June 21, 2007

Banana v. Vanilla: Twinkie Battle Royal

The most difficult thing about the Banana Twinkie is finding one. Yesterday, my friend James and I scoured midtown Manhattan for about an hour, stopping at every deli and grocery store we passed. Twinkies, to start off with, have become a rarity in New York. The Banana Twinkie is an even rarer animal. Luckily for me, I don’t live in Manhattan, and in Brooklyn, there are still delis that have a hostess shelf.

So, this morning, on my way into work, I shelled out two bucks and bought two delightful packages of Hostess products: a package of “NEW!” Banana Twinkies, and for comparison, a normal package of Vanilla Twinkies.

The first thing that you notice is that they actually do look a little different. The regular vanilla Twinkies are a paler shade of yellow, just a couple shades darker than an off white. The Banana Twinkies, on the other hand, are a true gold. They even look a little bit bigger, though this could just be because my banana Twinkies are sitting side by side on their little piece of waxed white cardboard while for some reason, my vanilla Twinkies are askew of each other. Quality Assurance seems to have faded at the Hostess Factory. (I’d show you pictures, but I’m too poor for digital camera ownership.)

The vanilla Twinkie cake is very spongy. It doesn’t taste like “vanilla” so much as like “sugar”, or more accurately, like “corn syrup”. There’s a distinctive after taste, sort of bitter and in the back of my throat. It comes on pretty quickly, I think it’s in the cake. That flavor is in the Banana Twinkie as well, but definitely lessened. Actually, the Banana Twinkie has a surprisingly strong banana flavor on top of the flavor of corn syrup, and frankly, it is not unpleasant. It’s there enough that you can definitely tell that it’s not the normal Twinkie, but light enough that it’s not overpowering. What’s more, although it’s the same cake itself, the proximity to the filling has managed to infuse the Banana Twinkie’s cake with some of its flavor. The cake itself seems moister than the regular Twinkie, but this could simply be that because the Banana Twinkie is so new, there really isn’t as much time for it to sit around in factories (or the deli shelves). The banana flavor is definitely artificial though, which is kind of funny.

See, the Twinkie was originally a banana flavored treat. That’s the reason that it’s tube like and sort of, you know, phallic. It’s supposed to look like a cuter banana. (The shape is actually due to the shortcake tins that they’re baked in, but they chose those shortcake tins for a reason!) Twinkies stayed banana from their inception until World War II, when a national banana shortage forced Hostess to replace their banana filling with Vanilla (no, not a joke). The fact that they’ve been brought back without any real banana in them is a loving testament to our boys fighting Adolf. (The banana Twinkies do contain less than 1% of banana puree, meaning that for every batch of 100,000 Twinkies, there are about three bananas – we can’t give those boys everything or else what’ll they want to come home for?)

For the health conscious out there: though I’ve heard people think that the Banana Twinkies are healthier than the regular, they aren’t by any stretch of the imagination. The Banana Twinkies have another 5 calories per cake, plus another gram of fat and have a small amount of trans-fatty acids, which the Vanilla Twinkies do not. However, the Banana Twinkies do have slightly less sodium (maybe responsible for the fainter aftertaste?), cholesterol, and carbohydrates than the vanilla, and a couple fewer grams of sugar. I know that few people are eating Twinkies for their health anymore, but I still thought you might like to know.

All in all, I’d consider the Banana Twinkies to be a bit better than the regular. The banana flavor really helps you forget that you’re basically eating a stick of sugar and saturated fat, and helps to cover up that horrible aftertaste that you get from the Vanilla Twinkies. Prepare for indigestion and, if you’re like me, a sugar headache. Still, if you’re a dedicated junk foody, the Banana Twinkie will form a nice new addition to your sweet repertoire.

June 17, 2007

We get mail!


I've been checking out your site (I like it, especially your review about doughnuts) and I had a little suggestion for you. I assume that you too are an NPR man, but I can imagine that catching Morning Edition is a bit of a stretch for you. Because of that, you may have missed the news that Twinkies have just gone back to using banana cream instead of vanilla. They used to be banana, but there was some shortage back in WWII and they switched over to vanilla. Now though, back. I think it'd be a good article for the gourmetro. In fact, if you needed, I'd help you eat the Twinkies. I need an excuse, I can't put that much saturated fat into my body for no good reason. Hope you're well, still hoping that we could go out for breakfast some time. Later.



Jake, Thanks for the note, it's been a while. I am a bit of an NPR man, myself, and as you guessed don't really listen to Morning Edition. Their podcasts rock my world (Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, and I'm getting into This American Life). I had heard about banana's triumphant return to the twinkie, but don't think I could make myself eat enough of them to write a post (I like to save my saturated fat for those aforementioned doughnuts. That said, I am intrigued by the filling switch since I'd previously heard they were discontinuing the tuber altogether (nb - link doesn't exactly say they're discontinuing the twinkie, but that Interstate Bakery's fallen on hard times). So if you want to have some and tell us about it, please do!



June 3, 2007

Cheap & Tasty: Tortilla Espanola

If you've been to any of the trendy tapas places around DC - or any other urban area - you've probably seen Tortilla Espanola on the menu. It's very simple dish, basically a Spanish omelet/quiche hybrid. Cooking it is a breeze and leaves your house smelling of hash browns for a day afterward, which is a major bonus. Plus, it's SUPER cheap and is a classy way to make the those last few days before the paycheck go faster.

And though cheap and tasty, still swanky: Mario Batali made a Tortilla Espanola as part of his tapas plate in Iron Chef America's "Battle Garlic." So garnish with pride and pretend you're at Babbo.

I referenced recipes from the Washington Post and Epicurious in making this, but here's my version:

Tortilla Espanola

Approx. 8 eggs, beaten
6 cups peeled and diced (1/2 in.) potatoes
2 medium diced yellow onions
salt & pepper to taste

lots of olive oil

Heat about 1/2 cup of the olive in a 10 inch nonstick skillet (if your pan is slightly larger or smaller, it's fine) over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, add half of the chopped onion & potato mixture. Cover and cook over medium heat until mixture is browned but not mushy; stir periodically to keep it from burning. Dump the cooked potato & onion mixture into a large bowl to cool; add more olive oil to the skillet and cook the rest of the batch in the same manner. (Note - you can cook them all at once, it's just a LOT easier and less messy this way. Unless you have a gargantuan skillet pan, in which case, go for it!)

Add the second batch of cooked roots to the first and let cool. Add the beaten eggs, salt, and pepper and thoroughly coat the potatoes. If you feel the need, add more beaten eggs. I wouldn't go above the Epicurious' suggestion of 10, but you're definitely going to need at least 6.

Back to your skillet - add 1/4 cup of olive oil and heat it up to medium. Pour all of the eggy mixture into the pan and smooth out the top with a spatula. Keep heat low-ish to prevent burning - from experience, it will still taste good, but the tortilla is much less pretty when it's black. Cook for about 10 minutes, occasionally running a spatula along the rim of the skillet to loosen the tortilla.

Now comes the fun part - when you can feel the tortilla slide around a bit on the skillet, ensuring its doneness, get out a big plate. Invert the plate on top of the skillet and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Slide the not-as-cooked side of the tortilla back into the skillet and cook for about another 5 minutes, until the tortilla is solid. You're done!

For serving, there really is no "right" side up. The skillet side is usually rounder and prettier, but the non-skillet side give a better view of the potatoes and other tortilla innards.

Some other notes:

You must use a nonstick pan. I tried cooking some of the potato/onion mixture in an iron skillet and it was much messier. Had I attempted to add the eggs, the tortilla would not have stayed intact.

Do not be afraid of the salt! I grew up in a salt-fearing household, so I am conditioned to undersalt, but go ahead and pour it on (the pepper too, and any other spices you deem worthy) to make sure you're getting the most flavor out of your potatoes.

Oh, and if you're feeling decadent, add some bacon to the mix and make your kitchen smell even better. Just cut back on the olive oil a bit.

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