28 February, 2009

DaBertos Pizza Shells

Seems like I never go to Big Lots! without finding something interesting to eat. Like these DaBertos Thin and Crispy Pizza Crusts. So obscure that they are virtually unknown on the internet, the rather ugly purple-and-gold packaging contains three six-inch pizza crusts and a 4-ounce pouch of pizza sauce (the customer provides any other toppings.) Job lot store pizza! Really, how could I resist?

The pizza crusts are really interesting. Dense, quarter-inch-thick disks of semi-moist bread; they have a strong yeasty smell and look like they were die-cut from vast sheets of partially-baked flatbread. The bottom side is riddled with small holes at 1-inch intervals, sort of like a giant saltine cracker without the salt. Following the package directions, I brushed each crust lightly with a bit of olive oil before spreading it with a third of the contents of the sauce pouch. To my surprise, the sauce was actually pretty good commercial pizza sauce: Not as thick as tomato paste, but with a good thick body; not too sweet; a good bouquet of herbs like oregano, marjoram, and basil; a touch of garlic. I topped each sauced disk with a generous sprinkling of finely shredded mozzarella and a few slices of pepperoni, then slid them into a 425 F oven for the recommended 8 minutes. Victory! Three delicious little pizzas - one each for my wife, my daughter, and me - each with a thin, flaky, and very crispy cracker-style crust.

Ordinarily, I'm a fan of the thin-but-not-crispy style crust on New Haven and NY style pizzas. But every now and then, I really enjoy a thin and crunchy crust. Most of the time, I buy a cheap-ass frozen pizza to fulfill that kind of craving. The down side, of course, is that I also get cheap-ass frozen pizza sauce that tastes like tomato juice and pencil shavings, and crappy grade-D cheese when I do that. DaBertos gave me the crunchy crust along with some very tasty sauce, and then left the quality of the other ingredients entirely up to me. Not gourmet dining, to be sure, but it hit the spot in that strange way that only cheap refrigerator-case pizza can provide.


27 February, 2009

Applegate Farms Organic Hot Dogs

Even though I used to enjoy them when I was a kid, I generally don't like "skinless" hot dogs nowadays. I'm not sure if my tastes have changed, or if the hot dogs really are nastier now than they were years ago, but in general, skinless dogs are fairly disgusting. Even brands I used to trust, like Nathan's and Hebrew National, seem subpar (both Nathan's and Oscar Mayer haven't been the same since they changed the recipes a few years back.) Only Sabrett's skinless franks are any good - but for the most part, I stick with locally made natural-casing hot dogs these days, such as Mucke's (made in Hartford CT) and Grote & Weigel (made in Bloomfield CT.) The flavor and quality are so superior to the truly awful national brands.

Many organic products, however, maintain a higher standard of quality than their run-of-the-mill counterparts. So I thought I would try an organic skinless hot dog brand to see if I could bring back a little of the magic I remember from when I was a kid.

Unfortuately, I chose a package of Applegate Farms Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs, which turned out to be perhaps the worst-tasting hot dogs I have ever eaten. It started with the texture: weird and plastic-like, there was a tough outer surface and a softer interior, all of which felt like it was trying to resist being chewed. The beef flavor was salty and artificial-tasting (not something I expected in an organic dog) and worst of all it was "enhanced" with a strong and acrid smoke flavoring which tasted more like "ashtray" than "smokehouse" and had an oily quality that made it linger in my mouth for hours.

Truly, truly horrible. I hope this isn't representative of what the typical organic hot dog is like, but for now I don't care. I'm sticking to natural-casing dogs.


26 February, 2009

Fishy Delights 21: Yankee Clipper Sardines

Yankee Clipper All Natural Lightly Smoked Sardines in Soybean Oil.

Decent-quality sardines packed by a manufacturer who doesn't give a damn about quality control. In other words, once again I find a brand of sardines that packs the fish without scaling them first.

The can contained three rather large fish torsos. Two of them were fine - delicious, hint of salt, hint of smoke, no scales. The third - the one in the center - needed to be raked off with my fork. That's the deal-breaker: These are off my list.


25 February, 2009

Chocolate Pop Rocks

What do you get when you combine Pop Rocks with chocolate? You get lumpy chocolate that explodes in your mouth when you try to eat it.

You'd think that a chocolate category so narrowly specialized wouldn't have room for more than one manufacturer. Alas, you'd be mistaken. In addition to a Pop Rock-studded milk chocolate bar produced by Zeta Espacial SA, the Spanish company that's been making Pop Rocks since 1979, Nestle's Willy Wonka Candy Company recently introduced it's own brand of fizzy chocolate, which they call Tinglerz. Tinglers are small nuggets of carbonated candy coated in milk chocolate. The presentation is different from the Pop Rocks bar, but the effect is very much the same.

The Pop Rocks bar is big and blocky, almost three-quarters of an inch thick, and made of rather average-quality chocolate thicky studded with Pop Rocks fragments. The Tinglerz, with their chocolate coated candy, is smoother and somewhat more attractive just because the pieces don't look like they've been filled with some kind of general debris. And the two confections behave differently when eaten, as well.

The Pop Rocks bar is aggressive. The quality of the chocolate is a little bit below that of the average Hershey bar, and it's grainy and kind of sticky. The Pop Rocks contained within are as sharp and crackly as the ones that used to sting my mouth and gums when I was a kid, though, and the powerful sensations almost make up for the lousy chocolate.

By contrast, Tinglerz are coated in very smooth and rather good chocolate, in varying sizes according to how big a chunk of carbonated candy it covers. The reaction of the candy is somewhat milder and more reminiscent of a very strongly-carbonated soda pop - lots of fizzy noise and crackle, but nothing that borders on the painful the way Pop Rocks sometimes do.

Which one is better? That depends on your priorities. For fizziness, go with the Pop Rocks bar. For taste, go with the Tinglerz.


Pop Rocks Candy Dot Com - An interesting combination fan site / salesroom that covers a lot of the pop culture surrounding Pop Rocks. If all else fails and you just can't find Pop Rocks in your local stores, you can buy them there.

Willy Wonka Tinglerz - The official internet home of Will Wonka Tinglers. Flash powered.

Zeta Espacial SA - The Pop Rocks manufacturer.

24 February, 2009

Eight Treasures Chrysanthemum Tea

Today I am going to let you in on one of the best-kept secrets in the world of tea: Ten Fu Eight Treasures Chrysanthemum Tea. Next to Lapsang Souchong, this is my favorite tea of all time. It can be hard to find in the US - I have to order it online, because no markets carry it in my neck of the woods - but it is so worth it.

Eight Treasures Tea is a type of green tea with seven other ingredients, each of which are used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine:
  • Chrysanthemums - help reduce fever and sore throat.
  • Jujube - is said to help relieve stress; it also soothes the throat and is a general tonic to help fight the common cold
  • Chinese Wolfberries are small bright-orange berries that are rich in nutrients and especially high in antioxidants
  • Dragoneye fruit, also known as longan, is another relaxant
  • Tremella, or snow fungus, helps soothe coughing, is valued as an immune stimulant, and may help lower LDL (or "bad") cholesterol
  • Raisin - are said to reduce fever
  • Rock Sugar - while it may not be medicinal in and of itself, it's common in Chinese medicinal preparations and is considered healthier and purer than common sugar
When I first discovered Eight Treasures Chrysanthemum Tea, I wasn't aware of any of this. I loved the taste - similar to green tea, but with soft floral and fruity notes - and because it was so hard to find in my area, I was careful with my stash and only had it occasionally, as a treat. But then I noticed that when I was miserable with the flu or a cold, a nice pot of Eight Treasures made me feel better, and that's when I researched the ingredients and found out about their special properties. I'm not convinced that the tea makes my colds go away faster, but I know absolutely that I suffer less by drinking it when I'm feeling under the weather, but it's a tea that I enjoy any time.


Eight Treasures Chrysanthemum Tea is made by the Ten Fu division of the Ten Ren's Tea Company, and can be purchased directly from their online store, Uncle Lee's Tea.


23 February, 2009

Sealtest Chipnics - A Blast From The Past

I was going through some old promotional cookboods, when I found this advertisement for Sealtest Chipnics.

Chipnics, introduced in 1964, were the very first crispy potato chip-like snack. They were marketed in boxes instead of bags, and Sealtest called them "Homogenized Potato Chips."

They proved to be so popular that within five years, Chipnics had three competitors: Chipos, made with potato and rice flour, by General Mills; Pringles by Proctor & Gamble; and Munchos by Frito-Lay. Pringles, with their stackable shape, unique packaging, and masterful marketing, quickly became the market leader, leaving Chipnics and Chipos to quietly fade away. Munchos are still available, but Frito-Lay doesn't advertise them very much and they are a distant second in the "potato crisp" category.

You might notice that all of these brands were originally sold and labeled as "potato chips." This marketing angle was hotly contested by traditional potato chip producers, who eventually won out and forced "homogenized chips" to be labeled in the US as "potato crisps" instead. Proctor & Gamble fought long and hard against that ruling, even going so far as presenting proof that Pringles were "nutritionally identical" to regular chips.

Of course, forty years later it hardly matters - Pringles are one of P&G's most popular brands, enjoyed by people around the world. And it all started with some knucklehead eating chips in a sauna.


22 February, 2009

Florida's Natural Pocket Fruit

Florida's Natural brand is probably best known for their orange juice. If you watch TV, you've probably seen their ads where customers reaching into a supermarket cooler find their hands groping around in an orange grove until a tractor-riding orchardman hands the customer a carton of juice.

I didn't know that they were putting their name on other stuff, though - including these Pocket Fruits fruit snacks.

There were three flavors in the assortment bag that I bought: Blueberry, strawberry, and orange. Each piece was individually wrapped - great for throwing into a lunchbox or purse or even a pocket - and each was a fairly generous portion for a small snack (about 1.7 ounces.) The colors weren't anything to get excited about. Blueberry was kind of a dark reddish amber, strawberry was a light reddish amber, and orange was just amber. But the flavors really are something to get excited about. Each of them tasted very much like delicious real fruit. And, the thick chewy sticky ribbons of stuff gave my mouth something to work on (be careful of these if you have delicate dental work.)

I suppose it's also a plus that Pocket Fruits are USDA certified organic, though since they're still mostly pear juice, apple juice, and sugar like any other fruit leather, I don't really see how being "organic" makes them any healthier a snack than the equivalent portion of Batman-shaped Wild Blue Razz flavor "fruit snacks." Buy Pocket Fruits with your eyes open and recognize them for what they really are - a fruit-flavored candy - and don't kid yourself that they're any healthier or better for you than a handful of gumdrops.


21 February, 2009

Mountain Dew Voltage

Last year, Mountain Dew began their DEWmocracy campaign, introducing three test flavors of a new ginseng-laced Dew and asking fans to choose which one would go into full production. The winning flavor, Voltage (a blue raspberry/citrus) won out over Supernova (strawberry/melon) and Revolution (berry.) My daughter and I had tried all three, and it was tough to choose our favorite, especially because we're so fond of blue foods.

Mountain Dew Voltage is a great addition to the lineup, and it has several things going for it. First of all, it's blue. I love blue foods and beverages, and "blue raspberry" is one of my favorite flavors. So naturally, Voltage got my attention right away. The blue raspberry flavor is brightened by a touch of citrus, but not so strongly that the drink takes on a "lemon-lime" character. But best of all, Voltage doesn't taste "syrupy," which is my only complaint about regular Dew. Even though Voltage is still sweeter than many other sodas, the raspberry/citrus balances well against it.

Check out that blue color. Seriously awesome, especially now, with blue beverages and foods getting more scarce every day.

Meanwhile, to help raise awareness of this great new flavor, the folks at Mountain Dew are sponsoring a promotion. Visit the Voltage website and register as a Power Player. Play some games, create some artwork, watch some videos and just hang around, and you can earn points that put you in the running to win some cool swag - T-shirts, snowboards, backpacks - even an XBOX 360. And if you click through to register using the link on the banner below, you'll get three free points to start you off.


Mountain Dew's Dewmocracy Voltage page

Mountain Dew's Official Site


20 February, 2009

Valentine's Day Leftovers - the Chocolatey Fish

There's something kind of surreal about the clearance bins at Walgreen's right after Valentine's Day. Like this fish. It's a bass, I think. Doesn't it just make your heart go pitter-patter? "You've got me hook, line and sinker!" Gosh!! And it's over one pound! Hooray!

A careful observer will find that yon fish is actually a pound of "chocolatey smooth crisp 'n' crunchy candy" and not actually real chocolate at all.

Nothing says "I love you" like a fake-chocolate foil wrapped fish.

Carl Brandt Liquor Chocolates

I found these delicious little treats at a local store over the weekend: Brandt Brandy Beans, and Brandt Whiskey Beans. Manufactured in Germany by Brandt Zwieback-Schokoladen GmbH, and imported by their US division Carl Brandt Inc. of Fairfield CT, these marvelous liquor-filled goodies are one of my favorite confections.

Each candy is an inch-long bean-shaped dark chocolate shell filled with a whiskey or brandy liqueur. Although not very strong (the label on the Whiskey Beans indicates "whiskey 13%" in the ingredients, or about 7 proof) the candies are immensely satisfying: The chocolate is silky and luxurient and the whiskey is ever so slightly warming and vaporous. Couple that decadence with the "naughtiness" of the whiskey and it is easy to see why these are so appealing.

According to Brandt's website, there are three flavors of Brandy Beans available - the original Brandy, and three newly-introduced varieties: Orange Liqueur, Whiskey, and Vodka. I look forward to trying them all.


Carl Brandt Inc. US website (includes contact information for US wholesalers and retailers)

Brandt Zwieback-Schokoladen GmbH (English language site)

Brandt Zwieback-Schokoladen GmbH (German language site)

19 February, 2009

Pepsi to Bring Back Sugar-Sweetened Sodas

Despite the best public-relations work by the corn industry, consumers continue to express their preference for foods sweetened with sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. And when many consumers speak, manufacturers listen. Apparently, Pepsi will be releasing sugar-sweetened versions of their two most famous beverages, Pepsi-Cola and Mountain Dew, under the "Thowback" brand.

As revealed in this message board thread on BevNet.com, Pepsi Bottling Ventures will be introducing Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback in Mid-April 2009. BevNet forum members also dug up trademark information in the US Patent Office database showing a couple of the prosepctive label designs (shown above.)

For those of us who buy grey-market Mexican-bottled soft drinks, and who stock up on Kosher for Passover Coke and Pepsi in the spring, this is great news. Early indications are that this may be a limited-time experiment, but I hope that sales are strong enough that PBV and PepsiCo decide to add Throwback to the regular lineup.


18 February, 2009

Wise Kettle Cooked Potato Chips

I had no idea what I was in for when I bought a couple of bags of Wise Kettle Cooked chips at the local supermarket. I hadn't eaten Wise chips in perhaps 35 years - when I was a kid regular Wise chips were the greasiest, most disgusting chips on the market, with lots of dark-brown burnt chips, oily residue, and plenty of crumbs. I hated them, and I always bought the far superior State Line potato chips that were made just two towns over in Wilbraham, MA.

The State Line factory is long gone and there aren't any more local chips made in my part of New England these days. My favorite chip brands now are Utz and Herr's, but I'm still open to suggestions, and when I saw that Wise has a kettle chip available, I thought it might be time to stop ignoring them and give them a taste. I chose a standard, all-natural chip as a baseline, and a racier jalapeno flavor for a touch of heat.

The All-Natural chips are pretty good. Part of that is probably the presentation - Wise got wise and is using the matte-finish mylar bags for the kettle cooked stuff, just like Miss Vickie and many other "premium" brands. I don't know if this actually makes a difference in the flavor, but this type of packaging does lend an air of "superior quality," even if that air is somewhat imaginary. The chips themselves are no more greasy than any other kettle chips (hooray!) and very flavorful, if a bit on the salty side. They compare favorably with brands I've been more inclined to buy, such as Cape Cod or Grandma Utz.

The Jalapeno chips are also fairly decent. Not very hot initially, but they have a decent burn that builds as one chomps through the snack-sized bag. It was never really too much for me, but I did get a bit of the ol' familiar hairline perspiration breakout. Their biggest disadvantage? That nasty grassy flavor that jalapenos are so famous for. These chips supplied plenty of it. I would buy them again, but I think it would really be the nazz if a chip company tried out an ancho- or even a habanero-spiked chip.


Wise Foods Inc. website. After 35 years, I could be persuaded to try a few of their other products too. Maybe they're doing something different.

17 February, 2009

Pork Stock, and Escarole Soup

Last week, the local Price/Rite supermarket was selling whole fresh pork picnic shoulders for 69 cents a pound - a terrific deal, and a cut of pork that I can use for a number of dishes. I try not to waste a bit of it - I even render out the skin to make crispy dog treats and use the fat for frying and for making seed cakes for the birds in my back yard.

And when all the pork is gone, I'm left with a big jointed pork bone.

Did you know that a pork bone, a bowl of mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery,) and some seasonings like black peppercorns and a couple of bayleaves will make a delicious pork stock that is almost as mild and every bit as versatile as chicken stock? It's fabulous, and easy - like many of the other stock and soup recipes I've shared here, the prep is pretty simple. You just need a few hours (on, say, a lazy Sunday afternoon) to let everything simmer to perfection.

Pork Stock
Makes about 2 quarts

1 bone and bits of trimming from a fresh pork shoulder
3 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 or two bay leaves
8 whole black peppercorns
2½ quarts of fresh, cold water

Place all ingredients in a stockpot or large Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum or foam, then reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 3 hours. The longer the simmer, the better the stock. Once the volume cooks down to about 2 quarts, add a little water now and then to maintain that level.

Strain the broth for use in cooking or soup. If you refrigerate it overnight, it's easy to remove the fat in the morning (but leave a bit in the pot for flavor.)

Some people throw away the aromatics that went into the initial broth, but I don't. I either give it to the chickens or mash it with a fork and mix it in with the dog's kibble.

Now, about that escarole soup.

Another staple from my childhood, escarole soup is one of my mom's favorites. She used to make hers with refrigerated chicken soup base, aromatics, and escarole...or sometimes Swiss chard if escarole was expensive. These days, I don't really use a lot of powdered soup base, and I thought I'd kick up the flavor a bit by using the slightly richer and more flavorful pork stock. Also, I like the "gamier" flavor of leeks in a light brothy soup like this, so I subbed a leek for my usual onion . Escarole has always been a "winter vegetable" for me, and the soup is perfect for taking the chilled edge off after a mid-morning weekend day spent raking leaves or shoveling snow. And it just so happened that my hometown produce market had gorgeous and huge heads of escarole on sale the very week that I was making pork stock from that big ol' pig leg.

This version of the soup is - with the exception of the broth - meatless. I like it as a nice light lunch or appetizer at dinner. Feel free to kick it up a bit by added white cannelloni beans or slices of good Italian sausage.

Escarole Soup
Serves 6 - 10

2 quarts pork stock
2 carrots
1 leek
2 ribs of celery
1 bay leaf
Seasonings to taste
1 head of escarole

In a stock pot or large Dutch oven, heat the pork stock to a simmer. As the stock warms, thinly slice the carrots, leek, and celery, and when it's simmering, add your sliced veggies to the stock with the bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes, then season the stock to taste with your favorite flavor enhancers (in my case, that would be Swiss Maggi and Croatian Podravka Vegeta.) Keep the heat on low.

Prepare the escarole by rinsing it well as you break off the leaves near the base. Roughly chop the leaves - just a cut or two is all that's needed - and stir the leaves into the simmering soup to wilt them well. Serve at any time after the leaves are wilted. I like them rather a bit more done than that, so I simmer the soup for ten or fifteen minutes, stirring now and then, until the escarole is cooked to my taste.

Serve in small bowls or cups as an appetizer, or in larger bowls with some nice crusty bread as a lunch.


16 February, 2009

Sweet Suprises (Goodies From China, Part 2)

Digging further into the goodie bag that Stephanie sent from China, we find:

Hershey's Milk Chocolate bar with "green tea" filling: Steph's package took a little over two months to travel from Shanghai to Connecticut, and on the way it apparently encountered some temperature variations. As a result, this Hershey bar was not really in optimal condition when I opened it - you can see in the photo that there seems to be a little meltiness to the bar, and the slight greenish tinge to the chocolate is perhaps caused by the color of the filling migrating into the outer bar.

Biting into the Hershey's green tea bar is almost exactly the same as biting a standard Hershey's Milk Chocolate bar. The chocolate is an overwhelming first flavor, and it has every characteristic of Hershey's Pennsylvania-made product, right down to the slightly "cheesy" flavor unique to Hershey's. I tasted the green tea filling alone, and it hasn't got much initial flavor of its own other than "sweet." What makes this bar unique, though, is the marvelous and rich green tea aftertaste. I had just about shrugged off this candy as unremarkable when the green tea flavor came through and surprised me.

Nin Jiom Herbal Candy: The flavor of these marvelous little drops is difficult to describe. They're similar to the Riccola herbal cough drops, but perhaps a bit sweeter with more of a traditional candy-like flavor, and they're loaded with menthol.

They are also the best thing ever for soothing a sore throat. Halfway through one of these little drops and my daughter's horribly irritated throat was comfortable enough again that she could comfortably swallow.

A quick web search revealed that Nin Jiom is indeed a highly-regarded herbal remedy for sore throats, coughs, and colds in China, and that there are liquid preparations as well, most of which are sold at Chinese pharmacies in the US. The next time I'm down at Dong's Supermarket, I'll be spending some time at the medicine counter to see if they have any Nin Jiom.

Filled Marshmallow Candies: These are small individually wrapped 1-inch round marshmallow pillows filled with various sweets. Stephanie sent a big handful which included two varieties: grape and "pudding." The grape flavor had a pale purple grape jelly inside, and the "pudding" ones had a translucent amber chewy stuff that tasted similar to vanilla custard. A little too sugary for my tastes, but popular with kids.

Corn Jelly: If these were being actively marketed in the US, they'd be called Gummi Corn. They are inch-long gummis made in the shape of a tiny ear of corn - and they taste exactly like biting into flavorful corn on the cob. I'm not kidding.

Smoked Plum: Each of these sugar-packet-sized wrappers contain two small sugarplum prunes, unpitted. I'm not sure whether they are actually dried over smoke, or smoked as a final step after they are dried, but they do indeed have a slightly resinous pine smoke flavor coupled with the taste of the ever-present five-spice mix that seems to be really common in the snacks Steph has sent.

That flavor combination sounds like it should be awful, but it works well, especially because they're also just a bit salty. The sweet dark fruitiness of the prunes, the earthy smoke flavor, and the salt/five-spice combination produce a very unique snack.

15 February, 2009

Stone Ridge Creamery Ice Cream

With regular prices for brand-name ice cream hovering around $6.00 per "container" these days, I hardly ever buy the stuff unless it's on sale - and then I buy the limit and pack the deep freeze so I can go a couple of months between purchases.

I also keep an eye open for lower-priced alternative brands, which is how I found Stone Ridge Creamery ice cream in the case over at Shaw's.

Stone Ridge Creamery is a "private label" ice cream, made by SuperValu, a conglomerate that owns supermarket chains covering every segment of the grocery retail market from "premium" stores like Shaw's in New England and Bristol Farms in California, all the way down the ladder to national no-frills "limited selection" markets like Save-A-Lot. I didn't know that when I picked up a package of their vanilla "light" ice cream and a similar package of their regular chocolate at the local Shaw's. The low price ($2.50) caught my eye, and the well-designed packaging kept my attention. I chose "basic flavors" just to get an idea of what the stuff was like. Only later, after we had tasted the product, did I look closer at the packaging to see who the manufacturer was.

The light vanilla ice cream is pretty decent. It has good body and scoops tightly (I've noticed that some ice milks and light ice creams scoop out in fragile curls.) The ice cream itself is loaded with tiny flecks of genuine vanilla bean just like more expensive premium brands. Although the label claims half the fat and a third the calories of regular ice cream, it has a rich mouthfeel that is nearly indistinguishable from premium ice cream.

Unfortunately, the actual taste of the ice cream doesn't follow through with the same level of quality; the vanilla flavor isn't strong and robust as one would expect, but rather a bit weak and subtle on its own. Although that's a bit disappointing for eating straight up, it might not matter so much if you usually eat your ice cream with syrups or toppings, or as a base for a milkshake - the other flavoring components will make up for it.

The chocolate flavor regular ice cream by Stone Ridge had plenty of flavor but a thinner body. We felt that the light vanilla was actually creamier and smoother than the regular chocolate.

Despite these shortcomings, the family and I were pleased overall with Stone Ridge's two most basic flavors and we would certainly buy them again.

You should be able to find Stone Ridge Creamery ice cream just about anywhere in the US, since it's a SuperValu brand and they operate retail grocery chains across the country. Click here for a list of SuperValu-owned chains - from there you can find short descriptions and capsule histories of the various stores.


13 February, 2009

McDonald's Sausage McMuffin With Egg

Even though I don't really like McDonald's burgers very much, their breakfast sandwiches are fairly brilliant. An Egg McMuffin or a Sausage McMuffin With Egg may have a bad rap because of the "Mc" in the name, but it's purely guilt by association. One egg, an English muffin, and a 3 ounce sausage patty is a delicious and yet modest breakfast, and there it is, right in that little paper wrapper, ready for you to start your day.

Recently, the McDonald's restaurants near me started running a morning special: Two Sausage McMuffins with Egg for $3.33. I sometimes stop on my way to work and pick up the special, and then give one of the sandwiches to a coworker. I figured that at $1.67 each, I probably couldn't make them at home that cheap.

And that got me wondering - seeing as how the old KFC $10 Challenge was so easily disproved - was I really getting a great deal at McDonalds?

To make Sausage McMuffins with Egg, I need only four ingredients: sausage, eggs, English muffins, and a mild yellow cheese.

16 ounce tube of bulk sausage, $3.00, which yields six 2½-ounce patties at $0.50 each.
6-pack English muffins, $3.49, or $0.58 per muffin.
1 dozen regionally-raised large brown eggs, $2.29, or $0.19 per egg.
1 pound of Land-O-Lakes yellow American cheese, $4.99, or $0.31 per 1-ounce slice.

My total cost to make a sausage/muffin/egg breakfast sandwich would be $1.58 each, a whopping savings of nine cents.


McDonald's USA

12 February, 2009

Fishy Delights 20: SeaBear Smoked Salmon

My family really enjoys smoked fish, especially the hot-smoked (or "smoke roasted") variety. We love smoked bluefish when it's in season, I follow the sales at local stores so I can smoke salmon and steelhead trout when the prices are at their best, and there are several New England companies that sell excellent, ready-to-eat smoked salmon from the refrigerated sections of supermarket seafood departments. So, I had high expectations when I bought a package of SeaBear brand Thai Chili Smoked Salmon, planning to enjoy it as a part of Sunday breakfast.

My daughter was less enthusiastic. "Oh, it's that salmon-in-a-box stuff," she said. "We've had that before. It'll be in a foil package like an MRE, and the fish will be mushy and overcooked. Disgusting cat food."

"Well, let's give this one a try anyway. Look, it's got Thai chili peppers. Maybe it will be better than that plain one," I replied. I had forgotten about that other "boxed salmon" we'd had; it was a gift from a client a few years before and although it was a thoughtful, heartfelt, and appreciated gift the salmon was indeed wet and mushy inside its plasticized foil coffin. At any rate, I didn't want to start making comparisons when I couldn't remember the brand name of the other stuff and hadn't even opened this one yet.

When I opened the box, the gold foil pouch that came out made it obvious that my daughter has a better memory than I do.

I opened the pouch and brought the fish out onto a plate, making sure to include at least some of the liquid that it was packed in (the foil pouch was printed with instructions that read THE POUCH WILL CONTAIN NATURAL JUICES OF THE SALMON. WE RECOMMEND POURING OVER THE FILLET FOR EXTRA MOISTNESS AND FLAVOR.

The salmon was indeed quite thoroughly cooked and very wet. The surface was varying shades of smoky brown. It smelled good; smoky, pleasantly fishy, a hint of hot red pepper. The juices appeared peppery - lots of fine grains of something and flaky chips of red pepper that looked like it might have been purchased as dried flakes and added to the pouch just before processing.

Unfortunately, the texture and taste of the fish left a lot to be desired. It was, as I said, wet. Refrigerated ready-to-eat smoked salmon is firm and moist with a fresh taste, but the SeaBear pouched stuff was overcooked and falling apart even before it could be touched with a fork. There wasn't a lot of flavor - some salmony taste, a hint of smoke, and seriously little heat - if it hadn't been labeled "Thai Chili" I never would have known by eating it. In fact, if I had been blindfolded and given a taste of it, I'm not sure I would have been able to tell the difference between this and plain old run-of-the-mill canned salmon. A six-ounce piece of fish pricetagged at $14.99, or about $40.00 a pound, shouldn't be mediocre - it should be awesome.

SeaBear has a big and loyal following, but it's hard to believe that any of it was won by this truly awful product. I hope that some of the other salmon they carry on their website is better, but browsing through the pages there I see a lot of pouches and I'm not eager to do any experimenting.


SeaBear Smoked Salmon

11 February, 2009

Markdown Nonsense, Part 2

Stop & Shop's produce markdown clerks are at it again with their ridiculous "box lot" markdowns. Check out this amazing Dollar Deal: Two lunchbox-size boxes of Sun-Maid raisins, and few soft 'n' wilty celery sticks, and a handful of partially dehydrated "baby carrots." Now that's a Snak-Pak for you!


10 February, 2009

I Miss Volcano Tacos

Back in Fall 2008, Taco Bell introduced the Volcano Taco to their 89¢ menu. It wasn't an amazing innovative breakthrough in faux-Mexican culinaria, but it was a decent spicy lunch - several hundred thousand Scoville units beyond most Taco Bell fare.

It was a simple concept: Take an otherwise standard Taco Bell crunchy taco, color the shell a ridiculous bright red, and add a thick layer of "Lava Sauce" on top of the meat.

The Lava Sauce was the secret to the Volcano Taco's appeal: A smooth and cheddary cheese sauce that was loaded with two-stage heat: A mild burn to start that gradually built up in your mouth and throat as you ate, and a more solid fiery "warmth" down deep that stopped just short of heartburn. Topped off with a couple of packets of Fire Sauce, a Volcano Taco was comfortably warm and would get the top of my poor ol' balding head breaking out in tiny beads of sweat. (Keep in mind that my heat tolerance is somewhere on the high side of medium - true chiliheads would probably consider this taco to be kind of mild.)

They never looked as good in person as they did on the posters, but fast food never does. I was pretty disappointed when they were discontinued, though.


Fast Food Critic's Volcano Taco Review

Here's One Internet Petition to Bring the Volcano Taco back, and here is another one. I'm pretty sure no one at Taco Bell pays any attention whatsoever to internet petitions - why should they? No one else does - but the comments are fun in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way.

Taco Bell's website.


09 February, 2009

Dagoba Organic Chocolate

I picked up a pair of Dagoba Organic Chocolate bars the other day at a local store. I'll be perfectly honest with you: it wasn't because I was shopping for an organic treat produced with fair trade practices and sustainability in mind. It was because I wanted to find out if Dagoba's product was really worth the price the store charges for it ($3.29 for a 2-ounce bar.)

I chose two somewhat exotic bars - one based on milk chocolate with a 37% cacao content, and the other based on dark chocolate with a 68% cacao content. All of Dagoba's products use certified organic ingredients and when sugar is needed they use organic evaporated cane juice. Choosing a couple of specialty bars would let me experience their chocolate and their idea of what would taste good in a combination. so it appeared to be win/win.

Indeed, the chocolate is superb. Smooth and effortlessly meltable in the mouth as only a truly fine chocolate can be, full-flavored but not overpowering in the combo bars I tried. Both bars were pleasant surprises.

The first one I tried was "Seeds," a delicious 68% dark chocolate studded with pumpkin, sunflower, and hemp seeds. It was good, and the seeds added a nice textural contrast to the smooth chocolate, but I find the hemp thing to be pretty silly. Dagoba claims there's oodles of omega-3 fatty acids in hemp seed, but if that were the real reason they could have just used flaxseed. I guess flax isn't as sexy or edgy as hemp, though, so it's harder to market to the sexy edgy hempsters who like to pretend that growing a rope fiber plant is somehow exciting and risky because it's just like marijuana!

Anyway: Good flavor, nice contrast in textures, kind of silly concept.

The other was "Chai," a 37% milk chocolate containing bits of crystallized ginger and chai spices. The milk chocolate is nearly perfect, and the chai spices (provided by using ginger oil, cinnamon oil, clove oil, anise oil, cardamom oil, anise oil, and black pepper oil) are well-balanced and delightful. Once again, no disappointment here - in fact, the flavor combination was fairly awesome.

So... Is Dagoba Organic Chocolate worth the premium price? Considering the high quality of the product as well as the company's efforts to carefully source their materials and "play fair" with the small suppliers it buys from, I'd say probably "yes."


Dagoba's website.

08 February, 2009

Skillet Chili

There's a million ways to make chili, and arguments about what kind of chili is best and whether or not beans belong in it break out all the time. This chili recipe isn't going to settle any arguments. It's the kind of chili my mom used to make when I was a kid, and it's a simple, no-fuss way of getting a decent batch of chili on the table for supper in about half an hour.

Skillet Chili
Serves 4 - 6

1½ pounds lean ground beef
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tbsp cumin
1 heaping tbsp paprika
1 envelope of your favorite chili seasoning
1 can (14½ ounces) diced tomatoes, or 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
about ½ cup of water
1 can (15½ ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Brown the beef in a large skillet. When it's about halfway browned, add the onion, pepper, and garlic. Continue cooking until beef is browned, and pour off excess fat.

Add the cumin, paprika, and chili seasoning packet and stir them in, coating everything well with the spices. Add the tomatoes and the water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer. While the chili is simmering, drain the can of beans. I always dump the beans into a strainer and rinse them off while I'm at it, because I hate that thick, slimy crap that canned beans seem to be packed in. My recipe specifies red kidney beans, but you can subsitute pinto beans, or cannellini (white kidney beans) if you prefer.

Stir the beans into the simmering chili, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary (the amount of salt you'll need will depend on the brand of the chili seasoning mix you bought) and serve with shredded cheese to go on top...

...or Goldfish crackers.

One of the things that I like about this chili is that it's not that fiery hot. You can appeal to a wide range of spice tolerance by serving it with a bottle of hot sauce or jar of cayenne or chipotle powder for folks to stir in as they wish.

07 February, 2009

Duck Tongues and Feet (Goodies from China, Part 1)

Last week, I mentioned that Stephanie had sent a big box of goodies from China. Today we're taking our first peek, and we find Smoked and Spiced Duck Tongues, and Smoked and Spiced Duck Feet! Yummy!

Now, I have to say that the packaging and graphics are truly inspired. Each duck foot, or "duck web" as they are labeled, is individually cryovac packaged in a foil pouch. The tongues are similarly packed, but there are two in each pouch. These packages keep the treats fresh and delicious for a long time. And I love the graphics, with a cartoon duckling giving the viewer a "thumbs up" superimposed over photographs of the tasty snacks. I got a kick out of the brand name, too: The iDuck Series.

Duck Tongues: The Snack That Tastes You Back

This is what a smoked spiced duck tongue looks like right out of the package. Each tongue has four small bones associated with it. There are two thin pin bones, one on each side, and two short but broad bones under the tongue itself.

I've found the easiest way to eat the tongues is to pluck out the broad bones from under the tongue and then eat the rest kind of like a chicken wing - pop the whole thing into your mouth and then slide the two pin bones out between your teeth, removing the meat from them as your go.

How do they taste? Well, Americans tend to think "hot" when they see the word "spicy" but "spicy" on a Chinese-packaged product often means "five-spice seasoned" instead, and that is exactly the case here. The smoke flavor is very subtle and the flavor of the tongue is mild. Overall, it's very similar to American vienna sausages, but richer and with a more interesting texture (provided by the little curlicues of cartilage no doubt.)

At Left, Top: The bones from inside a duck tongue

At Left, Bottom: The tongue as removed from the packaging; the pin bones are folded under the tongue (aboard a duck, those bones extend from the base of the tongue.)

I wish that I had duck feet...

Duck feet, although bonier, are easier to eat. The bones are bigger and there's more meat. right out of the package it looks like a tiny withered fist, perhaps ready to flip us off:

As with the tongues, "spicy" refers to the five-spice seasoning. The meat and gristle, all of which should be eaten, are tender but not "fall off the bone" tender, and the foot is enshrouded with flavored aspic, made from the juices of the foot as it cooks and is sealed in the pouch.

Duck feet aren't very meaty - most of what's there is soft-cooked tendon and skin. But the texture is interesting, and the smoke and spice give an interesting flavor: different from the tongue, almost like a rich chicken stock.

I don't think there's a "proper" way to eat them. You can nibble the meat off the bones (make sure you eat the gristly bits between the bones) or break off the bone segments and clean them off by pulling them between your front teeth. Some people eat the toes whole, toenails, little bones, and all, but I'm not really comfortable with that - and the nails are really sharp! I got one jabbed into my gums between two molars and it hurt like hell.

Anyway, my favorite way of eating them is to pull out all the little bones and toenails first - they slip right out and leave the web all wobbly and boneless - and then pop it in my mouth like a tiny drumstick, with the ankle bone as a handle. Delicious.

With any luck, I'll be able to find these in my local Asian supermarket.


Ten Wow Food Co. of Shanghai website (in Chinese - no English page available at this writing.)

I wish that I had duck feet
And I can tell you why:
You can splash around in duck feet
You don't have to keep them dry.

-- Theo. LeSeig
(Dr. Seuss)