost between $3-4 and typically cost a tad more than the other brands. I’ve tried a couple other varieties of dishes from this brand and find them to be more intensely flavored than the other brands.

This spinach and mustard green saag was the most intense of the four products. It also tasted the most salty so I diluted it with some water. I liked its kick of heat, though the Kitchens of India Mashed Vegetable Curry may have tasted a tad spicier. The mustard greens in the saag lent a funky flavor that I struggled with through the meal. We have yet to touch the leftovers.

Kitchens of India Mashed Vegetable Curry: This was our second favorite product. We liked the shimmer of spicy red oil. The ingredients include potatoes, tomatoes, green peas and onions, though it was difficult to identify exactly what we were tasting since the curry’s texture was like a thick sauce. This curry avoided having a one-note flavor and we finished the pouch.

All of these were products cost between $3-4. As positives, these products contain a surprisingly short list of ingredients free of strange chemicals and preservatives I can’t pronounce. As negatives, all of the products have pureed textures like baby food. Have you ever tried shelf-stable Indian food? Which ones do you consider hits and misses?

Our Second NatureBox: A Review

*This is NOT a sponsored post. We pay for our own subscription because we like mail and we like snacks!

Our second NatureBox was better than our first.

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This time around, we asked fellow subscribers what their favorite NatureBox snacks were and added some to our order.

We did experience a possible glitch, though. NatureBox advertised a small selection of $1 add-on snacks, so I chose a bag of Santa Fe Corn Stix. What we actually received was two bags of Santa Fe Corn Stix, minus the bag of Mango Orange Fruit Chews I had specified. I was initially disappointed since the Corn Stix was a $1 add-on, but we liked them so much we no longer cared.

We subscribe to the five snacks for $20 a month plan. For May, we received Sourdough Cheddar Pretzels, Bombay Curried Cashews, Citrus Chipotle Chickpeas, Big Island Pineapple, and two bags of Santa Fe Corn Stix.

Here’s what we thought of our snacks:

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Santa Fe Corn Stix: These actually turned out to be one of our favorite snacks. They are addictive and flavored with a light salsa seasoning. Jake likened them to a gourmet version of Andy’s Hot Fries. Since we received two bags, we each took our one bag to work.

Sourdough Cheddar Pretzels: This is my second favorite snack. The pretzel nubs are coated in a thick cheesy powder that has a sweet beer flavor. I love how intensely cheesy and salty they taste

Citrus Chipotle Chickpeas: I chose this flavor of chickea because I enjoyed the black pepper variety so much. The seasoning on these crunchy chickpeas reminds of the chili-lime coated snacks I enjoyed in Mexico. NatureBox’s are a little spicy (I can always use more heat) and taste more of chipotle than citrus. The seasoning powder is bright red, so I eat them at home instead of at work, lest I coat all of my work documents with freaky red fingerprints.

Bombay Curried Cashews: Neither of us is enthusiastic about this snack mix, but I don’t dislike it so much that I won’t finish it. Despite its name, the Bombay Curried Cashews mix is mostly comprised of not cashews. It also contains walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds plus dried apple, raisins and craisins. The yellow curry seasoning is milder than I expected and the whole mix is a little too sweet with dried fruits for my tastes. It reminds me of eating chutney.

Big Island Pineapple: I ordered this snack specifically because someone recommended it to me and I had an inkling Jake would like it. I don’t often seek dried fruit. To me, these just tasted like dried pineapple.

There is no photo of the pineapple rings because Jake liked them so much that he took them to work and promptly enjoyed them. He’s going to add another bag to our order next month. I have to note this snack came in the smallest portion size, clocking in at three ounces while the rest of the snacks weighed between four and six ounces.

Concluding Thoughts:
Soon after we received our first box, I was leaning towards canceling our subscription but we’ve since changed our minds.

We like having a variety of snacks to choose from during the month and the protein-rich ones are helpful for tiding us over at work. Sure, some of the snacks are healthier than others, but they’re all free from artificial colors, sweeteners flavors, trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup.

Five-six bags of snacks seems like a good quantity for the two of us each month. Plus, it’s fun to see Jake get enthusiastic over the subscription service, so it looks like we’ll remain NatureBox customers for now.

Thoughts On Our First NatureBox Snacks

This is not a sponsored post. We pay for our subscription with our own money and have never been contacted by NatureBox to review their products. 

Look, snacks!

We just received our first NatureBox filled with six bags of snacks. NatureBox is essentially a monthly snack subscription service where you order resealable bags of snacks free of high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, sweeteners and flavors, transfats & hydrogenated fats. Subscribers can also sort the online listing of snacks by categories to avoid food allergens and GMO’s.

The snacks range from sweet to savory and you can pick them all out yourself or let Naturebox surprise you. We chose the snacks in our first box.

Regarding pricing, you can choose five snacks for $20, 10 for $30, or 20 for $50. Subscription box services always seem to offer promotional coupon codes and NatureBox is currently offering 50% off your first box. NatureBox states that to cancel one’s subscription, subscribers need to call at least five days before the next billing date listed on their online profile page.

We are always looking for snacks we can bring with us to work so we aren’t going out to grab more unhealthy convenience foods so we thought we’d give Naturebox at least two months to see if it’s worth the $20/month fee.

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For our first five snacks, we chose sriracha roasted cashews, pb&j granola, whole wheat figgy bars, Honey Mustard Dippin’ Stix and peppery chickpeas. NatureBox threw in a bonus bag of Toasted Cheddar Stix. I don’t know why they capitalize some of their titles and not others. 

Here are our thoughts on our first box:

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Cashews are one of my favorite nuts. I once embarassed myself at a party when I realized I had eaten all of the cashews out of the host’s mixed nut bowl.

These cashews had a pleasant sweet and salty flavor and carried a kick of heat. For whatever reason, I detect a slight fishy flavor that reminds me of fish sauce or kimchee. This could just be me, but I like fish sauce and kimchee so I don’t care. This is the smallest snack bag containing 4 oz while the other bags ranged between 4.5-6 oz.

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The texture of this granola surprised me. I was expecting it to be crunchy but it’s soft. I like the peanut butter flavor and appreciate that it’s not terribly sweet. The granola would make a nice addition to a morning bowl of cereal or a work snack, but, we wish it was crunchier. I’m not a fan of chewy granola bars.

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Sesame sticks have always been one of my favorite snacks and the honey-mustard flavoring reminds me of Snyder’s Pretzel Nibblers except a little sweeter.

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Of all six snack bags, I find myself returning to these peppery chickpeas most frequently. They are light and crunchy and spicy with black pepper. I like these so much I will try one of the other flavors.

Not Pictured: Whole Wheat Figgy Bars
Jake specifically chose these figgy bars because he’s fond of Fig Newtons. I am not. He excitedly brought the bag with him to work and now there are no more figgy bars. For detailed photos, see this blog post from The Beauty Deputy.

The bag contained five, individually wrapped bars sized somehwere inbetween a Fig Newton and typical breakfast bar.

While Jake enjoyed the bars, he mentioned they didn’t strike him as any more or less compelling than a Fig Newton.

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NatureBox generously added this sixth bonus snack bag of Toasted Cheddar Stix. Instead of being coated in honey-mustard, they are coated in cheese powder. I like their saltiness, but I taste a citric acid-like tang in the seasoning that I don’t love.

These are actually Jake’s favorite snack in the box.

Concluding Thoughts:
Our first month of NatureBox was a steal since we used the promotion to get 50% off our first box. Since NatureBox threw in an extra treat, we paid $10 for six bags of snacks. $20 a month for five bags of snacks seems steep but we’re going to give it at least one more month before we decide if we’d like to try Graze.

Friends recommended we try anything spicy, the dried pineapple, guacamole bites, lemon tea biscuits, masa crisps and sunshine chips. Interestingly, one person liked the Peanut Butter Nom Noms while another said it was the worst item they received.

Pluses:

  • The ability to choose our snacks. My tastes run salty, so I’d be unsatisfied if the boxes were skewed in the sweet direction.
  • The variety. There are so many snacks to choose, both savory and sweet.
  • Snacks don’t contain artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners, and high fructose corn syrup and you to avoid GMO’s and common allergens. We live in a smaller community with limited grocery shopping options so this provides snacks we can’t necessarily find locally.
  • It’s simply fun to receive a box of snacks each month.

Minuses:

  • $20 for five bags of snacks is not cheap.
  • The quantity in each bag of snacks varies.
  • While some of our snacks were fine, they did not taste more or less compelling than what I could pick out in the bulk section of any grocery store.

I’m becoming a subscription box hopper. We plan to try NatureBox for at least one more month at its full-priced rate before deciding if we want to try Graze. I cancelled my ipsy subscription and ordered a cosmetic-only Memebox that’s scheduled to ship mid-May (because why wouldn’t you want to see an adopted Korean try Korean cosmetics?). Then, I’ll try Birchbox

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