Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nissin Demae Ramen Satay Flavor

Made By:  Nissin Foods Co., Ltd. (Hong Kong)
Tools Required:  Saucepan & Range, Bowl & Utensils
480 calories per package

Available online through Amazon.com

Sometimes I think I must be more adventurous when I am shopping than I am when I am deciding what to eat.  I picked up this Satay flavor noodle when I was at Uwajimaya a couple of months ago, and I've been avoiding it in the pantry ever since.  It's probably because my first experience with a satay flavor noodle was less than stellar, but it does make me wonder why I bought it in the first place if I wasn't going to eat it.  But today I am feeling adventurous, so eat it I shall!

I was actually a little bit surprised to find two flavor packets included--all the other Nissin products of this style I've seen only had one.  The first is the expected "soup base" packet, and the other is labelled "seasoning sauce" and seems to have some sort of liquid inside.  We boil 500ml (or 2-1/4 cups) of water in our saucepan, add the noodles and cook for three minutes, then add the packets last.  The Seasoning Sauce packet ended up having a grainy brown paste in it, which resisted coming out of the packet; I ended up just tossing the packet in the soup and swishing it around with my chopsticks to get the stuff out.  Anyway, after transferring the soup to a bowl, lunch is ready!

I didn't have to be so worried about trying these; the broth is much less one-dimensional than I remembered from the Mi Goreng Satay.  There is still a strong nutty flavor, but it is much less sweet, and it balances with an undertone that is along the lines of five-spice beef.  While not spicy in terms of chili heat, there is a lot of interesting spice flavors present.  The noodles themselves don't really excite me, but at least they aren't as mushy as the US style.  I am very pleasantly surprised!  I definitely wouldn't mind having these again, and I might not even wait quite so long to eat them next time. :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Red Baron Classic Crust Special Deluxe Pizza

Distributed by:  Schwan's Consumer Brands, Inc.
Tools Required:  Oven
750 calories per 1/2 pizza

We had something "quick and easy" for dinner last night, and settled on this Red Baron pizza that I had picked up on sale at Safeway last week.  Even at regular price, this brand is fairly economical compared to some of the more "gourmet" brands like DiGiorno's or Freschetta.  So I'm hoping it turns out to be good!

The toppings sounded good, anyway; this is their Special Deluxe Pizza, which says it has "Two Cheeses, Sausage, Mushrooms, Pepperoni, Black Olives, Green & Red Peppers, and Onions."  (The two cheeses happen to be mozzarella and cheddar, for the record.)  Out of the box, the toppings actually seem to be distributed fairly well, though I did fuss with the pepperoni pieces a bit to eliminate any overlapping ones.  We preheat our oven to 400°, then stick the pizza in straight on the rack and bake it for 19 minutes or so.  I was happy to see that no cheese or toppings dripped onto the oven floor, a common downfall with on-the-rack pizza cooking, so it scores a few points there.  Although the box doesn't specifically say to, I let it cool for about five minutes before cutting.  Dinner is served!

There is a generous portion of cheese(s) included, and although the toppings aren't piled high and deep, there is definitely enough to give a good flavor.  I especially enjoyed the sweet bits of onion and mushroom, but all the flavors blended nicely.  I actually really liked the flavor of the sauce, too; it is slightly sweet, but not too sweet, and definitely not too tangy or spicy like I have had with some other products.  I really enjoyed the texture of the crust!  It is nicely crispy on the bottom without being hard and crusty, and is sort of pastry-like, with a rich buttery flavor.  I have to say I like it better than most of the fancy-pantsy "Rising Crust" products I've tried in the past--those have a habit of coming out too dry and sort of bitter (probably from the rising agent).  I am impressed, especially considering the economical price!  I'll definitely be letting the Red Baron cook for me again sometime. :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ottogi Bekse Curry Myon

Made By:  Ottogi Ramyun Co. Ltd. (Korea)
Tools Required:  Saucepan & Range
420 calories per package

Next up, I found another curry flavored ramen to try!  This one is made by Ottogi, a company I hadn't previously heard of.  They must be fairly well established in Korea, though, since they have their own U.S. distribution branch.  Unfortunately for them, the main thing that stands out for me looking at the package is their logo--to me the little face looks like a creepy disturbing version of Maruchan's logo.

Trademarked creepiness aside, though, I think the product seems promising; I am looking forward to another curry noodle! Inside the package is a block of noodles that look strangely puffed or aerated, a packet of dehydrated veggies, and a packet of powder soup base.  We add the dried vegetables to 2-1/4 cups of water in our saucepan and bring to a boil, then add the soup base and noodles and cook for four minutes.  As soon as I add the soup base packet, the aroma tells me what kind of curry I am going to be sampling--it smells just like the Japanese-style S&B Golden Curry.  I transfer it to a bowl, and get ready to try it!

The broth has a wonderful flavor of Japanese curry, with flavors of curry spice, onion, and potato.  It is significantly spicier than even the 'Hot' S&B mix, which must be the Korean influence--they don't make many Ramyuns that aren't hot and spicy.  Unfortunately, the noodles are lackluster; they became quite soggy and don't seem all that flavorful.  I greatly prefer the texture of the noodles from Myojo, Nong Shim, or MAMA.  The vegetables, while not that plentiful, are very nice, though.  The onion bits rehydrated nicely and retained a lot of flavor, and the little white squares that I assumed were tofu bits before cooking turned out to be little chunks of potato, which I thought was a very nice touch for a Japanese curry flavor.

Thanks to the broth and the veggies, I definitely enjoyed this soup, though I do wish there had been a more generous helping of those nifty green onion and potato pieces.  The noodles held it back from being amazing, but I would have it again. :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Truth in Advertising Special: Wanchai Ferry Orange Chicken vs. PF Chang's Home Menu Orange Chicken

In recent weeks, I've noticed a particular TV commercial for Wanchai Ferry frozen dinner kits which claims that their Wanchai Ferry Orange Chicken is preferred in taste tests over the competing P.F. Chang's Home Menu Orange Chicken.  As I said to my sweetie upon viewing this commercial, "I'll just see about that!"
I picked up one of each at the store, so let the taste-testing begin!

Wanchai Ferry Orange Chicken

Made By:  General Mills Inc.
Tools Required:  Skillet & Range, Microwave
Additional Ingredients Needed:  2 tbsp. Vegetable Oil, 1/4 cup water
610 calories per 1/2 package

Okay, first up is the challenger, Wanchai Ferry!  I have used their dry box-dinner kits before, but this will be my first time trying one of their frozen offerings.  They seem pretty confident in their commercial, let's see if their product can back it up!

Unlike the P.F. Chang product (and indeed, unlike most frozen skillet dinners I've used), inside the outer package we find several packages containing the components of our dinner:  There is a bag of breaded chicken nuggets, a packet of sauce, a steamer bag of frozen rice, and finally there are veggies (broccoli, carrots, and baby corn) loose in the outer bag.  Preparation is also fairly complex for a skillet meal; first we are supposed to fry the chicken nuggets over medium-high heat in 2 tbsp. of oil for a few minutes until it is browned, then we take the chicken back out of the skillet, turn down the heat to medium, and put in the veggies, sauce, and 1/4 cup of water.  Once it boils, we cover it and cook for three minutes, stirring frequently.  After that, we put the chicken back in the skillet, take the lid off, and cook for a few minutes more until everything is "thoroughly cooked."  Finally, we microwave the rice pouch for three minutes and let it stand for one, at which point dinner is ready to be served.  Whew!  Honestly, that really wasn't that much more convenient than preparing the box dinner.  Hopefully the food is worth it!

After getting the dinner separated into two bowls, the main thing I notice is that it looks like a really small portion.  There is probably around 1/2 cup of rice per portion, and around one cup or less of food.  The sauce actually has a really nice robust flavor; it is sweet yet not syrupy, and it became nicely thick and coated the pieces well.  I am not sure what all that nonsense about frying the chicken separately and taking it out and putting it in was all about, because it sure didn't keep the breading from getting soggy in the sauce.  The veggies are nicely crisp and flavorful.  The rice, on the other hand, is totally unacceptable--not only is the included portion very small, but the grains don't stick together like they should in an Asian dish, and the flavor is dull and mealy.  Overall, even though the sauce has a nice flavor, the unsatisfying portion size and the poor quality of the rice portion ends up sinking this one.  I found it disappointing. :\

P.F. Chang's Home Menu Orange Chicken

Distributed by:  Unilever
Tools Required:  Skillet & Range
Added Ingredients Needed:  cooked rice (if desired)
450 calories per 1/2 package (665 calories w/ 1 cup cooked rice added)

And in the other corner, the defending meal, P.F. Chang's Orange Chicken!  I was very satisfied with the other P.F. Chang's Home Menu product I've tried, so it looks like this battle is P.F. Chang's to lose.

This product is a much more traditional skillet meal, both in presentation and preparation:  Inside the package we find a loose assortment of breaded chicken nuggets, sauce chips, and vegetables, which appear to be carrots, edamame {green soybeans}, and water chestnut slices.  Preparation is very simple in comparison to the Wanchai Ferry meal; we simply put the contents of the bag in a covered skillet, and cook over medium-high heat for 12 minutes (or until the sauce gets thick), stirring occasionally.  At the end of the 12 minutes, the sauce still hasn't thickened much, so I uncover and let it simmer a bit more to thicken, reasoning that it will thicken much faster uncovered.  There is no rice included with this product, which might be a point in its favor after tasting what came with the other one, so I also cook some rice in my handy-dandy rice cooker, and dinner is ready to serve!

This portion seems to be a much more respectable size, though part of that is the one cup of rice that I added.  However, even with the added rice, the calorie count is comparable to the prepared Wanchai Ferry meal, and adding 200 calories' worth of rice seems better than adding 200 calories' worth of oil to me.  Again, the sauce has a nice flavor; this one is more spicy-sweet rather than tangy-sweet, though.  I like the veggie mix, especially the edamame, although if there were the baby corn in this along with the other stuff, that would just be perfect.  The chicken might be a little less firm in this one, but it is still appetizing.  Most importantly, once I am finished with the dish, I feel like I have had enough to eat!  I think I preferred the General Chang's Chicken to the Orange Chicken, but I wouldn't mind having this one again either, and now that I've had two good experiences with P.F. Chang's Home Menu, I am even more interested to try the rest of the offerings. :)

The Verdict:
The victory goes to P.F. Chang!  Wanchai Ferry could have been a contender with the flavor of their sauce, but the small portion size and the abysmal rice cost them the title.  Honestly, if they could change the preparation to avoid adding so many calories in oil, leave out that nasty rice, and replace it with more of the other stuff, they would have a lot better product.  Also, I can't ignore the fact that the P.F. Chang meal is significantly easier and more convenient to prepare.

I can't testify as to whether they have taste-test results that show their product is better or not, but--especially considering that the P.F. Chang meal makes me more interested to try the rest of their line, and the Wanchai Ferry meal makes me less interested to try theirs--the Ramen Butterfly Testing Institute hereby finds the advertisement in question to be Completely False.

Monday, November 14, 2011

MAMA Oriental Style Instant Noodles Shrimp Creamy Tom Yum Flavour

Made By:  Thai President Foods (Thailand)
Tools Required:  Bowl, Hot Water, utensils
420 calories per package

(available online through VeryAsia.com)

The weather is getting colder here in Western Washington--we've had frost in the mornings a couple of times, and the rainy seasons have started.  It feels like a nice day to have some warm spicy noodles!  This particular variety has a place in my heart; it is one of the first imported noodles I tried when I made my first trip to an asian market a few years back.  I found it in a large full-meal size instead of the typical 200-250 calorie portions from MAMA, and I am excited to have it again!

Inside the package is a big block of MAMA's dark colored ramen, a plastic packet of seasoning paste, and a foil packet that has pockets for chili powder and dry soup base.  The directions say to put the noodles and seasonings in a bowl, pour 450ml (roughly 2 cups) of boiling water in, cover, and wait 3 minutes.  Because of the larger size of the product, though, it seemed more practical to me to boil the water in a saucepan and put the noodles and stuff in there for the three minutes (removed from the heat and covered of course) before putting it in the bowl.  Same technique, different container, so it should all work out the same.  It looks just like I remember!  (Why do I always happen to be wearing white when I decide to eat soup with red oil floating in it though?  I decided to use protection this time--I put on an apron before sitting down to eat.)

These really hit the spot!  They definitely pack some heat, but I think the flavor is very well balanced between the creamy, tangy, and spicy notes.  Those who do want a little less heat have the option of leaving some or all of the chili powder packet out, although I suspect a lot of the spice is in that bright red seasoning paste too, so I wouldn't count on them to be mild no matter what.  The flavor is very similar to the other Shrimp Tom Yum that MAMA produces, and it probably just comes down to personal preference as to which one is better.  The other one has a little bit cleaner or lighter feel to it, while this one seems more hearty and complex.  Both are very good; personally I think I prefer this one, although I really think I would pick whichever one I happened to find in this 90g size, since I strongly preferred this portion size over the dinky standard size ones.  I thoroughly enjoyed this, and I hope the store has more than just one of them in stock next time. :D