Friday, December 05, 2008

Betty Crocker Cut the Cheese and it Stinks!

Theoretically, when you change a commercial product, you do it to improve it. I guess you might also do it to improve efficiency, but when it comes to food, I do not want efficient. I want 'good'.

My wife and I have a number of 'ritual meals' that we do which are tasty and easy to fix and require a minimal number of items to purchase, or can be made from items that will be used in other meals as well. These meals are done on such nights that we either get home late, or have something to do later in the evening (our church group on Wednesday for example).

One such meal is BLT's and pasta salad. We usually have L and T around for other meals including but not limited to tacos, Cobb salad, side salads and similar concoctions. Bread is a staple item, and mustard and mayo are always in the fridge. Bacon is one of my favorite vegetables and is always present as well. The only specialty item that we purchase specifically for the meal is the pasta salad. We really like the Betty Crocker kind that comes with pasta and veggies, dressing mix and topping. We supply only water and olive oil. There are two versions that we regularly use, the Classic, and the Caesar (which should actually be called the Cesar', but I digress).

The Caesar was our favorite. It came with green and white pasta, dehydrated mushrooms, the dressing mix, and toppings in separate packets: croutons and Parmesan cheese. Everything combined to make a delightful dining experience. The 'moist maker' of the concoction are the croutons. These are not the buttery-crispy ones that you get at Outback. They are actually small and have a stale-like hardness to them. The genius is the juxtaposed texture when consumed in the first few minutes of dining. You have the soft pasta with the satisfying crouton crunch in the center. It is kind of like putting Fritos on a turkey sandwich.

The first sign of trouble in paradise was when the mushrooms disappeared from the recipe. It was then that I realized that they too made this a unique dish. The second harbinger was the combination of the croutons and Parmesan cheese into one envelope. I liked to thoroughly mix the Parm into the salad and then sprinkle the croutons separately over each individual serving so that they remained crisp. If mixed into the whole bowl, they loose their crispness by the second helping. The third sign was the disappearance of the product from store shelves.

We decided that we could survive this. We enjoyed the Classic version nearly as much, so we just went with that. It came with the pasta, the dressing mix, a separate packet containing dehydrated peppers and olives, and a packet of Parm (sans croutons). The pasta came in the three colors of the Eyetalian flag and was pleasing to the eye. The veggies added depth to the texture. The dressing was a bit tangier than the Caesar, but good none the less. The Parm, when thoroughly mixed with prepared pasta, soaked up any pooled dressing allowing it to adhere to the pasta.

I do not remember the specific day or instant like I remember November 4, 2008 (wait, that isn't right), November 4, 2008 (that was probably a little over the line), November 4, 2008 (getting warmer), November 4, 2008 (there it is), but when I opened the box, the olives were gone, the dehydrated bell peppers were integrated with the pasta, and that f****** b**** c*** Betty f****** Crocker had cut the m************ Parme m************san cheese out of the recipe s********p********q********r********!!!!

I think that it was a bad day to begin with, and that just capped it off. Why make things worse? Why take the goodness out of little things? Why decrease quality?

About a year and a half later, at a Target store in Foothill Ranch, CA, my wife and I were shopping and we noticed several boxes of the Caesar Salad version on a shelf. Oh joy! Could this be a fluke? Let us not take the chance. We bought the 5 remaining boxes and took them home. That very evening was to be a BLT and pasta salad dinner anyway. I stormed into the kitchen like Ralphie with his prize. I tore open the package, and there it was. It had the pasta (sans mushrooms, but I already knew that). It had the dressing packet. It had!!! That was all that was in there. There was no Parm, no croutons, no other envelopes in the box. I actually opened 2 more of the boxes that we bought just to make sure. What made the Caesar variety special was that stinking pack of croutons and Parmesan cheese. Betty Crocker, you did it to me again.


The dressing mix recipe changed too and it sucks.

We have all had little disappointments perpetrated by the man that alone are insignificant, but together can really create a serious problem. What are yours?


Blogger Benjamin said...

Write an angry letter. Seriously. Take some notes from this guy.

That's pretty messed up, although I never did share your taste for those pasta salads. Ick. Comfort food is as comfort food does, I guess.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Ritz crackers are a staple in my family's larder. Last Holiday season I felt festive, and bought a box of Ritz "Snowflake" crackers. It clearly stated on the box "same great taste" as original Ritz. Not to my palate! These were slightly sweeter and less salty than the original. The difference was enough to detract from the enjoyment of that entire box. So I wrote Nabisco a letter, and got a coupon for a free box of Ritz. Sometimes it pays to speak up.

Last week I was at the grocery store and saw the same Snowflake crackers, in for the Holidays. Apparently my letter didn't convince them to discontinue their ruse. But I didn't bite. Fool me once, shame on you.....

BTW, I would be pissed too if I went through your ordeal. Not only is Betty Crocker lessening quality, they're doing so in a frustratingly inconsistent manner. I say write a letter.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Thanks for pimping my post Ben. I was composing my comment when you posted.

I made a mistake. It was Kraft I wrote to. It doesn't matter. The b*stards are all the same. They'll get you coming and going if you don't watch 'em.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...

I feel a little left out, experience wise. I only have one similar experience with a manufactured food product,a nd it's not the manufacturer's fault. Why, oh why did all the grocery stores in my area stop stocking Ken's Italian marinade? Ken's makes a lot of decent dressings, and their Zesty Italian and Italian with Aged Romano are fine Italian dressings. But my favorite, particularly for moistening pasta salad, is Ken's Italian Marinade. It's very basic oil and vinegar, with minimal spices, but for some reason it's hard for me to duplicate or find a substitute for it.

Another thing that pisses me off is the fall-off in quality and service at one of our local pizzeria's. It started out 20 years ago. When I first moved to town, before my wife and I found an apartment, we went out every night, often to that pizzeria. I got their "personal-sized" artichoke and clam pizza. Nobody else made anything like it and I must have eaten it 8 or 10 times in the first month I lived here. After we were all in our apartment and hadn't been by the pizzeria in a while, we stopped by there and I looked in vain for the artichoke and clam pizza. It wasn't there! I asked what happened. The waitress said they discontinued it because "only one guy ever ordered it"!

Flash forward: my running club has had their bimonthly meetings at that pizzeria for probably 30 years, long before I came here. We always order plenty of pizza and beer. We always get at least three or four pies, and always at least one of them is the "Nittany Valley Running Club Special", a pizza with pepperonis, onions and green olives. Well, they no longer carry green olives! What kind of pizza place stops carrying green olives? They never go bad! And to top it off, their service is in decline. The pizza's are actually pretty good, but that's hard to f* up once you have the recipe down...

You've got me fired up. I'm writing a letter!

4:03 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Marty, I understand your pain. Angostura Worcestershire sauce is, without a doubt, the best kind of Worcestershire sauce out there. It used to be readily available at the local Kroger in Arkansas. They, nor any mainstream grocery store carry it anymore. I find it in very obscure places like one particular USA Drug super pharmacy in Little Rock, and Doll's Grocery in Louisville, KY. Obviously the word of its superiority is not out, otherwise it would be everywhere.

I also understand your pain of declining restaurant quality. The Faded Rose in Little Rock, AR used to be my single most favorite restaurant in Arkansas. After a 2+ year hiatus in California, I revisited it, and it was a completely different place. I think they got rid of some trans fats (read: flavor) or something like that. They traded red snapper for tilapia on their menu. Their signature salad is a whimpy incarnation of its former glorious self. I could go on, but i a nutshell, it was, not is.

Again, I feel your pain.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous J to the D said...

Best. Betty. Crocker. Rant. Ever.

Also, the next time someone cuts me off in traffic, I plan to call him/her a s********p********q********r********.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Faded Rose effed up their salad? Man, that was the only thing I liked there apart from the fried frog legs, and they probably don't serve those anymore either, what with the trans fat thing...

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I wrote a two page letter once to a local pizza joint because they changed the sauce on their "Buffalo" wings to something that tasted more like BBQ. The odd thing is that they also had BBQ (I guess more BBQ flavor) and teriyaki wings on their menu. Among other things, I reprimanded them for continuing to use the name of the proud city of Buffalo on their new concoction. I also told them how their recipe change was symptomatic of a much greater pathology in our culture- changing tried-and-true standards purely out of convenience, or cost savings, or as an attempt to please the common herd.

The old wings were pretty good. The new ones sucked, and we stopped ordering from them. They totally ignored the letter.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

The big question is, are they still in business? Maybe New Englanders can't handle the real deal, and so this guy is catering to the regional taste.

I remember the first wing place that opened near my neighborhood in Southern CA. This was back when wings were first going national, in the early 80s. They had it so wrong, I didn't think it could be remedied. I was dismayed because I thought that this guy, as ambassador to a great Buffalo creation, probably set the wing cause back 10 years in Southern CA. People would say "I had wings in Hermosa Beach. Who would eat that? They suck!"

I was wrong. That place did go under, but eventually better places followed. It didn't take 10 years. But I will say that I made the best wings in Southern California the 7 years I was out there.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I am with you on the wings in Southern California thing. I tried a bunch of places for both good wings and good pizza, but I finally found both in the same place: Oggi's Pizza. It is also a good microbrewery with a near 9% IPA. It took us almost 2 years to discover that place. Fortunately it did not take that long to find either in Kentucky.

There are 2 ironies about SoCal food that I have noticed. The first is with regards to sushi. The American concept of sushi was essentially invented in CA, yet I have noticed that sushi in The South is superior more times than not.

The other irony is that Mexican food in California sucks. Nobody there has heard of cheese dip, and salsa is not what it should be.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

PS, Sam: Love the rant, especially when you totally lose it in asterisk space. But what does Betty Crocker have to do with Imperial Rome?

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...

Sam, where did you live in CA? I thought the Mexican was pretty good there, but of course I had just moved there from Buffalo, which I think still hasn't discovered real Mexican food. Funny, that. Buffalo has some great cuisine, but it's mostly its own cuisine. Working class, European immigrant, down-to-earth. Most of the places that try to do other things are poseurs.

I thought the Asian food in Southern CA was better than any I've had since, though I'm really not that familiar with NYC Chinese.

Where do you live in KY? My brother Paul has lived in Lexington for about 15+ years.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Sam said...


I am surprised that the youngster (Ben) did not comment on the Rome thing. He had the same Latin teacher that I did. It was a weak tie-in with the 4th November 4, 2008 link in that we are about to have way too much government, and we are going to soon fall like Rome did based on our downward moral spiral and our current and soon to increase hemorrhaging of national wealth.


I lived in Foothill Ranch which is a small suburb of Lake Forest, which is a suburb of Irvine, which is a suburb of Orange County, which is a suburb of LA. We really did not venture out of south OC that much, so ethnic influence, if anything, was more Asian that Latino, but it is still Southern California. The style of Mexican food was just different from what I was used to and what I like.

In Arkansas we had a place called Senior Tequila's. They served cold tomato salsa before you even had a chance to open the menu, and they had queso, which is simply melted white cheese. That is a staple of Mexican restaurants in the South. Nobody has ever heard of it that I could find in CA. We do have Sr. Tequila style 'authentico' Mexican food here in Louisville.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Marty said...

And I never got over much to OC. I guess it's like the people who have lived in Manhattan all their lives and have never been to Brooklyn. LA is so frickin' vast. Interesting story: When I went to visit LA for job interviews, I had about a day or so to kill and I drove around quite a bit. I had 3 interviews, two in OC and one in the South Bay (Redondo Beach), but 4 days there. I poked around a lot, visited some of the canyon communities where the rich people live, took a lot of pictures. Later, when I was working there, I showed people some of the pics. Many of them said things like "Where is this? I've never been there!" And these were people who had grown up in LA.

There was a good, genuine Mexican place on the beach in Hermosa called La Playita. Nothing really special, but everything was hand made. I may be embellishing, but I seem to recall this abuela gorda in back of the place rolling tortillas. They made some dang good tamales. Always had a Dodger game on in Spanish. This was back when Fernando Valenzuela was pitching for them, he a national hero of Mexico.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

My wife and I played tourist for the first 2 years there, but we never made it to Hollywood, except when I was there on a project. There are a bunch of places that I regret not visiting, but you can only do so much in 3 years.

From what I experienced, the Mexican food got better the farther inland I went. There was a really good place in Riverside called The(not La as I recall) Villa, which was in a former Pizza Hut building based on the architecture. It was a mom and pop place with a big fat grandma hand making tortillas on the back too.

I will mention this from time to tome, but I really miss CA for all of its faults.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Speaking of repurposed architecture, remember the old Taco Bell that they turned into a chinese restaurant? That was weird. Painted it pink, but kept the clay tile roof. Makes my brain hurt.

7:35 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

The Go Go China over on Rodney Parham? Yeah, that was a weird one.

9:58 AM  

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