Walmart is selling $10 ramen. It’s fancy, frozen and actually quite good.

You know upscale ramen has become mainstream when Walmart gets in on the game.

This bowl of ramen came from a packaged kit that Walmart is now selling in its frozen section. The soft boiled eggs, however, don’t come in the kit. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

I grew up eating the inexpensive packaged ramen noodles that you can buy everywhere, but I was surprised to recently find a $9.48 bag of frozen fancy ramen at the country’s largest grocer.

Although Kroger is the largest dedicated supermarket chain, Walmart easily sells the most groceries in the country. About 25 percent of Americans buy their groceries at Walmart, so it’s relevant to overall grocery trends when a product like this hits their shelves.

In fact, I haven’t seen a ramen product like this on the market.

This $10 ramen meal kit was easy to make and tasted much better than expected. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Retailing at just a few cents shy of $10 for two servings, it’s a meal kit with a bag of frozen broth concentrate, a small bag of frozen cooked chicken and four “nests” of noodles. After thawing the broth, you add it to a pot with 2 1/2 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Add the chicken and the noodles and heat again until everything is warm, which took a little longer than the two minutes described on the package.

I ended up making some soft-boiled eggs in my multi-cooker while the ramen finished on the stove, and I was surprised by how intensely flavored the broth is and how many noodles came in the package. Some reviewers online have said that the broth is too salty, but you can always add more liquid to thin it out. With a few dumplings on the side, you could easily feed four people with this kit.

My ramen-loving son wasn’t a huge fan of the flavors, but he tends to like the everyday ramen seasoning. But I loved seeing onions and herbs floating around the dark, thick soup. The noodles had just the right bite to them, and the chicken didn’t have any “off” tastes. In fact, the ramen was so good that I’m having the leftovers for lunch today and livestreaming a few more thoughts on why a product like this caught my eye.

Join me for the livestream at noon at facebook.com/austin360.

Trying out new products from Austin companies Cece’s Veggie Co., Crafty Counter

My weekly livestream videos on Facebook continue to be a fun place to try out new products from local and national brands. Every Wednesday around noon on the Austin360 Facebook page, I talk about what’s going on in the local food community and taste test products that I either find in grocery stores or that are sent to me as samples.

In last week’s video, I tried the new meal kits from Cece’s Veggie Co., the East Austin-based spiralized and riced vegetable company. You might have seen their zucchini or beet “noodles” or cauliflower “rice” at grocery stores, including H-E-B, but last month, they launched a new product line at Whole Foods Market — and soon at H-E-B — that includes the vegetables and a sauce, such as zucchini marinara or butternut squash mac and cheese. Although the company sells a squash mac and cheese with dairy, I tried the vegan version on the livestream last week and really enjoyed the texture of the squash “shells” and the seasoning in the “cheez” sauce.

Wunder Nuggets are a kid-friendly nugget from a local company called Crafty Counter. Contributed by Crafty Counter.

I also enjoyed the chicken nuggets from Crafty Counter, the local company behind Wunder Nuggets. Owner Hema Reddy developed a line of kid-friendly nuggets that are packed with vegetables, and though some of the nuggets are vegetarian, others have a small amount of chicken combined with chickpeas. My kids and I prefer the texture of the Wunder Nuggets that have a little of meat, but you can sample all of her flavors at the Sustainable Food Center’s Farmers’ Market downtown on Saturdays. You can find the nuggets ($6.99) at Wheatsville Food Co-op, Central Market, Fresh Plus and Royal Blue, and through Amazon, Farmhouse Delivery and craftycounter.com.

You can go to facebook.com/austin360 to watch this week’s video or catch up on last week’s, where I also tried Austin-made Mad Pickles and explained why Con’ Olio’s freshly pressed olive oil made me reconsider the freshness of other oils in my cabinet. These weekly videos are sponsored by H-E-B.

I’m unboxing my Instant Pot today and I still have so many questions

I finally ordered an Instant Pot.

I’m unboxing my new Instant Pot on my Facebook livestream today at noon. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

I’m only about two years behind the Instant Pot trend — which officially began, IMHO, in July 2016 when Instant Pot sold 200,000-plus units on Amazon Prime day — but I figured there’s no better time to start learning how to cook with it during the summer, when no one wants to turn on their oven.

With dreams of 15-minute chicken noodle soup and 40-minute from scratch hummus, I ordered the bestselling multi-cooker last week, but I’ve kept it in the box so I could unbox it in my weekly livestream on the Austin360 Facebook page. I also got a box of accessories, which I’ll also dig into on the video today at noon. (Go to Facebook.com/Austin360 to watch.)

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Three of dozens of Instant Pot cookbooks that have come out this year. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

But as I’m warming up to the idea that I can cook everything from cakes to hard-cooked eggs in an electric device with far more buttons than I’m used to operating, I realized that I still have a lot of questions.

Like, many, many questions, including:

  • Will the steam from the pressure cooker heat up my kitchen, thus defeating the purpose of not turning on my oven?
  • Which of the approximately 12,000 Facebook groups should I join?
  • Are people going to judge me because I’m a total IP noob?
  • How many dishes am I going to have to make until I feel someone proficient on it?
  • Are my kids going to eat it? (That’s always a question not far from my mind.)
  • Am I really going to cook more beans if I can cook them faster?
  • What am I going to do with all of those beans?
  • What happens if I try to cook without an official Instant Pot recipe?
  • What if all these Instant Pot cookbook recipes don’t really look that appealing?
  • I feel overwhelmed by just how new this cooking device feels. Is that normal?
  • Lastly, do readers really care?

As I’ve been marking my 10th food writer anniversary, I’ve been thinking more about more about the kinds of food stories that readers want to read, which stories they want to click on, which recipes they cut out and actually use. Enough people have talked to me about their love of the Instant Pot to make me realize that this isn’t a flash-in-the-pan trend, but it still feels somewhat niche, especially when you’re trying to write for many different demographics of cooks, some who have all the time and energy and money to make fancy food and others who are budgeting all of those things and prefer more simple meals.

I’ll be trying to cook the spectrum of those foods in the Instant Pot this summer, and I hope you have fun following along with me. If you have tips, recipes, suggestions, feedback, please send them to abroyles@statesman.com or leave a comment online. You can also join me in the livestream today to ask your own questions or satisfy your own curiosity about this newfangled appliance that has taken the food world by storm.

 

 

 

 

Why Deb O’Keefe loves probiotics and Prince Harry but won’t be watching the royal wedding

In yet another example of why I love Austin, radio show host Deb O’Keefe didn’t hesitate to say yes when I invited her over to my house to try a jackfruit.

We didn’t end up trying one of those large, green spiky fruits on this week’s livestream, but she was also down to taste whatever I showed up with, so we ended up with a slate of vegan products, including the Austin-based Celeste’s Best vegan cookie dough, Lisanatti almond “mozzarella,” The Honest Stand’s vegan nacho cheese dip and Wheatsville’s spicy buffalo popcorn chicken, which O’Keefe, a longtime ovo-pescatarian, had amazingly never had.

In the video, you can see how she reacted to these popular tofu bites, which I discovered are now sold hot and in small containers for easy-to-go snacking at the South Lamar location. I was surprised by how good the almond “mozzarella” and cashew-based nacho dip tasted, and it was fun to hear the native Brit’s perspective on eating raw cookie dough, her love of anything and everything with probiotics and the global status of the princess-to-be and her (surprisingly handsome) prince.

She won’t be watching the big event this weekend, however. She’s training for a body building competition later this year and has a workout already on the schedule. Will she watch the highlights? Of course.

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Can this California barbecue company disrupt the brisket delivery business?

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The California-based BBQ Hero launched in early 2017 with one mission: To sell ribs to people who “live far from the barbecue capitals across the nation.”

BBQ Hero has added smoked brisket to its mail-order product line. We’re tasting it in a livestream today on Austin360’s Facebook page. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The press release explains: “BBQ Hero lives up to their name saving all of us in BBQ exile with their simple heat and eat barbecue.” The ribs have been so popular, the company says, that they’ve added smoked brisket to the product line-up and shipped out samples to food writers.

We have one of the samples and are going to try it in today’s Facebook livestream around noon. The meat is heating in the oven, as we speak, and I already have some thoughts on the sauce (“Is that ketchup I smell?”) and the reheating instructions (“Wait, I’m supposed to pour the sauce in the pan, then slice the cold brsiket, then put the meat back in the pan? I thought the press release said it was already cut!”).

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For comparison, Rudy’s mail-order brisket costs $120 with a $9 shipping fee. Louie Mueller’s 6- to 7-pound brisket costs $280, with free shipping. La Barbecue’s brisket costs $190 with a $10 ground shipping fee. The Salt Lick’s online briskets are smaller than the others, and they cost $60, which is similar to the price and size of the brisket from Black’s.

 

Ask Addie: If we aren’t supposed to eat romaine lettuce, why is it on grocery store shelves?

That’s a question I’ve received from a few of you this week, as both the Centers for Disease Control and Consumer Reports warn consumers not to eat heads, hearts and bags of romaine lettuce while investigators try to find the exact source of a recent E. coli outbreak that has sickened dozens.

H-E-B has said that it is not sourcing lettuce from Arizona right now, but there aren’t any signs in the store with more specific information. You can still buy bags of romaine lettuce in most stores. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Even though none of the reported illnesses have been in Texas, many grocery stores are continuing to sell lettuce. Some companies, including H-E-B, have stated that they do not source from the Yuma, Arizona area, but during a stop by a store today, you could find plenty of products with the dubious “Product of USA” or “Grown in USA” label or signage.

Much of the lettuce sold at H-E-B carries a “Grown in USA” or “Product of USA” label, but that’s not specific enough to assuage watchdog agencies, including Consumer Reports. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

According to the two biggest public health watchdogs, you’re not supposed to be buying and eating lettuce unless it specifically is not grown in Arizona. So, that means you can still eat and buy romaine lettuce, but you need to be careful about how you source it. Here are three ways to following the guidelines and still eat your salad:

  1. Buy from a local farmer. Central Texas farmers are not involved in the outbreak, as Johnson’s Backyard Garden pointed out in an Instagram post this week.

    This brand of romaine lettuce is grown in California, which is not an area of the country currently affected by the romaine lettuce warning. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
  2. Seek out lettuce from another area of the country than Arizona. If the only lettuce options include a vague mention of “Grown in USA,” skip it, at least for now.

    Now is the time to real labels. This brand of lettuce is grown in California, so it should be OK to eat under the current CDC and Consumer Reports guidelines. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
  3. Buy a different kind of lettuce. Romaine lettuce is the product currently only scrutiny. Other kinds of lettuce, including butter head and iceberg, are OK to eat.

 

 

From sherbet pops to Soylent: Can our intrepid food writer try 14 products in 14 minutes?

For my weekly Facebook livestream today, I’m trying something unusual: Taste-testing 14 products in 14 minutes.

Thanks to several cooking demonstrations and field trips lately, I haven’t done a taste test in a while, so I had quite a few products lined up to try. It’s a little crazy to go from flavor to flavor so quickly, but I’m setting up the products so I don’t jump from sweet to savory (or healthy to junk food) so quickly.

Kuli Kuli, Moringa Greens and Protein Superfood Smoothie Mix (online, $29.99)

Kuli Kuli, Moringa Black Cherry Bar (Whole Foods, $2.89)

 

Soylent Cafe, Ready-to-drink coffee-infused beverage (H-E-B, $3.69)

 

Buda Juice, Fresh Ginger and Turmeric Shot (H-E-B, $9.98 for six)

 

Sunkist, Mango Dark Chocolate Trail Mix (Walmart, $2.98)

Tasteful Selections, Take and Shake Potatoes (Walmart, $1.68)

Guiltless Goodies, Chocolate Glaze Skinny Donuts (online, $15.99)


Clean Cause, Yerba Mate drinks (H-E-B, $3.25)

 

Baskin Robbins, Frozen Sherbet Pops (Dollar General, $2)

Wyler’s Authentic Italian Ice, Frozen Pops (Dollar General, $2)

Duncan Hines, Perfect Size for 1 Confetti Cake mix (Walmart, $2.50)

Farmhouse Culture, Kraut Krisps (Central Market, $2,99)

H-E-B Select Ingredients, Cerealology Fig & Nut Crunch  (H-E-B, $2.98)

Cocina 54, Spinach and Cheese Empanadas (H-E-B, $4.99)

After winning rotisserie chicken taste test, can Fiesta beat Sam’s Club, Randalls?

Remember that rotisserie chicken taste test we did in January? For my Facebook livestream video earlier this week, I took many of your suggestions to include Sam’s Club, Walmart and Randalls in their own taste test with Fiesta, which won the previous round.

Sam’s Club, Randalls, Fiesta and Walmart all make rotisserie chickens, and we taste-tested them recently at the Statesman. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

If you missed the original taste test, we compared rotisserie chickens from six local stores — H-E-B, Central Market, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Costco and Fiesta — and the Fiesta chicken was the unanimous winner. I knew we wouldn’t be able to include every chicken in that original taste test, but six chickens were plenty to taste at once.

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Sam’s Club sells lots and lots of rotisserie chickens, and the flavor and texture were comparable to Fiesta’s, which won the first round of our rotisserie chicken taste test. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

After the story and video published, I heard from lots of readers who love the rotisserie chickens from Sam’s Club, Walmart and Randalls, so I decided to host another showdown between those three and the previous winner. This time, the results weren’t so clear. Many tasters like the Sam’s Club chicken as much as the Fiesta chicken, but the Walmart and Randalls birds couldn’t match the other competitors in taste or texture.

Randalls’ and Walmart’s chickens didn’t fare as well as Fiesta and Sam’s Club in our recent taste test. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The only issue with Sam’s Club is that you have to have a membership to the buy the chicken, which costs $45 per year. The company does allow you to get a free day pass to shop in the store, but you have to pay 10 percent extra on whatever you buy. As with Costco’s chicken, the Sam’s Club chicken was a full pound larger than the others and it was about two dollars less.

I’d still love to hear about your favorite ready-to-eat grocery foods, including rotisserie chickens! Leave a comment below or email me at abroyles@statesman.com.

Who makes the best rotisserie chicken in Austin? We put ’em to the test

When grocery stores started carrying rotisserie chickens, most Americans stopped roasting chickens ourselves.

We taste six rotisserie chickens from Austin-area grocery stores. From top left: Fiesta, Whole Foods, HEB. Lower left: Costco, Central Market, Sprouts. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Why bother when you can buy an already roasted chicken for not much more than it would cost to buy a raw one?

Rotisserie chickens are now sold in nearly every grocery chain, right up near the front where busy shoppers can pick one up in a hurry.

That’s what I did on Wednesday morning, trekking to six local grocery stores to buy seven rotisserie chickens for a livestream taste test at the office. My colleagues tried all six of them and ranked them. To my surprise, they had an unequivocal favorite, which you’ll see pretty quickly into this video we made.

The bonus bird was clearly identified as a specialty smoked Cajun flavor from Whole Foods, which is rolling out new rotisserie chicken recipes that will entice customers to buy them more frequently. Later that day, we also tasted the new flavors of Diet Coke.

Which store makes your favorite rotisserie chicken? Do you ever roast your own? Let us know in the comments below or on the Facebook video!

 

WATCH: Does this new spray can latte actually work?

For weeks, I’ve been seeing this commercial for International Delight’s One Touch Latte, which I have been calling — with great curiosity — “spray latte.”

International Delight’s new spray creamer helps customers make lattes at home. Contributed by International Delight

It’s not actually a spray latte; it’s the International Delight creamer in a can packed with so much pressure that it shoots out at a speed high enough to whip a foam on top of your coffee. A neat idea to make a latte-like beverage at home, but does it work and how does it taste?

I tried one of these newfangled coffee sprays in today’s Facebook livestream, and since I was talking about coffee, tasted a sweet cream cold brew from Stumptown and a draft latte in a can from La Colombe.

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I also mentioned this chilaquiles story by Claudia Alarcón and this pumpkin spice challah recipe, just in time for Rosh Hashanah.

Don’t forget to share your home cooking pics by adding #Austin360Cooks to your posts on social media! (#Austin360Eats is for restaurants, food trucks and the like.) We are gearing up for prime fall cooking, so I’m looking forward to seeing what you’re making this season.

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