Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Review: Nalgene Food Containers
For years, I've been a fan of Nalgene water bottles for hiking. Not only can you depend on the screw-tops of the tough containers staying tight and not leaking in your backpack, but aromas and off-putting flavors from the hard plastic don't leach into the liquid. A quick look on the company's web site shows that it's been in the lab container business for years, and it would follow that having non-reactive containers would be mandatory.
So I was delighted to hear from the company's PR reps that it now has food storage containers. I wouldn't be surprised if they developed out of camping use, and that's fine. I put some water in one, screwed down the top, and kept turning it upside - all stayed dry. The products aren't cheap. For example, a hard plastic 16 ounce jar with screw top will set you back at least $5.50, and a quart container is over $8. However, my experience suggests that the products will last a good long time, and, if need be, you can get replacement caps. I expect these products to get heavy use in our kitchen.
We also got some of the company's tumblers, which have an outer sleeve and inner container. Separating them the first time is pretty hard, and we were sure we were cracking the tumblers, but we weren't. You can use the inner and outer parts as two cups, invert one onto the other for a shaker, or leave them nested to have an insulated cold cup. Unfortunately, the tumblers don't stack well at all, and so storing these is going to be challenging - a pity, as it's a flaw in an otherwise interesting design for home use.
Also, there were two water bottles. One had a Filter For Good label co-branded with Brita. The idea is to encourage the use of filtered water in reusable containers rather than buying bottled water, but there's no filter included, so you might as well buy a filter and any old water bottle. The OTG bottle is pretty cool - there's a built-in sipping cap that closes off to keep from dripping and the shape is appealing and easy to hold.
Furthermore, you can purchase all products at the company's web site with no shipping charges, which is nice for a change in online shopping.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Review: Eagle Mills All-Purpose Flour
Eagle Mills is actually a blend of 70% white flour and a blend of 30% Ultragrain. Don't be surprised if you haven't yet heard of the latter. It's a proprietary preparation of ConAgra and the major ingredient behind Sara Lee Soft & Smooth 100% Whole Wheat Bread, which I haven't yet tried. It seems to be some processed form of whole wheat flour, but milled to a state where is doesn't have the textural roughness you'd ordinarily expect.
One of the claims that ConAgra Foods, manufacturers of Ultragrain flour, makes is that the product is mroe nutritious than "unenriched unbleached flour." You can see their comparitive data here. The figures for refined, unenriched wheat flour and traditional whole grain wheat flour come from the USDA national nutrient database (which I double-checked). Notice that the values for Ultragrain and whole wheat are the same? (Also, notice that they compare to unenriched flour, versus, say, enriched bread flour, but the differences between those two aren't all that big.)
As I read through everything, I realized that Eagle Mills isn't a wonder concoction bringing the nutritional benefits of whole wheat to everything. This is a blend, but typically you'd have a ratio of maybe 60%/40% of regular white to whole wheat. You could even push that up more, I've found. However, some things like dietary fiber will be double using Eagle Mills compared to regular white. Also, if you're baking bread, you might find that you let a bit less rise from this. I think they blended the Ultragrain with regular white and not bread flour. Normally, I'd blend whole wheat with a bread flour to increase the gluten content and get more rise in the final product. Also, if you want the nuttier taste of whole wheat, Eagle Mills is not the way to go. But if you'd like to boost the nutritional value of something while trying to get as close to a white flour taste and texture aesthetic as possible, give this product a try.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (10/29/07)
- Driving for Drinking A Nebraska woman, driving a number of cheerleaders to a football game, pull up alongside a car with some of the players and allowed her daughter to lean out of the moving car to grab a beer being passed over. The under-age teens passed the can around and now mom won't be driving for school functions in the future. (AP)
- Burger Competition Yet another competitive eating story yields yet another eye-crossing statistic: 108 small hamburgers in 8 minutes. Ulp. (AP)
- Cultured Robbery A Dallas robber broke into five businesses and stopped for a couple of cups of yogurt during his activity. He's still on the loose, looking for cash from store registers and, presumably, watching his weight. (Internet Broadcasting)
- Don't See Kimchi? According to a recent survey, 65 percent of women in South Korea don't know how to make the spicy fermented cabbage dish called kimchi. Hey, that's why ready made is for. (AFP)
Friday, October 26, 2007
More on the Seinfeld and Lapine Cookbooks
TWO books which are:Now let's bring in the fact. First, as any author who has experienced commercial publishing for any length of time can tell you, having two people come up with the same idea at about the same time is normal. When you've got something like 180,000 new books published every year in the US, and many of the ideas are driven by common cultural values and events, then you're going to have a fair amount of duplication.
shown to the same publisher
in the same year
with the same UNIQUE recipes
on the same UNIQUE cooking concept
by authors who live in the same city
with nearly IDENTICAL book covers
both pitched to OPRAH
IS JUST A COINCIDENCE. No way, I smell a rat!
The books don't have "the same unique recipes." I direct the poster and readers to this level-headed article in Slate. Here's an interesting paragraph:
Spend 10 minutes comparing the Seinfeld and Lapine books, and you won't be able to seriously contend that there is plagiarism. (And in all the articles I've found about this tempest in a teapot, not one has pointed to a specific example of plagiarism.) Sure, the two books are based on the same unremarkable, unoriginal idea. And a handful of recipes employ some of the same obvious tricks (mostly based on hue, such as hiding sweet potato puree in a grilled cheese sandwich or spinach in brownies). But the books are quite different. For example, Seinfeld's recipe, titled "Mashed Potatoes," calls for simple cauliflower puree. Lapine's recipe for "Mystery Mashed Potatoes" specifies "White Puree," which is a separate recipe earlier in the book that consists of cauliflower, zucchini, and lemon juice. In a table comparing recipes, a New York Times blog notes that both books contain "Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins" without noting that, among several other differences, Seinfeld calls for carrot puree while Lapine calls for "orange puree," based on sweet potatoes with the addition of carrots. Not that either trick is a revelation—fleshy vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots have long been ingredients in cakes, pies, breads, and muffins.As the article also notes, Chris Fisk's Sneaky Veggies was another book on the same theme. However, it came out before either Seinfeld's or Lapine's - and the time it takes to produce books would pretty much eliminate the chance that Seinfeld or her publisher (or the list of people involved, as the Slate piece notes) could have seen Lapine's book, copied it, and gotten to press in the time they had. The publisher may have seen Lapine's proposal - along with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of others at the same time - but it's unlikely that there would have been enough detail in recipes to allow true copying, even if they recipes were identical.
As I mentioned in my other entry on this subject, hiding vegetables in other foods for kids is hardly a novel cooking concept. There are web recipes that predate all of these titles, and I bet if I spent, oh, about 15 minutes in our extensive cookbook collection, I could find similar recipes. Nearly identical book covers? That has nothing to do with the authors, as they have virtually no say in what is on the cover. (You're lucky if the publisher even asks you - though it looks like I will get to shoot the cover photo of the dessert book I'm currently putting together, which should be fun. Particularly when I get to eat the main prop.)
And both books pitched to Oprah! Oh, my, now there's the smoking gun. Both publishers or their PR people pitched these books to the Oprah Winfrey Show - along with the other 50,000 books that people were pushing. This is like saying there is something suspicious because two separate people actually have to breathe to exist. Getting on Oprah is one of the biggest - and most standard - ways to get significant book sales. What did you expect these people to do? Not even try?
To be fair, sometimes publishers do questionable things. I've known writers who had a publisher kick them off projects, which they had created (one got a fair sum of money in a law suit), or who had a publisher offer a look at a similar proposal (the writer turned that opportunity down). But to create a duplicate book? Nah, it would be too much work for the publisher to bother with. I realize that conspiracy theories may be more fun, but that's fiction, a topic I cover in my En Words blog.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Review: Donatella Pasta Sauces
The "Essential Sauce" is a passata di pomodoro, which translates as tomato puree. That's a bit over simplified. These are fresh San Marzano tomatoes cooked with celery, onion, basil, and garlic, all of which they claim are also fresh and not dried. Even without simmering the sauce for ten minutes with some olive oil, as they suggest, it has a marvelous tomato flavor, napping the pasta well, and can become a foundation for sauce variations, as you like.
The ready-to-serve sauces are puttanesca (prostitute's sauce, incorporating olives, capers, and some anchovy), marinara (garlic and basil), and arrabiata (red peppers with some garlic). They're all solid flavors, though I would have liked a bit more kick in the puttanesca, as I'm used to it with the traditional capers and some hot peppers. But you should be able to open any of these and expect a decent covering for your pasta.
And now for the "but." These sauces carry a hefty price. Go to the web site and you find that the Essential Sauce is $10 for one jar. Ouch. That almost makes the jarred trio of marinara, puttanesca, and arrabiata seem reasonable at $24, or $8 a jar. I tried providing a Boston address to see what shipping would be to someplace other than my neck of the boondocks, but I got the following message: "No Shipping Rates available for your shipping address." Does that mean free? Who knows? Perhaps the problem is that the sauces are supposed to be available at some Whole Foods and ShopRites in the Northeast. Ah, the vagaries of trying to shop on the web.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Review: Jim's Organic Wonderbrew Coffee
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (10/22/07)
- Extra Fat, Please You may have seen some commercials recently where people are ordering fast food and asking for such things as the double jelly belly version. Hardee's may have done just that with a new breakfast burrito weighing in at 920 calories and 60 grams of fat. (AP)
- Round Up the Unusual Suspects German police had their claw ... uh, hands full when they had to capture a group of crayfish that had escaped from an Asian restaurant. If I were an ingredient, I'd probably do the same. (Reuters)
- Toaster Schnitzel A German company, Toennies, has invented a schnitzel that you can heat in a toaster. (Reuters)
- Chinese Commune Themed Restaurant You can live those, oh, so romantic days of Mao at a threme restaurant in Guangdong, China. (Reuters)
- Vanilla File Ripple An Italian company is making eco-friendly gelato using prisoners a few miles south of Milan. (Reuters)
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Similarities Between Seinfeld and Lapine Cookbooks - And Some Web Sites
The basic concepts for several of Ms. Lapine’s recipes — spinach in brownies, avocado in chocolate pudding and sweet potato in grilled cheese sandwiches — also appear in recipes offered by Ms. Seinfeld.Perhaps they both looked on the web. As an example, after reading this article, I searched for avocado and chocolate pudding on Google. The first match was for a recipe on the web site of the California Avocado Commission, and there are other matches, like this one on KidsHealth for Parents, where the recipe was reviewed in June of 2006, or a version with carob and maple syrup here, in March 2006.
Ms. Lapine, a mother of two daughters who lives in Irvington, N.Y., said that when she compared her book with Ms. Seinfeld’s, she was “uncomfortable” seeing that “those unusual combinations that I thought would brand me as a lunatic showed up here, too.”
Ms. Seinfeld said she had not looked at “The Sneaky Chef,” but noted that any similarities were likely to have stemmed from the use of commonly accepted children’s favorites.
Spinach in brownies? I did a search on brownies, spinach, and then added cocoa (because there are some savory spinach "brownie" recipes). Here's one using a brownie mix, or another using a box mix from January 2006.
So, maybe the similarities aren't not coincidence, or maybe it is. Maybe they both ... found some inspiration in online research from the work of others, because not all these unusual ideas are apparently that unusual.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Review: Welch's Dried Fruit and Dried Cherries
I also received a 5.5 ounce pouch of Welch's Dried Cherries, suggested retail price of $3.99. The fruit wasn't dried as much as you might normally expect, leaving it a little softened. These I liked quite a bit, although they also add sugar to them, as well.
The company does say that a quarter pound of either product will equal one serving of fruit. Check the bag before you depend on that, because I think that 4 ounces will end up being more calories than you might realize.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Coke and Pepsi Battle with Beans
The Italian company’s chairman, Andrea Illy, says he is proud to be associated with Coca-Cola to offer the “Illy taste” to a new range of consumers, as well as for existing ones to experience “new consumption moments”, whatever that may mean.Indeed.
Black coffee purists should be bracing themselves for dark days ahead.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Food Reference Web Site
Monday, October 15, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (10/15/07)
- Step Away From the Cookies A consulting firm suggested that supermarkets should use intelligent carrieages that could warn if shoppers were buying too much junk food. The 2.0 version will also nag you about your taste in clothing and ask when you're going to have kids. (Reuters)
- Dad, Can I Borrow the Keys and Stay Up Past Seven? A 6 year old in Colorodo was hunger, so took the keys to his grandmother's car, brought his booster seat along, and prepared to drive to Applebee's - until he crashed the car (no one was hurt) and took out electric and phone service to dozens of residences. (AP)
- Pizza Maker Counterfits Dough A pizzeria owner is accused of printing his own fake bills. It's one way to make sure you always have change. (AP)
- Your Pizza or Your Life A Wisconsin burglar broke into a house to steal food, leaving the valuables. Hey, might as well eat the evidence. (AP)
Friday, October 12, 2007
Review: Cuisinart SM-70 7 Quart Stand Mixer
It was the 7-quart capacity that caught my eye - a large increase over the roughly 12-cups of the Kitchenaid I've used, or even that company's top-end 14-cup model. A batch of multi-grain roll dough - enough to fill a roasting pan with rolls - was dwarfed in the SM-70. You get what has become the standard attachments: whisk, paddle mixer, and dough hook for kneading. The machine handled the mixing easily and even the kneading with the dough hook, though there was a tiny bit of shaking in the machine. It's nowhere near so heavy as the Kitchenaids (extensive use of plastics instead of all metal), which means a bit less stability, but results in a unit that is also far more portable. I can lift it up to and down from the top of the fridge without a bit of problem. I do wonder whether the sturdiness will be enough to last for 10 to 15 years or more, but there's no way to tell that in the short run. However, as I said, it handled the dough easily, and that size of batch would have put a bit of strain on the Kitchenaid.
I appreciated the close fit of the whisk and paddle to the bottom of the bowl. You can also adjust them easily with a wrench (not supplied) to keep them close. The quality of that fit makes a lot of difference when you're trying to efficiently mix or whip something, because you engage pretty much all of the contents, and not just what the attachment can reach. The top tilts back to open access to the bowl that locks down into the base. I don't generally like tip-up designs in stand mixers, but I don't think Cuisinart had much choice in this case. The unit is very tall as it is, and incorporating a mechanism to raise and lower the bowl would have made it far too tall. As it is, the unit doesn't fit under our kitchen cabinets. I did like the solid feel of the latch for tilting back the head.
There are 12 speeds, to which I say so what? Like Kitchenaid, and virtually every other maker of any type of mixer, Cuisinart feels obliged to offer a lot of speeds, when, realistically, slow/medium/fast would probably be enough. The controls are electronic - not one of my favorite approaches because I find that such systems don't have the lifespan of mechanical ones, and tend to be expensive when it comes to repairs. However, if you're going electronic, might as well include a counter, which Cuisinart does, and it's a handy feature. You no longer have to watch the clock while mixing; set it and it will shut itself off. The unit also comes with a splash guard, and such should be standard equipment with any stand mixer. (Few things get as messy in cooking as flour kicked up into the air by a mixer.) You can also get option (read that as extra money) attachments for such things as juicing citrus, grinding meat, or making pasta.
Overall, I liked using it and found it a convenient way to handle larger volumes of mixing without sacrificing the ability to work with smaller amounts as well. The suggested retail of $449 also makes it one of the more reasonably-priced units you can find, particularly when considering the capacity.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Behind the Scenes of Gordon Ramsay
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Review:Häagen-Dazs Sticky Toffee Pudding Ice Cream
She: "You should review this ice cream. It's great!"
He: "What is it?"
She: "It's got toffee and bits of cake in vanilla."
He: "OK, let me try some."
She looks darkly at He.
She: "Isn't my opinion as good as yours?"
He: "Yes, but if I'm reviewing it, I actually have to taste it."
She holds out a quarter teaspoon of ice cream.
He: "How about a little more?"
She gives me a funny look, and then holds out the spoon again - a third of a teaspoon this time. I take what I can get. She's right; this is a great flavor. Note to self: buy some and then hide it so I get at least a scoop.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (10/8/07)
- No Naked Lunch A Greenville, ME restaurant is getting into trouble over a promotion: a free sandwich (nicknamed the skinny dip) to anyone willing to plunge en naturale from the establishment's dock into the lake behind it. (AP)
- Don't Drink and Trim Police pulled over a man in West Virginia for drinking while driving - a rider lawnmower. (AP)
- Poisoning Pigeons in the Park Owners of the stadium where the Cincinnati Bengals play had been looking for permission to shoot pigeons. Apparently the birds had been dropping deposits into the drinks of patrons. Given that it's major league baseball, wouldn't an extra charge for a clean drink been more appropriate? (AP)
- Professional Cooking Pot The founder of a California factory that made a line of food stuffs all laced with marijuana faces federal drug charges. Talk about making your customers happy. (AP)
- Gritty Contest The wave of competitive eating competitions continues the first World Grits Eating Championship. A chef from Chicago ate 21 pounds of the stuff in 10 minutes. (AP)
Getting Your Money Back
Sunday, October 07, 2007
More on New York Times Wine Critic Eric Asimov
Friday, October 05, 2007
Review: Baker's Sto 'N Go
I dislike exclamation points, and am apt to distrust any product whose packaging and marketing makes liberal use of the punctuation. To see "Revolutionizing the Storage Container!!!" on the cardboard wrapper of the Baker's Sto 'N Go was therefore a bad omen. Luckily, mystical signs have pretty much gone the way of hieromancy. This product is a smart and overdue take on how to convey cookies, brownies, and other snacks from one place to the other. A plastic box comes with adjustable height slide-out shelves. The container, which is compact, can hold a pan of 13x9x2 inch brownies, 32 mini cupcakes, 3 dozen 3-inch cookies, or two 8-inch pies. You could also put sliced meats, cheeses, and other deli items on the shelves. A cover snaps in place over the opening, keeping the foods in and the air out. You can also turn it on end and use the shelves as dividers to hold candies, pretzels, or anything else that will fit. It's dishwasher- and even microwave-safe. When not in use, you can even slip out the carrying handle and store it inside, so it takes up less room. The price is about $20, but if you've ever juggled baking pans or plates wrapped with aluminum foil, this will seem a reasonably modest price. One thing it did leave me wishing for is something slightly larger: It would have been nice to bring two 9-inch pies, as that seems a more common size. That aside, however, if you're sending kids to school with class snacks or donating goods to a bake sale, give this strong consideration.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Review: New Oreo Packaging
In the past we've put them into a Snapware container (which are great, by the way, and airtight), but the company has come out with a resealable package. You pull open a flap on the top, take out cookies, and then set it back into place, where it reseals. And it does - once or twice. But the adhesive gets gummed up with dust, stray hairs, and the rest of life's effluvia. Suddenly that flap is just ... flapping. It's probably just some gimmick that will be on for a few months before they whisk it away into the Closet of Ill-Conceived and Ill-Executed Ideas.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
- Some people should be encouraged in their culinary activities, and some ought to be stopped now.
- It's easy to overlook the qualities of a pickle when you put it next to the main part of a meal. But balance of flavor, crispness, color, and a taste of something other than vinegar are key.
- Pickled hot peppers are fine if they have some redeeming pepper flavor. Hot peppers that only burn the mouth are painful.
- Pickled beans are pretty boring (if the two samples I tried are any indication).
- I'm not going to be purchasing pickled eggs in the near future.
- The variety of opinions that often cropped up among the four judges was impressive, and trying to come up with a method of choosing first, second, and third place winners in limited categories was even more of a marvel.
- When there are only two entries in a category, getting second place is a breeze. But for first, you have to do something.
- There are apparently 48 categories of pickles that, in theory, you could judge in a competition.
- When they hear about it, most people think that judging a pickle contest would be fun - and they'd be right.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Blogger Questions NYT Wine Critic Eric Asimov's Impartiality
Restaurateur Vitaly Paley's mother, Genya Paley, is an instructor at the Mannes College of Music, where she instructs Asimov's 15-year-old son Peter Asimov, an honors student at the school. As the younger Asimov's official biography states, "He has been a private piano pupil of Genya Paley since 2000."Allman questions whether - by the Times's own standards and by those of journalism in general - Asimov is too close to the Paleys to be writing about any business they own. As Allman writes:
When Eric Asimov was in Portland researching his article, the Paleys made him the centerpiece of one of their popular "Wine Wednesdays" dinners, sending out a press release titled "NEW YORK TIMES WINE CRITIC ERIC ASIMOV JOINS WINE WEDNESDAY AT PALEY'S PLACE" and inviting the public to meet "their good friend, Eric Asimov."
I wondered: Does Asimov think his coverage of Paley's Place violates these rules, and did he provide full disclosure to his editor? Is the fact that he's the paper's wine critic, not its food critic, germane at all in this case?Some excellent questions. He emailed Asimov who is traveling and said he'd respond when he had a few minutes.
Review: Ocean Spray 100% Juice Cranberry & Blueberry Blend
Monday, October 01, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (10/1/07)
- Burglary Brunch A man said he had a conversation over breakfast with the burglar he surprised in his home. It's a new type of mug shot. (KSAT-TV)
- Christmas in October A Munich man with one too many beers during Oktoberfest got stuck in a chimney for 12 hours as he tried to get into a friend's apartment. Entrepreneurs see huge opportunity for introducing the door. (Reuters)
- I Do Not Like Green Eggs An inmate, upset with the quality of prison food, mailed an egg to a federal judge. The jurist replied in a rhyme immitating the style of Dr. Suess's Green Eggs and Ham. (AP)
- Rich Dessert A resort in Sri Lanka has what it calls the world's most expensive dessert, which, at $14,000, includes a chocolate sculpture and a large gem stone. They've gotten calls, but no one has yet ordered it, let alone seconds. (AP)
- Month Long Hangover A man in Scotland was complaining of "wavy" vision and a constant headache for four weeks. He had apparently drunk 60 pints of beer over a four day stretch. Will he order aspirin by the case? (AFP)