Saturday, January 28, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Taco Bell's Affront to the Almighty

     Ha!  I'm just being dramatic, of course.  I'm referring to Taco Bell's newest creation, that was just rolled out nationwide (in the U.S.) two days ago--the Naked Chicken Chalupa.  Big deal, you may be saying, another chalupa--who cares?  Well, this one is quite different.  Instead of a flour or corn-based outer shell, this one consists of pressed fried chicken.  Or, essentially, the Taco Bell version of KFC's Double Down sandwich, which I discussed in detail in my May 8, 2014 post.
     Unlike KFC, though, I've always liked Taco Bell, albeit in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way.  It started back in my high school days, when my friends and I would drive to the nearby one during lunch period (which was kind of tight, time-wise, as our school periods were only 42.5 minutes long).  Up through the present, Taco Bell and the harder to find White Castle are my favorite fast food joints.  I realize that Taco Bell, like most fast food places, utilize cheap, low-grade food.  The 2000 GMO corn recall, and the furor over the "pink slime" beef in 2012 are just two examples of this, shall we say, relaxed attitude to using the highest quality ingredients.  I further realize that Taco Bell is a perverted, American-ized approximation of authentic Mexican food.  (The restaurant chain has opened up stores in Mexico on two occasions, but both closed down quickly, due to lack of sales.  Evidently, and reasonably, Mexicans weren't big fans of consuming a watered-down, inauthentic copy of their traditional cuisine.)  But, even with these sins admitted, I still enjoy it.  I guess it's a cultural example of me being an ugly American.  So my friends and I jokingly referred to it as "Taco Smell" and "Taco Hell," but many of us were still regular customers.
     Taco Bell was started by a man named, of all things, Glen Bell.  Bell started off with a hot dog stand, then expanded into a hamburger and hot dog stand, and finally switched to a taco stand.  As he grew more successful, he opened up restaurants, called Taco Tias, then El Taco, then Taco Bell in the early 1960's.  Bell sold the chain to PepsiCo in 1978, for over 120 million dollars.  It's become a giant chain, with franchises around the world.
     But back to the focus of this piece.  I picked up my Naked Chicken Chalupa at around lunch time on its opening day.  Structurally it looked like a taco, although it came with a cardboard stand to help keep its innards contained.  Inside the fried chicken "shell" was lettuce, onions, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and an avocado sauce.  As so frequently happens when I make fun of a food beforehand, the result was very good.  I can't say it tasted like a regular taco or chalupa, but its distinct flavor was still impressive.  I finished it eagerly, and I think I will buy this again.  Keep in mind though, this product is listed as being available for a limited time.  So, as with the Double Down, laugh at it if you want, but the weird mutant food item was a pleasing dining experience.  (I was amused, but not very surprised to learn that the authentic Mexican chalupa, named after a type of boat, is very different from what Taco Bell calls a chalupa.)
     Finally, Taco Bell had an advertising campaign that has the odd distinction of being popular, but which resulted in lower (or at least not markedly increased) sales, much like the Energizer Battery Bunny commercials.  The Taco Bell chihuahua, who appeared in many ads saying, "Yo quiero Taco Bell!" ("I want Taco Bell" in Spanish) in the late 1990's/early 2000's, received a lot of attention, and acclaim.  However, sales actually decreased afterwards.  Advertising experts postulated that people may have thought that the dog was cute, and funny, but they may have then associated Taco Bell's products with dog food, which wasn't that appetizing!  (On a sad note, that dog from the commercials, Gidget, passed away in 2009.)
     Oh, and reportedly KFC is currently selling another unholy chicken abomination in the Far East, called a Chizza.  This is a "pizza" which is sauce, cheese, and toppings on a "dough" made of fried chicken.  I can't wait to try this one.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

TPC Day!

     Today EMP Publishing is running an event for their recently released anthology, "The Prison Compendium."  Part of this is a charity drive for donating books to various prisons around the country.  Here's the address for more info about that:
      And here's another for updates about the funding:
     Moving on, one of my co-authors for "The Prison Compendium," Gregory L. Norris, has a fun post on his blog today.  In it, many of the authors for this anthology discuss the back stories for their contributions to "The Prison Compendium."  You can find that at:
     Meanwhile, our anthology is climbing the charts.  The last time I checked it was selling well, and had received four 5-star reviews on Amazon.  Let's hope there are many more sales and satisfied readers.
     You can pick up a copy for yourself at Amazon (, or over at the EMP website:
     I'll close by including the covers, and the author list once more, below.

TOC (story ordering not set)
  1.  "A Ray of Hope" by Paul Stansfield
  2.  "The Joint" (a poetry collection) by Randy D. Rubin
  3.  "Finding the Answer" by Travis Richardson
  4.  "It's a Kinda Magic" by Jeremy Mays
  5.  "Swing a Sparrow on a String" by Ken Goldman
  6.  "The Life and Multiple Deaths of Virgil Eugene" by Jennifer Word
  7.  "Jeremy Knox" by Jeffrey K. Blevins
  8.  "Responsibility" by A. R. Shannon
  9.  "The Will to Lose" by Laird Long
  10. "Parole Violator" by Laird Long
  11.  "Solitary Man" by Adrian Ludens
  12.  "End a Days" by Kristin Dearborn
​  13.  "Just a Spoonful of Horror" by Gary Ives
  14.  "Penalty for Misuse - $20" by J. J. Steinfeld
  15.  "The True Vocation of Sandy Brylirn" by J. J. Steinfeld
  16.  "A Rose is a Rose?" by Larry Lefkowitz
  17.  "Mistress of Light and Dark" by Catherine MacKenzie
  18.  "Unlife Sentence" by Eric J. Juneau
  19.  "The Flea Jar" by Layla Cummins
  20.  "The Side Job" by Joseph B. Cleary
  21.  "In the Jailhouse" by Bruce Harris
  22.  "Impala" by Timothy O'Leary
  23.  "Second Chance" by Tom Larsen
  24.  "Return to Death Row" by Fredrick Obermeyer
  25.  "Smaller" by James A. Miller
  26.  "A Farewell to Apotheosis" by Gregory L. Norris
  27.  "Brooms" by Jon Michael Kelley
  28.  "Seven Conversations in Locked Rooms" by Alex Shvartsman
  29.  "Prisoner Reincarnated" by Calvin Demmer
​  30.  "Innocence USA" by David Rachels
  31.  "Misconceptions" by Bryan Grafton
  32.  "Redemption" by Lee Duffy

  33.  "Monroe and Warner" by Morgen Knight

Friday, January 20, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Australian Liquorice

     Throughout my life, I've been rather indifferent to licorice (or liquorice, depending on what country you're from).  I didn't really dislike it, exactly, but I also didn't seek it out, or buy it much.  There were always better candies to get, such as ones which were made out of chocolate, or those composed largely of peanut butter, or caramel, etc.  So when I saw a type of licorice from Australia, from the Darrell Lea company, I wasn't dazzled.  I decided to give it a try, but mostly for this blog, rather than out of genuine interest.  (Perhaps paradoxically, I do like absinthe (see November 18, 2015 post), which is made with the licorice-like anise flavor, but this is the exception that proves the rule, I suppose.)
     The Darrell Lea company is fairly old, dating back to 1927.  Their website tells a rags to riches story:  first sold out of a pushcart, then made in a small factory located under the first arch of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, and then into the large conglomerate that they are today.  The company boasts that it's 100% Australian owned, and that its liquorice is free of GMO's, trans fats, preservatives, sweeteners, and high fructose corn syrup.  Also it's low in fat and salt.  And their liquorice is kosher and vegetarian-appropriate.  Darrell Lea's main products are liquorice stix (liquorice pieces with mango or strawberry/white chocolate filling), a "traditional liquorice mix," and several kinds of "soft eating licorice"--pineapple, green apple, mango, blueberry and pomegranate, original, and strawberry.  (I was rather amused by the "soft eating liquorice" title--does that imply that there is "cleaning liquorice," or "vermin-killing liquorice," or "mathematical liquorice"?)  Currently the company's products are available in the U.K., U.S., Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Belgium, Denmark, and The Netherlands.  Here in the States many stores stock them, from the chain groceries like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Publix, ShopRite, and Giant Eagle, to stores like Target, Rite Aid, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx.  Some of those I thought were clothing stores, so I don't know what is going on there.
    Liquorice itself has been a popular food item for thousands of years.  It was enjoyed in ancient Greece, it can be found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 3000 years.  The plant prefers a hot climate, so it grows in Southern Europe, Central Asia, Australia, and the Middle East.  Liquorice is billed as being 50 times sweeter than sugar.  And although its taste is very similar, it's not related to anise or fennel.  Folks in France and Spain sometimes dig up the root, clean it off, and chew on it as a natural, refreshing snack.
     Healthwise licorice appears to be a mixed bag.  Some maintain it's useful in combatting hepatitis,certain kinds of dermatitis, hyperlipidaemia, hyperpigmentation, and dental caries.  However, these claims haven't been proven scientifically.  On the other hand, some health detriments have been identified.  The U.S. FDA strongly urges consumers not to eat more than 70-150 grams (2.5- 5.3 ounces) daily, lest they develop edema, hypokalemia, weigh loss/gain, or hypertension.  So I guess licorice is something that should be an occasional treat rather than a regular part of one's diet.
     Anyway, I was able to buy the original flavor, and the strawberry kind, at Wegman's.  Both came in rod-shaped pieces, rather than the long stringy "ropes" that are traditional in U.S. licorice.  The rods were about 5 cm. long (or about 2 inches) and about 1 cm. (or about half an inch) wide.  The original flavor pieces were jet black, while the strawberry ones were bright red.  The taste for both was surprisingly impressive.  Richer and fuller than I expected.  Much better than the common U.S. Twizzlers.  (I haven't sampled the U.S. West Coast-based Red Vines, so I can't comment on them as a comparison.)  For the first time I really enjoyed a licorice candy.  I'll look for these again, and seek out their alternate flavors too.  The website and bag label boast that their liquorice secret is that they gently cook it to seal in moisture, and then they "add in a good dose of Australian magic."  So even if the latter is ground up wombats or something, the results are very good.  If you like licorice, or even if you're mostly ambivalent about it like I am normally, you might want to give the Darrell Lea's liquorice a try.
     One final odd tidbit--evidently over 60% of the liquorice harvested every year goes to flavoring cigarettes and other smoked/chewed tobacco products.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Mincemeat Pie

     I'd heard "mincemeat" used as an expression, as in, "I'll make mincemeat out of you!" as a threat.  I've also read about it in books, or heard it mentioned in movies, especially older ones, set in the U.K. or Europe.  But I'd never had a opportunity to try it until recently.  The Shady Maple Farm Market in East Earl, Pennsylvania, came through.  Also, my friend Gene nicely offered me the final piece in the 6 inch (about 15 cm.) diameter pie he'd bought.
     I was also unsure about what mincemeat pie actually consisted of.  Sure, "meat" is in the name, but I was under the impression that this was really a type of fruit pie, at least in modern times.  It turns out that there are several varieties.  The old, traditional mincemeat pie did in fact contain meat, in the form of beef or venison, which was then mixed with dried fruit, distilled spirits, and spices, all of which was then stuffed into a pie crust.  Or kind of like a chicken pot pie, meat pie, or a shepherd's pie.  Something eaten as the main course at dinner.  However, these ingredients have changed over time.  By the mid 20th century, with spices like nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon more readily available, mincemeat pie changed into more of a sweet, dessert-type of pie.  Meat was sometimes eliminated entirely, or present only as suet (fat).  And even more recently, some vegetarians make a version without even this suet.  Presumably, somewhere there's even a vegan type which doesn't even use eggs or butter.  Whatever its form, mincemeat pie continues to be fairly common in much of the world.  It's found in Northern Europe, Ireland, the U.K., the U.S., South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
     The mincemeat pie I tried was a bit old school.  The filling did indeed contain beef, mixed in with apples, apple cider, red wine, rum, raisins, salt, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice.  The crust was regular wheat, eggs, milk, butter, various vegetable oils, and artificial flavors, etc.  It was a little pricey, too, as the small pie cost $5.49.  My slice looked like a regular yellowish crust containing a brown filling.  It reminded me of pecan pie filling in appearance, minus the latter's visible nut pieces.  I peered at it carefully, but couldn't identify any separate pieces of beef, or apple chunks.  Apparently everything had been ground up very fine (or "minced," as the name also suggests).  I quite enjoyed it.  It was very dense, and sweet.  Definitely like a dessert, and not like a savory pot pie.  I couldn't detect much of a meat taste, but it was very rich, and different from a usual apple pie somehow.  Maybe it was the booze!  I was slightly disappointed that I couldn't pick out the beef flavor, but on the other hand, it was undeniably a tasty treat.  I'll try to compare it to the fruit and just suet version, or even the all vegetarian ingredients one, when and if I get the chance.  But I certainly strongly recommend the type of mincemeat pie I sampled, to anyone who likes fruit pies (which I'm guessing is a whole lot of people).

Friday, January 6, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Irish Sweet Cheddar Cheese

     I found this one in the international cheese section of my local Shop-Rite grocery.  It kind of caught my eye for two reasons:  One, I can't recall ever eating an Irish cheese, and two, although I've had my share of of cheddar (some might say way more than my share), I don't think I've ever had any that was "sweet."  Usually if there is any description of the cheddar it's how sharp it is.  "Sharp" refers to how strong, and how tangy the cheese is, and it's tied to how long the cheese was aged.  It seems like the official stats are slightly nebulous, but in general a "mild" cheddar is aged up to about 3-6 months, a "sharp" for 6-12 months, an "extra sharp" for 12-24 months, a "premium" for 2-5 years, and a "super sharp" for 6 years or more.  I couldn't find out how long the sweet cheddar I got was aged, but I can only assume less than 6 months, making it a "mild."
    The company that made the cheese I picked up was Kerrygold, based in Ireland.  Kerrygold is in turn owned by Ornua (nee The Irish Dairy Board).  Their website and the cheese wrapper, seems quite proud that their dairy products come from small family farms (with an average cow herd size of 60), from grass-fed cows, which receive no artificial growth hormones.  The package also says it's suitable for vegetarians, so evidently they use an atypical type of rennet to make their cheeses.  So, in short, even your hippie friends will probably approve of Kerrygold products (vegans excepted, I guess).
     Kerrygold makes various kinds of butter, and other kinds of cheese.  The other cheese types are Dubliner cheese, aged cheddar, reserve cheddar, Blarney Castle cheese (said to be a Dutch gouda style), Swiss cheese, Irish stout cheese (with the actual beer in it), aged cheddar with (literal) whiskey in it, and Cashel blue farmhouse cheese.  Recently they've also branched out a bit, and introduced an Irish cream liqueur (whiskey, cream, and chocolate) to battle Bailey's.
     The type I tried is called Skellig, named after a group of islands off Ireland's coast.  These islands had an early monastery, and are currently home to large quantities of gannets and puffins.  (It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site.)  I bought a 7 ounce (198 gram) package, which cost about $5, as I remember.  The website extolled the cheese's alleged "creamy texture, distinct nuttiness, and sweet apple notes," and "butterscotch-like sweetness."  Reportedly it's also good for cooking, or made into a sauce.  I, of course, chose to eat the cheese uncooked, both plain and on a cracker.  Well, my sort-of- quest to find a cheese I don't like continues.  I really enjoyed the Skellig.  It was a bit milder than most cheddars I've had, but I didn't taste nuts, or apples, or butterscotch or anything.  Maybe my pallet is unrefined.  But, most importantly, it was very good.
     So, all in all, I heartily recommend this one.  I'll be looking to try the other Kerrygold cheeses, too.  As the Irish Gaelic speakers say as a toast, "Slainte!"  Thanks to the Kerrygold website and "Million Dollar Baby," I know now two Gaelic words/phrases.