Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review of Lays "New Flavors"



*Side note: I apologize for the crappy pictures. This was a last-minute type deal and my phone was the only camera-taking-device with battery life.*

So by now I'm sure everyone has seen these bizarre flavors of Lays potato chips floating around the retail food world, as well as on the internet and social media sites. I've been more than intrigued, because 1. I find strange chip flavors highly amusing, 2. I am willing to try any sort of weird culinary item at least once, and 3. I am one of those self-proclaimed sriracha addicts.

In Iceland, pointing out some strange chips

In Europe I had the misfortune of coming across Spicy Pork, Pickled Onion, and Prawn cocktail--all of the Walkers variety, which has a logo strikingly similar to our Lays. I also came across Cool American, but rest assured they tasted almost like "Cool Ranch" and not of the flesh of our countrymen, thank goodness. Not wanting to be bested, apparently Lays has decided to jump on the Odd Chip Wagon and throw their hat into the mix.
Roommate, writing her thoughts

I came across three small bags at Walgreens while getting dish soap and realized I had to try them. So I snatched them up and took them home, where my lovely boyfriend and roommate agreed to taste-test with me.

Cory, having already tasted some chips
First Impressions:
Cory and Christina both thought that Cheesy Garlic Bread would be the clear winner--because, who doesn't love cheesy garlic bread?--and that the Chicken and Waffles would be the loser. I agreed with Chicken and Waffles as the loser,  but I thought Sriracha would blow everyone out of the water. The verdict?

Sriracha
Cory: (who started munching before either of us ladies had finished jotting down our thoughts) It's okay. I was expecting it to be spicer.
Christina: It's pretty bland.
Me: I love sriracha, but I can't even taste it here.
Cory: It almost tastes like... like Barbecue. Like a bland BBQ.
Christina: Yeah! That's what I was thinking.
Me: Ohh you're right. It does have a little bit of a lingering spice, but not much.
Cory: I wouldn't buy it, I'd just get BBQ.









Chicken and Waffles
Christina: It tastes like maple syrup!
Me: Ew, salty maple syrup.
Cory: It's not bad, but it's not really good either.
Christina: It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be.
Cory: You know those chicken crackers? It kind of tastes like that...
Me: But with maple syrup.
Cory: I always thought the chicken crackers would be terrible too, but they're pretty good.
Christina: Yeah, like that, but with maple syrup. These are weird.
Cory: I definitely would not buy this.
Christina: Me either.
Me: We should probably just toss the rest.





Cheesy Garlic Bread
Christina: Ohh, this one is good.
Cory: Yeah, it has a good cheese flavor.
Me: Aw, this is disappointing. I was hoping for a better garlic flavor.
Christina: Yeah, you can't really taste that at all.
Cory: This is pretty good, but it has a weird after-taste.
Christina: Hmm... yeah, it's kind of chemical-y.
Me: Oh weird, yeah, I'm tasting it now. It's like really fake cheese flavor.
Cory: I would not buy this again.







The Verdict
While Cheesy Garlic Bread came on strong, it literally left a bad taste in our mouths. Chicken and Waffles was too weird to be good. Therefore, Sriracha seems to be the winner entirely by default. It was the best out of the three but none of them had a very pronounced flavor and all seemed rather bland. We would not buy any again, except maybe for novelty's sake. If they had been flavored more strongly perhaps our opinions would be different.

Note: I did not get any products for free, and all opinions are entirely my own and that of my other testers. If you would, however, like to send me products to review, please email me at quarterlifecrisiscuisine (at) gmail (dot) com, I'd be happy and excited to review any sort of food, kitchen item, or even health/lifestyle product!

Monday, February 25, 2013

What Would It Be Without a Crisis? -- Twinkies


Just when I thought 2013 would be a cakewalk, or at least a vast improvement on 2012, last week threw me a serious curve. Despite the lovely day off on Monday, a bunch of friend drama, theater "drama" (not the fun kind), and neighbor drama left me super stressed enough--and then the bombshell was dropped on Thursday, when the week wasn't even quite over yet...

As of June, I am jobless.


Without going into many details that are not yet public, my position is being eliminated due to cuts and it does not look like there will be another position at my current company that I could fill. The idea of being job-less and unable to pay my crippling student debt that I'm already struggling with, not to mention my rent, utilities, car payments, insurance, medical bills (who knew getting your gallbladder out would be so pricey?) and feeding my cat, is terrifying. Utterly terrifying. And while I have a tiny bit of savings, it is neither enough to move to another city with more jobs in my field (NYC, potentially LA) unless said job is secured already, nor is it enough to support myself with all of these bills for more than a month or two.

I have a good long while to find a new job, but my mind keeps daring me to succumb to WHAT IF I DON'T??? As we all know, the job market right now sucks. I was so SO lucky to get this job and what if I'm not so lucky in finding another one? I'd love to be a freelance writer, or support myself via my blog, but I am clueless on how to begin, and my blog doesn't get nearly enough traffic currently to do that--according to my Google Ads or whatever it's called I have been at about $13 in revenue for months, heh.

So, yeah. I am trying to have a positive outlook, I'm sending out resumes like wildfire, and hoping for the best. Having my play this weekend helped keep my mind from totally exploding, but today it's back to the real world and the reality that I need to get my butt in gear. For the first time in my life, I am counting the days until summer with a sense of dread instead of longing.


I will keep you updated. In the meantime, I'm sure I'll be stress-baking and giving you all sorts of goodies to look at. Today's offering is Twinkie Cupcakes. One day, out of nowhere, I had a craving for the now-defunct Twinkie. I Googled, and found this extremely simple recipe that tastes very close to the real thing. Probably just as much bad-for-you goodness that the mass-produced Twinkies had, but without the corporate greed, hurrah!

Twinkie Cupcakes
(Recipe from The Domestic Rebel)


Twinkie
1 box yellow cake mix, plus ingredients on back of box
1 small box sugar free/fat free instant French vanilla pudding mix

Filling
1 jar marshmallow fluff
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 teaspoons very hot water

Frosting

1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow fluff
2 sticks butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
About 1 bag (32 oz) powdered sugar

Cake: Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Mix in pudding packet. Portion batter evenly among cups, about 2/3 full, and bake for 15-18 mins at 350 degrees F or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool, then core out the cupcake’s middles.


Filling: Dissolve the salt into hot water and allow to cool. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the marshmallow cream, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract until fluffy. Beat in salt water.

Pipe or spoon the filling into each cored cupcake, filling just to the top. Refrigerate.


Frosting: Beat together the fluff, butter and vanilla until combined and creamy. Slowly add powdered sugar in until frosting is light and fluffy.

Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Store frosted cupcakes airtight, preferably in the fridge.

NOTE: I used Can You Stay For Dinner's suggestion to create your own tin foil Twinkie mold for a little of the batter, and the results were a little lumpy but still had the Twinkie feel. I much preferred the cupcake version though--more frosting!



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole -- Scallop Bacon Risotto

So, remember that blizzard that rocked the Northeast a couple weeks ago? The one I was right smack dab in the middle of? This is what I made for dinner that night.

I figured even if the power did go out, the stove part of my oven would still work, being gas and all (oven itself would be out, that part is electric for whatever reason) and that the dish would be that much better in candle light anyway. The power never went out, we didn't get a monster-load of snow, just a bit over a foot, and I got to leave work early anyway. Not bad.

Also, this risotto was pretty bomb. The local grocery store sold the scallops at a steep discount because they assumed they'd be closed during the storm, so I really lucked out here. I even pared the meal with steaks marinaded in a homemade marinade, making this a real surf n' turf dinner.

The Cast of Alice in Wonderland!

Thankfully, the storm didn't interfere with my play. We had a great opening weekend and one more weekend to go! I will be very sad when the play is over. If you live in the Western Mass/Southern VT/NH area and want to attend, email me for details!


I remember one play I was in--actually, my most hated theater experience to this date!--where we were snowed out and had to re-schedule the play for months later. Not fun! With all the work that everyone has put into this production, it would have been horrible to put it on hold.

This photo courtesy of NRP

My favorite part is when we interact with the audience after the play--the little kids call me Alice and ask me questions about Wonderland. It's so adorable!


 My roommate played the White Queen...


But she also made my dress and a handful of other costumes! Like the caterpillar.


I feel like I say this with every play I'm in but, this might be the most fun I've ever had on stage! Despite the stress of having to memorize so many lines.



Oh, and if you REALLY want a laugh... check out the youtube promo video we made, with certain characters doing a trendy dance of some sort... The Harlem Shake I guess?


Anyways, onto the recipe!


Bacon Scallop Risotto
(Basic risotto recipe from here, additions and changes are my own)


  • 1 package of bacon, diced
  • 1 cup bay scallops, rinsed
  • 1½ cups arborio rice
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 qt chicken stock
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt, to taste


*Most risotto recipes require you to heat the stock first--I am too lazy and have yet to do this. It comes out just fine and Pioneer Woman backs me up on this.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook the diced bacon to desired crispiness. Transfer to a plate and set aside, leaving as much bacon grease in the pan as possible. Raise the heat, and sear scallops on both sides, until scallops are opaque and have a bit of a crust on either side. Set aside and keep warm (I kept both bacon and scallops warm in the oven on a very low setting).

Using a bit of oil and butter, in a separate pan cook half the onion over low heat to caramelize. You may add a sprinkling of sugar to speed up the process. Let them cook while you complete the rest of the steps, checking often to prevent burning. Once the onions are caramelized, set aside. Use the same pan to wilt the spinach, using a bit of butter and oil and also set aside.

Wipe down the saucepan of any scallop juices but do not rinse. Add the the oil and 1 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat, deglazing the pan. When the butter has melted, add the other half of the onion and cook until translucent.

Add the rice to the pot and stir so that the grains are coated with the oil and melted butter. Sauté for another minute or so, but don't let the rice turn brown. Add the wine and cook while stirring, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Add a ladle of stock to the rice and stir until the liquid is fully absorbed. When the rice appears almost dry, add another ladle of stock and repeat until rice is desired consistency. If you run out of stock before the rice is soft and creamy, water or more wine can be used.

Stir in the remaining 2 Tbsp butter, the Parmesan cheese and the parsley, and season to taste with salt. Add the bacon, scallops, caramelized onions, and spinach. You may mix all together or plate it in layers as I've done here.

*I originally wanted Gorgonzola instead of Parm cheese, but I had none left. I imagine it'd taste fantastic with Gorgonzola.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine's Day Yummies -- Red Velvet Cookie Sandwiches


It's obvious why Red Velvet seems to be the culinary spokes-pastry of Valentine's Day--both chocolate AND bright red, with a sweet, rich flavor and so many variations, it's the perfect symbol of the Day of Love & Chocolate.

My play opens this week. You know, that play that opens with ten pages of me talking to myself (I'm Alice in Alice in Wonderland!). If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time you've probably seen the following pattern: Stress = Much Baking. Not only does it get my mind off the stressy situation at hand, it gives me a delicious little stress reducing snack: bonus! At the end of yesterday I'd made no fewer than five different types of Red Velvet something-or-other, and I had flour caked in so deeply to my pants that I fear they'll never recover. But I felt much better and ready to take on that dialogue with a pep in my step.


I realized I couldn't possibly blog about EVERYTHING I made, so I had to choose. Cupcakes? Nah, everyone and their mother is doing Red Velvet cupcakes... 2-Ingredient-Pinterest-Fudge? Eh, not my favorite, and while it wasn't a total fail, it didn't come out too pretty. Brownies? Maybe... Red Velvet Cookie Sandwiches? SCORE.

These are probably one of the tastiest things I've ever made. And while it's a bit taboo of a recipe (IT USES CAKE MIX, SHH DON'T TELL!) it is all so worth it. The cookie is soft and chewy with a rich chocolate flavor, and the cream cheese filling is light and fluffy and sweet.


If I don't get around to posting another red recipe, I hope everyone has a lovely Valentine's Day with the one they love! It's strange this year to be looking forward to the day itself--or rather the day before, since I will be in dress rehearsal for Alice in Wonderland  on the actual day--and having someone to share it with, rather than the half price candy day I usually get excited about.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm looking forward to Half Price Candy Day too!

 Red Velvet Cookie Sandwiches
(Cookie recipe from here, frosting recipe from my brain)

Cookies:


  • 1 box Red Velvet cake mix
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • powder sugar


Cream Filling:

  • 1 8oz block of cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tbs butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1.5-2 cups powdered sugar


-Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In a stand mixer or using your own elbow grease with a wooden spoon, mix together cake mix, oil, water and egg. Dough will be sticky. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and drop into a small bowl of powdered sugar.

-Roll dough balls in powder sugar and place on a parchment-paper (or silpat) lined baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes, until cookies begin to spread and show "crinkle" texture. Cool on cookie rack.

-While cookies are cooling, prepare the frosting. Mix the first three ingredients in a stand or hand mixer and slowly add powdered sugar, until desired consistency is reached.

-When cookies are completely cool, spoon frosting onto one side and sandwich with another cookie. Let set and then enjoy! Store in an airtight container.



Friday, February 8, 2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Almost a Fail? -- My First Roast Chicken

A few weeks ago, I had the great fortune of stumbling upon a whole raw chicken for $3.47 at the local discount grocery store. I scooped it up immediately and took it home to attempt a cooking first: my first roast chicken.

As you can see, the veggies under the bird didn't fare so well. I have issues with cooking chicken, I am always terrified it will be raw inside. So, I overcook. Always. This is something I need to fix. Or at least I need to invest in a meat thermometer.

A silly account of my bird cooking can be found on my other blog.

Anyway. The verdict? Despite the toxic sludge of the veggies underneath, the chicken came out fabulous! Flavorful and moist, with a crispy skin. The chicken itself was a meal the first two nights, with the meat being scraped off the following nights and thrown into salad or pasta.

Easy Roast Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken, ~4 lbs
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 2 springs thyme
  • 1 garlic head, cut in half
  • Various veggies (I used carrots, celery, and onions)
  • 3 tbs butter, melted
  • salt and pepper


-Rinse and pat dry your bird, being sure to rinse inside the cavity. Stuff cavity with lemon, thyme, and garlic.

-Truss your bird appropriately. Mine came already tied up and that was good enough for me.

-Place in roasting dish on top of chopped veggies. Pour melted butter over bird and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

-Roast at 425 degrees for 45-55 minutes, until juices run clear and the chicken is cooked through.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Getting My Butt in Shape -- Sweet Potato Kale Quesadillas


As much as I loved sharing my Iceland Adventures with you all, I know that this is what you REALLY come here for--THE FOOD! So without further ado, here is an awesome recipe that I am making almost weekly these days:

Sweet potato and kale quesadilla.


You see, I, like 90% of all New Year's Resolution Makers, made the resolution to drop some weight. Thankfully, I have some friends invested in this endeavor with me (including my roommate, which is a HUGE help!), and here we are on the first of a new month and still going! Take THAT, Resolution-nay-sayers who assumed my gym-goings would last all of one week. SO THERE!

Sadly, I am not dropping the poundage as I'd hoped, but it takes more than a month to kick bad habits and do lose weight in a healthy way it does take time--so I'm trying very hard not to get discouraged.

Reheating for lunch on Day 2--still delicious!

I'm trying to follow the advice of my bloggy idol, Andie at Can You Stay for Dinner: don't deprive yourself.  I'm a foodie. I love food. I'm always going to love food. So eating a diet comprised entirely of canned tuna and cottage cheese just won't work for me.  Instead, I'm making a real effort to incorporate more fresh fruits and veggies into my diet, more whole grains, and make from scratch things that I normally would buy mass-produced. For example, I even made my own mayo this week! Score!


Anyways. I saw this recipe over at Pioneer Woman Cooks, but didn't have the butternut. I did, however, have sweet potato, which is a similar flavor profile. The verdict? Topped with some plain Greek yogurt, these little guys are a filling and delicious meal. And, according to a recipe calculator I found, about 300 calories per whole quesadilla. How awesome is that?

Sweet Potato and Kale Quesadilla
(Adapted from Pioneer Woman)

  • 8 Tortillas
  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (for less carbs you can sub this for butternut squash--ALSO AMAZING)
  • 1 large handful kale, cut to bite-sized
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 handfuls shredded cheese (I used swiss)
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pat butter or olive oil


Over high heat, roast sweet potato in a large pan or skillet. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper and salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until brown on all sides and tender. Remove from pan and cook kale until wilted.

Heat butter or oil in pan and add one tortilla--I did each side and cooked each until crispy, but you can skip this if you'd like--and cover with a thin layer of cheese. Add some potatoes and kale, a bit more cheese, and cover with second tortilla. After a minute, flip and cook until cheese is melty. Repeat for each.

Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt and salsa for dipping.