31 August, 2008

Silken Raspberry Mousse

My daughter Lynn enjoys cooking and trying new things. Not long ago, she found a recipe for a raspberry mousse on Nicole Weston's old blog bakingsheet and decided it would be a delicious late-summer dessert.

Lynn's recipe is a little different from Nicole's - she thought the flavors were a little weak in the original version (linked below) so she boosted a few of the quantities.

Lynn's Silken Raspberry Mousse

2½ cups fresh raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
12 ounces silken tofu

Reserve ¼ cup of the raspberries and set aside for garnish later.

In the bowl of a food processor, sprinkle sugar over remaining 2¼ cups of raspberries and pulse smooth, drizzling vanilla extract in as the mixture purees. When pureed, add the silken tofu and continue to pulse until smooth (about 5 minutes or so.)

Divide into individual serving dishes and refrigerate for two hours or more to let the mousse "set up." Garnish with reserved fresh raspberries and raspberry or mint leaves before serving.

Although not as light and airy as a traditional mousse (more like a pudding, actually) this smooth chilled dessert was light and refreshing - the perfect follow-up to grilled chicken and vegetables.

Silken Raspberry Mousse - the original recipe at bakingsheet.
Baking Bites - the sucessor blog to bakingsheet

30 August, 2008

There's Nothing Like a Pig Roast

Every year, some friends downstate throw a huge summer yard party. Many of us bring food to share with the multitude of guests; some also help with the work. Our friends are musicians: a stage is set up at one end of the back yard and performances by various bands and soloists go on all day and far into the night.

Food goes on all day and far into the night as well - it starts with trays of deviled eggs, shrimp, raw veggie nibbles, cheeses, chips, and other appetizers late in the morning and proceeds to hamburgers, hot dogs, fresh local corn on the cob, steaming pots of homemade New England clam chowder and baked beans. There are salads and side dishes of all kinds, and a huge variety of desserts, and of course a few kegs of beer as well as soft drinks for the kids and the teetotalers.

And all the while, in the very back reaches of the yard, tucked up against the tall wooden fence, a whole pig turns slowly on a spit above a line of hot charcoal. Señior Rodriguez keeps a close eye on the beast as it roasts in the homemade steel pit, occasionally shoveling in more charcoal and checking the drive chain that connects the spit to the slow electric motor that keeps the pig turning. Occasionally, the sea breeze across the yard shifts and carries the tantalizing aroma of smoke and roasting pork to the crowd and for those fleeting moments the bands are no longer the center of attention, because mouths water and heads turn to gaze at the sizzling meat. Señior Rodriguez smiles and shakes his head at the onlookers and raises a hand, palm turned to the crowd. "Not quite yet." He is a patient man and thus well-suited to his task, for roasting a pig is not an endeavor for the hasty or short of temper. A pig requires about an hour of cooking time for every 15 - 20 pounds of meat, and he starts his setup and prep in the morning so the pig can be over the fire by noon.

Around 5:30 or so, a rhythmic chopping can be heard in the quiet between songs. The curious turn and look; while their attention was elsewhere, Señior Rodriguez has taken the pig off the spit, laid it out on a thick butcherblock board, and is now chopping it into serving-size pieces with a razor-sharp sugarcane knife. Juices run from the perfectly-done meat as he piles the portions into aluminum buffet pans for serving and sets the head and feet to one side. He grins as he points the head to the crowd so that all who enter the food line will look their meal in the eye as they approach.

Most of the partygoers turn back to the band, eager for a taste but knowing that trays of roasted pork will soon be set by the beans and the corn; they are interested in the succulent meat but there is always plenty to go around - no one leaves hungry. Some of us wander to the pig, to watch in fascination as Señior Rodriguez expertly divides the roast with strokes of his deadly-looking blade. And also because we know that the meat is delicious indeed, but the crackling skin is even better. Portions of meat with the skin still on do go into the pans, but most people at the party will pick the skin off and discard it, so those of us In The Know chat with Señior Rodriguez and munch the cracklings and enjoy our savory secret.

Soon the cutting is done and the pork is ready to be served. Rick - our host and the lead singer of the band on stage - announces that the food line is open. For the rest of the night, there will be music and beer and roasted pig accompanied by good fellowship and laughter. When the party and the feast finally wind down, some of the guests transform into the cleanup crew and other guests begin their lingering goodbyes. The pig is nearly gone but the laughter and warmth remain.

29 August, 2008

Yikes! I've Been Tagged!

Check it out: I've been tagged! TWICE!! Many thanks to Meryl at Inspired Bites and Alex at Just Cook It! for enjoying the Cupboard enough to tag me with a Brillante Weblog award.

According to Alex, I now get to share six factoids about myself and then tag six other bloggers with the award. Factoids first:

1. I enjoy keeping chickens (I had a coop and henyard before we moved) and I'm looking forward to building another coop at our new address.

B. Unlike many of my friends, I prefer new music to the stuff I listened to in high school 30 years ago. I really loathe "classic rock" radio stations.

iii. I'm fond of anime, especially the films produced by Studio Ghibli. It would please me if the afterlife resembles the world of Kiki's Delivery Service.

....- Cornmeal mush (aka polenta) is the only cooked cereal I can eat without gagging.

FIVE. I didn't care for raw clams or oysters until I was into my 20's. Now, I enjoy them a great deal.

√36: These awards remind me uncomfortably of chain letter emails, but I'm a sport and pass them along anyway because it's nice to have one's work recognized by one's peers in the blogosphere.

And now...my victims!

Life, Lightly Salted

Cooking with Anne

Cajun Chef Ryan

The Pork Porn Pages. Yeah, the blog title cracks me up. With her new job driving her crazy, I don't expect FH to pay much attention to this thing, but The Pork Porn Pages deserves some real readers, not just Googlers looking for cheap thrills.

Tasty New England - A brand-new blog, and one that deserves watching. Matt has a knack for finding stuff no one else seems to notice.

Don't Fear Fish

Tag rules:
  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Post the rules on the blog.
  3. Write 6 random things about yourself.
  4. Tag 6 people at the end of your post.
  5. Let each person know that they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.


28 August, 2008

Lokkii BBQ Briquettes - Expensive and Disappointing.

I just tried a so-called "miracle product" that is the most useless pile of shit I've ever bought for my grill: Lokkii brand BBQ Briquettes. They are individually-wrapped custom formed briquettes made of charcoal, anthracite, and an "ignition layer" which are supposed to provide up to 2 hours of heat per briquette; the package claims that two of them yield enough heat to barbecue a whole 2½-pound chicken in about 40 minutes.

They certainly are an intriguing item. Each briquette is about four inches in diameter and an inch tall with a spoke-like pattern of holes running through it. The top layer is the "ignition layer" and is a different composition than the rest of the briquette. Prepping the grill for cooking is easy: Just unwrap a couple of Lokkii briquettes, place them ignition-side up on the charcoal rack in the grill, light them, and let them burn up to cooking temperature (about 10 or 15 minutes.) Once lit, Lokkii claims that they'll provide heat for cooking for up to two hours, delivering 11,500 BTU per briquette.

The ignition is pretty fascinating. Touch a match to the center of the briquette, and it begins to burn brightly, quickly spreading to the entire top surface with a large and active flame that sparkles and hisses like burning gunpowder. The fire jumps at least eight inches high, and there's no need to individually light any briquettes that are close enough to touch the first one you fire, because the coating is very flammable and the fire will easily race to the next one. After a few minutes, the ignition phase is over and the briquettes settle down to their slow cooking burn. Within 10 to 15 minutes, the interior of the briquettes are glowing bright cherry-red and the grill is ready to use.

This is where the frustration starts.

To begin with, 11,500 BTU sounds pretty impressive when you're looking at a ventilated hockey puck made of charcoal. But when you spread that 11,500 BTU over a two-hour cooking time, you're looking at a cooking temperature of 350° F, (as noted on their own website) and that is frustratingly low when compared to lump charcoal or even decent-quality charcoal briquettes. Lokkii briquettes burn at such a low temperature that when I checked to see if they were ready for cooking, I was able to hold my hand an inch above the cooking rack without feeling any discomfort for several moments. I was dubious, but the inside of the briquettes were glowing brightly, so I continued the trial; I placed three average-sized split chicken breast portions directly over the briquettes, rib side down, in my Weber kettle grill.

Each breast portion was one-half of a chicken breast, skin on, and bone in (rib bones and half the breast bone,) about 10 to 12 ounces per portion, rinsed, patted dry, and seasoned but otherwise as taken from the package (no trimming, no pounding flat, no filleting, etc.) Normally when grilling split breasts I put lump charcoal in a strip down the center of the Weber and use the high but indirect heat to cook the chicken on either side of the fire, then I finish them up with a nice crispy browning on all sides directly over the heat. They are generally done in 20 - 25 minutes depending on the size of the portions, how much charcoal I've actually put in the grill, and how many of them I'm doing.

The Lokkii briquettes burn so much cooler than real charcoal that I placed the chicken direct above them. They took awhile to start cooking, but once the meat started to warm up and the fat in the skin started to render, cooking seemed to proceed nicely. There were very few flares, as the heat of the briquettes seemed to be near the center of them, and a cooler coal topping prevented excessive flame.

I checked the breasts frequently as they cooked over this unfamiliar medium, and they were finally ready to turn over in 15 minutes. I left them, skin-side down, to cook for another 15 minutes, but they were still quite underdone. Finally, after cooking them for a little over 45 minutes, they seemed ready. A temperature probe to the center of the breasts registered 160° F, which is just about right despite the panicky BS you might have read about making sure poultry is 180°.

Ah, but it turns out that the chicken was properly cooked only in the center. In the section close to the breastbone, the chicken was just barely turning translucent, and was very sashimi-like. Back out to the grill it went for an additional 15 minutes for a total cooking time of full hour. For split chicken breasts! Completely unacceptable.

In addition to their inabilty to cook properly, I have an issue with their price. The standard packaging available around here is a corrugated box containing two briquettes which retail for $3.99. Lokkii claims that two briquettes are equivalent to 5 pounds of charcoal; therefore, you would need to spend $16 on Lokkii briquettes equivalent to a 20-pound bag - twice the cost of charcoal. Crappy performance at double the price.

Lokkii makes a big deal about their "patent pending" ignition system which is not reliant upon "petrochemicals" or "harmful ignition fluids." I use a charcoal chimney that I ignite with newspapers or fatwood sticks. No petrochemicals or harmful ignition fluids there, either. And despite whatever claims Lokkii might make about "environmental friendliness," their briquettes contain anthracite coal, which is not carbon-neutral. Pure lump charcoal is a better choice for anyone actually monitoring their carbon footprint.

But they cross the line from "marketing hype" to "liars who are full of shit" when they make this claim on their website: "Greenhouse friendly: No Harmful Petro Emissions or Chemical emissions are released in the atmosphere." They also claim their briquettes are "non toxic." Dream on. Made of charcoal and anthracite, burning the briquettes is guaranteed to release carbon monoxide into the air, and these are no safer nor less toxic than burning any other kind of charcoal.

I should also note that Lokkii briquettes carry the logo of the National Barbecue Association on their label and claim that they have been "endorsed by the NBBQ." Visiting the NBBQ's website reveals that they are a trade association concerned primarily with promoting barbecuing-related industries, not with furthering any actual culinary arts. The certification is as much a worthless gimmick as the product itself.

Bottom line: Lokkii briquettes are an expensive, poor-quality product which will not make your grilling experience better, cleaner, less toxic, or more enjoyable.

Update (1 Sept 2008):
I'm turning off additional comments for this entry. Apparently, there are a number of people out there who think that because I don't like this product, I must be an employee of a charcoal company. I'm not. Every product I review in this blog is a product I have purchased at a retail outlet. I don't get paid to post, and I'm not in anyone's pocket, and quite frankly if you get this butthurt over my dislike one of your favorite shitpiles, you can take your issues, stick them up your ass, and click on someone else's blog.

27 August, 2008

Seasonings Part Two: Bacon Salt Without The Hype

You're reading this page because you have internet access. And because you have internet access, you have almost certainly heard of Bacon Salt, the relatively new variety of seasoning salt that has been all the rage virtually from the moment it was released.

Yes, Bacon Salt. To read the reviews, one would think that this is the most significant culinary development since the discovery of fire. But is it really? Could any flavored salt be worthy of the amount of praise that Bacon Salt has garnered? Or is it just a case of The Emperor's New Salt?

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the Internet, I will tell you this: Bacon Salt is good, but it ain't All That.

I bought all three varieties of Bacon Salt to taste and compare. I tried them on vegetables, meat, and potatoes, and here are my impressions:
  • Original Bacon Salt - The Original flavor is not very good. It tastes mostly like putting a drop of salty Liquid Smoke on the food, though there are "bacony" undertones (which are most likely provided by the "natural and artificial flavors" listed on the label.) If only it tasted more like bacon and less like really cheap barbecue-flavor potato chips. I am not impressed.
  • Peppered - Peppery overtones are spicy but lack the fruity character of freshly ground black pepper. Thankfully, the pepper dominates the obnoxious "bottled smoke" flavor, making this variety of Bacon Salt somewhat better than "Original."
  • Hickory - An authentic but quite mild hickory smoke flavor combined with a dose of sweetness in the salt. Of all three varieties, I find this one to taste the least like an old ashtray and most like bacon (which is to say, "Still not really like bacon at all.")
For the most part, Bacon Salt is a middle-of-the-road smoke-flavored seasoning salt. The makers achieve the illusion of bacon flavor through the heavy use of natural and artificial smoke flavorings along with other ingredients such as whey, garlic powder, and glutamates (not necessarily in MSG, but in hydrolyzed proteins.) I believe it owes its success primarily due to the current popularity of the internet bacon meme and not because the product itself is of particularly high quality.

In my own kitchen, Bacon Salt is going to find rather limited use. I use my smoker quite a bit, and I enjoy the flavors and characteristics that real, burning-wood smoke gives to food, but I really dislike the nasty bong-water taste of Liquid Smoke and other shake-it-out-of-a-bottle "smoke" products. Bacon Salt does not taste like "bacon" to me, it just tastes like artificially-flavored salt, because the flavor of well-crafted bacon is more than just salt and smoke and lactose and garlic powder. It's an amusing curiosity, useful in a limited way when I want a kind of smoky flavor in something without firing up the grill, but when these bottles are finally used up I doubt I'll be buying them again.

Still, I can understand the appeal of a seasoning that promises to make "everything taste like bacon" and while I don't think the promise was intentionally broken, I think it is just too big a pledge to be successfully delivered.

26 August, 2008

Seasonings Part One: Seasoned Salts

I'm right in the middle of designing a new spice cupboard for our kitchen. When we bought our old 1920's house, it had never been updated - seriously, never, as in the hot water heater was still in its original place in the kitchen - and we have a walk-in pantry but no cabinets at all.

At any rate, the first thing to do before designing a storage area is determine how much stuff you need to store. And as I took inventory of my herbs and spices and seasonings, I was amazed at how many interesting flavors I've bought and (for the most part) used over the years. Some of them were delicious and became part of my regular repertoire. Others were more nasty and got abandoned. But I thought a review of various seasonings would make for an interesting series of articles and perhaps start some discussion about what we like and dislike in the way of flavorings.

Special note: All of the seasonings in these reviews are ones I've actually used. I'm not a spokesman for any company, and I'm not famous enough to get free review samples of anything, so everything I review on this blog I buy in retail stores just like anyone else. Also, some people are sensitive to MSG, so I will mention it in my notes when any of the seasonings contains glutamates.

And so today, I start out my "Seasonings" arc with a type of product we're all familiar with: Seasoned Salts.

My daughter has enjoyed Spike since she was five years old, and I always have some on hand - a shaker bottle of it on the table, and a bulk box in the pantry ready to refill the shaker. It has a rich and complex savory flavor that is quite unlike anything else on the market, and when you see the list of ingredients you'll know why:
Salt and sea salt crystals, special high flavor yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, mellow toasted onion, onion powder, orange powder, soy flour, celery leaf powder, celery root powder, garlic powder, dill, kelp, Indian curry, horseradish, ripe white pepper, orange and lemon peel, summer savory, mustard flower, sweet green and red peppers, parsley flakes, tarragon, rosehips, saffron, mushroom powder, parsley powder, spinach powder, tomato powder, sweet Hungarian paprika, celery powder, cayenne pepper, plus a delightful herbal bouquet of the best Greek oregano, French sweet basil, French marjoram, French rosemary, and Spanish thyme.
That's quite a number of herbs and seasonings for a table sprinkle, but it is much more flavorful than salt and pepper alone, and does wonderful things to very bland foods like scrambled eggs. Special note: although Spike contains no MSG, it does include "hydrolyzed vegetable protein" which is a glutamate.

Link: Modern Products Inc., the maker of Spike and other "nutritional" items.

Cavender's All Purpose Greek Seasoning is perhaps the best-tasting seasoned salt I have ever used. It's a blend of salt and twelve other ingredients made for the past 37 years by S-C Seasoning Company, a small family-owned business in Arkansas. I love the stuff, and I have never had any seasoning I like better on grilled/broiled/oven roasted/pan roasted chicken. Don't get me wrong, it's delicious on beef and pork too, but Cavender's is absolute magic on chicken.

Note: The label makes me laugh: "An Ancient Greek Formula." Which contains MSG, because we all know how much the ancient Greeks liked their umami.

Link: S-C's website.

Koniko Chipotle All Purpose Seasoning - Ah, yes, the most overused and overrated of all the current foodie buzzwords: "Chipotle." Sometimes it seems like companies are using the word "chipotle" do describe anything spicy regardless of how it gets that way. But Konriko has developed a chipotle-seasoned salt that is so good, it is one of the newest favorites in the spice rack. Nicely smoky with a decent burn, the salt level is properly proportioned so that adding more of the seasoning brings the chipotle character forward without making the salt unbearable. Konriko did such a good job with this blend that I'm keeping my eye out for some of their other products. I'd like to give more of them a try.

Link: The Konriko website - Conrad Rice Mill, the oldest working rice mill in the U.S.

Knorr Aromat Seasoning is very savory. It's made in Switzerland and can be difficult to find at retail stores in the US (though it is widely available through online stores.) The ingredients list reveals why it is so delicious:
Salt, flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate, lactose, wheat starch, yeast extract, hydrogenated vegetable oil, onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric, spices.
MSG and yeast extract are high in umami.

Just flipping the top open and giving it a smell can make my mouth water; Aromat has an aroma that is reminiscent of roasting chicken. I find it excellent on steamed vegetables, very good on braised meats, okay on chicken and fish (I like Cavender's better though) and not good at all on eggs.

Link: Knorr's website entrance. Aromat does not appear on the American homepage; in fact, users of Knorr's international products may find their website rather frustrating.

Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt was one of the first seasoned salts I ever bought when first I was learning how to cook. It is a coarsely-ground salt blended with dehydrated herb flakes as well as onion and garlic powder, and is especially good with beef (burgers and steaks) and strong fish like bluefish and swordfish. It's also excellent on salad: Toss the salad with oil and vinegar and then sprinkle with Jane's for great justice. It contains no MSG.

One thing to remember about Jane's: Because it contains flaked herbs, it can lose its flavor if stored for too long. So unless you really like it and plan to use it up quickly, get the smaller container for best taste.

Link: Jane's Krazy website.

McCormick's Season-All is an all-purpose seasoning salt which includes a small amount of chile pepper in the blend. Even with the pepper in the mix, though, it has a quite generic flavor - not surprising considering the very standard ingredients:
My tolerance for chile-fueled spiciness has grown considerably beyond the levels provided by Season-All, so I barely notice the chile in it any more. And although it's not my favorite seasoning, it is an inexpensive and tasty blend which is exceptionally good when used as the seasoning in a batch of Chex Mix.

Link: McCormick's website.

Lawry's Seasoned Salt has a devoted following, and I'm probably going to attract some negative comments when I say that it is the only seasoned salt I ever threw away because I hated it.
Ingredients: salt, sugar, spices (including paprika and turmeric), onion, cornstarch, garlic, tricalcium phosphate (prevents caking), paprika oleoresin (for color), natural flavor, soy lecithin

I don't know - maybe since I've been trying to eliminate refined sugars from my diet I've become more sensitive to them in processed foods, but Lawry's just tastes too sweet to me now. Whenever I used it, it just tasted like a low-quality generic sprinkle that did nothing exceptional for the flavor of my food. So out it went.

Link: Lawry's website.

Tomorrow: Bacon Salt without the Hype.

25 August, 2008

Ramen Review 8: Nissin Cup Noodles Premium Homestyle Chicken

There's a new look in the ramen aisle: Elegant and sophisticated, black and white trimmed with red and gold. It's Nissin's new Cup Noodles Premium. The packaging is gorgeous, and the price is 50% higher than standard Cup Noodles. Is it worth it?

Ease of Preparation: 10/10
Like all Cup Noodles, all one needs do is peel back the paper lid a bit, fill to the line with boiling water, and wait three minutes.

Vegetable Packet: N/A
Cup noodles have the veggies already in the cup, so there's no packet. And though standard Cup Noodles varieties are generally pretty sparse with the veg, the Premium variety is loaded. There are lots of carrots, corn kernels, leeks, and mushrooms, and there's also a pretty decent amount of dehydrated chicken pieces as well. Outstanding.

Seasoning Packet: N/A
Like the vegetables, the seasoning is already in the cup.

Taste: 9/10
The flavor was nearly identical to Nissin's standard chicken flavored Cup Noodles - in other words, delicious - but it had a richer chicken flavor. Every forkful of noodles brought a generous portion of vegetables and a few bits of chicken meat with it. This ramen really does deserve the "Premium" label.

Spiciness: 0/10
This isn't marketed as a spicy ramen.

Overall: 9/10
Highly recommend.

24 August, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred List - An Entertaining Diversion

Over at the UK food blog Very Good Taste, author Andrew Wheeler has come up with an admittedly arbitrary list of one hundred things a taste of which all omnivores should experience. I enjoy exercises like this one, and so here is my take on Mr. Wheeler's list.

If you'd like to participate on your own blog, here are the guidelines Mr. Wheeler has set forth:
  1. Copy the list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
  2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
  3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
  4. Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.
And now, without any further ado - but with an occasional comment thrown in - is my annotated Omnivore's Hundred List:
  1. Venison
  2. Nettle tea
  3. Huevos rancheros
  4. Steak tartare
  5. Crocodile
  6. Black pudding - Well, kishka - the Polish version of black pudding, so it counts.
  7. Cheese fondue
  8. Carp
  9. Borscht
  10. Baba ghanoush
  11. Calamari
  12. Pho
  13. PB&J sandwich
  14. Aloo gobi
  15. Hot dog from a street cart
  16. Epoisses
  17. Black truffle
  18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
  19. Steamed pork buns
  20. Pistachio ice cream
  21. Heirloom tomatoes
  22. Fresh wild berries
  23. Foie gras
  24. Rice and beans
  25. Brawn, or head cheese
  26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - Not something I'd recommend, really. I did it to see if they were really as hot as claimed. They are. You can take my word for it.
  27. Dulce de leche
  28. Oysters
  29. Baklava
  30. Bagna cauda
  31. Wasabi peas
  32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl - New England clam chowder is one of the great classic seafood dishes. Sourdough bowls are IMNSHO pretentious, twee, and so very 1980's.
  33. Salted lassi
  34. Sauerkraut
  35. Root beer float
  36. Cognac with a fat cigar - I've also had beer and Parodis, LOL. By the way, fat cigars and cognac can also be enjoyed independently of one another.
  37. Clotted cream tea
  38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
  39. Gumbo
  40. Oxtail
  41. Curried goat
  42. Whole insects - I have eaten crickets and toasted mealworms, neither of which were enjoyable beyond the amusing disgust it inspired in observers. To be honest, the idea of eating insects is rather repulsive to me, which is illogical - after all, I enjoy lobsters, shrimp/prawns, and crabs, which are closely related.
  43. Phaal
  44. Goat’s milk
  45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
  46. Fugu - Never had the opportunity, but I would jump at it in a heartbeat.
  47. Chicken tikka masala
  48. Eel - Although I have eaten it in the past, this is the only item on this list which I would currently never consider eating. The backstory to this is disgusting and personal enough that I don't care to share it here (but may, someday.)
  49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut - They disgust me.
  50. Sea urchin
  51. Prickly pear
  52. Umeboshi
  53. Abalone
  54. Paneer
  55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
  56. Spaetzle
  57. Dirty gin martini
  58. Beer above 8% ABV
  59. Poutine
  60. Carob chips
  61. S’mores
  62. Sweetbreads
  63. Kaolin - Kaolin sounds like an exotic ingredient, does it not? Yet I am willing to bet that nearly every American over the age of 30 has consumed it, because it was one of the active ingredients in the original formulation of the over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication Kaopectate (kaolin + pectin, see?) which many of us were given as children.
  64. Currywurst
  65. Durian
  66. Frogs’ legs
  67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
  68. Haggis
  69. Fried plantain
  70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
  71. Gazpacho
  72. Caviar and blini
  73. Louche absinthe - In an interesting coincidence, over the past few weeks I have been actively seeking out absinthe in order to experience it now that it's legal once again to sell it in the US. Perhaps I will be editing this entry in the future to include it.
  74. Gjetost, or brunost
  75. Roadkill - Yes, in fact. I was the lucky recipient of the undamaged sections of a roadkill deer which was hit by a car and killed, then immediately dressed out as if it had been traditionally hunted. The venison was delicious.
  76. Baijiu
  77. Hostess Fruit Pie
  78. Snail
  79. Lapsang souchong
  80. Bellini
  81. Tom yum
  82. Eggs Benedict
  83. Pocky
  84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. - Someday, perhaps.
  85. Kobe beef
  86. Hare
  87. Goulash
  88. Flowers
  89. Horse
  90. Criollo chocolate
  91. Spam
  92. Soft shell crab
  93. Rose harissa
  94. Catfish
  95. Mole poblano
  96. Bagel and lox
  97. Lobster Thermidor - Once, and once was enough. I much prefer lobster in the rough.
  98. Polenta
  99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
  100. Snake
So there you have it. I've missed out on twelve items on the list (primarily of Indian cuisine because I am not very familiar with it,) and the only item that repulses me so thoroughly I won't consider eating is one that I formerly consumed before being put off of them perhaps forever.

23 August, 2008

Sargento Chipotle Cheddar And Spicy Twice-Baked Potatoes

I'm trying to figure out why it took me so long to notice the Sargento Bistro Blends Chipotle Cheddar shredded cheese in the supermarket's ever-more-humongous Cheese Region. It might be because there are now five hundred different types of bagged, pre-shredded cheese hanging in that refrigerated area (not including the store brand varieties.) Or it might be because "chipotle" stuff is so common nowadays that I don't even notice when some corporate food giant decides to add them to another substance and slap a red chile pepper on the front. Doesn't matter, I found some last week and brought it home, and discovered that it really isn't all that bad.

A somewhat dry, medium-sharp orange cheddar, it wouldn't really have much going for it if it weren't for the addition of the chipotle peppers. It works out well for the combination, because the mildish cheese offers an unobtrusive backdrop for the smoky heat of the chipotles. While not exactly the boldest kick in the ass ever to come out of a bag of cheese, the peppers still add a deeper flavor and a pleasant zing. My daughter loves it for quesadillas and cheese omelets.

Meanwhile, I had a bunch of leftover baked potatoes that I wanted to use up. Twice-baked potatoes are always welcome, but let's be honest: they're boring. But would they still be boring if they were twice baked with Chipotle Cheddar?

Spicy Twice-Baked Potatoes

Baked Potatoes (cooled enough to handle, or even chilled is OK )
Sour Cream
Tapatio Hot Sauce
Chipotle Cheddar
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut each baked potato in half the long way, and scoop out the center. Reserve the skins. Mash the potato with sour cream, milk, and hot sauce, then mix well with chipotle cheddar cheese and paprika. Stuff the skins with the cheese-and-potato mixture, season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake uncovered in a 400 F oven until piping hot and melty.

Sorry I don't have exact measurements in the ingredient list - potatoes vary greatly in size. To help you with the proportions, I used somewhat small 4-inch-long Russets, so for each potato (i.e. two halves) I used:

3 tablespoons of sour cream
2 tablespoons of milk
About a teaspoon of Tapatio (you can use any hot sauce you like, but I don't like Tabasco because it's too vinegary.)
A big ol' heaping quarter cup of chipotle cheese (call it 6 tablespoons or so)
A quarter teaspoon of paprika.

They turned out great, and were a big hit. Even my daughter liked them, and she usually doesn't care for twice-baked spuds.


22 August, 2008

Making Scrapple, Step By Step

Sometimes it's easier to follow an unfamiliar recipe if you can see it done. Regardless of the scrapple recipe you choose to follow, the actual steps are pretty much the same.

Start with a few pounds of pork. I like a more traditional style scrapple, so for this batch I'll be using pork neck bones, pig's feet, pork heart, and pork liver. "Variety meats" like these are relatively inexpensive and a bit of "livery" flavor makes the scrapple taste better. If you prefer you can use other cuts - I often make scrapple with fresh hocks, for example - but try not to make them too lean. Like sausage, scrapple needs some fat to be at it's best.

Put the meats into a pressure cooker - bony bits at the bottom on the cooker's rack, and softer stuff (heart and liver) on top. Add 6 cups of water, seal the pressure cooker, and put it over medium heat.

When the jiggler on top starts dancing, start timing. For feet, neck bones, hocks, and tough muscles like the heart, I cook the meat under pressure for 45 minutes to 1 hour to make sure all the cartilage, skin, and tendons are rendered soft. If you're using a better cut of pork you can cut the cooking time appropriately. When the cooking time is over, turn off the heat under the pan and allow the pressure to fall naturally for an hour or so. Open the pressure cooker and discard the bones, but save any skin, fat, cartilage, tendons, etc. You might also find that the amount of liquid in the pan has been reduced by about half, leaving a rich pork broth. Strain the broth and add water sufficient to make 4 cups of liquid.

Place the cooked pork into a food processor with a cup or so of the broth and pulse it until it turns into a smooth puree. (If you don't have a food processor, you can use a meat grinder - fit it with the finest plate. You might have to run the meat through twice.)

Transfer the puree to a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat and stir in the broth. It will be kind of soupy looking. As the mixture starts to bubble, stir in your seasonings.

As the mixture simmers, add your cornmeal slowly, one cup at a time, stirring with a whisk as you make the additions to prevent it from forming lumps. At this point, if the mixture is too stiff you might want to drizzle in some water to loosen it up.

With all the cornmeal stirred in, cook slowly over medium low heat as the scrapple thickens. As the cornmeal cooks, the mixture will get progressively harder to stir. Take small tastes every now and then to be sure your seasonings are right and adjust them accordingly. As you taste, feel the texture of the cornmeal in your mouth. At first, the scrapple will feel "grainy" because the cornmeal is still uncooked and hard. As the it cooks, though, the texture will become softer and smoother. If the scrapple seems to be getting too thick without getting smooth, add a small amount of water and continue to cook, tasting again after a couple of minutes.

When the texture is soft and smooth and the scrapple is too thick to stir anymore, turn off the heat and spoon it into loaf pans or rectangular plastic containers to cool and set firm. Pack the scrapple tightly into the molds and knock the bottoms against the countertop to drive out air pockets. One recipe of scrapple usually makes several pounds, which can be more than you'll be able to eat before it goes bad, so using containers is a great idea - you can just snap lids on them and put them in the freezer for later.

Chill the scrapple in the molds overnight. When they're cold, they're ready! Unmold one and cut it into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Fry the slices brown on both sides in lard, bacon fat, or butter and enjoy for breakfast as a side dish with eggs or all by itself. Some people like to put maple syrup on their scrapple (especially if not having it with eggs.) Or you can serve it accompanied by figs.

21 August, 2008

Scrapple Recipes

You can find plenty of recipes for scrapple out on the web, but this is a collection of recipes that I've personally tested.

Michael Loo's Scrapple

3 cups Pork organ meat or Trimmings, Cooked and ground
3 cups Water
2 cups Cornmeal
1 tablespoon Crushed hot red pepper
1 tablespoon Sage
1 teaspoon Thyme
1 tablespoon Salt --more or less
2 teaspoons Pepper

Bring the water to a boil. Add pork and simmer 5 min. Add cornmeal and stir until smooth. Add rest of ingredients (you may want to halve everything but the sage - but I like a very spicy scrapple) and cook over low heat (I used the oven, actually) until very thick, stirring once in awhile so it doesn't scorch. Turn out into a greased casserole and chill. When it's cold, slice into 1/3 to 1/2" slices and fry in a little oil or fat over low heat until crispy on both sides, turning once. I used rendered suet to fry it once, and it was GREAT! but the next time I decided to be a good boy and fried it on a Pam-sprayed skillet, and it was okay.

  • This is the recipe I use most often when I make scrapple. For the meat, I usually put two fresh pork hocks and some neck bones into a pressure cooker with the water to render the meat soft enough to finely chop using a food processor. I remove the bones but chop everything else (skin, gristle, everything) and I don't try to separate out any of the fat. If I can find some pork liver, I'll use that as well to round out the flavor.
  • As much as I love sage, I find it can give an unpleasant bitterness if too heavy a hand is used with it; a full tablespoon of sage in this recipe is almost too much. The first time you try it, cut the sage to 2 teaspoons and see how you like the final result.
  • This recipe was originally posted to the Fidonet National Cooking Echo in 1995 by Michael Loo. Since then, it's been ganked by many recipe sites, almost all of which have removed his name from both the title and the text of the recipe.

Modern Day Scrapple

2 pounds ground lean pork
1 pound beef liver
1 cup buckwheat flour
3 cups yellow corn meal
4 tablespoons salt
4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sage
2 teaspoons ground mace
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground thyme
2 teaspoons whole sweet marjoram
3 quarts of water

In a large pot bring the water to a boil. Add beef liver and boil 10 minutes. Remove the liver and either run through a chopper or grab a knife and cut it in as small pieces as you can. Return chopped liver to the pot. Add the ground pork, a little at a time, and stir. Simmer for 20 minutes.

In a large bowl mix the buckwheat flour, corn meal, salt, and spices; add to meat and broth slowly, stirring constantly. Simmer gently for one hour, stirring frequently. Use lowest possible heat, as mixture scorches easily.

Pour into two greased loaf pans. Bounce the pans a couple of times so that the Scrapple settles, and let cool. Let the Scrapple set in the refrigerator overnight.

When you arise in the morning, remove the scrapple from the refrigerator and cut into to 3/8 inch slices.

To freeze, lay a sheet of waxed paper between slices, place in freezer bags.

To serve: Thaw slices and dust with flour. Fry in either bacon grease or lard until golden brown. Do not use a cooking spray. It will not taste right and ruin the scrapple.

  • The seasoning and general proportions for this recipe are pretty good, but simmering lean ground pork for 20 minutes isn't going to give you the finely-textured meat you'll need for a good, smooth texture to the scrapple. Instead, use fresh hocks, neck bones, or country-style ribs enough to make up two pounds of meat and cook them in the pressure cooker to render them from the bones. Then whirl the meat in a food processor or run it though a meat grinder after cooking to give it the smooth and paste-like consistency it should have.
  • I haven't been able to trace the origins of this recipe; nearly identical versions appear at The Global Gourmet and About, and the recipe has been copied and pasted into many scrapple recipe threads on the Web.

Chili Scrapple

1 lb meat
1 1/2 qt boiling water
1 onion
2 c tomatoes
1 T salt
1 T Gebhardt's Chili Powder
2 c corn meal
1 c cold water

Either beef, veal or pork may be used in this recipe. Boil the
meat in the water until tender (about 1 and 1/2 hours). Remove meat
and run through meat grinder with the onions. Measure meat stock
and add enough water to make five cups of liquid: combine with
ground meat, onions, tomatoes, seasonings and cornmeal moistened
with the cold water. Simmer 15 minutes or until ingredients are
tender and mixture thick. Pour into greased bread pan to cool. Slice
about one-fourth inch thick, roll in flour and saute in hot fat
until golden brown in color. Serve hot with chili sauce.

Posted in: http://www.slashfood.com/

From: "Mexican Cookery For American Homes"
By: Gebhardt, San Antonio, Texas, 1936

  • This recipe was sent to me by Jim Weller of Yellowknife, NWT, in March 2008. He hadn't tried it, but he knows my reputation for trying unusual foods and recipes and called it "weird but probably tasty."
  • The ingredient list is a little bland, so when I make this scrapple, I add a tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper with the chili powder. The resulting seasoning is very savory, but not "spicy," and the taste reminds me of a sun-dried tomato flavored corn chip. Although it sets up a little wet, it fries nicely and develops a deliciously crispy shell.

Tomorrow: Step by Step Photo Guide To Making Scrapple

20 August, 2008

In Praise of Scrapple

If you're not from the northeastern United States - especially Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, or southern New Jersey - there's a chance you've never heard of scrapple.

Scrapple is a pork product. Basically, it's a spicy polenta with pork added. Finely minced or shredded cooked pork is mixed in a mush with cornmeal and spices and cooked until thick, then cooled in a mold, sliced, and fried. Originally, it was made with "scraps" of pork and pork offal unsuitable for other purposes at hog butchering time - hence the name - but most recipes today call for readily available cuts of pork rather than odd bits.

To cook scrapple, the loaf is cut into slices about a quarter of an inch thick and fried until brown on both sides. Some people flour the slices lightly before frying, but I don't bother. I usually melt a little butter or bacon fat in the pan and put in the slices after the fat melts, frying them over medium heat until they are brown and crispy outside and creamy smooth on the inside. Another excellent way of preparing scrapple is to slice them a little thinner and then brown thoroughly on both sides until each slice of scrapple is like a crunchy cracker. This intensifies the porky flavor and the spices and offers a completely different taste sensation. It can also be deep-fried (I ordered scrapple for breakfast at a diner in southern New Jersey once, and that's how they cooked it. It was a massive 3/4-inch-thick slab of deep-fried porkmushy goodness, and although it was more magically delicious than a bowl of Lucky Charms I'd never cook it that way at home.)

Scrapple is a great breakfast food, as an accompaniment to eggs and home fries, or all by itself. Its savory deliciousness puts it in the same league as bacon or sausage, and it lends itself to pairing not only with mild foods like eggs but also to sweeter partners, like maple syrup (and figs!)

There are many commercially available scrapples on the market. I've tried several of them, but it's taken some effort to do; New England is on the outer periphery of scrapple territory and when I find it at all, it's generally Jones brand, in the freezer case next to the sausages. Here's a rundown of my impressions of the ones I've tried:

Hatfield Scrapple - Wetter than most others, slices of Hatfield in the skillet popped and launched cornmealy shrapnel into the kitchen. Saltier than others with a faint rancid taste. I've given Hatfield two tries and neither of them were very good. A scrapple of "last resort." Pity, too, because Hatfield bacon is pretty decent.

RAPA, Habbersett, and Jones Farm scrapple - These seem to be the Big Three of the scrapple industry, and they are all owned by Jones Farm. Despite what their websites and company spokesmen say about "distinctive old family recipes," there isn't a bit of difference in the taste of the standard scrapple products. I've had all three side by side in blind trials and they all tasted identical. And delicious, I might add. I grew up eating Jones Farm scrapple, and whenever I have some of the famous RAPA brand or the almost equally-famous Habbersett, it's like revisiting a favorite flavor.

RAPA Hot & Spicy Scrapple - It's made by RAPA so it tastes great, but unfortunately I have never detected a bit of "heat" in the stuff despite the jalapeño peppers listed in the ingredients. My wife, who doesn't like spicy food very much, reluctantly tried some and agreed that it was quite mild.

RAPA Scrapple with Bacon - Quite good, it reminds me strongly of the flavor I get when I cook plain scrapple in a bit of bacon fat. The smoky overtones of bacon just naturally go well with scrapple.

Parks Beef Scrapple - A very different product than the pork variety, Parks Beef Scrapple has a hearty beef flavor with notes of liver and, to a lesser extent, tripe (turns out that there is tripe in the mix.) The first thing I noticed about it was how the knife refused to glide through the way it does with the porky varieties - I actually had to cut through. More chunky and uneven in texture that the pork, I could see bits of gristle, tripe, and ominous dark-colored "meat" in there. It's good enough that I buy it when I can find it (which is not often, and not a surprise, since the supermarket where I occasionally find it never carries Parks regular pork scrapple.)

Relevant links:

RAPA Scrapple - If you really need a scrapple fix, RAPA ships their stuff all over the country from November to February (cold weather is their "shipping season.") You can find details at their page.

Habbersett Scrapple - Click on "NEWS" on their homepage and you'll find a list of recipes which call for scrapple as an ingredient.

Jones Dairy Farm - Click through the "Products" link on their main page to find scrapple; try not to get distracted by all the delicious sausage products you'll find on the way.

Hatfield Quality Meats

TOMORROW: Make your own scrapple! Recipes, tips, techniques, and more.

19 August, 2008

Smoked Bluefish

One of the best things about living in New England is the ready availability of bluefish. A cold-water Atlantic predator fish, they are a common sport and food fish here and are especially popular along the Connecticut coastline during the annual run that goes from mid-July through August.

Blues have dark and somewhat purple-bluish flesh which is oily and tends to be on the "fishy" side, similar to mackerel. If it's handled properly - iced immediately after catching, and kept cold - the flavor is no stronger than other oily fish like salmon or swordfish. People who prefer very mild white fish often don't care much for blue, however.

Personally, I love bluefish. It's great baked or grilled or to add a richer flavor to a fish chowder, and I also like cutting fillets into small bites and making "bluefish nuggets." But most of all, I love it smoked.

Smoking bluefish isn't complicated, but it does take some time. The process is similar to making homemade bacon with the biggest difference (besides the brine itself) being that the fish doesn't have to sit in a cure for a week.

Preparing the fish:

Start by making a brine. You can make as much as you'll need to completely cover the fish - I usually make it by the quart:

1 quart water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 or 4 bay leaves, crushed
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns

Combine the water and soy sauce. Add the salt and sugar and stir or shake to dissolve completely. Pour over the bluefish to cover in a shallow pan and add the bay leaves, mustard seed, and peppercorns. Cover and refrigerate while brining - a minimum of four hours.

Brining the bluefish is important. It adds to and enhances the flavor, of course, but it also helps the fish to retain moisture during the smoking process. You should leave the fish in the brine for at least four hours, but it's okay to let it go longer (even a couple of days if you're not going to get to it right away - the brine is a great preservative also.) Just remember that the longer you leave it in the brine, the saltier it may be.

Getting ready for the smoker:

Smoke doesn't like to stick to wet surfaces, and the heat of the smoker can drive moisture out of the fish. And so, the next step is as important as the brine. When you take the fish out of the brine, place the fillets on a metal rack set above a few layers of newspapers. Allow the fish to dry for several hours, until the surface of the fish is dry and feels a bit tacky to the touch. It will take at least three hours, but if it's a damp day it can take five hours or more. If you're squeamish about leaving the fish out that long, make room in the refrigerator for the racks and dry them in there.

That dry, sticky surface is called a "pellicle," and it is formed by proteins on the surface of the fish as they are exposed to air. The pellicle will give the smoke a good surface to adhere to and protect the fish from giving up too much moisture while it's in your smoker.

Smoking the fish:

When the fish is dry, transfer it to the racks of your smoker. Bring the temperature of the smoker up to about 200 F for the first hour of smoking, then drop it to 150 F for another two hours or so.

At the end of that time, average-sized fillets will be done - moist but firm, flaky, and dry, perfect for snacking or using as an ingredient in a dip or paté.

Larger, thicker fillets may need more time. Just extend the time at 150 F for as long as needed to get the firm texture you're looking for.

The delicious finished product will look something like this - a rich chestnut brown color, slightly darker around the edges, tender and moist but firm enough to pick up without falling totally apart. The flavor will be amazing: one of my friends described it as "fish bacon."

Smoke notes:

Bluefish has a strong flavor, so choose your smoking wood accordingly. You may want to go with an assertive smoke like mesquite, hickory, or even walnut or cherry to hold up to the taste of the fish rather than choosing a mild wood like maple or apple.


18 August, 2008

Local Food: Our Small-Town Produce Store

Summertime often brings lower prices on fresh produce, thanks to farmers' markets and bountiful backyard gardens. But summer doesn't last forever, and even during the growing season, there are fruits and vegetables that just aren't available unless one goes to a traditional retail market.

Supermarket prices are steadily rising, but it's likely that your hometown has alternatives to the big supermarket chains and their cartel-like control over food pricing. In my town, for example, we have the Enfield Produce Market on US5.

Although I buy a lot of produce at roadside stands in my area (we're lucky to still have quite a bit of farm land in the Connecticut River valley) when I buy veggies and fruit at retail, Enfield Produce is where I go. Right now, the store is filled with native and regional vegetables - corn, tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce - as well as things like iceberg lettuce and celery that isn't normally grown right here, but which we still can't do without. I like shopping here. For one thing, this store is locally owned (something I can't say for the majority of the supermarkets here, which aren't even owned by American companies, let alone local ones.) And for another, the prices are generally half that charged by the supermarkets, and sometimes less. Those signs shown in the window in the photo above are current prices: Lettuce 99 cents a head; Asparagus $1.29 a pound; Cubanelle peppers 99 cents a pound; Celery 89 cents a bunch. Summer prices indeed, you may say, but those are also the prices at the market over the winter (with the exception of asparagus, which wasn't available.)

Enfield Produce Market also sells eggs and a limited selection of dairy items (yogurts, Eastern European fresh cheeses, etc.) and a good selection of Eastern European specialties (pickles, canned veg, candies, cookies, jams and jellies, etc.) Some of these imported items are pricey by their very nature and yet they still find a way to keep the prices lower than those charged by the "gourmet food stores" where you'd normally have to go to find them.

Shopping at the Produce Market is not an elegant experience. The store is clean but in an older storefront. The cashiers encourage shoppers to tote their purchases out in the corrugated cardboard boxes the veggies arrive in - both to recycle the boxes and to save the price of bags. In the winter, the store's heat is turned down to a minimum because chilly temperatures are better for keeping things fresh. The carriages and shopping totes are second-hand. But the prices are low, the quality is good, and the owner greets his customers with a smile, a handshake, and some small talk. He lives here in town, after all, and many of us have been shopping at his store since the day it opened.

Enfield Produce
565 Enfield Street (US 5)
Enfield, CT 06082

17 August, 2008

Butcher's Selects?

That juicy rare steak on the label of this dogfood sure does look delicious, doesn't it? But when you open the can, all you'll find is some spongy little chunks of "meat" in a thick brown gravy. The "gravy" is kind of bland, but the "meat" tastes like really cheap beef bouillon.

It's called "Butcher's Select, " but I can't say that I'd select this stuff if I were a butcher. My dog sure loves it though.


16 August, 2008

Dunkin Donut's Flatbread Sandwiches

Dunkin' Donuts, in their latest bid to forget just exactly what it was they did right for so many years, has introduced yet another "menu item" to their stores: Flatbread Sandwiches. They're two triangular pieces of toasted flat bread (shaped to invoke a diagonally-cut sandwich I guess) with stuff of varying edibility placed between. They're toasted to order in a high-speed oven and served up hot. Unfortunately, it sounds a lot better than it actually is. I've tried four of these new sandwiches; only two of them were any good, and they weren't worth the price:
  • Southwest Chicken - Disgusting, sponge-textured chicken patty (heavily adulterated with fillers, flavor enhancers, and other filth) with cheese and sauce. Dunkie's claims that it's "spicy," hence the use of the special buzzword "southwest." The chipotle sauce is made mostly of maple syrup, tomatoes, and water (chipotle peppers are the last ingredient on the list!) It took me three bites to get far enough into the sandwich to actually hit the so-called "chicken," and when I did it definitely wasn't worth the effort. I gave the rest of it to the dog.
  • Turkey, Cheddar, and Bacon - The turkey was overenhanced with injected "broth," the cheddar is little more than bland American cheese, and it was pretty skimpy on the bacon. It was better than the Southwest Chicken, but trust me, that is faint praise.
  • Ham and Swiss - Pretty standard ham with garden-variety Swiss cheese. If I were stuck in some kind of twisted culinary Hell where the only place to eat was a Dunkie's, I could order this without being disgusted at the contents.
  • Three Cheese - It's a grilled cheese sandwich with Swiss, Monterey Jack, and mild cheddar cheeses.

This is the horror that awaits you when you open up the Southwest Chicken flatbread Those lines aren't really marks from a grill, BTW; they're painted on using some brown stuff called "grill flavor." No, I'm not kidding. Haven't you ever wondered why stuff like this has "grill lines" that aren't even straight or parallel? I've never seen an actual grill with wonky bars that would make lines like that, have you?

I suppose it's never occurred to Dunkin Donuts that if they went back to actually baking their donuts from scratch on site and serving excellent coffee, they'd maintain profits without having to cast around for half-assed ideas about being a sandwich shoppe.

15 August, 2008

Drop in Demand Lowers Lobster Prices

With the summer lobster catch stable but demand dropping, the price of lobster has drifted downward at both the wholesale and retail levels, according to a recent news story on newsday.com.

'At ShopRite in New London and Norwich, owner Ken Capano is selling live lobsters for $5.99 a pound, an "unprecedented" sale price that has lasted six weeks, he said. "The price has come down, but more important, what I'm hearing is, the supply side to supermarket retailers is better because tourist consumption is down in Maine," he said. "So there's been more consistent supply.

"I've never seen anything like it where I'm able to promote lobsters at a reasonable price," he said.'
Although this is good news for consumers, it's making it even tougher for lobster fisherman. The wholesale price of bugs is down more than a dollar a pound, diesel prices are double what they were last year and the price of bait has tripled, putting a tighter squeeze on lobstermen than ever.

News reports are saying that the dock prices for lobster are well under $5.00 a pound in Massachusetts and staying around $5.00 a pound in Connecticut and Rhode Island. When we were in southern Maine last weekend, the retail price at lobster shacks from York to Portland was around $5.50 for standard pound-and-a-halfers.

My guess is that lobster prices are going to remain soft for a little while yet - at least through Labor Day. The CBC reports that lobstermen on Prince Edward Island and southern New Brunswick are also getting lower prices for their bugs (C$8 - C$9.50 a kilo) thanks to a combination of great harvest, higher Canadian dollar, and sluggish American economy (lots of Canadian lobsters are sold in the US market.)


14 August, 2008

...With a Silver Spoon In Your Mouth

There's something really nice about eating with silver utensils...something that makes a meal kind of special, even if the food is on styrofoam plates. That's why I set the table with good quality antique silverplate for every meal.

Now, I'm not wealthy, but my well-equipped kitchen has benefited greatly from auctions, estate sales, church rummage sales, and thrift stores. I've purchased wonderful, gently-used professional-grade kitchen equipment from such sources for over twenty-five years, and finding flatware from the same sources has enabled us to use silverplate and sterling for our "everyday" flatware at very little cost.

We have several sets, some complete, some not. Often, we mix and match sets the way we mix and match the colors and patterns of our Polish pottery dinner service. Of course, we have the Most Elegant China and the Heirloom Wedding Silver From Grandmother for formal dining occasions, but we've found ourselves taking all that stuff out less and less as we've relaxed and stopped caring so much about tight formality. Long before Martha decreed it acceptable, eccentrics like me with a sense of fun have set our tables with mirthful chaos.

It's easy to do, even if you're broke (like me) or cheap (ha! like me again!) Check your local paper and craigslist on line for rummage sale and estate sale listings in your area. Spend a few hours on a Saturday morning browsing through the sales for kitchen treasures, and you'll turn up lots of great deals. The photo above shows the gorgeous antique Rogers silverplate I picked up this past weekend at an estate sale: service for 12 for three dollars! And not a scratch or a worn-out bit on them! Can you believe it?

Dollar stores are great sources for accessories, like colorful cloth placemats, napkins and napkin rings, and even plates and cups. My daughter and I picked up some fabulous china at a Dollar General store last summer - Square plates with rounded corners and big, bold orange-and-pink flowers. Yes, I know, they sound hideous, but they're actually very retro-mid-sixties and look incredibly awesome when we set the table for lunch.

13 August, 2008

Healthy Snacks

I was browsing the selection in the vending machine at work when this tag on one of the snacks caught my eye:

Pretty impressive. This stuff isn't just any old source of a couple vitamins or minerals, but a good source. Of seven - count 'em - seven vitamins and minerals. Check it out:

Healthy stuff indeed, with all those B-vitamins and whatnot. Pity they couldn't have snuck some Vitamin C and calcium in there to round things out, eh?

So, what is this miracle food you ask?

Kellog's Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts.


12 August, 2008

Forbes Seafood and Take Out, Wells Beach, Maine

Forbes Seafood Restaurant and Take Out is a popular place to eat for beachgoers in Wells, Maine - the dining room is always busy, and there is usually a line at the takeout window regardless of the time of day. This situation is not, however, an indicator of their superior food or service; it's because they are the only restaurant within walking distance of the beach.

The family and I had spent the better part of the day roaming the Maine coast from Kittery to Portland, and had finished off the afternoon with a long walk down Wells beach. We were sitting on the seawall benches overlooking the water, and feeling a little hungry. Supper was only a few hours away, so we didn't really want a meal, but we wanted something to carry us over until the evening. Over our shoulder, Forbes beckoned.

I strolled over to the window and stood in line. My dog was with me, leashed, and the wait to place an order wasn't intolerable - orders were being taken promptly and everyone wanted to play with and pet the dog, so the time went by quickly. I placed my order - fish and chips, and fried chicken with fries - and stood aside to wait.

And wait.

And wait...

And wait some more.

Finally, after about 40 minutes, the cheerful girl at the window called my number and handed me two small greasy boxes of food, which I brought back to the benches to share with my wife and daughter.

I tasted some of the fries which had come with both the chicken and the fish. Eww. They were sufficiently cooked, if on the limp side. No matter, what really put us off was the taste. They reeked of rancid frying oil, as though the Fry-O-Lators hadn't been cleaned in months. We tossed most of them to the seagulls.

Surprisingly, the fish wasn't bad. There were two smallish fillets of flounder, firm and lightly breaded, though salty and insufficiently drained. We set them on paper napkins for a moment before divvying them up, and then went for the chicken.

The fried chicken was actually a rather fair deal for the money; there were two wings, a small thigh and small drumstick, and a sparrow-sized breast portion. There was no rancid oil taste, which was fortunate: it literally dripped with oil. Not a bite could be taken without rivulets of orange liquid fat running from the skin and coating. As if this wasn't strange enough, the coating was sugary sweet, like eating candy! None of us knew what to make of that, but we fixed both problems by simply peeling off the skin and breading and giving it to the gulls and the dog.

Forbes Restaurant
Wells Beach
Wells, Maine 04090

Link to their website.

11 August, 2008

Bread and Butter Pickles

With fresh garden cucumbers in full swing, now is the time to make bread and butter pickles! These sweet lovelies have long been a favorite of everyone in our family, and Maryanne and I make several batches every summer so we have plenty to give as gifts over the holidays.

I first posted the following recipe on the Fidonet National Cooking Echo back in 1997. Since then, it's been scraped and reposted on a number of recipe archive sites on the internet - sometimes leaving my name in the credits, sometimes not. Whether or not the credit line is in the recipe instructions, though, wherever you see this recipe on the 'net, it originated in our kitchen.

Maryanne's Bread And Butter Pickles
Yield: 1 Batch


4 qt medium cucumbers; sliced
-but unpared
6 md onions; sliced
2 lg green peppers; sliced in
3 cl garlic
1/3 c pickling salt; or kosher
5 c sugar
3 c cider vinegar
1 1/2 ts turmeric
1 1/2 ts celery seed
2 tb mustard seed


Toss together cucumber, onion, green pepper, and garlic. Add salt; cover with cracked ice and mix thoroughly. Allow to stand for at least three hours.

Drain vegetable mixture well and set aside. In a large kettle, combine the remaining ingredients. Stir in the vegetables and bring them to a boil in the brine.

Fill hot jars to within half an inch from the top; adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath for five minutes (begin timing when the water returns to boiling) Makes about 8 pints.

Notes: This is Maryanne's original recipe. We usually add another pepper or two, both for flavor and because the onions, peppers, and garlic are almost as popular as the cucumbers once they've been pickled.

If you have the tool and the time, consider slicing the cucumbers with a zig-zag knife, to make "ridged" pickle chips. It's the soak in the supercooled ice that makes these pickles crispier even after they're cooked, and the increased surface area that the crinkle-cutter makes gives them an extra snap.

Recipe by Maryanne Sacerdote MM format by Dave Sacerdote

We usually set aside an afternoon for making a batch of pickles. Once we get everything sliced and iced, we wash some canning jars and get our "work station" in order, then kick back with some cold drinks and some TV until it's Canning Time.

Fisherman's Catch Restaurant, Wells, Maine

The Fisherman's Catch restaurant, on Harbor Road in Wells, Maine, is one of our favorite places to eat when we're visiting southern Maine. We love the casual atmosphere of the big screened-in pavillion that serves as their dining room, and the campy fun of having a roll of paper towels hanging from the rafters over each table, ready to mop up lobster juices or wipe melted butter off your fingers. And we love the views the dining room has of the Webhannet salt marshes.

Walking in the front door, there are lobster tanks on the right and the waitress station, cash register, and kitchen to the left. Fisherman's Catch is a popular place, so you'll need to place your name with the hostess until a table opens up. The waiting area is noisy and chaotic, but there is plenty of room to sit down and local "shoreline activity" newspapers to browse through. It won't be long before you're shown to a table.

The dining room is, as I mentioned, a large pavillion which has been screened in with storm windows. The pavillion is filled with picnic tables and benches, and each table has a roll of paper towels hanging over it for easy access as you tear into your lobster dinners. To help diners take advantage of the salt marsh views, the restaurant has also provided small binoculars at each table with a window view.

We've never had a bad meal at Fisherman's Choice, and our most recent visit was typical of our experiences. Because it was a busy Saturday night, we had to wait a little longer than usual for a table, but were still seated within a half hour. We used that time to check out the menu, so we were ready to order as soon as we were shown to our seats. Here's what we ordered:

The Platter for Two - Delicious locally-harvested whole belly clams were sweet and not gritty. Scallops were big, briny, and tender; their full flavor indicated that they were "dry" scallops and not pumped up with water the way some fish markets are selling them now. Fried fish was flaky white haddock, done just right. There were handfuls of delicious tiny coldwater shrimp from the Gulf of Maine as well. the breading on the seafood was Fisherman's Catch trademark light coating: thin, crispy, and tasty, not at all heavy or greasy. All of this was piled up high over a bed of standard shoestring fried potatoes. On the side, two cups of coleslaw (shredded cabbage and carrots, mayo, seasoning, and horseradish; not sweet, decent as restaurant coleslaw goes but my own homemade is better) and two white-bread dinner rolls and butter. At $29.99 this was a bargain.

Fish and Chips
- A generous portion of delicious, lightly breaded and fried haddock with shoestring fries, dinner rolls and butter, and a cup of coleslaw.

Lobster Roll - Fairly typical for a Maine lobster roll; big meaty chunks of lobster, dressed with melted butter and piled high in a New-England-style hot dog bun with a leaf or two of lettuce underneath to keep the butter from soaking through the bun. Quite good. Served with a garlic dill pickle spear and kettle-cooked potato chips.

For dessert, we had Blueberry Pie (no picture, sorry) made with wild Maine lowbush blueberries and the most delicious flaky crust you can imagine. It was served along with a double scoop of very good vanilla ice cream, and it really hit the spot.

Fisherman's Catch Restaurant
134 Harbor Road
Wells, Maine 04090
(207) 646-8780

Reservations accepted for parties of 7 or more.

Click here for their website. You might want to turn your speakers off first, some of the pages on the site have obnoxious and unwelcome music and/or sounds.