Wednesday 27 November 2013

Lay's Chips à l'Ancienne Nature

Another packet of crisps from a French motorway service station. I'm fairly sure we got these in Alsace in the summer.

These traditional style crisps come in Nature (which appears to mean no added flavouring), Jambon Fumé (smoked ham), Grillade d'été (barbeque?), and Chevre, which I imagine means goats cheese rather than goat. Although you never know. And then there's Chips Paysannes Nature which from the very small picture on the back of this packet I take to be crinkled crisps with no added flavouring.

You can tell these crisps are supposed to be a traditional style because the man shown on the upper right of the packet has grey hair, is wearing glasses, and has a very old style apron to protect his red and white striped shirt.

And if you look closely the packaging is printed as though on traditional brown parcel paper.

Unfortunately these crisps are not very exciting. Good crunch. Look like perfectly normal crisps. But oh dear, how dull!

Maybe crisps used to taste like this. If so I'm glad we have more exciting stuff to choose from these days.

Nothing the matter with these crisps at all except they don't really taste very thrilling. Shame.

Sunday 24 November 2013

M&S Guilt Free Snacking Cheese Puffs

I don't know how you make this surprisingly tasty triangular cheesy snack out of potatoes but that'swhat it says on the pack. I guess you have to visit the factory (weirdly in Greece) to find out. And considering that the cheese in question is the delicious but mild Gouda from Holland it's interesting that they they taste so genuinely cheesy. In fact they taste more of cheese than most cheesy crispy snacks which tend to taste of how you think cheese might taste or ought to taste rather than how cheese actually does taste.

Confusing I know, but I have never come across cheese that tastes (for example) like Cheesy Wotsits or Quavers (both from Walkers). Which are great. And tasty. And I love them. But I don't eat any cheese that tastes like that.

However, I do eat cheese that tastes like this. I love Dutch cheese and I'm pretty sure I remember being taken to the traditional cheese fair at Alkmaar 40km North of Amsterdam when I was about six. I don't remember the place at all but I do just remember the cheese fair. Brilliant. Men in white with big hats carrying loads of cheeses on special cheese-carrying devices and piles of cheese all over the Square. Lucky thing Dutch cheeses come covered in wax.
So although the Alkmaar fair does not include Gouda (only locally made cheeses) I am sure you will be interested to know that they have a Cheese Museum, and a Cheese Market Magazine, and Alkmaar is well worth a visit.

Anyway, these cheesy snacks are shiny tasty triangular pillows. And the shininess makes them quite slippery and hard to pick up. You have to grab on to two corners or they slip from your fingers.

The thing they remind me of most is Oat Pillows from Quaker Oats. A great cereal I used to love but because they were pillow-shaped you don't get too many in a box and eventually my mother complained they were too expensive and wouldn't buy them for my any more. All many many years ago now. I think the cereal I remember is the same as Oat Pillows - if not it was very very similar.

© (he's a radio ham called Jan who lives in Alkmaar)
And now for the science bit: 100 calories per 22g pack (they come in multi-packs), no artificial colours or flavourings, suitable for vegetarians.

And the personal bit: I really like them. But stupidly I ate a whole multi-pack without taking a photograph of these crazy triangles. So next time I buy a bag I'll have to remember to add a photo. The packaging shows the shape absolutely, but the cartoon hand is far too small! OK - see below for photo.

And this is the 2015 packet. A bit different from 2 years ago.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Walkers Classically Ready Salted

So I tried Walkers Crinkles Simply Sea Salted and I wasn't impressed. But now I'm trying Walkers Classically Ready Salted.

And this is a very simple but truly great crisp which took me back to the good old days when there were three flavours if you were lucky.

Wow! I haven't tried these in ages and what a shame that is. And why are they so much better than the Crinkles? Could it be that I don't really like crinkly crisps?

Not really very much to say except that this is a truly great crisp. Basic in the best possible way. Delicious. And simple.

Top marks. I don't know where the potatoes were grown or what variety they are, but the salt comes from Cheshire.

It's a shame the packaging does not reflect what a classic this crisp is but Walkers are obsessed with some competition just now; Gary's Great Ingredient Hunt (every pack wins), and it's all over both the packaging and the website. Apparently you can win up to £10,000. I won 10% off a holiday I have no intention of taking. Great.

Monday 18 November 2013

M&S Sour Cream & Red Onion Hand Cooked

Yes, I know. I just can't stop trying Marks and Spencer crisps.

This is partly because there is a great big branch just up the road from where I work. And partly because they make some really good crisps. I mean, the Sea Salt & Lemon Vinaigrette is a sensational flavour and the Spicy Tomato is top quality too: both are also from the Hand Cooked range.

So here we are again, this time trying the Sour Cream and Red Onion. Some people out there sneer at "own brand" crisps calling them knocks offs or copies. Who cares? I tried these because I thought they'd be tasty. And they are.

I never like it when you buy a burger and it comes with a totally unnecessary salad made up of three lettuce leaves, a quarter of a tasteless tomato and two slices of red onion. That red onion is much too strong to eat. But here we have a recognisable red onion taste in a crisp. But it's not so strong as the real thing. Luckily. I'm guessing that the onion taste is toned down by the sour cream but I can't detect any sour cream taste at all.

What I do get is a sort of breath of sour cream at the back of my palate. A gentle reminder that there's sour cream in there somewhere. And it works very well. This is another great crisp from the M&S crisp development department (I wonder how many people work there?); great crunch, good to see the skin from the Hermes potatoes left on, and a good lot of flavour which tastes good but doesn't shout at you.

And I like the packaging. Another top design from the M&S packaging department.

Top marks all round. Unless you really don't like onion.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Propercorn Sour Cream & Chive Popcorn

I think I made a mistake trying these guilt free snacks (that's what they call themselves on the bag). Well, I don't get guilty when I eat crisps and cheesy snacks because I don't eat masses of sweets or biscuits. And I'm definitely not going to feel guilty about these because I'm not going to eat them.

When I opened the bag the smell was ice cream cone. You know, the thin crispy cornet thing. Why should popcorn smell of that?

I love salty popcorn, and butter is a great flavour too, and you can't beat yummy toffee popcorn. So why don't I like these?

They are far too oniony for me and there's a weird after-taste of washing up liquid. Which lasted ages! And I really wasn't sure I could detect the sour cream. So I'm not impressed.

Also, you know that at the top of the packet you get lots of fluffy white exploded corn but the more you eat the heavier, less exploded kernels with more of the hard bits of corn skin take over. And the hard bits of skin do stick at the back of your throat if you aren't careful. So I was unpleasantly surprised to find quite a lot of hard bits at the top of this packet. Maybe I'm being very picky (surely not?) or maybe the bag was stored upside down. But combined with a taste I wasn't keen on... well; it didn't help.

Anyway, I asked Ruth to try one to see if she agreed with me but she likes them. And she's going to take the packet home and finish them off. In fact, I think she said they had a road trip tonight and she was planning to take the despised popcorn as a snack. Well, it's good to know somebody likes it! I'll be interested to see if Sam likes it too.

So, here's the science bit: 89 calories per serving, high in fibre, wheat free (so I should hope), suitable for veggies. And made in Britain. With roasted onions as well as chives. And crème fraiche as well as sour cream. Hmn...

Well I'm sorry Cassandra; they aren't for me.

I quite like the green packet and the little drawing of chives and sour cream and the joined up writing like an old-fashioned Barbar book. But I don't think the green goes any too well with the photograph of popcorn.

Seems like a good idea but I'm not sure this flavour works for me. However, I gather that Ruth and Sam happily ate the rest of the packet while stuck in traffic on the M1 and no sinister after-taste. So that's just me then.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Perach Rice Crisps in Zaatar & Olive Oil

Mmn..... not really sure about these. But you know, it's an adventure and sometimes you just have to try stuff. And sometimes even though it comes in a really dreadful looking bag and has a terrible naff name, sometimes it tastes great.

And sometimes the bag looks rather smart but the contents don't live up to it.

These kosher snacks are made in Israel under the supervision of the Rishon Lezion Rabbinate. I never knew there was a place in Israel called Rishon Lezion (also called Rishon LeZion or Rishon LeTsiyon and founded in 1882) but that's obviously my fact for today. Not fried, no preservatives, no food colours, no MSG and no trans fats. Excellent. Unfortunately I don't really like them very much.

The basic snack is a sort of puffed rice biscuity snack thing and has a good crunch to it. I can't detect any sort of taste from that. But it turns out that I don't like the taste of zaatar. And in a zaatar tasting crisp that's a major flaw. In me. I daresay anyone who likes zaatar would be very happy with these.

The bag doesn't say exactly what combination of herbs goes into this version of zaatar. I read that it can be made of several different herbs; it seems that any combination of oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil thyme, savoury (or possibly hyssop?) and sesame may be used. Possibly sumac too. It's all a bit complicated. And these crispy things are also flavoured with rosemary.

I think there is just too much herbiness going on for me. The smell is like too many dried herbs, possibly a little bit past their sell-by date, and the taste is pretty much the same. If I concentrate hard I think I can detect a hint of olive oil but the herbs are so strong I'm not sure.

And I'm not really sure about the look either. You've got the creamy whiteness of the rice crisp with the zaatar herbs on top. Which makes the crisps look kind of grubby.

So I'm very sorry but I don't like these and I'm not going to eat any more.

Not horrible. Definitely not horrible. I just don't like the flavour. I wonder if Perach do other flavours?

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Waitrose Tangy & Spicy Cheese and Chili Mix

Waitrose Tangy & Spicy is a mix of chili salsa corn strips (the rectangular ones), nacho and jalapeno flavour mini tortilla chips (the triangular ones), nacho cheese flavour bread bites (the bits of toast), and cheese flavour snack biscuits (6 different shapes of miniature biscuits). And they're all rather small. In fact the cheesy biscuits are tiny which is a shame because they're rather tasty.

Most of the packet seems to be mini tortilla chips. These are OK. A little bit spicy but not too much, a little bit cheesy. And unfortunately in most cases, a little bit broken. And I couldn't tell which were meant to be nacho and which were meant to be jalapeno. The flavour was tasty but not very distinct.

The chili salsa corn strips are OK too. A little bit more spicy. But nothing special and I wasn't mad keen on them.

The nacho cheese flavour bread bites (essentially miniature bits of toast) are good. I'm not so sure about the nacho cheese flavour; again there seems to be a generally slightly spicy, maybe garlicky yumminess but I couldn't really pin point what the taste really was. They reminded me a bit of Phileas Fogg Mignons Morceaux. Can you still get them? I must investigate. Anyway, good enough to make me search through the packet for more of these. And there don't seem to be quite enough.

And then there are the teeny weeny little biscuits. Which taste great but are so small. I thought at first we had a heart, a diamond, a club... and looked in vain for a spade shape. Special biscuits for bridge perhaps? Apparently not. My theory about suits of playing cards was all wrong. So, we have a heart, a diamond, a trefoil (not a club at all), a triangle, an oval and a sort of oblong. All very tasty but all terribly teeny weeny. And again not quite enough of them.

This isn't a bad selection but there are far too many tortilla chips and not nearly enough of the bread bites (bread bites?? what kind of description is that?) and biscuits.

The bag was quite difficult to scan because it isn't the usual shape of crisp bag. It's not the flat package sealed at the back and then top and bottom, it's got a gussett. Or a sort of pleat at the sides. So that it's baggier than your usual bag. More like those brown bags that characters in US TV shows carry their lunch to work or school in. See Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 Episode 1. I don't remember Buffy ever even eating lunch in subsequent episodes much less bring in a packed lunch. Anyway, I cut the bag up wrong and then I couldn't get it to lie flat.

Monday 11 November 2013

M&S Spooky Ghosts and Vampire Bats

Another fabulous offering for Halloween from Marks & Spencer. And also made in Denmark. Who knew the Danes had such an exotic crispy snack industry?

What great packaging! You can see the back of the pack through the see-through panel now which detracts a little from the Nosferatu style vampire and his scary little bat but nonetheless it's a great design. The back of the packet is all red except for the information panels.

And what yummy crisps.

These taste and feel a little bit like original flavour Pringles. A little bit finer, a little bit smoother in texture, and a great deal easier to get into your mouth. But a similar sort of saltiness. And a great deal of yum.

Before I started writing this blog (all set off by a rainy day in Switzerland and a crazy packet of Cheeseburger crisps picked up in a French motorway service station) I would never have bought these. And what a shame that would have been because I'd have seriously missed out.

Oh yes, and if I wasn't writing this I'd have never known there was a Spongebob Squarepants episode featuring Nosferatu. Of course there is! I see Spongebob mostly in French where he's memorably called Bob L'Eponge (Bob the Sponge) and I understand about one word in twenty because he talks so fast. But it doesn't make it any the less entertaining.

A little oddly both the ghosts and the bats have a face in the middle of the "body". But I guess that the actual area of crisp which could really have a face in it is too tiny. So face in the middle of the body it is.

Very tasty crisps and easy to eat half a packet a one sitting if you don't pay attention. Of course because these were a Halloween special they're no longer available which is a great shame. I'd buy these again.

Sunday 10 November 2013

McVitie's Mini Cheddars

I bought several multi packs of mini Cheddars for Halloween. It's hard to resist a BOGOF and to be honest, the bags of mixed chocolate bars were very expensive - and not very full.

So in rapid succession I have tried Original, Cheese and Onion, and BBQ flavours.

Regular size Cheddars come in a packet like digestive biscuits or rich tea and are often broken at the edges or crumbled into bits. Mini Cheddars seem to be the same thickness (or thinness - why is it always thickness?) but because they are smaller in diameter they seem less prone to breakages. Not that a broken Cheddar tastes any better or worse than a whole one, but this way you get fewer crumbs. Better for eating in bed then, and that's got to be a plus.

The Original flavour mini Cheddars, oven baked, no artificial colours or flavours, and made with real cheese have the same taste as the big ones. The bite sized snack with the big cheese taste it says on the back. Actually it says this on all three flavours. But they aren't really that cheesy. In fact, I'm finding that with lots of allegedly cheesy snacks; they don't actually taste that much of cheese. It's a mystery.

Cheese and Onion flavour are really oniony. There's a good lot of cheese in the flavour too but the onion is the star. I liked these a lot but then wondered if I was breathing onion over everyone in the office all afternoon.

I think the cheese and onion combination here works a lot better than in many cheese and onion crisps which is interesting.

The BBQ flavour I tried with extreme caution because the last BBQ flavour snack I tried was just disgusting. In fact downright horrible. So I carried this little bag to and fro to work for over a week before I dared open it!

And impressively there didn't seem to be too many breakages. I think the mini size works well.

But these crunchy biscuity snacks have a delicate BBQ taste along with a good lump of cheese flavour. So quite nice. And Ruth liked the taste too. To my surprise I think I like these the best.

Quite a good combination of flavours for a multi pack. Not bad. But perhaps a little old fashioned.

Saturday 9 November 2013

M&S Hand Cooked Port & Stilton

Port & Stilton flavour crisps?

I only picked these up because it was 2 bags (mix and match) for however much. So a slightly cheaper way to try two new flavours. But I don't like Stilton or any other blue cheese and I go out of my way to avoid Port. You see? Pickiness strikes again.

So anyway, I tried these with care. And in fact they are pretty good. I ate half a bag at my desk on Friday without even trying. Alex tried one and nodded approvingly (he doesn't say much). Great crunch, nice brown skin on the edge of each crisp, lots of tasty flavour dust, the crisps mostly holding their shape well until right at the bottom of the packet. Top quality. The potato variety is Lady Rosetta.

Pretty eau de nil colour for the packet: unusual. And a good design.

Looking at it all round the only thing I can fault is the fact that you can't recycle the packaging. Oh, and for some reason they aren't suitable for vegetarians. I can't quite see why not.

Except. Except for the flavour. These crisps don't taste of port or stilton. If you concentrate very very hard there's a very slight hint of a possibly stiltony taste somewhere in the background. Sort of. Kinda. Maybe. But I cannot detect any port at all.

I made Terry do a blind taste test and he couldn't detect any stilton or port either.

Marks & Spencer might do better marketing these as a mystery flavour.

5 out of 10 for a great crisp but failure on the flavour front.

Monday 4 November 2013

Pom-Bear Original

Pom-Bear, anyone?

I never had one before this week. I was looking for something less chocolatey for the trick or treaters and ended up with some multi packs of mini Cheddars (of which more later) and Pom-Bears. So naturally I tried out the Pom-Bears.

I'm not sure what I was expecting; but not these pale reconstituted potato foam bear-shaped snacks. They.... they're rather good but at the same time don't really taste of anything. I almost felt like adding salt and I can't think what the yeast extract and spice listed in the ingredients are doing because they're not supplying much spicy yeasty flavour. However, in a weird way these are good. 

The little bears are very cheerful and smiley and I hadn't realised they come in four positions: both arms up, left arm up and right down, right arm up and left down, and both arms down. I had thought that maybe you might be able to make a semaphore word from these positions but not really. You get U, the symbol for erase, L and N. This is a bit disappointing but there you go. I suppose you could write NUL and then cross it out?

Obviously I've seen packets of Pom Bears for sale all over the place but I never bought any because I thought they were made of apple. Stupid? Maybe. But presumably the Pom comes from pomme de terre, so why not simply pomme? That's French for potatoes and apples in case you speak exciting languages not at all like French.

 I'm a bit puzzled by the "The Teddy Shaped Potato Snack" strap across the packet. The teddy shaped snack? As opposed to other teddy shaped snacks?? In which case does anyone know any other teddy shaped snacks? Weird.

There's an interesting video on YouTube called Pom-Bear Massacre featuring two little bears called Martin and Janet. Check it out. It's really very silly. (You may get ads and it's not edited for language.)

I see Pom-Bears come in more exciting flavours than Original. I just need to try shopping somewhere else because you can't buy them in Temple Fortune. A trip to the exotic climes of Finchley Central (home to a Tesco) beckons.

Nevermind all the crisps I've tried which seem to be aimed at eight year olds; these are probably for two year olds. I still managed to enjoy them. And they work terrifically well with a good film like The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (mysteriously known in the United States as The Pirates! Band of Misfits - I can't think why). 

And here is the Pom Bear himself throwing his rubbish away.