Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack - A Review

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I spent this morning shopping and stopped at Taco Bell for their new "Triple Steak Stack," which is basically their version of a cheese steak sandwich on flatbread.

According to their product description, Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack, "has a heaping triple portion of tender-grilled juicy steak, is covered in a real three-cheese blend and served in a warm nine-inch Mexican-inspired bolillo flatbread."

TacoBell.com has a picture of
Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack
Subject: Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack | Date: 02/25/15 |
Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell | This picture was taken by the author of this blog. |

folded flatbread teaming with thick strips of sliced steak covered in molten cheese.  You can click the link at the beginning of this paragraph to see what I mean.

I unwrapped the item when I got home and found what looked like a closed burrito with a little cheese peaking out of the edge.  There was certainly no meat visible from the outside.

When I opened the sandwich, I found a decent helping of melted cheese covering a few piles of thinly chopped steak.  Upon closer inspection, one could see 3 or 4 bits of green and red bell pepper dispersed among the meat piles.

Taking a whiff, my friend thought it smelled "weird."  However, to me, it smelled cheesy and warm, like a grilled cheese sandwich.

The flatbread was soft, pleasantly pillowy, and tasted like warm Naan bread.  I'm not sure why they call it "bolillo" flatbread though.  Bolillo is a savory Mexican variation of the crusty French baguette, but is typically shorter in length. It's NOTHING like flatbread.  Nevertheless, the "bolillo" flatbread was the best part of the sandwich.

I'm not sure how Taco Bell defines "a triple stack of steak," but the ration of beef was pretty paltry.  I had several bites of bread and cheese, or just bread, because, despite the P.R. photo, there wasn't enough meat to get some in each bite.  If one were eating a steak, the amount of beef in this sandwich would be comparable to 5 or 6 bites.  The steak itself was cooked to medium well and tasted OK.  It wasn't good, but wasn't bad either.  The meat was just kinda somewhat there.

I'm not sure why the peppers were there at all.  They didn't add any flavor, and being deep inside the sandwich, the weren't there for color either.  The peppers were a non-player

The dominant flavor was the delicious melted cheese.  $4.99 is a lot to pay for a grilled cheese sandwich though.

If someone bought me Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack I wouldn't turn my nose up at it, but its not something I ever need to buy again.  I give Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack 6 out of 10 stars.
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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Celebrate National Margarita Day February 22nd

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I have to begin by confessing to a bit of confusion.  My calendar lists National Margarita Day as February 20th, but most sites, including Food.com, list it as being on the 22nd.   I'd assumed my
Margarita at Pepper's Mexican Grill
Subject: Margarita at Pepper's Mexican Grill | Date: Summer 2014 |
Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell | This picture was taken by the author of this blog. |

calendar was a misprint until this morning's local news said it was on the 20th.  At this point I don't know which date to believe, so I'll be doing some drinking on both days.  Yet, for the purposes of this blog I'm calling it the 22nd, simply because that's how the majority of web sites list it.

Whenever you choose to honor the classic mixture of; tequila, triple sec, and lime juice; the fact remains that it's delicious.  Named for actress Marjorie King, or Dallas socialite Margarita Sames, the drink holds a secure spot as one of my three "go to cocktails."  The Dirty Vodka Martini is my dry cocktail, the Bloody Mary is my spicy cocktail, and when I want a sweet cocktail I partake of a Margarita.

Now, there are almost as many flavors of Margarita as there are kinds of soup.  However, when I say, "Margarita," I mean a glass of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice on the rocks with salt on the rim of the glass (see recipe below).  I don't need strawberries, raspberries cherries, peppers, or anything else masking the tequila and citrus flavors, and I CERTAINLY don't need an alcoholic version of a Slurpee. I want an easily sippable sweet lime drink with a slightly tart note, salty contrast, and a pleasant burn of tequila on the palette.  That's a Margarita to me.

The combination of flavors serves as a balance to spicy dishes, which is why it pairs well with Mexican inspired food.  While less traditional, I've found the Margarita also pairs well with spicy tomato based Italian inspired cuisine.

As I said, I'm a traditional, no frills, Lime Margarita man.  Yet, just in case some readers want to mark the day by experimenting with funky variations, I've posted links below to some of the most interesting recipes on the internet.  Below the links you'll find a printable copy of my recipe for what I consider to be the real thing. 

Happy Drinking!

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Margarita Recipe: 

Ingredients: 
1 1/2 ounces tequila (I use Hornitos Plata)
1/2 ounce triple sec
1 ounce fresh lime juice
Salt to rim the glass

Preparation:
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Shake well. If desired, salt the rim of a chilled margarita glass. Pour contents, with ice, into the glass.

Recipes print as page 3 for your recipe file or refrigerator.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ads Can Make Blah Fast Food Look Spectacular

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Commercial: [kuh-mur-shuh l]
noun
Radio and Television. a paid advertisement or promotional announcement designed to entice the buying public. (sic)

It's an advertiser's job to make goods and services appear irresistibly purchase-worthy, to tempt buyers to spend money on whatever it is they're trying to hock.  Taking advantage of food makeup and descriptive phrases, the fast food industry has mastered the art of making the mundane seem seductive.  The sad part is that I keep falling for it.

Bacon & Swiss Buttery Jack
Subject: Bacon & Swiss Buttery Jack |
Source: Jack In The Box's Press Image Library |
I love bacon, Swiss Cheese, and garlic butter, so I was excited about the Jack In The Box's Bacon & Swiss Buttery Jack, with its 1/4 lb beef patty topped with melted garlic herb butter,  hickory smoked bacon, Swiss Cheese, and bacon mayo.  I expected a succulent burger delivering the flavors of smoky bacon, garlic, and Swiss. What I got was just kinda dry & blah, featuring no big flavors, other than the sweetness of their "new gourmet bun."  This mediocre offering gets 5 out of 10 stars from me.


Likewise, last year when I heard about Taco Bell's Waffle Taco I was excited.  I ordered the sausage version.  Being from Taco Bell, my expectation was that the dish would be slightly spicy and full of flavor. I got bland eggs and bland sausage on a bland waffle.  When drizzled on, the syrup does add a pleasant sweetness, but it makes the taco sticky and hard to pick up. I gave Taco Bell's Waffle Taco 4 out of 10 stars.  Sweetness on top of blandness just isn't the recipe for a tasty breakfast 

Little Caesars Pretzel Crust Pizza
Subject: Little Caesars' Pretzel Crust Pizza |
Source: Little Caesars' Press Release |
Then there was Little Caesars' $6.00 Pretzel Crust Pizza. Topped with a Cheddar cheese sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, all sprinkled with an additional blend of; Asiago, Fontina, Parmesan, and White Cheddar cheeses; the salty Cheddar cheese sauce, salty/spicy pepperoni, salty four cheese blend, and soft salted pretzel crust pummeled me with saltiness on top of saltiness on top of saltiness on top of saltiness.  The addition of mushrooms, bell peppers, and/or sun dried tomatoes would have added some badly needed balance to this one note pie. I gave Little Caesars' Pretzel Crust Pizza 5 out of 10 stars.

Being a cheese lover, I couldn't wait for my first bite of Burger King's Four Cheese Whopper, consisting of flame-grilled beef, melted American cheese, a creamy three cheese blend, cheddar sauce, freshly cut lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and onions.  Wait, a slice of American cheese (check), a creamy three cheese blend (check), cheddar sauce (check).  What's the fourth cheese component?  Perhaps Burger King counts the three cheeses within the creamy blend, but three plus two equals five, not four.  Weird math aside though, the cheeses were so mushed together that their flavors canceled each other out.  The dripping mess deserves no more than 6 out of 10 stars.

Don't even get me started on Popeyes' Shrimp Po'Boy, which they describe as deep fried shrimp on a French baguette, with lettuce, pickles, and tartar sauce.  While I like their spicy fried chicken, this sandwich marked the first, and hopefully LAST, time I've been served rock hard shrimp.  Being exceptionally hungry, I choked down a forth of it before I surrendered to the fact that I was burning more calories, by trying to chew the thing, than I was taking in. Popeyes' Shrimp Po'Boy gets 3 out of 10 stars from me.

Two of the products above are items I'd previously reviewed.  Regular readers will remember my reviews of Little Caesars' Pretzel Crust Pizza and Taco Bell's Waffle Taco.  Still, the list above makes my point.  Commercials will psych me up for a new dish, which will turn out to be mediocre, at best.

I could ignore such messages completely.  The problem is, I really like; McDonalds' JalapeƱo Double Cheeseburger, Taco Bell's Double Decker Taco, and Pizza Hut's Triple Cheese Covered Stuffed Crust Pizza; none of which I would've known about if not for the commercials.

Like it or not, as consumers we're dependent on advertising to keep us cognizant of out buying choices.  However, I'm going to try to watch such ads with a proverbial grain salt.  After all,  it's the advertiser's job to sway us with subjective opinions, rather than inform us with objective facts.
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Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Bourbon Boom - A Guest Post by Spencer Bohm

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Bourbon and whiskey fan, Spencer Bohm, noticed TV shows have been catering to people’s growing interest in craft beer and wine in recent years.  Additionally, viewers are starting to see similar attention being given to small batch bourbon, whiskey, and scotch.

The trend inspired him to ask me to publish his thoughts on the subject.  Being a libations enthusiast, I agreed to post any well written piece he might send.  A week later, he succeeded in sending me just such a piece.

So, with further ado, here are Spencer Bohm's thoughts on The Bourbon Boom.

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The Bourbon Boom 
by, Spencer Bohm 
 
Whiskey lovers rejoice! Your amber liquids of choice are once again enjoying a worldwide renaissance of appreciation and popularity after suffering a depression of sorts for several decades. Having quietly and steadily weathered the more flashy trends in flavored vodkas, craft beer, and martini bars, whiskey and bourbon find themselves once again proving that slow and steady wins out and endures in the long haul.
Ten High Kentucky Bourbon

Subject: Ten High Kentucky Bourbon | Date: 10/28/2013 | Photographer: Buffalotrace | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

And slow and steady is exactly what's needed for the manufacturing of all types of whiskeys. Aging requirements dictate that whiskey cannot be produced today and be on the shelves tomorrow like many of the white liquors, leading to the possibility of a shortage of quality whiskeys and bourbons should the demand seem to grow too quickly.

For example, American whiskeys are legally required to age at least two years in oak containers, while Scottish and Irish whiskeys require at least three. Many versions of the different whiskeys on the market today are aged much longer than the minimums, however, some counting the aging process in decades rather than years and meaning that experienced producers have to be adept in forecasting the demand for their products over the next few decades rather than the next few months or years.

Whiskey varieties produced worldwide include Canadian, Irish, and Scotch versions, blended and single malt versions, and each with its own distinctive tweaking of the ingredients and creation process. Bourbon is a subcategory of whiskey produced exclusively in the United States and mainly in the state of Kentucky. While all whiskeys are not bourbons, all bourbons are whiskey. Tennessee whiskeys are often mistaken for bourbons, and although close in nature, true bourbon is distinct from these other blends.

 Tullamore Dew, an Irish Whiskey.Title:  Tullamore Dew, an Irish Whiskey. | Date: 07/22/2006 | Photographer: Dom0803 at en.wikipedia |Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation.

Whiskeys are distilled from fermented grain or a blend of grains and aged in wooden barrels. Grains commonly used include corn, rye, wheat, barley, and oats. All whiskeys contain at least a small amount of malted barley, as this starts the fermentation process. Bourbons and their close cousins, the Tennessee whiskeys, are required to be made from at least 51 percent corn, with the remainder made up of the other grains mentioned. As an American whiskey, the minimum aging process is two years and usually takes place in charred white oak barrels. Bourbon generally has a sweeter taste and heavier texture than other types of whiskey.

Today, in keeping with the increased interest and popularity in artisan foods and craft beverages that has been seen over the last couple of decades, smaller distilleries have begun creating craft whiskeys and bourbons right alongside the big players that have weathered the white liquor boom of the 1960's to early 1990's. While mass media was at least partially responsible for the rise in popularity of white spirits, particularly vodka, as shown in the variety of vodka martinis and cosmopolitans seen in movies and on TV, mass media has also been instrumental in the resurgence of the brown liquors with shows such as AMC’s Mad Men and the new documentary Bourbontucky from DirecTV portraying the more glamourous side of whiskey and bourbon.

Bourbon in particular has become popular in countries around the world as well as within the United States, with annual sales recently hitting the $2.7 billion mark domestically. This is leading to record numbers in the export of this spirit and raising questions of whether the producers can maintain a supply to meet the demand. Whiskey and specialty bourbon bars have cropped up around the world as well, looking to capitalize on the wider than ever variety of specialty liquors being produced and exported. As noted in the documentary Bourbontucky, people around the world may not agree with our politics but they sure love our bourbon!

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