Category: food review

A Canadian Folk Delicacy, Sort of.

I realize that you don’t always know what you’re going to get from this blog. One week I might be writing about baseball. The next it’ll be jazz music. The next thing you know, I’m expounding about food. And if the mood strikes me, I might give you the rundown on my philosophy as a freelance writer.

Tonight it’s going to be food. Namely, the new KFC fries. Because the heart wants what the heart wants on a Monday after work.

But I digress.

From the TV ads for the new fries, I got the impression they’d be a crispy, heavily breaded situation. I asked out loud “chicken fried fries?” when I saw them.

But no.

They were tasty though. They reminded me and my wife of the Taco Bell nacho fries without the seasoning, somehow. While I ate them, I went back and forth on whether I’d prefer them over the KFC mashed potatoes going forward. I think if I had to choose one, I’d stick with the mashed, but so long as each are available, I may consider going back and forth between the two depending on my mood.

Except that right now the only meal deals including the fries that I am aware of pairs them with chicken fingers, or nuggets. I don’t think I’d be likely to choose chicken fingers or nuggets over the traditional fried chicken terribly often. I only did so today because it was the deal. We get KFC infrequently though, and the fries are not going to make me go there more often. They are not stand-alone fries that one would order on their own merit like the ones at McDonald’s or the curly fries at Arby’s.

A traditional three-piece chicken meal (leg, wing, breast) will always seem right with mashed potatoes so it’d be no big loss if they don’t pair it up with the fries in a “deal.”

The fingers come with a choice of a couple different dipping sauces and they offered ketchup for the fries. My wife being Canadian and I being a Canadian by marriage, we got a side order of gravy to dip the fries in. That’s sort of a folk delicacy in Canada. You melt some cheese curds over it and you’ve got yourself some authentic Canadian poutine. They should just go ahead and do that.

This Post Is About Macaroni and Cheese.

Today I’d like to talk about macaroni and cheese. I like macaroni and cheese. Always have. I’m 41 years old and I can still taste the very distinctive way my babysitter would make it. I couldn’t begin to describe it, and I have only recently begun to figure out how she did it. And that was by accident and I’ll never tell.

If I’d figured it out in college when I ate macaroni and cheese quite often, I may have been making it that way all these years just for pure nostalgia’s sake. But I do like variety. When it comes to my macaroni and cheese, though I like the tried and true, I have been surprisingly experimental over the years.

My personal favorites?

Curry Mac – I went through a stage in which I was all about the Indian food and always wanted to put a little bit of that flavor into anything I cooked. It didn’t always work but the first time I made curry mac I remember declaring to my wife that I’d never make it without curry again. That didn’t last. It was good though.

Macaroni and Sunflower Seeds – Yeah I don’t know what I was doing here. Again it was a period where a certain food item, this time sunflower seeds (out of the shell) kind of began to dominate my culinary persona. I would put them in everything. I liked to roast them a bit then chuck them in my macaroni and cheese. For texture and for protein because I was a vegetarian at the time.

Macaroni and Peas – This has been the most enduring version in my household. Whenever I tell my wife I am going to make macaroni and cheese she asks if we have any peas. I usually make peas on the side just to appease her (see what I did there?) even if I myself feel like having the original version.

Macaroni and Chick’n and California Blend Vegetables – I spelled it “chick’n” because that is generally how the vegetarian excuse for chicken is referred to. I honestly don’t remember if I ever made macaroni and cheese with real chicken strips before I went veg, and I haven’t since rejoining the omnivorous life. If you don’t know, “California Blend” is broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. This is one that I have not had in a very long time, but just writing about it, right now I kind of miss it. On a side note, I’ve been known to have this one either without the vegetables or without the “chick’n” in a pinch.

Tofu Chili Mac – This is an old classic with a twist. I don’t know if I ever had it with ground beef based chili before I went veg, but I would often make a chili with a dense tofu crumble in place of the beef, and for some reason at some point I started making home made elbow macaroni and Velveeta cheese whenever I made the chili. Inevitably they ended up in one dish when I was throwing together a lunch for work one day. It was kind of a revelation. Sincerely.

Macaroni and Cheese and Tomato Soup – Along the same lines but a little lazier, I used to make that same home made macaroni and cheese with Velveeta, and on top of that I’d pour on some tomato soup. I don’t know why. I think it is because when I was a kid we’d always have ring bologna with either macaroni and cheese or tomato macaroni on the side. I bet I didn’t have the bologna but for some reason I got the notion that I had to have both.

So you can see that when it comes to food, nothing inspires me to tinker more than macaroni and cheese. I hope you see at least one variety that you’ll have a go at yourself. Hope you like it.

The Best Veggie Burgers in Rochester MN

I was a vegetarian for ten years, until recently. I eased my way into it. I didn’t want to do without my fast food fries though most of them are technically not vegetarian. So I dropped in at McDonald’s before work one day. I had no idea whether they had a veggie burger or not, locally. I had just read that some locations did. So I rolled up to the counter and I asked for a veggie burger. The woman who took my order told me they could do that, and told me to go ahead and find a table and she’d bring it to me. I get that sometimes, being in a wheelchair.

I should have known something was weird when about two minutes later she brought out a tray with a wrapped sandwich, with the fries and drink I’d ordered. I thought it was odd but I unwrapped it, ready to experience my first veggie burger. I found a bun with a slice of tomato, and some lettuce and onion.

Maybe some condiments. I don’t remember.

I looked at the sandwich, then up toward the woman who’d brought it to me. Then back at the sandwich. Then back at her. I never caught her attention. I suppose I could have taken it back and explained that this was not what I had in mind. For whatever reason, I just wanted to eat and get to work. So I did.

And that, my friends, is the story of the worst veggie burger I ever had.

After that, I learned which fast food places had actual veggie burgers and which didn’t. Eventually my tastes became more sophisticated and I tried the veggie burgers at sit-down restaurants, diners, bars what have you.

Over the years I have been disappointed many times. I have been to places I will not name that openly advertised that their veggie burger was a brand name, and I knew I could get a whole box of them at the grocery store for the same price. I have had veggie burgers that resembled wet cat food on a bun.

Veggie burgers are not really meant to recreate the taste and texture of ground beef. That’s a myth. Expecting a veggie burger tasted like a “real burger” is like expecting a chicken patty to taste like a fish filet.

There ARE, however, certain standards one naturally expects in terms of texture, flavor….and a special quality which I can only describe as not-available-at-the-grocery-store-ness, when you order a veggie burger at a restaurant.

The title of this post says “veggie burgers” because I can’t pick one best. Because I’ve sampled veggie burgers of various types of restaurants.

I have always thought as far as fast food veggie burgers, the one at Burger King is usually pretty good.

  • It’s got a subtle seasoning. I don’t know if it’s Lawry’s or what.
  • It’s got a full roster of toppings: ketchup, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles.
  • the texture is solid. In that department, it almost fools you into believing you’ve got yourself a “real burger” whatever that is.

If you’re looking for a little bit higher end, but still looking for fast food, I recommend Culver’s.

  • It is quality flavor and even kind of “juicy”.
  • Toppings are similar to the Burger King offering except it’s mustard, not mayo.
  • It is a bit softer than the Burger King veg but it is not so soft that it reminds me of that empty bun I had at McDonald’s a decade ago.

You may have noticed that those are both places you can go almost anywhere in this great nation.

The best veggie burger I’ve had that is exclusive to Rochester MN is at the more high-end Chester’s Kitchen & Bar near the Peace Plaza. Really it is not a veggie burger, per se. The “patty” is just portobello mushroom. But I guess it is really no LESS of a “veggie burger” than your run of the mill soy patty though. Not really. Either way this sandwich is in another league from the other two.

  • It is very juicy and flavorful.
  • Toppings are caramelized onions, avocado shredded lettuce, baby kale, and lime vinagrette.
  • As for the texture, well, it’s like mushroom. Simple as that.

So whatever your budget, whether you want to grab and go or sit down and relax with your meal, hopefully you’ll find a veggie burger in Rochester that you can depend on when you need your burger fix.