30 April, 2008

The New Burger King Steakhouse Burger

Burger King introduced another new burger to their menu recently. Thanks to a buy-one-get-one-free coupon in the paper last week, my daughter and I tried out the new Steakhouse Burger.

Burger King advertises it as "Angus Beef, melted cheese, crispy onions, lettuce and tomatoes, all smothered in A-1 Thick & Hearty Steak Sauce." Their model burger (pictured in the photo at left) shows the idealized presentation, and it certainly is enough to make your mouth water. Too bad the reality doesn't come anywhere near that lovely fantasy.


To be fair, no one expects the real-life burger to look anything like the pictures, but you should be aware of a couple of really significant differences: For one thing, Burger King really doesn't use curly leaf lettuce as a rule. They use whatever they can get most cheaply, and around here that means iceburg lettuce that's been roughly cut to fit. And there are no red tomatoes in New England in April, so our burgers were topped with two sad-ass slices of barely pink flavorless things that resembled tomatoes if you squinted from three feet away. You can pretty much forget about the big handful of "crispy onions" promised in the advertising, too. You'll be lucky to get the barest sprinkling of fried onion straws and they will likely be found in a tiny puddle of A-1 sauce. It adds up to a kind of slapped-together oversized gimmicburger that probably isn't going to be on the menu for very long (not too surprising, actually, since Burger King holds the record for largest number of failed sandwiches introduced and then later quietly dropped from their menu.)

But the strangest - and most offputting - thing about the Steakhouse Burger is the meat. Burger King says it's made with Angus Beef, and that may be true, but by the time it goes through their processing and into your mouth it's barely recognizable. My daughter and I noticed it with the very first bite: the meat is spongy and feels almost artificial. There's a weird "enhanced" flavor to it as well - we identified it as related to the "Grill Flavoring" found in many other processed foods. A quick trip over to Burger King's website reveals the reason for the strange taste and mouthfeel of the meat - the ingredients listed are: Beef, Encapsulated Salt (Salt, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil), Flavorings, Beef Fat, Beef Stock, Dextrose. Every other burger on BK's menu has only one ingredient: "100% USDA inspected Ground Beef (Fire-Grilled)." Why did they think they needed such an overprocessed patty for the Steakhouse Burger?

As tempting as the Steakhouse Burger may look in the ads, it really isn't worth the price. The garbage pile of flavors compete with rather than compliment one another, and the "salty bouillon sponge" taste of the beef will give you the impression that Burger King is trying to dress up a substandard patty rather than provide an actual high-quality "Angus" product. If you have a hankering for a Burger King burger, you'd be far better off with a Whopper or a Stacker - at least then you can be sure of getting unadulterated 100% ground beef.

Links:
Burger King's website
Burger King's Ingredient Listings
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Ramen Review 5: Nissin Seafood Flavor Ramen (Imported)

In the United States, Nissin is the company that brings us the "Top Ramen" and new "Choice Ramen" brands. If you're lucky enough to have an Asian supermarket nearby, though, you'll find that they also produce a huge line of other ramen flavors that never make it to mainstream grocery stores in the States. This seafood flavor variety is one example.

Ease of Preparation: 8/10
Drop it in a bowl, add the soup base and boiling water, cover, and allow to stand for about 5 minutes. Or, cook in a microwave for 3 minutes and allow to stand for a couple of minutes before eating.

Vegetable Packet: Not included.

Seasoning Packet: 8/10
The seafood-flavor soup base that comes with the ramen is, like most other ramen soup bases, primarily salt and MSG. But there is also a rich and delicious seafood flavor that is hard to describe - it is reminiscent of clams, crab, squid, and scallops and yet unlike any of these.

Taste: 8/10
Elusive seafood umami = WIN

Spiciness: 0/10 - This is not marketed as a spicy ramen.

Overall: 8/10 - Delicious.

Links:

29 April, 2008

Ramen Review 4: Fashion Food Oriental Flavor Instant Noodles

Ease of Preparation: 9/10
This ramen comes with it's own bowl and lid; just pop off the shrinkwrap, empty the packets inside into the bowl with the noodles, and pour in boiling water to the fill line. Cover, let it sit for 3 minutes, and it's ready to eat.

Vegetable packet: 1/10
Skimpy little cellophane pouch with a miserly few bits of dehydrated spring onion tops, some of which were faded and yellowed.

Seasoning packets: 9/10
The main seasoning packet is little more than salt, pepper, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and MSG, but it makes for one of the most delicious instant soup bases ever. There is also a palm oil pouch for a touch of fat, and a small envelope of ground hot chiles.

Taste: 8/10
The dark tan noodles are a little coarser than fine Japanese ramen, but the umami-filled broth makes up for it.

Spiciness: 6/10
Medium-level heat. Fans of really spicy ramen will want to add additional chile pepper.

Overall: 8/10. Recommended. This is one of my favorite ramen. Fashion Foods gets bonus points for including a small plastic fork inside the bowl, and for the lidded bowl itself, which is great for keeping at work and reusing for other ramen that doesn't come with its own container.

Related Link:
Fashion Food's Website (English Language page)

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28 April, 2008

Fishy Delights 15: Reese Lightly Smoked Brisling Sardines

I don't think I have ever had better sardines than these Reese Lightly Smoked Mediterranean Style Brisling Sardines with Black Olives in Olive Oil.

Tiny, tender fishies perfectly prepared - no guts remaining, no undercooked skeletons, no disgusting scales. The delicate smoke flavoring compliments the fruity olive oil, sweet red pepper, and Italian herbs in which they're packed.

Related link:
Reese Specialty Foods

Fishy Delights 14: Roland Lightly Smoked Sardines

Lightly smoked sardines in soybean oil with a bit of salt added. These are large coarse chops of pilchard and they really aren't worth even the piddling 90 cents I paid for them at the job lot store.

The huge size doesn't bother me, nor does the minimally-cleaned abdominal cavity. I can overlook the soft-cooked bones that bristle from the cut surfaces. But even though the flavor of the fish is decent, with just the right amount of smoke and maybe a touch too much salt, the goddamn fish still have the scales on. I loathe unscaled sardines, and there is no excuse in the world for it.

Brunswick has proven that large sardine cuts can be sold without any loss in quality at all. There isn't any reason why the same can't be done by Roland.



21 April, 2008

Making Bacon at Home

For the past couple of years, I've been making bacon at home. I don't do it to save money; by the time I've bought the pork belly, seasonings, cure ingredients, fuel and chips for the smoker, and so on, I really haven't saved all that much. No, I do it because I love the different flavors I can achieve with different cures and because I like the results better. Commercially-made bacons are often injected with their cure - pumped up with moisture and extra sugars that make for a wetter, sloppier product. You've probably cooked bacon like that. It leaves puddles of salty white water or sticky residue in your frying pan, but before now you didn't really know why.

Making bacon at home is a time-consuming process, but not a very hard one. The steps are simple:
  1. Cure the bacon
  2. Dry the meat off so the smoke will "take"
  3. Smoke the bacon
  4. Chill the bacon so it's easier to slice
  5. Enjoy!
Starting the Cure

I'll give you three separate recipes - you can choose whichever one that works best for you, or you can do what I did for this article and make a batch of all three. You'll notice that all the recipes include an optional ingredient called Morton TenderQuick. This product, made by the Morton Salt Company, is salt combined with a very small amounts of sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate. If you are concerned about nitrites and nitrates in your diet, you may leave them out when you make your bacon, but remember that they not only inhibit the growth of harmful bacterias, but they preserve the wonderful pink color of the lean parts of the bacon. In the tiny amounts used in the recipes, I believe them to be harmless, but you can make your own decisions about this.

First, my "default cure." I make a "hot smoked" bacon which turns out a ready-to-fry but fully cooked product very similar to Russian Bacon. Because of this, I have had a lot of success with a brine cure:

1/2 gallon water
1 cup of Kosher or pickling salt
1 tsp Morton TenderQuick curing salt (optional)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a container and stir vigorously until the salts and sugar has dissolved. You can add other flavoring ingredients to the brine, if you like - bay leaves, mustard seed, thyme, sliced ginger, sage (pretty much anything that tastes good with pork and smoke) - to vary the flavor. Immerse the pork belly into the brine - making sure the pork is completely submerged - and refrigerate for five to seven days.



If you prefer a "dry rub" you can get excellent results with this honey cure. You'll need:

1 lb chunk of pork belly (or larger)
2 ounces honey
2 tablespoons (or more) coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup salt
1 tsp Morton TenderQuick (optional)

Pat the pork belly dry with paper towels, then rub it all over with the honey to form a thin but uniform coating on all sides. Next, roll the coated pork in the black pepper until all surfaces are covered with pepper. Finally, rub the entire surface well with salt to which the TenderQuick has been added. The pork belly should be covered with a nice thick layer of salt.


This is what the pork will look like when you have the cure properly packed around it. The pepper will be showing through the salt layer, and the honey will be seeping though a bit. If you have a vacuum sealer, put the bacon along with all the salt sticking to it (and whatever of the salt/honey/pepper mixture you can gather up with your hands from the cutting board) into a vacuum pouch and seal it tight. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, use a heavy-duty zipper-closing freezer bag. Try to press out as much of the air as possible from the bag as you seal it up. Refrigerate while curing for five to seven days.



Another dry-rub cure you can try is this "savory cure" using herbs for extra flavor:

1 teaspoon Morton TenderQuick
3 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Mix all ingredients well and rub into the pork belly on all surfaces. Seal in a vacuum pouch or a heavy freezer bag and refrigerate while curing for five to seven days. This recipe will make enough cure to do a five-pound slab of bacon, so if you only have a small one-or two-pound piece, don't feel that you have to use up the whole batch.



Curing Time

For brine-cured bacon, just leave the container with the submerged pork alone in the refrigerator for about a week. Check every now and then to be sure the brine is reaching every part of the meat. If you have more than one piece of pork in the brine, turn them every day or so to make sure the same parts of the pork aren't pressed up against each other all the time (the surfaces that are pressed against each other don't get exposed to the brine as well.)


For dry-rub cured bacon, you will notice after a few hours that the rub has begun to draw moisture out of the pork and form a brine all its own in the bag. If you're using a loosely-fitting sealed zipper bag, you should turn it over twice a day to make sure all surfaces of the meat stay exposed to the salty brine evenly. As the days go by, more brine will form.

The picture at left shows the curing pork after about three days in the zipper bag.



Brine will still form in a vacuum-sealed bag, but there's less room for it to move around. Once a day, take the sealed bag out of the refrigerator and gently massage the surfaces of the meat through the plastic. This helps ensure that the undissolved salt and other seasonings stay evenly distributed.

The picture at left shows the pork after a few days in the vacuum bag.




Finishing the Cure

After about a week has passed, the bacon is cured and should be ready to smoke. Remove the bacon from the cure and rinse it under cool running water. You'll only need a light rinse with brined bacon, but if you used a dry salt cure you'll need to lightly rub the bacon under the water stream to remove all the brine and undissolved salt and bits of herb, etc. Ground pepper might still stick to the meat. You can leave that on if you like.

Pat the bacon dry with paper towels and put it on a wire rack, rind (skin) side down, to dry for a few hours. Smoke doesn't adhere well to wet meat, so the pork needs to air until the surface feels kind of dry and even a little sticky. This sticky surface is called a "pellicle" and is formed when surface proteins on the meat dry out and harden a little. This extra step not only gives the bacon a better texture, but also improves the ability of the smoke to flavor the meat. Don't skip it.

In the picture, I have three different cures drying in preparation for the smoker. At the top is the savory bacon. On the right you can see the honey-cured piece, and in front on the left is the brine-cured variety. Notice that the two pieces of bacon on the left still have the rib bones attached to them. We'll talk more about that later.



Smoking

At left is the smoker, loaded and ready to go. You may not have the same type or model smoker as I do, but you should be familiar enough with your own equipment that I don't have to tell you how to perform this step. Just remember to keep the bacon spaced out enough so that the smoke can flow freely around the meat and expose the entire surface to the smoke.

From top to bottom in my smoker:

Racks holding the bacon, placed rind (skin) side up

A pan of water. This provides humidity in the smoker and also catches and cools any fat that might drip from the bacon as it smokes. Just allowing the fat to fall into the coals will not only cause hot flares, but the burning fat will leave an unpleasant flavor and color in the bacon.

Under the water pan is a shallow tray filled with lava rocks. It is made of stainless steel and perforated with big half-inch-diameter holes to let the flames from the burner through. It sits on a heavy steel rack holding it above the burner. When the lava rocks heat up, wood chips soaked in water are scattered upon them and smolder slowly, releasing their flavor.

Below the lava rocks, of course, is a bronze burner to provide heat.

I usually light the smoker about a half an hour before I'm ready to put in the meat. This gives the water and the lava rocks time to heat up. That way, I can load the meat in, throw on a handful of chips to start the smoke, and close the door.

Once the bacon is in the smoker and the smoke has started, keep the temperature inside the smoker at about 225 to 270 degrees F. The idea is to slowly cook the bacon without rendering out very much of the fat (a small amount will "sweat out" during the smoking process, but you will be surprised at how little it is!)

Keep an eye on the vents and when the smoke slows down, add more chips to keep a constant flow of smoke. You'll want to keep a small bucket of water handy with a handful or two of chips soaking so they are wet and ready when they need to be added to the lava rocks.

Smoke the bacon for about three hours. You'll know it's done when the skin has softened and pulled back from the edges of the meat and the bacon feels firm when pressed. The color should be a rich deep golden brown.




Remove the bacon from the smoker and place on a wire rack over some absorbent paper to cool. When the bacon is at room temperature, wrap it tightly in butcher's paper, plastic, or aluminum foil and refrigerate until completely chilled. This will "set" the juices in the lean parts of the bacon and firm up the fat, making the bacon much easier to slice for frying.

Remember also that after smoking, the bacon is fully cooked. That means you can enjoy it like Russian bacon, thinly sliced cold without additional cooking. A friend of mine once said: "Uncooked hot-smoked bacon is one of the great decadences." I agree.




This moment is what makes it all worthwhile: Beautifully cured, perfectly smoked bacon, sliced and ready to fry or to just eat with some good black rye bread and sliced onion.


Useful Link:

Morton Salt's Meat Curing page - tons of great information about home meat cures and Morton curing products.







One last thing...


Remember those rib bones that were on the belly as it cured? Just before slicing the bacon, run a sharp knife under the bones and remove them from the bacon slab. Briefly fry, broil, or barbecue them and serve them just the way they are. Delicious, bacon-flavored spare ribs! Don't think of them as a by-product, think of them as an extra-special bonus treat.

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20 April, 2008

Friendly's Royal Razz

Behold Friendly's Royal Razz, their newest bluest beverage! Tastes like Sprite with blue raspberry syrup added, and it's served in a tall 20-ounce mug with a big huge wide bendy straw and a maraschino cherry. (They'll put an extra cherry in if you ask.)

It's a delicious treat if you love blue food the way I do, though since I've been weaning myself off of sugary stuff I find it a little too sweet for my taste nowadays.

Bonus coolness: You can take the straw home if you want. If I were still 10 year old, that straw would make drinking anything at all much more fun.

You'll find the Royal Razz on the Kid's Menu at Friendly's. When adults ask for one the waitress looks at you a little funny, but they bring it anyway.

Link:

Friendly's Restaurants website.

16 April, 2008

Fishy Delights 13: Ocean Prince Fish Steaks with Green Chilies

I never know what I'm going to find when I open one of these under-a-dollar tins of fish. This time, I was pleasantly surprised.

The fish steaks - cross-cut pieces of largish sardines, tightly packed standing on end - were in very little oil. They were of good quality: no scales or larger bones, no coarse fins, no disgusting entrails. The fishmeat itself was a little rough and had some bones, but they were rendered soft by processing and weren't any worse than I've found in other large canned sardines.

Packed under the fish steaks was a layer of thinly sliced green chile peppers. They looked like serranos or maybe very small and thin jalapenos. These were deliciously spicy - enough heat to be noticed over the fish and even through the oil, but not enough to be uncomfortable; a pleasantly mild burn without much ability to linger. The can said that the fish were lightly smoked, but if that is so the smoke flavoring was so subtle that I couldn't tell.

Curiously, I found the fish to be not salty enough and needed to add just a bit.


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The Best Out-Of-Season Tomatoes

I rarely eat fresh tomatoes out of season because they are so bad - watery, mealy, flavorless, crunchily unripe even though the skin may be red - they're usually just nasty. I would rather do without tomatoes until July and August when my garden is in full fruit than settle for the overpriced, sour red corkballs that fill the supermarket's produce aisles.

And then one day at Costco I noticed a selection of tomatoes packed by Mastronardi Produce, a huge hydroponic growing operation in Ontario, Canada.

The bright-red fruit, still on the vine, is packed in transparent plastic "clamshell" containers offering full visibility of the contents: blemish-free, almost supernaturally-perfect looking tomatoes. The beautiful Romana tomatoes I bought even smelled of summer - earthy green vines and deep sweet redness, just like a freshly-picked tomato would smell.

True to their promise, these tomatoes are extraordinary. Although they don't measure up to an earth-grown, full-season garden tomato, they are by far the best "winter tomato" I've ever had - more than a match for the first-of-the-season fruits trucked in to New England from Florida or New Jersey.

Mastronardi has quite an extensive line of fresh vegetables produced hydroponically. You can check out their website here.

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15 April, 2008

New Doritos Blazin' Buffalo & Ranch

Frito-Lay has introduced another flavor to their Doritos Tortilla Chip line up: Blazin' Buffalo and Ranch.

There's really nothing here to get excited about; the main flavor is pretty standard Doritos Nacho Cheese with a couple trace elements of other flavors. The strongest of these other flavors, "Blazin' Buffalo," is made up of tomato powder, sodium diacetate (giving the chips a noticeable vinegar bite) and paprika extract (providing for some hot-pepper spiciness.) Sour cream powder, cream powder, and buttermilk solids are the main components in the "Ranch" flavoring.

What is most impressive about the chips, however, is their utter mediocrity. The spice is insufficient for a real burn - and has very little lingering qualities - and the ranch flavoring is almost lost behind the strong nacho cheese.

An interesting novelty that could have been so much better.

Links:

Doritos website - A bloated Flash-powered vanity site with little to recommend it.
Frito-Lay's Doritos page - Information and details on a standard page. It's not nearly as pretty, but it won't overload your browser and suck system resources.

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08 April, 2008

First Grilled Steaks of the Season!

It was sunny and mild today - a perfect day to fire up the charcoal grill. I picked up two 18-ounce porterhouse steaks on the way home and we enjoyed perfectly-cooked charbroiled beef for supper.

These are my suggestions for a perfect grilled steak:
  • Start with well-marbled steaks from the loin, short loin, or rib section of the beefer. They should be at least an inch thick, though 1½ to 2 inches is even better - that will be an 18- to 24-ounce steak
  • Use a kettle grill, iron hibachi, or other "deep" grill design that allows a thick bed of very hot embers to quickly sear the meat while the interior temperature of the cut rises. Remember that searing the meat doesn't "seal in the juices" but instead forms a caramelized crust that is loaded with flavor. That's the real reason for searing.
  • Use real hardwood charcoal, not briquettes. It doesn't matter whether the charcoal you are using is old scrapwood (pallets, oak flooring scraps, etc.) or sawn aged wood. What does matter is that briquettes contain a lot of garbage in them, including chemicals to help them burn slowly and evenly. Natural hardwood charcoal burns hotter and cleaner and meats cooked over it taste better.
  • Don't use petroleum lighter fluid! Light your charcoal in a charcoal chimney using paper, fatwood, or a commercial lighter cube which won't impart off odors or flavors to the food.
  • Use a clean grilling surface. Scrub the gridiron to remove old grease and bits of carbonated foods, but don't work too hard to try and get a perfectly chromed surface. A little bit of seasoning to the grill will help keep foods from sticking just like it does in a cast-iron pan.
  • Let the gridiron heat up a few minutes before putting on the steak. Remember that part about "searing!"

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07 April, 2008

Lunch at A. Dong Supermarket, West Hartford CT

A. Dong Supermarket is the largest and most well-stocked Asian Supermarket in Connecticut. A full-service supermarket, the departments include aisles devoted to housewares, various ramen noodles, Japnese candies and snacks, and more - and there's even a gift shop to one side up front.

The front of the produce/meat section includes a hot and cold lunch counter, where you can get roasted pork, duck, or chicken, various noodle dishes, soup, bahns, and so on - ready to eat, or to take home to heat and eat. It's noisy and crowded at lunchtime, with people jostling to place their orders and deli workers with razor-sharp Chinese butcher knives chopping pork and duck into thin strips and packing them into take-out trays.

We stopped in on a recent Sunday to do some regular shopping and picked up a light lunch on the way out, picking up bahn bao and bi cuon to chase off the mid-afternoon munchies.

Bahn bao is a Vietnamese steamed dumpling about the size of a baseball. The dough is slightly sticky, but firm and light, neutral in flavor. It's gathered up around the filling (a few slices of Chinese sausage, half a hardboiled egg, and some ground pork seasoned with ginger and scallion, like the center of a wonton) and the bahn is then steamed. Dong's bahn bao are absolutely delicious.

We also bought a tray with a few bi cuon, a Vietnamese pork roll made with rice paper wrapping up a filling of finely julienned pork and pork skin, bean sprouts, noodles, cucumber slices, mint leaves, and ground brown rice. These were served with a few small hot bird's-eye chiles and a small cup of fish sauce for dipping, and they were as delicious as the bahn.

A. Dong Supermarket
160 Shield Street
West Hartford, CT 06110

They are the anchor of the Shield Street Shopping Plaza and the store is set back from the road - be careful you don't miss it as you go by!

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Ramen Review 3 - Mama Whole Wheat Ramen, Pork With Black Pepper

Ease of Preparation: 9/10.
Empty the seasoning packets into a bowl, add noodles, pour on about 2 cups of boiling water, and cover for three minutes. Lift the cover, stir, and serve. As easy as it gets.

Vegetable packet: None.

Seasoning packets: 7/10
There were three packets. Pork flavored broth envelope with powdered black pepper; a palm oil packet with some thickeners, more finely ground black pepper, and salt; and a small chili pepper packet that was pretty wonderful all on its own with roughly ground smoky chili peppers, fairly hot but richly flavorful.

Taste: 7/10
The broth had loads of umami, thanks to the salt and MSG in the packets, but was much more artificial tasting than even cheap Maggi pork bouillon cubes. Still, the fruity aroma and sharp bite of freshly ground pepper made up for the pork's shortcomings, and even better was the way in which the black pepper and the dried ground chile pepper accented and intensified each others' heat.

Spiciness: 8/10
Good burn, not so hot as to be uncomfortable but several notches above what Western food companies call "spicy."

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Recommended.

Links:
Thai President Foods Public Company Ltd.

03 April, 2008

A&W Float

Cadbury-Schweppes Americas Beverages (CSAB) owns A&W Root Beer, along with more than twenty other famous beverage brands. Recently, they've introduced "Floats," a drink that is supposed to be "everything a real ice cream float should be," according to their advertisement. CSAB says on their website that "The Floats concept was one of the highest scoring product ideas from our Discovery Innovation Group. This group is challenged to find and create new product ideas across our brand portfolio."

Apparently, the Discovery Innovation Group is facing a challenge for which they are not prepared: the A&W Float beverage is such unmitigated swill that I am stunned that it was ever given a green light.

The label claims that it is "a creamy blend of rich A&W and ice cream flavor," but there is nothing - absolutely nothing - about this flat, watery dung-colored slurry that can be considered "creamy," "rich," or even remotely reminiscent of ice cream. The very name of the product is a lie, but who can blame them for that? After all, if they wanted to be honest about it, they would have called it A&W Brown Fluid Left In Your Glass Overnight After You Drank Most Of Your Float And Then Dropped A Couple Of Ice Cubes In It To Melt Overnight And Make It Even More Disgusting. If they had done that, however, they probably wouldn't have sold very many of them.

Here are some highlights:
  • Hardly a delight to the eye, A&W Float pours into the glass as a thin, watery, greyish-brown opaque liquid, about as appetizing as scooping a ladle of water from a mud puddle.
  • The level of carbonation is bizarre. It's nowhere near fully carbonated like a soda pop, but it isn't uncarbonated like Kool-Aid. It's much closer to what your drink would be like if you shook it up, let it foam off, and then sit open overnight. It goes beyond "flat" to just plain unpleasant.
  • Artificial flavors and skim milk do not equal ice cream.
  • The label actually lists nitrous oxide as an ingredient to help make the drink "foam." That's just stupid. No matter how I poured it - including ways that were recommended on the package - there was no "foam" involved other than a thin layer on top that was meant to resemble melted ice cream, I guess.
  • It costs about $1.50 for an 11.5 ounce bottle. Yeah. 11.5 ounces. The company has to skim half a lousy ounce from the standard so they can squeeze out a few extra bucks.

I guess if I were really pressed, I could come up with a couple of good things to say about this stuff.
  • They use sugar to sweeten it (no high-fructose corn syrup.)
Well, I guess I could only come up with one good thing to say about it.

Links:

The Floats website.
The A.V. Club hates it as much as I do.


Bernie's Dining Depot, Chicopee MA

Bernie's Dining Depot, on James Street in Chicopee MA, is one of the best places in the Connecticut River Valley to go for a prime rib dinner. Their standard cut (shown above with a quarter on the plate to give you an idea of the size) is a carnivore's delight - I'm pretty sure it weighs in at about two pounds - and they have an even larger portion for huge appetites, called the "Conductor's Cut."

Huge portions and reasonable prices aside, one of the best reasons to eat at Bernie's is their main dining room. It is actually a genuine Pullman railroad dining car, meticulously restored. Most of the tables in the car and in the attached original diner building only seat 4 or, at most, 6 people, so keep that in mind if you plan to go out with a bunch of friends.

Bernie's Dining Depot
749 James Street
Chicopee, MA 01020
(413) 539-9268

Call for reservations, especially if you plan to go on a Friday or Saturday night. It's a popular place.

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01 April, 2008

Hebrew National Breakfast Sausage

My local supermarket had Hebrew National's new Beef Breakfast Sausages on sale, and the manufacturer was trying to drum up interest by sticking an "instant coupon" on the front of the box for $1.00 off. So I decided to give them a try.

I have certain expectations when I buy breakfast sausages. They should taste of coriander, sage, thyme, and paprika, for example. They should be at least a little spicy.

I don't know what the hell Hebrew National was thinking when they developed these things. I bet they don't know, either. The primary flavor is salt. The secondary flavor is "cheap shitty hot dog." They're pretty damn disgusting.

They don't even look like breakfast sausages. Oh, when you open the package they're the right size and shape. But they're red. As they cook, they look less and less like breakfast sausages and more and more like hot dogs. Because that's what they are. Hot dogs. Crappy little scale-model hot dogs that taste like salt and old grease.

I'm really glad I didn't have to pay full price for these.

Hebrew National should be ashamed of themselves for this, but because they're just another division of ConAgra these days, they're probably not ashamed. They're probably pointing and laughing at the idiots like me buying their so-called "sausages."

Link:

Hebrew National's website.

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D'Artagnan Uncured Bacon

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to taste two unique and wonderful bacons made by D'Artagnan - their Uncured Smoked Duck Bacon and their Uncured Smoked Wild Boar Bacon.



Uncured Smoked Duck Bacon: Dark mahogany-colored lean meat bordered with a narrow strip of fat, sliced fairly thick. The meat is very "wet" and I can't recommend it for anyone who likes their bacon crispy. This duck bacon is best heated in a medium frying pan just until warm through - perhaps with a touch of browning on the fat.


Laid out on a plate before frying, you can see the wonderful richness of the duck breast and the layer of fat that becomes one side of the bacon strips after slicing. It's obvious that this isn't really a true bacon but rather a smoked duck breast, sliced to provide another option for the diner. (A good idea, actually - many people wouldn't think of serving a sliced smoked duck breast for breakfast, and the price per pound of D'Artagnan's smoked duck breast and "uncured smoked duck bacon" is almost the same. So three cheers for their duck joining us for breakfast thanks to clever marketing!)

In the frying pan, the fatty strips melt gently away, leaving only a slight boarder on the wide, lean rashers. Turn the bacon carefully in the pan, because the fat is only loosely attached and has a tendency to fall off. There is very little shrinkage to the lean bits, but duck fat melts easily. (You can see how much renders out by comparing the photos.) As soon as the meat is warmed through it's ready to be served. It has a delicious ham-like flavor, not too salty, enhanced by the subtlety of the smoke.

I used some of the duck fat in the pan to make homefried potatoes and poured the remainder into a jar to save for later use. If you've ever used duck or goose fat in cooking before, you know how marvelous it is for sauteeing. The smoke flavoring here may limit the uses of this fat, but it's still fantastic for potatoes, green beans, or stir-frying asparagus with slivers of garlic.

Overall, I give D'Artagnan Uncured Smoked Duck Bacon high marks. A half-pound package sells locally for $5.99 - perhaps too expensive for a regular weekend breakfast, but well in line for an occasional treat, especially given that the leftover rendered fat is so versatile.



Uncured Smoked Wild Boar Bacon is a much more traditional product. The rashers are smaller than with standard commercial bacon, which is about what I expected given the size difference between wild boar and domesticated swine.



I was a bit surprised by the amount of fat in the slices. I guess I expected wild boar to be leaner, but it was no more lean than any of the premium standard bacons I've had previously. However, the lean sections were darker and meatier than commercial bacon, and it was easy to get any degree of crispness I wished, cooking it as I would any other bacon.




There was a bit of shrinkage in the pan - again, no more than I would expect from any premium-quality bacon - and it must be said that wild boar bacon is pretty ordinary looking - indistinguishable by sight from any other bacon.

The flavor, however, is where this stuff shines.

The slices were no thicker than standard bacon, yet the lean bits were richer-tasting and chewier than standard. There was a hint of gaminess, but only enough to emphasize the difference between the boar bacon and the standard stuff. The strips were flavorful without being too salty (much like the duck bacon was) and quite good at any degree of crispness.

Like the Duck Bacon, I found the Wild Boar Bacon to be a top-notch product, at least as good as any premium bacon. At $6.99 for an 8-ounce package locally, it may be an occasional treat however. And I think the subtlety of the taste is best enjoyed on its own rather than buried along with other flavors in a BLT.


Links:

D'Artagnan Uncured Wild Boar Bacon at the Bacon Label Gallery
D'Artagnan Uncured Duck Bacon at the Bacon Label Gallery
D'Artagnan's website

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