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Monday 27 September 2021

Iceland/Ed's Easy Diner Selection

I've been a bit of a fan of Ed's Easy Diner since a friend dragged me into one some years ago. I'd seen them around - frequently wandering past a London branch while on the way somewhere - but, having eaten in a few diners of that style while on holiday in the States, I had been understandably reluctant to sample a British attempt at replicating the classic American Diner experience. Seemingly Ed's Easy Diner has had some financial difficulties in recent years, and it appears all the London branches have now closed... So perhaps it's fortuitous that Iceland have partnered up with them to create a line of microwaveable foodstuffs from their diner menu.

I picked up an initial selection of these almost two weeks ago, and had planned to write about each one individually, but ended up losing momentum and deciding to make a single, collective post instead. Unfortunately, in the meantime, popular YouTuber and microwave gourmet, Stuart Ashen has already covered some of them.

Still, this is snacks & the single man, so I'm pretty much obliged to mention them, if only to break the excessively long hiatus I've had from this blog.

'Breakfast' Options
3 Pancakes with Bacon & Maple Syrup
I'd always been a bit dubious about the sweet-savoury combination that is pancakes with bacon topped with maple syrup but when I tried it for the first time while while on holiday, as a hotel breakfast, I loved it. Pancakes, bacon and maple syrup shouldn't work, but it does... and the same - more or less - can be said about this frozen option. It works as pretty much a simple 2-stage process in terms of 'cooking' (technically reheating), with the pancakes going in separately, side-by-side, then the bacon going on the side with the pancakes stacked. Once everything's cooked, the bacon gets put on top and the maple syrup poured over the top.

I don't think I've ever had microwaved pancakes before (then again, I wouldn't necessarily know, in some diners) but these were surprisingly good, if perhaps a touch soggy due to condensate. The bacon is a little undercooked by my standards, and not especially flavourful, but I wouldn't tend to expect much from microwaved bacon. The maple syrup is actually genuine maple syrup rather than maple syrup-flavoured goo, and a decent amount is provided. Perhaps not enough for everyone, but certainly sufficient for me. I think my only real complaint would be that there's really not enough bacon... but, as a snack breakfast/brunch/lunch option plucked from the freezer and prepared in so short a time in the microwave, it's better than I'd expected.

A pretty good start to my experience of this new selection, overall, though my second experience of this was somewhat less positive due to the very much not-crispy bacon being, in fact, rather rubbery.

Breakfast Muffin with Hash Brown & Sausage Pattie
This was in my second sampling of the Ed's Easy Diner range, and I had my suspicions that it ran the risk of being pretty plain even as I picked it out of the freezer cabinet. It's literally just a single hash brown, a sausagemeat pattie and a muffin. Frankly, I was surprised that no sauce of any kind was included and somewhat concerned by the absence of any form of egg. Hell, even Iceland's own brand had a mini-omelette. A hash brown is nice, but it ain't a proper breakfast muffin without some egg. Cooking is another multi-stage affair, with each part getting some time in the microwave prior to final assembly.

The end result doesn't taste bad - the sausagemeat pattie is a touch plain, and the hash brown lacks any seasoning, but both came out moist after being blasted in the microwave. Even the muffin survived quite well, without becoming overly soggy at the bottom. However, the absence of any condiment, some egg, or even a slice of burger cheese, renders this a very dull snack. Pretty sure that, if this is on the menu at Ed's Easy Diners, there'd be a bit more to it than this

Burgers & Hot Dogs
Mac'n'Cheese Burger With Bacon
Here's where the selection started to go a little downhill, for several reasons. I have to admit that I wasn't sold on the idea of a burger with added bacon and mac'n'cheese that had to be prepared in a microwave, but this thing let me down before I even started cooking it. It's supplied with the bun frozen together, the tiny portion of bacon frozen to the underside of the bun, the burger stuck to the bacon and the most miserly portion of mac'n'cheese you'll ever see, taking up less than half the capacity of the plastic bag it's supplied in.

Trying to separate the bun led to the top half breaking. Microwaving led the bun to become dry and crumbly. The mac'n'cheese just gets dumped in a bowl of hot water to thaw, then heated briefly in the microwave, while the burger and the bacon worked about as well as could be expected in a microwave. Assembling the finished burger probably would have been easier if the bun hadn't broken.

However, since the burger is part beef, part chicken, it looks anaemic and has very little flavour - some additional seasoning may have worked wonders, but an increased beef content would have been preferable. The mac'n'cheese isn't so vile an addition to a burger as I'd expected, but it's both unseasoned and not particularly cheesy. The main disappointment was that there was barely enough bacon to add any flavour to the finished burger.

There are instructions included for part-cooking this (basically just the bun) with a toaster rather than the microwave but, personally, I'd say the better option would be to set the bun aside ahead of time to thaw on its own. Toasting it at that point might prove more effective, but use of a microwave is absolutely not recommended for the bun.

Chilli Dog
This is another one I didn't have high hopes for, not least because my relationship with hot dogs generally hasn't been great. I like the idea of hot dogs - particularly the smokiness of a really good one - but some of the ones I've had, even in bricks-and-mortar diners, let alone from supermarkets, have been pretty awful. Add to that, my experience of any chilli other than freshly-made has been diabolical, and so-called 'nacho cheese sauce' is frequently vile.

So imagine my surprise when this turned out to be pretty delicious... Although, thinking back, I can't say that any individual component was outstanding. The sauce is fairly inoffensive, pretty bland, even. The chilli is a little thin, but the flavour is OK and, coupled with a halfway decent hot dog, it works quite well. The main downside - and this is kind of a running theme with the line - is that the bun doesn't do well in the microwave. The outside becomes dry and flaky, and the cut for adding the hot dog isn't really deep enough so I ended up cutting it a little deeper before loading it up.

This one had also cooled down quite a bit before I took my first bite - I wasn't very organised, and didn't bring a camera into the kitchen until after I'd assembled the hot dog. These kinds of things really have to be eaten piping hot, lest the unnatural textures and weak flavour become too apparent.

Classic Hot Dog
My subjectively positive experience with the Chilli Dog encouraged me to give this version a whirl, since it's a more traditional, simple hot dog. Coming just with a sachet each of mustard and ketchup and a sachet of crispy onion pieces, its preparation is far simpler - thaw the sauces, irradiate the bun, then the hot dog, put the two together, add the sauces, and then sprinkle over the onion...

...Unfortunately - and surprisingly, given that the hot dog itself is surely identical to that included in the Chilli Dog box - this one really didn't work for me. The bun dried out so much that it just broke in half when I tried to put the hot dog into it, the sauces were beyond bland, the onion was virtually flavourless and not remotely crispy, while the hot dog had the consistency (and something approaching the flavour) of rubber. I was able to finish it, but it's left me less enthusiastic about picking up the Chilli Dog again, in case I just got lucky with the first.

Pepperoni Stonebaked Pizza
While I'm a conscientious objector when it comes to microwaving pizza (with the exception of leftovers from the night before - they're fair game), I'm quite a fan of frozen pizza generally, even though the excessive oiliness of some - Iceland's own brand in particular - can sometimes upset my stomach. My first impression of this, just going by the box, was that it was small to the point of being wholly inadequate as anything other than a snack, or as just one part of a larger meal. Opening up the box revealed - to no-one's surprise - that the pizza itself is appreciably smaller than the box, not least in terms of height when laying flat... You could probably fit three of them in the box, two at least.

Nevertheless, after a brief burst of microwave radiation, I'd have the describe the pizza as reasonably competent. Naturally, it's more base than topping, and there's a paltry fraction of the cheese depicted in the product shot on the box. Naturally, the act of microwaving it leaves the underside a little sweaty, but the same can be said of any and all microwave pizzas.

Taste-wise, it's certainly not bad, though I found the pepperoni a little anaemic, lacking the punch even of some of Iceland's own brand products, and certainly not as good as the Chicago Town 2-pack mini-pizzas or pizza subs which, I would say, are one of this product's closest analogues. As expected, though, I was still rather hungry after polishing this off.

2 Waffles with Chocolate Sauce
I had a great sense of foreboding about this since, when microwaving things from frozen, there's a certain inevitability of one of two outcomes: it'll be too dry (like the burger and hot dog buns above) or it'll be desperately soggy... and neither is conducive to the enjoyment of waffles.

Granted, as with the burger buns - and even the pancakes - there's the option to heat them in the toaster and, upon reflection, that would seem to be the better - perhaps only - method for this dessert. Because, following the microwave instructions to the letter here, the end result was droopy, soggy waffles. Sure, they tasted OK, but part of the waffle experience is the delightful, subtle crunch surrounding the still-moist innards, and the way they soften as the sauce or ice cream start to soak in. There's something truly sad about a waffle that sags, since their lattice structure is intended to keep them rigid while minimising the amount of mixture needed to make them.

The only other let-down was the chocolate sauce, which was very, very sweet and not particularly chocolaty. This is fairly common with things called 'chocolate sauce', which can sometimes be so sugary they burn the back of my throat. This was was just a bit gunky, so I'll probably give the version with salted caramel sauce a go at some point... Making sure I cook the waffles in the toaster.

The Ed's Easy Diner range presents very much a hit-and-miss selection, not just in its individual products, but in repeat experiences of those products. Having now had a second set of the pancakes'n'bacon, I've been put off trying them again because the fat on the bacon was like chewing gum. I wouldn't touch most pre-packaged burgers with a bargepole simply because my experiences of supermarket meat-based burgers have been largely regrettable. I may try the Chilli Dog again but, having disliked the 'Classic' version so thoroughly, I'm not convinced it would be worth the risk, even at the typically low Iceland price.

The bottom line, I guess, is that none of these would be especially difficult or time-consuming to make from scratch, seasoning to taste, and adding such condiments as are desired. Hell, I've already done it myself. The Breakfast Muffin was particularly dull and, given that sauces were included in pretty much every other product, it's baffling that there wasn't even a sachet of ketchup included.

Your mileage may vary. Your experience and expectations of burgers, sausagemeat patties and hot dogs may be very different from mine. However, I can be reasonably certain that either thawing the buns naturally, rather than relying on a microwave, or using the toaster where possible, would yield better results.

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