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Monday, May 19, 2008

Best 5 Fast Food Product Innovations From the Past 44 Years

The best 5? Criteria are as follows:

  • Only national fast food chains are eligible.
  • Marketing and packaging can't be the source of the product innovation. No Happy Meals.
  • The innovation does not count if it represents a change in the way an item is cooked or prepared. Taking something that was fried and offering it as grilled doesn't count.
  • The product innovation had to be developed only after the initial menu was in place.
  • The new item cannot have been readily available outside the fast food industry when it was first offered, so fish sandwiches and chili dogs don't count.
  • The item must still be on the menu.
  • The innovation must have been developed in Spicy Food Guy's lifetime; hence the 44 year rule.
  • The innovation must represent a significant and radical change in a food offering. Spicy Food Guy recognizes that he is entering a gray area here. Was the Big Mac a radical change, or just another way to dress a burger? Was the the launch of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich at Wendy's just a flavoring change to the chicken sandwich, or did it act as a catalyst that allowed the fast food industry to begin to unleash the power of hot spices? These are the huge, universe-shifting issues that Spicy Food Guy will wrestle with and ponder long after this post has been published.

And the winners, in no particular order, are:

  1. The Dairy Queen Blizzard. The Blizzard is perhaps the unexpected surprise on the list. A frozen milkshake ice cream sort of thing with candy, yes candy, all through it. Fabulous beyond measure. Spawned a whole sub-industry in the ice cream world. Think Cold Stone Creamery. And every ice cream isle in every grocery store in America now has dozens of ice creams packed with candy. The Blizzard started it all. It commands our respect and reverence. Plus, when the folks at Dairy Queen hand it to you, they flip it upside down for a second. That, says Spicy Food Guy, is way cool.

  2. The McDonald's Egg (or Sausage) McMuffin. Not only did the McMuffin brilliantly combine the best parts of breakfast into a sandwich, it added an entire meal to the fast food industry. Arguably, the Egg McMuffin is solely responsible for a significant change in the breakfast eating behaviors of an entire nation. Just awe inspiring. Breakfast sandwiches are available everywhere now, including in the frozen food isles at grocery stores.

  3. The Taco Bell Double Decker Taco. Spicy Food Guy recognizes that the Double Decker Taco might be a tough sell as a top five innovation, but hear him out. The Double Decker changed the entire flavor and texture profile of the taco. Soft and Crunchy was no longer an either-or proposition; you could suddenly have both. And the refried beans added a subtle layer of additional flavor to the simple taco. Tastes absolutely fabulous. And it has lasted on a menu that seems to change every month.

  4. The McDonald's Chicken McNuggets. Spicy Food Guy loves the simplicity of the McNugget; boneless fried chicken gone portable. Suddenly you could eat fried chicken in the car. Came in a convenient small box. Plus you could dip it in sauce without making a mess. And you didn't have to bother with greasy chicken bones. Kids went bonkers for it. Is there any family restaurant or grocery store in all of America where you can't get some version of a boneless fried chicken strip? Spicy Food Guy can't think of one either. The McNugget started it all.

  5. Pizza Hut's Meat Lover's Pizza. Spicy Food Guy supposes that the Meat Lover's Pizza is a controversial addition to the best 5 list. After all, isn't the Meat Lover's just another way to serve pizza? Spicy Food Guy thinks not. In fact, Spicy Food Guy posits that the Meat Lover's represents the 20th century Americanization of the pizza pie. The Meat Lover's is the Porterhouse of pizza; bold, excessive, decadent, and aspirational. It is designed for people who love big taste and big meals. The Meat Lover's led to an entire line of "Lover's" pizzas at Pizza Hut, and a version of the Lover's can be found in every frozen pizza brand in grocery store freezers. The Meat Lover's has earned its top 5 billing.
So there it is. Spicy Food Guy is aware he has left significant product innovations off the list. So Spicy Food Guy challenges his readers -- what was left off that should have been included? What on the list is a sham? Let the debate begin.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Stagecoach Mustard Rocks the House

Spicy Food Guy is an admitted fan of Larry Kling and his Stagecoach Salsas. Fortunately for all of us, he (Larry, the Stagecoach formulator, owner, and all around very nice guy) has directed his formidable spicy culinary skills to the arena of mustards.

The result is Bubba's Jalapeno Mustard, a great addition to the Stagecoach Salsa line. Nice visual appeal; the chunks of jalapeno pepper are seen clearly through the jar.

Also, Spicy Food Guy likes that the mustard combines the light, airy tanginess of a French's type yellow mustard with the spice and burn of jalapeno peppers.

Spicy Food Guy conducted his test on a bologna and cheese sandwich, and he notes that the slow burn did not set in until after about five bites, about the perfect delay for a classic slow burn.

Trust Spicy Food Guy. Stagecoach stuff is first class and the mustard is now a permanent part of SFG's fridge.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Best Non-Red Meat Sausage for Gumbo and Other Gumbo Secrets

First secret to a really good gumbo? Grill the meat ahead of time. Put some cajun spice from the Atlantic Spice Company on two chicken breasts and grill them up.

Also for the grill, some al fersco chicken sausages. Spicy Food Guy recommends two each of the roasted garlic and spicy jalapeno varieties.

Then set the meat aside.

But first an explanation. Beautiful Spouse of Spicy Food Guy (BSOSFG) is a non-eater of red meat, but she is a gumbo lover, and a hot one at that. So Spicy Food Guy does his gumbos with veggies, poultry, and seafood. And when it comes to chicken sausages, no one beats the folks at al fresco. And Spicy Food Guy means no one.

Back to the gumbo. Set the grilled meat off to the side, and then make a roux with about 3/4 cup of veggie oil and a cup of flour. Stir the roux for the time it takes to drink two Yuenglings.

When the roux looks like a Hersheys Bar, add the holy trinity: onions (2 cups), bell pepper (1 cup mixed red and green), and celery (1 cup).

Add in about 8 to 10 cups of chicken stock, a few bay leaves, and whatever creole or cajun spices suit your fancy (a couple of tablespoons). Shake in some hot sauce. Toss in all the chicken meat and simmer for the length of time it takes to watch a Steelers game.

After the Steelers win, add in a pound of shrimp and some green onion. Simmer another 20 minutes.

And here is another huge secret: serve gumbo in a bowl around a small ball of steamed bismati rice. Bismati rice has a popcorn like sweetness that offsets the cajun spices of the gumbo.

To die for. You heard it here from Spicy Food Guy.

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