Nachos, sticks and pot roast. Oh, my!



Another company heard from

Two weeks ago, when Mr. Tidbit discussed the two kinds of Velveeta bake-and-serve products newly arrived in the freezer case, he planned to discuss two similar products introduced at about the same time by another grocery firm.

That had been the plan until, after discussing the Velveeta Cheesy Bites and the much larger Stuffed Grilled Cheese — and Hershey’s new Cookie Layer Crunch bars — his need to follow the plan seemed less compelling than his need to take a nap.

Last week, of course, he completely forgot that there had been a plan.

But now, with 2017 bearing down, he needs to tie up loose ends. So:

The folks who bring you the many kinds of Totino’s Party Pizzas and Totino’s Pizza Rolls (those folks would be General Mills), now offer Totino’s Stuffed Nachos — little “crispy-crust” bites, in queso (seasoned cheese) or “supreme” (spicier seasoned cheese) — and the considerably larger Totino’s Pizza Sticks — cheese or pepperoni — in a  “soft pizza crust.” Both are frozen, bake-and-serve.

The pricing of the new Totino’s items is both typical and odd. The Stuffed Nachos and the Pizza Sticks carry the same shelf price: They’re both $3.00 at one store, and both $3.99 at another. That’s typical for related products that are simultaneously introduced. Oddly, however, you get a whopping 41 percent more food if you buy the box of Stuffed Nachos — 17.4 ounces (34 little bites) — than if you shell out the same amount of money for the 12.3-ounce box of six Pizza Sticks.


Slow cooker step up

Until recently, Campbell’s line of (now eight) Slow Cooker Sauces in shelf-stable pouches might have been the best a major food company has done to making slow-cooker cooking even easier. Add meat and you have . . . meat and sauce. Now Stouffer’s line of four frozen Slow Cooker Starters goes that a big step better by including not just a sauce maybe with a few bits of vegetables for texture, but some or all of what else you would have added. The first four ingredients in the bag of Beef Pot Roast Starter, for example, are red skin potatoes, water, carrots and onions.

Price goes up a big step too. Where the 13-ounce pouch of Campbell’s Tavern Style Pot Roast Slow Cooker sauce was $2.59, the 26-ounce bag of Stouffer’s Pot Roast Slow Cooker Starter (both for 2 lbs. of beef) was $4.99.





More than Voila! and a last-minute treat


Voila! And more!

Do you know the Voila! line of frozen dinners for two from Birds Eye? How many varieties would you guess there are?

Wrong! (Probably.)

Even ignoring the occasional “limited edition,” there are lots more than would ever show up in your typical supermarket freezer case. As listed on the Birds Eye website, it appears that there are 14 different kinds of these 21-ounce dinners, most of which are also available in a 42-ounce “family size.” Plus there seem to be four that are available only in that larger size. And Mr. Tidbit just bought one that isn’t on the list at all! However many that is, that’s got to be enough, right?

Wrong! (Actually.)

Introducing Birds Eye Signature Skillets, 21-ounce frozen dinners for two that at least sound a bit more upscale than most of the varieties of Voila! There are eight of them right off the bat, so in addition to the probability that the version of Voila! that would be your favorite isn’t at your store, you’re probably also never going to find the Signature Skillet you’d prefer.

Maybe that’s OK. The price of the Voila! dinners was just under $5 at the discount store where he found the new Signature skillets, which were just under $7.


Chocolate and chips

Last-minute-shopper alert:  Mr. Tidbit saw all three versions of Wavy Lay’s chocolate-covered potato chips in the Christmas food gift corner of Target, and some at other supermarkets. (There are milk chocolate, dark chocolate and milk chocolate with almond bits.) Mr. Tidbit can take chocolate-covered potato chips or leave them alone, but he passes this along because some folks prize them highly. He has no idea why this is a Christmas item, but it seems to be: The Frito-Lay website lists it as a limited-time offering (and lists no stores as having any).

They’re not cheap: The very small 5-ounce bag (about the size of the snack-size bag of regular potato chips) is $3.99 ($3.49 on sale at Target). That’s almost reasonable: Mr. Tidbit reached back to high-school algebra and, solving two equations in two unknowns, calculated that the bag is about 90 percent chocolate and 10 percent potato chip by weight.

Still, that’s only a buck’s worth of chocolate in the $3.49 bag. But take Mr. Tidbit’s word: Dipping your own potato chips is a mess, probably worth a buck or two to avoid.


Velveeta, Hershey acquire textural elements


Yet more Velveeta

In case you haven’t been able to satisfy your need for Velveeta with only the available loaves, slices, shreds, blocks, pouches, dip cups, bowls, skillet and casserole mixes, salad dressings, and in combinations with various pastas, you can rejoice: Now Velveeta is in the freezer case, too!

There are three bake-and-serve versions. Two kinds of Velveeta Cheesy Bites: Original (“creamy bites of Velveeta cheese in a crispy breading”) and Salsa con Queso (“creamy bites of Velveeta cheese blended with salsa in a crispy tortilla coating”). The 18-ounce (510-gram) package contains, according to the nutrition panel, a rather vague “about six” 80-gram servings of four bites each, which the front of the box — even more tentatively — calls “over 20 bites.” Mr. Tidbit counted 26.

And right next door in the freezer case there is Velveeta Stuffed Grilled Cheese (“buttery biscuit dough filled with creamy Velveeta cheese”). These are much larger sandwich-type items: The 18-ounce box contains six three-ouncers. The box is also labeled “Original,” so maybe there’s another flavor of Stuffed Grilled Cheese coming. Mr. Tidbit can hardly wait.


Cookie-what-now bars?

New from Hershey is a set of three kinds of Cookie Layer Crunch candy bars, all available at least in 6.3-ounce bags of nine small (0.7-ounce) individually wrapped bars.

In case it’s not clear (it certainly wasn’t to Mr. Tidbit), a Cookie Layer Crunch bar is a milk- or dark-chocolate-covered bar with two internal layers: The bottom layer is bits of cookie embedded in the same chocolate, and the top layer (under the chocolate coating) is a caramel or crème filling.

(Yes, although in this country the word “creme” is used to avoid suggesting that there’s actual cream in the product, Hershey spells it “crème,” with a grave accent over the first e, which Mr. Tidbit supposes is a suggestion that the filling is a bit European or in some other way rather la-di-da.)

The varieties are vanilla crème (“milk chocolate bars with chocolate cookie bits and vanilla flavored crème with other natural flavor”); mint (“dark chocolate bars with chocolate cookie bits and mint crème”), and caramel (“milk chocolate bars with shortbread cookie bits and caramel.”)

In addition to the bags of small bars (which Mr. Tidbit has seen), there are also said to be 3.5-ounce bars in all flavors, and 2.1- and 1.4-ounce bars in caramel only.


What did we do to deserve frozen Deep Fried Twinkies?


Deep-Fried Twinkies! (Yes.)

Several months ago, Mr. Tidbit discussed frozen Oreo Churros, which you briefly bake or deep-fry, and he noted that: The “Real Creme Filling” somehow survives baking or deep-frying; the producer of Oreo Churros is J&J Snack Foods (which has nothing to do with Oreos but uses the name under license), and that the only connection to Oreos is that you roll the heated churros in “Oreo Crumb Sugar Topping.”

Now there are New Hostess Deep Fried Twinkies, which are quite different. You do briefly bake or deep fry them, but Hostess actually makes them. According to the box, each is “a real Hostess Twinkie,” consisting of “sponge cake with creamy filling.” That item is coated in funnel-cake batter, resulting in the item that you can bake or fry and that provides, as the box describes it, “The fun of a State Fair right out of your oven!”

Mr. Tidbit would challenge that: The Deep Fried Twinkie isn’t even on a stick!

Like the “Real Creme” filling of Oreo Churros, the Twinkie filling survives baking or deep-frying as a hot, creamy semi-liquid.

There are two versions: original golden, or chocolate-filled (and coated in brown funnel cake). In both cases the box of seven weighs about 17 ounces (2.4 ounces each). One regular Twinkie weighs 1.36 ounces. So the new ones are . . .  substantial. And a regular Twinkie has 130 calories and 4 grams of fat. The deep-fried Twinkie has 220 calories and 8 grams of fat.

Originally they were only at Walmart, but they are said to be coming to other stores soon. The box of seven is $4.76 (68 cents each) at Walmart, where a box of 10 regular Twinkies is $2.97 (30 cents each).

FYI, Mr. Tidbit bought his a month ago, and now he can’t find the Deep-Fried Twinkies even at Walmart. That might not be terrible news: He still has six of the seven he bought — and he threw away most of the one he tried.


Q for Quinoa and Quiche

New from Kellogg’s, answering the nation’s cry for more quinoa: Special K frozen Crustless Quiche, in three varieties: Portabella, Kale & Quinoa; Ham, Cheese & Quinoa and Sausage, Quinoa, Peppers & Cheese. There are two in a 7-ounce box; $3.99 at one online store. A similar but quinoa-less line of frozen 7-ounce egg-based items, Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowls, is $2.99 at the same store.

Ah, the air of Camembert!

Uncle Al was lucky enough recently to be able to spend a week in Paris. Young proto-Uncle Al had worked there (on what was then the International Herald Tribune) for most of 1978, and an older but not-even-as-wise Uncle Al has returned a few times since, in part to retrace his many happy visits to pastry shops, and possibly in part to confirm that Paris isn’t where he left any of his funnels.

There are two anecdotes from the 1978 interlude that he inflicts on others with annoying frequency. Both center on the sandwich made with very ripe camembert on half a baguette.

When his kids and his niece visited him in Paris for a month in that long-ago year, that sandwich was their frequent lunch choice as they all wandered around the city before Uncle Al went to work on the newspaper’s night copy desk. The camembert sandwich was an easy choice, both because it was available on the terrace of virtually any of the many, many sidewalk cafes they would stroll past, and because everybody liked it.

His son David, then four, once asked if there was any of “that cheese” in the apartment. What cheese? “That cheese that smells like a diaper pail.” Budding food critic.

*   *   *

The other story is a little longer, and among those with whom he has shared it are readers of his rantings in the Star Tribune in September 1986. He offers it again today, free of additional charge, because he’s pretty sure that there exist, among those who inexplicably find themselves reading this, several folks who weren’t reading his efforts in 1986. And, as for those who were so afflicted 30 years ago, Uncle Al shares one of his many life-lessons from the world of Vaudeville: “If they liked it once, they’ll love it twice.”

Besides, if you can’t steal from yourself, who can you steal from?

To fend off copyright attorneys (in case the answer to that question is “It is illegal to steal from yourself”), Uncle Al is retelling this fabulous tale in brand-new language, or as legal scholars would have it, ab ovo (which Uncle Al helpfully translates as “away from the omelet”).

So. Return with us now to the thrilling days of 1978, young Uncle Al in Paris, chestnuts in blossom, and everywhere the ripe-camembert sandwich. Uncle Al liked that sandwich so much that, for his dinner break most of the nights that he was at work, he would get one to go at the bar/cafe on the corner near the newspaper office and eat it while writing letters (this was before e-mail) to the woman who was to become his second ex-wife.

The barman would call the order to a cook in the tiny kitchen, who was easily seen from where Uncle Al stood at the bar nursing an espresso. The guy would take half a baguette, slice it open, slather the insides with butter and look around for the cheese. (Dinner time probably wasn’t when lots of people ordered a sandwich.) Once he had the sandwich assembled, he would take a long, slim waxed-paper bag from a nearby stack and — rather than whip it through the air as we might do to open it up for the sandwich — he inflated it by blowing into it.

The first time Uncle Al saw that last part of the deal, he was a little taken aback. But the guy did it every time, and as Uncle Al got used to things like the unrefrigerated meat at the open-air markets, and the basket of sliced bread on restaurant tables that wasn’t changed as the day’s parade of diners pawed through it, he got used to that too. (Americans, he was told once, are “obsessed with microbes.”)

One evening, however, there was a little hiccup in the sandwich process: The cook had finished making the sandwich, but when he reached for the slim bag, apparently there were none left. Uncle Al could see him looking around, and in a few seconds he came up with a loose crumpled bag about the size of the paper bag at an American supermarket. Way bigger than necessary, and Uncle Al thought briefly about trying to say that he didn’t really need a bag, but there didn’t seem much point in trying to stop him.

What Uncle Al failed to anticipate, cross-culturally open though he was trying to be, was the next step: Before the cook put the sandwich into the large, fully open bag, he stuck his head into it and blew.

Vive La France!   And  A Votre Santé!  (To Your Health!)