Thursday 30 October 2014

ROKA Cracker Snack

Cracker Snacks & Dip
Another little box of crispy snacks sent to me by the lovely people at ROKA in the Netherlands.

Oh dear. I feel really mean but we weren't awfully impressed.

Cracker Snacks are small square biscuits or crackers made with linseed, sesame seed, sunflower seed and oat flakes. According to the packaging there is 18% Gouda cheese in the mix too. You can see the cheese on the top, but you don't get a lot of cheesy taste - except there is a pretty good cheesy aftertaste.

These little crackers are not at all nasty. Let's get that absolutely straight. But they don't seem terribly exciting either. I must admit that I didn't try them in all the ways suggested by the packaging: to accompany my soup! (no), with pre-dinner drinks! (no), for decorating with my favourite toppings (no), as a tasty bite! (yes), for barbeques & picnics (no), and for snacking and dipping (yes - yes, I tried that). Yes, we tried snacking with a dip.

And what I got, what the reluctant taste testers at work got, was an overwhelming sensation of healthiness. These crispy crackers have quite a hard crunch and they do taste awfully healthy. I expect it's all the seeds.

I read, for example, that linseeds may help with heart disease, arthritis, PMS, and feeling calmer in times of stress. And if I'm not mistaken I remember a long ago plot from The Archers (for non UK readers it's a very long-running BBC Radio 4 soap: an everyday story of farming folk) where a character suffering terrible menopausal symptoms baked herself a cake full of linseeds and other healthy stuff, but half of the cake was eaten (ha ha ha!) by a greedy and dreadful old man called Joe Grundy (ho ho ho!) and wasn't he upset when he discovered what he'd eaten?

Well, well, perhaps these would be more fun if I'd spread hummus on them, or slices of cheese or I don't know what. I did provide a dip for the reluctant taste testers but although it helped, we were still left with that sensation of healthiness. And I'm sorry to say they are not (as advertised on the packet) irresistible.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Zweifel JouJoux Chips Nature

This is an interesting little 42g bag of Swiss crisps. It's obviously aimed at children (the under 10s) because it's called Joujoux: a small child's toy. And because you get a surprise in the bag. And because it has a cartoon potato crisp on the bag snowboarding (very Swiss) with a bag full of toys. The cartoon crisp is called Chipsli (also very Swiss).

What's a bit odd, though, is that the crisps themselves are quite normal salted potato crisps perfectly palatable to adults. In the UK crisps or crispy snacks aimed at younger children tend to be luridly coloured or shaped like monsters; often they taste pretty ghastly to adults. But these crisps are what you would expect of an ordinary sea salted crisp from Swiss crisp giant Zweifel: rather finer cut than the usual British crisp but very tasty and with a good light crunch.

However, what you get with JouJoux is an added extra; they come Mit Überraschun!, Avec Surpise! In our case we got a small plastic knight with helmet, sword and shield. There's obviously a story here because Chipsli (a crisp) and his friend Pia (possibly a red chilli) travel to Castle Rabstein and discover a princess, a knight and a crow.... I know this because of the little bit of blurb that came with the figure. You can get plastic figures of all these characters if you eat enough bags of crisps.

JouJoux have a webpage which looks as though you have to sign in, and oddly you have to be over 12. I see this is something to do with an initiative to stop younger children being affected by advertising (Swiss Pledge 2012) which is obviously a good thing, but it is a pity because these crisps are aimed at younger children. Although I am over 12 I didn't have to prove it and just clicked the J'ai 12 ans ou plus button to find Chipsli's adventures, and all sorts of other jollies.

There's a bee character called Maia (or Maja depending on whether you speak French or German) who has lots of friends available as rubbers for the end of your pencil, and there are stickers, tattoos, mini jigsaws and luminous stars. Also on the webpage there are comic strips to read. Gripping stuff.

I quite liked these. Perfectly nice (and not too madly unhealthy) crisps with fun surprises in the bag. And I accidentally ate nearly the whole bag while concentrating on the accounts at work.

Saturday 18 October 2014

Smiths Frazzles Crispy Bacon

Wow these are salty!

I love salt, I really do, but this maize-based crispy snack is the saltiest thing I have tried for a long long time.

What we have here is a crispy crunchy corn snack made to look like strips of streaky bacon. Except that the ones in the packet look a lot less like streaky bacon than the ones on the packet: there's a lot less pinky brown stripiness in real life (which in real life is beetroot red in places not pinky brown at all). But they do feature a pretty good bacon-style crinkle.

The packet tells me Frazzles have been around since 1975. And I don't imagine they have changed very much; they do have a 1970s feel about them. The bag is only 43g which has got to be a good thing. Even a massive fan of should not be eating very many of these at a time. Don't run away with the idea that I dislike them. But I wouldn't want a packet every day. Or every week really.

The Smiths brand is of course owned by Walkers (so the packet features a little guy throwing his rubbish away responsibly). Walkers are owned by Frito-Lay, who are in turn owned by PepsiCo Inc. There are a number of bacon-alike crispy snacks out there but I'm lead to believe that Frazzles are the original.

Friday 17 October 2014

ROKA Cheese Crispies Jalapeño Peppers

Another triumph from the lovely people at ROKA in the Netherlands. Yet another astonishingly tasty yet delicate (and somehow awfully posh) crispy snack to marvel at and try terribly hard not too eat too many of.

Oh dear how easy it is to fail if you don't want to eat too many ROKA cheese crispies!

Just lovely. A lovely cheesy snack with a hot jalapeño bite.

The original cheese crispies are on my list of all time favourite crispy snacks which tells you how highly I think of them. I had not tried these before: they were part of the wonderful food parcel sent me by ROKA (who seem to like me because I keep telling the world how fabulous their products are). I saved the jalapeño peppers flavour for a special occasion and brought them out this week when we had a tea party for our lovely reluctant taste tester who is taking maternity leave.

OK, so they had to compete with a Colin the Caterpillar cake from Marks & Spencer (although I gather this has recently been made redundant by the new Piñata cake from Asda), and a number of other goodies, but everyone knows how good ROKA cheese crispies are. Plus, I brought half the packet home for the Chef and me. Because it would be a terrible shame to put them all out for the taste testers who were really concentrating on the present-opening activities of the maternity leaver.

We are trying not to eat these too quickly so just going downstairs now for a small snack. Always supposing the Chef hasn't eaten them all when I wasn't looking... Yum!

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Bret's Les Aromatisées Poulet Braisé

I remember years ago there used to be rather a good roast chicken flavour crisp I was very fond of. Only I can't remember who made it (this could have been 30 years ago so perhaps that's not so surprising). But then recently I tried two different roast chicken versions from UK crisp juggernaut Walkers and I wasn't impressed with either and I haven't yet found another UK chicken flavour crisp to try.

So, thinking of the Walkers versions,  it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I tried this French crisp.

Produced by Bret's of Brittany, found as usual at a French motorway service station, and tried by the reluctant taste testers at work and the Chef at home. And we thought these were rather good.

The initial aroma was not terribly tempting but, after all, most people don't sniff their crisps as though they were a glass of swanky wine (just me), so this is not too much of a hurdle especially as the taste is so good.

Crinkle crisps, obviously, a good not too thick, not too thinness of crisp with a good crunch, and a nice degree of very roast chickeny taste. In fact, we thought what we had here was a packet of crisps that taste of spit-roasted chicken. There is a definite hint of properly crunchy spit-roasted chicken skin. Which I don't eat because I don't like skin, but it does make the chicken taste good.

Although, "braisé" does not, of course, mean roast. It means braised. As in, fry lightly and then stew slowly in a closed container. Still tasty though.

Not suitable for vegetarians because these crisps do contain chicken meat powder. It's obvious really that crisps get their flavour from power. Because otherwise you'd have a small potato crisp with a lump of chicken (or cheese or whatever) gummed to it which would be silly. Or perhaps you'd coat your crisp in a chickeny gloop as chocolate digestive biscuits are coated in chocolate... But it is unfortunate that "chicken meat powder" sounds so nasty. And I really don't want to know how that powder is produced.

However, this is a very tasty crisp and if you have been disappointed by your local version of roast (or braised) chicken crisps, and you happen to be on your way to France, I recommend you try these.

Bret's are very keen on their local environment (good for them) and work with local Breton farmers not only to produce locally grown products but to reduce their impact on the environment. Perhaps because of this policy (food miles I imagine) you cannot buy their crisps in the UK. Or not anywhere I have looked (I've not been shopping in Cornwall recently....). Which is a mighty shame because loads of people here eat lots of crisps and you have to suppose it would be a good market for them.

Friday 10 October 2014

Jacob's Treeselets

Oh yes! Jacob's fabulous Cheeselets now come in tree form. Of course they do.

And they're called Treeselets. Obviously.

I've written about Cheeselets before of course, and they are one of my very favourite cheesy snacks. You can read about them here if you like, because, you know, I'm not going to repeat what I said about these terrific little cheesy biscuits in September 2013.

But hey! Now they come in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Can't decide if the Christmas tree form is a little bit brilliant or a little bit sad. Still ultra tasty though.

For scale, this little tree is sitting on the smallest size of post-it: 38 x 51mm. And I thought it would be appropriate to photograph the tub in front of my tree books.

I guess this is a Christmas 2014 special. We'll see if they appear again in the future. 

Thursday 9 October 2014

Zweifel Merranea Chips Pesto Verde

This is one of the very few offerings from Swiss crisp giant Zweifel that I haven't enjoyed very much: Merranea Chips con olio di oliva.

The back of the packet shows a Tuscan farmhouse (or perhaps it's in Umbria) surrounded by Italian cypress trees. In the foreground there's a pestle and mortar filled with hand made pesto. And on the front it says Italian Taste above an Italian flag. There's definitely an Italian thing going on here.

Well Italian they may be but I'm not too sure about the flavour which is said to be the irresistible taste of summer. Hmmn... parsley and basil with an 'exquisite touch' of olive oil. And very weirdly: coconut fat. There's cheese powder and garlic and other stuff too.

The reluctant taste testers at work were not very enthusiastic and neither was I. True, a bowl of these crisps did get eaten, but no-one was clamouring for seconds.

As usual with Zweifel, the crisps are thinner and finer than you would get from Walkers or Lay's. And usually I rather like that. But the taste (and smell) was kind of a stale version of pesto. So these crisps are not really very nice.

You might like them. We found them disappointing.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

M&S Poisonous Scorpions Cheese

Last year Marks & Spencer produced a packet of poisonous scorpion crisps for Halloween. Although they looked really great - very scorpiony and pale green into the bargain - I wasn't mad keen on the pickled onion flavour.

This year another packet of scorpions but now they are cheese flavoured corn snacks very similar to M&S's Full on Flavour Cheese Tasters. No wonder I haven't seen any Cheese Tasters in the shops recently; M&S want me to buy scorpions instead.

And what not? Because apart from the shape these two products are very similar. Cheesy aroma, cheesy taste, good crunch, that terrible way they gum themselves to the roof of your mouth if you aren't careful. What could be better?

There seem to be an enormous number of little children living around here and in a couple of weeks time they'll be dressing up as ghouls and knocking on our door. So I'd better get my act together and buy a load of treats. Cheesy scorpions won't be any good. I'm not handing out 60 or so 100g bags. Besides, if we had any left over we'd be forced to eat them and that would be no good for the diet.

Poisonous scorpions come in a pumpkin orange packet with a chocolate brown Halloween design. Bats, obviously, a haunted-looking house, winter trees and a raven (possibly a crow?) with a large scorpion held in his beak. Very handsome.

Of course, this is a limited edition crispy snack for Halloween. So grab them while you can.

Thanks to the Guardian Weekend Magazine this weekend for alerting me to the fact that scorpions come in all shapes and sizes: Deathstalker, Arizona bark, Fattail, Emperor, Brazilian yellow, and Asian forest. I think these are simply generic scorpions.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Lay's Patatje Joppie

This excitingly gigantic 225g bag of crisps was specially imported for me and the reluctant taste testers at work by our Dutch colleague. Direct from the Netherlands. On foot - well, public transport.

And what an amazing crisp flavour this is.

I gather from our Dutch colleague that in the Netherlands it is common practice to slather a piquant curry-style yellow sauce on your chips. That's chips as in french fries as opposed to chips as in potato crisps.

And the sauce is Joppie Saus® which has a facebook page and a twitter account. Obviously the recipe is a closely guarded secret (aren't they all?) but is alleged to include curry powder and onions. I am sure there are recipes available online to help you make your own if you fancy it. I did have a quick look but everything I found was in Dutch, or you had to sign in so I'm afraid I gave up looking at that point.

Joppie Saus® (which I have only tasted as a crisp flavour) seems to be quite, er, tasty. To be honest, and speaking from a purely British point of view, it really doesn't taste of curry. But I have tried French and German notions of curry flavour and they are quite different from UK curry, so I'm guessing (only a guess mind you) that the Dutch version of curry is also not what we would expect in this country. And you know, the UK idea of curry is not, I am pretty sure, what you would get in India where this much travelled dish originated.

The list of ingredients includes onion, paprika, garlic, spices and herbs and cinnamon. And the joppie sauce flavour includes butter, mustard and celery. So where's the curry powder? And how come the vinegary pickle taste? Well, never mind. I think we can all admit that these crisps have a stonking great taste.

Anyhow, I read that this flavour was created as the result of a Lay's competition called Maak je Smaak (create your own flavour). That was back in 2011 so I think it has been something of a success. Obviously Lay's (and Walkers) have somewhat of a thing for competitions.

Most of the taste testers seemed to like this flavour better than I did - which is great for them. And the Volunteer taste tester was thrilled with it and ate lots - and I'm delighted for him. But I think for me this flavour is a bit too complicated. I find (after much practice and more thought) that I often prefer the simpler flavours. Although I still enjoy trying the ones I don't care for so much.

However, I have to admit complete failure on the pronunciation front here. I cannot say this flavour out loud! That's quite sad. I must try harder in future.

Friday 3 October 2014

"Dirty" All Natural Potato Chips Gourmet Medley

So this little 1.5 oz (42.5g) bag of crisps was kindly donated by a dear friend (known to everyone who knows me as) Lynn from Buffalo. Even though she doesn't exactly live there any more. And they survived the trip in her suitcase pretty well.

And the crisps were super-kindly donated to her by the lovely lady (who I have never met and she's not met me) who runs Lodgical in Hamburg NY. Which was very thoughtful and generous of her.

I gather these crisps were sourced in the Adirondacks (forgive me if I've got this wrong), and the "Dirty" Potato Chips firm seems to be based in Gramercy, Louisiana; Oxnard, California; and Hanover Township, Pennsylvania.

"Dirty" potato chips are kettle cooked one batch at a time and use premium, all natural ingredients for a crunchier tastier chip says the packaging. We thank you for purchasing "Dirtys". The Chip Master.

The gourmet medley is made with a blend of white, blue, sweet and russet potatoes. Flavoured with nothing at all but sea salt and cooked in sunflower oil.

It's a selection of simple, lightly salted crisps, and the four different kinds of potato make for a really interesting bag of crisps. The different potatoes seem to give a different size crisp, and of course a different colour and taste too. Which makes this little bag just a bit different from most. I'm not trying them with a dip although I imagine that would work very well.

And why "Dirty"? They don't wash all the goodness of the potato slices. Which I suppose means they wash the earth off the potatoes, but not the starch off the sliced potatoes. Which gives a better flavour. Or so they say.

If you never eat anything but the fancier flavours of crisp these might seem a little dull. And goodness knows I try enough crazy flavours. But actually, these are rather good if you give them a chance. I think I might be in danger of eating too many. I keep thinking, mmn... I'm not sure about these.... and then I eat a couple more, try a different colour, and maybe another. So I guess they kind of creep up on you.

I've read about other "Dirty" products on but they don't seem to have tried this particular product. And you can check out the "Dirty" website here. I'd like to try another flavour.

Thursday 2 October 2014

M&S Full on Flavour Worcester Sauce

Another tasty crisp from the ever reliable Full on Flavour range. Available at a Marks & Spencer near you. Provided you live in a country where M&S sell food.

These are rather large crisps for the most part, with a large flavour and a big crunch. In fact, the flavour could be described as enormous!

Of course Worcester Sauce itself has a huge flavour. Most people use it a few drops at a time. Well, I never use it at all but the Chef puts it in his shepherd's pie all the time. Only a few drops.

So these crisps with the great big flavour are made with Worcester Sauce then? Well, no. Not exactly because that's actually called Worcestershire Sauce even though many people including me lazily call it Worcester Sauce.

And for those of you ignorant of English geography, Worcestershire is a county in the West Midlands and Worcester is the cathedral city on the river Severn. This part of England was once part of the Anglo Saxon Kingdom of Mercia. What exciting things you can learn when reading about crisps, eh? Don't even get me started on how J R R Tolkien apparently used the Mercian dialect as the language of the Kingdom of Rohan.

Anyway, the super-helpful Wikipedia tells me that Worcestershire Sauce is a fermented condiment and draws allusions to the rather horrible-sounding garum (fermented fish sauce) that the ancient Greeks, Romans and Byzantines used to flavour a lot of their food. There was another sauce called liquamen that sounds almost nastier; something about the name perhaps? I saw a Roman dinner reproduced on TV many years ago and a bunch of archaeologists brought in as taste testers: only one person would eat the pears in garum. Yum! fruit served with fermented fish sauce. Perhaps not.

The recipe of Worcestershire Sauce is a closely guarded secret but a glance at the label of a bottle of Lea & Perrins - the leading UK brand - will tell you it includes anchovies and tamarind extract. And it is thought that the ingredients include onions, garlic, cloves, soy, lemons, picks, peppers, malt vinegar, molasses, sugar and salt. Complicated then.

This is a much simpler recipe but it does make for a very tasty crisp which I recommend if you are into big flavours. The silver bag is excitingly shiny if that makes a difference.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Walkers Sizzling Steak Fajita

Here we go with the final choice from the Walkers Do Us a Flavour vote.

I confess I was quite excited to try six entirely new crisp flavours all in one fell swoop, but now I've got a bit fed up. It all feels a bit pretence. Which I guess it is. After all, one may enjoy one (or all) of these brand new flavours, but basically this is a marketing machine in action.

However, nothing venture, nothing gained, and once embarked on this mass testing I felt we must complete the exercise. So... I asked the reluctant taste testers at work to tuck in once again.

I try to conduct a blind taste test so they don't know what they're trying. So, one tester suggested the crisps were lentil soup flavour. And I see exactly what she meant. In fact, several people thought the soup theory was a good one. It sounds a bit odd perhaps, but... well, I guess you have to try the crisps for yourself.

Anyhow, another enthusiastic tester said she thought the crisps tasted of "those big peppers, whatever you call them". That would be peppers then. And she's right too I think. English is not her first language although mostly you would never know. I was very surprised she wasn't sure what to call peppers. Although, Americans say bell peppers and Australians say capsicums so I guess it can be confusing especially as peppers are totally different from pepper (don't you just love the English language?). I don't like peppers (horrid things if you ask me) so that didn't encourage me to look enthusiastically at these crisps.

We did have a couple of votes for a "meaty" taste. Which would be right because these crisps are not suitable for vegetarians. Amazingly the ingredients list includes powdered Aberdeen Angus beef. Although otherwise it's hard to say what went into the flavour. There's "smoke flavour', herbs, spices and flavourings. All a bit vague.

I have to admit I wasn't madly taken with these crisps. And neither was the Chef. I did catch two of the tasters in the kitchen discussing whether they could detect the sizzle or not. I don't think the chef or I got the sizzle. And I'm pretty sure I couldn't detect any sign of a tortilla but perhaps the potato crisps themselves perform this function.

But I did find one big fan. We have a volunteer at work who comes in every so often to carry out detailed investigations for us into all sorts of different things: I think he finds being retired terribly dull. He's recently discovered the joy of crisp tasting, and was very taken with these.

Sizzling steak fajita is not a flavour I particularly liked. So I'm afraid we have another "very sorry" for nice sounding creator civil engineering student Jed. You can find out all about him on the Walkers website, and don't forget crisp fans - you can only vote for your favourite flavour until 17th October.

So get voting!