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.