5 Weirdest Supermarket Salad Dressings

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Ranch, Thousand Island, Italian, Blue Cheese--the regular gang is all here at your neighborhood supermarket. Sometimes, however, a few weirdos sneak onto the shelves that we're not sure we're comfortable with dressing our salads. Here are five spotted recently:

5. "Mango Style" (3 Zeros)" Just "mango" sounds okay though maybe a bit too sweet. "Mango Style" sounds like a euphemism for something I don't want near my food.

4. "Chinese Chicken Salad" (Girard's). So much latent strangeness. First, the inclusion of "salad" in the title seems redundant ("Chicken Salad-flavored dressing?). Second, Girard's is proud of the fact that they've been creating salad dressings since 1939 though I'm assuming this particular flavor didn't originate that year given Americans weren't exactly sinophiles, having excluded Chinese immigrants for the past five decades.

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Rum at H-E-B -- Who Knew?

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
"Rum" at HEB.
Houston does not adhere to the same liquor laws as New Orleans, where even pet stores are allowed to sell hard alcohol. Nor does Houston adhere to the same liquor laws Philadelphia, where no booze at all is vended in grocery stores and beer is sold in establishments separate from state-run wine and liquor stores.

With beer and wine available for sale at most grocery stores and harder stuff on offer at Spec's, we are smack dab in the middle.

Well, actually, maybe a little more to the liberal NOLA side now that H-E-B is carrying Rhumbero, a "premium blend" rum.

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5 Best Chocolate Ice Cream Flavor Variations to Try

It's yours for the taking at the grocery store
What's better than chocolate ice cream? [For the love of god, don't say "vanilla ice cream."] Chocolate ice cream mixed with other goodies! If you're looking for a little crunchy, chewy, salty, or sweet variation in your cocoa creams, check out these five flavors:

5. Double Fudge Brownie (Dreyer's).

Craving a brownie sundae but don't have the energy to go through that labor-intensive process of constructing one yourself? Pick up a half-gallon of Dreyer's chocolate ice cream studded with soft chunks of brownie and fudge swirls.

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UPDATED: $10 (or so) Well Spent at Rice University Farmers' Market

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Not bad for farm-fresh eggs.

Update: True Blue Friends has closed its doors and no longer participates in the Rice University Farmers' Market.

I spent five years studying at Rice University and only once did I go to its farmers' market that assembles every Tuesday afternoon from 3:30pm to 6:30pm. That's pathetic. I remember my excuses being something like I didn't have time (lame) or that I didn't have cash on me (more reasonable but many vendors take credit cards).

365 days after I finished, I finally visited the market, which has grown considerably and now boasts more than 18 vendors. I was happy to find more than just produce (a girl can only eat so many vegetables) and fairly reasonable prices on most items.

For a few bucks, you can get monstrous bunches of kale, bright orange bundles of carrots, and, various species of robust squash. More exotic botanical goods are also on offer at the Lavande. Their lavender soaps, oils, and (my favorite) teas ($10-12) permeate the surroundings with a sweet summertime scent I would love to replicate in my home.

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Beyond Cocoa Puffs: Top Other 5 Chocolate Cereals to Try

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
I'm so glad these worlds joined forces.

You know, in theory, morning is probably the best time (metabolically speaking) to eat chocolate since your body will have the rest of the day to burn off the calories. So, there's your justification for eating a Hershey bar for breakfast. Or, if you want to disguise (sort of) your indulgence as a traditional matutinal meal, try one of these five chocolate cereals:

5. Chocolate Cheerios. A good choice for those who usually find chocolate cereals simplistic and cloyingly sweet, chocolate cheerios boasts strong notes of cocoa with the unmistakable oat bran flavor characteristic of original cheerios. I suggest using very cold two percent milk to maximize taste and textural crunch.

4. Special K Chocolatey Strawberry. The chocolate almond variety of Special K is decent, but I prefer chocolate strawberry for the way in which the chocolate chunks and sweet berry slices enliven the rice flakes. Don't know, though, if eating entire boxes in one sitting is part of Kellogg's official weight-loss plan.

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Top 5 Creepiest Baby Foods

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Fruit and fowl puree. Yikes.
The New York Times recently reported that baby food manufacturers have been forced to revamp their products to combat the increasing numbers of parents who are making their own infant grub. Hardly surprising. Have you seen some of the weird sh*t on the shelves that we're supposed to want to feed babies (we're talking developing humans whose age is still measured in months!). Here are five of the creepiest:

5. Apples & Chicken. Apples and chicken are relatively healthful forms of fruit and protein, respectively, though I wouldn't think to put them in combination. And even weirder is that these two items aren't merely "paired" with each other: They're fully blended into one amalgamate puree. What's for dinner, very young Padawan? Chapples!

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
4. Baby Mum-Mum Cookies. When I first privately ranted about these cookies to some of my cousins (all of whom had children), they rightfully retorted that babies really actually did like these snacks, which are preservative-free and made from all-natural ingredients. What still creeps me out about these cookies is their banana shape (why not have the fruit itself?), and more so, the fact that the manufacturer mascot is "Hot Kid." According to a friend more than learned than me in Asian studies, Mum-Mum cookies are actually Taiwanese in origin and made by a company called "Shen-Wang."

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Top 5 Things to Buy at Spec's Besides Booze

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Munchie heaven

Teetotalers need not wait in the car while their friends are making a booze run at Spec's. The multi-location outlet may be most well known for its beer, wine, and liquor selection, but there are many items on offer that you should also consider putting in your shopping cart. And none of them will give you a hangover.

5. Interesting Sodas. If you're looking for a soft beverage to enjoy from Spec's, skip the overpriced juices and instead pick up a bottle or six-pack of one of many non-mainstream varieties of pop in the refrigerator case. From super spicy imported ginger beers to regional coke varieties to Cheerwine, the pride and joy of South Carolina, there's plenty of non-alcoholic fizz to satisfy your thirst.

4. Snack Mixes. Those who find themselves frequenting certain watering holes just because of the complimentary nibble mixes they offer will rejoice in the snack aisle of Spec's. In addition to stocking every make and model of salted/roasted nut, the store also has an assortment of cracker, chip, pretzel, and UCT (Unidentified Crunch Thing) mixes. My favorite is the political incorrectly titled "Oriental Mix."

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No Long Hair, Just Long Noodles at Fabio's Fresh Pasta

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
I missed this place on too many occasions.

As you might have guessed from my recent posts about Houston's terrific ravioli and tortellini offerings, I'm on a bit of a pasta kick. Some readers rightfully pointed out that neither of my Top 5 lists included anything from Fabio's Fresh Pasta, and in truth their exclusion was due only to my own ignorance.

Given that Fabio's is located just a stone's throw away from my house, I know I must have passed it on numerous occasions. But my eyes failed to take notice of its rather understated black-and-gray sign. No patrons spilling out the doors and few cars in the parking lot also perhaps make Fabio's easy to miss.

Fabio's offers extremely limited sit-down dining (i.e., one table) but most people, myself included, venture in to buy the takeout pasta made daily in-house. Varieties of fettuccine and spaghetti (plain egg, spinach, basil, jalapeƱo) are available as well as more complicated types of stuffed pastas such as ravioli (cheese, spinach, lobster!), tortellini (smoked duck!) and mezzaluna (eggplant! chicken!). Fabio's also conveniently sells marinara, pesto and alfredo sauces that you can use to dress your pasta at home.

All of the aforementioned is reasonably priced considering it's hand-prepared and made with quality ingredients. Sorry if you won't pay more than $2 a jar for red sauce that's loaded with sugar and preservatives.
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Top 5 Expensive Pasta Sauces Worth the Price

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Yes, it'll run you more than $5, but your belly will thank you.

Pasta and sauce, the staple of rushed weeknight suppers, can be incredibly cheap and simple to prepare. Or not, if you splurge on the sauce. Although price is not always a reflection of quality, with regards to these five tomato gravies, the quality ingredients and balanced textures actually warrant paying up to $10 (!) for a jar.

5. Mario Batali Alfredo Sauce. The best alfredo sauce is the one you make using butter and cream on your own stovetop. The second best is the one made with butter and cream on Mario Batali's "stovetop," i.e., a totally "green" production plant. This dairy-rich sauce laden with parmigiano-reggiano tastes as if it were made in very small batches...which makes it easier to pass as your grandmother's recipe at dinner parties.

4. Rao's Tomato Basil. "Clean" is the first word that comes to mind when you taste this tomato sauce redolent of Italian gardens in high summer. Bloody fresh tomatoes and pungent basil are laced with just a bit of olive oil to create a pure botanical flavor that enlivens simple string noodles such as cappellini or fettuccine.
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10 Best Things to Buy at Mercantile in Houston

Photo by Molly Dunn
Mercantile has a variety of products from local purveyors, including this granola from Gray Gardens Pantry Provisions.
Take one step inside Mercantile in Rice Village, or in the new location in Montrose, and you realize it's more than just a coffee shop. Mercantile, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary is an adjective describing something that is "of or relating to the business of buying and selling products to earn money." That would explain why the quaint shop sells a multitude of local products, wine, beer, frozen treats and baked goods. It's a miniature specialty grocery store inside an espresso bar and coffee shop.

Mercantile might not be as large as other specialty markets, but it does hold a variety of products you need to buy, other than coffee throughout the day, or beer and wine at night. So, order a latte and scan the store for these ten best items.

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