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Persian Food Explained: 5 Dishes You Should Know

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Iran has just broken bread with the US for the first time since the Revolution of 1979, so it’s about time to learn what the hell that broken Persian bread tastes like. But before you start worrying about etiquette or customs or language (which you can learn via a podcast from that nice woman holding the food), it’s way more delicious to just learn about what’s on the plate. So here are the 5 dishes that every Persian knows and loves, so you can learn them, and make Persians want to know and love you.

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Fesenjoon

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Translation: None
Ingredients: Stewed pomegranate puree, ground walnuts, chopped onions, chunks of poultry or balls of ground meat.
What’s the deal: Pomegranates were a big deal in Iran long before Westerners realized they were Wonderful. The tart flavor from “the fruit of heaven” combined with savory spices creates one of the most uniquely Persian dishes in the culinary canon — a seasonal Fall and Winter dish that, when mentioned to an Iranian, will immediately make them think you know much more about their culture than you actually do.

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Ghormeh Sabzi

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Translation: “Stewed greens”
Ingredients: Parsley, spinach, leeks, coriander, kidney beans, dried lemons, dried fenugreek leaves, turmeric-seasoned lamb or beef.
What’s the deal: Iran’s most widely eaten stew, this lumpy green dish is always going to be on the table of any Persian dinner party, while everyone debates whether Iranian National Team striker Reza Ghoochannejhad is overrated.

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 Kabob

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Translation: Pretty much universal for “meat”
Ingredients: Long strips of minced lamb, chicken, or beef grilled over a fire and served alongside charred tomatoes, rice sprinkled with sumac, a parsley salad, and flatbread.
What’s the deal: We shish you not, this is probably the most beloved dish in Iran and ranges from super-cheap street food to stuff that only the Shahs of Sunset could afford. There are a ton of different varieties where the meat is spiced differently (turmeric for kabab koobideh, saffron for kabab barg) and it’s usually accompanied by doogh (see below!) or a soda ordered by color rather than brand name, with black meaning Coke, white for Sprite, and orange for Fanta.

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 Doogh

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Translation: Roughly derives from the verb “to milk”
Ingredients: Yogurt, mint, sometimes diced cucumbers.
What’s the deal: Iranians mix yogurt into pretty much everything savory — including spaghetti and soups — and, to get even more yogurt into a meal, they guzzle glasses of doogh. The sour yogurt drink can sometimes be tough on foreign palates, which might associate the same flavors with curdled milk.

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 Tadeeg

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Translation: “Bottom of the pot”
Ingredients: Burnt rice flavored with saffron.
What’s the deal: Iranians love burnt things. Rice is served alongside most meals, but the most coveted rice is tadeeg: the bottom crispy layer that’s slightly burnt and has soaked up much of the caramelized saffron. Iran produces 90% of the world’s saffron, which is often said to be as expensive as a “pretty girl’s kiss” — and which you can now pay for with your knowledge of Persian food.

 

Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist’s national food/drink team who recently purchased a very nice toaster oven and is excited about exploring the world of crispy reheated food. He also enjoys hating mustard. Follow him to pots of gold/Twitter at @Dannosphere.

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A Legit Sommelier Rates All the Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chucks. Awesome Happens

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Read the original article from Thrillist here.

Whether you were throwing a dinner for people you felt compelled to not impress, or just hate paying $2.01 and up for literally anything, at some point you’ve likely been in a position to load up a shopping cart with a crapload of Two-Buck Chuck, pray nobody from church sees you, and party down.

Here’s the thing, though: some of it’s actually pretty damn good, and could easily be sold as Nine-to-Eleven-Buck Chuck without anyone being the wiser.

So we brought in two devoted tasters to blindly drink eight different types of Charles Shaw Blend, hit us with detailed notes, and determine 1) which bottles are totally palatable and even enjoyable, and 2) which should be avoided as if they were made by Chuck Woolery, who, it turns out, makes terrible wine.

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Taster No. 1: Our resident sommelier for the evening, Sam Lipp is the current general manager of NYC’s Union Square Cafe, and the former bar manager of three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park, which might not sell a single glass of wine that costs less than what these eight bottles do together.

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Taster No. 2: Girlfriend, who previously displayed her capacity for providing next-level tasting notes when I made her and my sister drink 21 extremely strong beers on a brewery crawl. She got confused as to which was wine for a second here.

We had each of them give their impressions of each wine’s appearance, smell, and obviously taste, provide a 1-to-10 overall rating (of general drinkability — nothing’s being compared to a Lafite Rothschild here) and then try to blindly guess each varietal.

Let’s get down to it.

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CHARDONNAY

Sommelier: “It’s very pale, going on green color. I get lavender. Like, soapy lavender. It reminds me of my dad’s bathtub [EDITOR’S NOTE: Weird]. This is pretty damn palatable. There’s acid, there’s fruit, and there some semblance of a body to it. There’s certainly an element of fake oak, in the best possible way. It’s as if somebody took a whole bunch of the wood chips from when playgrounds were badass.”
Score: “8.”
What is it?: “Chardonnay.”

Girlfriend: “I know exactly what this smells like. A hippie. Not the kind of hippie that camps out at Phish concerts, the kind who gets acupuncture and wears crystals. Not the patchouli thing. It just smells like nature, I guess. This is the Jessica Simpson of wines. A little trashy, but you wanna like it.”
Score: “This is a 7 for me.”
What is it?: “Yep, Chardonnay.”

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CABERNET SAUVIGNON

Sommelier: “It smells like alcohol and paint thinner, which to me smells like alcohol. This could basically be the sweetest red wine I’ve ever seen passed off as a table wine. If you left it in a glass overnight it would have sugar crystals in it. If you poured me this wine at the end of a three hour dinner, I’d swear this was totally appropriate.”
Score: “7.”
What is it?: “This is either the Shiraz, or the Cabernet. Or the Merlot. This is the… Shiraz. No. Wait. It’s the Cabernet.”

Girlfriend: “Can you get high from sniffing too much wine? Just wondering. This tastes like a beet.”
Sommelier: “What kind of beet? Red? Chioggia? Some other beet?”
Girlfriend: “I thought I was just doing well saying beet. Also brie cheese. This makes me want to eat brie cheese. This one’s good! This is good wine.”
Score: “7.5.”
What is it?: “Shiraz. Also, I’m 100… no, not 100… 76 percent convinced that Trader Joe makes all his wine from Robitussin. I’m robo-tripping.”

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WHITE ZINFANDEL

Sommelier: “This thing smells like a pie. It’s the strawberry patch that nature forgot about, then rained and hailed on. Pure liquefied, alcoholic Jolly Rancher. I’m sorry I can’t give you more on that. Yet — and this is serious — there’s a useful quality to this wine. I would use this in college punches, as a sweetening product, when I didn’t need more alcohol.”
Score: “A very soft 1.”
What is it?: “No wine has ever been more obviously White Zinfandel.”

Girlfriend: “It’s like vinegar. This is 100% Easter egg dye. It smells like Easter egg dye, it’s probably going to taste like Easter egg dye. Or maybe a scratch-and-sniff sticker. I don’t want anything to do with this wine. I want out.”
Score: “I don’t even know that I can give it a 1.”
What is it?: “Oh, it’s White Zinfandel, 100%.”

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MERLOT

Sommelier: “This one has just a little more intensity to the color for me. When I smell it I also start to introduce the idea of ground black pepper. When you smell it, you should think about it like nestling your nose in a furry chinchilla. Oh my god, maybe we are high from sniffing it. If I hadn’t seen the labels of all eight beforehand, I’d take this for a cheap impersonation of a Loire Cabernet Franc.”
Score: “I’m going with a 7.”
What is it?: “I’m gonna say Merlot.”

Girlfriend: “Oh, I was thinking like a roasted red pepper. Anndd… hmmm, I had it but I lost it… oh, chocolate covered-cherries! What are those things called? Cherry cordials. It does that thing where your mouth goes dry when you’re done swallowing. It kinda shocks you, then it goes soft, then your mouth goes dry. This is really not bad!”
Score: “I’ll give it a 9.”
What is it?: “I think it’s the Cab.”

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PINOT GRIGIO

Sommelier: “It’s a bright, fresh, lively nose, sort of citrus dominated, grapefruit, lemon, lime. Hmmm… now all of that potential in the nose has pooped out in the palate. It sort of feels flabby. But overall it’s really not that bad at all.”
Score: “6.”
What is it?: “Gotta be the Sauvignon Blanc.”

Girlfriend: “It smells like a sausage casing and tastes like a knock-off peach Hi-Chew. It tastes a little peachy, right?”
Score: “6.”
What is it?: “Sauvignon Blanc, sure.”

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SAUVIGNON BLANC

Sommelier: “It smells like weed! Dammit, I think he poured us the Sauv Blanc now to show us how wrong we were. [EDITOR’S NOTE: I sure did.] Let’s get past the cannabis overtures. This wine tastes of every wine. It has zero defining varietal characteristics. This one is terrible — it’s approximately half a step from Mad Dog.”
Score: “2.”
What is it?: “Pinot Grigio.”

Girlfriend: “Generally speaking, wine isn’t supposed to smell like skunks. Also it’s hard to sniff and keep your mouth open at the same time. It smells like grapes, for sure. And Laffy Taffy, the green one. And I was gonna say bananas, but you can’t squish bananas into a drink. We’re really selling this one. I can’t drink any more of this.”
Score: “3.”
What is it?: “Wine product, like the stuff you can get in a deli.”

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NOUVEAU

Sommelier: “All the reds look absolutely the same to me. This is going to be easy on your stomach. It has no distinguishing characteristic as wine whatsoever. It just smells like grape. The problem with this wine is it just tastes like candy, the sugar is off the charts.”
Score: “I’m gonna give this one a 3.”
What is it?: “I really hope this is not the Syrah. Let’s say Pinot Noir. Wait, it’s not the Pinot, but I’ve now bamboozled myself.”

Girlfriend: “This just smells like wine, you’re right. I was gonna say this one tastes like perfume, but no, it’s body spray. Like from Bath & Body Works. And don’t get me wrong, I use it and love it, I just don’t want to drink it.”
Score: “I’ll give it a 3 also.”
What is it?: “This is the Nouveau. 100%. Even though I don’t really know what that means. But that’s what I think it is.”

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SHIRAZ

Sommelier: “I think if we poured you a glass of really good wine after this, I think you’d say you love this one. Mine looks nice. I think that this has an inherent strawberry characteristic. Maybe even other berries, like raspberry jam, or plum Smuckers. It’s light bodied, just kinda quaffable. It’s got this real light rancidity under the freshness. I’m light, I’m fresh, I will tear you up in the morning. But the second sip is better than the first!”
Score: “7.”
What is it?: “I’m calling this that Nouveau wine. It could be Pinot Noir too.”

Girlfriend: “It’s a little magenta-y. That could be the Christmas tree lights though. This is the closest to what I think wine should smell like. I can tell you right now this is the best wine I’ve had. Also it smells like Country Crock margarine.”
Score: “8.5.”
What is it?: “I’ll go with Pinot Noir. It really just tastes so margarine-y. But that’s not bad for some reason. I really like it.”

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HOW MANY THEY GOT RIGHT

Sommelier: 4/8
Girlfriend: 3/8

THE FINAL SCORES, FROM BEST TO WORST

Merlot: 8
Chardonnay: 7.5
Shiraz: 7.75
Cabernet Sauvignon: 7.25
Pinot Grigio: 6
Nouveau: 3
Sauvignon Blanc: 2.5
White Zinfandel: Technically 1, but not really even.

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Also we got pizza.

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Ben Robinson is Thrillist’s editorial director, and is eagerly expecting a Fudgie The Whale cake on his birthday, and also just general other days. Follow him@BenjoRobinson.

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Bugs, Butt, and Other Weird Food Additives You’ve Probably Eaten Today

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People are willing to eat all kinds of weird stuff, but often we’re eating all kinds of weird stuff when we think we’re eating something totally normal. Like gum. Or Jell-O. But hey, if it tastes delicious, what’s the harm in a little secretion from a pig’s anus? Here are 10 very weird things manufacturers put in very normal-seeming food. Now pass the anus candy.

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Artificial Raspberry Flavoring Comes From Beaver Butt Juice

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Yes, it’s pretty effin’ weird that one of the things that makes artificial raspberry flavoring in sodas and candy taste raspberry-y is castoreum, something that is exuded from a beaver’s anal glands. What’s even weirder is that this discovery was the result of somebody venturing to taste a beaver’s anal gland secretions.

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 Crushed Beetles: Tons of Red Food Products

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One of the most commonly used ingredients in red food coloring is flakes of mashed-up beetles, and not the kind of mashed-up Beatles Danger Mouse did when he combined The White Album with Jay-Z’s Black Album. Still, we’re willing to bet that Ringo loves him some red velvet cake.

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Dog Vagina Pheromones: Beer and Wine

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Ever wonder why Spuds McKenzie loved beer so much? Beer and wine often contain a preservative called methylparaben, which, in addition to keeping booze fresh, is also a pheromone found in dog’s vaginas. Does that make us all Eskimo brothers with Spuds?

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Sheep Juice: Gumballs

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Often referred to as “gum base”, the stuff that makes your favorite gumball so gummy is actually a substance known as lanolin, which is an oil found in sheep’s wool. Interestingly, that makes gum yet another instance of lamb going great with mint.

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Shellac: Jellybeans

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More bug secretions! This one begs a very important question: would you rather be cool with eating something coated with a resin often used in furniture polish, or would you rather eat not-shiny jellybeans? We know you know the answer to that.

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Hair: Bread

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Bread, like the glorious mane of one Carrot Top, needs to be bouncy and moist. So it should be no surprise that mass-produced bread products are baked with hair… more specifically, through an amino acid called L-cysteine, which is most commonly extracted from hair, but can also be found in feathers. Carrot cake, anyone?

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Polydimethylsiloxane: Chicken Nuggets

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This silicone product is pure magic, showing up in everything from Silly Putty to Pamela Anderson’s boobs. It also shows up in chicken nuggets, where it acts as a bonding agent for those chicken parts. Sadly, it fails to explain why you can’t copy newsprint by pressing a McNugget against it.

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Sand: Chili

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You ever eat a cake made of sand? Hell no, you say!? That’s because sand is an anti-caking agent. It’s also used in mass-produced chili, kind of like the stuff sold by a certain fast-food chain with a red-headed mascot who looks like she’s never set food on a beach in her life.

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Bones: Jell-O

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Ever see Bill Cosby hanging out with hardcore vegans? Let’s wildly speculate that it’s because the Cos shills a delicious treat that has ground bones and skin as one of its ingredients. So, technically and despite its jiggly nature, Jell-O kinda has a bone structure. Oh, and you might wanna avoid non-vegan sugar, as well.

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Beef Fat: Twinkies

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Beef: it’s what’s for dinner. And apparently dessert, because one of the things that makes Twinkies one of the most enduring (hell, they even resurrected them) and delicious snacks is beef fat. Which explains why you never see vegans eating Twinkies with Bill Cosby, actually. This conspiracy runs DEEP.

 

Andy Kryza is Thrillist’s National Eat/Drink Senior Editor, and has proudly lived vegetable-free since 2001. Follow his adventures/slow decline via Twitter at @apkryza.

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5 Reasons Drinking Games Can Actually Be Good For You, As Told By Your Conscience

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Whether your preferred drinking game is beer pong or flip cup, everyone can agree that suds sports are the best. Except for maybe “scientists.” Or “health experts.” Or “other people we can subtly undermine by putting their job titles in quotation marks.” And in order to prove that we aren’t just making an arbitrary claim, here are five ironclad reasons why throwing things into booze legitimately makes you a better person.

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1. Having excellent hand-eye coordination benefits every aspect of your life. Except hammock napping.

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Plenty of drinking games, like quarters, beer pong, and flip cup, require a high level of hand-eye coordination. And those skills have uses outside of the party scene, as the better you get at it, the more you can increase your “reaction times, as well as enhanced agility and athleticism“. It could even improve your “typing skills”, though that could also be construed as a negative if you’re using said skills to text your ex after seven games of pong at 430a just to tell her “tht song u lik is on”.

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2. Socializing Makes You Happier

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According to a researcher, “everyone feels happy when they socialize” (even introverts!), and there’s nothing more social than spending hours alone on a Saturday night scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed to see what everyone else is up to drinking with friends.

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3. Competition is Good For You

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According to the book Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, competition can benefit people greatly, as it “challenges people to strive to be better”. Hold on to your competitive spirit during flip cup on Friday night, and then unleash it in the workplace on Monday morning, and soon, you’ll be running that “only chicken fingers and Choco Tacos” restaurant chain you work at.

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4. Teamwork is a Bonding Experience

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Any drinking game that requires teamwork will strengthen the bonds between you and your friends, as it requires you to “mutually support” one another, which “can encourage people to achieve goals they may not have realized they could reach on their own” — like the goal of drinking a whole lot, or, you know, something super-productive.

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5. It’s the Most Fun Way to Hang Out With Your Parents

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Spending time with your parents can be a real downer, especially when Dad is always bringing up how dumb your tattoos are (uh, sorry Dad, but it actually IS funny if Calvin is peeing on a Calvinist document!). But playing quarters with dear old Dad can be a good thing, as bonding with the ‘rents can mean improved communication, and make it easier to lean on them in times when you need it. Like the next day, when you’re hungover, and you need them to buy you breakfast.


Lee Breslouer writes about food and drink for Thrillist, and once interviewed a flip cup champion. Follow him on Twitter @LeeBreslouer, because you can’t make a name that good up.

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9 Outrageously Extravagant Food & Drink Items You Can Buy at Costco

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In case you haven’t heard, Costco is now for the nouveau riche. And seeing as you can now buy a $17,000 Scotch at the most non-exclusive “members-only” destination ever, we decided to round up some more absurdly decadent food and drink items you can purchase from that cavernous discount warehouse.

Looking to save some cash on that 450-bottle wine cellar next to your nuclear fallout shelter full of a year’s supply of vegan foodstuffs? Don’t worry — Costco’s got you covered.

 

Plaza de Caviar Caviars of the World ($299.99)

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Just because you’re throwing a gala for your pocket watch collection doesn’t mean you can’t be sensible about your fancy fish-egg purchases. This caviar set may come from Costco, but it still includes varieties named “osetra gold” and “plaza royale”, plus some mother of pearl caviar spoons and a thermal carrying tote.

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Pat LaFrieda Meat Lover’s Package ($349.99)

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He might have some wild ideas about BBQ, but meat king Pat LaFrieda is basically the Meryl Streep of dead animal carcasses. So why not pick up a package of his finest cuts, including some dry-aged prime black angus bone-in rib steaks, along with your 500-roll pack of toilet paper?

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D’artagnan Spanish Mangalica Dry-Cured Boneless Ham ($389.99)

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… or just throw money to the wind and pick up far less meat for even more dough. Hey, it does have a lot of fancy words (and a goddamn Musketeer) in its name.

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One Person One Year Food Storage, 9687 Total Servings ($1499.99)

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No matter what your excuse is for an emergency stash — zombies, Biblical end times, Y2K for real this time, John Cusack — this massive stockpile of food will keep you fed and fending off drifters for 365 days. And when we’re talking an under-$2K bargain, throwing out your couch to make room for 120 gallon-sized cans is totally worth it.

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Gluten-Free and Vegetarian Food Storage, 8671 Servings ($1799.99)

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Also convinced that the Old Gods and the New Gods will make reign hell upon Earth in one year’s time, only you can’t bring yourself to eat a dead cow even in the end times? Really? Then congrats, you’re the most contradictory person we’ve ever met, and you should load up on this massive gluten-free/vegetarian food supply. But not before you read the hilarious customer reviews.

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Jura Impressa XS90 One Touch Automatic Espresso Machine ($1999.99)

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Sometimes, a Keurig machine just won’t cut it. And that’s when you in invest in an espresso machine that’s bulkier than Nate Newton sitting in a spare tire sitting in a bunch of bubble wrap.

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Remy Martin Louis XIII ($2299.99)

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Well, it’s not exactly a Macallan, but you can still score some pretty pricey booze with this Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac, available at the Costco in Holbrook, NY. The bottle’s swanky, the liquor is sought-after, and the name refers to King Louis XIII, who listenedway too much to Cardinal Richelieu, and that’s another Three Musketeers reference, son!

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Jingle Bell Holiday Tower Pallet ($2,799.99)

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Bury your dearest friend in truffles and pralines this holiday season by gifting this 144-tower pallet of sweets. Because nothing says merry/happy Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Solstice like a nearly $3000 shipment of candy guaranteed to leave you with a $4000 dentist bill (NOTE: insert joke about Three Musketeers candy bars here).

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Vinotemp Clavos 700 450-Bottle Wine Cellar ($3999.99)

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Just picture it. Your friends and family have gathered for the grand opening of your home wine cellar. The cheese is smelly & French, and the Malbec is flowing. Your stupid, much poorer neighbor Jerry leans in and asks, “Man, where did you get that amazing wine armoire?” You smile smugly and whisper, “Costco,” as you slowly wink at Jerry’s wife.

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Taste-Test: Ranking the Best Grocery Store Mac and Cheese

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While restaurants around the world trick out macaroni and cheese with truffle oil or dumb it down into hamburger buns, true mac and cheese fanatics know there’s no place quite like home.

The mac that most people remember fondest came from a rectangle box with a powdered flavor packet that should never be tasted on its own, unless you’ve always wanted to ingest a neon orange lump of sodium phosphate. Mac and cheese has come a long way since then, as evidenced by the results of this taste-test of eight top national brands.

This may shake your macaroni and cheese beliefs to their cheesy core.

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The contenders: Velveeta, Kraft (Monsters University edition!), Annie’s, Back to Nature (Crazy Bugs!), Quinoa, Mrs. Leeper’s (…gluten-free), Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods 365.

Half of the recipes called for added butter, while the rest listed it as optional. But everyone knows when it comes to butter, optional means mandatory. Mmm, a stick in every spoonful!

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Ranking: 8th

Brand: Quinoa Mac & Cheese

Cheesiness: 1 — It doesn’t even taste like cheese, it’s more straight up pasta. It’s as if the macaroni shampooed itself with cheese sauce and washed it off. All that’s left is the smell.

Artificial flavor: 5 — The flavor had hints of paper and sterilizer, but was so neutral that it earned average marks.

Pasta: 3 — The sauce formed to the macaroni, giving it a rough texture that was pretty horrid. It didn’t have an aftertaste; it had an aftertexture.

Overall flavor: 2 — This is an embarrassment and shouldn’t even be called mac and cheese.

Final score: 2.75 — DON’T EAT THIS, EVER.

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Ranking: 7th

Brand: Mrs Leeper’s Gluten-free Mac & Cheese

Cheesiness: 4 — Creamy and full of flavor up front, but with highly diminishing returns. Each bite tastes less cheesy.

Artificial flavor: 6 — Turmeric and paprika do a good job of masking the artificial flavors until the stainless steel aftertaste overpowers them.

Pasta: 1 — Definitely the worst. Their slogan “keeping the taste in and the gluten out” is only technically accurate. It didn’t keep consistency at all. Damn you, rice flour!

Overall flavor: 2 — The fakeness of the pasta took center stage, detracting from a decent cheese flavor.

Final score: 3.25 — GLUTEN, LIKE GREED, IS GOOD. DON’T EAT THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE TO.

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Ranking: 6th

Brand: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Monsters University Edition

Cheesiness: 2 — Not cheesy at all. The sauce doesn’t envelop the macaroni, it just tastes like it’s been dipped in cheese water.

Artificial flavor: 3 — An overwhelming chalkiness that tastes like childhood, though it’s nothing like those knuckle sandwiches you used to eat.

Pasta: 6 — Cute, but you can’t really tell what these are supposed to look like. The added surface area gives it a chewy mouthfeel that helps make up for the lack of creaminess.

Overall flavor: 3 — Mostly water with a hint of cheese.

Final score: 3.5 — THESE DESERVE TO BE IN A WATERY GRAVE, NOT YOUR MOUTH.

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Ranking: 5th

Brand: Trader Joe’s Organic Shells and White Cheddar

Cheesiness: 3 — Although this uses real cheese, it’s lacking in full-bodied flavor and never reaches true creamy heaven. Also, white cheddar mac is the equivalent of Diet Coke.

Artificial flavor: 3 — Surprisingly astringent and harsh given the organic nature. Bitter cardboard aftertaste.

Pasta: 6 — Thicker, higher quality pasta. Nearly hearty enough to be a meal.

Overall flavor: 4 — The pasta is really the main event, but when you do get a rare pocket of pure cheese it makes for a satisfying bite.

Final score: 4 — WORTH EATING IF YOU’RE REALLY INTO SHELLS.

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Ranking: 4th

Brand: Velveeta Shells & Cheese

Cheesiness: 6 — The only non-powdered cheese tested, Velveeta lived up to its reputation for explosive creaminess, making for several blissful bites. Downside: the thicker cheese was quick to harden and overburden the macaroni.

Artificial flavor: 6 — You can taste a bit of the metallic packaging and an overwhelmingly synthetic dairy finish.

Pasta: 3 — Way too flimsy a vessel for such a full-bodied sauce.

Overall flavor: 6 — This is what your childhood tasted like on days when mom splurged at the grocery store.

Final score: 5.25 — ONLY EAT IF YOU’RE INTO HAVING FLASHBACKS.

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Ranking: 3rd

Brand: Whole Foods 365 Macaroni & Cheese

Cheesiness: 4 — Strong mouthfeel with real hints of cheddar, but lacking a creamy spark.

Artificial flavor: 7 — When you exhale (make sure not to wait, à la Angela Bassett), you don’t get that metal feeling. It’s smooth like a nice Merlot.

Pasta: 7 — Soft, enjoyable texture. Lots of give.

Overall flavor: 5 — Solid all around, but lacking that X Factor.

Final score: 5.75 — THE PERFECT MAC FOR THOSE WHOLE FOODS BRAND LOYALISTS.

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Ranking: 2nd

Brand: Annie’s Shells & Real Aged Cheddar

Cheesiness: 7 — The creaminess lights up your mouth. You can really taste the aged cheese, which will ensure this won’t stay on your shelf for long.

Artificial flavor: 8 — There’s a bit of a sour, moldy kick that earns it high points for cheese authenticity.

Pasta: 8 — The shells were just firm enough to support the powerful cheese flavor. Near perfect balance.

Overall flavor: 7 — The real cheese is a game-changer, but some MSG would really take it to the next level.

Final score: 7.5 — ALMOST FLAWLESS CREAMY GOODNESS.

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Ranking: 1st

Brand: Back to Nature Crazy Bugs Macaroni & Cheese Dinner

Cheesiness: 10 — This is what you’re looking for. So creamy and rich, you just want to keep it in your mouth for awhile before chewing. Tastes decadent. You could cover actual bugs in this and we would eat them.

Artificial flavor: 9 — The box proudly boasts no artificial preservatives or flavors. This is like the white whale of mac and cheese.

Pasta: 8 — Even the insect gimmick really works well here, giving the creamy cheese tons of extra pockets to hide in.

Overall flavor: 9 — It’d be easy to walk right past this in the supermarket and think it’s nothing more than a stale, eco-friendly mac alternative that only moms in Lululemon would buy. But think again! This is the total package. Perfect cheese, no harsh taste of science, and a cute-but-functional pasta vessel. The kicker? Proceeds benefit the Nature Conservatory, so your next mac and cheese dinner is basically a charitable donation.

Final score: 9 — THIS MAC AND CHEESE WILL COMPLETE YOU.

Kudos Thrillist

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10 Things You Eat All the Time That Could Poison You

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Some foods can totally transform you from a cold-addled snot monster to the picture of health. But there’s a surprising number of everyday foods that, if you’re not careful, could straight-up wreck your day. Or slightly worse, end your life! Don’t worry, getting poisoned by them is gonna take some effort. And most of them are veggies anyway, and we all know you don’t eat those.

Just to be on the safe side, however, tread lightly around these 10 foods:

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Cherries

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That cherry orchard your family used to go to during cherry season? Death trap! Well, not really, unless somebody manages to chew through a bunch of cherry pits and swallow them. And if anyone could do it, it’s your idiot cousin Stu. Like the worst cherry cordial ever, those pits are loaded with hydrogen cyanide. Yep, that cyanide. Luckily, the pits are so thick and hard you can swallow one and it’ll come out intact, which is its own punishment.

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Wild Almonds

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Scientists recently discovered that people who snack on almonds throughout the day eat less at mealtime. Probably because THEY’RE DEAD. Not really. We eat sweet almonds, not wild almonds, which are bitter. They’re also loaded with cyanide and could totally drop you. Luckily, you’re not gonna see them around. But if you find yourself in the wild and see some green almonds, maybe don’t eat them.

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Castor Beans

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That castor oil crap Granny gave you to make you puke back in the day is derived from the castor bean. Which, it turns out, is also an excellent source of ricin when it’s raw. Your Grandma is also a psychopath and, quite possibly, the mastermind behind an international meth operation.

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Apples

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It’s unlikely that you’re gonna do much damage to yourself if you eat the seeds out of an apple or two, but keep it up and you’re in trouble. Your body’s enzymes tend to morph compounds in the seeds into — yup — cyanide. That could explain why the old Johnny Appleseed story just kind of trails off. Kids would probably freak if they knew he was dead somewhere with a tree growing out of his greedy stomach.

While we’re on the topic, check out “How to Eat Apples Like a Boss.” Just remember to spit out the seeds.

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Tomatoes

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Until the 1800s, most people in the U.S. thought tomatoes were outright poisonous. They also thought powdered wigs looked good, but they were kind of right about the ‘maters. Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family, and that whole “poisoning people” thing apparently runs in the family, since their leaves are laced with toxic tomatine.

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Elderberries

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Popular in wine and as a medicinal tea, elderberries can be found and picked all over the place. Just don’t eat the green parts. They contain cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin, which, in non-science-speak, roughly translates to “thing that will have you exploding from both ends until it’s all out of your system”

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Kidney Beans

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Wanna make some chili that’ll leave your guests resembling Left Eye (too soon?!?)? Well, T-Boz, the best way is to undercook your kidney beans, which’ll season your sauce with a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin. Vigorously boiling them will neutralize it, but just to be safe, get the canned ones.

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Lima Beans

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Not that you actually wanted to eat these nasty little bastards in the first place, but if you want to get your mom off your back, tell her you’re terrified of cyanide poisoning and point out that the uncooked legumes are loaded with it. Then request a side of Cheetos instead. For health.

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Potatoes

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You shouldn’t eat green potatoes. Mainly because they’re gross. But they’ll also seriously mess you up because they’re packed with solanine, which will make you puke and, if you for some reason just keep eating, will cause cardiac arrest. Which is also gross.

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Rhubarb

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Rhubarb’s stalks are the perfect way to add a little tartness to a strawberry pie. Its leaves, on the other hand, are the perfect way to add a little “Oh my God I can’t stop puking and when I puke it burns!” to your life. That’s because they contain oxalic acid, which is in bleach, which you also shouldn’t consume. Unless you want to go into shock and die.

Kudos Thrillist

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12 Gingerbread Houses Nicer Than Your Actual Home

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You probably hung up the cake icing tubes and gumdrops back in third grade, but some people are still very much in the gingerbread house game. All those extra years of candy sculpting have clearly paid off, as you can see from these daring works of gingerbread genius. They obviously belong in Architectural Digest, but since those guys are busy covering new Olympic stadiums or something boring, we’ve assembled some of the swankiest edible estates right here. See all the pads below, then just try to talk yourself out of Lifesaver shutters.

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Now 18 seasons running, the George Eastman House’s gingerbread contest brings out fortresses like this sugary castle, which earns 10 points for an actual moat, but loses 100 for no dragons.

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The Claremont Hotel’s enormous gingerbread manor is so cozy, you might be tempted to crawl inside its honey-scented walls. But don’t, because that’s frowned upon.

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This snackable version of the Little Mermaid’s castle shows Sheraton Seattle isn’t messing around. The hotel hosts an annual “Gingerbread Village” where their culinary minds and local architectural firms unite to create masterful candy homes. This year’s theme is nursery rhymes, so get ready for some confusingly appetizing three blind mice.

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PBS’s number one fan made this gingerbread replica of the Crawley home from Downton Abbey last year, and while it’s pretty nice, Maggie Smith would find the whole thing completely middle class.

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The majestic front porch! The gushing fountain! All that…um…beading?! The only thing this Winchester gingerbread mansion is missing is a disgruntled, edible butler.

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The Henri Bendel store that inspired this creation may have been established in 1895, but let’s hope its architect threw historical accuracy to the wind and sprung for some slightly fresher gingerbread.

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All other gingerbread houses look like shady lean-tos next to the Fairmont Hotel’s two-story Victorian. That’s over 22ft of homemade gingerbread bricks held together by more than 1 ton of “royal icing,” because you never know when the Queen’s stopping by.

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The Omni Grove Park Inn of Asheville hosts a yearly gingerbread competition that’s unearthed such gems as this Muppet Christmas Carol-inspired abode. Luckily, they managed to chain Animal to the balcony before he shredded the whole thing.

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Suspiciously, the homeowners of this spot (located in the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel in DC) are all about hanging gratuitous wreaths, but hate their Christmas tree so much they make it sleep outside under a blanket of snow.

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In Soviet Russia, bread gingers you!!!

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The gingerbread White House is a festive tradition perhaps even more sacred than when they choose not to murder one turkey for Thanksgiving.

Kudos Thrillist