28 March, 2012

Fairway Market in Stamford Introduces Kosher Catering for Passover

Photo of Stamford store courtesy of Fairway Market
Those of you who live in the New York Metro area are probably familiar with Fairway Market, the iconic New York-based food market that grew from a fruit-and-vegetable stand in 1933 to a chain of nine stores in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut today.

The other day, I got an email from Fairway. They've just started a new service in the Stamford CT store to help fill the needs of Jewish families in the area: a Glatt Kosher catering menu for Passover. For the first time, customers of the Stamford store can order a complete, made-from-scratch Glatt Kosher Seder, prepared in a kosher kitchen on site.

Photo courtesy of Fairway Market
Fairway is already known for one of the largest selection of awesome kosher foods, but full Seder catering is breaking new ground.

You can check out the menu for yourself by clicking here.

And, hey, as long as you're finding out about Fairway, here are a few more links for you:

Click here to go to Fairway's main page. Take a look at some of their specials - great prices for NYC.

Click here to check out a little company history and a peek behind the scenes.

Click here to riffle through Fairway's recipe collection.

Photo courtesy of Fairview Markets

27 March, 2012

Review: McDonald's Chicken McBites

McDonald's is officially into the popcorn chicken business now with their new, limited-time Chicken McBites.

Unlike McNuggets, which are made from chopped and formed chicken meat, Chicken McBites are more-or-less randomly sized chunks of white meat chicken, breaded and fried and served up in three sizes - "Snack," "Regular," and "Shareable," which are clever ways of saying "small," "medium," and "large." We picked up a couple of the Shareable size for the three of us.

First of all, let me just say that the Shareable size is fairly generous, easily enough for two people to enjoy when paired with a couple of sides of fries.  We had skipped the fries on this trip, and the two Shareables we got were just right for three adults. All of us - Maryanne, Lynnafred, and I - were satisfied with the serving sizes when we divvied up the McBites.

One of the things that has made McDonald's so popular is their uniformity. Although there are usually some variations in the quality of service depending on the franchise, time of day, and how busy the restaurant is, the actual food is really quite predictable: You know going in what to expect when you order, say, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese - it's going to be the same sandwich whether you order it in Maine or in California.

This uniformity also extends within product lines in McDonald's, too.  The flavor of a McDonald's beef patty is the same whether that patty is going into a regular hamburger, a McDouble, or a Big Mac. It's comforting in its familiarity. And that's the same way it is with the chicken McDonald's serves. A chicken patty from a sandwich has the same chicken flavor as the McBites and even the McNuggets - the big difference is in the texture of the different products and the way they are incorporated into the menu. It's still McDonald's chicken.

So that leads me to the nitty-gritty: Just how are these McBite thingies?  Not too bad. They are truly chunks of white meat, tender, not too dried out even when the pieces are small. Very similar in flavor to other McD's chicken products, as I mentioned, a little salty but otherwise kinda bland. They'd be better with some black pepper in the breading. Good for a snack and well worth at least a try.

26 March, 2012

WTF Corned Beef Pricing

I certainly won't pay ten bucks a pound for a corned beef brisket - even if it is from highly overrated Boar's Head.  What the hell are they thinking?

15 March, 2012

Amazing Tupperware

Tupperware changed my life by giving my leftovers a safe, airtight place to breed in the back of the refrigerator.

Nightmare Snacks

I'm completely conflicted regarding this granola packaging. On the one hand, it's very colorful and original. On the other hand, they're kind of creepy and I'm not sure I'd really want to have them in my house at night.

The one on the left kind of looks like The Gromble from Aaaaaah! Real Monsters, though, so that's kinda cool.

12 March, 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr Vending Machine Sandwiches

So, having neglected to bring lunch to work last week, I was forced to venture out to the lunchroom and survey the offerings in the vending machine. I found a few cans of Chef Boy R Dee (seriously) and some Kellogg's cereal cups, and multiple instances of microwaveable sandwiches bearing the "Dale Jr." trademark so familiar to NASCAR fans.

You just know that with Dale Jr.'s name and likeness on the wrapper, millions of them are going to sell regardless of the quality. And, to tell the truth, they didn't look all that appetizing sitting in the dark little pockets of the machine.  Some testing and reviewing was obviously in order here.

There were three varieties of DaleChow available for purchase, so I bought one of each and resigned myself to vending machine food for the next few days.

I found all of the sandwiches I bought to at least meet minimum standards of flavor and edibility. To be honest, I didn't have very high expectations for any of the three, so it was easy for them not to disappoint. I was, however, surprised that they actually tasted fairly decent considering what they were. 

We'll start with the appropriately-named "Double-Dog Dare," twin hot dogs in buns, topped with chili and mustard.

Chili dogs are one of my favorite lunches when they are made with high-quality natural casing franks and slow-cooked beef chili sauce. But vending machine food is more about maximizing profits than providing an optimal dining experience.

The hot dogs are really low-grade skinless franks mostly made of mechanically-separated chicken with some beef, and they taste like the cheapest generic bologna - even Vienna sausages have a better taste profile. The dogs are dressed with a line of standard yellow mustard and then covered with a thick layer of chili sauce made from spiced beef and TVP.

They actually look better in the package (above) than they do after heating (right.) The buns get really soft and squishy after they're heated, and unfortunately the hot dogs don't heat up quite enough by the time the buns are almost mushy.

Surprisingly enough, though, the chili sauce has a fairly decent flavor. While spicy, it isn't too hot and on it's own (or on a better quality hot do) it wouldn't be too bad. Luckily, this halfway decent chili sauce masks the nasty bologna flavor of the hot dogs. The mustard is hardly noticeable, although I guess it's applied unevenly, because every now and then a bit of a hot dog provides a blast of mustard flavor, which isn't really compatible with the chili.

I just can't resist showing you this cross-section. That mustard really looks sick, but the part that really concerned me was the hot dog. I never did figure out what all those little white bits were.

Overall, I give the Double-Dog Dare a grade of 5 on a 1-to-10 scale: Not entirely horrible, but not my first choice for lunch.

Next up is the Dale Jr. Cheeseburger.

This is a big and substantial lunch, weighing in at over nine ounces (which is big for a vending machine sandwich.)  It seems to be pretty standard - sesame seed bun, a patty which is advertised to be "made with 100% BEEF," cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles.  The ingredient panel, though, reveals that the 100% beef is "seasoned" with hydrolyzed soy protein - a source of filler as well as MSG - and is flavored with beef broth.

Freshly out of the microwave, lifting the lid on the burger reveals just what kind of lunchtime nightmare it really is. The processed cheese turns into a viscous pool which collects in the artificial "grill lines" which have been etched into the surface of the pale grey burger. What I didn't show was that the bottom surface of the sandwich was coated in a thin, sticky film of ketchup and mustard; it must have spilled or been misapplied during manfacture, and it resulted in a messy, hard-to-hold product.  It was icky enough that I decided to cut the burger in half to make it easier to hold and eat.

That proved to be very entertaining. The pickles, which were hidden under the patty between the burger and the bun, were highly resistant to cutting. As I sliced through the sandwich, the blade (which was gliding effortlessly through the meat and bread) "caught" on the pickles and dragged them out against the blade. I popped one into my mouth and found that it seemed to be made of pale green plastic with a tougher, thicker green plastic rim. I could barely chew it

As you might imagine, this sandwich, like the hot dogs, was less than ideal. The cheese was lowest-common-denominator cheap American, and the burger tasted more like salt and cheap beef bouillon than it did like real beef. The complete flavor profile was something like what a food additive corporation would come up with if asked to make "cheeseburger flavor" for addition to other things. This product gets a 4 on a 1-to-ten scale. Edible, but it will never be a first choice.

Since I seem to be arranging these things in decending order of goodness, I suppose it's fitting that I finish off by describing the Dale Jr. BBQ Pork Sandwich.

It's basically a NASCAR-themed version of McDonald's McRib sandwich: a pork patty formed into a crude representation of a tiny rack of spare ribs, dressed with BBQ sauce and served on a club roll.

The sauce is thick and sweet and wet and makes the sandwich a little harder to handle than it might be, but it had a fairly good flavor which is similar to many inexpensive bottled barbecue sauces.

The patty is very mild with any pork flavor very efficiently subsumed by the sauce. I could handle that. It was harder to handle the texture - chewy, gristly, kind of lumpy, with a lot of what I earnestly hoped was cartilage. This pork patty was so inferior to anything I'd ever had under any other brand that I was surprised that any actual person would put their real name on the packaging. Dale, dude, talk to these guys. That's your [highly stylized and probably trademarked] signature on the cellophane - have you no pride?

If you're hungry - really hungry - the BBQ Pork Sandwich will probably score a 4 on a 1-to10 scale. But since I have some standards (and a stash of Cup-A-Soup in my desk drawer for emergency lunchtime hunger) I can't give it more than a 3.

11 March, 2012

McDonald's New Bakery Items

McDonald's is stepping up the fast food wars with a shot aimed squarely at chain coffee shops: they've introduced new bakery items. In the past, stopping at McDonald's for a coffee has been pretty much coffee only, since Mickey D's didn't offer anything other than their pies that would really go with a good cup of joe. That's changed now that there are five new baked goods on the menu. All of them are very good and I can see them appealing to people who want a little something with their coffee - and maybe even tempting people away from the local Starbucks or Dunkie's.

I recently stopped by the local McDonald's and bought one of each of the new bakery items to give them a try. I was impressed.

Multi-Grain Berry Muffins - Moist and delicious, these are topped with mixed whole grains and studded with blueberries and cranberries (whole, not chopped.) There are berries in every bite, which is pretty awesome. I found the muffin tops to be a bit tough, but that's probably due to all those whole grains up there.

Blueberry Muffins are similarly delicious. They're a bit dryer than the Multi-Grain version, but still moist and mouthwatering. They're topped with a brown sugar crumble, and once again there are berries in every bite. I really can't say anything bad about them.

The Cheese Danish is outstanding, with  flaky, buttery croissant-like crust wrapped around a sweetened cheese filling. It might be my favorite of the bunch.

Vanilla Bean Mini-Scones - I have mixed feelings about these. I liked the scones themselves; they were like a slightly moister shortbread, with a fantastic vanilla flavor and a tender crumb that practically melts in your mouth.

On the other hand, each of them is covered with an icing glaze, which I really didn't care for (I thought it was over-the-top for such a delicious and simple pastry.)  Lynnafred, however, tells me that every American scone she's ever eaten has had icing and that people are going to expect icing on their scones. Fair enough, but still, WTF America? Icing on your scones?

Banana Bread - Moist and scrumptious, with just the right blend of spices to compliment the banana. This was as good as any banana bread I've ever had (except for my stepdaughter Jamie's, which is so good that other sweet quickbreads bow to it and call it Master.)

There is something to keep in mind when you're ordering these treats to go along with your coffee: You are not going to find massive portions here.  You know how some bakery and supermarket muffins are so damn big you can feed a family of six with them? That's not going to happen at McDonald's. The muffins are normal sized - that is, about the same size as the muffins you will get from your very own cupcake tins in your kitchen. The mini-scones are about the diameter of a silver dollar (which is why you get three of them.) The banana bread comes to you in a thick slice of about the dimensions of a standard loaf tin. In other words, you get portion sizes that I consider to be just right. It's kind of refreshing, actually, to see a big company like McDonald's making such an obvious effort to be normal.  I hope that this portioning is accepted by a public which has been conditioned to think a 20-ounce soft drink is a normal size, that a muffin should be able to fill a shopping bag, and that bagels should be eight inches in diameter. 

Anyway, enough ranting. McDonald's bakery items are delicious, and worth a try.

The Dollar-Nine Store

There's a "dollar store" at the local mall called Dollar 'N' Stuff.  Their signs used to say, "EVERYTHING $1 OR LESS" but recently they've added some fine print to each of them. "EVERYTHING $1.09 OR LESS EXCEPT DRINKS PLUS TAX"

06 March, 2012

McDonald's Shamrock Shakes Are Back Again

Hey, heads up, Shamrock Shake fans! They're back at the local McDonald's for a limited time, and for the first time they're being offered nationwide.

I loved Shamrock Shakes when I was a kid, and they're still my faves. Ever since I had my first one when I was eleven, I've looked forward to the St. Patrick's Day season when Mickey Dee's would bring them back.

i don't like the new default way McD's serves their shakes as part of the McCafe lineup, though - really, who needs whipped cream and a cherry on top of a shake?  I got one all decked out in the finery one time, and was totally unimpressed.  Just plain for me from now on, please.

03 March, 2012

Terror Treats

This is exactly what I would want my kid to find in an Easter basket: brightly-colored marshmallow things screaming in horror. Thank you, Dollar Tree. You always come through for me.

02 March, 2012

Review: Pizza Hut Dinner Box & Pizza Hut Wings

No matter where you go in my town, you are never more than a few minutes away from a pizza joint. Almost all of them are small, family-owned Mom & Pop operations, and while most of them are pretty good, the quality varies. I guess you'd expect that from any sampling of businesses. So the thing is, while you might think that in a town with more than a hundred pizza restaurants within a 10-minute drive (I'm not kidding) there would be no excuse to go to Pizza Hut. You'd be wrong, though, because when it comes right down to it, Pizza Hut makes a fairly decent thick-crust pie that falls somewhere in the middle range of 'za quality. Thus, there are times when I'm just looking for a cheap, fast, edible pizza and Pizza Hut is on the way home...and there ya go.

That's how I wound up at Pizza Hut the other day. I was on the way home but had to make a couple of stops. Supermarket, pharmacy...hey, there's Pizza Hut in the same plaza; I'm running late and that would make a quick supper without dishes to do...ah, what the hell, right?  So I stopped in and ordered one of their heavily-advertised $10 Dollah Holla Box and a side of wings.

It's always a cheap shot to compare the restaurant's food photography with the actual food that you unwrap at the table, but seriously, the local Hut didn't even try to make my Dinner Box conform to the photo:

Holy shit, Pizza Hut. The pizza is overdone, the breadsticks are darker than Snooki's chemically tanned ass, and there's no marinara dipping sauce. 

Also, I should mention that this pizza is really, really small.

Okay, my bitching set aside, there were good points too.  If you're a fan of thick-crust pizza, there is plenty to love about Pizza Hut. They have a really good, thick, breadychewy crust, the kind that the sauce sort of just melts into, and they paint the edges with oil before shoving it into the oven, so it comes out with this awesome crispy rim. They're not stingy with the cheese (and they never put too much on either, so there's just the right balance of cheese and crust and sauce.) Yes, the 'za-drones left mine in the oven a few minutes too long, but  that didn't damage the overall experience. Lynnafred loves the breadsticks, both the sweet and savory version, and she also somehow enjoys the frosting Pizza Hut throws in with the cinnasticks despite the strange plastic-like flavor and consistency. And, in all fairness, the Dinner Box was perfectly adequate to feed our family of three adults, which is not bad for ten bucks. I'm not going to recommend it, though, unless your local Pizza Hut does a lot better job than mine at putting it together the way Pizza Hut HQ envisions it.

Now let's talk about Pizza Hut's wings.  Let's just say that there's a good reason that the place is called "Pizza Hut" and not "Wing Hut." 

The sauce is nothing special. It's obviously been formulated to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, which explains why the "Buffalo Burnin' Hot" sauce was not really that burnin' hot. They sure were salty, though.  Hugely salty.  Almost inedibly salty.

And, at the risk of sounding like an old joke ("The food is horrible here. And such small portions!") the wings are tiny. Just something to keep in mind in case you like Buffalo Salt Wings and are expecting generous joint sizes the way you'd find them in your favorite local bar.