28 June, 2011

Brookdale Hot Habanero Chili (by ALDI)

You know why it's so hard to find a decent canned chili? Because so many of them suck, that's why. The quality ranges from pretty good all the way down to dog food, and sometimes that's within a single company's product line.  Take Hormel, for example.  Standard Hormel chili is nasty, while their glass-bottled Chili Master chili is pretty good, and most Stagg chili varieties (yes, Stagg is a Hormel company) is fairly decent as well.

So, brand name or manufacturer seems to mean nothing when it comes to finding a chili you might like - and I fully recognize that some of you reading this might think that Stagg sucks and original Hormel chili is t3h nazz - and the best way to find an edible chili is to maybe read a few reviews here and there and then gamble a buck or two on a can to see how it measures up.

And that's what led me to pick up a couple of cans of Brookdale Hot Habanero Chili with Beans (shut up, I like beans in chili) at ALDI.  

Surprise!  I can add this brand to the category of Chilis That Don't Suck. Yes, there were a lot of beans (three varieties I think) but there was also plenty of meat in respectably-sized chunks. Good chili flavor with rich spice profile as well.  And although it was kind of spicy, and habanero peppers are listed on the ingredient panel, I have to mention that it wasn't anywhere near what I'd describe as "hot."  If that's what you're looking for, you'll have to either add some fire of your own or look elsewhere unless you're a total kindergartener when it comes to spicy food.

Interesting footnote: According to the USDA inspection mark on the label, this chili was made at Establishment 199C, aka Hormel Foods. How about that?

26 June, 2011

Ding Dong Mixed Nuts

In the US, "mixed nuts" means a mixture of peanuts, cashews, pecans, filberts, almonds, and walnuts. In the Philippines, it's something else entirely, as evidenced by Ding Dong Mixed Nuts, a totally worthy snack by JBC Food Corporation.

Ding Dong Mixed Nuts are advertised by JBC as being a "5-in-1 combo."  The mix consists of peanuts, cracker nuts (peanuts which are coated with a crunchy savory coating which resembles crackers,) corn bits (known in the US as "corn nuts,") green peas and fava beans (both of these are dried and roasted to make them light and crunchy.) While this is nothing at all like American "mixed nuts," they're still delicious in their own right as a light, crunchy, and satisfying snack.  

Roasted fava beans, BTW, look remarkably like asses.

25 June, 2011

Back of House at McDonald's

Longtime readers here at Dave's Cupboard know that I'm a fan of McDonald's breakfast offerings. I don't think any fast-food company even comes close to Mickey D's when it comes to breakfast sandwiches. If I were King of the World, I'd give a knighthood to the dude who invented the Sausage McMuffin with Egg.

So, when I was invited to a "behind-the-scenes" blog event to tour a local McDonald's restaurant at breakfast time to see for myself what's involved with getting an Egg McMuffin from the griddle to the customer, I jumped at the chance.  

Before I start though, there's a few things you should know.  We were invited to the tour by Charlene Durham, an account supervisor with Cronin & Company LLC, the PR firm for the Connecticut and Western Massachusetts McDonald's Owner/Operator Association.  And at the end of the tour and presentation, Lynnafred and I were each given a tote bag containing McSwag like promotional t-shirts, a notepad and pen, coupons for Mickey D's oatmeal, and a $10 Arch Card. (The tote bags in particular are very cool - the "fabrics" they're made of are former McDonald's advertising banners, a great way to recycle that tough and durable material.)

Okay.  Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, on with the tour, which we attended with fellow bloggers Julie Kieras who writes A Year With Mom And Dad, and Cheryl Budge, whose eponymous blog can be found at cherylbudge.com.

There were two purposes to the tour: One was to highlight the nutritional features of breakfast at McDonald's, and the other was to show via a "backstage tour" how a typical McDonald's operates.  To make this post a little more manageable, I'll break it up into two sections as well. We'll start with breakfast part and move on later to the tour.

As I've said before, a McDonald's breakfast sandwich seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable way to start the day.  When I eat breakfast at home (usually on the weekend) it's normally two eggs, toast or an English muffin, and a few slices of bacon or a couple of sausages. That's basically the same thing that you'd find in an Egg McMuffin or a Sausage McMuffin with Egg.

What I didn't know was that a standard Egg McMuffin only has 300 calories and 12g of fat. And if you leave off the cheese like I do (because I'm not all that crazy about the taste of eggs and cheese together) you can trim that down to 250 calories and 8.5g of fat. Seriously, that's a pretty light breakfast.

My beloved Sausage McMuffin Wtih Egg comes out a little less trim, though, with 450 calories and 27g of fat in it's full, cheesy form (400 calories and 24 g fat with the cheese omitted.) Still, that compares favorably with the homemade breakfast I outlined.

As part of our tour, nutritionist Nancy Dell pointed out other McDonald's breakfast offerings that are light and reasonably healthy, like the Fruit 'n' Yogurt Parfait at 160 calories, and the Fruit & Maple Oatmeal with 290 calories.

All of my reviews of McDonald's stuff have focused on how they taste and not their nutritional profile.  I don't really see that changing significantly in the future, but it was interesting to find out that the only fast food breakfasts I really like aren't as horrible for you as the shrill looneys like to claim.

So on to the tour.

Lynnafred and I had never been behind the scenes at a McDonald's restaurant before, so we were both looking forward to this. We were there as much for the curiosity factor as anything else, but as it turned out the tour was both interesting and fun - interesting because we found out a lot about what makes a typical McDonald's franchise tick, and fun because we were encouraged to go hands-on with some of the equipment.

We started off by meeting Keith Santacroce, the owner/operator of the McDonald's restaurant in New Britain where we met - one of several franchises he owns and which he operates with the help of his family.  He takes a great deal of pride in both his own restaurants and the McDonald's organization in general and his enthusiasm is pretty infectious.
One of the goals of the tour was to show off new products like their Strawberry-Banana and Wild Berry Smoothies, and the smoothie machine was the first stop on our tour.  I'd actually reviewed them back in September 2010, but it was very cool to see the process up close and personal. The equipment itself is pretty bad-assed. The top part houses the control panel, a niche for the blender, and a water spout upon which the used blender cup is inverted; the spout then jets hot water into the cup to clean it and ready it for the next smoothie.  The bottom part, which you can see in the picture to the left, has compartment holding various ingredients - one slot for the yogurt, for example, and others for the fruit ingredients like the berry mixture, banana puree, and strawberries. It's all quite efficient - the machine automatically measures the portions and dispenses them.  All the operator has to do is push a few buttons to select the product and the size.  The machine drops the ingredients and the ice into the blender container and whips everything into frozen deliciousness, and the machine operator just pours it into a cup and hands it over to the customer.  It takes just seconds to whip up a perfect smoothie, and the results are absolutely consistent every time.

It's so easy even a middle-aged
food blogger can do it!
Each of us on the tour had the opportunity to make a smoothie or a frozen strawberry lemonade for ourselves, and there was a lot of laughter as we fumbled with the simple controls of the machine.  The smoothies are every bit as delicious as they were when I first tasted them, but they're still a bit on the sweet side for me, though they're primarily fruit, yogurt and ice with a little sugar added.  (No high-fructose corn syrup here - thanks, McDonald's.)

Naturally, since we were at McDonald's at breakfast time, we were also shown what was involved in making Egg McMuffins.  One of the things that makes Mickey D's stand out above other fast food places at breakfast is their use of freshly cooked whole eggs - there aren't any pre-sliced, pre-cooked slices of "egg product" like you find at Dunkin' Donuts. 


Fresh whole eggs  are cooked eight at a time in specially-made egg rings.  After the eggs are cracked into the rings, they're covered with a rectangular lid and a small amount of water is added. Steam cooks the tops of the eggs while the griddle fries the bottom, so they fully cook without having to be turned.

I asked Keith how his crew knows how much food to prepare at any given time, since the cooked eggs are held warm in anticipation of an order for a very limited time before being discarded. He explained that they reduce waste by using a continual analysis of food sales. Every day, a chart is printed for each cooking station showing a cooking schedule - in this case, what time of the morning any number of eggs should get started on the griddle. The appropriate charts (one of which is barely visible in the picture here at the top center) are posted at each cooking station.  "It's not a flawless solution," Keith told me, "There will always be some waste.  But this system holds it down to a minimum."

The cooked eggs are held in a warming cabinet for just 12 minutes before being tossed (you can see the importance of "just-in-time" production here) along with the sliced Canadian bacon and lightly toasted English muffins. Everything is ready to assemble at the time a customer places an order.  The standard deadline for preparing an Egg McMuffin, from the time the order is posted to the time it's sent to the front to the customer, is 35 seconds. Lynnafred volunteered to put together a couple of McMuffins for us.


Uniform tomato slices
We also had a tour of the restaurant's walk-in refrigerator/freezer unit. The extraordinary part about a McDonald's walk-in is its ordinariness.  I was astounded by the volume of fresh ingredients on hand - the turnover must be incredible - but when it comes right down to it, the Mickey D's walk-in is like just about every other restaurant's walk-in.  Fresh stuff is brought in semi-prepared - the salads, for example, are pre-cut and pre-mixed and packed in food-service sized bags and tomato slices for the burgers are all a uniform size because they are shipped pre-sliced in long trays of similar-gauge slices - and this is no different from the way many other restaurants buy vegetables.  The boxes in which the bags are shipped are also clearly and prominently marked with sell-by dates to be sure that the stock is always fresh.

In the freezer section, we found boxes of french fries, hash browns, and meat patties. McDonald's ships all of their patties frozen, saying that they are better able to maintain quality that way.  But like the eggs in the Egg McMuffins, burgers are cooked in the restaurant and held for a few minutes warm so sandwiches can be assembled to order.  Back when I was a kid, the local McDonald's would have big piles of burgers waiting under heat lamps, pre-cooked in anticipation of a lunchtime rush, but those days are gone forever.

By the end of the tour, Lynnafred and I were fairly impressed by the efficiency of the operation and by the quality of the ingredients. I'm more convinced than ever that the best fast food breakfast is found under the Golden Arches. And while they're still not my top choice for a cheeseburger (sorry, Ronald) I give them credit for living up to their promise of fast, fresh service using top-quality ingredients.

24 June, 2011

Who Let You Cook?! Presents: Mac and Cheese!

One of the things that I've loved since I was a kid was mac and cheese. It didn't matter if it was from a box, or if Dave made it from scratch, I was a mac and cheese nomming little monster, and some things never change. I'm still a mac and cheese nomming monster, and the other day, I got hit right in the face with cooking brilliance: What if I made mac and cheese, and put sausage in it?

Yes, sausage. It sounded like a brilliant idea to me, though Dave looked at me for a moment like I'd lost my mind, though in my defense, it can't be all that worse than that one time he made sushi out of salami and mashed potatoes.

So, ingredients in hand and ready to go, I set out to make awesome mac and cheese with sausage. And everyone, including Dave, was surprised when I made them taste it: Truly, this is the god of all mac and cheeses. Dave tasted it and let out a mildly surprised, "Holy shit!" and even my mother, who's not really into the whole "culinary ridiculousness" thing like I am, said that it "tasted good" (which is about the best compliment she knows how to give food.)

Lynnafred's homemade mac and cheese (with sausage!)
Makes about 8 servings

  • 1 pound small pasta (small shells work great for mac and cheese, but elbows are fine too.)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • About 2 pounds or so of assorted cheeses (for best flavor, comb your local supermarket for cheese ends. My mac and cheese is always made with ends, and usually consists of: American, cheddar, provolone, muenster, Swiss, mozzarella [for body], pepper jack [for a hint of spice], and a small crumbling of bleu [it adds an amazing tangy zip to the cheese sauce that can't be gotten any other way.])
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 pound bulk breakfast sausage (not in casings)
Cook pasta according to the package instructions; meanwhile, use the butter, flour, and milk and make a basic white sauce. Don't season it. Don't do anything to it but add the cheeses. (Hint: keeping the white sauce on low heat as you're adding the cheese makes it melt faster and more evenly, and you're not left with any strange looking chunks.) Add cheeses small blocks at a time, or (if you got lucky with those cheese ends) slice-by-slice. The greater variety of cheeses you use, the deeper and more complex your cheese sauce will be, which is really what you're looking for here. And better yet, the cheeses you use will add all the salt and flavoring you'll really need, except a shot of Worcestershire sauce to bring out all of the cheese's flavor.

Once the cheese sauce is done, set it aside (over very low heat to keep it from setting.) Don't add it to the pasta just yet. Get a pan and start frying up that half pound of breakfast sausage. Once it's fully cooked, drain the fat off of it and dump it into the pot with the pasta. Stir it around, then add the cheese sauce. Continue stirring it up until the pasta and sausage is evenly coated; serve immediately, or top it with crumbs and bake it.


21 June, 2011

Shunga Mugs at Dong's


You never know what you'll find at A. Dong Supermarket in West Hartford.  Like these Shunga mugs.

20 June, 2011

Canned Clam Chowder: A Comprehensive Guide

It isn't easy to find a decent canned clam chowder.  I've spent the past month or so of lunches evaluating every canned or prepared New England clam chowder I could find.  Here they are, rated from worst to best. In case of tie scores, the brands are listed in alphabetical order:

BAD 

Hanover Chunky (ready to serve) - I couldn't even pour this out when I opened it - I had to open both ends of the can and push the contents into my bowl. It was so thick that I double-checked the instructions to make sure it isn't a condensed soup - and it isn't; the label explicitly says not to add water.  There is absolutely nothing to like about this chowder. It smells like canned dog food (seriously) and it's made up almost entirely of grainy, dry-textured chunks of potatoes held together with a gluey beige sludge/broth. Tiny pieces of clams are sparsely distributed here and there throughout the vomitous mass - there are so few of them they should be listed as a "seasoning" rather than an "ingredient."  I suppose that's just as well. I'd hate to think that large amounts of tasty bivalves were being wasted in this crap, which didn't even taste like clam chowder. It had an overpoweringly salty, artificial "bouillon" taste and reminded me of the cheap "chicken" soup that used to be sold by the cup in coffee vending machines. Thoroughly nasty, unredeemable shit. Final score: 0/10

Big Y Chunky (ready to serve) - One of the worst canned clam chowder I've ever had. Although there was an adequate amount of clams, it was very heavy on the potatoes and bizarrely thick - so thick and starchy a spoon could stand in it unassisted as though it was in a bowl of pudding. There was also an odd non-clam aftertaste that was vaguely brackish. I would not ever buy this one again. Final score: 2/10


Snow's (condensed) - As I noted in an earlier post dedicated to them, Snow's was once the benchmark against which all clam chowders were measured. Although I had noticed the quality slipping several years ago (after the company was moved out of New England to Cape May,  New Jersey), it still surprised me just how bad Snow's has gotten.  The chowder base is a thick, gummy gel that never really combines with added milk.  Light on clams with a moderate amount of potatoes.  This chowder is extremely bland - almost flavorless.  I was able to partially rescue it by adding thyme, celery salt, paprika and lots of black pepper as I heated it up - as well as ladling the chowder over a pat of butter in every bowl when serving.  Final score: 3/10

MEDIOCRE

Valu Time (ready to serve; a "generic" brand produced by Topco) - Honestly, I wasn't expecting very much from this economy brand, but I have to give it credit for decent flavor, and an adequate amount of clams.  Kind of heavy on the potatoes. The broth was a freakishly unnatural white, very thick, starchy, and gluey. It actually jiggles in the spoon. This is probably due to the modified food starch in the broth, although there are token amounts of cream and butter as well. Final Score:  5/10

ACCEPTABLE

 Bookbinder's (semi-condensed) - Flavorful, well-seasoned broth with a good consistency, Bookbinder's puts in plenty of big, meaty clam pieces and chunks of potatoes.  Points off, however, for a "slippery" texture from xanthan gum and the high price for what is fundamentally an only-slightly-better-than-average condensed soup. Final score: 7/10 


Campbell's (condensed) - Snow's could learn a thing or two from Campbell's, who manages to make an inexpensive condensed clam chowder which blends smoothly with milk to make an excellent broth. Perfect consistency and with a rich clam flavor, this chowder could have scored a lot higher than it did if only Campbell's weren't so stingy with the potatoes and clams. Final score: 7/10

Campbells Chunky (ready to serve)- Although excessively thick and starchy when it comes out of the can, it thins out as it is heated until it reaches nearly perfect consistency. Lots of clams and a fair amount of potato, but still somewhat bland and needs to be further seasoned - celery salt and pepper makes a big difference. Not bad, though. Final score: an acceptable 7/10
Campbell's Soup At Hand (ready to serve) - Very much like the other Campbell's selections here; excellent consistency and very good flavor marred only by a very slight plasticy aftertaste (perhaps from the cup.) The recipe uses tiny potatoes and bits of clams - a slight alteration for the "sippy-cup" format of the Soup at Hand line - but there are plenty of both.  It's also quick to heat in the microwave, but keep an eye on it because the narrow, tall format makes it easy to overheat until it overflows (well, it made it easy for me, anyway.)  Overall, a tasty New England clam chowder with the bonus of convenience - you don't even need a spoon. Final Score: 7/10
Chef's Cupboard (ready to serve, ALDI store brand) - This is so similar to Campbell's Chunky that I would not be surprised to find that Campbell's produces it for ALDI as a private label - I would not be able to tell the difference between them in a blind tasting.  Like the Campbell's, it has lots of clams, decent amount of nice hearty potato chunks, and although it has a good flavor it is still somewhat bland and needs a seasoning boost.  And like Campbell's Chunky, it scores a solid and acceptable 7/10

Healthy Choice (ready to serve) - Although the broth was a little "slippery" (there's that xanthan gum again!) the flavor is decent, with plenty of nice waxy potatoes and lots of clams. Slightly underseasoned, but I took care of that with some black pepper. Overall, my opinion of Healthy Choice New England Clam Chowder hasn't changed since I wrote this review in September, 2010: it's not too bad. Final score: 7/10

Campbell's 100% Natural (ready to serve) - Plenty of potatoes and an adequate amount of (very tiny) clams. Thick broth with good flavor (Campbell's adds flavorings from pollack, clams, shrimp, and cod) but points off for using vegetable oil as a major ingredient and relegating cream and butter to the less-than-2% category. Thanks to all that oil, the broth also has a "slippery" mouthfeel that's less than idea. Can't give this one more than a 7/10.
GOOD

Kirkland Label Campbell's Premium (ready to serve, made by Campbell's for Costco) - Not surprisingly, this is very similar to Campbell's Chunky. But they've done something differently with the seasonings for the Kirkland label, adding more parsley and black pepper. Quite decent when all is said and done. Final score: 7+/10


Olde Cape Cod (condensed) - Lots of clams and chunks of potato, and a rich creamy broth that's just the right consistency.  This is a very high-quality chowder, but I had to take points off for underseasoning. Add a little thyme, just a hint of salt, and some black pepper when you're heating it up, and it's top-notch. Final score: 7+/10 

Campbell's 100% Natural Light (98% Fat Free) (ready to serve) - I bought this chowder expecting to be underwhelmed, but was totally surprised by how decent it was. There were lots of good waxy potatoes, a decent amount of clams (though mostly in tiny bits) and irregular chunks of roughly-chopped celery just like homemade. Although cream and butter were in the less-than-2% category of the ingredients, the broth had a slightly buttery taste as well as a depth of flavor provided by additional pollack and flavorings derived from shrimp, cod, and clams. Most surprising to me was the complete lack of any kind of gum as a thickener; Campbell's relied on good ol' cornstarch, just like you might do in your own kitchen. Final score: 8/10, believe it or not.

Bar Harbor Foods (condensed) - Very good, with an appropriate amount of potatoes and a generous amount of clams, yet surprisingly bland. The preparation instructions are rather vague and say to add milk or cream and butter to taste.  I get the milk or cream part, but I usually add a pat of butter to a bowl of canned chowder if it's not that great and needs a flavor boost. Still, it's a better-than-average chowder and the clam base blends smoothly with the milk when prepared, so there are no disgusting little gooey balls. Final score: 8/10


Trader Joe's "Pilgrim Joe's" (condensed) - Excellent ratio of potatoes to clams, with a relatively smooth clam base that needs quite a bit of stirring as it heats to blend well with the milk. Very good clam flavor, but exceptionally under-seasoned - I needed to add a moderate amount of salt and pepper to bring it up to my standards. Like so many other Trader Joe's products, this is better than average and I would buy it again. Final score: 8/10
Price Chopper (ready to serve) - Rich clam flavor with a hint of butter, big chunks of waxy potatoes, and plenty of clams (though most of them are in tiny pieces.) Definitely better than other store brands, and don't be fooled by the "golden" color of the chowder on the label picture; the actual product is a very traditional "clam broth" shade of white. Price Chopper's house brand holds its own quite respectably against any of the "name brands" in this category. Final score: 8/10

Progresso (ready to serve) - I heated up this chowder in a microwave and interestingly, although it started out a little too thick, it thinned a little as it cooled to nearly a perfect consistency.  Big hearty chunks of potatoes, with lots of clams (although the clams were in small pieces.) Although not necessarily richer than any of the other chowders, Progresso has a very deep flavor with complex shellfishy notes thanks to addition of lobster powder, shrimp, crab powder, and fish powder. Like many of the other chowders tasted, it was a tad underseasoned - I recommend a good shake of black pepper. Gluten-free for those of you who may be on a special diet.  I found Progresso to be very good, and I would buy this brand again.  Final score: 8/10

Progresso Rich & Hearty (ready to serve) - Extremely similar to Progresso's "Traditional" New England clam chowder - same consistency, with lots of clams and potatoes - but with a slightly different taste profile. For the Rich & Hearty version, they've taken out the various fish and shellfish powders and instead seasoned the chowder with chablis wine and brandy. The result is no less delicious, and still gluten-free.  Final score: 8/10

Snow's (ready to serve) - The difference between this and Snow's condensed is like night and day.  Delicious broth, just the right consistency, luscious with cream and butter. Plenty of clams (mostly small pieces, but there are some fairly good chunks in there too) and lots of chunky potatoes.This is good enough to buy again! Final score: 8/10

Campbell's Select Harvest (ready to serve) - Chunky potatoes and loads of clams in a well-seasoned broth of nearly ideal consistency. Although lacking the buttery flavor of a true New England clam chowder (no surprise - there's no butter in it) the rich clamminess helps make up for it. And look! Those are real slices of celery in there! Top notch, and this is another canned variety I would buy again. Final score: 8+/10
 EXCELLENT

New England Country Soup (ready to serve) - Sold ready to heat and eat, in shelf-stable pouches. This chowder was outstanding, just about as close to homemade as I have ever had. The broth is a perfect consistency, lightly thickened without being pasty or gummy - it's made with real cream and butter, and it tastes it. Loads of clams and plenty of potatoes. I was surprised to taste a hint of dill and even more surprised that I liked it, because when not part of a pickle recipe, dill is my least favorite herb. Seriously, I would buy this again in a heartbeat.  Made by New England Country Foods LLC, in Manchester Village, Vermont.  You can check out their very informative website by clicking here. Final score: 9+/10

Coffee For Artists

Trung Nguyen Coffee is Especially Made For Creativity.

19 June, 2011

Wings on the Grill

The original Anchor Bar recipe for "Buffalo Wings" calls for the wings to be deep-fried until crispy.  Most home recipes ditch the deep fryer (does anyone besides me do any deep frying at home anymore?) and instead roast the wings at 425 F in the oven.

For me, though, grilling the wings over coals is definitely the way to go. I like the flavor of charcoal-grilled wings a lot more than fried or oven-roasted.
Wings don't have a lot of intramuscular fat, but they do have a lot of skin in proportion to their size, and skin is quite fatty. For this reason, wings have a tendency to "flare" and burn on the grill (especially when you're a fan of charcoal!) and they have to be looked after a little more carefully than the typical burgers or hot dogs.  Here's some tips:
  • If you use a gas grill, preheat the grill on high, but turn the burners down to low when your put the wings on. The wings will take a little longer to cook on low, but they'll be easier to tend and they'll cook more evenly.
  • With a charcoal grill, give the coals time to burn down a little before you put the wings on. I like to let my coals settle for about 5 - 7 minutes after I dump them from the chimney into the grill itself. 
  • You can carefully arrange the wings on the gridiron if you like and then check and turn them frequently.  I'm not that fussy, though.  I just dump the wings all over the damn grill and then turn batches of them over with a big-ass spatula every now and then as they cook.  It's king of like stir-frying on the grill, and it keeps the wings moving around over the coals so that no one spot collects a lot of grease to catch on fire.
When the wings are all crispy and delicious, get 'em off the grill, douse 'em in your favorite sauce, and serve 'em up.

14 June, 2011

Sweet Treasures Petit Fours

I'm going to lay it down on the table right now: of all delicious desserts, Petit Fours are probably my absolute favorites. It's common to find me combing the "yesterday's bake" rack at Stop and Shop during the holidays for any packages of petit fours I can find. There's something about their delicious chocolate-coated-cakey goodness that I can't resist.

So, imagine my delight when I found boxes of petit fours at Ocean State Job Lot the other day. Delicious! I begged Dave to get me a box of them and couldn't even wait until we were in the car to try one. I held the small cake in my mouth as I struggled to close the box, and Dave couldn't help but laugh at me as I said, "Oh my God, I'm drooling!"

And these petit fours are totally droolworthy. Rich vanilla flavor and soft, spongy cake are perfectly matched by soft, smooth vanilla buttercream frosting and white chocolate coating. I'm completely content with these petit fours, although my favorites will always be the vanilla ones with the smidge of raspberry jam in the center.

12 June, 2011

Rob's Really Good Chocolate With Brown Rice

It's called "Rob's Really Good Life Changing Milk Chocolate with Crisped Brown Rice," and I would say the product name is probably about 50% bullshit. 

The "Rob's" part is likely to be true.  And the "Milk Chocolate" part  is certainly a fact.  And the rather nasty crunchy things embedded in the back of the bar do resemble rice.  So that just leaves the "Really Good" and "Life Changing" parts.  Okay, so it might be more like 40% bullshit.

The thing is, while the "Italian" milk chocolate in the bar is smooth and dreamy, the attempt at making a crunchy chocolate bar is rather spoiled by the brown rice.  Because brown rice doesn't get all nicely light and airy and crispy when it's "crisped."  No, it apparently turns into small, brittle nubbins that do nothing to add to the chocolate eating  experience.
And as far as "life-changing" goes...well, that's just plain stupid.  Marriage is life-changing.  So is the birth of a child.  Or winning the lottery.  Or having a tornado crush a path through your town.  But a chocolate bar?  Sorry, Rob, but you're an asshole for even suggesting it.


11 June, 2011

Doritos Pizza Supreme

Back in 2008, I reviewed a Doritos Collision combo, Pizza Cravers and Ranch. At the time, I mentioned that the Pizza Cravers variety was particularly good and would make a decent chip flavor all on it's own.

Now, I don't know if it really took Doritos a couple of years to put pizza-flavored chips into their own unique bag. I like Doritos, but new flavors tend to catch my eye primarily when they're in the vending machine at work (and I'm not on any kind of Frito-Lay press release list or anything.) But anyway, here it is 2011 and Doritos has got Pizza Supreme chips on the shelf.

Back in 2008, I described the Cravers as tangy and tomatoey, "but dosed with a good shot of black pepper, oregano, and other Italianish flavors with a mild but noticeable spicy kick at the finish."  Pizza Supreme is similar to this, but without the heat. Tomato and cheese flavors dominate, accented by oregano (of course - it's the Snack Food World's shortcut to "pizza flavor") and some other vaguely tasted herbs. Once again, though, the overall effect is quite good, and I like them.

But I won't let myself like them too much, because Doritos has Flavor ADD and will probably be ditching them for something new in a few months.

08 June, 2011

Cadbury Fingers

I know, they're just little cookie sticks. But I keep running into these things at all sorts of places - supermarkets, Walgreen's, job lot joints - and every time I do, my inner Butthead snickers and says, "Hhhhuh huh huh huhhuh...fingers."

07 June, 2011

Best Fireworks Label Ever


I don't want to piss on your parade, but don't you think you could have come up with a better name for these fireworks?

03 June, 2011

Helping Victims of the Springfield MA Tornado

You may have heard of the tornadoes which hit my area earlier this week.  The towns of West Springfield, Springfield, East Longmeadow, and Monson all experienced some damage, with many buildings - homes, schools, and businesses, damaged or destroyed.  While the damage doesn't come close to the extent of what happened in Joplin, MO, there are several neighborhoods here which were obliterated.

Although my own hometown of Enfield CT, a few miles to the south, was untouched by the storms, my family has been personally affected, and that is the reason for this post.

One of Lynnafred's classmates at Holyoke Community College, a young lady named Fabiola Guerrero, has been left homeless and personally devastated by the storm.  Her mother Angelica, 39, was killed when their West Springfield house was destroyed by the tornado which chewed through their neighborhood.  Mrs. Guerrero put Fabiola's younger sister in the bathtub - the safest place in the house - and then shielded her with her own body.  The sister was severely injured when the house collapsed around them but survived.  Mrs. Guerrero did not.

Fabiola's father was also in the house when it came down.  He too survived, and along with his young daughter is now hospitalized.  Fabiola arrived home after the storm to find virtually nothing left of her old life.

Holyoke Community College has taken the initiative to extend a helping hand to Fabiola and her family.  This is an excerpt from an email that Lynnafred received from Liz Golen, HCC's Interim Student Activities Coordinator:

Student Activities will be a drop location for donations for Fabiola and her family from now until next Friday 6/10. Gift cards, new toiletries, new clothing (sizes TBD, we are awaiting an email with details), portable bedding, etc. This family does not have a place to store any household donations, toys, or books, so nothing of that nature please.

IF ANYONE HEARS OF OTHER STUDENTS WHO NEED OUR HELP, PLEASE LET US KNOW. WE WILL DO OUR BEST. ...

If you are compelled to personally help - to touch the lives of one family left in anguish by the storm - you may do so by contributing gift cards.  Lynnafred and I will collect any contributions you care to send and she will bring them to HCC by the deadline of 10 June 2011.  Please use the Contact Me link at the top of the page to send me an email and I'll let you know the mailing address for sending cards (or, if you're local to the Enfield CT area maybe we can meet and save some postage.)

If you prefer to contribute to the affected communities at large, without concentrating on a single person in need, please make a contribution to the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter at 506 Cottage St., Springfield, MA 01104.

Another New Blog For Your Perusal

Fans of Lynnafred will be interested to know that she has started a new blogging project called Lynnafred's Fashion Disasters. She and her coauthors are scouring thrift stores and rummage sales for heinous, cool, or interesting items and exploring how they can (or sometimes can't) be coordinated, altered, or otherwise "rescued" from disaster.

Check it out!

The Triumphant Return of Who Let You Cook?!

Lynnafred here.

I've been doing a lot of cooking lately. I've been making dinners, coming up with creative new lunches, and generally been spending a lot more time than should be normal in the kitchen. (Dave even told you all about my most recent baking rampage which resulted in two full batches of cookies, and two half batches of cookies, for well over 100 cookies total.)

So it should come as no surprise that when my friend and partner writer over at Lynnafred's Fashion Disasters, Nannerkins, stayed overnight because of the recent tornado, the first thing we did in the morning was look for something to eat. And what happens when the only things in the fridge are cheese, meat, eggs, and a green pepper? If you said omelet, you're close. But we were far too lazy for the whole "omelet" thing, so we went for dirty scrambled eggs instead.

"Dirty" scrambled eggs are one of our favorite morning snacks where we just take whatever we have in the fridge and throw it into our eggs. They're not pretty, but they taste delicious.

This one's got kielbasa, green peppers and cheese in it. The one below has ham, cheese, and green peppers in it.

They're a really easy thing to make in the morning (especially if you're omelet impaired, like Yours Truly over here.) I usually chuck the meat and veggies in the pan first to saute in the butter, then pour the eggs over the entire lot, and as they're cooking, add the cheese and mix it all up until the eggs are set and the cheese is melty. DELICIOUS!!