I Drank This! Mountain Dew Dewshine

2015-03-17 22.52.20I don’t smoke, I rarely drink, and I can avoid dessert most days, but a cold (or even warm) soda is always welcome. I almost never have coffee, so sodas often provide my only caffeine kick. Despite the danger of high calorie liquids, sodas are one of my guiltiest pleasures.

Of all the sodas, Mountain Dew is one of the more in-your-face drinks you can buy. Its thick with High Fructose Corn Syrup, saturated with a ton of sugar and calories, and only comes in hypnotic colors like radioactive green. Until now; until Mountain Dew Dewshine.

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It’s a dumb name, but the packaging is charming. It hearkens back to the good ole days when Mountain Dew wasn’t some rad X-Games sponsor, but a not at all subtle reference to moonshine. When pitted between ’90s levels of x-treme or a moonshine your kids can drink, I’d rather have intoxicated preschoolers! At least the box and the bottle have the courtesy to tell you that this is not an alcoholic beverage (though I wish PepsiCo and Coke would start making premixed ‘rum and ‘s).

As soon as I read the announcement for Dewshine, I knew I had to try it. For starters, I love Mountain Dew in almost all of its forms. It’s the perfect blend of bite and fizz, plus it also reminds me of Halo LAN parties when I was a kid. I’ve had it with real sugar before: Mountain Dew Throwback is a really good variant. However, unlike Pepsi Throwback or a Mexican Coke, I still prefer the mouth-feel of corn syrup in my Mountain Dew.

I have been wanting a soda flavor I am familiar with sans the artificial coloring for the longest time. I missed out on the Crystal Pepsi phase, but in an era where we are all a lot more aware and wary of the added chemicals we consume, I say why have those that offer no real value? As much as Mountain Dew identifies with being Toxie-levels of green, I just want to drink it, not stare at it. It’s even more bizarre when you consider energy drinks, which are all to my knowledge exclusive to cans and never come in glass or plastic bottles. I love my Orange Mountain Dew Kickstarts, but I had to spill one to realize they too had a cyberpunk bar’s neon glow about them.
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In a perfect world, I’d have a mid-calorie soda ala Pepsi Next, Pepsi True, or Coke Life that didn’t feel the need to be artificially colored or only come in pretentious, tiny cans. Mountain Dew Dewshine has made me rethink that perfect world altogether.

First, it isn’t bad. It’s very similar to a Mountain Dew Throwback, only it lacks the same kick of a regular Mountain Dew. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of a knock-off Sprite. It has the same boring, sort of lemon, sort of lime flavor. Some of you may love Sprite, but it’s a soda I rarely want. I certainly don’t want a Mountain Dew equivalent to it that costs a lot more to get a lot less.

As much as I don’t hate it, Mountain Dew Dewshine has left me severely disappointed. Perhaps the artificial coloring adds more flavor than I assumed, the look changes my perception of the taste, or Dewshine is more than just Mountain Dew without HFCS and coloring. I’ll assume the latter, but that leaves me thinking this was a wasted opportunity to make sodas a little more appealing.

I Ate This: Reese’s Spreads Peanut Butter Chocolate

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I absolutely love peanut butter and I absolutely adore chocolate. In other words, there’s no doubt that peanut buttercups are one of my all-time favorite desserts. While Reese’s are usually my go-to for their convenience factor, they are not my ideal peanut butter cup. Ideally, I want one with more peanut butter and a darker chocolate. Still, there’s something to be said for the overly rich and incredibly familiar nature of a pack of Reese’s, and – for better AND for worse – their Peanut Butter Chocolate spread is exactly that but now in a jar.

Here’s a warning up front: do not buy this product if you have no self-control. If you already eat Nutella by the spoonful, but you’d prefer something closer to a Reese’s peanut buttercup slathering your toast/bread/bagel/whatever, this product will do just that. It brings the same richness, the same calories, and the same fat too. Heaven and hell, this spread is a work of pure genius and pure evil. Don’t go it alone – have friends in mind to split these delicious, delicious hedons with!

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Beyond the fact that this is Reese’s as a spread, I also love the texture. It remains slightly grainy, which gives me the impression that someone chopped up and blended a ton of buttercups to make it. It spreads like room temperature butter too. It’s ugly, but what did you expect from blending two nasty shades of brown together? Rainbows? It tastes like rainbows.

I am lazy, so I opted for a kid-friendly approach and slapped it on a piece of white bread to make a sandwich. My waistline won’t think me, but my soul felt like it was being hugged. This is a concentrated boost of pure Reese’s goodness. It’s too rich for me to eat regularly, especially in sandwich form (and especially considering the large glob I used). I think mixing in some more peanut butter would do the trick. I’m personally a bigger fan of Reese’s Big Cups anyway since the cloying sweetness of milk chocolate has lost its luster in the wake of several years of cultivating a taste and love for the darkest of chocolates.

The possibilities are endless for this stuff. Unlike the extra effort it takes to buy Reese’s and chop/blend/transmogrify them, you could take a big spoon of this and add it to your milkshake/powershake/icecream/morning coffee. How about adding it to your waffle? Or maybe even adding it into your pancake batter? If Hershey ever thinks to manufacture it in larger containers, then surely the obesity crisis here in the United States will reach Zombie Apocalypse levels of civilization meltdown.

You’ve been warned and alerted. Do with this information what you will!

C. T. Murphy can more regularly be found over at his blog, Murf Versus. You can also find him on Twitter, where he is frequently at his weirdest. His favorite food is Thai, though his roots are in Soul Food, and he only ever cooks Tex-Mex. He’s a strange fellow.


Progression Based Cooking: An Unconventional Cast Iron Technique


Thanks NPR for the idea!

Recipes are an important part of cooking and learning to cook, but lately I’ve tried to focus more on technique than on mastering specific dishes. On a recent edition of NPR’s All Things Considered, I was blown away by a rather simple technique for cooking chicken that I had never thought of before. As a part of their Found Recipes series, the original radio mention did come with a recipe, but I ignored that almost entirely for my own version using this interesting technique.

Here’s the rub: you take a whole chicken, split it, and do whatever magic you normally do to season your baked chicken. While you’ve got that going on, you heat up a couple of large cast iron skillets in your oven. You want this really hot because they are going to provide the direct heat source to brown and cook your bird. I didn’t have two 10″ skillets like the article originally called for, but I made do with a 12″ and an 8″.

It hadn’t occurred to me until I was already in the thick of the process how scary it would be. There I was with two cast iron skillets that would sear anything, most especially me, and I had just laid my two chicken halves skin-side down in one. I had coated it with a nice cooking oil, so it immediately starting a-sizzlin’ and a-buzzin’ with activity. Resting the other skillet on top to weigh down and sear the top-side, I realized that I was about to carry the two heaviest pans in my entire kitchen – plus a whole chicken – all stacked one atop the other to an oven built in the wall, just above my head.

I made it without breaking or burning anything, but not a moment too soon.

After 25+ minutes in my 450 degree oven, I took the tower of hell-forged iron and slaughtered beast out once again to find a perfectly cooked, incredibly moist and delicious bird. I couldn’t be more pleased, though I definitely have to figure out a better way to move it from one place to the other. I don’t mind a little adrenaline rush, but I don’t what should be a regular technique in my arsenal to go under-used because I am afraid I will brand myself, you know?

I had seasoned the bird with a lot of Italian things like Basil, which I love, but the accompanying sides were all Southern comfort [insert easy joke about how my evening was spent eating an entire chicken and drinking lots of Southern Comfort]. I reheated some left over butter beans (lima beans cooked in bacon fat and pronounced as one word sounding like ‘buttabean’), did a really thin cornbread in a little lard, and baked a potato. All in all, a pretty yummy meal!

If you happen to have a couple of similarly sized cast iron skillets, I really recommend this technique assuming you have the muscle (and coordination) not to drop the whole bloody affair. It made a really yummy chicken!

C. T. Murphy can more regularly be found over at his blog, Murf Versus. You can also find him on Twitter, where he is frequently at his weirdest. His favorite food is Thai, though his roots are in Soul Food, and he only ever cooks Tex-Mex. He’s a strange fellow.

A Mouth Full: Ending Ground Beef Addiction

Considering my target audience (people who read videogame-themed food blogs), you likely don’t have this issue, but I bet you know someone who does. My parents are absolutely addicted to ground beef. Now that beef prices have skyrocketed, it’s time I convinced them of all the other delicious ground meats!

I can’t blame them too much. Our local grocery store (which sucks because this is a rural food desert) stocks ground beef in large supply, has the tubes of ground turkey (if you don’t mind looking in the completely opposite section from what you expect), and that’s it. There’s no ground pork or ground chicken.

For all of my youth, things like meatballs, meatloaf, hamburgers, etc. were always made with ground beef. I didn’t know better, but since discovering that turkey burgers are delicious or that adding in ground pork with pretty much any ground beef recipe adds a ton of flavor I am really tired of my parent’s bland, boring food.

I’ve tried my best to convince them otherwise. I have made some really delicious meals, including a ground turkey spaghetti sauce that my father would’ve sworn was beef. Even with ground beef rising in price, both of my parents cling to their ways. It’s not even like they are locked inside a culinary box unwilling to get out and explore – they simply don’t think about their regular dishes with anything other than what they’ve used their entire lives.

Even now, if I suggest we try something different – a turkey burger, for example – my father turns up his nose in disdain. “That’s not a burger,” he complains. This insular worldview of what food ought to be offends me in the same way people choose to narrowly define words by their dictionary definitions. The beauty of language is in how we are so free to combine new and old sounds to make new meaning on the spot. Similarly, crafting a delicious dish let’s you take familiar tastes and create new combinations that make boring old ground beef tacos new again with ground pork or healthier with ground turkey.

This also should include leaving the meat behind entirely. I got caught up in an argument about chili on Twitter the other day and a few people weren’t very open to the idea of my vegetarian chili. I love meat and I’ll never be a vegetarian, but all meatlovers would benefit from taking a step back and using less of the stuff, if only to rediscover what the meat adds. We live in the Age of Bacon – seriously, a local retailer was selling some contraption to make bacon bowls. Yet, my Southern heritage doesn’t pile on meat after meat, but instead uses things like bacon or other fatty cuts to infuse and flavor a wide variety of vegetables.

I like having a more sustainable approach to my kitchen that isn’t limited by arbitrary rules I place on myself, though is limited enough that I am forced to get creative. By reconsidering the sort of meat I use in my favorite dishes, I can make them taste new again, often at a more affordable price. By omitting the meat from time to time, I can remind myself why I love it so much, and not fall into the trap of having every meal be a Noah’s Ark. And yes, that means getting outside the comfort of eating nothing but ground beef, and making some awesome turkey meatballs or mushroom burgers from time to time.

Here are a few recipes to check out:

C. T. Murphy can more regularly be found over at his blog, Murf Versus. You can also find him on Twitter, where he is frequently at his weirdest. His favorite food is Thai, though his roots are in Soul Food, and he only ever cooks Tex-Mex. He’s a strange fellow.

I Drank This: An Aloe Vera Drink with Mango!

2014-08-13 22.17.44Perhaps my first mistake was thinking, “Hey, this is only a dollar, why not buy it?” but it certainly was  a mistake to drink this infernal concoction.

This all happened on a chance grocery run to a local dollar store. Yes, I said grocery run … to a dollar store. It’s a small town, so quality grocery shopping requires an extended trip to the next city over. It is terrible for a foodie like me, so when I see something new there, it becomes even more alluring. On this particular trip, I spotted a small section of new beverages featuring Aloe Vera as a major ingredient.

Perhaps you’re more worldly than I am, but my immediate reaction was, You can drink that? I am no stranger to the stuff in lotion form – I am super white and the sun burns me fast if I don’t take precautions. Aloe Vera is the little relief a sunburnt white kid like me can easily find.

It was surprisingly not bad. AT FIRST. The Mango hid the fact that I was drinking what I am used to lathering my pink, inflamed flesh with. It has chunks of … something in it. Drinks shouldn’t be chunky. Ever.

The longer I drink it, the more pronounced the aloe flavor became. My mouth quickly began refusing access to the liquid. Soon, my lips rebelled too. The mango-y flavor was nice, but the medicinal taste of aloe overcame it over time and destroyed any interest I had in ever finishing.

Afterward, the inside of my mouth felt coated with a strange, slick substance. It was alien and unpleasant. It tasted exactly like I had swallowed a bottle of aloe vera gel, only a Trojan Horse called mango and the expectation that everything I buy at a grocery store be edible had misled me to do so.

I cannot, will not, and do not recommend.

So, I’m a backer for this fermentation kit thing on Kickstarter …

I am no stranger to backing anything on Kickstarter. Honestly, beyond the games, it is the quirkier products that people pitch there that really get my attention. As someone always on the hunt for the next ‘upgrade’, I love seeing new uses for things to improve my life. That’s why when I decided to cruise their website for cooking-related projects, I just had to back Kraut Source.


Okay, hear me out: I have never fermented anything and I barely eat sauerkraut. I don’t hate it, mind you, I just rarely think about throwing it on, well, anything. The same goes for pretty much every other kind of fermented food.

Why then would I want to back something like this? For starters, it is yet another innovation built atop the ever-present, ever-adorable mason jar. Seriously, you screw this device onto any wide-mouth jar and bam you are on your way to fermenting whatever you can stuff in that jar (hint, it’s usually a lot).

Maybe it’s the nerd in me but I adore modular technology. I love the idea of having something that I can add to/subtract from/reuse for x, etc. I built my first computer many years ago and I have been adding to and subtracting from it ever since. Sure, my computer tower is old, ugly, beat-up, and no longer contains the Windows Vista that it proudly has advertised on its side, but who cares when it works with brand new parts?

That’s always my biggest pet peeve with Kitchen-related anything. Most gizmos and gadgets are designed with singular purposes; sometimes, they don’t even justify their existence by doing that singular task that much more expediently than say a little added elbow grease and a fork. I wish I had the television show kitchen with the infinite room for infinite gadgets all stored in easy-to-access places that somehow never leave them dusty, but that’s a myth: most of us are cooking out of our closets.

Plus, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t one of those people utterly charmed by the average mason jar. They are just versatile, affordable, and nostalgic all at once. I am not one of those oddballs that uses them for mugs, but I do prefer them to stacks of plastic with tops I can never locate.

Moving on, there is also the experimental side of cooking that real foodies and hobby chefs know oh so well. Especially when it comes to a new technique of cooking or preparation, I get giddy inside and want to try it immediately. Will I be fermenting everything for a solid month while I learn what works for me and what doesn’t? Yes! Is that more exciting than Christmas? Yeah, kind of. Am I really worried that it is all going to be a super gross waste of time?

Most definitely.

If you’d like to learn more or become a backer yourself, there are still a couple of weeks left on the Kickstarter Campaign. The project asked for $35,000 and it is currently at $100,000+.

I backed the most basic kit still available, which is only setting me back $30 and plans to ship in November of this year.

While you are at it, sharing some of your favorite fermented foods/recipes/stories in the comments below! I’d love to hear what you all like and get started on ideas for what I will be making.

C. T. Murphy can more regularly be found over at his blog, Murf Versus. You can also find him on Twitter, where he is frequently at his weirdest. His favorite food is Thai, though his roots are in Soul Food, and he only ever cooks Tex-Mex. He’s a strange fellow.

Progression Based Cooking: Level 1 Guacamole

We’ve all been newbies at one time or another. It just so happened that I made my first ever attempt at a fresh guacamole only yesterday. Yeah,  I know. It was the first time handling fresh avocados too (/gasp) – I had used them briefly at a restaurant job, but they were pre-sliced, packaged, and used only as a salad topping.

For the recipe, I followed the first one I could find after googling ‘simple guacamole’. A family member had wanted some to accompany a quesadilla night, so I wasn’t looking to make a ton for a party or anything. Truth be told, guac is one of my least favorite dips, and I’ve never been too impressed with avocados in general. Well, one major exception: a pub in the suburbs of Chicago had this crazy bourbon/avocado/chicken loaded waffle fry dish that hit all the high notes for me.

The mats for this guac were pretty self-explanatory: Avocados x2, Cilantro, Serrano Pepper x1, half a white onion, and the juice of a whole lime. I followed it down to the letter, though I started with everything other than the avocado. If you aren’t familiar, avocados tend to brown quickly when exposed to oxygen. You can counter-act this with a fresh spray of lemon juice, but why add the work in this case?

I minced everything pretty hardcore. My knife skills aren’t quite Grandmaster-level, but if I keep earning skill points at this rate, they soon will be. I gutted all the spicy parts of the Serrano since taste buds in this household tend toward mild – I figure I can add a dash of my delicious ground Chipotle powder to my own serving if I must.

Handling my first fresh avocado from start to finish taught me two things. First, I knew exactly how to deal with getting the pit out since I have seen people do it on television hundreds of times now. Insert your knife until you hit something hard, then rotate the avocado along the blade to form an even cut around the radius. After you have it cut, tweak your blade sideways gently to dislodge the halves, pull out the pit, then scoop the remainder with a smooth inserted between the outside skin and the inside ‘meat’. Who said you can’t learn a lot from accidentally marathoning the Food Network on a Monday you called in ‘sick’ to work?

Second, these things are practically alien! The pit is a giant, hard ball that feels slimy enough to be some sort of spherical alien egg. Plus, it’s really green and since were very ripe, the texture is strange. I can see why some people recommend avocado as a butter replacement in some baking recipes – it definitely has that half-melted butter squish to it.

I dice up my alien butter into small chunks and add it to my mixture. Using a spoon, I mash it in as I stir it all together to evenly distribute all the flavors. Simple enough, but the proof is always in the tasting.

And I hate it. Even with an extra avocado added in, a small scoop of mayonnaise, and a dash of sugar, the lime juice overpowered everything else. I’m talking 100% Crit Chance that your tongue was going to shrivel into a citric-acid induced coma. Maybe the limes at my local grocery store are exceptionally large or juicy, but I felt like an idiot for following the recipe to the letter. I should’ve reserved half the juice and added to taste.

Oh well – you cook to live, you cook to learn, you level up.

C. T. Murphy can more regularly be found over at his blog, Murf Versus. You can also find him on Twitter, where he is frequently at his weirdest. His favorite food is Thai, though his roots are in Soul Food, and he only ever cooks Tex-Mex. He’s a strange fellow.