26 September, 2006

Fishy Delights 6: Bajamar Octopus in Garlic Sauce

I had never even heard of the Bajamar brand name until I ran across a big basket full of these cans at one of the local Hispanic supermarkets. They were 99 cents each - a bargain when compared to the Goya brand, which retails for $1.69 or more.

Bajamar Octopus in Garlic Sauce, while not quite as flavorful as Goya, is still an excellent product. I found big chunks of octopus tentacle in a pleasant, garlicy vegetable oil base, lightly seasoned with salt. There was no spicy overtones, but there does seem to be just a hint of smokiness (which I think may be a "phantom flavor" produced by a combination of the seafood brininess and the garlic.) These chunks are much chewier than the Goya offering as well, which is more in line with the nature of the product - octopus is notorious for it's resilient meat.

Overall, Bajamar makes a good product and I'd buy it again.

Quick recipe idea:

1 can Octopus in Garlic Sauce (4 oz.), partially drained
1 tbsp sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp sliced ripe black olives
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
"Italian seasoning" - or use a little dried thyme, basil, and marjoram instead
1 small fresh ripe tomato, cubed (about 1/3 cup)
White wine vinegar

Drain most (but not all!) of the oil from the can of Octopus and dump the contents of the can into a bowl. Add onion, olives, salt and pepper, "Italian seasoning", and tomato. Sprinkle lightly with a bit of good white wine vinegar, and toss to combine.

I served this as an appetizer at my sister's place over the weekend.

French Toast Pop Tarts

My favorite PopTarts variety has always been Brown Sugar Cinnamon. Cheap pastry crust with hard fondant frosting on the outside and some kind of moist brown sugar goo inside. A perfect food, if you define perfect as "completely lacking in nutritional value."

So imagine my thoughts upon seeing French Toast PopTarts for the first time. Cheap pastry crust with "rich syrupy filling"?? Could Kellogg's actually be producing a food with a greater number of empty calories than my old favorite Brown Sugar Cinnamon?

Well, the short answer is "no." The Empty Calorie count is no higher for French Toast than Brown Sugar Cinnamon. But the good news is that there aren't any less, either.

The top crust of these toaster pastries has an interestingly textured surface, perhaps designed to resemble French toast. There is no frosting, but the top is dotted with powdery spots of cinnamon. And the aroma! A rich, buttery aroma redolent with mapley syrupy goodness, beckoning to the taste buds.

As trite as it may be, I find it impossible to describe these without using the word "delicious." The cheap crust is flaky and delicate, with just the right backflavor of egg nog - just as you'd expect from something labeled "French toast." The filling is a slightly wetter variety of the brown sugar type, but with a wonderful maple flavor that - even though I know it to be artificial - tastes authentic.

They were so good, the family and I each had one for dessert last night.


12 August, 2006

Carnegie Deli, NYC

It's the most famous deli in New York City - maybe even the world, right around the corner from Carnegie Hall, and on a recent roadtrip a group of friends and I decided to try them out.

Foods we sampled on this visit:
  • Pastrami - Slightly less fatty than I'm used to (depending on your point of view, that could be good or bad, right?) Very good, not too salty, and a nice mild smokiness, but a little on the bland side (t could use more pepper and coriander in the cure I would say.) My pastrami sandwich was four inches thick in the center and must have had a pound and a quarter of meat. I split it with my daughter.
  • Corned Beef - Very lean for the most part with a couple of good fatty pieces slipped inside. Like the pastrami it had a good flavor and was not too salty, but because of the leanness it was a bit dry. And like the pastrami sandwich, it was piled about four inches high with a ridiculously generous portion of meat.
  • Potato Knish - Creamy delicious potato inside a delicate pastry crust. Mighty fine.
  • Chicken soup - It would be far more honest to call this "broth" (there isn't a bit of chicken or vegetable in the stuff, though the broth itself it obviously made from scratch. I just wonder what they do with the chicken after the 'soup' is made.) Carnegie's offers a choice of noodles, matzoh balls, or a combo of both. the noodles are tender homemade egg noodles and the matzoh balls are big, fluffy, and the best I've had since I was a kid.
  • Hot Dogs - Two massive kosher "dinner franks" in soft steamed buns served with kraut on the side.
I have mixed feelings about the Carnegie. The service is excellent, attentive, and friendly; the sandwiches are tasty and HUGE; as you are seated, the host drops off a big bowl of marvelous assorted deli pickles; the dining rooms have atmosphere and yet are clean; the food is tasty. But on the other hand, those huge sandwiches are bare (no kraut, no cheese, no nuthin - it's all extra, except for the bottles of mustard on the table); the prices are astronomical ($20.00 for a reuben?? Puh-leez); and there are no refills on the drinks. A strange combination of tightfistedness and generosity.

I've heard complaints that the Carnegie Deli is little more than a tourist trap nowadays. I don't think it's quite that bad yet, but it would be nice if they offered a little extra without nickle-and-diming the customer to death with additional charges, scaled back on the huge portions, and moderated the prices.

07 August, 2006

Seafood Festival, Charlestown, Rhode Island

It was a clear and pleasant August day in New England, and we took full advantage of it Sunday, heading down to the Connecticut shoreline to pick up US 1 North and wander along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coast. Around three in the afternoon, we were getting a little hungry and a sign caught our eye: "Seafood Festival Entrance Ahead - Ninegret Park."

Ninegret Park is in Charlestown, Rhode Island, right off of Route 1. A former Naval Air Station, it is now a well-equipped 227-acre park and 400-acre wildlife refuge. Seen from the air (such as in this satellite picture from Google Maps) the military air base is obvious - the airfield was left in place, though the pavement is showing its age now and much of the runway area is being allowed to crumble. The wildlife refuge has a variety of habitats, and trails crossing through the park offer easy walks and beautiful scenery.

We found ourselves on the main runway of the old Air Station; food booths are set up along the sides of the tarmac, and down the middle are hundreds of picnic tables and trash bags. A large pavillion is set at one end, and various entertainment acts were scheduled (as we walked in there was a band setting up and a comedy juggling team was hamming it up under an EZ-Up tent.) On the other end of the runway, a carnival was in full swing with rides and a midway. The food booths held a surprising variety. Two places offered lobsters (in the rough or as part of a lobster dinner), others were peddling freshly-dug local clams (on the half shell or steamed or fried), crab cakes, various fried seafoods, frozen lemonade, and even tender chunks of lightly breaded and fried alligator tail! One of the busiest booths was offering seafood jambalaya, blackened scallops, blackened shrimp, and "bayou crayfish". Unfortunately, the crawdads were sold out before I could get any.

We started with clams and oysters. A generous portion of steamed clams came with a small plastic container of melted butter but alas, no broth! Although the clams were small, there were many of them and they were plump and sweet, and flavored with parsely, sweet basil, and a slight touch of oregano. The herbs lent a subtle savoriness to the clams that was quite pleasant.

Clams on the half shell were as fresh as they could be - dug that morning, iced, and opened before our very eyes! Sweet and briney, I passed on the cocktail sauce dressing so there would be nothing to mask the flavor. The oysters - another local specialty - were a real bargain at just 50 cents each; they were probably the best oysters I have ever had and no wonder: they had been harvested that very morning as well.

We picked up lobster dinners and a lobster roll at Linda's Lobsters. Each lobster dinner featured a 1-1/2-pound bug, three salt potatoes, and a big ear of corn. The lobsters were delicious, freshly pulled from local waters (not all lobsters come from Maine, after all.) The red potatoes, boiled in the same seawater brine as the bugs, were firm and waxy, just the way we like them. My daughter's lobster roll was just as good as our dinners. Nearly a pound of lobster meat (tail chunks, knuckles, and claw meat) were bound with butter and crammed into a fresh New England-style hotdog bun. There was no filler to be found, not even seasonings like a touch of chopped onion. (My daughter told me it was good, but it "didn't taste quite right. There's something missing." I always put a bit of onion, some fresh black pepper, and a few grinds of nutmeg in our home-made lobster rolls.)

Linda's was also selling steamers, and since the others we had (at a different booth) were so good, I got an order of them here to see how they measured up. Still sweet and plump, but more grit, no herbs in the water, and several of the clams were smashed because they were crowding them during cooking. Overall, they were still good, just not as good as the first bunch.

I was surprised to find only one booth selling stuffies - big hardshell quahog clams overfilled with a heaping scoop of stuffing made primarily with cracker crumbs, roughly chopped quahogs, and usually some onion. Karma Concessions LLC had a food service trailer selling french fries, seafood chowder, stuffies, and a few other delicacies. The seafood chowder was very good - clams, shrimp, fish, small bay scallops, and potatoes in a tasty, well-seasoned broth. The stuffies were filled with cracker meal generously studded with big chunks of chopped clams,. thinly sliced cuts of onion, and fine gratings of lemon zest with just the barest hint of horseradish. I prefer my own recipe (which skips the zest and horseradish, and uses butter, pepper, and garlic) but Karma's were probably the best purchased, and if I ever saw these guys set up on a boardwalk, I'd buy another stuffie from them in a heartbeat.

There were two places selling "Maryland Crab Cakes" and both of them claimed to have the "World's Best." But only one of them had newspaper clippings and some award certificates to back up their claims, and that is where my daughter went. To her surprise, she received a crab cake dinner of sorts - the cake was on a bland white hamburger bun with a side of crispy-cooked french fries and a couple of greasy "hushpuppies."

She tossed the bun to the scavenging house finches flitting around the picnic tables and concentrated on the crab cake, which was every bit as good as promised. Pure crabmeat with the barest minimum of fine crumbs to hold it together, it had been fried lacy brown on the outside and was moist, tender, and flavorful on the inside. Her fries were properly "twice-cooked" - first to cook them through, then allowed to cool a bit and plunged back into the hot fryer to acquire a crackling-crisp shell.

The "hush puppies" were pretty strange, though. The best hush puppies are primarily cornmeal, with enough flour to lighten them up a bit, eggs and milk, spicy seasonings to keep them from being too bland, and bacon grease for shortening to improve the flavor. The resulting batter is deep-fried by the spoonful to make tender, meltingly delicious cornmeal fritters that have been a signature Southern side dish for generations. These hush puppies were a pale imitation of the real thing. Thin fritter batter with a couple of bits of corn here and there, poured like funnel cake into the hot oil. They were weird, irregular things and the Fry Guy was apparently cooking them faster than the Fry-o-Lator could stay hot, because the outer shell was greasy and oozed oil unpleasantly.

We wandered the festival for a while after eating. None of us felt like riding any of the carnival rides or being cheated on the midway, so we toured the vendors' booths (Gutter protectors! Hand carved gifts from China! Our Three-In-One Mop will leave your floors so clean your mother-in-law will gladly eat off of them!) until sunset, when we got back on Route 1 and headed for home.

29 July, 2006

New Shit at Target

If you enjoy Silk brand soymilk, you should know that your local Target probably sells it for less than any other market in your area. In my area, Target's price for Silk is half of what the supermarkets are charging.

And in the stationery department, Target is offering notebooks with big block letters on the cover - I for Incredible, S for Sweet, and so on. They're so big and colorful, and so easy to rearrange.

Doritos Fiery Habanero Tortilla Chips

So I was surveying the treats available in the cafeteria at work the other day, and I noticed something new: Doritos Fiery Habanero tortilla chips. It piqued my curiosity - most mass-marketed foods that are labeled as "fiery" really aren't that hot (it's that lowest-common-denominator thing) and most of them rely on cayenne pepper for their heat and paprika for their flavor. So I gambled eighty cents and bought a bag.

You know how sometimes things are labeled as being HOT, but they really aren't that bad? There might be the suggestion of some spicyness, but there's nothing special or exceptional about them and usually they aren't even as hot as you were hoping? Well, that does not describe Doritos Fiery Habanero chips. They really are hot. Capital "H" Hot, even.

The first thing you notice when you crunch into one is the slightly sour "nacho cheese" flavor that Doritos is famous for, but it is immediately followed by a subtle hint of habanero's signature "rotten apricot" taste. (Unlike some other habby products, this characteristic taste is not overwhelming; in fact, it is so well balanced with the cheeses and other seasonings that it's a lot more enjoyable than you might think.) The heat immediately blasts forth starting at the tongue and racing for the back of the throat. This fast attack makes the heat feel initially hotter than it really is, because after a couple chips you realize that the Doritos are delivering a pleasantly sharp burn, not so overwhelming that someone with medium tolerance will find them unpleasant, and not so mild that a real chilehead will be disappointed. I have to say, however, that these chips are likely to be too hot for nOObs.

It pleases me greatly to see on the back of the bag that the ingredients do not list any other chile pepper than habaneros. Frito-Lay is not taking a cheap shortcut and dosing the chips with cayenne - they're doing it right and using the real thing, 100%.

These get a strong thumbs-up.

20 July, 2006


This strange circular formation of lambchops was discovered on my kitchen griddle earlier this week. Experts believe that mutton-eating Druids erected the structure just before dinner time in an attempt to create an accurate lunar eclipse predictor and kitchen timer.

Unfortunately, before any studies could be completed, the meaty menhirs were removed from the heat and consumed, accompanied by green peas and a delicious rice pilaf.

19 July, 2006

Fishy Delights 5: Crown Prince Yellow-Box Sardines

Crown Prince's sardines in the yellow box (marked Sardines - Lightly Smoked - In Oil) must be Crown Prince's bottom-of-the-line junk fish. They were a disappointment from start to finish:
  • The can has a pull-tab opener. Halfway open, though, the top often freezes -it just stops opening. From there on, it's a struggle until the lid finally surrenders, popping off with a snap and spraying fishy soy oil everywhere (thankfully, both times this happened to me the oil didn't slosh anywhere. That would have been a lot worse.)
  • Are these really sardines? They're huge!! They look like the midsections cut from mackerels. They're so big there are only three in the can.
  • THEY LEAVE THE SCALES ON! Auuuggggh! Seriously, how goddamn lazy or careless does a company have to be to do this? I don't know anybody who eats fish scales. They feel disgusting in the mouth and they make me gag. It's fucking sick. Yet there are a handful of crappy sardine brands that still insist on packing their fish unscaled so you have to rake the damn things off with your fork. And Crown Prince is one of them.
Crown Price yellow-box sardines suck.

Fishy Delights 4: Goya Octopus In Pickled Sauce

Like the Goya Octopus in Garlic Sauce I reviewed earlier, this product is a total win, though I found the label a little misleading. I expected Octopus In Pickled Sauce to be a kind of marinated offering - something with some vinegar and more spices. But upon opening the can, I found the octopus chunks covered with a sauce made of vegetable oil, tomato, onions, spices, and salt. Once some of the oil was separated out, I found the sauce to be very tasty and quite complimentary to the octopus - though not really identifiable as a tomato sauce other than by color.

As before, the can was filled with big, meaty, tender chunks of octopus tentacles with a few more slender tentacle pieces left in three-to four-inch segments. Absolutely delicious; once again, although the store I bought these at was closing them out for lack of sales, I would happily have paid full price for them - they were that good.

16 July, 2006

Natural Lamb Lung Tender Chips

Picked up these doggy treats in Wal-Mart yesterday. They were so bizarre, I could not resist. Sergeant's Uncle Sam's brand Natural Lamb Lung Tender Chips. Ingredients: Lamb lung. That's it. No preservatives, no salt, no added flavors. Just slices of lamb lung, apparently freeze-dried.

I gave a chunk to Zim (the family dawg, named for cartoon character Invader Zim.) He carried it over to his bed, chewed it a little, then nosed it around the floor like he was trying to figure out what it was. Finally, he got around to eating it.

Hmmm. Strange reaction from a dog that even eats green olives. So I decided to eat a piece myself.

There isn't much to these "chips." They seem to be made of randomly cut chunks of something, but if you've never seen a lung before you might not be able to immediately identify it. Light as a feather and rather inorganic in texture (reminiscent of styrofoam.) They smell like liver and rawhide. Biting into one strengthens the styrofoam comparison, and points up the lack of salt or other seasoning. There is a faint livery taste with a strong cardboard finish. The freeze-dried tissue sort of wets down into a slippery rehydrated mass that is not nearly as pleasant as the light and crunchy initial bite. As a "people snack" they leave a lot to be desired.

Sometimes strange or filthy dog treats have a warning that the food is "not for human consumption." This package doesn't. Old laws intended to help stop the spread of tuberculosis in the US forbid the sale of animal lungs as food for people. It does, however, carry the curious note:
As with any dog treats, wash hands with soap and water after handling.
I can't quite figure that out. I suppose there are some cleanfreak weirdos out there that scrub their hands after handling just about anything, but why would a dog food company want to give them validation?

Also, I guess you're supposed to watch your dog eat. The other warning on the label says:
CAUTION: For supervised consumption only. Remove and discard if your pet attempts to swallow large pieces or chunks.

15 July, 2006

Farmland Blazing Hot Bacon

Browsing through the local butcher shop last week, I noticed something new: Farmland brand Blazing Bacon. It claimed to be "Hot and Spicy Cured." The price was right - $2.39 for a full 16-ounce package - so I tossed one into the carriage. At worst, I'd end up with cheap but probably edible bacon, and at best, I'd have a spicy breakfast treat.

An examination of the packaging revealed some details: "Cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphates, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite. Rubbed with natural flavorings." So Blazing Bacon is pretty much a normally-cured bacon that's had some spices rubbed on. The packaging does not specify what the "natural flavorings" are, but a close look shows red powder. Probably cayenne pepper and paprika.

Above: Farmland's Blazing Bacon out of the package. Check out the top edge of the bacon slices. The hot spices are along the edge of the bacon with little penetration onto the surface of the slices.

The first thing I noticed when the bacon hit the hot frying pan was the rich smell of toasted paprika. It's an unmistakeable aroma that you just don't get with other pepper powders. As the bacon cooked and the fat tried out, the spices on the edges of the strips mingled with the fat and more evenly coated the bacon.
The bacon also got really wrinkled and curly. Farmland bacon is always pretty decent. It's never overly salty, doesn't seem to be too sugary, and has a well-balanced smoked flavor. It does tend to be a little fattier than some other brands, but hell, it's bacon: what do you expect? But I have noticed that Farmland is also a "wetter" cure than some others, and that's what makes it wrinkle and curl so much - the water frying out with the fat. Thankfully, it's not too "spitty" - it doesn't "pop" a whole lot, and it doesn't leave a lot of caramelized sugars at the bottom of my spider*.

And what about the taste? Very much like a standard bacon, but with a noticeable hot "edge." Not "Blazing," and not even very uncomfortable (even for my non-chilehead wife) but there it is. For all the wonderful paprika smell when the rashers hit the pan, there is no noticeable pepper taste, but there is that vaguely annoying "back-of-the-throat" cayenne pepper burn and lingering heated aftereffect in the mouth.

The verdict: Thumbs up, actually. Farmland really does make a good-quality product and sells it at a fair price, and Blazing Bacon with its mild capsaicin kick makes for a nice bit of variety at breakfast.

* - Spider is a New England term for "cast iron frying pan." See? You learn something new every day.

13 July, 2006

Fishy Delights 3: Bumble Bee Sardines In Hot Sauce

Bumble Bee Sardines in Hot Sauce - the label says "Premium Quality," and that's sad because it means that Bumble Bee has really lowered their standards pretty dramatically.

Under the attractively-designed lid of this sardine tin, I found four massive fish and two smaller ones, rather haphazardly packaged and looking a little like they had been processed with a weed whacker (at least they'd been scaled - it is so disgusting to get a mouthful of fishscales.)

The term "hot sauce" on the front label is a little deceptive. The deeners are packed in oil which seems to include a cloudy red slurry. That must be the hot sauce, and there is nothing subtle about it - The harsh cayenne heat is virtually devoid of any flavor and slams into your mouth and throat like a chunk of burning sandpaper. Not my favorite kind of spiciness, but tolerable with a handful of nori crackers for me and probably enjoyable as-is for many others.

Regardless of their shortcomings, these fishies are selling for fifty cents a can at the local job lot stores, so they're a cheap and decent lunch.

Fishy Delights 2: Goya Octopus In Garlic Sauce

Goya Octopus in Garlic Sauce - Big, meaty chunks of tender delicious octopus, flavored with garlic and tinged with a pleasant and subtle cayenne heat. Truly wonderful, the pieces range from large, slightly chewy chunks to small, melt-in-your-mouth tender tentacle cuts.

This would be excellent in a marinated seafood salad, tossed with a light vinagrette, some artichoke hearts, and garden-fresh tomatoes, but it's just as good all by itself, drained of its oil and just eaten with a fork and some crackers. Goya octopus = win!

Fishy Delights 1: Goya Cuttlefish in Ink

Goya Cuttlefish (Pieces) In Their Own Ink. I bought a can of these the other day because I had never tried them, and they were on markdown at the local grocery (an irresistible combination.)

First of all, when you open the can, you find a deep, mahogany-brown mass filling the can that looks nothing whatsoever like the "serving suggestion" depicted on the box. Goya packs the cuttlefish in a sauce made up of vegetable oil, tomato, onion, ink, spices, and salt. I suppose if you drained the cuttlefish well, you might be able to arrange them on a platter to look as good as the pic.

The cuttlefish are cut in pieces about an inch or so square and are firm in texture, yet very tender. It's strange - kind of like eating a stewed gasket - but there's a good seafood flavor there hiding below the weird sauce. That sauce is probably the product's weak spot: it has an odd metallic/rancid taste, as though it was pulling most of its flavor from the can and from overripe tomatoes and onions. The overall flavor was not unpleasant, just unfamiliar and a bit jarring.

10 July, 2006


Next time you get tired of surfing t3h internets, kick back and grab a refreshing plate of bacons.

07 July, 2006

Burger King's New BK Stacker

This idealized photo of a BK Quad Stacker
is from Burger King's website.

Here's Burger King's press release about their new BK Stacker:

[2006-07-05] The BK™ Stacker is now available in three sizes to satisfy any appetite, BK™ Double Stacker, BK™ Triple Stacker and BK™ Quad Stacker.

Two, three or four flame-broiled hamburger patties are stacked high between a sesame seed bun with equal slices of melted American cheese and up to eight slices of crispy bacon, smothered in original BK™ Stacker Sauce. The bigger the burger ordered, the more layers of bacon and cheese.

“The BK Stacker is simple and built with the very ingredients our restaurant guests love best--meat, cheese, and bacon,” said Denny Marie Post, senior vice president and chief concept officer, Burger King Corporation. “We’re satisfying the serious meat lovers by leaving off the produce and letting them decide exactly how much meat and cheese they can handle.” The BK Stacker is a permanent addition to the menu and is now available at all participating restaurants. The BK Double Stacker sandwich is available at a suggested price of $2.49, the BK Triple Stacker at $3.29 and the BK Quad Stacker at $3.99.

This is what a BK Quad Stacker looks
like in real life.

I had a BK Quad Stacker for lunch today. They aren't nearly as overpoweringly huge as they look in the TV ads, but they're no small snack, either. The Quad has five slices of cheese, four Whopper-sized burger patties, eight slices of bacon, and a dollop of "Stacker Sauce," which seems to be a mixture of the cheapest BBQ sauce available, and mayonnaise.

The smokiness of the bacon and the flame-broiled flavor of the beef compliment each other nicely, and the cheese seems to be the standard Kraft mild orange cheddar that every burger chain uses. The Stacker Sauce is unobtrusive - there's enough to give a hint of flavor, but not enough to drool onto your shirt or get all over your fingers. There's definitely something sweet going on there, though, and I bet the stuff is loaded with high fructose corn syrup.

Despite the sloppy appearance of the burger in the photo, the bun is of adequate size to hold everything together without making the sandwich too "bready" - though with four burgers and a handful of bacon sitting on it, you'd need to slice a pound cake in half to hide the meat here. The sandwich is so tall it's hard to get my mouth open far enough to take a bite, but surprisingly enough, the layers don't slide around or mush around the way some huge burgers do.

If there isn't at least a thousand calories in one of these sloptrough burgers, I'll be amazed. I ate one two hours ago and just the thought of dinner tonight is making me groan.

22 June, 2006

Herdez Juices

These are now appearing in job lot and discount stores around here. I don't understand why; they're pretty good.

The Tropical Juice variety is an excellent blend of fruit juices without any extraneous water or added sugar, and the flavor is pretty unique. It includes pineapple, orange, papaya, lime, grapefruit, mango, guava, and pear juices.

Original Vegetable Juice is a worthy competitor to Campbell's V8 - lots of mingled vegetable flavors with a pleasant, slightly bitter finish. Bet it would make a hell of a Bloody Mary.

The Clam Cocktail is nothing special, though - pretty much a standard tomato juice with an unidentifiable "something" mixed in. That's not surprising. The big national brand, Clamato, isn't much more than tomato juice, corn syrup, water, and clam powder either. I still think the best clam cocktail is V8 juice mixed 3:1 or 4:1 with the clam broth from a big pot of steamers.

20 June, 2006

The Cove Fish Market, Stonington CT

The Cove is a fish market and takeout place which sits on a shady point of land where a dead-end side street branches off of US1 in Stonington, CT. They've been there longer than I can remember. My family and I have been eating there for about 20 years or so. After a day exploring the Connecticut coastline or roasting on a sunny beach, The Cove was a great place to kick back and enjoy some steamers or fish-and-chips with an ice-cold beer from your own cooler. They make a fine chowder, too - Rhode Island style (clear clam broth - delicious) and the service is always friendly.

But I think last weekend was the last time we'll be eating there. The Cove - like so much of southeastern Connecticut - has changed, and I don't like the changes much.

For one thing, the prices have gone through the roof. Shoreline prices in the summer are always higher than we normally pay; these folks only have a few months to make a living from the tourists that flood the area. But when two orders of fish and chips, a bowl of chowder, and a burger come to $38.50, it's gone beyond "tourist price" and into "tourist trap."

The Cove was always a BYOB place, too. But now they're peddling horsepiss Budweiser and diluted horsepiss Bud Lite. In exchange for all the pretty neon signs, advertising banners, and cafe umbrellas that all shout BUD LITE, The Cove forbids patrons to bring in their beverages of choice. When we were there, I saw the sign by the window where orders are placed (Please Only Beverages From The Cove) and brought our cooler back out to the car. Apparently, it is now Cove policy to have an employee walk around the outdoor dining area and harrass people with Non-Cove beverages. One group of diners, in the middle of a meal that probably ran them around $150, picked up their food and their cooler, told the Beverage Nazi that they'd never be back, and ate their meal sitting in and around their car in the parking lot. I was glad I brought our cooler back to the car because I wasn't in the mood to be bitched at and I wasn't in the mood for the argument that would have ensued.

All in all, it's their establishment and they can run it the way they want. Most people don't seem to mind - the line waiting to order on Sunday didn't seem any shorter than ever - and those of us who do mind are free to go elsewhere. But how many customers like the ones the Beverage Nazi chased off can a seasonal business afford to lose? I hope they sell enough Bud Lite to make up the difference.

So long, Cove. Thanks for pissing away a 20-year relationship.

19 June, 2006


One of the local supermarkets was running a "manager's special" on lobsters today - $5.99 a pound, regardless of size. Good deal. I bought two 4-plus-pounders, which gave my family of 3 all the bugmeat we could handle and enough leftover to make a couple of lobster rolls for lunch.

The white thing between the two lobbies there is a 12-inch ruler to give you an idea of the scale.

16 June, 2006

There's A Lobster Loose!

Everybody get outta here, there's a lobster loose! Ohhhh, holy cow, he's loose! Everybody get outta here - he's vengeful! Quickly! Cover yourself with hot butter and carry lemons just in case you have to squirt him with it and so forth, to repel him! Everybody get outta here, quickly! There's gonna be a tradegy! Oh, God! Ohhhh - Haaaah! --Bill Murray, from National Lampoon's Radio Hour

01 June, 2006

KFC's Bowl Movement

KFC has something new: a Mashed Potato Bowl. It's built in layers: the base is a big portion of mashed potato, followed by a layer of whole kernel corn, then a layer of popcorn chicken, topped with gravy, and sprinkled with what KFC vaguely refers to as their "special three-cheese blend."

I have to admit, it doesn't look very appetizing, sitting there in its disposable plastic bowl. But looks can be deceiving: KFC's Famous Bowls are some fine eating.

KFC's mashed potatoes are usually decent to begin with, and they give you a lot here: two scoops, or nearly as much as in a large side. The corn is standard canned stuff, but not too bad for that - yes, it is obviously canned, but as least it seems to be a better grade of canned. The crispy popcorn chicken is much better than it was a few years ago when The Colonel tried and failed to add it to the lineup; and the gravy is still pretty yummy for a fast-food-chain-fluid. The addition of cheese puzzles me a bit, though. They don't really put enough on top to impart much flavor, so why bother putting it on at all?

As you can see in the picture, the overall presentation is less than elegant, but the flavor combination works very well, and this creation is a worthy cousin to the noble Shepherd's Pie.

30 May, 2006

Fruit Gone Wrong

No matter what a kid does to Mr. Potato Head, he just ends up looking goofy. But Mr. Potato Head's friend, Oscar Orange, has an evil, fermented core: He always looks kind of creepy and sinister.


I have to take pictures of some of this crap, just so you won't think I'm making it up.

Pictured at left is the Grapple. (It's pronounced "grape-uhl," by the way, which is a whole different category of stupidity - why didn't they just spell it Graple if they wanted it to be pronounced with a long "a"?)

Anyway, a Grapple is a brand name for a perfectly good Fuji apple that's been injected with artificial grape flavor. Crack open the edge of the container, and these apples smell like a grape lollypop. Or Rev. Jim Jones' Guiana Kool-Aid.

The supermarkets charge $4 for this package - a dollar an apple! - but what is far worse is the slogan: "Looks like an apple. Tastes like a grape." What? Tastes like a grape? Grapes don't taste anything like "grape" candy.

I first saw these months ago in Stop and Shop supermarkets in Western Massachusetts, but they soon vanished from the produce aisles, presumably because no one was buying them. Now they've started turning up in the second-tier markets - smaller, neighborhood grocery stores. I hope they disappear from that market segment, too.

27 May, 2006

Ting - Jamaican Grapefruit Soda

It's hard to find a good grapefruit soda. Most grapefruity sodas that are readily available call themselves "citrus flavored" as though grapefruit was a dirty word.

Ting is the real thing. It's made in Jamaica, and the ingredients are pretty simple: Water, sugar, grapefruit juice, natural grapefruit flavor, citric acid, sodium citrate. It's carbonated (lightly) but should be agitated a little before opening to stir up the grapefruit sediment that tends to settle on the bottom of the bottle.

Most of all, it tastes great. Big, fruity grapefruit flavor with just a hint of lingering bitterness.

10-ounce glass bottles imported from Jamaica. Great stuff.

18 May, 2006

The Stir Chef

I bought this in a job-lot store for a fraction of its original price. The Stir Chef. It's incredibly cool - so cool that I can't believe they were in a markdown shop - and so simple that it's hard to believe no one ever came up with it before.

Basically, it's a high-torque, low-speed motor with three extendable, spring-loaded legs which clip to the edge of a pot. An extendable shaft passes through the center of the unit and is rotated by the motor. On the end of the shaft, you clip a paddle corresponding to the diameter of the pot you are using.

Set whatever you're cooking to simmer, turn on the Stir Chef, and you can go about your other business in the kitchen - the Stir Chef does the stirring for you. It works great for pudding, sauces, soups, and even high-density, hard-to-stir crap like oatmeal, corn meal mush, and grits. In the picture on the left, I have it stirring a 6-cup batch of scrapple (a mixture of pork, spices, and cornmeal) on low heat. Scrapple gets so thick as it cooks that it hurts to stir, but the Stir Chef handles it without even heating up.

Anyway, I don't want this to turn into an advertisement, so I'll cut it short. If you find this thing at a remainder shop near you, buy it, you won't be sorry. Hell, it even comes with batteries so you can play with it in the car on the way home.

13 May, 2006


It has taken many years, but the mystery of Red flavoring has finally been solved: it's "strawberry-cherry," according to the folks at Walgreens, who have probably violated some kind of top secret trade agreement by putting it right on the label of their Red Soda.

One sip confirms it: this is indeed the same Red as found in popsicles, lollypops, hard candy, and cheap confections the world over.

12 May, 2006

Orville Redenbacher Thinks I'm Stupid.

Just how goddamn stupid does ConAgra think we are? They label Orville Redenbacher popcorn with a tag that says "100% Whole Grain." No shit; thanks for the info, Captain Obvious.

11 May, 2006

Mini Gummy Bear-BQs

These are gummy bears for dogs, flavored with "Assorted Natural Flavors:" Savory Beef, Hickory Bacon, BBQ Chicken. I bought a small 1.75-ounce package at PetCo last time I was there as a treat for my dog. He hated them, and now I know why.

Being real gummies, they start with the usual gummy ingredients: sugar, food starch, coloring. So remember that although I won't directly say it again in the individual flavor reviews, they are sweet. Very, cloyingly sweet, worse than usual gummies. Plus they stick to my teeth (gummies aren't supposed to do that.)

Here goes:

Savory Beef Bear: Tasted sort of like that beefwater that leaks out of cheap hamburger when it's fried, and I don't mean the fat. Bright red. I got sick of the flavor of these after about one of them. It was the best of the three, so feel free to be afraid now.

BBQ Chicken Bear: Bright yellow, predominate flavor was an appallingly sweet barbecue sauce which could have been candied tomatoes for all the subtlety of flavor in these things. Slight background hint of cheap chicken bouillon (we're talking Smack Ramen Noodle Flavoring cheap.)

Last, and trust me, least: Hickory Bacon Bear. Orange. Smokey with a capital "smuh" and not much other flavor except for the sugar. These are so smokey that they taste like an ashtray, or a sip of bongwater, and they taste nothing like bacon at all.

Overall: nasty.

Oh, and the producers are illiterate, too. There shouldn't be an apostrophe in "Bear-BQ's."

Tarkhun Soda

The bright green color of tarkhun is what first prompted us to try this Russian tarragon-flavored soda, but we're glad we did. It has a rather strange aroma of baby powder ("It smells like Infant!") but a pleasant, light citrusy flavor that is very quenching.

There are several brands for sale in the US, but you'll need to find a Russian market first - we've never encountered it in a mainstream supermarket. It's available in 16-ounce bottles, 12-ounce cans, and large 2-liter plastic bottles.