Friday, September 28, 2007
Review: Häagen-Dazs Caramelized Pear & Toasted Pecan Ice Cream
My sample from the PR agency arrived yesterday and I tore into it as quickly as I could get it to thaw a bit from being packed in dry ice. (I used a trick my daughter came up with - microwave the container for 15 to 30 seconds or so to get it a bit soft.) This is a killer flavor, which means congratulations go to both Ms. Zoerb and to the people at the company who were able to translate her idea into a viable commercial ice cream. This is subtle: pear ice cream with pieces of caramelized pear and bits of toasted pecan. The blend is marvelous and, even though I don't normally like nuts in ice cream, they add texture and help balance the other flavors.
Apparently she was trying to make a pear tart when the power went out. Obviously an improviser when times get tough, she went to the gas-powered range, caramelized pieces of pear, and served them with vanilla ice cream and pecans. I did try going to the company link for the "back story" and found what looked like it was supposed to be a short video loop. Only, there didn't seem to be any sound, and all I could see was a picture of some pears, butter, brown sugar, and pecans, followed by the words, "Congrats, Leslie! Thanks for making the world a bit sweeter." OK, so they're clearly not a media company. Who cares? Pass the scoop, please.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Restaurants Depend on Interet?
“I cannot afford to lose a single customer,” said Mr. Grieco, who opened Insieme more than five months ago and, with Mr. Canora, has owned Hearth in the East Village for nearly four years.It says a lot about changing dynamics in the industry. Web sites and blogs apparently have more actual influence than traditional reviewers. People who know about food, even if they do something else for a living, can develop audiences, and the Internet allows a single slip-up to become common knowledge in a matter of hours. Lose a customer, and that person could be a culinary Walter Winchell, broadcasting to Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea.
“It used to be that if something went wrong, you might lose a circle of family or friends. Now, half our reservations come from the Internet, and a negative experience on a blog can affect thousands of potential customers.”
Where first impressions mean much and can be spread instantly, there is a thriving market for hosts adept at managing image as well as business.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Mars Capitulates on Chocolate Changes
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Review and Opinion: Amy's Organic Black Bean Vegetable Soup
That's fine, and the taste was decent enough though certainly not tasting like homemade. (That seems to be a marketing schtick of theirs, though everyone seems to claim that these days.) On the whole, I found the soup too sweet, owing to the overly assertive use of corn and carrots as ingredients. A bit more cilantro, or even a touch of hot pepper, could have helped balanced it out more.
One can is supposed to be two one-cup servings, with each providing 20% of recommended dietary fiber, 130 calories, and - back to my complaint of the other day about salt in broth - 18% of the sodium.
On the whole, I wouldn't snub the soup, but wouldn't go out of my way to pick it up, either.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (9/24/07)
- Rice Not Nice Venice is banning throwing rice at newly weds because of the "hordes of pigeons" who follow the ceremonies. What's really bad is when they crash the reception, get drunk, and put lampshades on their heads. (Reuters)
- Marmalade Mess The creator of Paddington Bear took heat when the character started snacking not on his accustomed marmalade, but on Marmite sandwiches in an advertisement. Marmite is a popular British food spread made of beer brewing byproducts. Maybe Paddington could just hoist a pint, instead. (Ananova)
- Bus Brunch The French city of Lille is running buses on biodiesel produced from food scraps, weeds, flowers, and grass clippings at a new recycling plant. From one form of gas to another. (AFP)
- Burrito Eating Champ A New York day trader ate 10 3/4 burritos in 12 minutes to win what was billed as the world burrito eating championship. The winner, "Eater X," is also an aspiring pizza chef. Guess that day trading is working out well, then. (AP)
- Raparian Feast In Acton, England, 500 people dove into a swimming pool to set the record for the world's largest formal underwater dinner party. Largest formal? You mean there's another subcategory? (Daily Telegraph)
Friday, September 21, 2007
What Is With Packaged Broth?
Hitting the 600mg to 700mg range seems to be standard with chicken and beef broth. But why? Clearly you can make it yourself with far less sodium by not adding salt. You'll get some, but there's a limit of what can come out of even a kosher chicken. It makes me wonder whether there is any flavor in these commercial offerings, or if salt is all they have going for them?
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Review and Opinion: Waring Pro Professional Food Slicer FS150
The advantage to slicing your own more uniformly and thinly than you probably can by hand is two-fold. First, you know you're not loading the lunch meat up with water and even, possibly, preservatives. The other is cost. Figure that deli counter roast beef (or turkey or ham, cheese, and whatever) can easily run $6 or more a pound.
But you can get a roast on sale for half that amount a pound. Add in a few cents for the energy to do the cooking, and you're still way ahead. The FS150 has a street price of about $100. If you go through 1.5 pounds of deli stuff a week, you could be saving $4.50 every week, or over $200 a year. That means you break even in the first six months.
As for the unit, I found I could get pretty thin slices, turning a knob in the back that adjusts the opening next to the blade. However, to call this unit "professional" is unrealistic. The blade has a gear built in and a somewhat serrated edge. Unlike the units you'll see behind the counter, where the blade spins at an enormously high speed, this one turns dependably but far more slowly. As a result, it takes a bit more work to get the slicing done. The mechanism that holds the food in place is plastic and just fits over a metal arm, leaving that part feeling inadequately anchored and a general sense of flimsiness. Also, I found that bits of meat collect on the bottom of the slicer at the lower part of the blade.
Cleaning this is a real pain. I had to unscrew the blade each time and remove it to get it clean enough, and then had to remove a curved plastic part under the blade, because it got messy every time. Nothing can go into the dishwasher, and there is some sort of grease in the gear mechanism, which left me handling it gingerly, because I didn't want to relube the system (and I'm not even sure what I'd use to do so), and didn't want the substance spreading out over the cutting edge. However, it does the slicing, and I can go through a three or four pound roast in just a few minutes. The suction cups on the feet also kept it pretty steady on the counter.
Overall, I'd suggesting checking a bit more to see if some additional money would get something with more cleaning convenience and a bit more metal where the meat meets the blade. What this review really did was get me to realize how useful a slicer can be. You could pay off even a more expensive slicer inside of a year, and possibly faster, depending on your consumption.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Review and Opinion: DiGiorno Ultimate Pizzas
But out it came for a family dinner, and I picked up a DiGiorno Ultimate Four Cheese (mozzarella, fontina, Reggiano Parmesan, and mild brick, whatever the latter is), as one pie didn't seem like it was going to be enough for five people.
After tasting both, I can safely say that chocolate - and hugs - are safe. The pizzas were adequate, but neither reached the level of pizzeria pie, let alone what you can do with homemade. At the market I went to, the cheese pizza was something like $7. I don't have the box, but am pretty sure that the pizza was maybe 12 inches across. Even though I wrote the Complete Idiot's Guide to Pizza and Panini, I don't consider myself a pizza snob and have often eaten frozen pies. But if you've got access to a good pizzeria, or don't mind rolling your sleeves up at home, I'd say give the DiGiorno Ultimate a pass unless you want to keep an emergency pie in the freezer.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Technique: Bread and Freestyling Baking
But the concept is obviously older. The idea is to grasp the essentials of some area of baking - the relationships of salt to flour, flour to water, percentages of sugar, and so on - and then to improvise. While writing the Complete Idiot's Guide to Pizza and Panini, I had to develop a lot of dough recipes. The exercise became one of bringing together what I knew and using basic relationships to develop new breads. Here are some principles that should help, if you have an itch to try:
- Necessary Versus Optional Bread baking traditions going back thousands of years point out that for a yeast dough, all you need is flour, water, salt, and yeast. (And the Tuscans, for one, sometimes omit the salt.) You don't need sugar, oil, or any other additive.
- Know What Additives Do I'm talking about optional additions. Fat helps preserve a moist texture and softens crust. Milk (in the form of dried skim milk - no need for the liquid, just add the right amount of powder for the volume of water you've used) adds a richness to taste and also softens crust. Sugar boosts the activity of the yeast and adds flavor and maybe a little color to the crust. (Honey or other sweeteners are fun substitutes.)
- Flour to Water For a loaf, I start with two cups of water and figured that I'll need about five to six cups, maybe a bit more, total of flour. Ultimately, I'll want the dough to come away from the sides of the bowl and stick lightly to the back of my hand when I press it, but it needs to come away cleanly. Some types of dough, like a ciabatta, are far wetter and stickier. In general, the wetter the dough, the more open the crumb and the bigger the holes you'll find in the bread when it's baked. However, I will only start with about 4.5 cups of flour, adding more a tablespoon or two at a time while mixing and kneading to get the consistency I want for that loaf.
- Salt to Flour To get the taste you probably expect, you'll need about a teaspoon of salt per 3 cups (about 1 pound) of bread or all-purpose wheat flour. You can use a bit more salt in volume if you want, particularly if you are using kosher salt (which is less compact than table salt and so you put less salt in if measuring by volume) or using whole grains in the flour mix, which, to my taste, need a touch more salt.
- Fat or Sugar I'll add a few tablespoons of fat to one loaf of bread, though you can go up to a quarter cup to try different textures and amount of moisture. I usually add a couple of tablespoons of sugar when I feel like using it, though have added up to a quarter cup of honey.
- Amount of Yeast You don't need to add as much yeast as many recipes suggest. The yeast will multiple over time. Adding more speeds rising, while adding less lets the yeast and resulting bread develop more flavor. If you have hours available, try using half an envelope of dry yeast (about 1 1/8 teaspoons) and see how it goes.
- Types of Flour Bread flour is high in gluten and will give you somewhat lighter loafs, but you can pretty freely mix all-purpose and bread if you want. I will often substitute up to 40 to 50 percent other flours or grains. For example, last night I used 3 cups of bread flour (the extra gluten helps dough structure when you add whole wheat or non-gluten flours), a couple of cups of whole wheat, and maybe a half cup wheat bran. Sometimes I'll add rye, buckwheat, or rice flours, oatmeal, corn meal - it depends on what I have on hand. When using other grains, let them soak in some water: enough to get the thoroughly wet, but not enough to have a layer of water on top. This will help preserve moistness of the final bread.
- Temperature If you're baking a loaf in a pan, set the oven to about 350 degrees F so it will cook through. For wetter free-standing loaves baked on a baking stone, try 400 or 425.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (9/17/07)
- Bottle Wrapper Bourbon manufacturer Jim Beam is putting a 40 story-tall ad on the side of the RIO All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. We're waiting to see which hotel becomes the glass. (Press Release)
- Cheeseburger Diet A woman in Cheshire, England lost 63 pounds on a cheeseburger diet. What, no double patties? (Ananova)
- Chocolate Not Addictive A University of Bristol psychologist says that chocolate is not addictive. Clearly he can give it up any time he wants. (Reuters)
- Drive-Through Run Down A man tried to run down a Burger King worker in Syracuse, NY after a dispute. What, it wasn't after he tasted what he bought?(AP)
- Pasta Strike Many Italians boycotted buying pasta last Thursday in protest of planned price hikes. A saucy move. (Reuters)
- Garlic Stomp A worker the Great China Buffet in Nanuet, NY was caught crushing garlic by stomping on it in an alley. Don't ask about the sausage. (AP)
- High on Education A former student of Lake Highlands High School in Texas pleaded guilty to delivering marijuana-laced muffins to the teacher's lounge. The instructors didn't notice, being too amazed at the vivid colors of the text books. (AP)
- World's Largest Sundae About two dozen people in Canada set a new world record for ice cream sundaes at almost 55,000 pounds. Who set the record for the spoon? (The Calgary Sun)
- And a World Record for Soup Venezuelan officials claimed a new record for a pot of soup at 3,960 gallons with 6,600 pounds of chicken and 4,400 pounds of beef. It was to make a political point. Anything for politicians to stay out of hot water. (AP)
- Dog Beer Festival The Bunter Hund cafe in Vienna will serve special beer for dogs during Oktoberfest. Aged in dogwood kegs? (Ananova)
Friday, September 14, 2007
Cookbook Review and Opinion: Rathways to Plate: Destinations and Dishes from Delaware North
The company was wise enough to have a chef test each of the recipes, because scaling down what works in a commercial kitchen can be a disaster. Many of the dishes are intriguing and off the beaten track, like the Pine Nut Pie with Port Wine Sauce from the Wawona Hotel, Avocado Faux Gras from Asilomar State Beach & Conference Grounds, and The Balsams's Maple-Cured Salmon Gravlax. Other recipes are a bit more predictable, but still interesting, such as Rib Eye Steaks with Spiced Coffee Rub from Delaware North's restaurant at the Grand Canyon, or Frozen Key Lime Pie via the Kennedy Space Center. Over all, an interesting book, though, self-published with a list price of $50, expensive. But profits go to a charitable foundation of the company, so it's hard to begrudge them some money.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Review and Opinion: Old Wessex Ltd. 5 Grain Cereal
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Review and Opinion: Vermont Butter & Cheese Bonne Bouche, Coupole, and Bijou
Bonne Bouche translates into "tasty little bite" or "good mouthful." It's hand ladled into moulds, drained, lightly covered with ash, and then briefly aged. The company describes the taste as mild, but that's not ture if you compare it to the generally bland goat cheeses you find in grocery stores, where a sour tang seems to be the entirety of taste. Bijou - French for jewel - matures for 24 hours, drains for another day, and then is formed and goes into a drying room. A edible rind forms on the cheese. Coupole is named for its dome shape (like a cupola). The company uses the same recipe as the Bijou, but is sprinkled with ash like the Bonne Bouche. It also has a shelf life of 45 days.
The comapny says that the cheeses can display notes of flowers, citrus, and hazlenuts. I generally don't get so analytic in trying a cheese. Instead, I look the overall balance of flavors in my mouth and the aroma. Ah, yes, the aroma. When the cheeses arrive, my wife, who has a fantastically sensitive nose, wrinkled it and said, "You'd better wrap those and bag them if you want to keep them in this refrigerator." The cheeses had strong odors to go with the complex flavors. If you like cheese that could never possible be offensive, these are not for you. But if you like fine cheese, these are some great ones to try. The company has been getting wider distribution, so check with decent local cheese shops. The company has a page that lets you find retail outlets carrying their products if you provide the zip code, and it also has links to three online vendors. Enjoy.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Review and Opinion: Dunkin' Donuts Bacon Lover's Supreme Omelet
Because the sandwich seems to be steamed, the croissant is mushy, though that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has ordered breakfast sandwiches on croissants at any fast food emporium. The "thicker-cut" bacon must have been compared to a paper-like slice, as it perceptively thicker than I'd have expected from most supermarket varieties. I realized that the pepper treatment - which made the bacon seem more like weak slices of pastrami - is one of those food service techniques, using a really strong flavor addition to create the impression of a higher quality ingredient. For example, the pieces of pepper in the eggs give a touch of flavor in something that is ordinarily bland. (I've yet to find the commercial egg that has the taste of the ones we get from our own chickens, though that's a pretty touch standard to meet.)
In short, it's OK for fast food breakfast sandwiches, and the cracked pepper on the bacon adds a pleasant bite. If you're at a Dunkin' Donuts and want something more substantial than a doughnut, it's a decent choice, but I wouldn't go out of my way to track one down.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (9/10/07)
- HoloDaiquiri A new London club, twentyfour:london, is a high tech, interactive, private members bar with giant video screens on the walls and bar that show locations around the world. Do they have virtual drivers to bring overly indulgent patrons home? (Evening Standard)
- All the News that's Fit to Eat A 76-year-old Canadian woman likes the Edmonton Sun so much that she's been eating strips daily for the last seven years. Some news is good chews. (Cnews)
- Tonga You Very Much A Tonga rugby team of 30 stopped at a Lymington, Hampshire pub in the UK to eat 30 roast chickens, 60 lb. of roast lamb, 60 lb. of roast beef, 30 lb. of pasta, 30 lb. of potato salad, and 40 liters of orange juice. What, no dessert? (Daily Mail)
- May We See Your ID? A 65-year-old was carded in a Maine grocery store as she tried to buy wine and was refused service because she hadn't brought her driver's license. (AP)
- Step Away From the Bag A man was arrested for assaulting his father with a bag of Cheetos. No word of whether it was the extra crunchy variety. (AP)
- 25-to-Life for Extra Ketchup A McDonald's employee in Georgia is facing criminal charges because a police officer says his burger was so salty that it made him sick. If it was that bad, why did he keep eating? (AP)
Friday, September 07, 2007
Review: Swiss Colony Butter Toffee Trio
The toffee was decent enough, though the "Swiss Creme" is like a pseudo-white chocolate: not much flavor, though it would be a nice contrast to dark and milk chocolates. Unfortunately, it sat outside a bit on a warm day before we noticed the box. The freezer pack was completely melted, and so were half the toffee pieces. Nothing like prying pieces of candy glued down in a puddle of once-melted chocolate. Price is $16.95 for 9.5 ounces, which works out to about $28.55 a pound. Shipping to our little part of rural Massachusetts would have been $4.95 - not terrible, but at 5 to 7 days, I wonder if anything would have been recognizable in the box. Unfortunately, two-day shipping would have been $25, pushing the price far higher than is worthwhile. If you're considering sending something from Swiss Colony, I'd suggest waiting for real cold to set in, or, if you're in warmer climes, choosing something less subject to heat or picking up the product from a mall and delivering it in person.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Technique: Gelatin Filtration
Review: Sun Shower Nectarine Juices
More on that in a minute, but let's jump into the taste test of three varieties: one straight nectarine, a nectarine-mango mix, and nectarines blended with berries. The combination juices got the highest ratings from our in-house panel of adults and expert-drinking teenagers. Flavors were good and there was just the right mouth feel of viscosity. The plain nectarine also had a good taste, but was definitely on the tart side - not unpleasantly so, though it might kick in a mild shock if you were expecting something else.
Now for the grousing. First, I get really tired of 12-ounce versions of drinks, obviously bottled for consumption by one person, as having, in this case, 1.5 servings. The press materials may brag "Only 93 calories per 8 ounce serving," but the bottle has 139.5 calories.
My greater irritation lies with the technically-correct claim that the products are 100% juice - because, if you round and ignore minute amounts of other things, they are. But as the company claims "100% Juice - No added sugar or preservatives" in the press materials, it neglects to add, "Oh, but we do add sucralose to sweeten things, because the nectarines can be sour."
Sucralose is the common name for the product Splenda, and is an artificial sweetener about 600 percent sweeter than sugar. On the company's own web site, it addresses the question of "Why sucralose?" The answer? Nectarines vary in sweetness:
By adding sucralose, NBI JuiceWorks™ is able to balance the sweetness of our juices (called the acid/brix ratio) to ensure each bottle has the consistent great taste consumers expect.Read that as, "If people tasted what these fruit were like on their own, their mouths would turn inside out and that would be bad for business. And because we want to say 100 percent juice, we can't add sugar or honey, because the amounts would become some percentage of the final mix and the calorie content would go up." That is, their marketing of the juice would suffer, because on the bottle itself it makes very visible the words "no added sugar or preservatives" and squeezes the sucralose mention into the government-mandated label. If it did mention the substance, people might wonder why it still has almost 140 calories per 12-ounce bottle.
There were other things I disliked in the web site's attempt to spin the sucralose. Approved by the FDA to be used in juice? Well, of course it was, otherwise this company couldn't use it. Excellent safety profile? Just what does that mean? I'm not knocking the use of sucralose or other artificial sweeteners - I even had nice things to say about Zsweet. But, frankly, I was very disappointed. Personally, I'd rather pay the price in calories for the real sweetener and not let the manufacturer try to let me think I'm getting away with something for nothing. Particularly when the company is trying to create an impression of concern for health.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (9/3/07)
- You're a Jerk When You're Drunk It's a new slogan that Finnish brewers are using to deal with young adult binge drinking and goes with a web site with pictures of a woman vomiting into her handbag. (Independent Online)
- Designated Driver A drunk man has his 11-year-old son drive him home. Police stopped them when the boy was driving the wrong way down a one-way street. (Arizona Central)
- What Am I Eating? The Beijing Tourism Bureau has released a list of proposed names for foods that have received such odd translations as "steamed crap" and "virgin chicken." Wait, those weren't ... literal translations, were they? (AP)
- What Do They Do for Scotch? A group of Missouri men had a plan for stealing beer from a package store: have one of them wear a mask and do a naked hula as a distraction. Had they maybe had success getting beer earlier that day? (AP)
- No-Stench Zone A Taiwan restaurant apparently served so much of a southern Chinese dish called Stinky Tofu that it was fined for exceeding smell limits three times. (Reuters)
- The Punishment? Seconds Four Swiss prison inmates escaped when one of them squeezed through the food hatch in his cell door and released the others. Guess when he said he didn't get enough to eat he was serious. (Ananova)