31 August, 2011

Back To Normal

You may have noticed that something was redirecting the blog to some non-existent parking site. Some investigation revealed that one of the sidebar blogrolls that I was subscribed to had picked up a bit of malicious javascript that was responsible for the redirection.  I eliminated that piece of code and everything seems to be okay now.

Checking out the Blogger help forums shows that a number of Blogger-hosted blogs are affected. I hope this is the last we see of it here.

Thanks for your patience.

Herr's Blossoming Onion Snack

If you like oniony snack crisps but you're looking for something a bit different from the same old Funyuns kind of thing, allow me to personally recommend Herr's Blossoming Onion crisps.

Formed into petal shapes (the better to emulate their appetizer namesake) Blossoming Onions are puffy, light, and crunchy, and have a big flavor boost over plain puffed onion ring snacks like Funyuns.  Because restaurant "onion blossom" appetizers are usually served with some kind of zesty dip, Herr's incorporated the dip flavor into the crisp.  There's a hint of sour cream and vinegar, a touch of horseradish, and some spicy heat.  The heat is semi-cumulative; that is, it builds up a little bit on the first couple of bites, but once it reaches its somewhat mild peak, it levels off. (Not a fan of spicy heat? No problem - the heat never gets so intense it would scare you away.)  Definitely a winner.

Herr's, based in Lancaster PA, has only recently started making real inroads into the New England snack market.  They have a wide variety of chip flavors and varieties and I'm glad to see them become available here.

30 August, 2011

Jojo Jelly Beans

If you saw the movie Tropic Thunder, you might remember a scene with Jack Black doping himself up with white powdery drugs he keeps in a Jojo Jelly Bean box. Apparently, someone thought there would be a huge demand for Jojo Jelly Beans thanks to the riotous comedy stylings of Jack Black and so Dreamworks brought out actual Jojo Jelly Beans as a movie tie-in candy.

By the time I found Jojos in job lot store in Maine, I had completely forgotten about Tropic Thunder (movies with either Ben Stiller or Jack Black tend to do that to me anyway; it seems that with both of them in the same flick, the effect is magnified.)  What attracted me was the packaging featuring a nightmare clown vomiting jelly beans down his tongue and into the mouths of two dead-eyed children.  "Multi-Flavor Colorings!" also cracked me up.  Only after I got them home and really looked the package over did I realize that it was a tie-in, thanks to a Tropic Thunder logo, complete with the MPAA's R-rating.

Still...jelly beans!  Insane murder clown!  Win, right?  Right??

No.  Wrong.  These jelly beans totally suck.  Inside the package, there are green, pink, yellow, red, and orange jelly beans, and the flavors of each are nearly indistinguishable from one another. They have a strange floral quality (and not good floral, like orange-blossom honey or rose petal tea, but bad floral like your ancient maiden aunt's eau de toilette that she splashes on in lieu of a bath.)  And although they're soft and pliable inside, the coating is like sugarbrick.  I was going to give them a pass on the brickness, seeing as Tropic Thunder came out in 2008 and who knows how long these things might have been sitting around in a warehouse, but I notice that several places are still selling them online so I'm just going to be a douche and assume that they were shipped stale from day one.  Unless you simply can't live without the graphics on that box, you really are better off skipping this purchase if you find them.

Photo by Boston American
Jojo Jelly Beans are made in China and distributed by Boston America Corp., a company which specializes in making kind of mediocre products in extremely clever packaging which make you want the hell out of them.  Seriously, I could devote an entire blog post just to their stuff, from generic energy drinks with awesome videogame labeling, to kind of mediocre candy packaged in the most bitchin' tins ever, to theme-printed bandages.

Photo by Boston American

Many are the times I've come home with candy in tins the shape of Nintendo's Super Mario mushrooms made by Boston America - there is no denying the packaging is cool even when the product inside isn't, strictly speaking, the best stuff you can buy.

29 August, 2011

Fishy Delights 44: Roland Mussels a la Nicoise & Mussels In Tomato Sauce

Roland Mussels a la Nicoise and Mussels in Tomato Sauce.  I turned the jars over in my hands at Ocean State Job Lot, peering through the glass at the shucked and prepared mussels inside, trying to make up my mind whether or not to put them in my shopping cart.  On the one hand, they were by Roland, a company I have come to trust through long experience with their truly excellent (and generally low-cost) products. On the other hand, they were mussels, which are delicious but somewhat delicate, and my prior encounters with canned mussels have been less than ideal.  In the end, curiosity won out. Of course.

Mussels a la Nicoise was more of a mussel salad. Tiny tender mussels, pickled in a vinegar brine along with small bits of cucumber, onion, celery, and red pepper. The vinegar was a bit overpowering but I have to admit the mussels were rather awesome - nicely prepared and not at all similar to the nasty tinned smoked mussels I've had in the past, which taste and feel like little lumps of smoked clay. These would be quite worthy served as one portion of a relish plate.

The Mussels in Tomato Sauce are equally well-prepared and tender but I thought they were somewhat less successful. I guess I was just not expecting the tomato-sauced variety to be pickled (though I have to admit the flavors of the vinegary brine and the thin but very tomatoey sauce blended nicely.) As with the mussels a la Nicoise, I wouldn't hesitate to put them out on a relish plate. I think I would dress them up with some horseradish, though.

Available at some Ocean State Job Lot stores in southern New England while supplies last.

28 August, 2011

When is "All Natural" NOT All Natural?

Cabot Sour Cream claims on its label to be "All Natural!" but a look at the ingredients panel tells a different story - it contains "modified corn starch, guar gum, sodium citrate, carageenan, locust bean gum."

Apologists may argue that guar gum, carageenan, and locust bean gum are all "natural" products (guar gum is an extract of the guar bean, carageenan has it's origin in seaweed, and locust bean gum comes from, well, locust beans) but no matter how you try to spin it, sodium citrate and modified corn starch are both heavily processed manufactured products.  I am not saying any of this stuff is harmful - only that it seems to me that a dairy product which is made by so many other producers out of nothing but milk, cream, and culturing enzymes should not carry an "all natural" label when it is so full of unnecessary shit that serves only as low-cost filler.

An identically-sized container of generic no-name sour cream at the same store, stocked right next to the Cabot sour cream, had no gums or dubious thickeners in it at all and was selling for less than half the price of Cabot.

27 August, 2011

Shopping For A Hurricane

Whenever a weather event threatens, people hit the stores looking for supplies. We see it all winter up here in New England - the Chicken Littles on TV warn of three inches of snow on the way and the supermarkets practically get ransacked with people buying every bit of bottled water and especially the Big Three Storm Commodities: bread, milk, and eggs.

We've had plenty of warning with Hurricane Irene clawing her way up the coast (it should be here as a tropical storm sometime on Sunday) and by now most emergency goods were sold out at hardware stores (batteries, lamp oil, duct tape for taping windows and plywood for more secure covering.) I don't think there's an unsold generator in the state of Connecticut right now.  But there was considerably less urgency at the local supermarkets today.  Most of my inquiries to area friends were met with answers like "Seems to be no busier than the usual Saturday," or "Running low on bottled water, but there's plenty of most other stuff."

So late this afternoon I went off to the local Big Y to see what would be left on the shelf.  I was almost surprised to find the shelves so well-stocked, but kind of amused at what was actually sold out.

There was no skim milk at all, but plenty of 2% and whole milk.  Lots of bread was on the shelves, and plenty of eggs, cheese, coffee creamer, and so on.  Not too surprising that dairy stuff wasn't a quick seller, actually - in the wake of Hurricane Gloria 25 years ago, power was out for four days and unrefrigerated dairy products spoil quickly.  So I checked out other aisles.

Soups are popular emergency rations.  Nearly all the Campbell's chicken varieties were gone except for a few cans of Noodle-Os.  There were tons of cream soups, though, and a full bin of Cream of Asparagus.  Lynnafred thought that was hilarious: "Look at this - no one wants Cream of Stinky Pee Soup, and I don't blame them a bit."

Large bottles of bottled water were sold out, but there were plenty of smaller bottles by the case ready to go.  

Oddest sell out in the whole place, though?  Marshmallow Fluff.  

Mike-Sells Puffcorn Delites

Featured as a "special purchase" at ALDI right now: Mike-sell's Puffcorn Delites Caramel flavor.

They're corn puffs (think Cheetos or Jax without the cheese) in bite-sized pieces, coated with a film of caramel.  The corn plus the caramel plus the butter that the stuff is made with make them taste kind of like maple syrup. Crunchy, sweet, awesome maple syrup.

I bought one bag to try them out.  Lynnafred, after finding out they were purchased at ALDI, made me promise to go back and get a couple more since ALDI is famous for short-run purchases that might not show up again for months.

26 August, 2011

I Want One of These.

Damn, look at that magnificent bastard.  That Mucke's hot dog guy is over four feet tall, and it's a vinyl applique, not a flimsy decal.  I would love to have one of them to put on a wall in my kitchen.

Also, the Country Diner is a storefront restaurant in town that was opened by a couple of local ex-cops.  The food is dependably good, not too expensive, and they do some pretty decent barbecue as well.

25 August, 2011


Southern New England fans of Snow Natural Soda have a reason to smile right now:  Ocean State Job Lot is selling all three flavors of Snow for fifty cents per 12 oz can, or a little less than half regular retail price.

As with all job lot store deals, take advantage of it now while you can, because you never know how long the stock is going to hold out.

24 August, 2011

WTF Underwear

The cheeseburger makes this food-related, OK?

Found at the Haynes outlet store in Kittery, Maine:  Women's underwear with "cheesy" printed on the crotch.  No one was buying them.

J's Oyster, Portland Maine

This isn't so much a review as it is a recommendation:  If you like oysters and you're in Southern Maine (even just passing through!) you really should get yourself into Portland and stop in for oysters at J's.

They're an unassuming little joint on Portland Pier (right off of Commercial Street) and they serve perhaps the best and freshest oysters around.  On our most recent visit, the weather was truly amazing - low humidity, lots of sun, temp in the 70s - so the outdoor seating along the edge of the pier had a wait time of about 45 minutes. There were plenty of seats inside, though, at the central bar or in one of the booths arranged around the perimeter of the building. Since we were there for oysters and not to gawk at a bunch of boats, we chose the immediate inside seating and were given a booth on the pier side with huge windows that looked out over the water anyway.

NOT what you'll find at J's.
J's has not changed much inside since my first visit 35-some-odd years ago.  The inside is dark wood and low ceilings.  The waitresses and bartenders are friendly and attentive and there's always laughter and conversations going on at the bar and in the booths. It's always reminded me of the kind of comfortable neighborhood bars I've hung out it in, only with oysters and clams instead of peanuts and bowls of Filthy Little Things. The hostess shows you to your seat, you order a baker's dozen oysters and a locally-made Shipyard IPA or two, and for a little while everything is all right with the world.

The oysters are delicious: absolutely fresh, sweet and briny, served up with a bit of lemon for squeezing and a little cup of cocktail sauce and extra horseradish. No matter how you like to eat your oysters, though, try at least one with nothing on it but your lips just so you can experience the awesomeness of really good bivalves.

J's has other stuff too, of course (their bacon cheeseburgers are quite decent if you're with a friend who inexplicably doesn't like oysters) and their bucket of steamers - local Maine softshell clams steamed and served hilariously in a galvanized metal pail) are excellent. I really can't recommend them highly enough.

Check out their website here - it's very simple and loads quickly, and you'll find a menu there as well (menu items seem to be current, but I think the prices are out of date - they were very slightly higher than show online when we were there on Monday.)

23 August, 2011

Seasoned Lima Beans

When I was a kid, I hated lima beans. I had only ever had them out of a can, and they were always horrible: starchy, squishy, with a skin that would pop off and gag me when I was trying desperately to choke them down, and to top it all off they tasted as metallic as the can they were packed in.  Truly, I can totally understand why someone would say they hate lima beans.

These days, I like lima beans just fine as long as they are either fresh or frozen and cooked so that they haven't been rendered by overcooking into something the consistency of a grasshopper's gutbag.  But I still loathe canned lima beans.

When I saw a can of Margaret Holmes Seasoned Medium Green Lima Beans at Big Lots I inexplicably decided to give them a try.  Maybe it was the awkwardly-worded label. "Medium Green Lima Beans." Did that mean they were medium-sized lima beans which were green in color? Or maybe it meant that they were colored "medium green?" I seem to remember my dad having a Country Squire station wagon with wood grain sides which came from the factory a pretty horrible shade of "medium green" (Ford called it "Lime Gold." Whatever.)

Anyway, I checked the ingredients on the can and it looked kind of promising: onions, spices, salt, a little sugar, some smoke flavoring, some chicken fat...  Chicken fat? Really?  Okay, I was on board.

So this is your fair warning:  If you already hate canned lima beans, don't bother with these. They're still starchy, squishy, and the skins pop off when you're chewing (though I'm a lot better at controlling my gag reflex than I was when I was five years old.) And they still have that nasty metallic flavor.  The best I can say about them is the broth they were in tasted pretty good. I bet if I cooked some fresh or frozen lima beans in a duplicate of that pot likker, they'd be mighty fine.

22 August, 2011

Kikkoman Ginza Style Curry Sauce - Pork flavor

After literal months of prodding, suggesting, and flat-out telling them to, I got Dave and my mother to agree to go out and enjoy themselves someplace, leaving me to bachelor the place up. (Okay, fine, bachelorette the place up if you're going to be a stickler about it.) So instead of having a house party so phenomenal that it would make 3Oh!3's House Party look like a child's birthday, I'm going to sit here and eat Kikkoman canned curry and watch The Birdcage.

I told you, I'm going to be a bachelor tonight. I warned you. (Okay, so maybe a bachelor wouldn't watch The Birdcage.)

Anyway, that can to the right is, indeed, the curry sauce in question. Pop open the easy-open top, dump it into a pot, heat it up, and eat away after dumping it over some noodles, or rice, or something.

The sauce smells like heaven when you open it up. Unmistakably curry, and it looks more like a standalone stew than a sauce - large chunks of potatoes and carrots, and sparse (but tender nonetheless) chunks of pork are dotted throughout. It looks awfully thick and nasty straight from the can, but it thins out as it heats up.

And it tastes... mostly good. There's this strange, simultaneously slimy and astringent-like quality to it that I don't really like, but as far as flavor goes, it tastes just like Japanese-style curry - creamy (more or less) stew-like, and hearty, with just a background hint of spiciness that builds up as you eat it. I'd get it again.

For the record: this stuff is MASSIVELY salty. Cutting it down with noodles was a brilliant idea, shown below:

Yeah, it still looks kind of like Chef Boyardee Spaghetti,
but I'm a bachelor tonight, remember?

Lance's Four Cheese Captain's Wafers

A mysterious box landed on my porch the other day, addressed to "Dave's Cupboard."  I had a mirror for my truck backordered, but the box was too small and besides, when I order auto parts I don't do it under the blog's name.  Lynnafred could barely hold out from opening it until I got home from work, but she did, and it turned out to be well worth the wait.

Inside the box were a couple of packages of Lance's new Four Cheese Captain's Wafers crackers, along with a note asking us to try out the crackers and tell everyone what we thought of them.

Right now, you might be thinking, "Wow, cheese and crackers. How can I stand the excitement?"  Trust me, these are different.  Lance has taken a really good, really flavorful blend of cheeses (cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and blue) and put them between flaky, crispy crackers.  The cheese blend is awesome because it's so well balanced. All four cheeses combine into a single, smooth flavor and yet one can distinguish each of the individual flavors as well - the tang of the cheddar, the sharp parmesan, the milky mild mozzarella, and slight rich edge of the blue.

Captain's Wafers may not replace the sleeve of bright orange crackers and CHEEZ in your kid's lunchbox.  But you should give it a try in your lunchbox. All the fun of little cheese sandwiches like you remember from second grade, but with a flavor and texture that the grown-up you can really appreciate.

21 August, 2011

Triscuit Thin Crisps - Chile Pepper Flavor

Everybody has heard of Triscuit, Nabisco's original whole wheat wafers.  They've been around for over a hundred years - no lie, Nabisco started selling them in 1903, and they are every bit as popular now as they were back then.

Recently, Nabisco decided to go in a new direction with Triscuit, and introduced Triscuit Thin Crisps.  They're thinner than the original, lighter and less dense, and somewhat crispier than original Triscuit.  Last week, Nabisco sent me some of their new Chile Pepper Thin Crisps flavor for review, and we dug in.

Chile Pepper Thin Crisps have an awesome flavor profile: There's garlic and onion, and just a faint hint of cheesy tang (that's probably from the buttermilk and whey listed on the ingredients panel.) And over it all, the rich and faintly smoky taste of mild but flavorful chile peppers. They go great with cheese and dips, and are pretty tasty snacking on them right out of hand, too.  The chile flavor really enhances sharp cheese and cheesy dips.

Since Nabisco was generous enough to send me two boxes to try, we brought the second box to a pig roast on Saturday and set them out on the appetizer table with the cheeses, dips, and other crackers.  Apparently, we aren't the only ones who think that Nabisco has got a winner with this cracker, since the Chile Pepper Thin Crisps were devoured before any of the other crackers.  Everyone was enjoying them, especially with a big pan of 7-Layer Taco Dip which was originally served with tortilla chips.  (The tortilla chips didn't start moving again until the Thin Crisps were all gone.)


I wanted to get a good closeup shot of the Triscuits to show off their texture and the matrix of chile pepper bits and other spices inside, so I set up a neutral white background and put some crackers on a napkin to get the shot ready.  I lined up to take the picture, and just as the shutter tripped, Iris poked her head into the frame, took a single cracker from the pile and ducked under the dining room table to enjoy her stolen treat. (Yes, she likes them too.)

18 August, 2011

Pepperidge Farm Baked Naturals Cracker Chips

I was trolling the snack machine at work, looking for a midmorning munchie that would bridge the long gap between a 5:30 am breakfast and a noon lunch. As always, there was the usual enormous selection of potato chips, but I wasn't in a very spudly mood; I wanted something different.

Hmmm.  Cracker chips are different.  

I almost didn't buy them, because I noticed that the words "baked" and "chips" both appear on the label.  This reminded me of Baked Lays Potato Chips which, judging by the flavor, are apparently made out of thinly-spread clay sprinkled with flakes scratched off an unwashed ass.  But the Baked Naturals label was too enchanting, with its photo of delicately-formed chips and promise of multi-grain deliciousness, and I could not escape its marketing magic.

The photos do not lie: these chips are indeed delicately-formed, thin as paper, awesome in their fragile shattery crispiness. They're studded with whole grain bits, and when the chips are chomped they simultaneously explode with crunchiness and melt in your mouth.  Quite the entertaining snacktime nosh.

And that it is why I was so disappointed with the taste - they are remarkably bland and cardboardial, and all the crunch in the world can't make up for it.

Pepperidge Farm also makes these Cracker Chips in a "Simply Cheddar" flavor. I'm betting the addition of cheese will really zip things up, so I'm not giving up on Cracker Chips just yet.

17 August, 2011

Heirloom Tomato?

My garden hasn't been doing so well this year,and it's been especially bad for the tomatoes.  Last year I had a bumper crop, this year I might get two or three pounds of tomatoes in total. My heirlooms have saved the day, though, especially this variety, Baboon's Ass

15 August, 2011

Sacks of Breakfast Kibble

We've all heard that a big chunk of the price of name-brand breakfast cereal is the packaging and marketing that supports it. The stores in my area were late to the party when it came to bare-bones cereal packaging, though.  So it amused the hell out of me when I found Stop & Shop's store brand kid-cereal knockoffs being sold by the sack - at roughly one-third to one-quarter of the equivalent amount's price as sold by General Mills or Kellogg's.

13 August, 2011

It's NOT Free.

Quaker is running a promotion on selected boxes of Cap'n Crunch, offering a "FREE Retro T-Shirt."  Well, you have to send in 4 proofs of purchase and pay $3.49 for shipping and handling, but that's still "free," right?

There was a thrift store near me that used to sell T-shirts for 99 cents each. Every week, I'd scour the seemingly endless rack of black T's and pick out vintage concert and bike rally shirts which I would then sell on eBay.  I always priced shipping at $1.00, because a folded shirt would fit nicely into a Tyvek envelope which I could mail 1st Class for about $1.30 and that other 30 cents was more than taken care of by the sale price of the shirt.

But Quaker first makes you pay $16 to $20 for four boxes of cereal, and then charges an additional $3.50 for shipping "and handling."  Yeah, that's a hot freebie, that is.

You know what, Quaker?  Cap'n Crunch has been my favorite cereal since I was like 9 years old. That's a better than 40-year run (pretty damn good considering my usual attention span.) But if you think I'm going to PAY YOU to advertise your shit while you're pulling Cap'n Crunch advertisements out of the mainstream media, you're wrong.

12 August, 2011

Bosco Chocolate Bar

You've probably heard of Bosco chocolate syrup. It was hugely popular in the 1950's and early 1960's and pop culture has ensured it's place as a true bit of Americana.  Bosco Syrup was often referenced on the popular TV show Laverne & Shirley, for example, and black-and-white horror movies through the late 1960's used Bosco as a stand-in for blood.

I've tried Bosco Syrup a time or two and to be honest, I really didn't think it was anything special - as good as any other chocolate syrup I've used but certainly not anything to get wildly enthusiastic about.  When I was a kid, my mother never bought Bosco at all; we always had either Hershey or Fox's U-Bet. So when I found Bosco Milk Chocolate Bars at Big Lots! I bought one out of curiosity rather than nostalgia.

Just like the syrup, Bosco Milk Chocolate isn't really anything special.  It's plain, serviceable milk chocolate with a typical American chocolate flavor profile: sweet, mild chocolate with the faintest sour-milk or "cheesy" background flavor (next time you taste a Hershey bar, pay attention and that sour-milk flavor will be noticeable.) Props to whoever is making the Bosco Bars for using 100% real cocoa butter, making the bar silky-smooth as it melts in your mouth. There's no mockolate in this bar, and yet the best I can say about it is this: The Bosco Milk Chocolate Bar is decent but ordinary.

I suppose it will sell well to the nostalgia crowd - folks who remember the TV ads in the 1950's (not me, though, I'm not that old) or the ones whose Moms set down cookies and a glass of Bosco chocolate milk in front of them for an after-school snack. For the rest of us, well, there's nothing about it other than the name to make it stand out.

11 August, 2011

Sardines In A Pouch

Love 'em or hate 'em, there is one thing no one can deny about sardines: they are fragile little things, and don't take well to being indelicately handled. More than once, a little fishy morsel has broken off and tumbled back to the plate when I've tried to lift it whole with my fork.

You'd think that, of all the people familiar with sardines in the world, the people who actually process and package and sell them would know this. Apparently not, because Crown Prince actually has tried selling sardines in pouches.

When I saw these at Big Lots! it was almost mandatory that I buy them.  I couldn't think of a more ridiculous way to pack sardines, and I couldn't wait to find out what they were going to be like when I opened them up at lunchtime.  I could just imagine what they would look like after having been tumbled through the wholesale and retail distribution chain without the traditional exoskeleton of a metal can, and I was sure it wasn't going to be pretty.

I opened the first pouch - sardines in soy oil, lightly smoked - and tipped them out onto a plate.  "Not pretty" was an understatement. These fish had the shit kicked out of them. I think there might have originally been four whole sardines in the package, but without the help of a forensic ichthyologist, there was no way to tell.  I found some fair-sized fish chunks, lots of little pieces, and plenty of tiny fragments and soft-cooked bits of rib bones.  There were also some long, semi-crunchy lengths of spine. I never remove the spines or other bones when I eat whole sardines, so I didn't bother trying to remove them when I ate these.  The fish tasted fine, although the texture was a little dry despite having been packed in oil.  And of course, there was the horrifying presentation.

The second pouch were sardines in mustard sauce.  These fish had successfully retained their shape, probably thanks to the high-viscosity mustard sauce which had the consistency of gear oil and likely provided some shock absorption during shipping. Unfortunately, Crown Prince's mustard sauce isn't the best I've ever had; it is strong and rather harsh and covers, rather than enhances, the flavor of the fish.

The final pouch, containing the sardines in "Louisiana hot sauce" (not pictured) was sort of in between the other two in terms of sardine integrity. The fish were broken but not mangled but I can't really attribute that to the presence of sauce.  As interpreted by Crown Prince, "Louisiana hot sauce" is a quantity of oil colored bright red by the clots of brownish-red pepper sauce which are suspended within it. It adds little to the flavor of the sardines, but does add a mild but irritating back-of-the-throat scratchy heat in the manner of cayenne pepper powder.

It is no surprise to me that the only place I have seen sardines-in-a-pouch offered for sale is at Big Lots. Only a job lot store could possibly sell them with a straight face, and a quick check of Crown Prince's website shows me that they don't even list this packaging option as one of their products.  Hopefully, sardine pouches were a marketing experiment that won't be repeated.

10 August, 2011

Subway's Pulled Pork Sandwich

Photo by Subway
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Subway BBQ Pulled Pork Edition.

The Good:
Close examination of the pulled pork reveals that it is actual slow-cooked pulled pork, fairly juicy. Even when not dressed with the barbecue sauce (I got it on the side) it had a bit of smokiness (not that I believe for a minute that Subway's little tubs of commissary-pulled pork are done in a pit.)

Subway's bread is decent. Pulled pork should be served on good soft rolls and Subway delivers.

The Bad:
That barbecue sauce is totally generic. Cloyingly sweet (thank you, high-fructose corn syrup) with bottled smoke and a limited amount of spices lending flavor. It tastes like every other cheap fast-food barbecue sauce you've ever had.  McDonalds McRib? Gotcha. Burger King "barbecue" dipping sauce? Yeah. Wendy's whatever-the-hell-completely-forgettable-BBQ-crap-they've-done? Tastes just like it.

The Ugly:
If you like a dab of pulled pork with a metric ton of lettuce and onions to make the sandwich look big, this is the lunch for you. Subway's photo ads are the biggest liars in fast food marketing. And really, every time I've been to a good BBQ joint, my pulled pork sandwich has had nothing on it but decent sauce and some sweet bread-and-butter pickles on top. Lettuce and dill pickles? WTF, Subway?

For an emergency BBQ fix, Subway's got you covered. Tell them to leave off the lettuce and dill pickles and you can almost make believe that you're at a real BBQ place, if real BBQ places used the cheapest sauce they could scrounge.

09 August, 2011

Janik Juniors, and Kiebasa With Kraut

Janik Sausage Company, my hometown kiebasa makers, have introduced an awesome new product, Janik Juniors Kielbasa Dogs.  They're the same delicious kielbasa I've been eating since I was a kid, except in fat foot-long form.

The first time I saw them, it was at Arnold's Meats in East Longmeadow; I bought a package and couldn't wait to get them home to try out.  I was not disappointed. The meat and spice blends were the same as the full-sized kielbasa that is famous around here, and the natural casing gave the dogs an excellent snap. The only difference between the Juniors and their regular kielbasa (other than size) was that the Juniors have a slightly finer grind to the filling.

I've bought them a couple of times since that first trial, and have not yet been disappointed. They're great on the grill, and they're just as great made in a skillet with kraut.

I probably don't have to explain how to do this to anyone, but just in case you've never experienced the joys of kielbasa and kraut, here's how I do it:

Heat up a skillet.

Put in the kielbasa dogs and keep the heat on medium high.  Turn the dogs frequently as you brown them. You might want to poke a hole or two in them with a fork, so they can leak out some of the fat into the pan. If you're lucky, your kielbasa will whistle at you as steam jets out of the holes.

After browning the kielbasa dogs to your satisfaction, dump in the sauerkraut of your choice. Give it a quick couple of stirs and then turn the heat down to medium low. Let the kraut sizzle in the pan with the dogs as you stir the whole thing around a couple of times. The juice from the sauerkraut will deglaze the kielbasa bits from the skillet, and everything will taste even more excellent than you will be imagining from the aroma.

When the sauerkraut is sufficiently heated, tip the lot onto a serving platter and lift it to the table.


There is one other thing I'd like to mention about the Janik Juniors. I have yet to find a package with all of the sausages of uniform size. I think this is because they are filling them with a continuous length of casing, and there is some kind of taper to it by its nature. I would like to see the company develop a little more consistency with the sizing, but I expect that will come with practice and experience.  For the moment, though, I am really happy to see one of my favorite local food producers introducing a new product to the market.  Janik makes an excellent kielbasa, and I hope the new Juniors coax more people to give it a try.

07 August, 2011

Burger King Minis

Hey, look! Burger King has little tiny burgers again! These are, essentially, the very same small pull-apart burgers that the chain has been selling on and off since the mid-1980's when they were called "Burger Bundles" and sold in sets of two for 89 cents.  They've also been sold as "Burger Buddies" in the early 1990's, and most recently as "Burger Shots" in the late aughts.

Back when I reviewed "Burger Shots" three years ago, I said I couldn't understand why BK can't seem to make a success of them. They're just miniature versions of their standard flame-broiled cheeseburger. Everything I said about them then is still true today - delicious, would be great for a few kids to share a box, and a pile of them at a party would be pretty cool. I think the biggest problem Burger King has with them is people incessantly compare them to White Castle sliders.  Minis are not sliders. They don't pretend to be. They don't taste anything like sliders; they taste like what they are: little replicas of Burger King cheeseburgers.

New to the lineup this time we find Chicken Minis, small breaded white-meat chicken patties dropped on the buns with mayo and pickles.  I'm not sure I like these as well as the burgers. The breading outweighs the chicken, for one thing, and even though the seasoning is decent, plopping a big-ass slice of pickle on top just overpowers it. The taste isn't bad once the pickle is gone, but they're just too bready for me.

Are Minis going to be around for awhile? Who knows - given BK's track record with miniaturization, I wouldn't bet on a longer run than about six months or so. If I were the Burger King's Prime Minister or Grand Vizier or BFF or whatever, I would tell him to just ditch the little bastards once and for all. They've never been successful enough to earn a place on the permanent menu, and eventually the marketing department is going to run out of descriptive names for small sandwiches containing 1-ounce meat patties.

Or maybe not.

05 August, 2011

Shrimp Egg Rolls

Home made eggrolls. Still akin to magic, BTW
When I was a kid, I considered egg rolls to be something akin to magic.  They were filled with shredded cabbage, but they were delicious! Not at all like the nasty cabbage my mother would make. There were other things in there, too - things I only saw inside egg rolls and had no hope of identifying.  And sometimes, there were shrimp, except much tinier than any other shrimp I'd ever seen.

Couple all that with the fact that Chinese food in general was totally mysterious (no one could ever in a million years figure out how to make it as good as the stuff you got in a Chinese restaurant!) and there you have it:  Egg rolls. So delicious and so rare, because they could only be obtained via takeout.

That was many years ago, and Asian food is not such a mystery to me any more. Good recipes on the internet, an excellent Asian supermarket nearby, and some practice have all helped me learn how to make some top-notch Chinese food.  Even the most delicious and rare delicacy of them all, the egg roll.

This recipe makes a lot of egg rolls - like thirty or more. The last time I made them, I made twenty of them right away (which were totally nommed in no time at all) and then used whatever filling was left to make another 20 which disappeared just as fast. I had originally intended to make a huge batch of them and freeze some for later, but...  damn, these things are so good you'll be eating the filling out of the pan with a fork.

Shrimp Egg Rolls
Makes about 30 rolls or so

¼ cup sesame oil
3 eggs, beaten
2 pounds of baby bok choy, finely shredded
1 cup of finely shredded cabbage
8 ounces bean sprouts
1 small carrot, finely julienned
1 can (8 ounces) shredded bamboo shoots
1 cup dried wood ear mushroom (aka black fungus) rehydrated
3 finely sliced scallions
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing cooking wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon MSG
1 12-ounce package of frozen salad shrimp, thawed
Egg roll wrappers

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or wok. Pour in beaten eggs and cook without stirring until the eggs set firmly. Turn this "egg pancake" over and cook just long enough to firm up the other side, about half a minute. Slide the egg pancake onto a plate and allow to cool; when cool slice into thin strips and set aside.

Soaking the wood ear
Rehydrate the dried wood ear mushroom by allowing it to soak in a bowl of water while you are prepping the other ingredients (shredding cabbage and cooking the eggs.) When the mushroom is soft, cut it into very fine shreds.

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet or wok and add all of the vegetables - bok choy, cabbage, bean sprouts, carrot, bamboo shoots, mushroom, and scallions. Stir fry quickly to wilt the cabbages and then, as you toss the veggies in the pan over the fire, add the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, salt, and MSG. Continue to cook until the veggies are softened.  Add the egg and shrimp and stir over the fire for a few minutes so they pick up the flavors from the seasonings. When this stir fry is ready, transfer the mixture into a pan and put into the refrigerator to chill.

To actually make the egg rolls:

Lay an egg roll wrapper on the table in front of you with one corner pointing at you.  Dip your finger in water and wet the entire edge of the wrapper. Take a quarter-cup of the filling and spread it in a line in the center of the wrapper, leaving plenty of room at the edges for folding.

Tightly roll the bottom point of the wrapper over the filling.  Then take the side corners and fold them inward to the center, so that the egg roll kind of looks like an overstuffed envelope.  Continue to roll the wrapper up from the bottom, pressing the top corner of the wrapper to the body of the roll to seal it.

When you have a bunch of egg rolls made up and ready to cook, heat up about half an inch of oil in your skillet and fry the rolls brown on all sides by turning them frequently with a pair of tongs until you get them a nicely bubbled golden brown. Set them aside on newspapers or paper towels to drain for a minute or two, and serve hot.

A note about cooking: I like to roll these up six or so at a time, then fry the six I've made before making another six. This way, the rolls don't have time to dry out before I can fry them, and having just six on hand ready to fry means I won't overload the skillet and have too many rolls to keep an eye on. You may, if you choose, deep fry your egg rolls, or bake them (be sure to brush them with a bit of vegetable oil before they go into the oven at 400 F for 10 minutes on the first side and 8 minutes after turning them over.)

A note about wood ear mushrooms: You may omit these if you like, but if you can get some, don't leave them out - they really contribute an awesome flavor note to the finished egg rolls. You should be able to find them at any Asian market - they're one of the most common ingredients Western cooks aren't at all familiar with.

New Budweiser Can Design Unveiled

Anheuser-Busch has trotted out a new design for their flagship Budweiser beer - the 12th redesign of the can in 75 years. They've done a pretty good job of deemphasizing all that fussy verbiage on the former label, placing most of the visual emphasis on the Budweiser "bow tie."  (I don't think that's really a bow tie.  Take a look at it on end, as in the photo at left, and it looks a lot more like a traditional beer glass.)

Personally, I think that the elegant lines of the original 1936 can are timelessly appealing and would have been a better choice (the company did release a limited-edition repro can a few years ago, so someone at Anheuser-Bush must agree with me.)

No matter what kind of label is on the can, though, it's what's inside that counts, and  this tweet pretty much sums up the real problem with Bud:

04 August, 2011

Cheap Parmesan

Since they're mixing it with "cheese whey" I suspect that the Imported Parmesan Laubscher is selling might not be imported from Italy.

02 August, 2011

Chicken Mushrooms

Photo by amadej2008 Used under
a Creative Commons license. Original photo is here.
So I stopped over at my aunt's place the other day, and she was all excited about having me try a casserole she had made.  She insisted that I taste it before she'd tell me what was in it, and because I'm a good sport and I figure she's not going to try to poison me after having been my aunt for half a century, I did. It was pretty good - along with the elbow macaroni, I identiefied gorgonzola cheese, a touch of olive oil, and some strips of reddish meatlike stuff that tasted kind of chickeny.

I complimented her on the dish; it was well-seasoned and the flavors worked well together, and she hadn't tried to bury the whole thing in loads of cheese. That's when she told me that the meat-like stuff was chicken mushroom that she'd foraged from a neighbor's yard.  New one on me; I gather a few different kinds of mushrooms (including the golden shrooms that come up every year in my backyard) but somehow this easily-identifyable and delicious mushroom had completely slipped my notice.

I did some reading up on them, and it turns out that chicken mushrooms are fairly common and a good mushroom for beginning mycologists to gather, since there are no poisonous mushrooms that look enough like them to be confused. They have an affinity for oak trees.  This article from Eat Drink Better gives much more detail about the two chicken mushroom species, where you can find them, and how to gather them.