30 June, 2010

Terra Kettles Arrabiata Flavored Potato Chips

Terra Chips are not new to us.  They made their name with high-quality vegetable chips, and we've enjoyed many of the varieties.  Terra Chips has earned our trust for consistent quality as well as unique and unusual products.

I like many kinds of flavored potato chips, and I'm always open to trying a new brand or variety.  On a recent trip to Ocean State Job Lot, Lynnafred discovered these "arrabiata" flavored kettle-cooked chips from Terra Chips, under their Terra Kettles line.  We bought a bag.

Arrabiata is an Italian tomato sauce, Roman in origin, flavored with garlic and hot chile peppers.  Relatively obscure a few years ago, it's steadily been building in popularity, and it's no surprise that Terra would be the first to attempt to flavor a chip with it, given their upscale image.

The chips themselves are everything you'd expect from Terra.  Fresh, flavorful, perfectly cooked.  Unfortunately, "arrabiata" as applied to potato chip flavoring is pretty much simply a fancy name for "BBQ."  There is no chile heat to distinguish it from any other of dozens of less expensive and less celebrated brands.  We were very disappointed since none of us are big fans of BBQ flavored chips, but Lynnafred and I also realize that we took a chance on a tomato-flavored chip and should have known that they'd be similar to BBQ.  Live and learn, right?

Terra Kettles have several other varieties on the market right now, which include such interesting flavors as Chesapeake Bay and Beer, General Tso, and Pesto and Smoked Mozzarella.  I haven't seen any of these in my area yet, but when I do I'd like to give them a try.



29 June, 2010

Iced Pickle Chips

Check it out: the first batch of cucumbers are in from the garden.  We grow Kirby (pickling) cukes and we harvest them somewhat on the small side.  The seeds are tiny, the skin is still thin but has a good snap to it, and they're the perfect size for making our bread-and-butter pickles.

We also enjoy them fresh, cut into spears or sliced into salads.  But when the weather is really hot and oppressive like it's been the past few days, we also make an easy and refreshing snack we call "Iced Pickle Chips" (though they really aren't pickled per se.)

Iced Pickle Chips

4 or 5 cucumbers
Kosher or Pickling salt
1 tray of ice cubes

Slice the cucumbers thinly - about 1/8-inch is good - and place them in a bowl.  Sprinkle them liberally with salt and don't be afraid to have a heavy hand with it because most of the salt will be drained off later anyway.  Cover the cucumber slices with an ice cube tray's worth of crushed ice and toss everything well to combine.

Place the bowl in the refrigerator and allow to stand for an hour or two.  When ready to serve, drain off the water and ice and bring them to the table on a small salad plate  or in another bowl.  Keeping the cukes on "salted ice" for a couple of hours develops an amazing crispness because of the colder-than-freezing temperature acheived by salt and ice mixed together.  And just enough of the salt stays behind when the ice and water is drained off to season the cukes without making them too salty.
Salting and icing cucumber slices is the first step in making bread-and-butter pickles.  We simply adapted that step into a snack in its own right.


Taco Bell Bacon Club Chalupa

Taco Bell is appealing to bacon lovers once again with the Taco Bell Bacon Club Chalupa.  And here it is, two full months into it's limited-time-only run, and I'm just getting to review it because it's been awhile since I was anywhere near a Taco Bell.  I gotta get on an email alert list from those guys or something so I know when something new is coming out.

Anyway.  The Bacon Club Chalupa has bacon, marinated chunks of all-white-meat chicken, lettuce, tomato, shredded cheese, and something Taco Bell calls "club sauce" on a crispy-crunchy chalupa shell.  An interesting idea - a Taco Bell take on a club sandwich.  And it's not bad - the chicken is moist and tender, the bacon is decent though crumbled in with kind of a light hand, and even the club sauce is pretty good (It seems to be mayonnaise-based, but there is a lot of flavor going on in there, with onion, garlic, mustard, buttermilk, and cheeses blended in.)

It's also got 490 calories, which seems to be kind of a lot for something that really isn't that physically big.  You could eat three Taco Bell crunchy tacos for the same calorie count and probably feel somewhat more full.


28 June, 2010

Gaiser's Fine Mother Goose Liver Spread

I bought this small chub of liver spread at Victory International Market in West Springfield, a local Russian/Eastern European specialty supermarket.  I'm always up for trying a new pate or liver spread, and this one was appealing for many reasons - I love the graphics on the label, I'm a sucker for chicken liver, and the price was really reasonable. It seemed to be a win all around.

And so it was!  The ingredients listed pork, chicken liver, and veal.  Cutting into the chub revealed a soft and buttery-smooth spread, delicately seasoned to bring out a subtle liver flavor - well-rounded and balanced with the more assertive pork flavor.  Quite honestly, it tasted like a much more expensive pate.  I enjoyed it for several days as a breakfast spread on toast, but it was good enough to be served as an appetizer for company (you could disguise its humble origins by packing the pate into a cute little ramekin, garnishing it with a few slivered onion rings, and centering it on a serving platter with an assortment of savory crackers.)

Gaiser's Inc., of Union NJ, doesn't seem to have a website, but they are an American company with a tradition of making authentic Eastern European sausage specialties.  Victory International carries quite a few of Gaiser's products, and I was pleased enough with the Mother Goose spread that I won't hesitate to try something else by them.


27 June, 2010

Vintage Sunday: Antique and Vintage Cookbooks

Local cookbooks, published as fundraisers for churches, charities, and civic organizations, have a long and storied history.  I usually refer to them as "Ladies Aid Society cookbooks" because they were so often issued by the "Women's Auxiliary" or "Ladies Aid"  divisions of churches and lodges, back in the days when a woman's place was in the home and men were expected to do much of the directorial duties of the organization. Filled with the favorite recipes of their contributors, they are like culinary snapshots of the times in which they were published, and a study of them can be not only entertaining but quite revealing of trends in society as a whole.

For example, look at a series of Ladies Aid cookbooks from the 1920's to the 1980's, paying special attention to desserts.  You'll find that early cookbooks tended to contain a great number of different cake recipes and a few cookie (mostly bar cookie) recipes.  As time went on and women found themselves with outside interests, cake mixes from the supermarket became more prevalent because the preparation was easier and faster - and the results more consistent - than cakes baked from scratch.  Cake recipes in cookbooks have steadily dwindled since the 1950's.  Meanwhile, recipes for cookies - fast and relatively easy to make, delicious and totally more-ish to eat - have increased.  Betty Crocker saw it coming with The Betty Crocker Cooky Book, first published in the late 1950's and still so popular that the 1963 edition has recently been reissued after having been out of print for over 45 years!

Another trend you can easily pick up is the steady move toward more and better instructions.  19th and early 20th century American cookbooks assume that the reader has some measure of culinary skill already. Check out this recipe for "Loaf Cake Without Eggs" from the pictured L. W. Cook Book, printed in 1908 by Loyal Workers Society of the Advent Christian Church of Springfield MA:

One cup sugar; 2 tablespoons butter or other shortening; 1 cup sour or buttermilk; 1 scant teaspoon soda; 2 cups flour; 1 teaspoon cinnamon; 1/2 teaspoon cloves.  A little nutmeg and salt; 1 cup raisins.

That's it.  A housewife of the time would have no problem with this recipe at all; like her mother and grandmother before her, she learned her culinary skill first hand -  working side-by-side with her mother, her sisters, and perhaps her aunts -  from childhood.  She would know without being told that the butter and sugar would have to be creamed together before being mixed with the buttermilk; the dry ingredients sifted together in a bowl and then stirred together with the wet ingredients; the raisins folded in last.  She'd know how hot the oven would have to be, what size baking pan she would need, and how long the cake would need to bake. 

Antique and vintage local cookbooks are one of the main reasons why I haunt estate sales.  When an entire house is opened for an estate sale, the first place I head is the kitchen, to poke through drawers and the backs of kitchen bookshelves.  I can usually find a treasure or two, forsaken by the family or put aside long ago by the person whose estate is being liquidated. 

26 June, 2010

Rums from St. Lucia: Chairman's Reserve & Castrie's Peanut Creme Liqueur

Thursday night, I was at Table & Vine in West Springfield; it's the largest package store in the area and it's my go-to liquor store when I want something hard to find or unusual.  One of the things I like about them is the in-store tastings they have.  Usually, it's wine - not really my forte - but Thursday night, they were pouring shots of rum.  How awesome is that?  They were promoting two rum products from St. Lucia.  I tried them both (no way was I going to turn down free shots of Demon Rum) and wound up buying a bottle of one of them. 

Chairman's Reserve by St. Lucia Distillers, Saint Lucia. 80 Proof - Until a year ago or so, this rum wasn't available in the US, and I can see why the people of Saint Lucia would want to keep it a secret.  This is a relatively inexpensive rum that tastes like it should cost at least twice as much.  The gentleman doing the pouring told me that Chairman's Reserve is a blend of double-distilled pot still and continuous still rums, which give it a "sipping rum" flavor at a "mixing rum" price.  It's aged in used whiskey and bourbon barrels to develop a more complex flavor.

Brown sugar and caramel on the nose, with no harsh alky vapors; the first sip is like vanilla caramel velvet with a nutty, brown spice finish.  Chairman's Reserve is indeed an awesome sipping rum, as good on the rocks as it is neat.  

It was an easy sell for me - after the tasting I bought a bottle, and it was quite a good deal at about $20 for the 750ml bottle, purchased at Table & vine in Taxachusetts.

Castrie's Peanut Rum Cream - This is a cream liquor made from St. Lucia rum, Madagascar vanilla, roasted peanuts, cream, and spices.  It is undeniably smooth and creamy - like taking a sip of a silky peanut butter milkshake spiked with a good shot of premium rum.  It went down easily but peanut flavor is not one of my favorites and I involuntarily made a face as I swallowed.  Lynnafred and Maryanne, watching from the sidelines, laughed and said, "Ha! DO NOT WANT!!" 

I can think of dozens of things I could do with a bottle of Castrie's Peanut Rum Cream.  I bet it would be fantastic mixed into a cocktail with, say, Kahlua and garnished with a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup on the edge of the glass.  Or poured with hot fudge over premium vanilla bean ice cream. Or, um, poured with some raspberry liqueur for a peanut-butter-and-jelly cocktail.  Okay, so that last one is probably a bit of a reach, but just because I don't really care for the flavor of a peanut-butter liqueur doesn't mean it's swill.  It isn't.  I just wouldn't want to drink it.

Separated at Birth?

On the left, Zooland printed biscuits, an imported cookie from Singapore.  On the right, Eddie Izzard.

25 June, 2010

Crayon Shin-Chan snacks

I love Asian snacks. They usually come in a wider variety of flavors and shapes than American snacks. They're also sometimes not as sweet, which is a huge plus, and most of them don't use HFCS like American snacks do. And, an added bonus is that they have the opportunity to license some of my favorite anime shows, unlike American snacks.

Take these Korean-produced Crayon Shin-chan snacks, for example. I'd been a fan of Shin-chan since its American licensing by FUNimation, despite that I usually hate dubs. But because of the differences for licensing in America and in other areas of the world, I'd never be able to see these snacks in, say, Stop and Shop or other big chain stores. I'll have to settle for the catch-as-catch-can imports of Asian markets here.

The snacks themselves come in rings that taste a lot like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and are coated with a honey-cinnamon glaze. Black sesame seeds are dotted on the each piece, probably mixed in with the glaze itself, and gives a kind of nutty, smoky flavor to them when eaten.

But those aren't the only snacks with Shin on the label:

He's also on a slightly less-interesting snack involving cookie sticks that can be dipped in chocolate frosting. What makes these fun, though (more fun than their Japanese Yan-Yan counterparts) is that they come with sprinkles. Yep, you heard that right. Sprinkles.

I'm sure that there's more out there that Shin's been featured on. I just haven't found them yet. But, even if there hasn't been anything, I'll take my Asian imported Shin-Chan snacks over the lame Lucky Charms knockoffs and waxlike fruitsnacks that license most American properties any day.


Archway Cookies Recipe Contest!

As you know from my previous post about them, Archway cookies are back, and they're as delicious as you remember them.  We've already taken a look at some Archway varieties, and we'll be reviewing more of them in coming days, but today I'd like to tell you about the Archway Sweet Summer Treats Recipe Contest.  Not only does it give you a terrific excuse to pick up some Archway cookies, but you can win a $250 Visa gift card and have your recipe featured in Archway cookie promos!

The categories are mouthwatering:  Desserts with Ice Cream, Desserts Without Ice Cream, and Non-Dessert Creations (things like muffins, appetizers, and so forth.)  It's easy to enter - you must be a legal resident of the US and be 18 years of age or older as of June 22, 2010.

To help inspire you, Archway has opened up a one-stop contest entry page.  You can browse through recipes, check out the contest rules, and submit your entry right there.  And - best of all - you can jumpstart your kitchen wizardry with a $1.00-off coupon for any variety of Archway Cookie!  Click here to visit Archway's contest page.

Lynnafred and I are psyched for this contest - we've got some great ideas but we'd be perfectly willing to bask in the reflected glory of your win as well.  Go for it!


Archway Cookies website

Full Terms and Conditions for the Archway Sweet Summer Treats Recipe Contest

This post was sponsored by Archway Cookies.

24 June, 2010

Kielbasa on the Grill

Here are some things I really like about summertime:
  • My trusty Weber kettle grills, which save me from having to stand in a hot kitchen over a hot stove.
  • Hardwood charcoal, which burns hot and clean and which I prefer over briquettes or propane.
  • Awesome kielbasa, made right in my hometown by the Janik Sausage Company, which has been in business here since the 1920's.
And here are my summertime wishes for you:
  • That even if you have an air-conditioned kitchen, you take an occasional opportunity to cook outdoors this summer
  • That you are happy and content with your choice of cooking medium, whether you prefer charcoal, briquettes, or gas
  • That you too have a locally owned and operated company that makes and smokes their own sausages so that you don't have to settle for a lowest-common-denominator national product.

Out of the Can: Mushroom Gravy

To be fair, this looked a lot better after I added meatballs, seasonings, and some heavy cream.

23 June, 2010

Philicon brand Rose Elixir

Before getting to the rose elixir, I need to relate some backstory that will help you understand this post a little better.

When I was in high school, about four years ago, there was this really amazing little coffee shop, the Blue Moon, up the street from "The X" (a landmark intersection) in Springfield MA. After school on Fridays, a couple of my friends and I would walk from the school to the coffee shop, and we'd all get something to drink.

Being the adventurous sort that I am, I used to take great delight in trying the loose teas that lined the walls. The loose teas they kept in the glass jars were usually custom herbal blends or floral teas, but the one I really enjoyed the most and always ended up going back to was the rose petal tea. It was something like an 80/20 mix of rose petals and black tea that, when steeped, turned the hot water a kind of dark pink. With just a little touch of sugar, it was perfect: it tasted like roses, with the backdrop of the black tea to keep it from being too perfume-y tasting.

After the coffee shop closed, I looked for that rose tea everywhere, but gave up after a few months after never finding it. I figured it was another one of their custom blends. More than I missed the flavor of the tea, though, I liked the other benefits it seemed to have given me. Unlike my other friends, I was down there all the time getting that tea - at least three times a week. The tea made me feel better, like I wasn't as tired or stressed anymore, and it seemed to have helped my terrible acne at the time clear up a little bit.

Fast forward four years to 2009, at my last job. One of my Russian coworkers had approached me because I'd been uncharacteristically irritable and aloof the past few days. He told me about a drink that he and his family used to drink in Russia that he had claimed helped their moods. "Made of roses," he said, nodding, "It's good for you. Refreshes the soul." He told me that I could usually find it at a Russian supermarket in West Springfield. (He laughed when I told him our family shopped at that market.) That weekend, I went down and bought a container of the rose elixir he was talking about.

The only ingredients in this are water, rose petal extract, sugar, and vitamin C. It's got a bright pink color and tastes just like roses. There's no kind of background flavor to pull this from tasting kind of like a cheap perfume. Nonetheless, I like it anyway. It's sweet and floral and reminds me a lot of the tea I used to drink at Blue Moon. It's only available during the mid-spring to the late-summer, so it's not something I can get all year round. And, as my coworker had said, in about a week, I did start to feel better. Because the tea made me feel the same way, I chalk it up to something in the rose petals that acts as a mood booster.

Whatever it is, I love it.

22 June, 2010

Strolling Through the Garden

I'm going to bore you all with more pictures of the garden.  We've been harvesting salad greens for nearly a month now, believe it or not, and this morning I picked our first "real" vegetables - zucchini - before leaving for work.

Pickling cucumbers are setting fruit.
The lettuce is doing great!  I've cut a couple of heads and will probably be cutting more this week to allow a couple of these to fully come to a head.  Meanwhile, I'm starting some heat-tolerant seeds so I can stretch "lettuce season" through until October.
Cubanelle pepper.  My bell peppers are flowering, but don't have any fruit yet.
Okay, this isn't really a veggie, but it is a potato flower.  The barrel is now full to the top with growing medium, the plants have broken through the top, and are flowering.  In another couple of weeks, I can start picking new potatoes...or I can wait until the plants die back in the fall and harvest a big barrel full of winter keepers.
Zucchini.  The big ones in this picture were picked right after I put the camera away.
I can't wait until my first batch of tomatoes are ready.  I'm going to make BLTs with 100% homemade ingredients:  Home-grown tomatoes and lettuce, bacon from my own cure and smoker, and bread fresh from the oven.

We Have Winners!!

Two winners have been selected from the ten entries we received for our Pocky drawing.  Winners were chosen this morning using random.org, and their email handles are melissa and Bean!  Congratulations to both winners, each of whom will be receiving a free 70g package of Pocky Fromage Chocolat Dessert, and thank you to all who entered.

A link to the permanent record of the random.org drawing is here.

Oxford Cafe, New York City

In New York City's Fifth Avenue, between East 35th and 36th Streets, there's an expensive-looking eatery called the Oxford Cafe. Last time I was in New York, my mother and I were looking for something to eat that wasn't fast food and wasn't too expensive. And at this little bistro, we hit the jackpot. The restaurant is exceptionally clean and nice, and looks like it should have been much more expensive than it actually was. The staff was very friendly, there was plenty of seating, and the atmosphere was nice as well.

The restaurant has a large deli case with wraps, sandwiches, pastries, pasta dishes, and salads that were made that morning. The variety in the case alone is seemingly limitless - sandwiches and wraps range from basics like turkey clubs to more adventurous offerings like the Santa Fe chicken wrap that we bought - and they have a pasta bar and salad bar to boot. The dessert case had an extensive array of cookies, tarts, brownies, cannoli and cheesecakes. After careful deliberation, we decided not to get dessert, but it was a very tough decision. The staff was very friendly and took our order, heating up the wrap in a small oven on a counter behind them. My mother ordered an iced coffee, while I ordered a mocha smoothie. We split a Santa Fe chicken wrap, which was easily big enough to feed two.

The wrap was not only really big, but it was inexpensive for what we were getting. For $6.95, we got a wrap weighing in at about a pound and a quarter. The ingredients in the wrap were simple and easy - chicken, fresh salsa, cheddar jack, ans sauteed peppers and onions were the only ingredients - but it tasted fantastic. The chicken was tender and juicy, the salsa full of flavor with a slightly spicy kick, and onions and peppers cooked so that they're still a little crunchy but not raw. It fed both my mother and I with no problem and didn't leave us feeling hungry.

My mocha smoothie was just as good as our wrap. Made with bananas, chocolate, milk, ice, and coffee, the smoothie tasted more like a chocolate dipped banana than mocha, but it was still really refreshing and tasted delicious. It was fairly big and cost me $3.95. My mom, on the other hand, got a large iced coffee that was one of the best I've ever had. My mother doesn't use sugar in her coffee, and this didn't need it. It was smooth, rich, and full-bodied without being at all bitter or acidic. It was incredibly mild but also incredibly flavorful. If I lived closer, I'd go there all the time just for the coffee. A decently-sized large iced coffee cost her $2.25.

If you're ever hungry in NYC, I'd reccommend that you go here without a second thought. I know that it's going to cross my mind next time I go to New York.

21 June, 2010

Archway Cookies - First in a series

Dave's Introduction:

When I was a kid, Archway cookies were always on hand.  Always.  Especially the ginger snaps: not only did my mom keep them available, so did my grandmother.  Maryanne tells me that her family always bought Archway cookies when she was young, too.  Archway became a staple in our cookie jars, too.

Unfortunately, the company ran into some troubles a few years ago.  The troubles led to bankruptcy, and we noticed that the cookies didn't seem to be available in our area any more.  But now, Archway is back!

Not too long ago, a PR rep from Archway contacted me and asked if we'd be interested in sampling some cookies and writing about them.  We received a very generous cookie assortment which we've been enjoying for a couple weeks now, and Archway has some pretty cool stuff coming up later this month that Lynnafred and I will be letting you know about soon.   For now, though, we're kicking off a series of posts with a review of some of the cookies Archway sent along to us - and I'm handing off to Lynnafred now for the first few reviews.

Lynnafred's reviews:

First of all, I want to thank Archway for their generosity.  Having a carton of cookies showing up on the front porch is like having a sweet dream come true!

I'm going to start the series with reviews of the Iced Molasses, Windmills, and Frosted Lemon varieties.

Although the Iced Molasses cookies are, so far, my least favorite , Mom and Dave both really like them. They're about an inch and a half in diameter, nice and soft, and with a generous swipe of hard icing on top.  Very flavorful; they're rich and sweet, and just a tad spicy, but there's a lingering fruity flavor in them that I don't particularly like. When I checked the ingrediets, I found that they contained raisin paste.  That accounted for the fruit flavor and for why I didn't care for them - I'm not much one for raisins.  Dave said the raisin paste went well with the deep taste of molasses and the spices in the cookie.

Next, at the insistence of Dave, I opened up the package of Windmills that Archway sent. Apparently, they were a childhood favorite of his and he wanted to see if they stacked up against his memories.These cookies are crisp and flat and about three inches long. They taste really good; they've got a lot of cinnamon in them. They're spicier than a typical cinnamon cookie - like a reduced-ginger ginger snap, and are accented with minced almonds throughout them that gives them an interesting added flavor and texture. I really enjoyed these.  Dave said they were just like he remembered

And last but not least, we have Frosted Lemon cookies. These were my favorite by far. Soft and almost cakey, these cookies have a light, refreshing lemony flavor that isn't too sweet or tart, and is nicely accented by the icing on top.  We brought this package to a family picnic and everyone there was delighted, it was like they were greeting old friends.  I was disappointed that the cookies got scarfed up so fast. but I guess everyone remembered how much they used to love them and ate them up.

We have more cookies to try and we're all taking notes as we go.  And Dave hinted to me that Archway has something fun coming up soon.  So keep an eye out for upcoming Archway posts.


20 June, 2010

Vintage Sunday: Old Candies

Do you remember variety stores?  There used to be one up the street from me when I was a kid: Bob's Variety.  There's a tattoo parlor in the building now, but back in the day Bob's Variety was a destination store for neighborhood kids.  I guess that today a variety store would be pretty mundane to my jaded adult eyes, but back then Bob's was the retail equivalent of paradise.  Every Saturday I'd head there with my allowance to check out the latest comic books, get a chocolate malt at the fountain in back, and shop the seemingly limitless selection of candy.  I look at the building when I drive by today and shake my head at my memories - the building is so small, how could it possibly have been such a Valhalla of wonder and delight?

Some of the candies that were my favorites back then are still available today - both online and from brick-and-mortar stores.  Join me on a trip down memory lane:

Atomic Fire Ball by Ferrara Pan - Awesomely hot cinnamon-flavored jawbreakers.  I think this was the "gateway food" that first introduced me to spicy flavors.   Most of the time, when you first pop an Atomic Fire Ball into your mouth, you're met with punishing, eye-watering cinnamon candy heat (note that I said most of the time - I seem to recall that the candies varied some from piece to piece and we'd sometimes get a milder one that didn't hurt so much initially.)  That first layer would fade, and there would be a period where the flavor would be sweet and mildly flavored...and then, a little more than halfway through, there would be another burst of fire!  By the time that second wave had passed, the Fire Ball would me small, and we'd try to crush it with our molars.  Sometimes we succeeded.  Sometimes we felt like we were going to break a tooth.    These were absolutely my hands-down favorite, and they're still found just about everywhere - as well as being available online.
Sky Bar by NECCO - The label has changed a couple of times since I was a kid - the picture I have here is the current packaging - but the contents haven't changed a bit.  Decent-quality chocolate (somewhat better than Hershey's usual quality in fact) wrapped around four different fillings: caramel, vanilla, peanut, and chocolate fudge.  For a long time, you couldn't find these if you traveled too far from New England.  They have wider distribution these days, but can still be tough to locate if you're From Away.

Candy Cigarettes - As you can see from the illustration here, candy cigarettes were sold in packaging remarkably similar to the real thing.  Cynics will believe - perhaps with some justification - that this was done deliberately to build brand loyalty  before kids were old enough to smoke.  However, we have to remember that back then, smoking wasn't the social leprosy that bluenoses have turned it into today.  Realistically-packaged candy smokes were intended to allow children to imitate Mom and Dad with more verité. I used to love candy cigarettes, but kinda lost interest in them when I started actually smoking (I've quit since then.)

I tried some candy cigarettes recently, just to see if they still tasted the same way they did when I was a kid.  I think they do, but the packages don't look anything like the real thing, and they don't call them "candy cigarettes" any more, they're called "candy stix."

NECCO Wafers - I did a post about these awhile ago, but I'll mention them again for the sake of Vintage Sunday.  NECCO recently changed both the packaging and the flavoring in their wafers.  I liked the old flavors better, but the new flavors are "all natural" and I guess that makes parents feel somehow better about letting their kids eat rolls of compressed processed sugar.

Wax Lips, currently made by Concord Confections (a division of the Tootsie Roll Company) - I don't know of any kids who don't love fooling around with a pair of wax lips.  They're made of sweetened, flavored chewable wax.  When we were kids, we would wear them around for a while and when the novelty wore off we'd bite off hunks and chew them like gum.  I notice that most kids just throw them away when they get bored.  The same company also made Wax Moustaches, which were big black handlebar moustaches along the same lines as the Lips.

I've really only touched on a handful of the candies I loved as a kid and can still find even today.  I could write about them all day and still not manage to capture all of my old faves.  What are some of the canides from yesteryear you loved?


Ferrara Pan Candy Co. - Take their virtual tour and see how Atomic Fire Balls are made.  Tres cool.

NECCO - Information and online store.

18 June, 2010

Hemp Milk

Remember when you were a kid and you'd chew up a paper napkin until it was all wet and pulpy, because paper napkins made the best spitballs?  If you ever get nostalgic for the taste of those spitballs, there's a product you can find right now, in the "health foods" aisle, that will bring it all back to you:  Hemp milk.

You read that right:  Hemp milk.  Made (primarily) from "hemp nuts," this white fluid seems to be a saleable byproduct from the up-and-coming hemp industry.  Unfortunately, it pretty much tastes, as I said, like a chewed-up napkin.

The brand name is "Tempt."   I was Tempted to pour it down the sink, but it was expensive, so I just held my nose and choked it down.  Maybe I'll get suddenly healthy or something.


Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter

You might remember from my previous posts about the garden that I'm trying out a couple of the ridiculous Topsy Turvy Tomato Planters.  If you've never seen the TV ads or - worse yet - the infomercials, they are a type of reinforced nylon material that is designed to have a tomato planted upside down in the bottom and filled with planting media from the top.

The theory behind this is incredibly stupid and invokes a kindergartener's concept of gravity:  Pour water and plant food into the top to encourage healthy root development.  Meanwhile, the tomato plant is supposed to grow downward as GRAVITY pulls water and nutrients to the flowers and ripening fruit.

This, of course, completely ignores what actually happens in a plant, where the roots spread and grow deeper in search of water and the plant grows upward to the sun.  Meanwhile, capillary action in the stalk of the plant easily brings the water and nutrients to the leaves, flowers, and fruit.  Notice in the photo how the plant is growing:  out the bottom and up the sides.  That plant is a very stocky and healthy "Husky Red Hybrid," a dwarf indeterminate variety which, ideally in the Topsy Turvy, would have made a stocky, compact vine under the planter which would become loaded with huge clusters of small round fruit.

I strongly suspect that the tomato plants in the advertisements were fully grown tomato vines in full production which were stuck into the bottom of the planters long enough to be filmed.  I could be wrong, of course.  But I'll continue to post photos throughout the growing season so we can see first-hand just how well they work.

Regardless of how the tomatoes do, I'll probably use the Topsy Turveys again.  They're fairly big, and hold a lot of potting soil.  I'm thinking of cutting slits in the sides of the planters and using them as hanging strawberry planters next year.

17 June, 2010

Steer Sticks (A Dog Treat)

They're called "Steer Sticks" and the tag on them says "Dogs ♥ ♥ ♥ Them."  The tag also said that the sole ingredient was Bull Pizzle.  How awesome is that?  It didn't look very pizzly - just a long piece of rawhide with some meaty stuff inside.   I bought one  labeled "Extra Large;  to my human nose, it didn't smell like anything special.  Not that I'd really be able to tell (I'm not really an authority on animal penes.)  But when I took it out of the bag at home, I immediately had Zim's attention.

He took the snack and trotted off into the living room to relax with his delicious pizzle and he had it chowed down within a half hour.


16 June, 2010

ITO EN Fruit and Vegetable Juice

Something I'm always leery of is fruit and vegetable juices. I've never been a fan of veggie juices like V8, and when V8 launched their V-Fusion line, I'd finally found a vegetable juice I could moderately tolerate. The problem with them, though, was that I couldn't get past the nasty taste of sweet potatoes and carrots, two vegetables I absolutely cannot stand.

So then, while visiting Kinokuniya Bookstore in New York City, I happened across ITO EN fruit and vegetable juice. It came in a small 11.5 ounce plastic bottle, and with a sigh I figured I'd be a sport and give it a try. After all, I'd liked it as a Kit Kat flavor, so why not try the real thing?

The juice itself was actually really good. It was bright orange in color, and its fruit and vegetable pulps gave it a pretty decent body. While the dominating flavors were carrots and apples, there was still something about it I found enjoyable. I wasn't brave enough to look at the ingredients while I was drinking it, but instead decided to take a look after all was said and done. And while there were the regular suspects in the mix - white grapes, sweet potatoes, and pear juice, to name a few - there were others that took me completely by surprise. Vegetables such as radishes, horseradish root, and spinach were among the extensive ingredient list. I was shocked to find out how much I actually enjoyed this juice.

ITO EN takes great pride in their vegetable juices. According to their English webpage, their Jujitsu Yasai, or "Vegetables Galore" line, was launched in 1992 and was based on the concept of mixing fruit and vegetable juices to make them easier to drink.

Link: ITO EN's Product Line (English)

An Assortment of Pocky

Anyone who's ever been to any kind of anime convention is familiar with the name Pocky. The delicious little biscuit sticks dipped in chocolate are many a congoer's breakfasts. But many people only know of chocolate Pocky, which in my opinion is a damn shame. Glico's line of Pocky is a vast empire covering all sorts of flavors, from fruit-based, to foreign treats quite alien to American palates, to mimicking luxurious desserts. And after my most recent trip to Dong's - an Asian supermarket - I've come home with five new flavors of Pocky.

The first up is Strawberry Cream Pocky, vanilla biscuit sticks with a strawberry cream flavored coating. The coating has bits of dehydrated strawberry in it, and it tastes a lot like strawberry shortcake when it's eaten. It's a pleasant, refreshing flavor that I found to be incredibly enjoyable. The addition of the dehydrated fruit made it distinctly different from the artificially flavored Strawberry Pocky.

Next was by far the most interesting Pocky flavor I've ever tasted, Chocolat Fromage. It's in the more luxurious Dessert line, and features a richer chocolate blend and fuller, better flavors than its other counterparts. This flavor took a regular biscuit stick and dipped it in a layer of white cheese-flavored coating before drizzling it with a layer of milk chocolate. This one surprised me. I was expecting something akin to a chocolate cheesecake, but instead was greeted to the smooth sweetness of chocolate paired with a semi-sharp cheese flavor akin to cream cheese before it's been mixed into a cheesecake. It's also got a slight orange flavor thanks to some orange juice in the cheese mixture. To date, this ranks in my Top Five of Pocky.

After the Chocolat Fromage flavor, we tried the "tsubutsubu misuku beri" flavor, or "Chunky Mixed Berries" in English. This was a vanilla biscuit dipped in a mixed berry coating. According to the green banner on the package, it consisted of cranberries, strawberries, and blueberries, but it tasted mostly like blueberries and strawberries. Funny, because cranberry juice comes before anything else on the list. These were also really good; they tasted like a fruit parfait, which I'm definitely all over.

The Milk Pocky is extremely boring in comparison to the other Pockys I've tried tonight. It was a regular biscuit dipped in a sweetened milk flavored coating. Don't get it confused with vanilla; there was a distinct difference between them. This coating tasted a lot like sweetened condensed milk: a concentrated, almost malted-milk-like flavor. It was nice in its own right, but compared to the other flavors is a tad dull. This was my least favorite of the bunch.

And last, but certainly not least, was Choco-Banana flavor. This was another variety that had two layers of flavorings. The first was a bright yellow artificially flavored banana coating, which was drizzled over with thin stripes of milk chocolate. The result is an obviously artificial but still really tasty chocolate-covered banana sensation. This is another flavor that has made my Top Five of Pocky list.

All of these flavors of Pocky are definite keepers, though I'm sure that the next time I head down to the Asian supermarket, I won't be able to find them.

Win a Box o' Pocky!

To help spread my love of Pocky, I'm giving away a couple boxes my favorite flavor from this post: the chocolat fromage. To enter my Pocky Giveaway, just send an email to daves [dot] cupboard [at] gmail [dot] com with the subject "Pocky."  With the help of random number generator website random.org, two winners will be selected and each will receive a free 70g box of Pocky Chocolat Fromage Chocolate Dessert! Entries must be received by Monday, June 21, 2010 - one entry per person, please.  Winners will be notified by email and will receive their delicious Pocky via US Mail.

15 June, 2010

Balut: The Most Hardcore, Bad-assed Hard Boiled Egg On Earth.

So, last weekend I finally got up the courage to try balut, which is the Filipino name for an embryonic duck cooked in the shell and served warm.  They're quite a popular "street food" in the Phillippines, where they are sold just about everywhere, and they are equally popular in Vietnam, where they're called hot vit lon and considered quite a delicacy.

My snack began at A. Dong Supermarket in West Hartford CT - the largest and most fully-stocked Asian market in the area.  In the main aisle in front of the cash registers, there is always a case of what they call "Baby Duck Eggs."  Lynnafred and I were there Saturday, and on the way out I bought two duck eggs.  Lynnafred made a gagging noise.  "You're going to make balut, aren't you?  I don't want to be anywhere near the kitchen when you start that shit."

 The next morning I brought a pot of water up to a full rolling boil and eased the eggs into the boiling water.  As I expected, they bobbed around at the top of the pot when they went in - after all, these eggs were "past their prime" for omelets.

Instructions I found on the web mentioned that I should cook the eggs for 20 to 30 minutes.  I set the timer for 20 minutes and moved on to other cooking duties, making breakfast for Maryanne and Lynnafred.

When the timer went off, I removed the eggs with a slotted spoon and set them in a small bowl to cool a bit.  But I couldn't quite wait to see what they looked like inside, so I tapped the side of one of the eggs and took a peek.  Hmm.  Couldn't see much - just the inner membrane pulled over a kind of lumpy-looking yellowness inside.  Not very unusual looking, really.  I set them aside to cool while the rest of the family finished their standard sausage-and-egg breakfast.

When they were cool enough to handle (but still warm) I peeled off some more of the shell and then carefully tore open the inner membrane to "open" the egg.  I took a sniff.  It smelled - and tasted - like strong chicken broth that had simmered for hours.  Quite delicious, though I admit the glimpse of what was hiding within the egg unsettled me a bit...

I peeled the remainder of the egg and took a look at my delicate tidbit.  This is where cultural conditioning took over and I started to have second thoughts.  North Americans tend to think of developing eggs as "chicks," "babies," or "peeps," not as a munchie to be casually NOMmed with a beer.  Lynnafred, as promised, left the kitchen when I first started cracking open the shell, but Maryanne had stuck it out up to this point.  She took a look at the yellow and white lump in my hand and said, "Eugggh.  That is really...eeww.  Sorry, I can't stay in here any longer."

The grey area at the top of the egg is the neck and head of the developing chick - the fine grey lines are actually partially-developed feathers.  The round white bump on the upper right is the eye socket of the head.  From this angle, you can't see the tiny wing folded against the body.  As I bit my way through the egg, I did find identifiable duck parts - wings, legs, feet, and so on.  The "innards" were cooked pretty uniformly throughout; they looked and tasted like chicken liver.  The yellow parts - formerly the yolk of the egg - was solid and rather waxy, reminding me a little of lobster roe (but without the oceanic taste or crumbly texture.)

Overall, the flavor was quite good - very much like strongly-flavored liver paté.  The only unsettling parts - other than the looks - were some of the textures.  The rib cage of the chick was fairly well-developed and, although the bones were soft, had a kind of "bristly" texture that I found a little unsettling.  There were, though, only three parts that proved more or less inedible.  In the picture at left, top to bottom:

Eggwhite - as hard as a rubber eraser and just as difficult to bite and chew.  I did take a bite out of it, as you can see in the picture.  I've discovered that many regular balut eaters don't really care for the whites, and I understand why.

The "wishbone" - That V-shaped bone in the center of the photo.  It was sharp at the ends and very hard.

The beak - Those two nubby-looking things at the bottom of the picture are the beak.  They were also well-developed, hard, and sharp - especially the "egg tooth" on the top surface of the upper beak.

And then there was that last unidentified bone in there, which was also kind of strange and stabby.  But there was only one of them, which makes me think that I just encountered it at an unfortunate angle and ate the other one without realizing it.

I liked it.  And I'd do it again.

14 June, 2010

Jimmy Dean, 1928 - 2010

Musician, actor, and sausagemaker Jimmy Dean died on Sunday, age 81.  

Although these days he's probably best known for the line of sausage products bearing his name, he got his first taste of fame in 1961 when he recorded Big Bad John, a #1 hit on the Pop and Country charts.  The song not only won a Grammy in 1962 for Best Country & Western Recording, but also convinced his record label, Columbia, not to drop him.

His acting credits include a three-season run of his television variety show, The Jimmy Dean Show (1963-65), a recurring role on NBC's Daniel Boone as Boone's friend Josh Clements, and a 1971 appearance in the James Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever as the Howard Hughes-inspired reclusive tycoon Willard Whyte.

His early experiences with Columbia, however, made him realize that he should have a backup career in place in case his star faded.  In 1969, he called upon his childhood experience on the family farm and founded the Jimmy Dean Meat Company.  It was an almost instant success thanks to his tireless efforts - he personally supervised operations at the company, developed the recipe for the famous sausage that bears his name, and appeared in every one of the early advertisements for the brand, a process that he later described as "exhausting."  

In 1984, he sold the company to Consolidated Foods, which later became Sara Lee, but stayed on as the brand spokesman.  In 2003, Sara Lee apparently exercised the Douchebag Clause in their contract and dumped him, after which he no longer had any connection with the company.

RIP, Jimmy Dean.