30 March, 2009

Product Review: Cabela's Commercial-Grade Meat Slicer

Weary of slicing my homemade bacon and other deli-style meats by hand, and disgusted by shoddy and underpowered junk slicers commonly sold in department stores, I began shopping for a commercial-quality slicer last week. I compared features and prices at several different restaurant supply houses before deciding to take a look at outdoor sports outfitter Cabela's. Their top-of-the-line slicer, at $499, is an excellent choice for my home needs (slicing roasts and cold cuts for sandwiches and slicing 20 pounds of bacon at a time for vacuum packing and freezing) It's a restaurant-quality slicer at a retail price at least $200 less than what the local commercial supply houses are asking for comparable machines.

With a powerful 1/3 horsepower motor and a heavy, forged (not stamped) 11-inch blade, the Cabela's slicer had the muscle needed to smoothly cut right through the meats without binding or tearing. The slicing platform glides effortlessly without sticking or binding, which is a real problem with the plastic-bodied junk slicers I've wasted money on from the department store. And the dial-operated thickness adjustment allows slicing from paper-thin to 3/4-inch thick.

I'm very pleased with this slicer; it's the best one I've ever owned, and I've had several, ranging from light-duty home slicers to a heavy, semi-professional model that sliced cleanly but had problems with the sliding platform sticking and jamming.

The most common complaint from Cabela's customers about this slicer is the time-consuming nature of cleanup. I can't deny that. To thoroughly clean and sanitize the slicer, it needs to be disassembled, cleaned well, and put back together. There's no easy way to do it, and you'll need a pair of cut-resistant Kevlar gloves when handling the quite heavy and razor-sharp circular blade. But the thing is, every large slicer is the same way. I bought this one fully aware of the tedious cleanup because I plan to use it for large-scale slicing jobs: processing a smokehouse full of bacon, or slicing a week's worth of deli meats and cheeses, and so on. When used that way, the clean up is just another chore associated with a larger chore. I'm not going to slice a roast beef for dinner with this slicer. That's why I have sharp kitchen knives, and anyway slicing a dinner roast isn't what the Cabela's slicer is designed to do.

Design Flaws

In using the slicer, I've found several design flaws. They are easily worked around, but they are flaws nonetheless, and it would be nice to see them corrected in future models of the slicer:

Flaw 1: Unnecessary holes in the housing. Right under the meat carriage that slides back and forth in front of the blade, there are two holes in the housing that allow meat juices to drip into the interior of the unit. The inside is nearly impossible to clean, and it can get disgusting in there pretty quickly.
Fix: Cover the holes with small pieces of electrical tape. The tape can be replaced as needed.

Flaw 2: Poorly-designed meat deflector. Behind the blade, there is a plastic shield that screws to the chassis and closes a narrow gap between the chassis and the blade. This deflector is meant to prevent slices of meat from slipping behind the blade and getting pulled in to the blade housing, where they create a mess as the spinning blade shreds them up and spits them out randomly around the kitchen. It's not so much a problem with things like salamis and other big lunchmeats, which don't hit the deflector low enough to slip in and jam. But low-profile meats, like bacon, brisket, and plate pastrami contact the deflector right at the bottom of the blade and are prone to getting sucked in.
Fix: The best fix of all would be a redesign of the deflector so that slices are properly guided away from the blade housing. In the meantime, though, you'll need to train yourself to slice meats the way the guys at the deli do - push the slicing carriage with one hand and "catch" the slice with the other hand. It doesn't take long to get the knack, just pay attention to what you're doing and keep your fingers behind the thickness guide so they stay away from the blade.

Flaw 3: Bad screws holding the blade housing to the chassis. This is a very important safety consideration. The blade spins around surrounded by a cast aluminum housing which helps enclose and isolate the blade from accidental contact. This housing is held to the chassis by three #6 x 1/2-inch flat-head sheet metal screws. The screws are soft metal, and it doesn't take very long before they strip and allow the housing to loosen. When the housing starts jiggling around, the spinning blade is going to hit it or rub against it and there's going to be damage.
Fix: I strongly recommend that if you buy the slicer, keep an eye on those screws, especially when you disassemble the slicer for cleaning. Don't try to over-tighten them because they'll just strip out and let go, and keep a small pouch of the screws on hand in case you need to replace them (an envelope of the screws will run you about a buck at the hardware store - cheap insurance.)


For overall price and performance, the 1/3 HP Cabela's Commercial-Grade Slicer is hard to beat. The design flaws I noted are easily worked around, and if you've ever struggled with a shoddy underpowered food slicer you'll appreciate this workhorse all the more. Just keep in mind that it's going to take you some time and care to clean, and you should plan your use accordingly.


Cabela's website.

26 March, 2009

Citrus-Smoked Bacon

I've found some pretty unusual things at estate sales. A month ago, for example, I found ten 2-pound boxes of citrus wood chips packed in the 1960s - new old stock - by a company called Florida Gardens. I scooped all ten boxes.

When I got everything to the car, I opened one of the shrinkwrapped boxes and grabbed out a handful of the chips. The wood was pale and yellowish; one or two chips had some bark, but it was pretty much mostly wood with very little bark or dust, all chips and no chunks. The wood was dry, as I expected it to be from the age, but it had been stored in the shrinkwrap, in a dark and dry basement. There was no mildew smell or discoloration.

I smouldered a chip against the car cigarette lighter, and the smoke smelled delicious. Not "spicy" like mesquite, but quietly aromatic and reminiscent of applewood. There was a citrusy backnote, and a sweet floral scent as well. Quite amazing. I immediately made plans to try it out with my next batch of bacon.

I used my default bacon cure to prepare a 13-pound pork belly, which I quartered and submerged in the brine for five days. After that, the brined pork spent two days on my cold front porch on racks to dry. Following the drying period, I put the belly over the citrus wood smoke for five hours at 100 F with a one-hour finish at 200 F.

The bacon came out amazing. Just as good as the best applewood bacon I've had. There was a good balance of salt and smoke. As I expected, the smoke flavor was similar to applewood, but with floral elements and a tangy citrusy backnote.

The flavor was good enough that, if I lived in Florida, I would be making this kind of a bacon as a "regional specialty" the same way I make apple- and maple-smoked bacon here using native New England trees for the smoking chips.


23 March, 2009

Hey Song Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla soda was a favorite treat when I was a kid. Back then, there were still lots of small regional bottling companies that sold their own varieties and flavors of soda, and it was easy to find.

As it turns out, though, the 1970's were actually the sunset years for most local bottlers. High sugar prices, increased transportation costs for their heavy returnable glass bottles, and the inability to afford the same massive amounts of advertising as the Big Guys forced many of them to close or shrink into obscurity while the huge super-supermarkets gave shelf space only to a handful of
national brands. Until I started poking around in the beverage section at Dong's Asian Supermarket, I hadn't seen real sarsaparilla for years.

Hey Song's Sarsaparilla is pretty decent; it's close enough to what I remember as a kid to satisfy my sarsaparilla jones, though I think there might be a little something missing from this formulation (birch oil, maybe? vanilla?) Still, the familiar herbal scent is there, and the big root-beery start fades to a touch of medicinal bitterness at the end. Very refreshing and not too sweet (though this soda is sugar-sweetened.) If you can find it, give it a try.


17 March, 2009

Is Niman Ranch Bacon Really Worth $12 A Pound?

In the few stores near me where it's available, Niman Ranch bacon sells in 12-ounce packages for $8.99. That works out to about $12 a pound, and that's a lot of money for bacon. Can any bacon really be worth that much? I decided to spring for a package and find out.

I bought Niman Ranch Uncured Applewood Smoked Center Cut Bacon.

The raw bacon looks good, but not exceptional. There's nothing about the cut of the meat itself that would make it stand out - it's fairly typical bacon, with thin marbled red areas of lean and big areas of fat. If you thought that "premium" bacon would be "leaner" bacon, you'd be disappointed. As I peeled off the strips to put them in the frying pan, I did notice a texture difference: Niman Ranch bacon is firmer and somewhat dryer than most standard supermarket bacons. This might be due to the minimal processing, or it might be because Niman Ranch isn't using a "quick cure" where the pork belly is injected with brine. Whatever the reason, Niman Ranch bacon has a much lower moisture content than other typical brands.

That lower moisture content also means that the bacon shrinks a little less in the pan, and there is less curling as it cooks. Wish some bacons, I need to use a bacon press to keep the rashers flat as they fry, but with Niman Ranch the strips stay flat all by themselves. They cook very evenly, too, and brown slowly, so it seemed easier to cook to just the right degree. Thicker cuts also kept the cooked texture very even.

Other cooking notes: There is a distinct "celery" smell when the bacon is fried, probably owing to the celery juice used in processing it (celery is a natural source of nitrates; I'll leave it up to you to decide whether that's "healthier" than curing with sodium nitrate crystals from a bottle, but the only real difference is that by not using the bottle version the bacon can be labeled "uncured.") The smell cooks off fairly quickly, though, and by the time the bacon is ready for serving, there is no celery aroma or taste. There is, however, the delicious bouquet of the applewood smoke, which is present in just the right amount.

There is no question that Niman Ranch bacon is the Cadillac of bacon. It's excellent.

So: Is this stuff worth $12 a pound? To some people, perhaps, and I guess that's a good thing because buying Niman Ranch meats does help support small, family-run, sustainably-managed US farms.

On the other hand, I'm forced by my budget to make compromises when I shop, trying to balance cost with "responsible" consumption. I pay a bit more to buy my milk right at the source, but I have to draw the line when it comes to luxury prices for bacon. Even really, really good bacon.


Niman Ranch's website

Niman Ranch discusses the difference between "cured" and "uncured" meats - a good explanation of the celery juice/lacto bacteria curing method they use.


16 March, 2009

Maxwell House Coffee -

Kraft has redesigned the labels on Maxwell House Coffee. On one of their corporate websites, Kraft says:

Maxwell House is the most global of our coffee brands, after building its status as an American favorite with “good to the last drop” flavor.

Notice, however, what isn't on the can any more.

15 March, 2009

Attention Coca-Cola Fans!

If you're jonesing for the taste of the REAL Coca-Cola Classic, now is the time to get to any supermarket near you that carries kosher-for-Passover products.

Look for the yellow cap: that's the Real Thing. Remember, high fructose corn syrup wasn't in the original formula.

14 March, 2009

Beetroot Salad

In a sudden fit of insanity I bought two enormous beets at the produce store. Each of them weighs about 2½ pounds. I roasted them whole in the oven, which turned out to be kind of silly all by itself - at 350 F the damn things took three hours to get tender. I could have cooked a turkey in that time.

Anyway, I like beets and that's fortunate because I've got about five pounds of beetroot to eat. I started off with a simple beetroot salad, made as a light lunch for my wife and I.

Beetroot Salad - A Light Lunch for Two
Serves 2

1 sweet Cubanelle pepper, thinly sliced into rings
20 small grape tomatoes
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into rings
14 ounces of cooked beetroot, peeled and cut in cubes
12 green olives
4 ounces beyaz peynir or feta cheese, cut in small cubes
Parsley, chopped
Olive oil
Fresh lemon wedges
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Set two salad plates on your work area.

On each plate, arrange a circle of green pepper rings. Along the outside of each circle, place 10 grape tomatoes like numbers around the edge of a clock. On top of the peppers, set a single layer of onion slices.

Pile half of the cubed beetroot on each plate, on top of the onions. Place two ounces of cheese cubes here and there on each pile of beets, and add six olives to each plate. Sprinkle each plate with a few more slices of onion, then add coarsely chopped parsley on top of all. Drizzle liberally with a good quality extra-virgin olive oil and squeeze lemon juice to taste over all. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

You can scale this recipe up or down to serve as many people as necessary.

13 March, 2009

Turkish Cheese 4 - Labneh

Strictly speaking, labneh isn't really a cheese, it's a thoroughly strained yogurt. But I'm including it in this overview because it's often referred to as "yogurt cheese."

The labneh available at my local store is made by Ülker, a major Turkish manufacturer of food products for international export. It's smooth and mild, with a rich buttery taste and just the slightest hint of yogurt's sourness - in fact, it reminds me more of crème fraîche than it does of other strained yogurts I've had. I especially enjoy it spread on toast in the morning, topped with a bit of blackcurrant jam.

You can use it as an alternative to sour cream or cream cheese for dips, spreads, or canapes (try stirring in some chopped green olives and using it to stuff tender little celery sticks. Delicious.) And labneh's buttery taste makes it go beautifully with fruit.


12 March, 2009

Sargento Bistro Blend Cheeses

One of the local grocery stores had a sale on Sargento's Bistro Blends cheeses, so I picked up a handful of different types. I have to say, I was favorably impressed.

Back in the dark ages, cheese was almost never sold pre-shredded. Gaaah...we bought our cheese in blocks that were carved by hand...and we liked it! Now get off my lawn! When shredded cheese was available, it was usually more expensive per pound than solid blocks of cheese.

I'm not sure when that changed, but gradually more shredded cheeses were introduced and as more people went for the convenience, the price started to drop and more varieties were added. Shredded cheese nowadays isn't any more expensive than any other kind per pound. Sargento, with their huge line of shredded cheeses and cheese blends, may very well be the King of Shredded Cheese by now.

There are six Bistro Blends varieties - three Mexican, two Italian, and one American - and all of them are top-notch:

  • Taco Shredded Cheese - Mild but flavorful spice blend and a good combination of cheeses gives a really authentic taste. Great in omelets and melted onto cheeseburgers; also pretty good sprinkled into a non-stick frying pan and browned on both sides as a fried cheese snack. Hey, don't knock it until you're tried it.
  • Chipotle Cheddar - Firm orange cheddar with real chipotle peppers tossed in. Spicier than the other varieties, but mild enough to appeal to a wide market. Excellent in grilled cheese sandwiches - or in their trendier cousin the quesadilla. Also mighty fine in omelets.
  • Nacho & Taco - A blend of mild cheddar and jack cheeses, with some seasonings and a bit of natural lime flavor. I used this stuff to make a big platter of nachos for Wings and Nachos Night and it isn't bad - but don't rely on it to deliver all the savory flavory seasonings you might be used to. It's not very kicky.
  • Mozzarella and Asiago with Roasted Garlic - Really nice: Beautiful meltability and subtle garlic flavor. Sargento's website gives a few recipe ideas, but I just used it as a replacement for straight mozzarella in a couple of my standard recipes and the effect was quite good. Make a great pizza cheese, especially with spinach and bacon toppings; it was also delicious on eggplant parmesan.
  • Mozzarella with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Basil - One of our favorite shredded cheeses, Sargento really got this one right. The flavors are really well-proportioned and blend together so beautifully. Perfect as a pizza topping, and really outstanding as a quesadilla cheese, too. My daughter likes it sprinkled on salads.
  • Sharp Wisconsin and Vermont Cheddar with Real Bacon - Good quality cheese with good flavor, but let's face it: what really makes this stuff special is the bacon. Sargento is generous with it, too, and you can smell the smoky pork goodness as soon as you open the bag. We used it to make Twice Baked Potatoes which turned out so decent I've put the recipe below.
Any of these Sargento blends are worth a try, especially since they aren't any more expensive than regular ol' cheese.

Twice Baked Potatoes
Serves 6

3 large Russet potatoes
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tbsp prepared mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 package of Sargento Sharp Wisconsin & Vermont Cheddar with Real Bacon
Milk, as needed
Good Hungarian paprika

Bake the potatoes in a 400 F oven for about an hour, or until done.

Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise; scoop out the centers into a bowl, leaving a quarter-inch-thick shell behind. Set the shells aside.

Mash the potato with the butter, sour cream, mustard, a touch of salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Work the cheese in with a fork while the potato mixture is still hot. If needed, add some milk, a tiny little bit at a time, to give the potato mixture a smooth and creamy consistency.

Pile the filling back into the potato shells and sprinkle generously with good, flavorful paprika. Pop the spuds back into the oven for 15 - 20 minutes at 375 F until heated through and golden brown on top.


Sargento's Bistro Cheese website. It plays music, which is pretty cheesy too.


11 March, 2009

Capicola Update - Readers Share Their Methods

When I first wrote about making capicola using the method Mike and Nina Massa taught me, I had no idea how much interest it would stir. I've received quite a few emails and blog comments, and I'd like to share them with you today.

Lou M in New Jersey wrote:

For 60 years, my father-in-law made his own meats. He always made them the same way they made them back in Italy when he was a kid. They killed the pig, and used every scrap of it. They made head cheese, blood pudding, fried skin, pickled pigs feet, and even made deviled ham out of the scraps. And they also made all the good stuff, like capicola, sausage, pepperoni, bacon, ribs, sopressata, etc.

My father-in-law just passed away a couple months ago. Fortunately, before he went, I recorded him making the meats, so as to assure the tradition would not be lost to history. So this year, we made the meats in his honor, albeit a scaled down version. Since my mother-in-law is still around, she knew how it was done, so it didn't come out half bad.

The one step we do different than you is to smoke the meats. . . I admit, smoking is half art and half science, and I still haven't mastered is as well as my father-in-law, but I'm getting better.

I salt the loins, put them in a clean covered crock and leave them in my cool enclosed porch for about 6 days. Then I pour wine over them, and leave them to soak for another day. Then I roll them in coarse pepper, shove them in the casings, put them in elastic netting, tie them up for good measure, and put them in the smoke house the same day. I also roll a couple in cayenne pepper for hot capicola. I don't use slats, although my father-in-law said he used to do it that way a long time ago. Between the strings and the netting, they keep their shape well enough. The problem with the slats is that you have to be careful that the meat immediately right behind the slats may not dry out well enough.

I have a barbecue grill with the legs cut off at the bottom of the smoke house. I put about a dozen charcoal briquettes, a little kindling and a couple logs in there. The idea is you don't want a lot of smoke, just a little bit. And you want just a little heat; enough so the meats won't freeze. I light the fire and put the meats in first thing in the morning, then I add a little more wood every few hours. No roaring fire, hot coals are better. At night time I bring the meats back inside the porch so they don't freeze. Otherwise I'd have to get up in the middle of the night to stoke the fire. I remember my father-in-law said if it's not going to freeze during the night, he'll just throw some more briquettes on the fire and leave the meats in there over night.

I smoke them for about three days, then cure them for about three months in my porch. My father-in-law used to cure them in his basement. He said that back in Italy they just had them hanging in the kitchen. I don't think that would work in a hot American house.

It takes some experimenting to get it right. If you have too much smoke, it ends up tasting like Lebanon bologna. And if there's too much heat, they dry up too much. But when it's done right, you'll think you died and went to Heaven when you eat them.

Another trick Lou shared was an easier way of getting the pork into the casings: He stretches the casings over a PVC tube, then slides the meat through the tube and into the casing. Mike had done much the same thing one year, using a 2-liter soda bottle with the ends cut off.

When Nina heard about Lou's method of smoking the capicola before aging it, she was horrified! "Smoke! That's not how you make capicola!" she said. But if there's one thing I've learned about chaucuterie over the past few years, it's that there is always more ways than one to make meat. Next season, you can bet that my smokehouse is going to have a few capicola hanging in it.

A few days ago, Tony in Ontario left a comment on the Seasoning and Casing The Pork blog entry:

My Father, as far as I can remember back never made anything but sausages. You know sausage is made one way and capicola a complete different way.

Ok, So as I got older I decided to take on the sausage as well with my Brothers and Sister. This is fine and is working out to this day. I tried a capicola long time ago, lets say I was the only one who seen the beauty in that. Was almost sure that I was the only one eating it also. . . that was then and this is now. With some guidance from a couple of close friends, and your website I too took on the challenge.
Tony is using pork butts for his capicola, but the process he's using is pretty much the same.

Above left: Tony and his friend Byron prepare the pork butts for salting. Above right: The salted pork is set aside in tubs for the initial cure.

In my original post, I noted that even though the casing is fairly tough and will stretch quite a bit as they're stuffed, they can still tear if you aren't careful. For small holes, Mike would take a small scrap of casing left over from trimming the excess and tuck it behind the hole like patching an inner tube. As the capicola ages and the casing shrinks, the hole is sealed up pretty well.

Tony found a different way to deal with holes, including the natural hole found on the side of the casing near the open end. He just took a needle and thread and stitched them up - a great idea that is so obvious that I slapped myself for not thinking of it on my own:

Now when somethng happens or you need to close that little hole towards the top of the casing. I used a needle and thread and sewed them up, It worked great. By now you've became very familar with them so this shouldn't be too gross now...lol.

Tony also came up with a cool way to hang his cappy without having to worry about the butcher's string coming loose as the capicola shrinks - notice the nails sticking out of the top of the slats? Good idea. (For mine, I took my friend Roger's advice and drilled holes in the slats, then made wire hangers from old coathangers to suspend the capicola.)

Thank you to everyone who has emailed or left a comment for me here in the Cupboard. If you're making your own capicola this season - or any other kind of preserved meat, for that matter - I'd love to hear from you, too. My email address is in my profile, and feel free to include photos if you want - Gmail is pretty generous with attachments.

To Lou and Tony, my thanks for your permission to reprint your pictures and emails.


10 March, 2009

Turkish Cheese 3 - Çeçil peyniri

Çeçil peyniri is another kind of "string cheese" from Turkey. It's made by collecting the curds on a paddle and then kneading them for a few minutes on a table. The kneaded curds are then hung to stretch under their own weight. This stretching process is repeated until the curds take on a smooth, plastic-like consistency and a fibrous texture. The prepared curds are cut into six-inch lengths and set into brine to cure.

Çeçil peyniri's flavor is very similar to a young, mild cheddar. It's great for snacking, and it melts nicely in sandwiches and on burgers.

09 March, 2009


Purple-top turnips are an enigma to me. My local produce store nearly always has a basket of them for sale by the potatoes, and they always look so good - firm and hard and cool, with their awesome two-tone color scheme and just a hint of soil clinging to them to remind you that they were recently plucked from the earth. And, at least once a month, I succumb to their siren song and bring two or three plump blushing roots home from the store, and that is when the disappointment inevitably starts. Because despite how appealing turnips are to my eyes and my touch, I find that I'm just not all that fond of them as a food, and I'm not at all certain of what to do about it.

I like raw turnip. It's cool and wet and crunchy and has a pleasant bite reminiscent of a mild radish that takes the edge off of it's seemingly limitless capacity for inspiring boredom. Sliver a raw turnip and a comparably-sized chunk of raw carrot into matchsticks and sprinkle them into a salad and you add a marvelous crunchiness with just a subtle hint of flavor. I also like to put thinly-sliced raw turnips out on a relish plate, along side the pickles and stuffed celery.

But what do I do with it cooked? I admit I cube turnips and add them to vegetable soup, but that's mostly because of nostalgia - that's way my mom always made her vegetable soup, and at least they're tolerable when they're hidden in with all the other veggies in the broth. My wife likes mashed turnips, but I hate the texture and the flavor. And don't ever make the mistake of trying to cook French-fried turnips. They look fantastic (all golden-brown with toasty edges) - and they taste wonderful (sweet and savory and earthy all at once, like a fried potato only better somehow) but deep-fried turnips are horrid, wet, sticky fingers of mush.

I guess I'll keep trying, though. There's bound to be a recipe or two out there that I'll like. And in the meantime, I can still slice them up raw and eat them in salad.

06 March, 2009

Kiwi Bacon Advertisement

This ad was sent to me by Uncle Dirty Dave Drum of Illinois. Thought I'd share.


05 March, 2009

Fishy Delights 22: Dubay Sardines in Soybean Oil

Dubay Sardines in Soybean Oil are great. In fact, they're pretty much the blueprint of what an inexpensive, yet high-quality, sardine can be.

Each can contains a single layer of medium-sized dressed sardines (no heads, tails, or guts.) There are no scales or nasty surprises - just delicious, tender little fish in a small amount of soybean oil. I was very pleased with these, and it's going to be tough to find another inexpensive brand that will measure up to them. Not surprisingly, Dubay is an ALDI brand, so many of you will be able to find them easily.

04 March, 2009

Turkish Cheese 2 - Braided Cheese (Örgü peyniri)

Turkish braided cheese, or örgü peyniri, is a delicious sort of string cheese made by boiling strained curds in salted water. The curds, made "doughy" by the heat, are then stretched into long lengths, then braided and either vacuum-packed (with or without marinade) or packaged in brine. I'm told that in Turkey, it is often eaten as a part of breakfast - like many other Turkish cheeses. One of the varieties at the local market is pictured at right: it's packaged with red chile peppers and chopped parsley, and it is one of the best string-style cheeses I've ever had. Surprisingly, the red chile peppers only lend the barest touch of heat - the cheese is mild and resembles mozzarella.

Örgü peyniri is somewhat comparable to the string cheese you buy in the supermarket, but there are some differences. Braided cheese seems to be cured less than "string cheese;" it's whiter, and has a taste that is milkier and less mozzarella-like. It's also "tougher" - the strands offer more resistance to chewing, and the fibers can be pulled off in finer threads than ordinary string cheese. The ropes of cheese in the braids I buy are almost three feet long, and they peel out in much finer and stronger filaments than grocery-store string cheese. It's pretty funny to watch my dog eat one of the cheese strings - I let him grab on to one end of the string and he sort of snaps and sucks it in, like a long strand of spaghetti.


03 March, 2009

Burger King Breakfast Shots

I like Burger King's little Burger Shots - small, fun, customizable - they're delicious. So it was only natural that I should try the King's Breakfast Shots as well. Same soft little buns, but with scrambled egg, choice of ham, bacon, or sausage, cheese, and something BK is calling "smokey cheese sauce." I bought a couple of the bacon variety.

Gotta say, I'm fairly unimpressed.

The eggs are weird: Thin, flat rectangular sheets of egg that look like they've been cut with scissors from a ShamWOW towel. and the "smokey cheese sauce" add nothing to the mix, other than a sort of slimy saltiness. But the worst part of all, I think, is the overall squishiness.

Texture is an important factor in taste. A soft, fresh hamburger bun is wonderful with a hamburger, because the primary ingredient - the burger - is firm and, well, meaty. The textural contrast between the firm burger and the soft bun makes the sandwich more interesting - and therefore, more delicious - to eat. Add another contrasting texture, like crispy lettuce and fresh, thinly sliced onion, and it's even better.

This is also one of the reasons McDonald's had such a hit with the Egg McMuffin. An egg is soft. English muffins are firm (and even a bit crispy when toasted.) They taste good together and the contrasting textures are complimentary.

But BK Breakfast Shots are uniformly soft - pillowy bun, sheet of scrambled egg, runny cheese sauce - not even the bacon could help because it wasn't crispy, it was just kind of cooked and thrown in. There's just too much squishy softness in one place. That's the same reason I've never like their "croissanwich." Squishy.

Guess I'll stick to my beloved Sausage McMuffin with Egg for breakfast, and save Burger King for lunch.

02 March, 2009

Turkish Cheese 1 - Piknik White Cheese

The produce store in my hometown is owned and operated by a Turkish gentleman and his family, and now that the store is well-established and doing a brisk business, he's started to expand his selection to include some Turkish and Eastern European specialties. Turkey has a long tradition of dairying, so it's natural that he offers several wonderful kinds of Turkish cheeses.

White Cheese (beyaz peynir) was one of the first ones I tried. It is a simple cheese, made from either sheep or cow's milk, which is cultured with rennet then strained, salted in brine, and packed into tins. The brand at left, Dairyland, is made from cow's milk and the tin contains two round loaves of the cheese in its brine. In Turkey, White Cheese is commonly eaten at breakfast, in omelets, or as an appetizer with raki (traditional Turkish firewater.)

To this American palate, it is similar to feta, but moister (less crumbly) and with a fresher, milkier taste. There is a distinct sour tang, but White Cheese is both less salty than feta and more mild. It reminded me, in particular, of a young, mild cheddar. The flavor is very complimentary to tomatoes and onions, and one of my favorite starters using White Cheese is Domates Salatasi (Tomato Salad.) Combine half a pound of halved cherry tomatoes with some thinly sliced red onion. Add some olives. Sprinkle liberally with chopped parsley, then dress with olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. If you prefer a traditional recipe, use this one at Binnur's Turkish Cookbook as a foundation and go from there.