30 June, 2009

Egg Cream In A Bottle?

If you're not from the Northeast, you might not be familiar with "egg creams," the iconic chocolate fountain drink of New York City. Made with U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, milk, and carbonated water, an egg cream doesn't contain any eggs or cream, and just exactly how the drink got its name is something of an etymological mystery.

Can a drink so legendary and so celebrated be captured successfully in a bottle? Well, sort of.

I bought a bottle of Jeff's Amazing New York Egg Cream (by Egg Cream America Inc.) to give it a try. As bottled chocolate sodas go, this one was okay. It was thin and almost flat, and pouring it out made a skimpy rim of whitish foam around the edge of the glass. Although it comes close to the flavor of a real egg cream, a bottled product just can't quite hit the high notes because the wonderful milkfoam topping that develops on a fountain drink isn't possible out of a bottle. Despite Egg Cream America's claim that "Yesterday's egg cream is today's dairy based carbonated beverage and we consider ourselves the next link in the continuing saga of egg cream," I can't help but think that the saga is being written in crayon these days.

Luckily, though, an egg cream isn't too complicated to make at home. Pour about half a cup of whole milk into a glass and add about a cup of seltzer water. Stir the hell out of it with a long iced-tea spoon to make the seltzer and milk combo foam, then drizzle a couple of tablespoons of Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup into the glass, gently stirring the drink at the bottom where the syrup is trying to settle. You'll end up with a mildly fizzy chocolaty drink with a foamy white head. Enjoy it quickly, because it goes flat pretty fast. (Linda Stradley, in her excellent New York Egg Cream article on the What's Cooking America website, says "It is perfectly proper to gulp down an egg cream. In fact, egg cream will lose its head and become flat if it is not enjoyed immediately."


Egg Cream America Inc. website. Information available here includes online sales.

New York Egg Cream - History and Recipe of New York Egg Cream, by Linda Stradley at What's Cooking America. Very well researched, includes memoirs and citations.

H. Fox & Co. website - Maker of Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup. Seriously, an egg cream doesn't taste right made with any other chocolate syrup.


29 June, 2009

Lobster Prices Still Low

Looks like it's going to be another hard season for lobstermen and good season for lobster eaters this summer. Although wholesale market prices for live lobsters are up from last year, they haven't rebounded significantly. Market prices in Boston range from $4.00 to $4.75 for hardshells and $3.25 to $3.75 for softshells and culls (lobsters with just one claw.) And, while the Boston Market Report indicates that supply is light and demand moderate, the pressure still hasn't forced prices higher

This kind of low price is mixed news for diners and tourists in Massachusetts and Maine. I was down to Maine this past weekend, and most lobster pounds were selling live bugs for $4.99 a pound from Kittery to Kennebunk (the price was slightly higher along the New Hampshire coast and the North Shore of Massachusetts, but not much.) Lobster dinners were the same price they've been in awile, though, holding at about $20 for "twin lobsters." And lobster rolls were also holding steady from last year at $8.99 to $9.99 with a few places as low as $7.99.

Fuel prices are rising again after a brief respite, and bait prices haven't eased off either. Couple that with maintenance and repair costs to boats and equipment, and a dock price of $4.00 or so a pound doesn't leave much for a lobsterman to live on. In some places, lobstermen are selling bugs directly to the public at the docks to cut out the middleman and try to squeeze a few more dollars out of a tight market.

Of course, low lobster prices won't sell more bugs if there aren't tourists to buy them. Coming up on 4th of July like we are, I expected bigger crowds along the shore than we saw last weekend. Traffic, often bumper-to-bumper and moving at a snail's pace on US1 this time of year, was thick but not unmanagable even thrugh traditional bottlenecks like Ogunquit. And there were a lot of commercial buildings and businesses closed, for lease, or for sale as we traveled up through York, Wells, Kennebunk, and Biddeford, and lots of "VACANCY" signs lit up on the motels and cabins there. Let's hope tourism picks up as we go into July.

Links and More Info:

Maine Lobster Industry Still Hurting, by Sandra Dinsmore at The Working Waterfront newsletter online

Deperate Maine Lobstermen Sell From Trucks, Homes - Associated Press hosted by Google News

27 June, 2009

Tweet What you Eat

Snagged from 4chan. If anyone knows the original source, email me and I'll credit it.


26 June, 2009

Fishy Delights 23: Fragata Spanish Olives, Anchovy Stuffed

I found these little gems at Ocean State Job Lot. I like Spanish olives. I like anchovies. I figured, for a buck, maybe I'd find out if I like olives and anchovies combined.

The olives are quite good - not too salty, firm, no blemishes (sometimes job lot store olives have brown spots and other defects.) The anchovies are pretty good too. The can is definitely worth more than a dollar; the quality all around is top notch. Someone who likes anchovy-stuffed olives would really like Fragata.

As for me, I paid my buck and I found out that I really don't like olives and anchovies combined. No fault of the olives, they're just not my thing.


These olives are imported and distributed by Mario Camacho Foods.

24 June, 2009

Sunset Brand Baby Eggplant

I've written about Sunset Brand hydroponic vegetables before - their tomatoes and Ancient Sweets red peppers are unsurpassed for flavor and quality - and now I'm happy to say they've done it again. I found these Sunset baby eggplants in Costco and just couldn't resist trying them.

I really like eggplant, but sometimes it can be difficult to find really good, fresh eggplant in the supermarket. It doesn't take a long time for eggplant to get soft and spongy. When that happens, it's hard to peel and tough to slice. It often tastes bitter, and it can get so "sharp" that it hurts the roof of my mouth to eat it. The fresher the fruit, the less harsh it is, so it's important to choose firm eggplant without wrinkles or depressions in the skin.

The best eggplant, of course, comes out of one's own garden. The next best is the stuff picked in the morning and purchased the same day at the farm stand. But it's only June, and the eggplants are just starting to flower here in New England, so those choices are out of the question. Luckily, Sunset gives us a choice that is just as good as farm-stand fresh.

My Sunset eggplant was at the peak of perfection: Firm and easy to peel, creamy milky pale greenish-tan on the inside. There was a small amount of tiny seeds, but they were hardly bothersome. The fruit sliced beautifully without tearing or bruising.

My favorite ways to make eggplant are the simplest. Sliced, brushed with oil, and grilled brown on both sides over hot coals is one fave. Another is cut into fingers, dipped in egg wash, dredged in flour, and fried. Since it was raining and I couldn't use the grill yesterday, we we went with fried.

The eggplant sticks were delicious. Tender and creamy inside, crispy outside. There was no bitterness or sharpness - in fact, the eggplant tasted slightly sweet. It was as perfect as it could get without being picked from the garden.


Mastronardi Produce's website is loaded with information about their products, and includes recipes, company history, and a contact form in case you love their stuff so much you want to tell them about it.

23 June, 2009

Mountain Dew Game Fuel UPDATE

Updated 18 June 2009

New Mountain Dew WoW Game Fuel - in Horde Red and Alliance Blue - should be available in stores near you NOW. We have found it in the refrigerator cases at the following retailers:

  • Stop & Shop / Giant Supermarkets
  • 7-11 Convenience Stores
  • CVS Drugstores
  • Walmart in Connecticut
  • Target
  • Price Chopper
Mr. Dave (no relation) confirms it is available in cans, in 12-pack boxes, in Walmart and Price Chopper stores in Upstate NY.

Update - 23 June 2009

Mtn Dew WoW Game Fuel is now available at Stop & Shop / Giant supermarkets on the shelves with other PepsiCo beverages, as well as in the refrigerated coolers at the front of the store.

Update - 28 June 2009

Target has PepsiCo products on sale this week. At my local Target, both Game Fuel varieties were displayed on endcaps, in 12-pack suitcases of cans.

Feel free to leave a comment here or email me if you find it at other stores, and whether you're finding six-packs, 12-packs, or individual refrigerated bottles and/or cans. Dew fans are reporting that these limited edition flavors are hard to find - let's help each other out.


22 June, 2009

Charlie's Seafood, Lynn MA

When tourists to the North Shore area of Massachusetts go looking for whole-belly fried clams, they usually go to places like the Clam Box in Ipswich, or J T Farnham's or Woodman's in Essex. The clams at all three places are excellent.

But on a recent trip to the area during which I sampled clams from several different eateries, I discovered a hidden gem just south of Salem: Charlie's Seafood in Lynn, MA.

Lynn has a reputation for bad neighborhoods, crime, and drugs, but not every street in town is "bad." Charlie's is on Essex Street not too far from Swampscott, and while the neighborhood is no Beverly Hills, it isn't really horrible either. Michael and I parked the car around back and went in the side entrance.

The building may look old from the outside, but inside it was immaculately clean. The ordering counter was bright and fresh, staffed by a friendly and helpful young lady who took our small order - a small box of fried clams - cheerfully. The dining area was bright and airy with roomy booths and a few tables.

We'd been eating fried clams all day, and were feeling a touch "clammed out" by the time we got to Charlie's, so perhaps our little snack here was starting at a disadvantage. But by our second taste, Michael said, "This is the catch of the day." The clams were plump, fresh, and delicious - truly the best we'd had on this particular Clam Crawl.

Although we didn't try anything else on this visit, a few other customers were in and out, buying various other menu items. The fish and chips looked first-rate and so did the order of fried squid that came out of the kitchen about midway through our nosh. There were a couple other folks in there for the clams as well. No one was disappointed, and several of them were obviously regulars.

At the end of July, my family is getting together with a group of friends for a picnic and a full-bore Clam Crawl. Charlie's will definitely be on the itinerary.

Charlie's Seafood
188 Essex St
Lynn, MA 01902-1745
(781) 595-8953

Charlie's had no website of its own at the time this entry was published.


20 June, 2009

Banquet Smothered Burrito

You don't have to shop dollar stores to find some strange and unusual foods - thanks to ConAgra's Banquet brand, there's always something interesting in the freezer section of the grocery store. Like this lunch: Smothered Burrito. Doesn't the Serving Suggestion Enlarged To Show Quality look delicious? There's a plump "bean, beef and textured soy protein burrito" ladled with delicious "queso sauce" and a helping of "Mexican style rice" and refried beans. If it weren't for the queso sauce looking a little like that fake rubber vomit you can buy in novelty stores, the stuff would look pretty good. You can bet the food stylist in ConAgra's art department spent a few long hours carefully assembling that plate of grub for the photographer.

Of course, real life is never really the same as a painstakingly crafted food model.

Clockwise from left: Burrito smothered in queso sauce, refried beans, Mexican style rice.

Okay, so it's not much to look at. How does it taste?

Surprisingly, not as bad as I thought it would when I laughingly plucked it out of the freezer case at the local Shaw's. The refried beans were pretty awful. There were virtually no pieces or chunks of bean in the serving; it was a thoroughly pureed, drooly brown paste with very little flavor. The rice was similarly underseasoned, but somewhat better. I had expected overcooked mushy rice, but got surprisingly firm medium-grain rice with small bits of mild red and green bell pepper. There was too much sauce for the rice, of course - a gluey concoction of modified food starch, cumin, and turmeric - but at least there was a hint of spicy heat that kept my taste buds from falling asleep.

The burrito was kind of strange. Tortillas don't really microwave well, and heating the meal turned the tortilla into a tough and chewy membrane filled with a reddish-brown...filling. It tasted goodish, I guess, and vaguely south-of-the-border in kind of the same way that Taco Bell reminds you of Mexican food without ever really being actual Mexican food. And the queso sauce was not nearly as laughably nasty as it looked - it was actually cheesy and somewhat flavorful and contained ingredients such as real heavy cream, Monterey Jack cheese, and diced jalapeno peppers (along with other, more standard industrial food ingredients like locust bean gum, pasteurized process cheese spread, and dry nonfat milk.) I find myself almost surprised to say that I kind of liked it.

Not a gourmet meal by any means, but at $1.25 ($1 on sale if you time it right) it's an acceptable lunch on days you just can't get away from your desk for longer than it takes to work the microwave.

17 June, 2009

Capicola Update - Last of the Season

That, my friends, is a paper-thin slice of extra-long-aged hot capicola, held to the light so it can glow like a sunlit stained-glass window in the Cathedral Of Porky Goodness.

This particular capicola is the end result of two experiments suggested by two friends.

When my friend Roger and I were spicing the pork loins and stuffing them into casings, he suggested an alternative to the traditional cayenne pepper spice I normally use. We mixed equal parts of cayenne and powdered chipotle together, then added some imported smoked Spanish paprika for a boost to both the smokiness and the pepper flavor (not to be confused with the pepper heat.) That turned out to be a very successful combination - the next batch of hot cappy we make will also use that seasoning mix.

Back in April, when Roger and I opened and packaged our cappy, there was one which wasn't quite ready - not quite firm enough when squeezed - and we decided to age it another couple of weeks. The closet off my kitchen was chosen for the job, since the attic was already becoming too warm now that Spring had arrived. Around the same time my friend Michael wondered how the texture and flavor would be if the capicola were allowed to age long enough to dry thoroughly, almost like jerky. That seemed like a worthy experiment, so when the kitchen closet began to warm up as well, the still-cased cappy was moved to the spare fridge, where it could continue to evaporate out at an even pace in a relatively humidity-controled environment.

Two months passed, and because Michael was visiting last night it seemed as good a time as ever to unwrap this last capicola. The casing had become quite brittle, so we wrapped the cappy in a damp terrycloth towel to soften it enough to cut and peel. When we peeled the casing off, there was a delicious aroma of smokey pepper and meat. It was very firm - more so than the capicola we harvested in April, but not rock-hard. Although the ends of the cappy were quite dark - a deep black cherry color - towards the centers they were more "normal" looking, deep red and meaty. I sectioned the capicola into four pieces, and we sliced some shavings off of the smallest end piece to try out.

Delicious. The chipotle and paprika had lent a very good smokey flavor which was noticeable without being overwhelmingly powerful. The heat level was just right - a bit hotter than commercial "hot" capicola, but not painful. A chilehead would enjoy it, but it wouldn't be necessary to be a chilehead to enjoy it. The extra aging time had also given the meat a more translucent appearance when sliced - leading to the beautiful texture and visual effect in the top photo. Both experiments were extremely successful.

15 June, 2009


I love my local produce store. Not only do I get wonderful fresh vegetables and fruit at half the supermarket price, but they've got a marvelous selection of Eastern Mediterranean and Turkish foods as well. If it weren't for that little market, I would never have discovered the amazing magic of Lutenica.

Lutenica is a kind of roasted vegetable spread common in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Macedonia. It's made of roasted red peppers, tomato sauce, and roasted fefferoni peppers (which are an Eastern Mediterranean variety of hot chile pepper.) Because it's a traditionally home-made condiment, there are a lot of variations on that basic theme because every family has their own way of making it.

The version we bought is made by VaVa in Macedonia and imported by Fast-Pak Trading in New Jersey. It's made with roasted red peppers, tomato sauce, carrots, parsley, garlic, fefferoni peppers, oil, and salt. I bought it out of curiosity, but now that we've tried it we'll probably never be without it.

The first time I opened the jar, the aroma was incredible: mouth-watering roasted red peppers, the tang of ripe tomatoes, and just a hint of garlic. It's spicy, but not too spicy, and the flavors are perfectly balanced; all of the ingredients work together in harmony. So far, we've enjoyed it with beef and pork. Very soon, I'm going to make a pizza using lutenica as a base instead of the usual tomato sauce. I bet it'll be aces.


VaVa's complete line of pepper relishes can be viewed here. I want to find Ajvar next - it's like lutenica, but with roasted eggplant added.

Fast-Pak Trading Inc. website. Fun to explore.


14 June, 2009

Bad Candy Design - Hannah Montana Concert Candy

I was in the drugstore with my daughter when, laughing, she handed me a package of these "Hannah Montana Concert Candy Sweet & Sour Gummies." Ostensibly made in the shape of guitars and microphones, they seemed to me at first glance to be just another cheap-ass and fairly generic product being given a boost by a licensing agreement. And I was puzzled as to why a 20-year-old punk rock fan would be interested in Hannah Montana anything.

Turns out it was for the lulz.

As you can see from the pictures below, these gummies don't really resemble guitars all that much. But they do look a lot like dicks. To compound this unfortunate circumstance, the gummies are molded in various flavors and colors. One of the colors is a pinkish sort of flesh tone that makes the cocklike appearance all the more striking.

Did anyone in Disney's marketing department look at the product before they approved this deal?

Gives a whole new meaning to the term "junk food."


Hannah Montana Concert Candy is distributed by Imaginings 3. Check out their Flix Candy page - they're wicked proud to have been the 2008 Disney Food and Beverage Licensee of the Year.

12 June, 2009

Heinz Ketchup Varieties

I don't have many brand loyalties - I base my grocery shopping on price points, not on who has the fanciest packaging or funniest advertisements. Except when it comes to ketchup. Even though I don't use ketchup on a lot of things, the only brand I'll ever buy is Heinz. I don't care if the store brand has a bigger bottle or if Hunt's is cheaper, it's thick, rich Heinz all the way for me.

I was in Big Lots! yesterday and several Heinz ketchup varieties were on the shelves. We decided to pick up a bottle each of the Organic and the Reduced Sugar varieties to try out.

We thought it would be fun to do a "blind tasting" first to see if we could tell the difference between the different kinds of ketchups. Unfortunately, that idea didn't work - although all three varieties are thick and smooth, the Organic is dark red and the Reduced Sugar is a little bit paler than the Original. We could tell immediately on sight which one was which, and that takes all the fun out of it. So we settled on a standard side-by-side tasting comparison:

Original: Thick and bright red, with that familiar tangy Heinz ketchup taste. It's great stuff, and no other brand manages to get the flavor as "just right" as Heinz. Mostly, I use ketchup on burgers and mac-and-cheese (especially my favorite kind of mac-and-cheese, the cheap-ass crap they sell in boxes with powdered cheese sauce.) But my mother showed me that there is nothing that a beef gravy likes better than a bit of ketchup, so when I make beef stew or pot roast, I will often stir a quarter cup of ketchup into the broth before thickening it into gravy. Try it, you'll be amazed.

Reduced Sugar (formerly sold as "One Carb" ): Reduced Sugar was easy to pick out of the lineup because of its lighter color, but in a blindfolded taste test it would have been hard to distinguish. Sweetened with sucralose (aka Splenda) the label claims that it contains 75% less sugar than regular ketchup. I'm glad we took the chance on this one, because I'm always looking at ways to reduce the number of foods we buy that contain high fructose corn syrup. Heinz Reduced Sugar ketchup tastes excellent - I wouldn't turn it down even if I weren't keeping an eye on my carb intake.

Of the three varieties in our taste test, though, our hands-down favorite was Organic. It was rich, dark red and had a full, well-rounded ketchup flavor. Like many other organic products which contain sugar rather than HFCS, the flavor also had a "softer" and less cloying sweetness. Since I'm an old fart and remember what foods used to taste like before HFCS, it reminded me of the ketchup I used to get when I was a kid.

So now I've got three bottles of ketchup in the fridge, which is probably a record for us. I'll have to make some Hamburger And Egg for supper soon, so we can use up some of it.

Hamburger And Egg
1 Serving

1/3 pound hamburger (ground beef)
1/4 onion, coarsely chopped
2 eggs, beaten with a little milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the hamburger in a skillet, breaking it up into chunks as you go. Just before the harmburger is brown enough, add the onion and sautee until golden. Pour off excess burger fat, then add the eggs, scrambling them with the hamburger. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with ketchup.

These are the ingredients for one person. Simply multiply the ingredient quantities by the number of people eating and follow the instructions to feed more than one. This recipe is infinitely scalable.

11 June, 2009

Markdown Nonsense, part 3

More good times in the Stop & Shop produce department - today's prize: A tomato, a peach, a head of garlic, and an avocado - it's an Instant Salsa Kit (just add an onion and chop fine.)

09 June, 2009

Not All Ideas Are Good Ideas

Whether at the stove or at the table, my family likes freshly-ground seasonings. Peppercorns, allspice, nutmeg, coriander seed - no matter what it is, it tastes better when it's ground at the time of use (not to mention that whole spices have a longer shelf life than pre-ground ones.)

Good high-quality peppermills are available in just about any store for around $25 or so, but they're also easy to find (and a lot less expensive) at rummage sales, thrift stores, and estate or yard sales. I've picked up quite a few very nice peppermills for a dollar or less each that way.

Last year, I bought a mill with a clear lucite body and steel grinding plates. I liked the idea of a clear body, because I could fill it with an unusual mix that would be immediately visible to anyone picking it up. I filled it up with a blend of crushed red pepper flakes and very coarse sea salt. The combination was great - salt with a hot pepper kick - and was pretty popular for awhile before the novelty wore off and the mill found its way into kind of a seasoning rotation and, eventually, into the spice cupboard where it was more or less forgotten.

I remembered it a week ago and brought it out to add a little zip to my scrambled eggs - and added instead a coating of filthy-tasting slag; it was like having a mouthful of crunchy rotting tin. And when I flipped the peppermill over to check it, it was easy to see why. Summers in New England are tropical in their humidity, and salt gathers moisture. Sitting in the spice cupboard over last summer had given the crushed salt trapped in and on the plates plenty of time to collect moisture from the air and rot the metal. I hadn't actually ground any salt or red pepper onto my eggs at all - I had just broken free the rotted, fused plates and scraped the rust into my food.

Lesson learned: Any mills I buy for salt blends will have nylon grinding plates from now on.


08 June, 2009

Purnell's Old Folks Sausage

I was in the local Save-A-Lot supermarket the other day, browsing the frozen section, when I came across a brand and product I had never heard of before: Purnell's "Old Folks" Country Sausage & Biscuits. Each box has six twin-packs of little (about 2 inches or so in diameter) sausage-and-biscuit sandwiches, pre-cooked and ready to pop into the microwave for a quick breakfast or snack. I don't always have the time in the morning for a real breakfast, so the convenience of taking a package to work with me and nuking it on my coffee break was really appealing - and, I have to admit, the retro-style graphics on the package added to the attraction.

Save-A-Lot is referred to by parent company SuperValu as "the nation's leading extreme value, limited-assortment grocery chain." While most of the stuff I've bought there is of good quality, I've occasionally found a clunker so I wasn't sure what to expect when I tried the Sausage & Biscuits the next morning.

Let me tell you: Purnell's "Old Folks" Country Sausage is delicious.

The biscuits aren't bad; they're not very "biscuity," more like tiny little hamburger buns but made of denser bread. But the country sausage nestling within is just about perfect - the right amount of fat and an excellent blend of seasonings and spices that have a subtle but noticeable pepper kick. The combination of the biscuit and the sausage is extremely satisfying - the twin pack looks like a snack but it's closer to a meal. A pair of the little sandwiches served up with a scrambled egg makes for a breakfast that holds me over all morning until lunch.

I did some Googling to learn more about "Old Folks" sausage and found that F B Purnell Sausage Inc is headquartered in Simpsonville, KY. On their home turf they are pretty well-known, which is hardly surprising given the excellence of their product, and they make a full line of sausage products. Unfortunately, only a few of them are available up here in New England, mostly from Save-A-Lot which seems to limit their offerings to the Sausage & Biscuits and the 3-pound boxes of Medium Country Sausage Patties.

If you're able to find Purnell's country sausage near you, I highly recommend it. I'll be keeping my eye open for other items in their lineup as well - I'd love to sample their Italian sausage.


Purnell's website (home page)

Purnell's company history - Tells how F B Purnell Sr. got his start selling sausage in the 1930's, and also tells where the "Old Folks" brand name came from.

06 June, 2009

Branding Iron Hardwood Smoked Bacon

There are few products which can be as much of a crap shoot as bargain-price bacon. Sometimes, it will be a jumble of seemingly random slices, piled into the cryovac. Other times, it might be some of the best bacon you've ever tasted. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Branding Iron Hardwood Smoked Bacon is a great example. Made by John Morrell & Company as an "economy brand," it's available at Price Chopper, where I picked some up for $1.99 not too long ago. The view of the slices through the window looked pretty good, and it was a full 1-pound package, so there was no doubt of it being a good deal.

What a surprise when I opened the package, though! The slices were the full length of the cryovac - and each slice was almost three inches wide. Additionally, each of these hyperwide slices were over a quarter of an inch thick! All told, there were seven slices of bacon to this pound. Seven massive slices.

Really thick bacon is hard to cook properly - it wants to curl as fat gets tried out of the side in contact with the pan, and if you try to cook it too quickly it can end up flabby, burned, or unevenly done. The best way to do it is to take your time, set the fire on low, and use a bacon press to keep the strips flat in the pan as they cook. My bacon press is like the one at right: big and round, it covers the whole bottom of a 12-inch frying pan.

Only three strips of the Branding Iron bacon would fit in the pan at once, so it took some time to get breakfast ready that day. The bacon stayed under the press and I checked it frequently for doneness as it sizzled. Thanks to the low heat and the press, each strip came out very nicely: Crisp with the fat properly rendered, but not overcooked to brittleness.

Although we had a good laugh at the unusual way the bacon had been sliced, I would buy it again. Branding Iron bacon is nicely flavored; not too salty with a mild and enjoyable smokiness.


05 June, 2009

Pizza Margherita

It's the simplest of all pizzas, and to a "pizza purist" like me, one of the most delicious: Pizza Margherita. Crust, a touch of sauce, slices of mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes, basil leaves. Run it into a hot oven (450 F or better) for about 15 minutes, and you've got eight slices of paradise awaiting you.

Once upon a time, I could only make a decent Pizza Margherita in the late summer, when the basil plants were full and leafy and garden tomatoes hung red and ripe on the vine. But now, with beautiful fresh basil available year-round at the local produce store and perfectly-ripe Sunset brand tomatoes by Mastronardi Produce in supermarkets, I can make one anytime. The stars of this performance are the delicious fresh tomatoes and basil, and that leaves room for a few shortcuts (like using a prepared pizza shell or sauce from a jar.)
  1. Make your pizza dough, rolling it out as desired, or start with a premade shell.
  2. Spread the shell thinly with a good, flavorful marinara sauce.
  3. Sprinkle very lightly with grated Romano cheese.
  4. Arrange thickly sliced pieces of mozzarella cheese, sliced ripe tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves over the grated cheese. Be generous.
  5. Bake in a hot oven - 450 F - for 15 minutes or so, just enough to turn the cheese bubbly and toast the crust.
  6. Remove from the oven, slice, and enjoy.
Gorgeous, isn't it? And look at the way those beautiful tomatoes softened and melted into the cheese and crust. That just doesn't happen with run-of-the-mill supermarket "winter tomatoes."

03 June, 2009

Dollar Store Nightmares: Circle A Ranch Homestyle Meatballs

"Meatballs from the dollar store," my wife said. "You have got to be kidding me."

But I wasn't kidding; I had bought a seven-ounce package of frozen meatballs at Dollar Tree and was trying to interest the rest of the family in trying them. My wife and daughter read the ingredients and opted out, but the dog - functionally illiterate - was interested. I admit the ingredient list was kind of scary: Mechanically separated chicken, chicken skin added, water, soy flour, beef, and then a long list of the spices and chemicals which comprised "2% or less" of the total. Heh. Mechanically separated chicken and chicken skin. These things are basically flavored balls of food-grade slag.

I dumped the meatballs from the bag onto a foam plate and microwaved them for about two minutes, following the package instructions. The results were interesting. Far from the neatly spherical, meaty-looking "serving suggestion" on the package, the meatballs were misshapen lumps that looked like they had been made by wrapping long ribbons of extruded pulp over on itself. They smelled fascinating: exactly like leftover KFC after sitting in the refrigerator for a day or so. Moist but not wet, and not greasy, the texture was firm and consistent though quite spongy. They were a little salty but rather inoffensive - overall, they just lacked any real defining flavor other than "leftover chicken."

I never did get my wife and daughter to have a bite, but the dog was quite enthusiastic and enjoyed most of them that evening, chopped up and mixed with his kibble for supper.

01 June, 2009


It's happened to all of us, hasn't it? The onion on the bottom of the bag that we suddenly notice has a few scapes poking out through the netting? This is the first time I've had one sprouting from both ends, though.