31 October, 2008

The KFC $10 Challenge: Up Yours, Colonel

You've probably seen the Kentucky Fried Chicken "$10 Challenge" ads, where Mom and her two sprogs decide they can't make a fried chicken dinner for under ten bucks. They flail around the supermarket trying to purchase the ingredients for seven pieces of fried chicken, four biscuits, and a small tub of mashed potatoes. Foiled in their quest, they give up and go to KFC.

Most of the time, I like KFC. But I hate commercials that think I'm stupid, and this is one of them. Of course it's going to cost you more than ten bucks to make this barebones, no-vegetables-included "meal" if you're going to buy, say, a five-pound bag of flour to coat seven pieces of chicken and make four biscuits. Most people who cook have all the ingredients (except maybe the chicken) in their kitchen already. So why don't we look at the real cost of making a seven-piece fried chicken dinner?

First, let's talk about seasoning. Supposedly, KFC uses "11 secret herbs and spices" to season their chicken. As much as I enjoy Kentucky Fried Chicken, I suspect that the list is closer to "1 secret MSG, 1 secret pepper, and 9 secret Salts." So let's ignore the bullshit in the ad's voiceover that says, "without our secret recipe, you can't cook it at all." We'll be using Bell's Seasoning, salt, and pepper, and not allowing KFC to weasel out on a technicality.

  • 1 whole 4-pound chicken - cut up at home, giblets and abdominal fat reserved; two wings, two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks; I usually pay .79 / pound for chicken, so this bird will cost $3.16
  • 2 cups of flour for coating using the traditional flour/eggwash/flour method. Store brand flour at Stop & Shop is $2.29 for a five pound bag, or 3 cents an ounce. Two cups of flour weigh about 6 ounces, for a total cost of $0.36.
  • To season the flour, we'll use a tablespoon of Bell's Seasoning, which costs $1.99 per box. Each box contains 14 teaspoons, at a cost of 14 cents per teaspoon. A tablespoon of it will cost us $0.42.
  • We'll also need salt and pepper. Two teaspoons of salt cost about a penny. A tablespoon of ground black pepper costs about a quarter. So there's another $0.26.
  • I pay $1.79 for a dozen eggs (15 cents each.) I use two eggs for the egg wash, costing $0.30.
  • Milk (for the egg wash) is probably the most expensive item on this list, since I buy it at a local dairy and pay $2.50 for a half-gallon. Even so, that makes the quarter cup used here just $0.16 worth.
If I include the cost of the oil needed to cook the chicken (a generously estimated 12 ounces at 8 cents an ounce, or $0.96) the total comes to $5.62.


I'm going to cheat and use Bisquick, since my "from scratch" biscuits always come out kind of crappy. A 40-ounce box of Bisquick costs $3.49. One batch of biscuits needs 2¼ cups of Bisquick (90 cents) and 2/3 cup of milk (21 cents). That's $1.11 for twelve delicious biscuits.


Potatoes at my local produce store are 29 cents a pound. Let's be really generous and make a two-pound batch of potatoes. That will cost us $0.58.

Butter at Costco is about $2.00 a pound, so the lump of butter I'll use in the potatoes will cost $0.40. The milk in the potatoes - about 6 ounces or so - will cost another $0.24. for a total of $1.22.

By making gravy with the reserved chicken fat and giblets, we can make a little more than a cup of gravy for the cost of the flour - 6 cents. But we can cheat a little here, too, and use an envelope of chicken bouillon to bump up the flavor a bit. That means our gravy now costs $0.27.



That comes in well under the challenge amount, and the food is fresher and of better quality. And there's still room in the budget for the vegetables that KFC leaves out.

You lose, KFC.

30 October, 2008


Don't you just love meatloaf? I do. It's one of my family's favorite suppers. In the summer, I often make it out on the grill, keeping the coals off to one side to be sure it cooks evenly.

My meatloaf recipe is very similar to the one I use to make meatballs (click here for that recipe) but it does have a few changes:
  • I leave out the Italian cheese and the chopped bell pepper and mix the meats together with just the onion and a single egg.
  • Instead of Italian seasoning, I mix freshly chopped parsley, salt, and pepper with the bread crumbs, and then combine the crumbs and the meat.
When the meat mixture is thoroughly combined, I form the whole thing into a rectangular loaf, and use my fingers to create a rectangular depression in the top of it, about half an inch deep or so. Then I fill that depression up with ketchup, put the loaf on a rack in a baking dish, and slide it into a preheated 350 F oven for about an hour and a half.

It comes out browned and crispy all around with a moist and juicy interior (this is why I don't use a loaf pan when I make meatloaf) and the ketchup cooks down to thick tangy/sweet tomato glaze on top.

I usually make mashed potatoes and open a can of corn to go with it. It's a perfect combo.

29 October, 2008

Wait - There's Something...Different Here.

I went to Stop & Shop this morning, early, right when the doors unlocked. It was kind of strange.

The front of the store seemed lighter, airier and more spacious. The main aisle along the front endcaps seemed wider and easier to maneuver. There were only a few checkouts open (not many customers so early in the day) and the cashiers chatted with customers as they totaled up purchases.

I stood in line and unloaded my carriage. There really was something different here this morning. I just couldn't put my finger on it.

And then suddenly, it hit me: there was nothing here but the checkout stations. No small beverage refrigerators. No magazine racks. No bins of candy bars or pegboards filled with hair ties, disposable razors, or other impulse-purchase junk. Just conveyors and cash registers. Once I mentioned it out loud, the cashiers and other customers looked around wide-eyed: "Wow! So that's why it feels so different in here!" It turns out that the night maintenance crew had removed all the extra racks and "furniture" at the registers so the floors could be stripped and resealed.

Supermarkets are low-margin businesses - they deal in a lot of perishable items by their very nature and throw a lot of stuff away, which eats deeply intro profits. To make up for that, they display lots of higher-margin impulse items in the checkout lanes: candy, gum, and snacks at child-seat eye level (that's not accidental, you know,) lurid tabloids and "celebrity" gossip rags to titillate your prurient curiosity; gadgets and inexpensive health-care items that seemingly everyone needs but no one remembers to pick up while cruising the aisles; cold drinks temptingly at hand right there at the register end. It all adds up to claustrophobic little canyons where we all line up to pay.

I recognize the supermarket's need to turn a profit. But I'm sorry that they have to do it by needling us at the checkout. Judging from people's reactions in Stop and shop this morning, customers and employees are happier when they're not surrounded by all that culch.


28 October, 2008

Gone But Not Forgotten 1: TasTY CHicK

The sign's been there as long as I can remember. It was already retro-looking back in the late 1970's when I first got my driver's license and started exploring the region around my hometown. Tasty Chick. My friends and I would laugh like Beavis and Butthead whenever we saw it, but they served up some damn fine fried chicken from their little building off Route 83 in Vernon CT.

We used to go to Connecticut Golfland in Vernon. They had miniature golf, go-karts, and the bitchenest video arcade in the area back in '78. They had one hell of a taco joint there, too, where the cook made his own killer taco sauces. After CT Golfland replaced the taco stand with a crappy Subway shop, Tasty Chick became our first choice for lunch on our way back from a morning of racing around the go-kart track or battling Space Invaders.

Fast-forward twenty years to the mid 1990's. It had been five years or more since I'd been through Vernon, but I'd recently started a small computer consulting company with a friend and we had clients in that town. Tasty Chick was still there on Route 83, and just as delicious as ever.

The last time I'd been there was in 2004 or so. They closed a couple of years later - some kind of dispute with the landlord, from what little I've heard about it. But the sign is still there in all it's retro glory.

27 October, 2008

Maraschino Cherries

Have you ever stopped to consider what a marvelous feat of culinary technology is sitting there, all red and shiny, in the pillow of whipped cream on top of your sundae?

It's true, you know. That ordinary ol' maraschino cherry is amazing. It starts out with a normal, natural cherry - but that's before the processing starts. The fruit is completely transformed: the color is removed, the natural flavor taken out - the very structure of the fruit itself is changed into a kind of candy. Then, flavors are added, a uniform color is reintroduced, and the magically-altered cherries are packed in jars of syrup. And all this is done without the stem even falling off! Wow, right?

As cool and awesome as this is, maraschino cherries just became cooler and more awesome. Because yesterday I found Roland BLUE MARASCHINO CHERRIES.

They're delicious. Bright, neon blue, bursting with blue razz flavor, and so thoroughly unnatural it might as well be manufactured at the Soylent Green factory.

Roland is making cherries in five non-traditional varieties: Lemon, Passion Fruit, Lime, Wild Berry, and Chocolate. I've only tried the Wild Berry ones...but I can't wait to try some of the others.

22 October, 2008

How to Make Great Stuffing

Thanksgiving is coming, and for many of us that means turkey, stuffing, and gravy. There are a lot of stuffing recipes out there, and I've tried a bunch of them. But I still come back to the favorite of my childhood, good ol' traditional sage-and-onion stuffing. I like it best when it's cooked inside the bird, but that's not always practical. For instance, my family prefers turkeys from the smoker rather than the roaster, and smoked stuffing isn't as delicious as smoked bird. So, I make my stuffing on the stovetop. It's almost as yummy as the "real thing." If you'd like to give it a try, here's my method - in plenty of time for the holiday, and easy enough to make any time you want some stuffing.

This particular batch was made to go with a roasted chicken, and made enough for four generous servings. Ramp up the quantities appropriately, and you can make as much as you need. On Thanksgiving, I'll be making enough to serve fifteen.

Start by removing the fat from the cavity of the bird, along with the skin from the neck. Use a sharp knife and score the fat and skin part of the way through on both sides.

In a skillet over medium-low heat, slowly try out the fat. The scores cut in the fat will keep it from curling up as you render the fat. Do a thorough job and cook the fat and skin until it's completely crispy so you have plenty of fat in the pan.

Pour off some of the fat from the pan, but reserve it in case you need it later. Add a finely chopped onion to the hot fat, along with two or three finely chopped celery ribs (including the leaves if possible,) and a handful of parsely, a generous amount of pepper, and salt to taste. (Remember that this is enough for four servings. Increase the amount if you're making stuffing for a crowd.) Stir over medium heat, sauteeing until the onions are amber and translucent, but not browned.

Add your favorite poultry seasoning. I use Bell's Seasoning, but if you don't live in the Northeast, you may not be able to find it - just use whatever you (or your Mom or Grandmother) have always used. For four servings as shown here, I start with half a teaspoon and adjust later. Stir the poultry seasoning well into the mix.

Keeping the mix over medium heat, add fresh bread crumbs made by grating whatever fresh or day-old (but not dried-out) bread you have. You can use hamburger or hot dog rolls, sliced bread, sesame buns, whatever you like. You'll need about a cup of crumbs per serving, or maybe more if you and your guests really love stuffing.

Keep the heat under the pan as you stir the stuffing. The crumbs will become coated with delicious chickeny flavor from the fat and the herbs in the poultry seasoning will get distributed all throughout the mix. Keep stirring and tossing as the stuffing heats through and starts to brown a bit. Go for a pale golden brown.

Drizzle the stuffing with chicken broth a teaspoon at a time, tossing and stirring well after each addition, until it's moist and clumpy, just like it would be if it came out of the bird. Keep the heat on under the pan while you do this - the steam created will help the stuffing stay fluffy and moist. As you do this, taste the stuffing and make sure the seasoning is correct. You can sprinkle in more salt, pepper, or poultry seasoning while you're finishing it up here.

Check it out: Delicious stuffing, stovetop style without coming from a box, and it will taste like you spooned it out of a roasted bird.

21 October, 2008

New Pop-Tart Varieties

Three new varieties of Pop-Tarts caught my daughter's eye recently. She bought a box of each and we did some tasting. Not all at once, though - the days when I could stand to eat that many Pop-Tarts in one sitting are long gone.

Vanilla Milkshake - I can't figure out what is supposed to be "milkshakey" about this flavor; it's got white frosting with embedded rainbow sprinkles, and it seems to be filled with some kind of vanilla frosting (very creamy in texture, almost drips out when the Pop-Tart is broken open or pulled apart.) Quite delicious vanilla flavor, but nothing obviously "milky" about the taste at all. Perhaps it's because of all the whiteness? Or maybe it's the calcium. Calcium. Why does Kellogg's keep trying to convince everyone that their oversweetened yet delicious piles of empty calories are good for you? It must be a callous marketing ploy. (I know that it can't possibly be anything resembling a "conscience" because large corporations are soulless rat bastards that would happily make baby food out of vivisected puppies and kittens if they could get away with it and were it profitable.) Anyway, thumbs up for the vanilla, they're yummy.

Another strong "thumbs up" goes to the Dulce de Leche, a "Limited Edition" flavor that I have not seen in the mainstream supermarkets around here, but was able to find easily in the nerby city markets catering to Hispanic customers. This has quickly become my daughter's favorite flavor; the rich caramel filling with the little squiggles of brown sugar frosting won her over immediately.

The third and final variety, Guava-Mango, is another "Limited Edition" flavor that we were only able to find at the Hispanic supermarkets. These are tasty, but not quite as successful as the other two - the flavor had no distinct guava or mango notes, but managed to taste more like Hawaiian Punch Fruit Punch than any exotic fruit blend. It tasted a lot like the regular strawberry Pop-Tarts, only less sweet and with a lot less frosting. They were okay, just not something to go out of the way for.

20 October, 2008

A New ALDI in Town

ALDI Food Markets seem to be readying a big push into my area. There's a brand new distribution center just a few miles south of here, and the first ALDI in the area has just opened on State Route 83 in Vernon.

As modern supermarkets go, ALDI isn't very big - the size is closer to the market buildings of the 1960's than it is to the giant mega-supermarkets that the chains have been building for the past twenty years. Inside, they're fairly spartan - warehouse-style racks and cut corrugate boxes are the rule; ALDI cuts their overhead to the bone in order to shave a few bucks off your weekly grocery bill.

One of the things that's most noteable is the near-complete lack of national brands in the store. Just about everything is a private-label brand belonging to ALDI. This seems to bother some people, but I've found from experience that name brands and expensive advertising don't always add up to superior quality. So, over the past couple weeks we've tried out a few ALDI items to see how they stack up.
  • Simms Beef Jerky - Quite frankly, this is the best beef jerky I've ever had. 100% American beef, nice big pieces of real beef (no chopped and formed garbage), great flavor, moist and tender. 3.5-ounce package for a staggeringly low $1.99.
  • Happy Harvest Canned Vegetables - Although not quite as good as DelMonte, we've found Happy Harvest to be better than most other store brands and much better than any generic.
  • Cambridge Saltine Crackers - Indistinguishable from Nabisco Premium saltines. However, at 89 cents a box I can buy about four boxes of Cambridge for the same price as one box of Premiums.
  • Fit & Active Raisin/Apple Biscuits - Remember Sunshine Raisin Biscuits? They were a crunchy cookie-like crust sandwiching a thin layer of raisin filling. Although they had quite a cult following, after Sunshine was bought out by Keebler, they were discontinued. These Raisin/Apple Biscuits by ALDI, however, are damn close. They made my wife very happy.
  • Roseland Breakfast Sausage - Frozen links. Horrible. The flavor of sage was so strong, I might as well have been chewing a sage leaf. They were disgusting.
  • Roseland Ready-To-Eat Bacon - I've never been able to find "real" bacon in the ALDI near me, but they have plenty of this stuff. $1.99 for a package containing 15 strips of precooked, ready to heat and eat bacon. The regular is very good. The "maple" flavor smells deliciously like maple-cured bacon, but there is little maple flavor. Over all, however, $1.99 for fifteen pieces of bacon is a good deal.
  • Fruit Dazzle soda pop - They call it a "sparkling beverage" but seriously, this stuff is just colorless diet soda. It's also consistently good.
  • L'Oven Bread - Tastes and feels day-old right from the start. I was less than pleased, but it made good stuffing, so not a total loss I guess.
  • Grandessa Signature Coffee - 100% Arabica beans, fine grind, "German roast." Full pound-weight packages (well, a little over a pound, since they're half a kilo), works out to about $3.60 a pound and it's one of the most delicious coffees I've ever had.
There are a few other things I haven't tried yet - Mr. Pudding instant vanilla pudding for example - but I'm pretty sure anything else we try will be fairly decent. Overall, we've been very pleased with the price and the quality.


19 October, 2008

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven

Italian food is ubiquitous in American cuisine, having been quite thoroughly assimilated in the 150 years since the first great waves of Italian immigrants arrived here in the 19th century. And no Italian food has been more thoroughly Americanized than pizza, that savory flatbread which has taken a place beside hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie in the American Food Hall of Fame.

For many pizza lovers, the Northeast is the capitol of American pizza, especially in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, with their large numbers of Italian-American residents. And there, almost central to this pizza-heavy region, is New Haven, where perhaps the best pizza in the US is made.

There are three amazing pizzerias in New Haven: one on State Street (Modern Apizza Place) and two on Wooster Street (Pepe's and Sally's.) Each have their strengths and weaknesses. On this visit to New Haven, we stopped at Pepe's because I'd been jonesing for a Clam Pie for months, and that's Pepe's specialty.

Pepe's is a busy place, and one nearly always has to wait in line to get in. Even though we arrived a little after 3:00 on a Friday afternoon, there were already two parties in front of us. We took a seat on one of the benches in the foyer, and it wasn't long before we were being shown to a booth.

It's not a fancy place. Founded in the mid 1920's, very little has changed in the eighty-some-odd years since Frank Pepe's first tomato pie slid into the now-famous brick oven at the back of the building. The walls are immaculate white, the roomy straight-backed booths finished in black, which matches the painted tin ceilings. Brass numbers on the walls identify each booth. And the menu is simple: pizza, in three sizes (small, medium, large) topped as desired from the choices posted on the wall.

Each of us ordered a different small pizza to get a taste across the spectrum. My wife Maryanne got a pepperoni/mozzarella, my daughter Lynn a spinach/bacon/mozzarella, and I ordered a clam pie with anchovies.

A small pizza at Pepe's is a 10-inch pie if you ask your waitress. What actually comes out of the oven is somewhat larger, however. New Haven style pizza has a very thin crust and is irregular in shape. At Pepe's, each pie is hand-formed, topped, and slid into the superhot coal-fired brick oven on a long-handled wooden pizza peel. Maryanne's pepperoni pie was topped with tiny, delicious slices of pepperoni, the perfect amount of mozzarella cheese, and the barest kiss of tomato sauce featuring pieces of flavorful fresh tomatoes. Lynn's spinach/bacon pizza was similarly perfect, with the same spare spread of tomato sauce, a touch of mozzarella, crisp pieces of thick-sliced bacon, and green stretches of chopped spinach. The thin crusts were soft near the center of the pies, but crunchy-crisp along the edges. Because of the high heat of the oven, crusts generally come out somewhat darker than the mediocre chain-store pizzas so many people order from huts or dot-covered tiles. The smokey, crunchy, almost-burnt crusts are a special treat all by themselves. Lynn, who has eaten pizza from NYC to Boston and all points in between, said that hers was probably the best pizza she has ever tasted. Maryanne praised her pepperoni pizza as well even though she prefers a thicker Connecticut Valley style crust.

As delicious as their pizzas were, however, I reserve special praise for the clam pie. There is nothing at all like it. The crust is lightly brushed with a bit of olive oil, then sprinkled with chopped garlic, freshly shucked clams, grated hard Italian cheeses, and a light sprinkle of dried herbs. It's simply amazing, and well worth the drive downstate from our home near the Massachusetts state line. I added anchovies for an extra fishy bump, but I'll leave them off next time; as much as I love anchovies, the salt kick was a little strong when combined with the grated cheese.

Frank Pepe Pizzaria Napoletana's website


18 October, 2008

Wild Animal Crunch

I found this cereal in two job lot stores lately. I wonder if it's being discontinued for violation of "truth in advertising" regulations. Because I checked, and there were no wild animals in the ingredients list. I was pretty pissed off, because Baby Seal is one of my favorite flavors. Kellogg's got my mouth all watery and then didn't deliver.

17 October, 2008

CK Cheeze Kurls

Lately I've had this wicked jones for cheese puffs. Bachman Jax are my faves with Utz such a close second they might as well be tied, but it doesn't matter; I just want a handful of them when I get home from work to crunch on while I get supper thrown together. So I figured I'd give the massive 10-ounce bag of "Cheeze Balls" from Cheeze Kurls Inc. a try. It was only a buck at Big Lots!

I'll get right to the point: These things are utter shit. Very little flavor, other than salt - hardly any cheese, but plenty of orange dye to stain your fingers (hurr hurr hurrrr). And they tasted...well, not "stale" exactly. Something worse. Kind of stale and wet. I didn't really chew them, I sort of crushed them between my molars until enough of them had accumulated to stick to each other instead of my teeth, and then I swallowed the collected bolus.

Now, if that mental image isn't enough to dissuade you from buying these filthy orange spheres, consider this: Not even my dog would eat them. He took one from me, delicately holding it in his mouth, then put it down in the living room and rolled it around the floor with his nose. Eventually, he got bored and pushed it under the couch.

I did a little research, and couldn't come up with a website for Cheeze Kurls Inc. I did find a couple of articles that mentioned them as one of the biggest maker of private-label snacks in the country. That makes me a little suspicious of private-label snacks.


16 October, 2008

Dollar Store Nightmares: Fake Sour Cream

By now, I really shouldn't be surprised at some of the crap I find when I'm bottom-feeding at the local dollar store. But this really wins the prize: a chemical soup masquerading as "Sourcreme." (Love the label: Unreal!!! Why would anyone be proud of that?)

I really don't get it. Not even the dollar price tag can make this slop appeal to me - especially since anyone can get real sour cream at the supermarket on sale for about a dollar (and it's usually a dollar all the time at some of the discount supermarkets like Price/Rite or Sav-A-Lot.) Just about any argument anyone can make in favor of buying this can be refuted:
  • It's not cheaper - As I've already pointed out, the same quantity of real sour cream can be had at the discount supermarkets. In fact, Price/Rite usually carries Axelrod or Friendship - both brands which have no added thickeners or gums - just cream, milk, and culture.
  • It's not non-dairy for the lactose intolerant - there's whey protein concentrate and nonfat dry milk in it.
  • It's not lower in fat - in fact, a greater percentage of this slop's calories come from fat than in real sour cream.
This kind of thing makes me wonder if allowing dollar stores to have refrigerated sections is a good idea at all.

15 October, 2008

From Fishing Trip to Whale Watch

Last Saturday, I went out on a chartered fishing boat from Gloucester, MA. The company we went out with, Yankee Fleet, does open party boats, but on this occasion, I was part of a small group charter. There were about 25 of us on a 100-foot boat. It was great because the boat was about 1/3 normal capacity, so we had plenty of elbow room onboard and all of us were experienced, so there was no one hugging the gunnel and chumming.

Although most of the action was with dogfish (dammit) all was not a total loss, because we spotted several pods of humpback whales on the way back in, and it didn't take much effort to convince the skipper to steer in close for some whale watching. It got us back to the dock a couple hours later than we thought, but it was worth it.

Here's a short unedited clip of some humpback whales coming up and blowing near the boat:

14 October, 2008

The Official Launch of Foodbuzz

I've been a member of the Foodbuzz community for several months now, and I'm really enjoying it, both as a blogger and a reader. It's great to have a social network based on culinary curiosity. Foodbuzz is celebrating their official global launch this week, and I thought I'd let the network tell you a little about itself by sharing their press release with you:


San Francisco – October 13, 2008: Foodbuzz, Inc., officially inaugurates its food blogger community with more than 1,000 blog partners, a global food blogging event and an online platform that captures the real-people, real-time power of food publishing in every corner of the world. At launch, the Foodbuzz community ranks as one of the top-10 Internet destinations for food and dining (Quantcast), with bloggers based in 45 countries and 863 cities serving up daily food content.

“Food bloggers are at the forefront of reality publishing and the dramatic growth of new media has redefined how food enthusiasts access tasty content,” said Doug Collister, Executive Vice President of Foodbuzz, Inc. “Food bloggers are the new breed of local food experts and at any minute of the day, Foodbuzz is there to help capture the immediacy of their hands-on experiences, be it a memorable restaurant meal, a trip to the farmers market, or a special home-cooked meal.”

Foodbuzz is the only online community with content created exclusively by food bloggers and rated by foodies. The site offers more than 20,000 pieces of new food and dining content weekly, including recipes, photos, blog posts, videos and restaurant reviews. Members decide the “tastiness” of each piece of content by voting and “buzz” the most popular posts to the top of the daily menu of submissions. Foodbuzz currently logs over 13 million monthly page views and over three million monthly unique visitors.

“Our goal is to be the number-one online source of quality food and dining content by promoting the talent, enthusiasm and knowledge of food bloggers around the globe,” said Ben Dehan, founder and CEO of Foodbuzz, Inc.

The Foodbuzz blogger community is growing at a rate of 40 percent per month driven by strong growth in existing partner blogs and the addition of over 100 new blogs per month. “The Foodbuzz.com Web site is like the stock of a great soup. The Web site provides the base or backbone for bloggers to interact as a community, contribute content, and have that content buzzed by their peers,” said Mr. Dehan.

Global Blogging Event

Demonstrating the talent and scope of the Foodbuzz community, 24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs offered online food enthusiasts an international, virtual street festival of food and diversity. The new feature showcased blog posts from 24 Foodbuzz partner bloggers chronicling events occurring around the globe during a 24 hour period and included:

“24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs” captures the quality and unique local perspective of our food bloggers and shared it with the world,” said Ryan Stern, Director of the Foodbuzz Publisher Community. “It illustrates exactly what the future of food publishing is all about – real food, experienced by real people, shared real-time.”

About Foodbuzz, Inc.

Based in San Francisco, Foodbuzz, Inc., launched its beta Web site, foodbuzz.com, in 2007. In less than a year, Fooduzz.com and its community of over 1,000 exclusive partner food blogs have grown into an extended online property that reaches more than three million users.

Fishy Delights 18: Ocean Prince Skinless & Boneless Sardines in Oil

I got an email a little while ago. The sender wanted to know why I have so many reviews of sardines and other canned fish. There are two reasons: First of all, sardines are really very good for you. Lots of protein, lots of beneficial fish oils, lots of Omega-3 fatty acids. And secondly, I like them. I've eaten fish all my life and sardines are a convenient and delicious way to have fish for lunch. So, whenever I see a brand or type of sardine I haven't tried before, I buy at least one can to give it a chance. Especially when they're cheap, like these Ocean Prince ones were in the local Big Lots! store.

As sardines go, these are pretty good - they really are skinless, and the backbone has been pulled out, and all the nasty intestinal stuff has been removed from them too. What's left is four or five medium-sized sardines and some oil.

Despite the fact that Ocean Prince labels these as "premium" they don't have the lovely smooth-yet-firm texture of the really nice, tiny, two-layered smoked sardines in olive oil that really are premium. They're packed more roughly, and the texture is more coarse. But they were also 85 cents a can, and that's a trade-off I can live with.


13 October, 2008

Marshmallow Fluff

Marshmallow Fluff . Whenever I see it in the grocery store, I am instantly transported back to childhood. See that blue-and-white label? Hasn't changed in sixty years, I think, though they used to be printed on paper and glued to glass jars and today Fluff uses plastic tubs.

This marshmallow creme is ubiquitous across New England. It's made in Lynn, MA and you'd be hard put to find many kitchens up here without a jar of it in the cupboard. It's used as a versatile base for making fudge (in fact, Fluff prints their "Never Fail Fudge" recipe on the back of every tub) and as the chief ingredient of a Fluffernutter - a sandwhich made with peanut butter and Fluff. I can still remember the jingle:
Oh you need Fluff, Fluff, Fluff
To make a Fluffernutter,
Marshmallow Fluff,
And lots of peanut butter.

First you spread, spread, spread
Your bread with peanut butter
And Marshmallow Fluff,
And have a Fluffernutter.

When you enjoy, joy, joy
Your Fluff and peanut butter
You're glad you have enough
For another Fluffernutter!
In the years since I was a kid, Fluff has expanded their distribution. Fluff is available all around the US now as well as in parts of Europe. There are lots of marshmallow creme manufacturers, and even though I don't buy it too often anymore I don't think there are any as good as good ol' Fluff.

Fluff's Website.

12 October, 2008

Fishy Delights 17: Chicken of the Sea Smoked Oysters in Oil

There's something about canned smoked oysters. Whenever I see them, I'm compelled to buy them even though I know that they're probably going to taste like shit. It's like I have some sort of strange post-hypnotic suggestion implanted in my psyche that makes me want canned oysters.

Smoked canned oysters are never really good. They turn into dense little clay-like balls with rubber lip trim and the level of smokiness is always horrid. At their worst, they're tiny nuggets of grainy filth that taste like they were rolled around in an old ashtray before being boiled in the can. At their best...well, most of the time they're slightly less tiny nuggets of grainy filth that taste like they were rolled around in an old ashtray before being boiled in the can.

I have to say, though, that Chicken of the Sea smoked oysters are better than the average. They're certainly plumper, and unlike a few other brands I've tried, they actually look and taste like they were probably real oysters. The smoke flavor was not overpowering and actually had some good, fresh-smoke flavor and not the stale, artificial and overpowering rank smoke taste that's so common. Alas, the canning process is never kind to such delicate seafood, and the final result is still dense and clay-like.

I ate them on saltine crackers for maximum lulz. They weren't bad. Unfortunately, I burped smoke flavor for most of the remaining day. I bet they'd be better mashed into some sort of spread or dip, and I just might try that the next time I buy them.

Because you know, I will buy them again. I can't help myself.


11 October, 2008

Jeff Foxworthy Beef Jerky

  • Seems to be made with real meat, not ground up unrecognizable protein bits.
  • No strange ingredients - there's nothing in this beef jerky that I wouldn't put into making my own.
  • Bitchen pepper flavor provided by generous amounts of freshly cracked peppercorns. When you open the bag, the aroma is incredible: meat and the rich fruity smell of cracked pepper. I liked it better than Oberto.
  • Great price. (Got it at Big Lots!)

  • Jeff Foxworthy's face grinning at me from the package.
Monogram Food Solutions - Manufacturer of Jeff Foxworthy Jerky
How Jeff Foxworthy got involved in the Jerky Business. Probably not written by Jeff Foxworthy.


10 October, 2008

Would You Pay $300 for a Toaster?

When my wife and I were married, we got a Black & Decker 4-slice toaster as a wedding gift. It was pretty rugged, and lasted about 6 years or so before whatever thingy in there that pops the toast up decided to go on strike one winter day. The toast caught on fire; I unplugged the toaster, grabbed it while wearing a pair of welder's gauntlets, and tossed it out the kitchen window into the snow.

Then I had a Toastmaster 4-slicer that was kind of wonky. It only toasted well on one side of the bread. You know how many toasters have these wire grabby things that hold the bread steady when you push the lever down? One of those things popped loose from the slot, so whenever we put a slice of bread in we had to remember to push the wire over to the side, otherwise it would grab onto the toast like it had claws and push the bread right up against the heating wires. But we got used to working around the quirks in the toaster and kept using it while we were looking for something better.

And then Saturday, along came something better.

My family and I go to estate sales and church rummage sales on Saturday mornings. We bring my Mom along with us and we have a good time, visiting with each other and poking through the fabulous bargains. I look for collectibles and "smalls" I can resell on eBay, and keep an eye open for tools or kitchen gadgets I can use at home. We were at one estate sale in a neighboring town, and my daughter went off to the kitchen to see if there was anything interesting. The kitchen was small - what they call a "galley kitchen" - but very well-appointed with a large SubZero refrigerator/freezer and a Viking four-burner range along with some commercial-quality cookware and kitchen tools. The range and fridge were marked as "not for sale" since the family intended them to be selling points for the house, and most of the small appliances had already been sold. But Lynn found a toaster standing quietly in a corner on the countertop. It was kind of retro-industrial looking and rugged as hell and it looked like all of the slots would work and not grab my toast with steely claws, so I picked it up, paid the sale administrator for it, and took it home. It said "Dualit" on the side in big, embossed letters.

When I want excellent quality kitchenware, I go to a few local restaurant-supply stores in the area, but I don't shop so-called "gourmet stores" like Williams-Sonoma. So I had never heard of the Dualit brand before. When I got home, I Googled the name for some information, and found that Dualits are highly-regarded toasters which are made in England, known for their reliability, are easy to repair if something does happen to go wrong, and - at three hundred dollars - a hell of a lot more money than I would ever think of spending on a toaster.

I plugged it in and gave it a try. Wow. What a cool toaster. It's easy to see why they last so long. For one thing, there isn't any thermostat to burn out. Just a plain ol' spring-loaded timer knob which turns the elements on and off. There's also a two-slice/four-slice toggle switch that allows the user to only heat up the necessary elements. And when your toast is done - announced with a simple, whispered "click" from the timer dial - you pop the toast up yourself with the side lever.

I am, like, completely enthralled. Everything about this toaster radiates coolness, from its English Industrial design and the spartan use of heavy black plastic knobbery, to its need to preheat for a minute (after which it cranks out perfect, evenly-browned toast like some demonic bread-singeing fire god.) Truly, Dualit is the Steve McQueen of toasters. It took me a few days to figure out exactly where to set the dial for our own personal preference, but once that was done...beauty. I never thought I'd say it, but this really might be the last toaster I ever have to buy.

Would I pay $300 for a toaster? Even one as cool as the Dualit? Well...no. My frugal swamp-yankee nature would never allow it. But I had no problem swapping a picture of Abe Lincoln for the one I have.


09 October, 2008

Combos Zesty Salsa Tortilla Flavor

Combos. What a strange snack. They're made by Mars, and basically they're crunchy tubes filled with flavored paste. The tubes are made of a variety of different "snack cracker" doughs, and the pastes come in a bunch of different flavors (mostly cheese based.) For example, one of the flavors is "Pizzeria Pretzel" - the tube is a pretzel-style cracker and it's filled with a cheesish mixture seasoned to resemble the taste of a pizza. The flavors are all pretty authentic to what's shown on the labels, so as junk foods go Combos are on the decent side.

And therefore I had no fear of getting ripped off when I bought this little packet of Combos newest flavor - Zesty Salsa Tortilla - from the snack machine at work. For this variety, Mars added cornmeal to the cracker to give it a tortilla-chip taste and texture, then doctored up the paste with tomato, cilantro, and lime flavors to help it taste like salsa.

The result is no less than amazing. Seriously. Pop one of these into your mouth and give it a chew and it tastes just like eating a tortilla chip dipped into a jar of salsa. I was quite efficiently wowed, especially after I broke one open to see where the flavor was coming from and found nothing but a thick extrusion of crumbly red paste.

Now, bear in mind that my wowitude is based on comparing these Combos with cheap-ass salsa from a jar, not on freshly made hand-cut real salsa from juicy ripe garden tomatoes, fresh-squeezed limes and chopped onions. So temper your expectations...but enjoy.


08 October, 2008

Real Cider Isn't Pasteurized

I love apple cider. Real apple cider: the kind that is pressed from freshly-picked apples which have been pulped and dumped into a press. It's crisp and carries the full flavor of the apple, and taking a drink of fresh, sweet cider is the closest a beverage will ever come to crunching in your mouth.

Traditionally, fresh sweet cider is truly fresh. It's pressed and bottled and refrigerated - no filtering and no cooking. A few years ago, though, some people took sick from drinking cider that had been improperly handled. The full might of the Food Police descended upon the cider industry, and because most New England cider mills are small, mom-and-pop operations, they didn't have the organization or money to fight the legislature. Because of this, all sweet cider sold in grocery stores today is pasteurized. Cider mills can still sell "raw" cider, but it must carry a "panic label" and has to be sold at the mill.

I don't like pasteurized cider. Pasteurization changes the flavor - it takes the "snap" away and gives cider a "cooked" flavor. It's like the difference between eating a fresh apple and eating applesauce. It doesn't bother me that lawmakers in many states took some action to be sure that cider stays wholesome and uncontaminated, but it does bother me that so many processors decided to just cave in and pasteurize all of their product because the government made it too onerous to provide the traditional stuff.

Luckily, I can still get unpasteurized cider. I have to drive a little further to get it, because I have to buy it at local cider mills and orchards since supermarkets only sell the cooked stuff, but the drive is worth it and at least I still have a choice.

07 October, 2008

On New England Clam Chowder, Redux

So, after bitching a few days ago about how it seemed impossible to find a decent New England clam chowder in any New England restaurants, I thought it was only fair to mention that I actually found one worth eating, at - of all places - Friendly's.

If you live in the Northeast, you'll be familiar with Friendly's. They got their start in Springfield MA in the 1930s as a small burger-and-ice-cream storefront joint, and expanded through the years until they were flipping burgers and dishing out their own locally-made ice cream pretty much throughout New England. Then they got bought out by Hershey's, who tried to expand the restaurants nationwide; along the way Friendly's forgot their roots and nearly went bankrupt, and now they're back to a more basic menu, shrunken in size to cover mostly the Northeast US again, and made huge improvements in their food and service over the nightmare years of the 1980s and early 90s when both sucked.

OK, Friendly's capsule history over; let's get down to this chowder. It's thick and white, of course. A little bit too thick for my purist taste, but it's not wicked stiff glue. I can taste real cream, and the soup has a very pronounced clammy flavor. No wonder - there are tons of clams in there, along with little bits of ham (acceptable in lieu of salt pork) and small cubes of creamy Eastern potatoes. Not too salty, and a good hit of freshly ground black pepper makes the chowder zippy without being peppered to annoyance. It was enjoyable enough that I almost wished I'd ordered a bowl instead of a cup, a solid three stars out of five.

As for Friendly's, well, they're starting to win me back. For a long time, I wouldn't set foot in one. The service was horrible and the food was nasty chain-restaurant slop. Over the past couple years, though, I've tried them a few times and had nothing but good experiences and very decent burgers despite their insistence on overcooking them. Many of their other menu items are acceptable as well. Now that I know their chowder is OK, we'll probably be going there more often.


06 October, 2008

The Berlin Fair, Berlin Connecticut

Since 1949, the Lions Club of Berlin CT has hosted the Berlin Fair on the former Connecticut State Fairgrounds in Berlin. It's still a traditional agricultural fair, with livestock judging and folks showing off their handicrafts and canning skills, and of course there's plenty of food.

Our first stop inside the fairgrounds is right inside the gate: Dough House's Giant Raised Donuts. They've been in this same spot at the fair since we first started coming here, almost twenty years ago. Giant donuts are typical "carny food": oversized, unique, and sold from a concession trailer. They're also pillowy-soft and fresh and delicately dusted with sugar - one of the only "sweets" we buy at the fair. And although they're huge, we limit the damage they do to our caloric intake by splitting one between us. (Actually, that's pretty much the way we graze through most of the fairs and events we visit - one of us will take a fancy to a certain food and then my wife and daughter and I will share the munchies and discuss what we like and don't like about what we're having.)

Giant raised donuts notwithstanding, the big food draw at the Berlin Fair isn't in the typical carny food booths. Many of the churches and and civic organizations from the Berlin area have permanent buildings at the fair where they serve various home-cooked foods to the crowds. One vendor I spoke with at the fair says that he really loves setting up at Berlin, because he doesn't have to eat "all that deep fried crap" for three days - there's delicious roast beef sandwiches, homemade mac 'n' cheese, beef stew, barbecued chicken, and even lobster rolls available from the many food buildings. There are far too many great foods to eat at the Berlin Fair even if we were to attend all three days, so I'll just hit some highlights as we go along - starting with the delicious mac-and-cheese made by the Kensington Congregational Church. Cheesy and creamy, it had the wonderful flavor of real cheddar cheese and was obviously scratch-made.It was also a lot better than the sad excuse for pasta e fagioli I bought at the same place. Shown at left, it was a watery mess of elbow macaroni with hardly any beans at all, lots of barely-cooked celery slices, coarsely ground black pepper, and far too much cheap dried oregano. Served with the tiniest "dinner roll" I'd ever seen, the Kensington Congregational Church charged me $4.50 and didn't even give me a pat of butter for the roll. They were also the only building at the Fair that was selling "homemade" baked beans, but I passed on them when one of the workers let it slip that the beans weren't really homemade, they just "opened up cans and added stuff to them." I wasn't about to pay $3.50 for a cup-and-a-half of B&M beans.

One of our favorite sites at the Berlin Fair is the building holding the prizewinners from the baking and canning competitions. We like to compare our own canning results to those of the folks entering the competition, and we also enjoy seeing what types of home preserves are popular. There were rows of canned tomatoes and tomato sauces, strawberry jam, pickles, and jellies. I don't envy the judges - some of the differences between first- and second-place winners were pretty subtle.

One of the first-place winners was a display called "Hot pepper heaven" - a series of old-fashioned rubber-gasket jars, each filled with a different type of pepper. There were red cherry peppers, green cherry peppers, red ripe Hungarian hot peppers, and jalapenos. The four jars together made for a very nice display, and it was easy to see why the judges liked them.

One of the more unusual first-place winners was this jar of sweet basil jelly. Maryanne and I had never heard of this before, but a quick check on Google later showed me that there is no shortages of recipes for it on the Web. We might try making a batch of it later this year (fresh basil is nearly always available to us at our local greengrocer.)

There was also a truly amazing-looking hot pepper jam that someone had made with red cherry peppers. It was an angry-looking fiery red with clusters of seeds hovering near the top and looked like it really packed a kick. It was a blue-ribbon award winner in the "Any Other Vegetable Jam" category.

Another of our "foodie destinations" at the fair is the Roasted Peanut booth. This year, there were a pair of Scouts tending the gas-fired peanut roaster; they were roasting nuts in small, two-pound batches which was just enough to keep up with demand and provide everyone who stopped at their concession with a hot paper bag of freshly-from-the-roaster peanuts. As far back as we can remember, this has been one of the most popular snacks at the fair, and it's no wonder - the aroma of roasting nuts floats over the crowd as they come out of the handicrafts barn and head for the Midway.


There are three excellent places to get fries at the fair, and each of them specializes in a different style of delicious fried potatoes. At the corner of the Midway near the cattle barn, the local Kiwanis Club sells marvelous ribbon fries - russet potatoes, thinly sliced in an "endless" spiral and fried to crispy perfection. Salt, pepper, vinegar, and ketchup is available for those who desire them (my daughter likes ketchup.)

Near the center of the fairgrounds, the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department dishes up thick-cut steak fries, crispy and mealy and very nice indeed. And just down the hill from them, close to the concert stage, is the East Berlin Volunteer Fire Department with their own food pavillion, serving up fantastic sweet potato fries that are crispy on the outside, hot and creamy on the inside - an indescribably delicious contrast in texture that makes for one of the most satisfying noshes at the fair. (The EBFD also sells deep fried Oreo cookies. I hope their kitchen equipment includes a defibrillator.)

Local Agriculture

We were disappointed that the poultry exhibit was so small this year - mostly bantams with a handful of standard breeds. I love chickens, and the poultry exhibits are my favorite part of the fair, so I was sorry to see that most of the barn was taken up with boring old rabbits. Still, I was able to have a little bit of fun, clucking at the hens and hand-feeding them their mash and even hypnotizing a few of them (yes, it really works. Check out this eHow article about it - that's pretty much the way I do it - and make sure you laugh at the end of the article where it warns you to wear "protective gear" because "chickens can cause bodily harm." LOL, what idiots.) But the sheep were surprisingly affectionate this year, some of them actually nuzzling our hands as we walked by, hoping to have their ears and noses scratched.

Giant pumpkins are always a crowd-pleaser at New England fairs. Berlin puts them at the back of the produce barn to help draw people in and through the exhibits.

Other prize-winning vegetables and baked goods were on display as well. Click on any of the thumbnails in the list below to bring up a bigger picture if you're curious.
  • This clustered carrot won a blue ribbon for "most unusual" vegetable.

  • We joked about this potato looking like a fetus, naming it "ProLife Potato." It got second place in the "most unusual" category.

  • This seasonal apple pie was decorated with pastry oak leaves.

  • Delicious cake is delicious.

  • An amazing variety of hot peppers (mostly different kinds of habaneros.)

  • Beautifully decorated carrot cake.

  • The baked goods display, with the winning ribbons attached.

  • Future bacon. Sorry this one's kind of blurry. The little bastards wouldn't stay still long enough for me to get a good, clear shot.

  • Their milkshakes bring the boys to the barn.