31 December, 2009

Sell's Liver Pate

Sometimes I get a hankering for pâté. Occasionally, this means a trip to the store for some necessary ingredients and a couple of hours of magic in the kitchen, but more often I get lazy and just pick up something at the supermarket.

Sell's Liver Pate, made these days by B&G Foods, is one of my favorites. Despite pâté's current reputation as some sort of gourmet canapé nibble, one can hardly describe Sell's as a "gourmet delight" these days, especially when held in comparison to some of the finely-crafted pâtés available refrigerated in many supermarket fresh-foods areas.

Originally packed in 6-ounce tins by Henry B Sell's eponymous company Sell's Planned Foods, Sell's Liver Pate was marketed as an affordable sandwich and snack spread, and caught on well enough when it was introduced in the late 1940's to warrant a fairly glowing review in Gourmet Magazine's Food Splashes article for January 1945:

Snacks for six? Quick, the can-opener. There you are, friends, without more ado. It's a new pâté made of pork livers, of fresh pork, of pork fat, of soup stock, of wheat germ. There's dried skim milk in the mixture, and French-fried onions, pulverized to powder, and dried brewer's yeast for its vitamin impact, and seasonings, of course! A tin of six ounces is priced around 17 cents and is selling right now in hundreds of stores in New York City and other cities right across the nation. Its name is Sell's Liver Pate, made by Henry B. Sell, of Sell's Planned Foods, 501 Madison.
The cans are 4.25 ounces these days, and the ingredient list is shorter (Pork Livers, Pork, Water, Defatted Wheat Germ, Salt, Torula Yeast, Toasted Onion Powder and Spice) but Sell's is still a good, honest liver spread - though at something around $2.25-plus at most supermarkets it isn't quite the bargain it used to be.

"Enough of the history lesson," you say. "What about the taste?" Let me describe it as "rugged." A bold livery blast, nicely seasoned but not at all delicate. Right out of the can it's capped with a thin dressing of fat, and there are more tiny fat particles distributed throughout. You'll never mistake it for foie gras, but if you like strong flavors in general and liver in particular, you might find that a tin of Sell's and a handful of decent toasted-sesame flatbread crackers makes an excellent and satisfying lunch.

29 December, 2009

Scan-It Puts HFCS In Your Face

Back in April, I wrote an article about using hand-held grocery scanners at the local Stop & Shop. The scanners seem to be getting more popular - using them often gets the shopper out of the store in less than half the time a traditional checkout takes - and through the busy holiday season, when the supermarkets are crammed with shoppers, I noticed a lot of customers taking advantage of the scanners' convenience and speed.

And I noticed something else about them the other day, when I scanned a 12-pack of Coca-Cola and put it in the carriage: The scan inventory gives a bit more information than product, package size, and price:

That's a bit easier to read than the tiny print on the side of the box.

27 December, 2009

Vintage Sunday: Yesterday's Products Today

With all the hundreds of new products released every year - and hundreds of others that are discontinued - I find it curiously reassuring to know that some of the brands I use regularly in my kitchen are a hundred or more years old.

Bell's Seasoning is a great example. Growing up in New England, I didn't know of any other poultry seasoning - every kitchen I was ever in had a box of Bell's seasoning on hand. A local New England product since its introduction in 1867, I'd be willing to bet that more holiday turkey stuffing in the Northeast has been flavored with Bell's Seasoning than any half-dozen other seasoning blends combined. Their oldest ads don't feature a picture of the actual product, but rather the elaborate scrollwork and engraving details common to advertising of the era:

Other Bell's print ads through the years:




As much as a continual stream of print advertising through the years has kept Bell's in supermarkets (and in kitchens) for over 140 years, the seasoning has one other huge advantage over many other blends: Familiarity. Not only has the recipe for the seasoning been unchanged for generations, the box has received only minor design updates through the years. The black-and-white cut below is a scan from the 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer:

Compare that to this c.1955 box of Bell's (which I found in the pantry of my house when we were moving in):

And to this 2009 box I photographed in the supermarket recently:

My great-great-grandmother would be baffled by some of the stuff in my pantry - Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Cup Noodles, concentrated soup base, aerosol cheese - but she would recognize that little one-ounce box of Bell's Seasoning in a heartbeat.


Bell's Seasonings Website

21 December, 2009

Since When Are Pecans Red?

This is a bag of Diamond mixed nuts; I snapped the photo in Costco yesterday. There are two things wrong with this mixture: it doesn't have any Brazil nuts, and the pecans are red. Well, not "red" exactly, but magenta. A really fake-looking obvious dye job. As the ingredients state: "pecan shells colored with artificial color FD&C red 3."

What the hell? What possible reason would there be for dying pecan shells? Screw Diamond - the only reason they're soaking pecans in carcinogens is to make them "look pretty." I'm buying my nuts from someone else.


20 December, 2009

Vintagte Sunday: Christmas Advertising

Here's a gem of an old grocery store ad - this one is for Bireley's market in Urbana Illinois, in 1915, touting their selection of fruits and nuts for the Christmas spread. I especially like the Art Nouveau Santa Claus:

And lest you think that the commercialization of Christmas is a contemporary corruption of the holiday spirit, check out this ad, also from 1915. It originally ran the full width and three-quarters of the length of the newspaper page:

"Make your Christmas money go farther." Sounds a lot like a modern Walmart slogan, doesn't it?


17 December, 2009

Support Your Local Butcher

See that meat there on the right? Those are short ribs of beef. They're twice the length of the squat little cuts the big supermarket chains in town sell. They're well-marbled, too, but not ultra-fatty like the supermarket ones so often are. These are beef short ribs like you might have gotten at the local butcher shop forty years ago.

That should come as no surprise though, because they are from the local butcher shop. Right up the street from me, there's a little corner store called Caronna's Market. They've been in business in Thompsonville CT for more than 90 years and the place is still owned and operated by the Caronna family who founded it generations ago.

My family tries to buy as much of our meats and deli products as possible at Caronna's. It's where I turn to for special orders (like my lamb tongues) and the only place around I can trust for ground beef pure and wholesome enough to eat raw if I ever wanted to: Caronna's doesn't buy industrial chubs of pre-processed factory-made ground beef, they grind their own right there - to order if you want - just like they have for 90 years.

Times are tough for them right now. The economy is still pretty lousy around here and my town has three big chain supermarkets plus a Costco available to price-conscious shoppers, with an Aldi coming soon. Caronna's often will compete on price, but they truly shine for quality and service. Like those gorgeous short ribs for example, or the way I can order just about anything I need from them and it will be ready for me to pick up within a couple days.

Chances are, you've got a small shop or two in your town. They know that they have to offer you a better product and better service to attract your business, and most of them are hard at work doing just that. Now, more than ever, small mom-and-pop operations need your help. In return, you're likely to get quality and service that the big boys can't hope to match.

14 December, 2009


I love fruitcake. Candied fruit, nuts, pound cake batter. The stuff's awesome, and I don't understand what the big deal is about hating it. Yes, it's sweet and heavy. That's why it's served in small slices, y'know?

Anyway, I'm considering setting up a kind of Fruitcake Rescue organization. Fruitcake haters could send me the ones they get as gifts and I'd match each delicious fruity brick with a Forever Home. In this context, "forever" would be defined as "hungry fruitcake lover."


13 December, 2009

Vintage Sunday: The First Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and Other Mascot Vehicles

Even though I don't much care for Oscar Mayer wieners, I've always thought the Wienermobiles were pretty cool. The first one was was built in 1936 as an open-canopy roadster by the General Body Company of Chicago, and Oscar Mayer (now owned by Kraft Foods) has made sure they've been updated every so often ever since. The newest ones are being built on Mini Cooper frames.

As strange as a gigantic ambulatory hot dog may seem, however, bizarre "mascot vehicles" were already old hat by the time the first Wienermobile hit the street. Soft drink manufacturer Moxie had been building "Moxie Mobiles" since the advent of the automobile. They were usually a carved horse mounted on the chassis of an automobile, with the steering, throttle, and brake controls extended up through the neck of the horse so the driver could reach them. It was, I guess, a dry way of mocking "horseless carriages." This kind of joke is why the rest of the country thinks we don't have a sense of humor in New England.

The Moxie Mobile above is still extant and occasionally appears in parades. It's built on a 1929 LaSalle chassis.


12 December, 2009

Job Lot Pasta?

One of my favorite places to shop is a small New England chain of salvage stores calloed Ocean State Job Lot. True to their name, they carry a lot of closeouts and and bankruptcy lots, but over the years they've evolved into much more than a simple "job lot" store. They're pretty good at spotting open niches in the market and exploiting them. Take, for example, art supplies. For the past few years they've carried decent-quality canvas, paper, paints, sketchbooks, and so on at a relatively low price.

It's the same way with foods. Like many job lot stores, they carry manufacturer's closeouts and remainders and items from store bankruptcy auctions. But Ocean State Job Lot can be relied upon for specialty foods that might surprise you. For example, they carry a huge assortment of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods products - one of the best selections anywhere - for much less than most "natural food" stores charge.

And so it is with pasta.

Pasta is made in a bogglingly huge variety of shapes. Most supermarkets don't have room for an eighth of what's available, so most people are only familiar with a few common types. Ocean State Job Lot brings in an unusual variety of imported pastas, many of them made by DeCecco, a leading Italian manufacturer. Along with the typical spaghetti and linguini types that you'd expect to find, though, Ocean State sells others that are less typical and offer some variety in shape and texture. And different kinds of pasta were designed with different sauces in mind, too.

Over the past few months, here are some of the great pastas I've gotten - usually for about $1.25 a package - at Ocean State:

Candele - These are eighteen-inch long pasta tubes that resemble candles. The first time I bought them, it was because they were so improbable and amusing to look at, and I wasn't really sure how I was going to cook them - whole? busticated? WAT DO?? Turns out you just break them roughly as you put them into the cooking water; the smooth tubular shape and the random edges are good with the kind of chunky meat sauces I grew up with.

Festonati - Tubes again, this time three-sided and embossed with scalloped ridges (festonati means "scalloped" in Italian.) This has quickly become one of my family's favorite shapes. The scalloped sides give it an interesting initial mouthfeel, kind of like a potsticker dumpling (which the scallops make it resemble. A little.) Those scallops also grab and hold on to sauces, and seem perfect with "slippery" sorts of veggies, like roasted eggplant and bell pepper, as well as with braised meats.

Pasta Misti (mixed pasta) - I joked with my wife about how the factory sweeps up all the broken bits from the floor and puts them in bags as mixed lots, but that's what pasta misti reminds me of. There are all sorts of little tubes, wavy bits, curls, and so on. Most of them really do look like broken pieces salvaged from under conveyor belts and off to the side of the packaging line. But they're very useful for soups and they make a decent base for homemade mac-and-cheese or tuna wiggle.

Fogile d'Oliva (olive leaves) - A kind of spinach pasta made to resemble leaves from an olive tree. The unusual shape makes it fun to eat, and like other spinach pastas it's good with cream sauces or pesto. I've seen it for sale in "gourmet shops" and online for $10 or more for a half-kilo bag (a little over a pound.) The Ocean State price for the same size: $2.00.

Orecchiette (little ears) - Round, shallow "cups" of pasta, often smooth on one side and textured from the manufacturing process of the other. This particular brand - Castellana - are made in a rainbow of colors provided by vegetable ingredients and are labeled as "arcobaleno" (rainbows) in honor of, I guess, the color instead of the shape. Usually orecchiette are great with chunky meat or veggie sauces, but the colors make these more interesting for pasta salad.

Bombardoni rigati - This was another shape that I originally bought more for the lulz than for practical cooking. They're huge rigati tubes, about an inch and a half in diameter, diagonally-cut on the ends like penne. I like it in baked casseroles. If you don't mind spending a little extra time, you can pre-cook them, pipe some ricotta into them, and bake them like manicotti.

Because I'm buying this stuff at a job lot store, it's costing me a fraction of what I'd have to pay at a specialty grocer. And the pastas are just the tip of the iceberg for Ocean State. If you live in Southern New England, you really should check them out, if only for the food.

Relevant Links:

Ocean State Job Lot's home page.

An online glossary of pasta types, brought to you by The Nibble.


10 December, 2009

Ramen Review 13: Instant Noodle King Lobster Flavor

Another Instant Noodle King selection; I like this brand because the extra-thin noodles don't get soggy or limp when the ramen cup is prepared, they stay firm and toothsome.

Ease of Preparation: 9/10
Like most cup ramens, the only preparation involves adding the contents of a few packets to the noodles, pouring in boiling water, and waiting for three minutes.

Vegetable Packet: 9/10
Pretty good, with cabbage, wakama, corn, and rings of green scallion tops. Could have been a bit more corn.

Seasoning Packets: 9/10
The dry soup base packet was outstanding, turning the water into a delicious lobstery-flavored broth The oil packet - which also contained some spices - surprised me because it was studded with tiny bits of onion or shallot, and gave the soup a richer flavor and body than plain ramen.

Taste: 10/10
Although the oil packet gave the final product a rather unctuous mouthfeel, the lobster/langostine flavor was rich and authentic. It was robust and not too salty (always a plus with ramen.)

Spiciness: N/A
This isn't advertised as a spicy ramen.

Overall: 9/10 - Recommended.

09 December, 2009

Fishy Delights 26: Surimi Lobster

A Dong Supermarket in the Shield Street Plaza in West Hartford never fails to deliver surprises to me, no matter how often I go there. Like last weekend, when I found this full-size lobster replicant made entirely of surimi (the same stuff fake crab legs and cheap-ass deli "seafood" salad is made of.)

Very cool indeed. Wish I could tell you how delicious (or, you know, not) it was, but at $13.50 it cost more than the real thing, so it went right back into the freezer after I snapped this shot.


06 December, 2009

Vintage Sunday: Christmas Cookie Cutters

When I was growing up, Christmas time was cookie time. My mom would spend about two weeks prior to the holiday baking up a storm - everything from sugar cookies to Russian tea cakes (or, as she called them, "butterballs.") Our favorites were her sugar cookies; she had a huge variety of cutters she used to use for them, some of them the old Mirro aluminum cutters you can still find at flea markets and rummage sales, and some of them made of red or green plastic.

As time went on some of the cookie cutters got lost, some got broken, and some she sold off at tag sales of her own as we grew up, moved out, and gave her less of a reason for baking sugar cookies. I was always nostalgic for those cool plastic cookie cutters, though, and the great shapes that they would make - a wrapped Christmas present, two different Santa Claus figures, reindeer and so on - and I was thrilled when I found a complete set of them in really great shape - and in the original (well-used and slightly stained) box!

Made in the 1950's by HRM Educational Products of New York City, these red plastic cutters have withstood time and use pretty well. Some of them have some stress lines in them, but there are no cracks or splits and I drag them out every year for at least a couple of batches of cookies for old times sake.

After all, there's nothing like sugar cookies and a mug of hot cocoa on a cold December evening.


05 December, 2009

Why, Hello Thar.

I know I haven't been around much for the past couple of weeks. I've had, back to back, two ailments which are perhaps two of the worst conditions a food blogger can get: An abscessed tooth followed immediately by a case of gastroenteritis.

I'll spare you the disgusting details other than to say I wasn't able to really chew on anything Thanksgiving Week (though I graciously made a full traditional Thanksgiving dinner for my family, featuring a delcious smoked turkey) and then a couple of days later - after the swelling had subsided - I found I preferred not to actually eat anything.

Things are slowly getting back to normal now. The dentist says I'll probably need a root canal on that molar, and the doctor tells me that sticking to jello and soup will get my guts back in order in another day or so. I've got some posts lined up and ready, starting with tomorrow's Vintage Sunday. So, see ya soon.

PS. I stumbled upon a pretty decent treatment for dental pain when the dentist is closed for a four-day holiday weekend. It's called the "OL Program." TylenOL, AmbesOL, and alcohOL. Apply the first two as directed, and the last one as needed. Works like a charm.

22 November, 2009

Vintage Sunday: Candy Cigarettes

Candy cigarettes. The very concept gives bluenoses, anti-tobacco fanatics, and health nazis apoplectic convulsions of self-righteous rage and indignation. Back when I was a kid - before America decided to roll up its sleeves and get down to the serious business of turning its citizens into pussies - candy cigarettes were not only widely available, but were marketed using real cigarette brands and package art. And each sweet ciggybutt was a life-sized tube of extruded white sugar candy with one tip dyed red to imitate the burning embers of the real thing. In an era when capital-C Cool was defined by smokers like James Dean and Keith Richards, candy cigarettes were the most bad-assed confection ever.

Of course, nothing good lasts forever, and when the health risks of smoking became more fully understood, cigarettes and the people who enjoyed them started down the long road to Pariahville. Candy cigarettes first lost their realistic packaging, and a little while after that the candy itself was redesigned to look less realistic, winding up in the far inferior thin form with which our children are forced to emulate society's most loathed bad habit.

They're not available as widely as they once were. Check out your local Five Below store (they sell candy cigarettes along with the rest of their awesomely extensive snack and candy selections) or you can buy them online. Ironically, though they are known today as "candy sticks" or "special sticks" thanks to the aforementioned bluenoses, you'll be able to find the modern version with a simple Google search on "candy cigarettes."

20 November, 2009

Krakus Canned Pork 2 - Konserwa Tyrolska

The second in our series of Krakus canned pork products is Konserwa Tyrolska, a sort of corned, minced pork shank product very similar to Hormel's SPAM. In fact, just like SPAM it is best when sliced and fried.

The pork comes out of the can in a more-or-less solid cylinder of meat, with little blobs of fat and pork jelly here and there, and I admit that it wasn't very appetizing to look at fresh out of the can like that. But sliced and then sizzled in a medium-hot frying pan until golden brown on both sides, this stuff is great.

Now, I'm not the biggest  fan of SPAM. I seem to recall liking it at one time, but over the years it seemed "different" than it used to. Has Hormel changed their recipe? Or maybe it's just me? I dunno, but SPAM and I are kind of like old friends that have drifted apart over the years where you don't really hang out together anymore - and you kinda don't want to - but you still can't bring yourself to say anything bad about them because you remember the fun you had once upon a time.

Anyway. Konserwa Tyrolska, once fried up, had a very good hammy flavor, not too greasy, and good texture. If you're at all predisposed to minced canned pork (i.e. if you likes you some SPAM) you won't go wrong with this. It was an excellent accompaniment to eggs at breakfast, and I livened up some baked beans later by heating them up with the leftover konserwa strips later on. Thumbs up.


19 November, 2009

Krakus Canned Pork 1 - Pork Shank in Hunter Gravy

You're probably familiar with the Krakus brand. For years, Krakus Imported Ham has been sold at delis, and it's been a staple purchase for my family for as long as I can remember. So, when I recently found some other varieties of Krakus pork products, I decided to try them out and see if their different kinds of canned pork could live up to the Krakus reputation.

With that in mind, I present to you the first review in a new series: Krakus Pork Shank in Hunter Gravy.

Okay, so it's not much to look at when you pop the can open and peer at the strange damp mass inside. But once it's been tipped into a bowl and heated for a couple minutes in the microwave, there's a transformation.

Heated up, you'll find big meaty chunks in a delicious (though a bit fatty) gravy. Hocks aren't the finest cut of the pig, so don't expect firm, lean cubes of pork stew - expect to get some fatty bits and lines of softly rendered gristle. The flavor is very close to homemade. Skim off a bit of the fat, make a roux, and thicken the gravy, dish it out with some leftover mashed potatoes and some canned corn, and you'd have a pretty decent quick lunch or even a light supper.


Krakus' website.


15 November, 2009

Vintage Sunday: Bean Pots

Once upon a time, beanpots were ubiquitous in New England kitchens. In the fall and winter, it was traditional to put a pot of beans in a slow oven overnight, so there would be delicious baked beans for Sunday supper. But, like so many other regional customs, homemade baked beans have become increasingly rare. Many "baked bean" recipes I come across these days list canned baked beans as an ingredient, with one of the first instructions something like "Start with a can of baked beans..."

I love the simple, utilitarian elegance of a well-thrown beanpot. The narrow, collared mouth; the broad shoulders curving to a tapered base; the tightly looped handles which often finish in a gracefully rendered lambs-tongue form. I have a couple dozen of them, each of them different in style, glaze, or decoration but all of them identical in function. Most are antiques - pottery and stoneware last forever if well cared for - but a few are modern.

Beanpots, like so many other wonderful vintage kitchen items, are readily available at thrift stores, rummage sales, and estate sales. You can buy a new one, of course, but old ones are so much more satisfying. For one thing, they're a lot cheaper - not a single beanpot in my collection, not even the most valuable antique salt-glazed pot, cost me more than $8.00. But far more intriguing to me is the idea that the 80- or 100- or 150-year-old bean pot bubbling with pork and beans in my oven right now has seen generations of families, hundreds of bean suppers, and the interiors of ovens from brick hearths to woodstoves to my modern gas appliance.

And just in case I've inspired you to go out looking for a beanpot, click here for my recipe.

13 November, 2009

The Best Fries in Fast Food

For years - hell, just about for ever -the idea that McDonald's has the best fries in the Fast Food business has been so entrenched that it's practically a meme. People almost use it as an excuse to go to McD's and buy their lousy hamburgers - because the fries are "the best fries EVAR."

Well, I'm calling McDonald's on that bullshit right now. McDonald's fries - thin, watery shoestrings that only taste acceptable when piping hot and thereafter taste as crappy as their third-rate burgers - are successful primarily because McDonald's has the most awesome and godly marketing department in the history of capitalism. It's simple, really: just aim most of your intensive advertising at kids. Hook 'em young and they're yours for life.

Anyway, the truly best fries in fast food right now are made by KFC. Yep, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Their fries are mouth-watering wedges of spudly perfection. Lightly dressed in a seasoned coating before frying, and then fried ubercrispy outside, meltingly tender inside. We drove to Westerly, Rhode Island on Wednesday just to get Double Downs, and ordered a side of fries to go with them. The fries were just as awesome as the Double Downs (in their own taterish way, of course. It's really hard to beat spicy fried chicken, bacon, and cheese.)

Speaking of Westerly, many restaurants in town (including the tiny KFC where we enjoyed our Double Downs) participate in a "waste oil to biofuel" initiative. Their waste cooking oil is collected and turned into low-cost heating oil by a local biodiesel company, which then makes it available to low-income area residents. A damn fine plan.


12 November, 2009

Breadfruit Seeds

My friend Fred visited family in Puerto Rico, and brought me back a package of breadfruit seeds. He told me that they're called pepitas in Puerto Rico.

They're similar to chestnuts; they have a thin hard shell on the outside, and inside a somewhat sweet, creamy-when-cooked inner nutmeat covered with a brown membrane. Preparing them is fairly easy. Bring a pot of water to a full boil, and dump in the pepitas. Boil them rapidly for at least 30 minutes - until they can be pierced easily with a fork - and then allow to cool until they can be handled. Then, the outer shell and the inner membrane are peeled away, and the seeds are eaten.

We had them with dinner the other night, and I must say these little morsels sure are labor intensive. The outer shell shucks easily but the inner membranes were tougher to remove. But they were pretty good, mild and nutty and just slightly sweet. They were even better after I briefly sauteed them in a bit of foamy melted butter in a skillet - that really brought out the nutty flavors and made them much more delicious.

There's one other thing I should mention about breadfruit seeds: they're championship-grade whistleberries. Eating them, even just a couple of them, makes you fart. A lot. Loudly and hilariously. I wish I'd had a handful of them when I was 12 because I would have been The Comedy God of Junior High. (Fred told me that the seeds are nicknaed rompe matrimonios - "marriage breakers" - in Puerto Rico.)


11 November, 2009

Epic Post Alert

Fellow blogger Eating the Road has published The All-Inclusive All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Guide. The post, a facetious look at eating at all sorts of AYCE buffet restaurants, is funny and sarcastic and yet rings true as well - a perfect introduction to ETR's writing style and a stropng addition to a young blog that you should check out if you haven't yet already.

Be sure to read the comments at the bottom of the post, too. Apparently the Guide is attracting some attention from the "OMG AMERICANS R SO FAT!!!1!" crowd. Always good for a laugh.


08 November, 2009

Forgotten Connecticut - A Strange Coincidence in Ellington

This is only peripherally related to food - we did it today on our way to the local Aldi - but it's kind of cool so I'm sharing it with you.

My wife and I decided to head a few towns over to Vernon this morning and go to Aldi. There's no "good" way to get to Vernon from my hometown, so we took a scenic route through Broad Brook and Ellington, winding up on Pinney Road in Ellington just before arriving in Vernon.

As we were driving, I mentioned to my daughter that there was an unusual marker on the southbound side of the road, commemorating where a boy had been killed in the early 1800's in a roadside accident. (I had stumbled upon it one afternoon years before when I had to pull over to tie down a loosened load in the back of my pickup and wound up right next to the spot.) We found the marker easily:

The marker is a piece of grey stone - granite maybe? - a little bit smaller than the typical headstones of the period, set in the center of a circle of fieldstones. Gravel keeps down the weeds around the stone, but that's a modern improvement. For many years the marker had been forgotten, overgrown with brush, and was "rediscovered" several years ago and cleaned up.

It commemorates the date and site of the death of Samuel Knight, a ten-year-old boy who tumbled from the oxcart in which he was riding, and was killed when the wheel rolled over his head. Here's a closer look at the stone:

It reads:

Kild in this place
Samuel ?Field Knight
by a cartwheal roling
over his head in the
10th year of his age.
Nov 8th 1812
But O the shaft of death
was flung And cut the
tender flower down.

Kind of an eery coincidence that we would stop to check out the marker on the anniversary of his death.

This is perhaps the oldest roadside memorial in the United States. If you'd like to check it out for yourself, it's on Pinney Road in Ellington, CT, 1.4 miles south of Pinney Road's intersection with CT Route 286.

Vintage Sunday: Wonder Meats Ad, 1963

This ad ran the week before Thanksgiving in the Springfield MA Republican newspaper. I find it interesting not only for the nostalgia value (Wonder Meats is long gone, and the "Agawam Center" shopping plaza is no longer there) or for the prices which seem so low to us, more than fifty years later.

No, what really interests me is the top item in the ad: the turkey. It seems that lately, phrases like "sustainable agriculture" and "local sourcing" get bandied about pretty frequently by food writers and bloggers. People seem to have forgotten that many parts of the country - including the Connecticut River Valley where I live - produced much of its own food until comparatively recently. Advertising in the local papers well into the 1970's touted locally and regionally produced food, and this was especially evident around Thanksgiving, when supermarkets, butcher shops, and restaurants all specifically mentioned that they carried fresh native turkeys.

In my area alone there were at least four turkey farms where customers could order a turkey at the beginning of November, and pick up the bird just before the holiday plucked, drawn, and ready for the oven. As the years went by though, big companies using factory farming techniques started putting the squeeze on our small New England farms, and today nearly all of these former family poultry farms are housing subdivisions, golf courses, condos, or otherwise developed.

I'm glad that people are becoming more aware of the food they eat, and more willing to support local agriculture. That interest will help preserve the two remaining dairies in my town - I'm sorry that it didn't come soon enough for some of the other local farms.

06 November, 2009

Banquet Select Recipes Herb Grilled Chicken Breast

Although there are a few shortcomings, it's surprising just how "okay" the Banquet Select Recipes Herb Grilled Chicken Breast meal is.

The chicken patty - a careful amalgam of chicken meat, textured vegetable protein, and spices - is not bad if a bit unreal and spongy in texture. The "serving suggestion" box art showed it with those painted grill lines ConAgra is so fond of, but my actual patty showed no such decoration. Even though I wonder how they can legally get away with calling this a grilled chicken breast (since it's so obviously not an actual breast of chicken) the flavor acceptable and the texture isn't really any worse than anyone else's processed chicken patty or nugget.

The patty sits on a bed of rice, and as always, the rice is almost perfect: individual, properly-cooked grains without any overcooked explody grains. ConAgra has really perfected the ability to reheat previously-frozen rice. Too bad they had to drown the whole thing in cheapish gravy, though. Although bland, there are hints of chicken flavoring along with a helping of bitterness, probably side tastes of things sage and thyme that are also present. I'd suggest cutting back on a few of the herbs and adding a bit more salt, but these things are already loaded with sodium and I'm sure ConAgra doesn't want to attract any more negative attention than they already do, what with being a huge soulless corporation and all.

The carrot-and-green-bean medly was fairly forgettable: tough beans and leathery carrots, though at least this is no fault of the manufacturer - I've never had very good luck with microwaving either of those veggies from "cooked and frozen" to "ready to eat" so I have a little sympathy for the kitchen staff that developed this meal for Banquet.

Overall, though, this is yet another acceptable cheap lunch from Banquet - it will fill you up and still be cheaper than a sandwich.

04 November, 2009

So, How About Those Oven Gloves, Huh?

My kitchen has lots of potholders. They range from really crappy thin ones that let a lot of heat through to thick ones that protect my hands but don't really bend well with my fingers. They're handy for insulating a hot pan when I want to set it down on the table or countertop, but less than ideal for actually handling hot stuff out of the oven. And I hate oven mitts. They're clumsy and bulky and I can never get a secure grip on anything.

I'd seen infomercials for those "Ove Gloves" that are supposed to withstand heat up to 500-something degrees, but I'll be damned if I'm giving some TV huckster $19.99 for one glove. Rotten bastards are probably making $19.92 profit on every one and they're too cheap to sell them by the pair? Screw 'em.

So, when I saw a huge bin full of these Amazing Gloves (an off-brand Ove Glove knockoff) at local deep-discounter Christmas Tree Shops for just five bucks a pair, I instantly tossed a box into the cart.

They don't have patterns printed on them in silicone. They aren't extensively advertised. They claim to withstand heat up to 480 degrees F (somewhat lower than the claims for Ove Glove.) Nonetheless, I am rather surprised to find myself writing that I have finally found a product that actually lives up to its hyperbolic name, because these gloves really are amazing.

Although they feel a bit awkward and almost clumsy the first time you put them on, they soon "break in" to the shape of your hands and become very comfortable. They're dexterous enough that you can grab thin cookie sheets, bowls of French onion soup, hot pot handles, and roasting pans with equal ease. And they block heat well enough that I use them to protect my hands when I'm cooking over live fire (however, make no mistake: these gloves are heat-resistant, NOT FIREPROOF.) I hardly ever use my regular potholders anymore, and by "hardly ever" I mean "never."

And the best part? Five bucks a pair.

Even if you can't find these at a local discount place like I did, you can order them here on Amazon. You'll pay a little more, of course, but you'll still be paying a fraction of what Ove Gloves cost, and believe me they are well worth it.


03 November, 2009

An Old Fashioned A&W - Greenville RI

I should have written this post a long time ago - like back in the early autumn when I first found the place - but there always seemed to be something else going on. Now, their season is winding down, and I'm not sure how much longer anyone will be able to visit the drive-up A&W Root Beer stand in Greenville RI before they close for the season.

When I was a kid, just about every town had an A&W stand. They were one of the first franchised "fast food" places, starting way back before 1920, and by the 1960's there were thousands of locations all over the country. They fell on hard times, though, and a lot of locations closed before they were finally taken over - and kind of rejuvenated - by YUM! Brands, the same company that owns KFC and Taco Bell.

Anyway, most recent A&W visits I've made have been to places that shared space with a KFC. But when I was a wee sprog, A&Ws were low-slung little buildings, sometimes with a big "wing" sticking out the front tagged with an A&W sign, where you drove up, a carhop came out to your car and took your order, and returned with your food on a tray that cantilevered from the window opening of the car. There was never any indoor seating, but some of them had outdoor picnic tables (and you could walk up to a window and order.) To be honest, I thought all of that was a thing of the past - the last A&W drive up local to me closed in the early 1980's.

We never expected to find this little place, which we stumbled upon when we were questing for a Rhode Island KFC in our search for the Double Down sandwich. But since that first time, we've been back for more visits. It's a nostalgic trip back in time for Maryanne and I, and we found that the root beer on tap is almost as good as it was back then (and it's still better than the bottled version in the supermarket.)

Like many of the A&W I remember from my youth, service is available both at the window and from your car, and there is a lean-to off the side of the building sheltering a handful of picnic tables. On a few of our visits (splendid and mild autumn days with the trees breaking out in full color) the picnic tables were crowded and the carhops busy, so we simply ordered at the window and brought our own food to the car.

Apparently, A&W places have a little more leeway with their menus than most fast food chains. There were many "non-standard" items, like fried clams, clamcakes, and both kinds of clam chowder (clear-broth, or "Rhode Island" style, and white "New England" style.) The clam cakes were great. Maryanne and I tried a bag of clamcakes, and they were great - big savory fried fritters loaded with chunks of meaty quahogs. The chowders were decent as well, though I admit to a slight preference for the Rhode Island style over the New England here, because the New England chowder was thickened with starch rather than a buttery milky roux. Be sure to get there early if you plan on getting the Rhode Island chowder. It's a popular item and they sell out by the end of the lunchtime rush.

As far as more traditional A&W eats go: The fries are decent - I know A&W's curly fries have a cult following, but I just can't bring myself to get all excited about spuds. The burgers are much better than McDonald's or Wendy's and would even have an edge on Burger King if they were flame-broiled. Still, we weren't at all disappointed by them. Onion rings are real sliced onion, coated in a tasty batter. Plain hot dogs were underwhelming, though the chili dogs - once upon a time my primary reason for going to A&W - were just as awesoome as I remember, though you need to take that with a grain of salt and remember that chilidogs appeal to my inner 8-year-old.

The service is fast and the food is decent, nostalgic fun. The carhop service and window trays are kind of cool, too - Zim thought so, anyway, when he hopped into the driver's seat to see what all the fuss was about.

If you're in the area during the season, I recommend you check them out - they're on US44 in Greenville (460 Putnam Pike.) They're open from March through October. Go on a Tuesday night in the summer, and you can check out the classic cars at their Cruise Night events.

02 November, 2009


This news directly affects my home turf of New England and upstate New York:

Fairbanks Farms of Ashville NY is recalling more than half a million pounds of ground beef which was distributed in New England and New York. The meat is believed to be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and is related to a cluster of illnesses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine, and has been linked to two deaths - one in New Hampshire and one in the Albany NY area.

According to the USDA, the meat was sold in packaging by the following companies:

Trader Joe's
  • NOTE: The sell-by dates for the above two products may be October 6 or 7, 2009.

Price Chopper
  • 1- and 2.5-pound trays of "PRICE CHOPPER MEATLOAF & MEATBALL MIX."
  • 1-pound trays of "PRICE CHOPPER EXTRA LEAN GROUND BEEF 96/4."

Lancaster and Wild Harvest
  • 1-pound trays of "LANCASTER BRAND 96/4 EXTRA LEAN GROUND BEEF."
  • 1- and 2-pound trays of "LANCASTER BRAND 90/10 GROUND BEEF."
  • 1-pound trays of "WILD HARVEST NATURAL 85/15 ANGUS GROUND BEEF."

  • 1- and 2-pound trays of "SHAW'S FRESH GROUND BEEF 93/7."
  • 1-, 2- and 3-pound trays of "SHAW'S FRESH GROUND BEEF 80/20."
  • 1- and 3-pound trays of "SHAW'S FRESH GROUND BEEF 75/25."
  • 1.3-pound trays of "SHAW'S FRESH GROUND SIRLOIN BEEF PATTIES 90/10."
  • 1.3-pound trays of "SHAW'S FRESH GROUND ROUND BEEF PATTIES 85/15."
  • 1.3-pound trays of "SHAW'S FRESH GROUND BEEF PATTIES 80/20."
  • 3-pound trays of "SHAW'S FRESH GROUND BEEF PATTIES FAMILY PACK 80/20."
  • 1-pound trays of "SHAW'S ANGUS GROUND BEEF 85/15."
  • 1-, 2- and 3-pound trays of "SHAW'S FRESH GROUND ROUND BEEF 85/15."
  • 1-pound trays of "SHAW'S 90% NATURAL GROUND BEEF."
  • 1-pound trays of "SHAW'S 85% NATURAL GROUND BEEF."
  • 1-, 2- and 3-pound trays of "SHAW'S FRESH GROUND SIRLOIN 90/10."
  • 1-pound trays of "MEATLOAF & MEATBALL MIX."

  • 5-pound trays of "FRESH GROUND BEEF, CONTAINS 15 % FAT" patties.
  • 3- and 5-pound trays of "LEAN GROUND BEEF, CONTAINS 7% FAT."
  • 2.5-pound trays of "MEATLOAF & MEATBALL MIX."

Ford Brothers
  • 3-pound trays of "FRESH GROUND BEEF, CONTAINS 20% FAT" patties.

  • 1-pound trays of "GIANT EXTRA LEAN GROUND BEEF 96/4."
  • 1-pound trays of "GIANT MEATLOAF & MEATBALL MIX."
  • 1-pound trays of "GIANT NATURE'S PROMISE GROUND BEEF."

In addition, wholesale cases of 10-pound chubs labeled "FAIRBANK FARMS FRESH GROUND BEEF CHUBS." are also recalled. Each case bears the establishment number "EST. 492" inside the USDA mark of inspection; has package dates of "09.14.09," "09.15.09," or "09.16.09;" and sell-by dates of "10.3.09," "10.4.09," or "10.5.09. These products were distributed to retail establishments in Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia for further processing. Unfortunately, these chubs are meant to be broken down, opened, and repackaged by individual stores and by the time the retail packages are on the shelves the sale dates and original labeling will have been long changed. The USDA recommends that concertned consumers contact their points of purchase for more information.

At the current time, the USDA's Retail List emphasizes all Shaw's supermarkets in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island and all Price Choppers in New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Pennsyvania.

Important links:

Recall notice on the USDA website
USDA photocopy of various labels associated with the recall (PDF file)
USDA Retail List for this recall (PDF)

01 November, 2009

Vintage Sunday: The Most Awesome Cake Plate

Another church rummage sale find, this 1950's tin musical cake plate plays "Happy Birthday" from a music box movement in its base while rotating the cake. If there were any way to make delicious cake even more fun that it already is, this would be it.


31 October, 2009

Banquet Boneless Pork Rib Meal

Although a little strange to look at, the Banquet Boneless Pork Rib Meal is pretty inoffensive as Banquet meals go. In fact, if you've ever had a McDonald's McRib sandwhich, I'd say you already know exactly what to expect from that vaguely rib-shaped chunk of chopped, compressed, and formed pigmeat in the little black tray.

Slightly spongy with added textured vegetable protein and rather bland, the rib patty is greatly improved by the barbecue sauce in which it swims (which is pretty tasty if somewhat oversweet and gooey.) You'll never mistake it for the real thing - not even with your eyes closed - but it won't make you shudder with horror like the Cheesy Smothered Meat Patty.

The sides are pretty standard Banquet meal accompaniments: very corny-tasting masculine corn kernels that give you what-for when you try to chew them, and tasty but made-from-dehydrated mashed potatoes. A decent lunch and good value, especially because they're commonly on sale for $1.00

30 October, 2009

Hellmann's Mayonnaise With Lime

I haven't bought much Hellmann's mayonnaise since Unilever changed the formula in 2006 (making it somewhat blander and sweeter - thanks, Unilever, overnight you changed Hellmann's from my favorite mayo to just another jar of sticky white slop) but when I saw Hellmann's Mayonesa con jugo de limón at the local Shaw's, I decided to give it a try.

The product was eye-catching in several ways:
  • The labeling color scheme is different; there is an orange band along the bottom of the label, and the jar cap is bright orange instead of Hellmann's "blue ribbon" blue.
  • There's a big illustration of a lime on the front
  • And, most interestingly, the labeil is in Spanish as well as English. I hardly ever see this kind of marketing unless I'm in an Hispanic market. And none of the other Hellmann's varieties in Shaw's are bilingually labeled. Because I'm basically a cynical bastard, I suspect that Hellmann's/Unilever's marketing department made a decision like this:

Regardless of how I feel about a marketing ploy which might very well be a product of my fevered imagination, I have to admit that where it counts - taste and texture - Hellmann's with Lime is pretty decent stuff. The lime juice does taste different than the standard lemon - a tad sharper, closer to the late, lamented original formula - without being really "limey." I approve.

28 October, 2009

Home-Cured Olives

My hometown produce store has a big bin of fresh olives right now. They range from green to blushing red, and they're huge!! I've seen fresh olives in local supermarkets for years, and I've always wanted to try curing some at home. Totally impractical, of course, and one of the few things that's actually more expensive when you do it yourself - but still something that I've found intriguing. Part of the reason I never did it was because in the pre-internet days, it was pretty hard to find information about curing any kind of food, let alone olives. Nowadays, of course, getting recipes and information is as simple as typing a few keywords into Google, so I took the plunge and bought a couple pounds of fresh olives to cure.

There they are, in my big shallow pasta bowl. Big, plump and gorgeous, and anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks away from being ready to eat. I started out by dumping them all out into the pasta bowl and swishing them around to wash in cool water.

Next, each of the olives needs to be slit, so I used a sharp paring knife to make a cut from end to end almost down to the pit. As I slit each olive, I dropped it into a 3-liter glass jar.

Then, I filled the jar with a strong plain brine at a ratio of 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water. The olives have to stay completely submerged in order to cure properly, so I used an old trick to keep the olives submerged: I filled a plastic bag with leftover brine and topped off the olives with it before closing up the jar. The bag will keep the olives well below the surface of the brine, and putting brine instead of water in the bag guarantees that if the bag ever develops a hole, the brine for the olives won't get diluted. (You can see how this looks in the picture below - see how the olives seem to be suspended in the center of the jar? The plastic bag isn't easily visible once it's filled with brine.) I did this step in the sink, because pouring the brine into a plastic bag is kind of messy, and because I was making sure there was enough in there (completely topped off) it overflowed a little. When the jar was packed and sealed, I put it in the cool, dark kitchen closet for the curing time.

Now comes the hard part: Waiting. Over the next three weeks, I have to visit the olives every few days and swirl the jar a little. Every week or so, the method calls for rinsing the olives and changing the brine. In about three weeks, I'm supposed to taste one of the olives to see how they're doing - if the sample is still bitter, the brine gets changed again and we sample again in a week.

Check back with me in another week, and we'll take a peek at them.

27 October, 2009

My French Toast! IT'S A MIRACLE!!

OMG, MY FRENCH TOAST TOTALLY HAS A FACE ON IT!! CALL THE NEWSPAPERS!! Better yet, call Golden Palace Casino, those guys who bought the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich and talked this poor benighted idiot into tattooing her forehead. Check out the center of this slice of delicious Frfench toast:

Trouble is, I can't quite figure out exactly who has appeared uninvited at the breakfast table. He's too fat to be Jesus, and Elvis didn't have a beard. Top contenders:
  • Orson Welles

  • Billy Mays

  • Ulysses S Grant

  • Bluto

  • Robert Blake

So...what do you think?


Pareidolia is the phenomenon by which humans tend to recognize familiar patterns - faces, animals, speech, and so on - in random stimulae. Simply put, our brains are hard-wired to find recognizable images amongst noise. This is especially true of recognizing faces, which is a skill acquired very early in infancy. For more information about pareidolia, and why a grilled-cheese sandwich isn't really a manifestation of the Holy Mother, you can check Wikipedia and The Skeptic's Dictionary, or you can simply Google the term pareidolia.