19 August, 2014

Hey There! How've You Been? It's Been Awhile...

<turns on the lights, peers around the room>

Anybody here?

It's been a couple years since I had a new post. I'm sorry about the absence, but I think I might be ready to start writing again. I want to start out by thanking those of you who sent messages to me wondering what had happened to me and to the blog, so I'm going to publish a FAQ here. It might run a little long; hope it isn't too TL;DR.

Q. Why did you stop writing?

A. I was tired. Like, really tired, all the time. I didn't have the energy to write much, and I didn't seem to have the inspiration I once had. Out in the Meatworld (as opposed to the Blogworld) I was keeping up with the work I needed to do, but I was wearing myself out more quickly than I used to (and that's despite losing about 125 pounds over the course of 2 years.) It just seemed like life was taking a toll on me, and the blog was just the first thing to give.

And then, early in May 2014, I was at the doc's for a scheduled cholesterol checkup when I told him about a fleeting chest pain I'd been having off and on. A few hours later, I was in the cardiac intensive care unit at a local hospital, on a nitro drip, awaiting an angiogram. On May 9th I had a quintuple bypass and began my second lease on life.

You see, heart disease runs in the family. My father died when he was 58. Most of his brothers went even younger. Although certain aspects of my lifestyle weren't exactly cardio-friendly, it really wasn't a matter of if I was going to have a heart attack, it was a matter of when.

Q. Why are you writing again?

A. After the surgery and the subsequent rehab, I feel a lot more like my old self - more energetic and inspired and ready to giddy up once again. And because I'm still grocery shopping and noodling around in the kitchen and finding strange and/or wonderful things out in the markets, I have things I want to share. So here I am.

Having the bypass has necessitated some changes to my lifestyle, as you might imagine. I use a salt substitute these days instead of salt. I've drastically cut down on my consumption of animal fats and in some cases just stopped eating them entirely (do you know how damn hard it is to not eat bacon?  Or sausage? And I have entirely given up butter! It's killin' me! Kind of.)

Q. So does this mean you're going to turn into one of those boring-ass health freaks who spend all their time bitching about gluten and pork fat and holistic eating and all that crap?

A. NO. I still cure and smoke my own bacon and bluefish and other meats. I still occasionally make sausage, and there is no way I'll stop making capicola and pies with homemade crusts. I will probably not be eating too many blocks of ramen noodles any more - did you know that a package of ramen has like 900+ mg of sodium? - but there are plenty of other cool things to write about that you might find interesting even if you're not being forced at scalpel-point to keep your arteries clear.

So thanks for coming back. I'll try to make it worth your time.


22 November, 2012

Happy Thankgiving!

Not too much time to write because I've got two turkeys in the smokehouse, sides to whip up, and guests coming in a couple hours. But I've got a bunch of new posts coming soon - probably starting tomorrow.  See ya soon!

Yeah, Thanksgiving dinner at HoJo's was just $2.95 in 1963.

02 November, 2012

Out of The Can: Hormel Black Label Canned Ham

Dat Ham

Canned hams have a terrible reputation, and if you've ever had a bite of a really cheap and nasty slice of canned ham, you'd feel that the reputation is actually too kind. I know because I've had some totally unpleasant canned hams.

And now, you're looking at that picture above or a Hormel Black Label canned ham and thinking to yourself, "What a nasty-looking chunk of pink meat." You might even be inspired to try vegetarianism, thanks to that photo.

Well, I have got news for you, my friend. Hormel's Black Label canned ham is surprisingly good - I might even say very good. I prepared it just as described on the label and although it still wasn't much to look at when it came out of the oven, it sliced beautifully. If you've ever had a really expensive deli ham - say, a Boar's Head or Krakus ham - you'll know what to expect from the Black Label. It was firm and delicious, and quite similar to a traditional cured pig laig.

Kudos, then, to Hormel. Finally, I get to review a canned meat that is worthy enough to be actually eaten rather than enter long-term storage in a bomb/zombie apocalypse shelter as a survival food of last resort. We had the ham with peas and scalloped potatoes and it was a great family meal.


01 November, 2012

This time you've gone too far, ALDI

Candy Corn M&Ms

So finally, two seasons after they were introduced, I finally managed to find a bag of White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms. And they SUCK.

  1. The only reason they're called "Candy Corn" M&Ms is because they're coated in white, yellow, or orange shells. They have no actual candy corn flavor. And they're certainly not shaped like candy corn. They're still round.
  2. I doubt they're made of white chocolate. White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, which imparts a faint aroma and flavor of chocolate. There's nothing like that here. Just a cheap-ass artificial vanilla flavor that overpowers everything. It's like eating chunks of hard vanilla cake frosting.
Very disappointing, not worth the time I spent looking for them, and not worth the three bucks I paid for them.


Real Apple Cider

I can not buy apple cider at the supermarket. Every major brand of apple cider, even the ones that are locally or regionally produced, are pasteurized now and pasteurized cider doesn't have the fresh apple snap that cider should have. It tastes like liquid applesauce, and cider should instead taste just like taking a bite out of a fresh-picked apple (minus the crunch.)

For years, I've taken a nearly weekly drive south to Portland CT, to Gotta's, a farm stand on Route 17, which still presses and bottles cider from their own apples. Fresh cider. Unpasteurized, complete with the state-mandated warning label that the cider is unprocessed and might be "bad" for me.

Last week the family and I drove north to Hadley MA and found apple cider from Pine Hill Orchards at one of the farm stands there. This cider is excellent - fresh and snappy and unpasteurized, just like cider should be - and it's also just as sterile as the pasteurized variety.  They do this by exposing the cider to UV radiation as it's bottled.

It would be so awesome if more processors could adopt the UV sterilization process. So many more ciders would taste fresh and snappy again, instead of cooked.

If you have the opportunity to try an unprocessed or UV treated cider, jump at it. You'll be amazed at the freshness of the taste, and you might never settle for pasteurized cider again.


31 October, 2012

Review: Dominique's Snapper Turtle Soup

My only previous experience with turtle soup was the poem in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland:

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green, 
Waiting in a hot tureen! 
Who for such dainties would not stoop? 
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! 
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

So, you can see that I'm totally unqualified to review this stuff in comparison to any other canned or homemade turtle soup (not that that's ever stopped me from reviewing anything else I've found on a grocery store shelf.)

Anyway, as a total Snapper Turtle Soup N00b, I had no idea what to expect. I read the ingredient panel and found stuff like beef stock, celery, carrots, wine, and snapper turtle meat and figured it couldn't be all that bad. So I gambled a couple of bucks and bought a can to give it a try.

Dominique's Snapper Turtle Soup is condensed, so it requires the addition of one can-measure of water before heating. I opened up the can and poured the soup out into a saucepan to find a thick, gelatinous glob the consistency of slightly warming Jell-O, which dropped into the pan with a wet slap. I added the canful of water and stirred with little effect - the brown glue just didn't want to combine with the water. Eventually, I was able to stir it together and put it over the fire. I heated and stirred, but the soup never thinned out. (I've found out since then that snapper turtle soup is supposed to be thick like a gravy, so I guess that's the way it was actually intended to be.)

Mon dieu.
With the soup heated up and ready to eat, I sat down to try it out. It was, in a word, disgusting.

It was thicker than gravy, brown and viscous, swimming with tiny bits of what were probably vegetables, and small squares of spongy, flavorless meat which I think was supposed to be turtle. The flavor was sickening - slightly sour, as though they used the cheapest industrial-cleaning-fluid-grade wine they could find. It took a concerted effort to eat more than the first couple spoonfuls, but it didn't take me long to just give up.

Personally, I would never buy this again. And if this is an example of what snapper turtle soup is like, I'd never order it out, either.


30 October, 2012

REVIEW: McDonald's New CBO (Cheddar Bacon Onion) Sandwiches

A strange thing happened over the weekend: Maryanne and I were out wandering in the car at lunchtime, and found ourselves looking for a quick bite to eat at the very moment that a McDonald's appeared on the road ahead.

Now, you guys all know how much I like McDonald's breakfast and bakery offerings. But you also know I am somewhat less-than-enthusiastic about their burgers. Maryanne kind of half-heartedly said, "There's a McDonald's up on the right," and I think I really surprised her when I replied, "Cool. Let's try out the new CBOs they introduced last week."

We got two sandwiches - one made with crispy chicken, and the other made on an Angus Third Pounder - and cut them in half so we could each try both sandwiches, and added a large fries to share and large coffees.

Out of the two sandwiches, the Crispy Chicken CBO was hands-down our favorite. The cheese and bacon were worthy complements to the chicken patty, and the caramelized onion brought a welcome touch of sweetness to counterbalance the salty bacon (and salty chicken coating.) It reminded us (favorably) of KFC's Double Down, but on a roll.

The Angus Third Pounder CBO was somewhat less successful. For one thing, the patty is far too dry. And because bacon-cheeseburgers have become a fairly standard offering for many a fast-food chain, finding one at McDonald's just isn't that special, even if there is caramelized onions sprinkled atop the patty. (C'mon, there's already an Angus Bacon & Cheese burger on the menu which is almost identical to the CBO.) And though the beef version of the CBO is larger than the chicken, we found it less satisfying because of its ordinariness. When we were done eating, both of wished we'd ordered our own Crispy Chicken CBOs and left the beef ones behind.

A couple of other notes about the ingredients:

  • McDonald's bacon is decent - better than the bacon served on sandwiches at most other chains (I'm lookin' at you, Wendy) but it would be even better if they used thick-sliced bacon instead of standard. 
  • I can't figure out what is so special about their "white cheddar" cheese since it tastes exactly like the orange cheddar that McDonald's uses on every other burger. 
  • The so-called "creamy mustard sauce" is so bland that it might as well be generic Ranch Dressing straight from a supermarket bottle.
My recommendation: Check out the Crispy Chicken CBO (or the Grilled Chicken CBO, for a slightly different take on it) and forget the Angus variety.


28 October, 2012

REVIEW: Mendelsohn's Frozen Lasagna

Single-serve frozen lasagna is one of my favorite lunches, and I'm always looking for new brands to try. So naturally, I grabbed a couple of boxes of Mendelsohn's Lasagna when I found it at The Barn in Greenfield MA.

This is a very simple lasagna - four layers of noodles each separated by a miniscule sprinkling of mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, topped with a generous portion of more mozzarella, and not a bit of ricotta cheese to be found anywhere.

So basically., this "lasagna" is actually just pasta and cheese with some sauce.  And bad sauce it is, with so much sugar it's like eating candied pasta. Too bad, really, because despite the other shortcomings, I would be inclined to buy Mendelsohn's Lasagna again if it weren't for that awful tomato syrup.

On the positive side, it's the only frozen lasagna I've found which is certified Kosher. I guess you should consider that a warning - if you're keeping Kosher and you're relying on Mendelsohn's Lasagna for lunchtime deliciousness you will find only disappointment.

24 October, 2012

Review: Columbus Salame Secchi

If there's one thing I find hard to resist, it's a good salami. (Stop snickering, I didn't mean it that way.) And when I'm browsing along the deli counter at a supermarket and find one I haven't tried before, it's fairly certain that cured meat stick is coming home with me.

And that's how I met this Columbus Salame Secchi, made by San Francisco's Columbus Salame (aka Columbus Manufacturing, Inc.) they've been making cured Italian meats on the west coast since 1917, and Secchi was one of their first products.

It's truly an awesome dry-cured salame, mellow and meaty. It's a great addition to an Italian sandwich, and it's perfect alongside some sharp table cheese, olives, and giardiniera for a snack platter.


Columbus Salame website
Columbus Salame on Facebook