My Food Hacks

My Food Hacks

I have created this page because I have a reputation for being a go-to resource for food advice. I am terrible at cooking, but I walk around the supermarket with my taste buds wide open and have become the number one person for ice cream news.

Biscuits

Bahlsen Pick Up! biscuit
This is not an M&S photo. Please take my word for it.

The best biscuits on sale are the Bahlsen Pick Up!. They combine standard biscuit wafer with an internal layer of chocolate which is not only the best of both, but is structurally integral enough to be dipped in tea without issue.

Unfortunately you only get five in a pack, because the company wrongly think they are made for lunchboxes. Of the cheaper biscuits, you need to be wary of how small the selection boxes are these days. Play it safe with Bourbon Creams.

Cookies

Cookies are very different to biscuits. All supermarkets sell 'premium' double or triple chocolate cookies (these come in boxes and not packets) which make a good treat. The boxes of flapjacks and millionaire's shortbread are trusty go-to snacks.

However, this is not my hack. There are two little-known secrets to be found at the front of the bakery aisle.

Firstly, the big chocolate chip cookies. Sainsbury's sell the best ones (and often make them half-price) but any brand will do. Take them home but do not eat them. Instead, put them in the microwave. Microwave them for a short time to get a warm treat, but put them on for a long time to have them melt in to a giant brownie. Sometimes I melt five together and eat with a spoon. Trust me with this one.

If you want some to eat cold, you need Tesco's 'cookie and cream'. This is a standard, giant chocolate chip cookie, but with Oreo-style filling in the middle. The infusion of Oreo-inspired snacks is one of the great discoveries of the 21st Century. This goes down particularly well on a hot day.

Dessert Bars

Dessert bars are extremely popular at the moment. The single best item on the menu is available from Scoops, and it is a slab of warm cookie dough. However - and my middle name is not TripAdvisor - while the size of their menu is amazing, I found you got a better quality and especially milkshakes at Sprinkles. I'm a particular fan of strawberry crêpes.

Ice Cream

Ice cream comes in three forms. Firstly, if you want luxury, you should stick to Ben & Jerry's. They're constantly experimenting with new flavours but the Chocolate Core flavours are the best of the regulars.

Be wary of the supermarket own-brand alternatives. They make chocolate brownie or cookie dough accessible, but it feels like a cheap rip-off as you eat it, like the guilty feeling you get when you use a fake Samsung phone. Oreo and Daim ice cream are good but stuck in the middle.

The problem with these pots of ice cream is they're expensive and don't last long. The best compromise available is Tesco Caramel Vanilla, which is always on offer in the UK. It has enough sugar to be a delight but not too much to be sickly.

However that's not my secret hack. Instead it's this: buy a pot of Twix spread (at most supermarkets) or Salted Caramel spread (only the M&S one), and spread it over a standard, cheap lump of ice cream.

Seasonal

Of the Christmas season, chocolate biscuit reindeer are the snack I miss most come Spring. Also be prepared that on 2 December Tesco tend to sell Advent calendars for 10p.

Easter is the real season for chocolate. Again the next-day discount applies for Easter eggs. Mini eggs deserve a shoutout for being one of the best snacks in history.

Creme eggs are great too, if not slightly sickly. The merger of creme eggs and other snacks is a wonder to behold: creme egg yoghurts are worth looking out for, as is a very sickly creme egg ice cream sold at Sprinkles.

Pancakes

Pancakes are to be enjoyed all year round. I don't wish to besmirch the bacon industry - it is a brilliant food - but people are mistaken when they think it's a suitable pancake topping because the two items are perfect on their own right. Bacon pancakes are a lunch in themselves, and this page is about snacks.

For tasty pancakes, you need to stick to the classics: Nutella, strawberry sauce and sugar.

Doughnuts

Krispy Kreme are a bit of a paradox. They will put almost anything on a doughnut: cookie dough, salted caramel, chocolate brownie, and it will set your heart pounding. But after a delightful topping the doughnut base tends to be a disappointment.

Let the dessert bars do the desserts and for doughnuts, you must cautiously stick to the classics, with sprinkles and icing.

Cheesecake

I have never been disappointed by a cheesecake, so I have no warnings to offer. You must look out for the Oreo cheesecake, which is probably the best, followed by the New York cheesecake.

The strawberry cheesecake is a safe bet which Iceland usually sells in the UK for £1. For some reason, Ireland has a ridiculous inflation on cheesecakes where the same product sells for at least €5. I am thinking of smuggling them across the border.

One thing I learned in my lazier days is that if no-body's looking, there's nothing to stop you eating a cheesecake before it has defrosted. If anything it is just as tasty, but with the thrill that you're not supposed to eat it yet.

Other Desserts

If you're making apple crumble, ignore the recipe and make sure your crumble vastly outnumbers the apple. The crumble is the best part. Strawberry crumble is very good too.

Supermarkets sell a large double-chocolate cake which they claim serves eight (so it probably serves about two) which is good if you simply want some cake in your life. They claim you're supposed to microwave it until the chocolate melts, but for a bit of variety you should try it cold too. It's like a whole different meal, and not a bad one.

Chocolate

Chocolate pouches are best

Chocolate comes in so many forms, but if you want a safe go-to, go for the pouches which have become popular recently. Cadbury Caramel Nibbles and Galaxy Counters are good ones to go for.

Smarties and Magic Stars get a shout out for being my personal favourites.

Chocolate Muffins

There is no great surprise here because muffins only come in a few forms: chocolate chip, double chocolate chip, triple chocolate chip, and the deviants will go for raspberry (good) and blueberry (not).

There is an important hack not enough people know though: you must eat it upside down. (The muffin that is.)

You'll probably be aware that when you bite in to the wide top of a muffin, the whole thing crumbles in your hands, meaning you have to keep the paper cup and end up biting it by mistake.

You can avoid this by turning the muffin upside down and biting the base first. Once you've eaten the base, you'll just have the top left, and it will still be strong.

The 'it's better upside down' rule applies to burgers and toast too, by the way.

McFlurry

This is not an ice cream.

New McFlurrys are constantly being marketed and to be honest they're all a bit samey. You might as well stick to an Oreo McFlurry (the same goes for KFC Krush'ems which are slightly better).

The best McFlurry I've ever had was in June 2013. I remember the date. It had both a broken up cookie and a raspberry sauce inside it, and I have never seen anything like it since.

Don't make the mistake of buying a McFlurry when it's hot. It is not a treat, it is a way to have a pot of leaking liquid in your hands before you can blink.

Milkshakes

This is another one where you don't need any advice. Pretty much anything on the Shakeaway menu (bar the silly ones like Cucumber) works. The best ones are the biscuits.

Shakeaway is very expensive considering it only involves somebody using a food blender for you, but you're also avoiding doing any cleaning up. If you're making your own, use chocolate digestives for just-as-good a treat. Break them up as finely as possible and then blend the ice cream for as short a time as you dare.

Frozen Yoghurt

Don't laugh.

Frozen yoghurt is nowhere near as good as ice cream because, for it to work, it has to be served without any of the sugary toppings. Frozen yoghurt does not make you happy.

However if you are worried about the health effects of ice cream (which are a problem if you eat pots of the stuff), you may be surprised if you give frozen yoghurt a go. It is cold and of a similar texture, and your body is fooled into thinking it's the same thing. You can eat a pot of frozen yoghurt without that guilty, bloated feeling ice cream gives you.

Pizza

I can't take the credit for this one, it was spotted by Richie Firth.

With Domino's, you must order garlic butter, ground beef and ham. It is revolutionary. News just in: Tesco recently launched the remarkably similar cheese, bacon and garlic pesto pizza.

Pizza is a complicated subject because Domino's is amazing, even though you know it's the great taste of expensive chemicals and not actual pizza. It's good to limit your exposure to this and instead stick to cheap supermarket pizzas and, for the adventurous, real home-made pizzas instead.

Warning: Steer well clear of the chocolate pizza. It sits in the freezer aisle like an interesting invention, but this is far from the truth. It confuses your taste buds and simply does not work.

Buffet Bars

I am a huge fan of buffet bars, even the terrible ones. I like the fact that you don't need to decide which meal you want and instead you can eat anything, usually for a cheap price. I love the fact there is all-you-can-eat ice cream and cake at the end.

I like it so much I don't mind the fact the quality can be hit-and-miss, and the atmosphere is usually terrible.

The best restaurant I have found in this category - and I have been to a lot of them - is Cosmo. Some of the Chinese all you can eats are really good too, albeit with a smaller menu and higher price.

Before these became a big deal, Harvester's salad bar led the way. It's still good, but they've crumbled under the pressure from rival firms and their most recent menu was a bit of a disappointment.

Pizza people have helped move the industry forward too. Pizza Hut's unlimited salad and unlimited access to the ice cream machine (it feels good to push the kids out the way) is still a good offer which eclipses the pizza. Buy the smallest pizza possible to make way for the good bits.

Eating out in both the UK and Ireland has come a long way in the last 20 years. I like those who are at the forefront of innovation. A lot of family restaurants do free Coke/Pepsi refills these days, but Beefeater must be commended for introducing free refills on fries (check before booking, occasionally it is suspended).

If you want to punch above the family-restaurant, Casa Brasil is my recommendation. It is more expensive but has great staff, a salad bar and unlimited meat.

Wetherspoons

Wetherspoons are a reliable choice for a good menu of cheap food and drinks. However as far as food goes, you must stick to burgers only - it's a rule. In particular, stick to anything with a Jack Daniels' sauce.

Breakfast

A good breakfast is surprisingly hard to come by. For high quality, you need to find a smart, independent café. For a good price and good quality, you can trust Wetherspoons and usually the major supermarkets.

I have yet to try Harvester's breakfast buffet but have heard mixed results. The chain hotels will usually offer an unlimited breakfast buffet for £7 if you book a room with them. I don't endorse the people who walk in to the restaurant and make up a room number to charge it to.

One of the biggest cons of the modern age is this notion that cereal can only be eaten in the morning. With or without milk, all cereals (if you ignore the silly ones like Weetabix and muesli) can be eaten at any time. I keep some in the car for when I get stuck in traffic.

You must appreciate Frosties were only invented to stop children putting sugar on Cornflakes. Also supermarket own brands are just as good as Kellogg's in this field. Other than that, everything goes.

Healthy Treats

I have yet to discover a healthy treat which is all it is cracked up to be. Smoothies are perhaps the best you can do - make sure you're buying one that is real fruit.

In summer I like the pots of tinned pineapple you can buy, but of course they are full of sugar anyway.

Sometimes you will get a Value/Basics grapes (the ones where Sainsbury's put a joke on the pack which briefly implies the product is terrible, like "less crunch but still a good bunch) which are better than an expensive packet. I like grapes. Does anybody really care though?


Please note: I am not paid to advertise any of these products. I can afford my own biscuits. But if anybody would like to send me some, please get in touch. There's also a right of reply: what's right and what's wrong? Get typing that abuse.

© 2017 Johnathan Randall.

Any similarities with real-life events or wealthy international firms is probably coincidental. No products endorsed. I'm powered by Monster Munch.

Tedious about the author bit

I love music, media, news, travelling, old TV shows, lists, driving, trains, planes. Have a fear of boats. Humour is weak at best.

I present radio, I write, I'll be whoever you want to be. I'm not wearing that.


Legally bland

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Any similarities with real-life events or wealthy international firms is probably coincidental. No products endorsed. I'm powered by Monster Munch.


© 2017 Johnathan Randall.