30 June, 2012

29 June, 2012

The Dogs of Summer: Bogner Natural Casing Franks

Bogner Meats is an awesome butcher store/meat market with retail stores in Manchester and Vernon, CT. In addtition to a huge fresh meat case, they also make several varieties of their very own deli meats (like Genoa salami and pepperoni.) And they also have their very own brand of natural casing beef and pork franks, made by Hummel of New Haven to Bogner's recipe.

Bogner franks have an excellent meat flavor thanks to the beef and pork blend, with mild spices and just a hint of smokiness. They seem to me to have a little more coriander in the seasoning blend than some other franks, but they compare very well against my favorites, Mucke's and Grote & Weigel.

28 June, 2012

Johnny's Roadside Market Garden Is Open!

The farm stand season in the Enfield area has officially kicked off today with the opening of Johnny's Roadside Market Garden on North Maple Street in the Shaker Pines section. In the early spring, Johnny's opens up to sell vegetable plants and bedding flowers before closing again for a few weeks. Then, as early crops start coming in at local farms (and in Johnny's own tomato greenhouses) they open again for the season, carrying a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits from the Connecticut River Valley as well as some other produce more typical of grocery stores.

I stopped in today on my way home from work, and found a big variety of fresh produce waiting: Beet greens, spinach, and early lettuce from Connecticut farms; local peas, sugar snaps, and green beans; Connecticut Valley sweet corn (wicked early!); crispy pickling cukes from New Jersey; and plump gorgeous early tomatoes from Johnny's own hothouses. These are not the crappy hothouse tomatoes of my childhood, pale and hard and wrapped in cellophane. No, these are crimson beauties that bear delicious whispers of the summer tomatoes yet to come.

I have several tomato vines in my own garden, and come late July I'll have all the tomatoes I need right in my own backyard. But until those start to come in, I have Johnny's awesome tomatoes to tide me over. 

Johnny's tomatoes are at the heart of The Nearly Perfect BLT:
  • Fresh lettuce picked a few minutes ago from my garden
  • Bacon from a local smokehouse
  • Fresh crusty Viennese bread
  • One of Johnny's tomatoes
Why "nearly perfect?" Well, the Truly Perfect BLT would have an heirloom tomato out of my own garden. But all of my toms are still green.

Johnny's Roadside Market Garden
336 North Maple Street
Enfield, CT 06082

Review: Burger King's Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

Burger King has taken a little break from slavishly copying McDonald's McCafe beverages to introduce several new BBQ specialties, one of which is the Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich.  I stopped in to the local BK yesterday to give it a try.

Here's what it looks like in the advertising:

Photo by Burger King
And here's what it looks like in real life:

Now, I've acknowledged before that comparing real fast food to advertising-agency-styled fast food is a cheap shot, but trust me - this sandwich is so completely disgusting that the way it looks is only the beginning of how shitty it is.

There was no meaty pile of pulled pork on a crusty split-top bun. It was a small - significantly smaller than the diameter of the bread - knot of crappy, low-quality meat on a squishy oversized burger bun.  Even though I actually looked at the contents of the sandwich when I took this picture, I still mustered up the courage to take a bite.

The pork was drenched in cheap, sticky BBQ sauce that tasted mostly of corn syrup and artificial smoke and it was the texture of shredded flannel. And worst of all, the entire interior was completely smothered in mayonnaise. So not only did the sandwich look like someone took a dump on a hamburger bun, it tasted like an overly-sweetened old washcloth sopped in slime.

For the first time in the history of Dave's Cupboard, I was unable to stomach so much as a single bite of a review subject. This heinous wet lump of filth was so horrendous that my first and only bite was instantly interrupted by my gag reflex and I spit the gnarly bolus back at the cardboard clamshell in which it was served.

On the other hand, the sweet potato shoestring fries that I got as a side were pretty good. So the visit wasn't a total loss.

26 June, 2012

Vintage Corned Beef Experiment, Part 2

Quick recap: I cooked a commercial corned beef which had hidden in my refrigerator for a month past its "sell by" date.

It was delicious. I'd do it again. (Not on purpose.)

24 June, 2012

Vintage Corned Beef Experiment Part 1

This afternoon I remembered that I had a corned beef in the meat drawer of the fridge. I bought it before St. Patrick's Day, because the prices on corned beef right around that time of year are pretty unbeatable, and the "use or freeze by" date was seemingly far off in the future.

So far off, in fact, that I kind of forgot all about having it sitting in there, waiting for me.

Tonight I got home and thought about corned beef for some reason. I remembered that chunk in the fridge and wondered if it was too late to cook.  The date on the package said "FREEZE / USE BY MAY 17 2012:"

I opened up the package and took a sniff. Smelled like corned beef; no off odors. The brine wasn't thick or sticky the way it gets when meat spoils in it.  So I put in a pot with some water, celery, chopped shallots, and pickling spice and put it on to simmer.

The kitchen smells pretty good right now.  I'll give it a few hours on a simmer, then cool it, wrap it tightly in foil, and refrigerate it overnight. Tomorrow I'll let you know how it turned out.

22 June, 2012

I Had Douchebag Pizza For Lunch

More specifically, I had Red Baron Thick Pan Pepperoni Pizza for lunch.

Hey, check this out: It's EXCLUSIVELY PREPARED!
What the hell does that even mean?
I decided to try it because I am inexplicably fond of Red Baron's small deep-dish pizzas (the ones that come in twin packs.) They're not anything like a "good pizza," but there is something about the cracker-like shell crust and slightly strange-flavored sauce that appeals to me.  So how bad could a "Thick Pan" pizza be, right?

Well, I will say this about the Thick Pan pizza: in real life, it looks exactly like the photo on the package. I'm sure you've seen enough box-cover-art "Serving Suggestions" to know how rare that is. The sauce and pepperoni were also exactly what I expected: fairly decent pepperoni (spicy and just a little greasy) and sauce that had a slightly strange flavor heavy on the oregano and kind of light on the tomato flavor. 

And dat crust. The cardboard platform on which it was cooked in the microwave is coated with that gray stuff that makes things in the microwave get browned. So the crust had a nice crispy browned bottom, and it tasted just like the thin and crunchy deep-dish crusts that the small Red Baron pizzas have. But it was thick, soft, and a little spongy, more like a cheap bread than a real crust. I know I wasn't going to get a primo New Haven pie here, but even at that I found it somewhat substandard. If you like a thick, soft crust, you might want to try out the Red Baron Pizza. I probably won't buy it again.

So why, you may ask, did I call it "Douchebag Pizza?"  Check out the box art. It's covered with pictures of douchebags. "HEY GUYS! It's the Baron! Looking for douche food? Well, you're in luck!"

21 June, 2012

Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning

I've tried a lot of Jamaican-style jerk seasonings in search of something really authentic, without too much luck. But recently, my friend Roger discovered Walkerswood Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seaoning, and I think my search is at an end.

Unlike so many other jerk seasonings out there, Walkerswood is a paste made up of hot peppers, scallions, black pepper, onions, salt, allspice, nutmeg, cane sugar, and thyme. It's made in and imported from Jamaica, and it's the most authentic jerk seasoning I've found.

It's easy to use - just rub some into the meat and let it sit a few hours (though overnight is best) before grilling or roasting. I've used it on chicken and pork so far, and it's AWESOME. (I'm considering making some beef jerky with it to see how it turns out.)

Walkerswood also understands that not everyone has a high tolerance for hot and spicy food., so they make a mild version that has the same authentic jerk ingredients with a little less hot pepper added to the blend. Don't get me wrong - Walkerswood idea of "mild" still might ring your bells if you are a complete pepper wuss, but it does have quite a bit less kick than the hot and spicy stuff.

Availability varies depending on where you live. I had never noticed it at all until just a little while ago, when Roger brought some back for me from a recent out-of-state trip. Since I've actually started looking for it, I've found it in a couple of ethnic markets (like Food Zone International on Belmont Avenue in Springfield MA) and supermarkets (I think ShopRite carries it in Enfield CT.) If you're a fan of jerk cooking, it's well worth the search.

20 June, 2012

Review: Bove's All Natural Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce

Although my favorite pasta sauce is the stuff I make from scratch at home, I don't always have the time or ambition to make a pot of tomato sauce - especially in the summer, when my kitchen is hot enough without a big pot simmering on the stove.  

So, I do what millions of other people do: I buy prepared pasta sauce in jars at the supermarket. Over the years, I've discovered that there are a lot of bad sauces, a bunch of good sauces, and a few that are really excellent.

Allow me to introduce you to one of the excellent ones: Bove's All Natural Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce. Discovering a sauce like Bove's makes me really happy - not only did I find a really high-quality product, but it's made right here in New England (in Vermont, to be specific) and as you might know by now, I'm a big fan of New England-made stuff.

Anyway, the Roasted Tomato sauce is awesome. Officially, the ingredients are fire-roasted plum tomatoes, fresh garlic and onions, and spices. Unofficially, I'm pretty sure the ingredients also include Win and Rad. The roasted tomatoes contribute to a deep and rich flavor that is second only to homemade. I used Bove's Roasted Tomato sauce in a lasagna on Sunday, and it was one of the best lasagnas I've ever made. The sauce held its own against the pasta and cheeses and didn't get "lost" among the cheeses and sheets of lasagna noodles.

I'm actively looking for Bove's in local supermarkets now. I bought the jars of Roasted Tomato at my local job lot store, and the other varieties weren't available. If I have to, I'll look for it on Amazon, but I really prefer to give my hard-earned paycheck to local groceries than to any online guys I've never met.

I totally recommend this stuff, without hesitation. 

More about Bove's

Bove's Cafe is a three-generations-old restaurant in Burlington VT. They started out being locally famous for their Italian food and in the past few years have become more widely known after being "discovered" by Food Network. They bottle a fairly big line of tomato sauces; besides the Roasted Tomato variety, there is also Marinara, Three Cheese & Tomato, Mushroom & Wine, Roasted Garlic, Basil, and Vodka.

19 June, 2012

Pop Quiz!

What am I holding in the picture at right?

A. A roll of bird netting to protect my blueberries

B. Gene Simmons' hair.

17 June, 2012

Handheld Bug Zappers

So, Lynnafred and I were in Ocean State Job Lot, and they had a huge display of these hand-held bug zappers.  You put two AA-sized batteries in the handle and press a small button as you swing it at flying insects...and ZAP! Thanks to the offset metal grids and the magic of a transformer between the batteries and the grid, a 3000-volt pop makes a loud electric crackle sound and a bright blue spark as the doomed insect gets sent off to Critter Hell.

When these first came out a few years ago, I was a bit skeptical about them, but it turns out that they work pretty well both indoors (we get pantry moths every now and then) and out.

But it turns out that they don't work at all at the purpose for which we bought them.  We wanted to play electric tag with them, running around in the yard, swatting each other and delivering a mild shock every time. We thought that would be hilarious, but it turns out that the electric grids are separated by a permanent and non-removable spacer which was very likely designed into it specifically to prevent the shenanigans we were hoping to have.

Vecchitto's Italian Ice Is Open

Vecchitto's Italian Ice, on Dekoven Drive in Middletown, opened for the season over Memorial Day weekend.

We stopped in for ices this afternoon. They're just as awesome as always. If you're anywhere near Middletown, take a detour down CT 9 and stop in - it's totally worth it.

(I tried the banana ice today and it was delicious.)

14 June, 2012

Out of the Can: B&M Brown Bread

This is Boston Brown Bread. It's made commercially by B&M (the baked bean people) and in New England, you can often find it in the supermarket right alongside the baked beans. Although it looks vaguely turd-like, it's quite delicious, and makes an excellent accompaniment to baked beans. It's made with flour, cornmeal, and molasses and it has a fairly dense texture, more cake-like than bready.

The best way to serve it is heated (either in the microwave or the oven), then sliced, spread with butter, and put on the plate right next to a big scoop of beans & weenies as shown at left. When I was a kid, my mother rarely served baked beans without B&M Brown Bread alongside. And I am happy to report that it is one of the very few food products from my childhood that still tastes exactly the same today as it did forty-some-odd years ago. (Yes. Holy shit. I really am that old.)

I've always taken for granted that B&M Brown Bread is available in the stores, though I know that it's probably one of those New England things that can be hard to find once you get out of the Northeast (kind of like Bell's Poultry Seasoning.)  But if you're really interested in trying it, you could make your own with Alton Brown's recipe from Food Network.

13 June, 2012

Comfort Creek Canned Gravy & Roast Beef

If there is one thing I've learned from buying oddball food products in dollar stores and ethnic markets, it is this: Canned beef is generally pretty nasty. It's often tricked out with fillers and glutamates, and the associated "gravy" is usually tastes artificial and tinny.

And so, my expectations were pretty low (as usual) when I bought a can of Comfort Creek Foods Gravy and Roast Beef at Dollar Tree. For one thing, I knew there'd be more gravy in the can than beef - not only was it right there on the label, but the can sloshed a little when I gently shook it.

Lynnafred mocked me when I brought it home. "It's in a dog food can," she said, "You and your damned food shenanigans."

I opened the can carefully so it wouldn't slosh, and found what looked like a can of nothing but gravy (since the level of the liquid was far above that of the meat.) And I have to admit, the first sniff was not promising: it smelled rather cheap and pet-foody.

But I dumped it out on a plate anyway and found chunks of real beef which did not seem to have been stretched with TVP or other weirdness. I heated it up in the microwave and gave it a taste, and...

...found that it was actually pretty good.

The beef was tender and tasted just like homemade pot roast, although a little more dry and a bit crumbly. And the gravy was flavorful - beefy, well-seasoned, and not too salty.

I heated up some leftover mashed potatoes, made a well in the center of them, poured in the gravy and beef and had a really good lunch. 

12 June, 2012

Grocery Shrink Ray Hits ALDI Sugar

ALDI stocks bags of sugar by the pallet, placing the pallet on the floor underneath a sign advertising the price.  For years, there has been a second sign placed beside the price sign. It read something like, "Please remember when comparing prices, we sell full 5-pound bags of sugar while our competitors sell 4-pound bags."

It's jelly-and-jam-making season again, and we use a lot of sugar putting up dozens of jars of fruit preserves. ALDI has usually had the lowest price for sugar, so I went there first over the weekend to pick up a couple of bags, and found this:

There was a pallet of four-pound bags of sugar under the price sign, and the note about always selling 5-pound bags was gone.  Four pounds of sugar for the price of five pounds. Well, that's one staple that gets crossed off the ALDI shopping list.

(I ended up going to Price/Rite, where five pound bags of sugar were fifty cents less than what ALDI was getting for four. I really should start buying 25-pound bags of sugar at Costco when we start making preserves.)

11 June, 2012

Review: Jones Zilch Vanilla Bean Soda

Jones Zero Calorie Zilch sodas just started turning up in the stores around here. They've  been available for a couple of years now, but not many of my regular stores carry Jones to begin with, and the ones that do rarely have more than a couple of regular flavors, let alone Zilches.

But Lynnafred found some and brought a four-pack of Zilch Vanilla Bean soda home with her last week. She was excited because vanilla is one of her favorite flavors and she's always loved the high-quality Jones offerings. (Well, maybe not always. There was that vomitous Bacon flavor awhile ago.)  

Lynnafred really liked it. She said that the flavor was "subtle" and that there was minimal aftertaste from the Splenda.

I enjoyed it - I like vanilla, and there are few true vanilla sodas on the market - but not quite as much as she did. For me, the subtlety of the flavor bordered on bland and the artificial sweetener used (sucralose, also sold under the brand name Splenda) left a bit of a chemical aftertaste.

Would I buy it again? Probably. i'm going to be keeping an eye on the market for the other Jones Zilch varieties such as Pomegranate or Black Cherry.

10 June, 2012

Potted Meat Is Nastier Than You Can Imagine

Of all the cheap canned pseudo-foods out there, the one that undoubtably resides on the very lowest rung of the ladder is Potted Meat (which was once upon a time called "Potted Meat Food Product.") I remember having bought it once long ago and being severely underwhelmed. 

Most of the time when I find Potted Meat, it's either Libby or Armour brand, and stocked on the shelves next to the Vienna Sausage. But at Dollar Tree, the Potted Meat has it's very own shelf, and different brands are sold side by side.

And that's how I found Brunswick Potted Meat With Crackers. How cool! It's just like having an entire lunch in one convenient package! Because the Brunswick kit came with Bryan Potted Meat, a brand I had never tried before, I also picked up a can of Armour Potted Meat so i could do a side by side comparison.

After I got the stuff home, though, I discovered that I really didn't need to compare these side by side. I noticed the USDA inspection seals - Both of them were made at Establishment P-4247. That's Pinnacle Foods, owner of the Armour brand as well as others like Hartford House and Hungry Man. Apparently, their plant is also making Potted Meat for sale under other labels...such as Bryan.  

The primary ingredients of Potted Meat these days are mechanically separated chicken, beef tripe, and salt. There are traces of seasonings and spices as well. "Mechanically separated chicken" is a meat product which celebrates the triumph of technology over nature. Chicken carcasses and bones which are left over from normal processing are forced through a sieve under high pressure, removing every last bit of meat from them. This makes the final product very finely ground and paste-like. 

The Brunswick lunch pack comes with a small Mylar packet containing five nondescript round crackers, a tiny plastic spoon/spreader for the Potted Meat, and the can of Bryan Potted Meat. There are a couple problems with this setup. First, five crackers are a totally stingy portion. Even with the Potted Meat heaped generously upon them, I still ran out of crackers long before running out of Potted Meat. And trust me, having enough crackers is critical to the enjoyment of this product. The texture of the Potted Meat is pretty horrendous. It's a slippery paste with a slightly granular feel (thanks to the tripe) with nothing to sink your teeth into. Putting it on a crispy cracker gives it a more pleasing texture along with a satisfying crunch. And when the crackers run out, it's a lot harder to be enthusiastic about eating a can of salty meat paste.

As for the flavor - well, if you've ever eaten a Vienna Sausage or some cheap bologna, you kind of know what Potted Meat tastes like. But not really because the flavor of the beef tripe really does stand out against the bland "white slime" chicken. And above all else, there's the salt: the choking, throat-parching salt - enough, it seems, to cause cardiac arrest.

Clearly, Potted Meat is virtually inedible on its own. And yet, there has to be a market for it - Armour wouldn't be producing so many cans of it if no one were buying the stuff.  Perhaps people are creating some of the various snackular dishes that Armour suggests on their website. Things like:

Tangy Spread  
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 8-oz pkg cream cheese, softened
Bread or assorted crackers 
Combine all ingredients, except bread or crackers; chill thoroughly. Serve on bread or crackers.

Party Pleasers 
1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1/4 cup onion, diced
12 slices French Bread 
Combine first 4 ingredients, mix well. Spread mixture on bread slices. Broil 5-10 minutes, or until brown.

For more recipes, you can click here to go to Armour's website and follow their links to the recipes if you dare.

09 June, 2012

Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken

I've had Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken on my Grail List since I first learned of its existence several years ago. The sheer bizarreness of a canned whole chicken drew me to it like a moth to a flame. Alas, however, Sweet Sue products have severely limited availability in my area - I might occasionally find their Chicken and Dumplings or tins of chicken breast, but that's it.

However, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous reader who lives in Sweet Sue Land, I recently received the elusive Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken.  It immediately went into the fridge, can and all, because the instructions on the label advise that it should be chilled before removing (makes sense - cooked meat is always easier to handle chilled.)

This photo, taken by Tracy O'Connor and first published on her awesome blog, I Hate My Message Board, is what I was expecting to find when I opened the can: a whole (albeit small) cooked chicken, goopy with the broth created during processing. Kind of looks like it just came out of one of the egg pods in Alien, doesn't it?

But when I opened the can, what slid out was even more horrifying.

This is what actually came out.

I poked through the shredded, gooey poultry meat and discovered that there was indeed most of the components of a whole chicken in there. There was skin, lots of bones, and plenty of chunks and fibers that I'm pretty sure once comprised a chicken. The only readily identifiable bits were the legs and the breast; all the rest of the bird had been pulverized.

Needless to say, I didn't bother to follow the rest of the cooking instructions (which told me to put the chicken in a pan in a hot oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, basting frequently with the delicious broth.)  I spent some time picking out as many of the bones as I could find, then heated up the whole mess in a Dutch oven and made chicken and dumplings with it.

The flavor was okay. It had the kind of tinny flavor and strange mouthfeel of cheap canned chicken soup, and it was somewhat on the salty side, but the taste was recognizable as chicken when all was said and done.

So, I'm ticking this one off the Grail List, with no regrets - and no desire for a repeat.

03 June, 2012

More Twitter Ridonkulousness

In this collection, Twitter presents to you "samon,"

Bonus items: "spinage" (spinach) and "cokin" (cookin').

02 June, 2012

Mama Cozzi's Mexican Style Pizza by ALDI

Among the many different varieties of frozen pizza available at ALDI under their Mama Cozzi's brand are two Mexican-inspired versions that you might want to check out.

Tuesdays are often Taco Tuesday in my house; we make up a pan of seasoned ground beef, and then we all build our own tacos using a variety of ingredients and toppings. We have a great time, and eat great tacos. But sometimes, for a change of pace, we throw a couple of Mama Cozzi's Mexican Style frozen pizzas in the oven instead. It takes about the same amount of time to prepare, and it's almost as much fun.

The Chicken Fajita pizza (shown in the picture at left as slightly overbrowned on the edge, oops) is pretty good. Thin, crispy crust topped with taco sauce, roasted chicken strips, red, green, and yellow peppers, shredded cheeses, and red onion. Tasty. Not perfectly like a chicken fajita, mind you, but Mexican-styled enough in its own way that we enjoy it.

The Taco Seasoned Pizza is very authentic, with seasoned ground beef, shredded cheeses, green and red peppers, sliced black olives, and chopped onion on a taco-sauced thin crust. It's delicious, and it keeps the "taco" in "Taco Tuesday."

Both of these are available on a rotating  basis at your local ALDI store. Regular ALDI shoppers know that products there come and go, but usually return. If your local ALDI doesn't have them, ask the store manager when they're supposed to come back.