Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Magic Pop: Extreme Rice Cakes

I was strolling through the Murray’s cheese section at Kroger last night, looking for samples, when I noticed a small crowd gathered near the bakery. They had collected around a contraption about the size of a popcorn machine, with a plexi-glass partition keeping onlookers back.

Every ten seconds or so, the machine would make a loud popping sound and a cracker about the size of a pita was expelled at high speed, hitting the glass and falling into a basket. There was an attendant on hand, feeding the machine, or keeping it from turning loose and eating everyone in the store, I couldn’t tell what.

Getting closer I could see the words “Kim’s Magic Pop,” on a sign above the crowd. Next to it was a platter of cracker samples served alongside a half-eaten container of hummus. I walked a full circle around the Magic Pop, noting a pervasive fake strawberry smell not unlike the stuff they spray on landfills. It reminds you of strawberry but your nose tells you it’s not.

I reached in for a sample, ignoring the hummus. There were two varieties of magic crackers on hand for tasting, a plain looking kind and another with light pink splotches. I took a sliver of the pink stuff. It tasted just about how it smelled, and it lingered in my mouth for an uncomfortably long amount of time.

I did some research at home and read all about the Magic Pop Story. It seems there’s a couple in South Korea who got the idea in their heads to both terrify and delight the people of America by creating a machine that would pressure-cook rice cakes and fling them at high speeds. There’s also a wonderfully Photoshopped image of Magic Pop “HQ” in South Korea.

I also discovered that there are a variety of Magic Pop flavors, including shrimp – shrimp! Magic Pop’s website lists the benefits of its product and insists that the rice cakes are “especially good for little ones and the elderly.” Coincidentally, I can’t think of anyone who would be more frightened by the concept.

What's amazing to me is how the Magic Pop machine turns a bland food into a supermarket spectacle. Is there a less interesting, less enticing food than a rice cake? No. But if you show people how it's made and send that food flying through the air with the speed and ferocity of a hockey puck, people will eat it up. The small crowd watching at Kroger had already loaded their carts with pre-packaged sacks of Magic Pop crackers. Marketing genius.

The best part of my chance encounter with the Magic Pop was when the employee tending to the machine accidentally moved his hand into the line of fire. He saw me standing in front of the basket of samples, my eyes glazed over in awe, and he said “Good evening ma’am.” And then a cracker whizzed out of the machine and hit him in the arm.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Seasame Peanut Noodles After the Big Game

After a night of glorious, unrestrained indulgence in Super Bowl snacks – including but not limited to Evan’s Manhattan jello shots and his friend’s pork belly sliders – I was in need of something a bit lighter. I made a repentant trip to the gym on Monday and went directly to the grocery store afterward.

I came home with a new jar of peanut butter and a couple of bags of uncooked soba noodles, ready to embrace an easy, nutritionally sound dinner. What does nutrition look like? A glob of peanut butter, of course, pureed in your food processor with some soy sauce, garlic, mirin, red pepper flakes, seasame oil and red wine vinegar.

The recipe is adapted by Ted Allen. You know him from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Now you know he’s a cookbook author. While the noodles cooked I assembled all of the ingredients that I would dress them in for a photo op.

The finished product needs some chopped cucumber on the side, for crunch, and to maintain a semblance of nutritional value. The noodles are so tasty, and vegan at that, how could they be anything but good for you?

I doubt Random House would appreciate if I typed up the recipe and posted it on my blog. Someone else did it though, so either go buy Ted's book or get started making some tasty peanut noodles by checking out the recipe here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Five Sweet Excuses for a Day Trip to Columbus

I've been considering - some would say obsessively researching - vacation options. I'm bent on taking one this spring, but in the meantime I'm daydreaming about a day trip to Columbus. If you too are looking for a quick getaway, then call in sick, turn off your Blackberry and head to our friendly neighbor to the north for these sweet indulgences.

1. Jeni's
Step away from your black raspberry chip for a minute and try what Jeni is scooping up. Inventive flavors, high quality ingredients and Snowville Creamery dairy make Jeni's ice cream worth talking about. And you don't even have to leave Cincinnati to get it - Whole Foods in Hyde Park carries it. You don't have to quit your Graeter's habit to give Jeni's a shot.

2. Pistacia Vera
If the pastry case at Pistacia Vera doesn't make you giddy, then you don't have a sweet tooth at all. They're whipping up trendy Macarons, sweets and savories in an adorable German Village storefront. Leave your new year's resolutions at the door.

3. Taste of Belgium
Our own Cincinnati-based Belgian waffle joint has opened a location in Columbus's North Market. Save some gas and get your waffle fix at the Findlay Market location. The authentic Belgian waffles are worth a trip to either location. Watch for their unique seasonal creations like a shrimp and grits waffle around Mardi Gras time.

4. Sugardaddy's
These brownies and blondies are made with seasonal flavors like dark citrus and harvest with apricot and cinnamon. The downtown location is dressed up in pink and brown, but don't be fooled by the cute branding. These are serious treats with a mix of creative and classic flavors.

5. Knead Urban Diner
For some sweet and savory with local flair, head to Knead Urban Diner. I sampled the excellent yogurt parfait and the homemade twinkie when I visited in the AM. Brunch is served on Sundays, and options include an "Egg McJunkin" sandwich with house-cured bacon. The lunch and dinner menus feature locally sourced goods in re-imagined diner favorites.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tom + Chee serves up winning chili

Did you miss the Gold Star Chili Cook-off at Findlay Market? You've still got time to sample the winning chili recipe. Tom + Chee will be serving up the blue ribbon "Blackened Voodoo Chili" at its Court St. location. It's a limited engagement, though, and your only chance to scoop it up is today, Tuesday February 1 and tomorrow the 2nd. Find out more at Tom + Chee's Facebook page.

The Voodoo chili recipe was created by James Czar and Mary Beth Weaver, inspired by a recent trip to New Orleans and named in honor of Czar's band, Voodoo Puppet. They were declared "Chili Meisters" as winners of the Gold Star sponsored cook-off.

If you make it to Tom + Chee today for some chili, you can wash it down with some glazed donut bread pudding. Need I say more?