Tag: taste test

We Tried A Bunch Of Things At Trader Joe’s (Updated)

Living in cities hours from the nearest Trader Joe’s has left me really excited about living near a Trader Joe’s again. In St. Louis, we have so many types of grocery stores, specialty meat markets, and bakeries. There are farmers markets, too. I try to explore a different combination each week.

What I like about Trader Joe’s the best is that it offers reasonable prices for fancy-ish ingredients. Like every Trader Joe’s I’ve visited, the employees are friendly and the parking lot is a death trap. Here’s a rundown of some of the most memorable foods we’ve tasted, categorized on a spectrum between “Favorites” and “Meh.”

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Not Too Cool For Gas Station Breakfast Pizza + A Pizza Party

“Cause there ain’t no party like the pre-party
And after the party is the after-party
At the gas station pizza party (yea, pass me the chicken wings).”

I have no idea why this, but Lee Brice song comes to mind. We weren’t eating pizza in a parking lot and there were no chicken wings.

Gas station pizza is kind of a thing here, especially gas station breakfast pizza. In early February, actress Mila Kunis made the Des Moines Register when she commented that Casey’s General Store makes her favorite gas station snack, a “delicious breakfast pizza” in a Reddit AMA.

It’s not that we have bad taste in North Iowa, it’s that we have a lot of Casey’s and that their breakfast pizza is actually pretty good. North Iowa is composed of many small towns. We live in the biggest city in North Iowa which clocked in at 27,500 in 2013. Some towns like Plymouth are tiny with 373 residents and many fall somewhere in between like Charles City at 7,500. We drive a lot just like we did in the Twin Cities, but unlike a 30-minute commute between Apple Valley, MN and Minneapolis, there might not be as much between the cities. There’s usually a Casey’s somewhere in-between and there are some small towns in which a Casey’s in one of the only businesses.

During the first year I lived in Mason City, I worked at a small nonprofit in Osage, a town of 6,500.

Osage Fiargrounds

The Osage Iowa fairgrounds, summer of 2014.

It took me 40-minutes to drive to work on good-weather days. The only place to stop for gas, or anything, really, was Manly, Iowa. When my tank ran low or a train blocked Highway 9, I’d pull into Casey’s to fill my tank and grab a slice of breakfast pizza.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Casey’s Pizza is Pizzeria Lola or Broders’, but you might also find their breakfast pizza tastes surprisingly good. It’s the only breakfast pizza that doesn’t gross me out and it’s available at gas stations in rural Iowa. I like the crust and the cheese is the real, chewy kind. After I eat a slice, I keep smelling whiffs of butter. In fact, I think it tastes better than many chain pizza joints.

After Mila mentioned Casey’s breakfast pizza, we began talk about it on Twitter. Gas station Kum & Go jumped into a conversation and offered to let us try their breakfast pizza, too. Before I knew it, my North Iowa blogger friends had coordinated a pizza party.

caseys box

Casey’s, Kum & Go and Godfather’s generously donated pies. Jenny brought Iowan beer, Donna contributed a frozen, gluten-free Udi’s pizza, and I brought a pizza margarita from our new, local Italian restaurant Pasta Bella.

Me and Pizza

Beth always offers to host our tasting parties and really is the hostess with the mostess. She made voting sheets complete with smiley face stickers for voting, pizza signs, and caprese salad.

Beths caprese salad

Val brought her famous Overnight Salad. It’s a layered salad of lettuce, cauliflower, onion, parmesan, mayo, and sugar that sits overnight and you toss before serving.

Val Salad Collage

Honestly, I preferred Val’s salad over the pizzas and returned for seconds. My version of Overnight Salad will never be as good as Val’s because it included bacon she and her husband made on their farm. They cut it into super thick chunks. It was like I was eating succulent pieces of pork belly instead of the bacon strips I usually find. Val said she and her husband chuckle when presented with what people typically refer to as “thick-cut bacon.”

There were so many types of pizza that I lost track of what I tasted. I filled my plate with pieces of cut-up slices and soon gave up keeping track of what they were. Plus, I kept wanting to eat that salad.

Pizza Collage
Everyone had their favorites. I posted about our party on my social media accounts and learned that Godfather’s has a very loyal following. I haven’t eaten it since college.

godfathers combo

In case you were wondering, this is what a Kum & Go breakfast pizza looks like. Why should let Casey’s completely sweep the gas station breakfast pizza game;) I was in a pizza coma when I tasted this pizza, but someone said Kum & Go’s also adds hashbrowns.

kumandgobreakfast

We voted for our favorites and Pasta Bella received the most. I liked that it had a thin crust and delicate tasting toppings that included fresh tomatoes and basil. Our newest blogger Loni said it tasted closest to the pizzas she enjoyed in Italy.

Pasta Bella Pizza

And so a North Iowa Pizza Part: Part II is in order. Obviously we are missing many places like Little Chicago, Pete’s Kitchen, Breadeaux, Azzolina’s, and The Other Place. We’re just taking it a few pizzas at a time.

pizza party group

Photo taken by Donna with a selfie stick. Carrying on our dear friend Amy’s tradition.

Fifteen months ago, four of us North Iowa bloggers met for dinner for the first time. Now, our group’s grown to nearly 30 people. Comparing life in a big metropolitan area like Minneapolis-St. Paul to North Iowa is like comparing apples to oranges. Sure, I miss the lakes and ordering eggplant pizza from Broders’ anytime I’d like. But the skies here are big and I hope I’m never too cool for gas station breakfast pizza.

I miss Amy and I love these women. Life with these friendships is good.

Taste Testing Four Retro School Cafeteria Foods

We’re a little stir crazy, so we decided to taste test retro food products.

I want to complain about the snow, but also feel pride that this weather makes us tougher. When 20 degrees rolls around, I’ll be gleefully running errands without a hat while people in warmer states will shiver at the thought.

Yesterday read -6 with a doomsday windchill. The snowflakes remind me of the fake snow found in department store displays. It’s so light and fluffy that the winds whip it into white outs. Our little dog is stir crazy, too. Yesterday, I asked him if he wanted to head outside and go to the bathroom.

Trayse Collage Blizzard

Well, OK then. I suppose I wouldn’t want to either.

How does one fend off cabin fever during a week when school’s cancelled due to the cold? Taste test wacky retro products, of course. For this project, I visited Fareway‘s meat counter and Martin Bros. Food Market in Mason City, Iowa. I appreciate how the butchers at Fareway treat every product with the same dignity, from ribeye steaks to processed Mr. Rib patties. They carefully measure each item and wrap them tidy little packages with brown paper.

Fareway goodies wm
Martin Brothers sells bulk foods and party supplies. You’ll find items like big bags of vegetables and every fried appetizer you could possibly imagine in their coolers.

I selected four items that harkened back to my grade school cafeteria days: Pizza Patties, BBQ Rib Patties, and Chicken Crispitos from Fareway and Mexican Pizzas from Martin Bros.

Pizza Patty: I fondly remember “Pizza Burgers” from grade school. Of course, that was over two decades ago, but, then again, I still like corn dogs so there’s that. I remember our Pizza Burgers looking a lot different from this patty, but wanted to try it anyway. Think of the pizza patty as the center of a butcher wrap blossom. $1.66/each

Pizza Patty wm

Meet the Crispito. Back when I wrote a post about school cafeteria memories, I noticed a funny thing. Minnesotans raved about Italian Dunker Day while Iowans fondly remembered Crispitos. I bought two of the chicken variety. Price $1 each

Crispito wm

Hello there BBQ Rib Patty. Why our school never called this Mrs. Rib, I don’t know, but I won’t fight the gentlemen for this honor. You’ve got to appreciate the artistry that went into creating the pressed and formed rib shape complete with three rib nubs and painted on grill marks. I can only compare this product to my grade school memories, for I have never eaten a McRib. $1.25 each

Mr Rib wm

And finally, who remembers Mexican Pizzas? Our elementary school offered pizza once a week and always listed them as “Tony’s Pizza.” Pizza day was special because we could choose from big rectangles of cheese, pepperoni or sausage pizza or this hexagonal oddity, the Fiestada.

I was surprised to find bags of Fiestadas at Martin Bros. In fact, they carried bags of the other pizza rectangles, too. I did some research and home and read Martin Bros. sources this Mexican Pizza from Schwan’s who sources them from Tony’s (or something like that), meaning they’re the closest I’ll get to the real deal. $0.83 each

Mexican pizza

I baked the products at 375℉ until pizza was bubbly and the Crispito was, well, crispy.

Taste Testing Verdict:
Drumroll. . .

Everything Labeled

Pizza Patty: A reader mentioned this product is best fried. It crisped in the oven and oozed cheese. Long story short, this wasn’t our thing because we didn’t enjoy the strong sausage flavor. There’s a lonely Pizza Patty, whom I shall call Patty, chilling in our fridge. Any takers?

Mr. Rib: This was our favorite item. Baking the patty gave it a firmer texture while the sauce formed a glaze. We split the patty in half and them in small buns with dill pickle chips. Jake commented Fareway’s tastes better than the McRib. It’s so naughty-good we’re going to eat the second Mr. Rib. Sorry if you’ve gotten attached to him Miss Pizza Patty.

Crispito: When I first pulled the tubular Crispito from its wrapping, I knew my main goal was to make it crisp. Afterall, it is a Crispito, right? What appeared to be a corn tortilla shell did, in fact, crisp up in the oven. I have no idea what comprises the filling, but it tastes similar to the El Monterey Taquitos my mom used to purchase. Jake and I dipped each half into salsa and concluded the product tasted pretty good. If you like Taquitos, there’s really nothing objectionable about this. Jake still prefers Taquitos, but I prefer Crispitos.

*Some friends added Fareway’s Crispitos taste closest to the ones served in their school cafeterias while others nominated Martin Bros‘s.

Mexican Pizza/Fiestada: This hexagonal wonder still tastes like it did in grade school.

Fiestada Cooked

The only difference is the crust seems puffier. According to Schwan’s website, the crust contains 51% whole grains (not just 50%, but 51% lol) which lends a heartier texture.

“It tastes good. No wonder it’s still around,” observed Jake. While we want to space out our Fiestada consumption, we won’t cry over the five left in our freezer.

And this concludes my foray into revisiting school cafeteria foods. Is there a specific food you’d like to revisit or leave in the past?

The Ecstasies & Horrors Of Trying Eight Flavors Of Oreos: North Iowa Bloggers Taste Test

I don’t want to eat another Oreo for 10 years.

Seriously. I saw some at a picnic yesterday and passed.

It’s been two months since the North Iowa Bloggers got together to taste weird things, which is way too long. We reconvened this week to test taste weird Oreos and celebrate fall birthdays.

Beth set up this impressive Oreo tasting station complete with a smiley face voting system. She really is the hostess with the mostest. You’ll notice the table is not only decorated with flowers, but photos of Donna & Laura. We make “flat” versions of bloggers who can’t attend our taste testing events because we’re like that.

flat people

Here’s a glimpse of our potluck buffet. I brought bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with basil-lemon goat cheese pictured below on the left.

meal Collage

Potlucks are the best because they feed my dip obsession. We enjoyed Pulled Pork, baked potato dip, bagel dip, caramel apple dip, strawberry-basil balsamic foccacia, savory cheese dip & that Midwestern Snickers salad, something I’ve only seen in Iowa. It was imperative that we create a substantial base in our stomachs in preparation for the Oreos.

We sacrificed one of each cookie to create this artwork. So yes, exactly eight Oreos were harmed in the process.

oreo raibow Frame

Top Row: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Berry, Root Beer Float, Peanut Butter
Bottom Row: Pumpkin Spice, Caramel Apple, Chocolate Birthday Cake, Vanilla Birthday Cake

My three favorite flavors are Pumpkin Spice, Peanut Butter, and Cookie Dough.

Good Oreo Collage

Pumpkin Spice: I was surprised this cookie tasted more like cookie butter than a pumpkin spice latte. “Hey guys, it tastes like Speculoos!” I shouted.

Everyone’s mouth dropped and then there was silence.

My mouth was full of cookie. And since I had no idea how to pronounce “Speculoos,” having only read the word but never hearing it pronounced, everyone thought I said the cookie tasted like a speculum. I promise you it didn’t, unless speculums taste like Speculoos or you really hate pumpkin spice. Not that I would know or anything.

Peanut Butter: Unless you hate peanut butter, this chocolate-peanut butter combo will not offend.

Cookie Dough: This was the last Oreo I tasted. Frankly, there’s nothing that exciting about stuffing a cookie with cookie-dough flavored frosting, but it tasted innocuous enough and didn’t make me cringe, so, up it went up into my top three.

The Oreos that made my face go like this were banished to the bottom five.

Bad Cookie Collage with poopy

My least favorite flavors were Root Beer, Berry, Birthday Cake and Berry.

Root Beer: I took this shocked and appalled selfie (Oreoelfie?) with root beer Oreo residue still clinging to the sides of my mouth. The root beer flavor in the frosting was strong. Like Vicks Vapor Rub strong. I could feel root beer vapors wafting from my tongue into the deep recesses of my brain with each inhele. I wouldn’t say that I wanted to die, but I can’t say I didn’t want the Oreo to die. Root beer cookies just no.

Berry: I hated this icky, fake-fruit flavor. Many of us thought it smacked of pink medicine.

Caramel Apple: Again, I disliked the fake fruit flavor, this time in green apple. It wasn’t medicinal like the berry, but still gross. Are these fruity flavors the precursor to Jolly Rancher Oreos? We couldn’t find the fruit punch flavor in our local stores and none of us cried about it.

Birthday Cake (Vanilla & Chocolate): I spit out my first bite of Vanilla Birthday Cake Oreo before forgoing the chocolate. Until this day, I’d avoided Birthday Cake flavored everything, which makes me biased. I don’t even like real birthday cake.

North Dakota blogger Molly Yeh writes about Funfetti and Birthday Cake flavors in a post about Funfetti Biscotti. She hits the nail on the head when she identifies clear, artificial vanilla extract as tasting like nostalgia. For many, this tastes like the grade school birthday parties and vanilla lip glosses Yeh mentions.

For me, the flavor tastes like the smell of the tweeny body splashes my friends used to douse themselves in after gym class that always made me nauseous. Birthday Cake and Funfetti enthusiasts will like these Oreos.

Visit my fellow North Iowa bloggers to find out which Oreos brought them ecstasy or horror. Our opinions differ widely. Who knows what we will try next!

Group Photo

Don’t ask me why I’m holding a Berry Oreo.

My Fellow Taste Testers
Amy, Modern Rural Living
Beth, It’s Just Life
Katy, Learning As I Go
Sara, All In An Iowan Mom’s Day & Travel With Sara
Val, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

(In Absentia)
Donna, Donnahup.com
Laura, All Things Travel 

The Ten Most Memorable Foods We Ate During The 90’s + Lunchable Pepperoni Pizza Revisit

I missed throw-back Thursday, but I want to take a moment to talk about those 90’s foods we ate as kids and revisit an old favorite.

Munch ’ems
Just the mere sight of a box brought the flavor of Munch ’ems Sour Cream & Onion and cheese powders back into my mouth, two decades later where I am unhappy to say they are still lingering. My lunches were accompanied by so many Munch ’ems.

WOW! Chips
WOW! chips were supposedly a revolutionary fat-free potato chips fried in a magical substance called Olestra. People gobbled WOW! potato chips and Doritos like crazy until they learned that eating them in large quantities caused diarrhea and gas, and that Olestra prevents the body from absorbing vitamins.

WOW! we’re fat-free chips became WOW! you have diarrhea which is probably why I haven’t seen or heard the word Olestra since the 90’s. My parents were very strict about portion control, so Wow!-induced intestinal distress was never an issue for us (that I can remember). I hope America learned to eat real chips. Just not too many.

Snackwells Fat Free Cookies
My folks were really into the fat-free and sugar-free food movement that surged (no pun intended) during the 90’s.

Our cupboards were always filled with these green boxes of Snackwell’s diet cookies. I ate them, but did not especially like them. As an adult, I’d rather eat no cookie than a fat and sugar-free cookie. I am morally opposed to diet desserts which is why I won’t bring myself to purchase Snackwell’s products for research purposes.

If you are feeling nostalgic, view this compilation of Snackwell’s advertisements that aired between 1993-1998. As the video’s poster aptly states, click only if you are willing to sacrifice 13-minutes of your life you will never get back.

Clearly Canadian
Damn, I actually miss this stuff.

My parents might have bought many of these processed food in the 90’s, but they made sure we ate a serving of fruit and vegetables with each meal and limited our soft drink consumption. Jake is always amused to find I attempt to enforce similar rules as an adult, most especially the “two-cookie” rule. We were brought up to believe one should never eat more than two cookies at a time.

We could drink Clearly Canadian as a treat. The company branded these sodas as a healthier option than regular soda and offered fruit flavors that were less common at the time. Whether or not they were healthier, I am not sure, but they sure were clear. My personal favorite was Mountain Blackberry.

Our public school did not sell soda pop in the lunch line, but they did sell lots of Clearly Canadians and slushies (because those are so much healthier). All the cool kids nursed bottles of Clearly Canadian and we felt peer-pressured to pass them down our long lunch tables so everyone could have a sip. This makes me gag, now.

Ok Soda
This mysterious Coca Cola soda only reached test markets between 1993-1995 and Minneapolis-St. Paul was fortunate enough to be included. The only place I ever bought this soda was from the vending machine at church before Wednesday night youth group or choir.

I was drawn to the strange designs on the cans. It was very moody and kind of depressing which probably matched my adolescent frame of mind.

I remember the soda was clear, but can’t even remember what it tasted like. Only, that tasted was less exciting than I assumed based upon the marketing and packaging. According to urban legend, OK Soda tasted like every soda mixed together. I feel like that combination should have had more flavor . Actually, I think I just liked the moody can.

Dessert Yogurts
Just as Greek yogurt is all the rage these days, colorful, sugar-laden yogurts were popular in the 90’s.

We stocked cartons of these fat-free and sugar-free yogurts sweetened with aspartame which I always found to have a nasty, distinguishable flavor.

We ate Dannon Sprinkl’ins yogurt packaged with sprinkles that left colorful residue swirled throughout the product. I also remember eating a yogurt that came with a pouch of powder that you’d pour into the yogurt to transform its color and flavor.

Try not to gawk at the questionable bannanastrawberry in this Dannon commercial from 1994.

Worst of all was flourescent Trix yogurt of which I begged my parents to purchase. I think they still make it, but this is another item I can’t bring myself to indulge in, even for the sake of research.

Plantars Cheez Balls
We bought these by the tin. I can’t remember if my parents declared a certain number of cheese balls per serving, but the fact that they tore up the roof of my mouth if I ate too many may have been enough incentive to eat in moderation. I ate so many Cheez Balls throughout the 90’s that similar products are no longer appealing and this is very uncharacteristic of my junk food tastes.

Amazin’ Fruit
I saw a photo of Amazin’ Fruit on the Buzzfeed quiz How Many 90’s Foods Have You Tried and felt such a large emotional response that I added them to my list.

How could you forget this commercial?

I seem to remember my mom included them in our lunch boxes for special treats and bought bags for my brother and I to eat on the way home from piano lessons.They were highly coveted sweets had one been lucky enough to find a bag in his or her Halloween stash.

Shark Bites
I’m not sure what made Shark Bites fruit snacks more special than any other fruit snacks, except that they were shaped like a shark and are discontinued, making us all go “awwww,” out of nostalgia.

They made frequent appearances in my lunch bags (along with String Things that tasted like cherry cough syrup) and I liked the white ones the best.

Make your own pizza Lunchables.
Cold pizza is ok. But cold, assemble-your-own cold pizza? This was my favorite lunch to take to school.

We also ate other Lunchables as treats. Eventually, slimy rounds of lunch meat laden with gristle lost their appeal, no matter how pretty the packaging. As an adult, I revisited the Lunchables section for kicks and giggles which quickly transformed into horror. The Lunchables “without drink” are one thing. The combo packs are another.

Lunchable’s packages their meat, cracker and cheese combination with a Kit Kat and Capri Sun. The Luchables Uploaded line is another monster. One kit includes make your own cold chicken tacos + Cheez-Its, Oreos, a bottle of water and a packet of Kool-Aid tropical punch flavoring because God forbid our kids grow up to drink water that tastes like water, right?

The company notes each product’s nutritional “highlights.” This pizza variety is an “Excellent source of calcium and protein.”

Pizza Lunchables Revisited:

DSC_0027

I bought a pepperoni pizza Lunchable without drink at Target for $1.60 and invited Jake to join me on my revisit. I haven’t eaten a pizza Lunchable since middle school while Jake has never eaten one.

The little pizza crust discs are much smaller than I remember, which might not be such a bad thing. You get three.

DSC_0028

We assembled our first pizza.

DSC_0030

I watched Jake take his first bite. He likened the product to biting into a frozen pizza that was left to thaw.

I found the product to taste exactly like I remembered. I actually didn’t hate it and may or may not have helped myself to a second round.

“This is gross and you’re gross if you like it,” exclaims Jake. I guess that means I’m partially gross. I can live with that.

Obviously, I won’t be purchasing these again, but I must confess I did not find this trip down memory lane as revolting as Jake.

What foods defined your 90’s? What do you miss and what are you glad is discontinued?

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