Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Product Review: Olive Smart Sack and Trader Joe's Insulated Tote
There are a couple of drawbacks. One is minor: size. These sacks hold 20 pounds, which means they're not all that big. You probably get about the same capacity as two regularly-sized grocery bags. That's not such a problem as the price of $39. Add in shipping of $6, and you're up to $45, or $7.50 a bag, which is three to four times more than the grocery store prices I've seen for much larger (although not as compact) reusable bags. In fact, they may even be more expensive than the heavy insulated bags you can get to keep frozen and refrigerated foods cold on the trip home.
That brings us to Trader Joe's, which has its own insulated tote. Over time we've picked up a couple. Heavy and bulky, it will never tuck neatly into a small nook. However, they hold foods cold for extended periods and have a heavy zipper at the top instead of some finicky plastic snap-together gizmo. The straps are wide, making it relatively comfortable to carry and the cloth exterior adds a pleasant tactile dimension. I find that when we're shopping, I actually like to use this one. The price is on the order of $5 to $6.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Review: Ghirardelli Gourmet Baking Chocolate Line
At the high end of this line, the price is about $8 a pound at the suggested retail price. That seems far too low for top chocolate. If I were to pick up three kilos (6.6 pounds) of a good Valrhona couverature from Sparrow Enterprises, for example, I might be paying about $11.60, and Sparrow is one of the least expensive sources I know for good chocolate, as it's a wholesaler that will also ship to consumers. The tastes are also incomparable, probably because chocolate quality depends completely on the quality and the roasting of the beans. Having a chocolate announce 60 percent cocoa solids doesn't matter if it uses inferior beans.
If you're looking for really good chocolate for baking, go buy some Valrhona or Callebaut or El Rey. It's easy enough to break up and chop the chocolate with a kitchen knife if having small pieces for melting is important to you, and the results will be better.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Product Review: New Amsterdam Gin
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Product Review: The Bull BBQ Sauce
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Product Review: Arico Natural Foods Cassava Chips and Cookies
On the cookie front, we were far more divided. The kids loved the chocolate chunk and triple berry, my wife liked them, and I found them on the dry and mealy side, though if you can't tolerate gluten, they are good to know about. However, they are far from cheap, at least if you are buying online. You buy by the case of six family packs, and each pack, in a reclosable pouch, weighs 4.8 ounces; the price is $29.94, and then you pay $5.95 on top of that for shipping. Even without the shipping, it's $16.63 per pound of cookie. Similarly, the chips are a case of one dozen 5 ounce bags for $41.88. Ouch. So I'd suggest holding off on trying the products unless you can find them in a store, and even then you might find them an over-priced novelty, unless you have to avoid casein and gluten, in which case you probably have limited choices.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Review: IKEA as Food Stop
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Product Review: Honest Tea Jasmine Green Energy Tea and Citrus Green Energy Tea
Friday, June 06, 2008
Product Review: DeLonghi EC155 Espresso/Cappuccino Maker
The one-liter water tank is not the largest I've seen, and the "easy to clean" claim only makes sense if you don't have large hands as I do, because the opening is wide but narrow. Thank heaven for cleaning brushes. But the tank does go on and off pretty easily. There is also storage next to the top of the tank for a portafilter coffee holder, which is important because the machine comes with two: one for two shots of espresso, and one for one. This way you can keep out one of the way when using the other.
The coffee holders seem to be of type that are intended to make crema - or the flavorful foam on top of the shots - more easily. Experts generally frown upon these, because they actually can damage the natural development and taste in the quest for something that looks good. I can attest that some fabulous beans that I picked up from Amherst Coffee - maybe the best espresso bar I've come across - just don't come out as well as I know is possible. However, comparing one of these lower-end machines to pro equipment is unfair. A complete espresso head may be disappointed, but if you don't find yourself fussy to a point that others consider a bit nutty, you should be fine.
The steam wand has one of those attachments that's supposed to make getting the right foam easy. I was actually surprised that it worked decently. The foam isn't as fine as I could get with a regular nozzle, but without a doubt it is decent, and if you haven't put in the practice time doing one batch of milk after another over weeks and months, you'll get acceptable results immediately. The one thing I didn't like about it is that the wand only swings from side to side and not up and down, which means you can run into difficulty trying to get the milk pitcher or a cup under the wand and even tougher getting it back again. At an online "street" price of about $100, you could do a whole lot worse while spending significantly more.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Product Review: Stonyfield Farm Organic Greek-Style Yogurt
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Product Review: Old Engine Oil Black Ale
The Alva, Scotland brewery has a way with fermented drinks, if this one is an example. On the ale's label are the words viscous, chocolaty, and roasty. I'm not sure about viscous, as it didn't glop out of the bottle, but chocolaty and roasty are two perfectly good terms. You can add a finessed balance between barley and hops (whole flowers only and not concentrates), and the resulting sweetness and bitterness. The head is thin, which is fine because you're not drinking soda. If you're interested in some of the technical aspects of the ale's composition, check here. My suggestion is to forget the technicalities and get hold of a bottle. Harviestoun suggests this as an after-dinner ale, but I found it going down pleasantly with a grilled curried chicken sandwich.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Product Review: Krups XP4030 Pump Manual Espresso Maker
The machine boasts 15 bar (otherwise known as 15 atmospheres) pressure, but most machines generally dissipate pressure until it is at 9 bar. Too much pressure and you could end up unable to let the water mingle with the grounds long enough to extract all the flavor. I found that espresso shots poured too fast for my taste, even as I tried more finely grinding the beans and tamping the grinds down more firmly. Plus, the espresso portafilters (the baskets that hold the grinds) have a single hole in the bottom, meant to "improve" the crema, I think, and tend to clog badly.
When it came to steaming milk, I found the machine completely unsatisfying. The attachment to make frothing "easier" was overly aggressive and wasn't capable of producing the fine foam that is a mark of properly steamed milk. I tried unscrewing the bottom part of the steam wand, but I couldn't do any steaming that way.
Overall, I'd say pass on this machine.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Product Review: Blandy's Alvada Madeira
Friday, May 23, 2008
Product Review: Trader Joe's Organic Midnight Moo
Not only does it lack HFCS, and not only does it have organic ingredients, but it has great taste. I'm finding that both mochas and egg creams are much better than with Hershey's, and, I'm starting to think, even better than with U-Bet. Yes, it's a bit pricey, but then, so is a liver transplant. I can happily recommend what I thought was going to substitute but instead supplanted my former choice.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Product Review: D'Artagnan Hot Dogs
I've never come across a selection broken out quite this way, but the results are good. The "franks" are uncured, so there are no nitrates or nitrites - and also no fillers, additives, hormones, or antibiotics. They taste far milder than kosher dogs, which have always been my gold standard, but don't let that deter you. Everyone liked them here and were happy that they weren't too spicy. (That might be a plus if you find yourself with a case of heartburn after a session at the outdoor grill.)
The hot dogs are a lot bigger than the usual variety - 3 ounces - and the retail price runs from about $6 to $7 a package, so you might want to keep them for the adults. Also consider how else you might use them; if they can move beyond the concept of a hot dog, you can move beyond the usual concept of serving. Just the other day we split a couple of the duck dogs down the center and heated them (they all come fully cooked) in a cast iron pan, serving them with scrambled eggs and crusty rolls as breakfast.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Product Review: Kohinoor Foods
The foods come in so-called shelf-stable packages, so no refrigeration. You can drop the foil packets into boiling water, or empty the contents into a dish and microwave them. Kohinoor products are widely available, at least here in the northeast, and while it wouldn't satisfy my craving for really good Indian food, they aren't bad to have on the shelf for an emergency, like when it's lunch time and one of the kids snarfed the left-over Chinese food from the previous night. And there are no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or MSG.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Product Review: TeaSpot Steepware Cup and Earl Grey Tea
The company also sent a tin of Earl Grey - great balance, and I was surprised to see a thread or two of some blue bonotanical that I haven't seen before in this style looseleaf. Fragrant and very pleasant to sip, in case you need something with which to test your new cup.
Friday, May 09, 2008
Book Review: Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook
The beginning of the book has a "manual" for how to select, store, and handle various types of fish and seafood. I would have liked to see a bit more - for example, not just filleting a whole fish, but also gutting and cleaning it. However, even in the section on fin fish, there was a tip I had never heard for telling if a fish is done. Insert the tip of a knife into the thickest part of a fillet. Then put the tip against the inside of your wrist. If it feels hot, then it's done. And there's plenty of other useful information, like an explanation of the difference among different types of crab meat and crabs.
The recipes look fabulous: crab cakes with ravigote sauce, chilled smoked scallops with tomato-and-onion marmalade (making your own stove top smoker is in a tips appendix), oyster and artichoke bisque, baked catfish with sweet potato scales and andouille sauce, shrimp and spinach cannelloni with champagne butter sauce. This is upscale fish cookery.
Oddly enough, my eyebrows frowned when I came upon the dessert, side dish, and drinks sections. Heaven knows I love dessert, and there are some terrific recipes in here, and I've also been known to tuck into side dishes and even take the occasional drink (including a rum-based milk punch during a "Breakfast at Brennan's" at the famous restaurant owned by some of his kin). But there are so many general and even restaurant cookbooks, I found myself wishing that they had just concentrated on the fish alone, expanding those sections even more (not that they are skimpy by any means). But that's just me; my wife happily bookmarked through the rest of the pages as well.
It's a hefty $45, but you get a hefty amount of hardback for the money. It could make a great gift, whether for someone else or yourself.
Book Review: Cake Art
However, it's not a paralyzing shortcoming, as you can get some of that from browsing online retailers, stores, and catalogs. Where the book really shines is in the techniques and instructions. For example, on page 31 there is a photo with three spoons of meringue, one stiff, one medium, and one soft-peaked. There are formulas for both hard and soft ganaches (Books often don't explicitly set the two side-by-side, and there's a big difference in the resulting texture and use.) as well as modeling chocolate. You can learn to make ribbons and coverings of fondant. Pipe a flower from buttercream (with a tip on how to reconstitute the mixture if it separates) or mold it from molding chocolate, marzipan, or fondant. In short, there is a lot to learn.
And that might be the big problem for many would-be cake decorators. Some of these techniques require practice, and a lot of it. If you go directly to the projects and try to work your way backward into the techniques, the results are going to be disappointing. If you want to undertake a given project (which, smartly, tell you how far in advance - weeks in some cases - to start different parts), then read through, write down the techniques that are necessary, and practice well in advance. You don't really think that pastry chefs start on this level of work their first day of class, do you? However, if you are willing to spend some time, this book should be well worth your while.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Product Review: Mom's Best Naturals Cereals
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Product Review: Grill Charms
Next, there are different collections. Depending on the collection you get, you might find it harder or easier to use. For example, in the charmed life collection, the charms bore marks of a crown, martini glass, dollar sign, clover, sail boat, and a palm tree on the beach. Pray tell, how do you remember which you assign to a given meaning? Checking the web site, the spiciness was a little clearer, with an X over a pepper for mild, a single pepper for regular, and multiple peppers for spicy. Clearest of all are those in the steak collection: R (rare), MR (medium-rare), M (medium), and so on. But what happens if I have a small party at which three people like medium-rare, two like rare, and one holds out for well? I don't get multiple doneness charms, so do I have to buy multiple sets at $19.95 for six or $4 for a single one? That seems like a lot of money for such a small piece of stainless.
I suspect the best thing is to divide the grill surface into a few sections. Put all the rare in one, all the spicy in a second, the salt-free in a third, and invest the money into some good beer to tide you through the chef experience.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Product Review: Krups GVX1/GVX2 Burr Milling System
Calling the Krups GVX2 (the all-black model is the GVX1) a "burr milling system" seems pretentious, so let's use a more realistic name: burr coffee grinder. For the most part, it does what it is supposed to, which is definitely good, although there are a few quirks that I didn't completely care for.
What generally makes a burr grinder superior to a blade system, at least for coffee, is the ability to set the texture of the grind with an adjustment mechanism, and not by trying to guess what amount of whirring corresponds to what you need. And there was an adjustment knob on the side of the GVX2. However, I found that it didn't set finely enough for espresso; the coffee brewed a few seconds too quickly for my taste even when I had the grinder at the finest setting. I was also ambivalent about setting the number of coffee measures you want and then pressing a button, which is really setting a timer to get the "right" amount of coffee. That worked roughly the same as the old Capresso model I used that finally gave up the ghost after years of service. But if you found yourself a bit short, there was no obvious way of getting just a little bit more. (Actually, I found that pushing the start button a second time would turn off the grinder, which had the same end effect.)
The hopper didn't have room for a lot of beans at a time, though enough for a double espresso or a few cups of coffee. Given how much room the two measures of espresso took up in the receptacle (it did keep the grounds contained nicely), I wouldn't have tried for 12 measures all at once, as I would have been concerned about it backing up into the machine.
I also found that at times the coffee would stop moving through the grinder, which was still on, and I'd have to give it a shake to get things moving again. Overall, it's a fair grinder, though not a great one. However, the list price of $59.99 makes it a reasonable entry-level machine choice.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Review: Noble Juice
An added benefit is that the company is shifting to a biodegradable bottle made out of corn. The products are also available through a wide number of grocery chains, so finding it shouldn't be too hard. It only gets tough when the juice gets home and is suddenly unprotected from the familial hordes.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Review: DeLonghi DCG39 Blade Grinder
Although the DeLonghi DCG39 doesn't do well everything it seems to advertise, it has enough features and smart design to make it worth having if you need to grind things, like coffee beans or spices. The overall look is clean and visually appealing, with a great feature of an electrical cord that hand reels back into the body when you are done; the knob is hidden out of side underneath the unit.
You turn a knob on the front to set how much coffee you want and then hold down a button and watch LEDs light to tell you whether the coffee is coarse, medium, or fine. Because there is no hopper that feeds beans into the grinder, to be dispensed below, setting the volume is critical because it will affect for how long the grinding occurs. That makes operation a tad clumsy, but then, using older fashioned grinders, like my probably 20 year old Krups model, requires you to keep an eye on the results and to check from time to time to be sure the texture is right. So you have to do the same basic thing here.
The front knob lets you pick anywhere from 4 to 12 cups of coffee. That works well with my regular (not espresso) coffee maker, because it makes a minimum of four cups. But if you want to make a single or double cup, you really have to keep a close eye.
As far as the "fineness" lights that go on, it was a bit confusing at first. It turns out that you hold the button and wait for the lights to come on in succession. If you're looking for a medium grind (for drip coffee makers), you wait until that comes on, but the coarse (percolators or coffee presses) will also be lit. Although there is a fine grind for espresso, if you're serious about that drink, you simply don't have the control in adjustment to get a consistent pour, which you absolutely need. However, in an emergency it could do, and I suspect it would be fine if you wanted to experiment with Turkish style, in which you boil the grounds with water and some spices (cinnamon and cardamom, I believe).
The street price seems to be about $30, which seems fair for what you get. Overall, if you don't need to make espresso on a regular basis, this is a decent grinder choice.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Product Review: Arrogant Bastard Ale by The Stone Brewing Co.
This is an aggressive beer. You probably won't like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory -- maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it's made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you're mouthing your words as you read this.And it tastes great with a partly dried-out piece of chocolate cake obtained from the same food coop that had the ale.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Review: Bass Brolly
Bass came out with something they call a brolly - English slang for an umbrella - that supposedly helps make the drink. They sent one over, along with a glass and bottle of ale, but the devices are still available for free through the end of the month, unless you live in California, in which case you have to pay a buck. Don't ask me why; I can't figure out anything about that state.
First clue I should have had that something was going to go wrong was what appeared to be two conflicting sets of instructions. In one, you tip the pint glass (the three-cornered Bass one is nice) on a 45 degree angle and pour the ale down the side. In the other, you pour down the center of the glass, creating a good foam, whatever amount that indicates. The two different instructions agreed that you get the glass two-thirds full, and then set the brolly atop the glass and slowly pour the stout through it so the dark liquid floats atop the amber.
But I let down the English and Irish parts of my muddled ethnic background when I couldn't get the damned stout to float. (I suppose that the Scottish part of me sat back, amused.) So much for the device making this easy, though in the press release, the Bass Pale Ale brand manager said that the device makes the black and tan "less challenging." Oh, good. Otherwise, I might have ended up with a monochromatic glass of liquid even faster than I actually did. Ah, well. When at first you don't succeed, have the barkeep pour another. I'll clearly have to continue practicing.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Product Review: Hershey's Bliss
Hershey's Bliss Chocolate is specially crafted to ensure that every detail contributes to the overall chocolate experience. The slight domed shape of the individual square fits the mouth perfectly allowing the chocolate to melt evenly cascading rich, creamy chocolate notes across the tongue. The finish is satisfying and sophisticated, a lasting reward.For the effective translation, yes, they are small pieces and, yes, they are square with a rounded top. But the chocolate is pretty boring - not bad enough to deserve blistering, but falling far short of bliss. The dark didn't have the bite and depth you might expect for a fine chocolate, and even the milk was dull. Even though the company is "targeting female chocolate lovers," I doubt that a sudden gender change by human hand or divine intervention would change my impression. Although they're holding some promotion that involves a claimed 10,000 home chocolate parties the weekend of April 25, I'd suggest staying in your own home with a good bar of chocolate, instead. You could even cut it up into smaller pieces.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Product Review: Sargento Artisan Cheese Blends
Read a bit further in the web site and materials, and you notice the major point: "Artisan cheeses with our specialty shredded cheeses." That makes sense, because there is no way that artisan farms could possibly create enough cheese volume to satisfy the mass market needs of Sargento. I tried a number of varieties (actually, one of each) that the company's PR firm sent my way, and they're not bad on a relative scale. The blends tended to be a little sharper, with a touch more flavor, than typical bagged shredded cheese. If I was looking for a quick and convenient cheese hit, these products might be fine. However, if you want real artisan cheese flavor, go buy real artisan cheese and use it in enough volume to make a significant difference. And, at $1.99 to $4.99 for bags holding three, five, eight, or ten ounces of cheese - or per pound prices starting at $8 and hitting $10.61 - that chunk of artisan cheese stops seeming so incredibly expensive.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Review: The Fillo Factory and Aunt Trudy's - Various Products
The pocket sandwiches - broccoli and cheese, cheese and tomato pizza, spinach and cheese, organic eggplant and roasted peppers, organic Asian vegetable - were great. The teens liked them as well. Microwave according to the directions, and they come out surprisingly crisp. Appetizers were, sadly, more hit and miss. Spinach and feta were good. The potato and roasted garlic would have been good just as that, but there was an overly aggressive rosemary presence, which no one here found pleasing. The roast vegetable one filling cubed a bit too fine for my taste. Now, I know these are small, and that you couldn't use larger cubes, but maybe more roughly chopped, or even mashed. I found the texture a bit off-putting - not bad, just strange. The spanakopita was fine.
On to dessert. My wife, who loves baklava, loved the walnut variety that we got. I tried it as well and agreed that it was fabulous.
So, all in all, if your taste is like mine and you stay away from the potato and roasted garlic appetizers, at worst you'll find something acceptable, and at best you'll be impressed. Later on I'll report on the various prepared chilis that came in the test package from the company.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Review: DeLonghi Convection Oven with Rotisserie (Model RO2058)
It is great having the convection option if you are in a hurry, as the hot air currents can cut a good 25 percent off the time you'd need to cook many things. There is also a toasting function for up to six slices of bread, in case you want to avoid NCAD (Needless Countertop Appliance Duplication). There are a couple of wire shelves, or you can replace one with a broiling pan that slides into the sides the same was as the racks do.
There are some drawbacks. I don't know whether someone accidentally sent me a European model, but the temperature scale was marked out in Celsius, not Fahrenheit, causing me minor mental convulsions as I was trying to convert between the two in my head. (Here's a hint: 180 C is about 350 F.)
And now let's to the rotisserie. I had put off checking it because we kept getting quartered chickens, and I wanted to test a whole one. The instructions claimed a 4.5 pound capacity ceiling, so when I picked up two chickens, I choose the smaller one, which weighed in at about 4.1 pounds. That was a disappointment. The heart of the rotisserie is a rod with a couple of fork implements that adjust with thumb screws. You put the skewer through the food, push the forks, tines inward, into the object of your future dining, and tighten them into place. That went well enough, but it was a little tricky to get the bar into place in the oven; it was a bit shorter than I had expected and easy to let one end or the other fall down while trying to get it into place. When I finally had it seated, I started the rotisserie - and found that the chicken was hitting one of the heating elements. Had I trussed the chicken, it would have been a little better, but it was clear that it still would have been banging into things. I'll try it again with something smaller, but it seemed too bad that turned out to be necessary.
Overall, I've been finding it useful, and at a street price hovering around $100, it's not too expensive to consider.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Review: Café Tequila BBQ Sauce
So, it's worth getting, although there is one problem: the bottle. Yes, the wide bottom and tall, skinny neck are attractive and grab your attention. But that base takes up a bit too much shelf space in the refrigerator and the neck means you can't slip it onto just any of your shelves.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Review: Eggland's Best Eggs
We still go for: 1) eggs from our chickens (when they feel like paying off the massive debt in chicken feed they now owe), 2) organic store-bought, and 3) vegetarian-fed free range (though, to be truthful, chickens have eating habits that you probably don't want to know if you're ever to use an egg again in your life). But the Eggland's Best seems like a reasonable choice.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Revew and Recipe: St. Peter's English Ale
Beer-Braised Short Ribs
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 2 TBS olive oil
- 4 lbs. short ribs
- 6 ounces beer (I used St. Peter's English Ale)
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 stalk celery, chopped (optional)
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 2 tsp basil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp cardamom seeds
- Heat oven to 250 degrees F.
- Mix flour, salt, and pepper together. Dredge short ribs in mixture. Heat 12-inch frying pan over high heat, add olive oil, and brown ribs on all sides. Transfer to dutch oven.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add onions and celery, cooking until onions are translucent. Add garlic and continue cooking until onions are browned. Add mixture to dutch oven.
- Add beer to pan and deglaze. After dissolving all solids, add tomatoes, basil, bay leaves, and cardamom. Heat through. Add to dutch oven.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover dutch oven and place in oven. Cook for three hours. Serve with egg noodles.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Review: V8 V-Fusion
I know the mantra is to eat X many servings of fruits and vegetables every day, but when I looked at the bottle's label, darned if I could find a massive influx of vitamins or minerals. So while the advice is out there, I can't figure out exactly what it is trying to accomplish in results.
However, if there is a benefit from drinking some portion of your fruits and vegetables, and the V-Fusion fits the bill, the açaí version had a quite pleasant taste, and the bottle was gone a lot faster than would have been the case with a bottle of regular V8. (Though I like that as well.)
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Product Review: Flavorbean Flavored Coffee
According to the PR materials, most flavored beans are made using chemical solvents to deposit the taste on the coffee. I don't know that independently, but, if true, that perhaps explains the overly aggressive and harshness I've found when I've tried such brews. But the french vanilla and hazelnut varieties I received from the company to test were really pleasant. They claim that the coffees are "naturally flavored," which can be a slippery label to understand. But if you like flavored coffee, I'd suggest giving these a try.
And if you want something really different, add a half teaspoon of good cinnamon to the grounds. It's a lovely way to start an early morning.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Review: FruitaBü Organic Smoooshed Fruit Twirls and Sploooshers
There are two versions. The fruit Twirls are like a ribbon of soft fruit leather spiralled up. The fruit Sploooshers are packets of some kind of gelatinous mass that I'm sure is a heretofore unknown physical state of matter. I found the texture mildly off-putting, as did my teenage daughter, though, as I did, she liked the Twirls. But, being the dutiful young woman she is, she brought samples with her to school to test on her friends. They pretty much said, "Bring more," and they preferred the Sploooshers.
So give them a shot. Chances are that you won't go wrong, and at least you're keeping the corn content out and available for ethanol for the car.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Hormel Discusses Sodium Content of Compleats
I did want to clarify your statement on sodium content. The USDA recommends that healthy Americans get 2,300 milligrams per day. (USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, Chapter 8 “Sodium and Potassium - http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/chapter8.htm) At 600 milligrams or less, Hormel Compleats products provide roughly a quarter or less of the sodium recommendation per day. The sodium content in Hormel Compleats is equal to or less than other single serving shelf-stable offerings in the market today.I think the PR firm meant that it wanted to challenge my statement, as I don't see how it would be in the position to clarify what I had said. In any case, the product may hover around the same sodium content as other shelf-stable offerings, but the company's analysis is off and even misleading. First, the USDA reference cited does not recommend that people get 2,300 mg of sodium, but less than 2,300 mg of sodium, which is a significantly different statement. If you are middle-aged or older, black, or have hypertension, the top number is 1,500 mg. But that's not the USDA's only statement on sodium.
Instead, let's consider this from the second chapter, Adequate Nutrients Within Calorie Needs, of the same USDA 2005 dietary guidelines. I'd argue that looking at nutritional needs would be closer to the concept of a recommended minimum amount, and that the 2,000 Kcal nutrition levels are near an adult average, given gender and activity levels, which can widely swing the recommendations. That 2,000 Kcal number is the general baseline used for nutritional comparisons on food levels. For that level of caloric intake, the recommended sodium number is 1,779 mg. And here’s an interesting paragraph from the same chapter the company quoted:
Common sources of sodium found in the food supply are provided in figure 4. On average, the natural salt content of food accounts for only about 10 percent of total intake, while discretionary salt use (i.e., salt added at the table or while cooking) provides another 5 to 10 percent of total intake. Approximately 75 percent is derived from salt added by manufacturers.In other words, packaged foods - shelf-stable or not - put the largest amount of sodium per serving into our diets. On the whole, I think that my analysis is probably more realistic in terms of viewing a food as "healthy" or not, and certainly closer to what a health professional would likely say than taking the number Hormel does and trying to interpret it as a recommended amount that people should have, rather than a maximum, with the understanding that, for salt, less is certainly more.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Review: Nature's Path HempPlus Organic Hot Oatmeal and Flax Plus Red Berry Crunch
More textually pleasant was the Flax Plus Red Berry Crunch. It's a cold cereal, crunchy, with a fruity taste (freeze-dried raspberries and strawberries) and enough whatever in it that I found it didn't need sugar - just a dash of milk. Put me down for more of this one.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Review: Hormel Compleats
The most obvious issue is taste. Rather, the problem is lack of taste. I tried two varieties: beef steak & peppers, served over noodles, and Santa Fe style chicken with rice, black beans, and corn. Darned if I could detect much in the way of identifiable, or even existing, favor. Bite into a piece of chicken or beef, and you can tell there's a difference in texture, but not much else.
Now let's move to the "healthy lifestyles" claim. I looked at the USDA guidelines. There are many versions of caloric and nutritional suggestions for different genders, ages, and lifestyles. But look at Table 2, and you see that for 2,000 calories, total sodium should be roughly 1,800 mg and 65 g fat. Now, Hormel says that the dishes are all under 320 calories, with less than 10 grams fat and not more than 600 mg of sodium. Let's say there are 300 calories in the one you're eating. That's roughly 15 percent of the calories you're allowed, and the fat falls roughly in line with that. But 600 mg of sodium is a third of the daily allotment, so you're hitting double the average sodium you might want.
Clearly you can't expect everything to come out on the average, but this makes me want to re-evaluate the healthy lifestyle claim. You could say that you are meeting the requirements by eating a lot less, which doesn't mean that the food is "healthier." And why is there so much sodium as a percentage? Because there is little flavor, and many packaged foods know that the salt taste is a major taste trigger to people. Which brings us back to square one. Convenience may be ... convenient, but as with convenience store prices, which are generally higher than grocery stores, you end up paying for that ease one way or another.
UpdateI had an email from Hormel's PR firm about the review, challenging my remarks about the sodium content. Here's the entry with the exchange.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Review: Seneca Apple Chips
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Review: Honest Kids Drinks
Friday, February 22, 2008
Review: Veroli Three Cheese and Meat Lasagna and Marinara Sauce
The lasagnas were surprisingly good - not just because of the tomatoes, but the pasta, which comes out al dente, something I've never seen in a frozen pasta-based dish before. We liked both the cheese and meat ones (between $8.99 and $9.99). One box could serve four people, but expect heating in a regular oven to take 90 minutes total. I misread the package of the meat lasagna, took off the covering film at one hour, and was surprised by how loose it was. My fault; the extra half hour is key.
Unfortunately, distribution right now is thin. You can get the products in Central Markets if you live in Texas, or Kings Supermarkets in New Jersey. They're supposed to launch in other markets "in the near future," which means I haven't a clue, so check with the company itself.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
I didn't try any of the supplied drink recipes, because I think an ingredient must be able to stand on its own. And it did - neat, in a wine glass. The berry flavor has deep earthy depths, which they described it as "notes of chocolate," a description I didn't find completely accurate, but close enough, as I couldn't figure out how to describe it. It's an unusual taste, and a tad astringent on the finish, but quite pleasant. I can see how this would work in mixed drinks as well. It's certainly worth trying, even if you do run the risk of becoming an eco-centric celebrity follower.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Review: Guiltless Gourmet Baked Tortilla Chips
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Review: Ito En Teas' Tea
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Review: Ghirardelli Filled Chocolate Bars
I actually found that I liked the fillings more than the chocolate itself. The flavors inside over powered those of the coating. I particularly liked the raspberry and even the mint, which is unusual, as I'm generally not a big mint fan. (After a taste, I passed it on to my daughter, who snapped it up so fast that it was a good thing my hand was open. Do you detect a pattern in my family?) The caramel was also good.
Suggested retail price of the bars is $2.29, which isn't bad compared to the price of many higher end chocolate bars.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Review: Weil by Nature’s Path Pure Fruit & Nut Bars
Friday, February 08, 2008
Review: Tribe Mediterranean Hummus Snackers
The small containers come in two ways. One is a four-pack, whose suggested retail price is $2.99, "which is line priced with their most popular 8oz hummus product line." In other words, apparently they're not charging a premium for smaller packaging. Nice to see for a change. There is also a single 2-ounce snack pack that comes with a few crackers and runs ... $1.49 suggested retail, or roughly twice the unit price in the four-pack. Ah, well, so much for avoiding premium pricing.
The hummus does have to be refrigerated, so don't plan on keeping it in a hot lunch box all day.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Review: The Stop & Go Fast Food Nutrition Guide
Let's take an example or two. Like the Starbucks apple fritter? That's 790 calories, with 37 milligrams of fat and a whopping 830 milligrams of sodium. Death on a dish. A plain old 16 ounce latté? That's a grande at 260 calories. How about a Hardee's Big Country Breakfast Platter with country steak? Just 1150 calories, 455 milligrams of cholesterol, and a completely astounding 2660 milligrams - otherwise known as almost 2.7 grams - of sodium. Personally, I'd double check the numbers for the green, yellow, and red coding: a Subway sweet onion chicken teriyaki 6-inch sub may have only 5 milligrams of fat and 370 calories, but it's got 1220 milligrams of sodium.
At $6.95 list, it's a great investment, and if you want to go to the web, you can get all the contents for free. Take it with you when you're out and get rid of some weight, because you'll surely lose your appetite.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Review: SunGold Foods SunButter
PR materials from the company say "Tastes Like Peanut Butter, But Is Peanut-Free." I'd disagree. The three varieties I tried - smooth, organic, and natural crunch - were perfectly fine if you like the taste of sunflower seeds. I don't mind them, but am not a huge fan, so this is not a product I'd regularly purchase. Also, no one in my family is allergic to peanuts. But if that is a problem, I could see how these products could be useful. They also have a pretty wide distribution, so finding them shouldn't be that difficult.
There is another use I can see, as well. If you use peanut butter in baking or cooking, this could let you experiment with an alternative taste.
Friday, February 01, 2008
Review: Schwartz Appetizing
Pickled herring in cream sauce and a Mediterranean style had subtlety and a continuing echo of flavors that makes any other brand I've had from a store taste like so much library paste. Like lox? Try the creamed pickled variety and realize that you only need to nibble on a piece - forget the bagel and absolutely avoid the cream cheese. The whitefish chubs were magnificent, and although my wife didn't care for the Matjes herring, it was the first time I've tried this style and found myself looking forward to a second bite. (Don't care for that dear? Don't toss the rest of that piece - here, let me take care of it for you.) Finally, smoked sable, when prepared this deftly, is something you should start with, because the delicate flavor is something you should savor and enjoy before more raucus tastes come into play.
If you live anywhere near Cedarhurst, Flatbush, or Boropark, drive over immediately. (Well, not during Shabbos starting Friday afternoon and lasting through Saturday.) If you don't, look up the number of one of the stores and call - if you're lucky, maybe they'll ship some to you. And if it's expensive, pay for it anyway, as this is an experience that you should have at least once in your life.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Review: Saphara and Lipton "Pyramid" Bag Teas
My testing and tasting suggest that a lot more is due to the quality of the tea first and the bag's shape second. For example, Saphara, which is a brand from Celestial Seasonings, was enjoyable. Of the two types that the PR representatives sent, I gravitated to the mango ginger decaf green, though I was a little less enthused over the tropical rooibos - a South African herbal tea with lemongrass, orange, and coconut. Nothing wrong with it; the mix just wasn't my - my apologies - cup of tea. Calling the tea "whole leaf" is a bit disingenuous, as when you read the box you see that it's "rough cut." I think that means that whole leaves don't hold up in bags, even if they are mesh pyramids. The bags, tags, and strings are biodegradable, which is responsible in my eyes. But the list price is $6.99 for a box of 15 bags, or about 47 cents a bag. Personally, I'd prefer to brew a pot with whole leaf tea, but as each bag comes in a separate plastic wrap, this is more convenient.
I received a greater array of flavors from Lipton, but found that the pyramid bags there seemed more of a gimmick. The PR write up says that the shape "allows for the long leaves and real fruits and caramel to fully infuse while steeping in a hot cup of water." Sorry, but I don't think you'll find a long leaf in one of them, as they are pretty much all broken up as well, though not as much as a country western song or the traditional flat bags. The teas are cheaper, at $3.49 for a 20-count box, or 17 cents a bag, and they taste it. Of the six flavors the PR people sent for me to sample, the Bavarian wild berry was reasonably pleasant. Others seemed weaker in flavor, even steeping for upwards of five minutes.
I'd skip the Lipton, pick up some Saphara - or, better yet, Revolution Tea - for convenience use, and then get a decent tea pot and a good batch of loose tea. You'll pay less and enjoy it more.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Surely this must be one of the worst names in the annals of food history (though there do seem to be serious contenders for this title every year). It sounds like a cough syrup or even, heaven help the digestion, a laxative. Being neighter, it is, instead, a fruit juice mix "harnessing the natural power of 50 whole tart cherries" - whatever that exactly means - in an 8 ounce bottle. That container also holds water and apple juice concentrate, so it's not straight tart cherry juice. The manufacturer touts the nutritional value, but a quick look shows that while they say it is good for muscle aches and cramps, there are also few vitamins.
But then, I'm no nutrition expert and think that you cannot depend on any one food stuff, no matter how mighty, to balance your diet. What I can say is that the juice is tasty - the whole family tested the sample sent by the company's PR firm and liked it. Be warned, it is also tart, which can be more refreshing, I think, than a sugar-laden slurry. You can purchase the product from the web site in batches of 8 bottles ($2.50 each) or 24 (price drops to $2 per). Shipping on a case of 24 bottles is $6.22 (at least when going to Massachusetts), which would make the least expensive per bottle price $2.26.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Review: Magic Bullet Platinum Pro
They position this relatively small device as a cross between a blender and a food processor. Let's look at the first part. The instructions claim that usually 10 seconds of blending does what you need. Not a chance. I tried milkshakes and fruit smoothies, and usually I needed upwards of a minute, which is fine except that you're warned under pain of hellfire and damnation not to let the unit run longer - NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER, as a Lear might instruct - than 60 seconds. A second longer and you could cause a cataclysm. Much longer than that, and I think life as we know it comes to an end.
Seriously, if you need a single serving of blended something, this device is decent. It comes with four plastic cups with removable colored rings at the top. Remove the ring, fill the glass with whatever, screw the blending attachment, invert the lot and put it onto the blender, and you're in business ... eventually. If things dont' seem to be blending, the instructions say to picj up the entire blender and cup (or one of the normal blending containers) and shake away.
Personally, I think this novel approach is probably an attempt to pragmatically spin the problem of not being able to stop the blender, easily remove a container's upward facing lid (remember, the part the screws off is now face down into the blender), shove a rubber spatula in to scrape down the sides, and then remove the spatula, replace the lid, and continue blending. However, hey, it worked for me. When things are done, you remove the container. If it's one of the glasses, you unscrew the blending unit, add on the colored collar, and start drinking. That's a lot better than washing two continers. Also, you can get to the blades to make sure they are clean, rather than having them forever fixed at the bottom of a vessel.
Where the Magic Bullet offers a misfire is in the food processing part. The instructions would have you take a chunk of vegetable (like an onion) that fits into the small blending container, drop it in, attach the flat-bladed chopping base, and pulse away. I tried it and was completely disappointed. Perhaps the piece was a bit large (though it didn't seem stuck in the container). Instead of being sliced and diced in a matter of seconds, the end facing the blade seemed a little chewed up, but that was about it. Now, I did try a few cloves of garlic, but it was a case of all or nothing - either full cloves, or a very find mince. (Had I not been pulsing the unit, it would probably have turned into garlic mush.)
So, if you like smoothies or need other blending jobs where dealing with a large container and heavy base unit doesn't sound good, then by all means check the Magic Bullet - the Platinum Pro runs $139.99 (including tax and shipping) with the two blending containers, four container/cups, blending bases, motor unit, and so on. It also seems to be avaiable various places on the web for about $60. But if you need to chop, forget this device, as it cannot "easily take the place of any food processor."
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Review: Amherst Coffee
I ordered a latte and was almost dumbfounded by how good it was. The crema and general mix was much darker than I'm used to. Reading the web site gives one clue: triple ristretto shots in all their espresso drinks. If the term isn't familiar, a ristretto is a concentrated espresso, using half the water of a normal espresso shot, but the same amount of coffee. ironically, in Italian, the word means restricted, but the process opens up intense new venues of flavor. I also found the small latte to contain far less milk than I'm used to having or using. As a result, the drink is darker and more intense, only without the pure edge that espresso alone can give. I liken it to the difference between drinking a good whiskey neat and cut with some water. The latter removes some of the burn of the alcohol, allowing you to taste the flavors more than you might otherwise.
This morning I got closer to what they had by packing the ground espresso more tightly than I usually do and running the water for about 25 to 30 seconds. I used at most half the milk, and the result was closer. But I'm going to try this with the ristretto and see if I can duplicate the results. And if you want some pointers on making espresso, Home-Barista.com is a site I just came across.
And before I forget, if you get to Amherst Coffee, see if they have a pastry they call a snail. This deceptively simply snack is a strip of puff pastry, covered in honey and poppy seeds, rolled, topped with more seeds, and baked. It's lovely, with a deep flavor that grows on you.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Site Review: Rameniac.com
There are reviews of ramen shops in the US, in Japan, and even reviews of the packaged stuff. Apparently Wong is planning to spend his next vacation bicycling across Japan, eating ramen. You may not be that into the dish - whether you call it ramen or pho, as the Vietnamese do - noodle soup is fabulous (and there's a very pleasant restaurant called Pho in Amherst, Mass serving it). Looking at the words of an aficionado is a good way to pick up tips on making something yourself.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Review: Honeybaked Ham
There is some fat on the ham: not so much as to cause complaint, but not so little as to leave the meat tasting like shoe leather. The smoking also hits a great balance, enough so you know it's there, but still palatable to those who don't like heavily smoked foods. Great sweet glaze. The spiral cutting lets you easily remove slices for serving.
You do pay for all this. The half ham by mail goes for $85, although that does include both tax and shipping, which takes about a week. I just called one of their stores in Massachusetts, and the price there is $6.29 a pound, with a half ham, depending on size, running between $50 and $60. If you've got company coming and need a low fuss entree, particularly if there is an outlet near you, this is something to consider
Monday, December 24, 2007
Review: The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Review: Maker's Mark Bourbon
In any case, I was happy to use that suggestion when a PR firm representing Maker's Mark asked if I wanted to try some when I was looking for products for the holidays. Twist my arm, I suppose so. I watered it down even further than the suggestion - probably leaving me with something about 45 to 50 proof. It was an interesting experience - you really get some of the complexity of this fine distillation without tears coming to your eyes. Gene Retske, a fellow writer and friend from Kentucky, mentioned that years ago, a standard way to order a drink in his home state was to ask for a B & B - not Benedictine and Brandy, but a bourbon and branch, where the latter was slang for water (a branch being like a small creek). I still found my tongue going a bit number after a glass, but then, unlike professional tasters, I don't spit out the liquid, and only had one to try. All in all, a very pleasant experience.
If the combination of bourbon and water isn't to your taste, you might consider a bourbon and ginger: some bourbon mixed with a strong ginger ale. The sweet flavors compliment each other, and the zing of the ginger works well with the oak flavor. Gene says that he actually sometimes marinates a steak in bourbon before grilling it. That does seem a singularly shocking thing to do with a bottle of good bourbon, but I supposed that's what lesser versions are for.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Review: Route 29 Napa Candy
Review: Bombilla & Gourd Mate Tea
Friday, December 14, 2007
Review: DaysAgo Digital Day Counter
However, the reactions here to them weren't that positive. My wife had one or two fall off an item, and then just gave up. I think the suction cup really needs to be on a non-metallic lid or jar, so ehere is plenty of flat surface for it to grip. But my son had a better point: "Why not just use a piece of masking tape and a marker?" Indeed, the easiest and most cost effective solution is to slap on a piece of tape and write the date on which you put said food into said refrigerator. Sure, tape sometimes has trouble with dampness, but then, so can these other methods. And writing the date is faster than resetting a gizmo, even if it won some magazine award - sorry, I just don't see why.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Review: John Wm. Macy’s CheeseSticks
Review: Fizz Ed Juice and Sparkling Water from Apple & Eve
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Review: Pretzel Crisps from The Snack Factory
Although a bit unusual, I wouldn't call the shape a conversation piece. As for dips, I supposed you could use them, but we never got that far, because the chips were just too good on their own. We went through a few flavors and haven't been able to try every one, but not a single one was a disappointment. Our niece said that although she didn't like Buffalo wings, she did like the Buffalo wing flavor; I thought it was a standout, and I do like the appetizer. Adults like them, a flock of teenagers liked them, and chances are, you will, too. So, get some dip if you must, but you owe it to the chips to be creative. For example, it would be interesting to try the Buffalo wing variety with blue cheese dressing. This seems like a great addition to a holiday party, and the packages are resealable, which is a bonus.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Review: Puff-Pastry Wrapped Franks from Appetizerstogo.com and Pirates Blend Caribbean Condiment from Half Moon Bay Trading Company
So the variety in this case was lacking, and I'm not the biggest fan of wrapped wieners, but these were superior and actually worth the eating. In fact, a handful can make a good lunch, when you think you have nothing else on hand. Not only did the franks have that all beef taste, but the puff pastry actually puffed. (Though don't expect a buttery flavor, as mixing dairy and meat doesn't pass kosher muster, and these are supposed to be kosher.)
Now for the downside: "your price" is almost $80, or close to 80 cents each. Add another $14 for shipping (express with dry ice), according to their order form, and you're at 94 cents a piece. There does seem to be a special, where you can order three or more boxes and the shipping is free. I can't vouch for the other appetizers (hey, I'm willing to test them - honest), but if the quality is close at all, then this site becomes a great resource for your next large party.\
And if you'd like a good dipping sauce, we found that Pirates Blend Caribbean Condiment from Half Moon Bay Trading Company was a great match, even though that company suggests it for seafood, poultry, pork, and a few other things, but doesn't mention beef. Made with ginger, cumin, mustard, garlic, celery, and cayenne, it's spicy but not really hot.
Monday, December 10, 2007
A Response from Gourmet Garden PR Firm
I just got a response from the PR firm. It didn't address this mysterious Jennifer, but I think some account manager wanted to ensure that I still had all my marbles:
I wanted to follow up on your review of the Gourmet Garden samples that my colleague Kaitlin Kenny sent you last week and say that we appreciate your taking the time to try the product.Oh, I'm sure you do.
However, I wanted to let you know that Gourmet Garden squeezable herbs and spices are meant as an ingredient and not to be used for eating as a concentrate straight from the tube. Many herbs and spices, whether fresh or dried, are not meant to be eaten on their own or straight from the jar or package, and Gourmet Garden follows suit with this industry wide understanding.No. Really? People put spices and herbs in food they're cooking? Well, damn, all these decades I've been taking a shot of thyme or oregano after each bite. That'll certainly make things easier.
However, to cook well, you have to know what the ingredients are like. There are plenty of spices and herbs that I've smelled and tasted to get a sense of them. I've tried many types of basil and know what the varieties are supposed to taste like. No, I wouldn't normally eat basil for fun - but I would take a taste of a new variety before using it.
Furthermore, the only way to know if an individual ingredient is good is to know what it tastes like by itself. If I had dumped some of this material into something I was cooking, the overall flavors might have masked the problem - not that you or the manufacturer would ever want that to happen, I'm sure.
With that being said, Gourmet Garden is a highly popular product for health-conscious consumers who want a good-tasting, convenient yet inexpensive alternative in their meal preparation.And lacking that, they use this product?
Since the use of fresh herbs and spices can be time consuming and sometimes inconvenient,...It's such a burden to chop some parsley or cilantro. Or to shake some from a jar. I can't count the number of minutes I've wasted trying to add a teaspoon of oregano. Oh, and I remember a note on the tubes that in the freezer they only last three months. So just how long would they last in the fridge? Would the consumer have to buy them almost as frequently as fresh?
...Gourmet Garden offers a solution.And that's the problem.
Incorporating herbs & spices into a meal and reaping the extra flavor as well as health benefits can be simpler for those with a busy lifestyle.
Health benefits? What health benefits? Benefits to the health of the company's bank account? Next thing will be that Gourmet Garden is important for the sake of the children.
The products have received high marks from many consumers and media.What, the owner's parents and the many magazines and newspapers that run new product sections without ever having tried what they tout?
In fact, we have received an incredible amount of positive feedback from customers, dietitians and nutritionists, and fellow media correspondents from all over the world commenting on the products' authentic fresh taste, flavor, and ease of use.Do you think their reaction to the "authentic fresh taste" was to the herb, the dextrose, the whey, or the glycerin?
Conversely, we do understand that there is room for different opinions in the marketplace and that not everyone will have the same likes and tastes.Oh, I am so glad to hear that. I was worried that you were trying to use the rhetorical tricks knows as generalization and band wagon to convince me that when it tasted bad to me, it was my fault because I didn't mix it with so many other ingredients that the odd flavors didn't hit me quite so squarely in the face.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Response to Gourmet Garden Panning
I'm surprised you had such a strong reaction to the GG products.So was I; it's rare to find something that bad.
Have you tried cooking with them?I didn't have the heart to do that to an otherwise perfectly good dish. That seems tantamount to advocating a turned bottle of wine as an additives to a sauce. Umm .... no.
I think they are a good way to get close to fresh,...The way Billings, Montana is close to Melbourne, Australia.
... and they are super convenient for those, like me, who love fresh herbs, but have trouble using them all up before they wilt or die.The ingredients of the "Basil Herb Blend" are "basil, dextrose, whey (milk), sodium lactate, canola oil, fructose, glycerine, salt, sodium ascorbate to help protect flavor, ascorbic acid to promote color retention, xanthan gum, citric acid to promote color retention." Nope, it's not going to go bad, though I think I'm retaining something after trying it.
In any case, I think they are a good thing to have on hand, like reserves of soup or pasta in the pantry.Or wasp spray in the gardening shed.
As a side note, there is fascinating research into the genetically determined ways different people taste things. Maybe you're tasting something some of us aren't?I am genetically equipped with senses of smell and taste. Could you, perhaps, be missing them?
Review: Gourmet Garden Herbs & Spices
I received a number of variations and tried the basil - which was mixed with milk whey, dextrose, and a bunch of other stuff. I know basil. I've tasted basil. Gourmet Gardens: this didn't taste like plain basil. There was an unpleasant sweet aftertaste as well as other things that I can't quite dexcribe and don't know that I'd like to. But, hey, diligence is why I make the non-existent bucks for this blog, so I tried the lemon grass. Again - opened the tube, squeezed some out onto my finger, put it into my mouth, made a face, and chucked the tube into the trash can.
Any cook would be better off wtih dry herbs than this, and fresh aren't that hard to come by or prepare. Steer clear of this product. As the PR contact wrote me, "There is no equivalent product on the market – cooked or dried – that can compete with Gourmet Garden. " Thank heavens for small favors.
PR mocking aside, I took a look and this is a really interesting site with hundreds of bread recipes, many that you won't find in most bread books. For exmaple, there was a George Washington Birthday bread shaped like a tree and made with cherry preserves. I saw pizza and calzone recipes (I prefer my own dough recipes for these, but what they have will certainly work), some for "healthy and hearty" breads, including one made with all whole wheat flour, sweet dough recipes - enough to keep you busy.
I'd probably make changes here and there. For example, although I often use Fleischmann yeast, I try to avoid the RapidRise, because they put "stuff" into the yeast to get the greater action, and it's not necessary. Instead of milk, I tend to use the powdered skim milk mixed in with the dry ingredients and then additional water, so that, if put together, they'd create the specified amount of milk.
But that's what I'd likely do with many recipes, including varying amounts by feel. In addition to recipes, there are also baking tips and troubleshooting tips when things go wrong. It's worth a visit.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Review: The Wedge
There are a couple of major limitations that might make you decide on some other storage mechanism. One is that the use of space is pretty inefficient. With the pair of wedges, you must build a pyramid, as you don't have the side vertical supports to keep additional items from rolling down the sides. That means you're wasting the space above the bottles, and in many homes that would be a problem. You can do a bit better using a wedge and a well (whether the wall of a pantry, cabinet, or inside wall of a fridge). In this case, the bottles or cans can actually stack up the wall some, because you're effectively tipping the triangle over and being able to stack upwards a bit more. Still, it is a limitation.
The other problem is if you have a variety of different wines or cans of whatever. When everything is the same, you take items off from the top. But when they are different, eventually you'll either have to unbury what you'd really like, or drink through everything above it first.
Personally, while I might use this for a display that I wanted to make part of a theme at some gathering, I'd probably opt for traditional storage that uses space more effectively.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Review: Black & Decker Infrawave Countertop Oven
Basically it uses infrared light to do the cooking, which means that it cooks with radiation (no need for the lead suits), and not the convection of heat via the air. One positive there is that there is no preheat time; you put the food in, turn the oven on, and you've started, as lights at the top and bottom go on and off periodically as the food cooks. That alone saves you significant time, and it also can cook very quickly. For example, I put in some appetizers that were supposed to take 14 minutes, and they were done in 7. The speed success, I gather from my experimenting, depends on how flat the food is. For example, I tried baking five small potatoes. The system recommended 30-some-odd minutes, but to get them really done (with a nicely crisped skin) took closer to an hour. A traditional oven would have taken at least a half hour longer. But toast that might have been five minutes in a regular toaster was often done in two to three here. You can get a good browned surface in a way a microwave would never achieve. (Except for the late, lamented Sharp combination microwave and conventional convection oven, which was a drea but eventually died and I've yet to find an adequate replacement).
But you do have to get used to this oven. For example, you don't think in terms of temperatures, because the oven cycles differently for different types of food. Instead, you try to find the food that is closest in nature, which can be an interesting experience itself. Also, you can't try to outguess how the cooking happens. I had originally put two pieces of bread in to toast and took them out prematurely. One side was done, but the other wasn't. When I did leave it in, though, it worked right. So there's an element of trust involved until you get used to it.
I haven't baked anything in it yet, partly because of the oven's major fault: it's a bit small. Four pieces of bread fit in - barely. I was going to bake a cut-up chicken until I found that I couldn't quite fit all the pieces into the small baking pan, though a slightly larger oven probably would have worked fine. In short, it's an oven worth adding to your tool arsenal, although you'll need some training time.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Review: De’Longhi DCF212T Complete Frontal Access Coffee Maker
I've seen a lot of coffee makers in my day, and while for non-espresso type I still like vacuum brewing, I'm impressed by the practicality of De’Longhi's new machine. The DCF212T is smart because they designed it for people who live in real kitchens, and who often have to shove an appliance under a cabinet or shelf. A door swings out from the machine and gives you access to both the grounds filter and to a trough that directs water back into the tank. There's no need to slide the unit out any more.
The carafe holds up to 12 cups (six ounces each, I think). When I was running the first two obligatory tanks of water to clean it out before regular use, I found that if I didn't push the glass container back far enough, no water came out - an obvious and hardly innovative feature, but nice to know that it's there. Not only does the filter come out for easy cleaning, but so does the filter basket.
You can set the internal clock and then a timer, to prepare water and grounds the night before and then have it automatically start brewing in the morning. Setting the clock took some time, as you hold one button down and wait for the right time to come by. Keep the button pushed in, and it starts going through the numbers faster and faster, so you're not there all day. Another nice touch is the Aroma button - if you're making less than a full pot, press this and it drips water in more slowly to extract more of the flavor. I liked the results, though you do wait considerably longer for the coffee to be done. The built in warming plate kept liquid warm for hours, though I'd have to have coffee sitting around for that long. But if you don't mind, it won't be cold.
Not all is perfect. Although I filled the tank up to the 4 cup line, using the Aroma button I got more like 3 cups in the carafe. When I ran water straight through, it seemed to come out right, so I'm guessing that the difference is in water retained by the grounds. You might consider testing first, and possibly making a bit "more" than usual so it comes out where you want. Also, they recommend 1 TBS. of grounds per cup, which is a bit weak. Admirably, they also give the amounts suggested by some specialty coffee association, which starts off at 2 TBS. a cup and eventually lessens, so 8 cups of coffee don't need 16 TBS. of grounds. However, given the size of the basket, if you take these recommendations you can only load enough grounds for 10 cups at those recommendations.
However, that's almost to the level of a quibble. Overall, this is a great concept, and at $49.95, reasonably priced as well.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Review: Oregon Scientific Wireless BBQ/Oven Thermometer
The wireless version will let you monitor the food's internal temperature, in theory, up to 300 feet away. I only tried the wireless display maybe 100 or 125 feet away, but it was great. Instead of depending on hearing a beeper when the dish is done, you have the display unit with you. At first the display would not register the internal temperature, but on asking, I was told to remove the batteries from both the base transmitter and remote monitor units, and then to replace them, pressing the reset buttons, on the transmitter and receivers in order. That worked.
You choose the type of food, which brings up suggested times for your chosen degree of doneness, like rare or medium. If you like somewhat different temperatures for them, you can adjust things manually. There is a speaker that uses a voice generator that tells you what you're choosing. If you have vision problems, I could see how that would be useful, although I found it annoying. A belt clip lets you easily carry the receiver/monitor with you - good when you are entertaining company during the holidays. Also, bravo to the company for using a shielded cable from the probe, which would seem safer for dealing with the heat of an oven than the plastic-sheathed types you typically see on probe thermometers. On the balance, I can heartily recommend the unit, even if the voice does annoy.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Review: Clear2O Water Filtration Pitcher
As we live out in the sticks and depend on well water that already goes through one filter, we don't exactly have water pressure. It's more like water nudging. Still, I connected the hose, turned on the tap, and the pitcher filled in about a minute - longer than the 30-odd seconds they claimed, but that probably assumes a normal water system. Also, I found that the attachment that you screw onto the faucet didn't interfere noticeably with the water flow when the pitcher wasn't attached.
Four out of five people in our house gave the new water a thumbs up, and one said that there was a metallic aftertaste. Well, there is a bit of one, but I don't think that all minerals will come out, and it was greatly improved.
I like the design of the pitcher. Tall and slim, it fits nicely into our crowded fridge, so you can keep a ready supply of cold water on hand with a 72-ounce capacity. Pair this with some water bottles, and you can cut down on buying small bottles of water to take with you. The price on the company's site is about $30 for the original model with the white plastic lid and $35 with the "platinum" design. Personally, I'd stick with cheaper. You will need to get replacement filters that run $16 for one, or $35 for three. Each supposedly filters 40 gallons, or about 40 cents a gallon, which is significantly cheaper than most bottled water I've seen.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Review: Empire Kosher Turkey - For The Birds?
Friday, November 16, 2007
Review: Golden Moon Tea
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Review: Cutco Santoku Knives
The two Santoku knives - one with a 7-inch blade and the other with a 5-inch - are examples of a Japanese design that has become popular around the world. (If you'd like to read more about them, check this Wikipedia article.) The blades are thin and short compared to a French kitchen knife, and the profile allows a sharper edge, making them keener than a good chef's knife, even when newly honed. I generally like a larger blade, but find myself reaching for both of these pretty frequently. It actually surprises me that I've been sometimes using the 5-inch model, but I was cutting some small vegetables and found that I gained more control.
One thing to remember is that these are knives made for slicing, not for chopping or for cutting through tougher material like poultry bones. I'd be concerned that the thin blade would be too brittle and could chip, so don't toss that chef's knife yet.
Another point is that buyhing from Cutco is a little complicated ... and expensive. The site points everyone to a company called Vector Marketing, which sends college students out on appointments with people who want knives. Smells like potential high pressure sales, but at least the products are superior to many in the market, you never have to follow up on a magazine subscription, and apparently you can buy over the phone. (Although not over the web, which is what makes me suspect advanced sales tactics.) At these prices, that's good, because the two-knife set runs $186. The 7-inch is $99 and the 5-inch is $87. At prices like that, they'd better last a long time.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Review: Welch's Sparkling Grape Juice Cocktail
Friday, November 09, 2007
Review: Gel Pro Chef Mat from Let's Gel
The mats are heavy, come in a variety of surface treatments and colors, and have some sort of gel on the inside that doesn't just cushion your steps, but lets the surface give way slightly to your feet, almost conforming to them. The company advertises the bottom as non-slip, and it certainly seems that way; the mat doesn't slide about. The mats aren't cheap and start at $100 for a 20x36 inch model with a plain basketweave pattern, and $150 for something fancier. There is also a 20x72 inch, with the price for the fancier surface topping out at about $300. You know what? If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen and you find your legs and feet hurting, this will seem like chump change - because you'd have to be a chump to change back to a more painful existence.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Review: Jennie-O Turkey Store Oven Ready Turkey
The company sent a test bird in a completely frozen state, and I put it directly into our chest freezer, so it was hard as a rock when I cooked it yesterday. Oven went to 350 degrees, I tore open the package (easy to do), and placed the turkey, sealed in a cooking bag, into a roasting pan. I cut a couple of slits and pulled the bag away from the bird, put it into the oven, and waited about four hours.
I checked the temperature a couple of times with an instant read thermometer, but let a little too much time go between the last reading and taking the turkey out, so it over-cooked a bit and was a little dry. There is a pop-up indicator, but I've found that trusting those is often a mistake, and they don't help if you aren't looking often enough. Even slightly dry, the taste was reasonably good - not as good as, say, a properly brined thawed or kosher bird, but the whole freezer-to-oven trick makes up for that.
You do have to be careful about pulling the bag away from the skin before it goes into the over, otherwise the bag sticks, as happened in a couple of spots. The skin is decently browned, but not the deeper shade of a traditionally roasted fowl. Because a few cups of liquid get trapped in the bag, the turkey ends up a cross between roasted and steamed, but even the pickier members of my family didn't find that off-putting.
A few other considerations: You aren't going to be stuffing this bird, so you'll have to cook that dish on the side. The skin seems to have some kind of rub on it, but I didn't find it unpleasant. Oh, and you'd better hope that you can find these birds at a local grocery store, as an 11 to 13 pound one from the web site will set you back $57, which would let you buy a fresh bird, forgetting the entire freezer experience. (The one I tested seemed closer to a 15 pound or heavier bird, and the packaging suggests that they do come that large.)
If you have a critical dinner, one possible approach, if you can find one of these turkeys locally at a reasonable price, is to keep one in the freezer just in case something goes wrong with the main bird. That way you can still recover and serve dinner with no one else the wiser - and I promise not to tell.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Review: Jim's Organic Wonderbrew Coffee
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Review: Nature’s Pearl Muscadine Grape Juice
The materials make a number of claims as to what muscadines contain compared to some other fruits:
- 40 times the resveratrol or regular grapes
- up to 10 times the antioxidants of blueberries, cranberries and goji berries (though for all I know, regular grapes do as well)
- anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties
- healthy compounds usually not found in grapes, but in foods like apples and onions (quercetin, ellagic acid)
Unfortunately, this is another case where purchase is expensive - because you have to buy a case at a time. A dozen bottles run $108 and shipping from North Carolina to Massachusetts would have run $20, for a total of almost $11 a bottle. Clearly this is not a casual drink for the kids. Also, the web site says that supplies are limited. Of course, a billion bottles would still be limited, but if you're interested, you might go to the site's contact page and see if there is any problem for getting the quantity you wanted. You might also point the site out to a local store and see if it would bring in some bottles for you.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Review: Captain Spongefoot Buffalo Wing Chipotle Table Sauces
I can give these two products a rave with an important caveat, which I'll save for close to the end. The buffalo wing sauce had a better flavor than most wings I've had in restaurants and the recipe on the Tabasco Sauce bottle. Ingredients were great: a mix of hot peppers, clarified butter, vinegar, garlic, some unnamed spiced. I pretty much could pronounce everything on the label. The sauce had nuance, balancing a moderate amount of burn and pepper flavor with tang, unlike many versions where the vinegar aroma goes right up into your nose in an unpleasant way.
I had less hope for the chipotle sauce because of my own tastes - generally the amount of smoke is overkill. But if anything I may have liked this one more than the other variety - it's tough to tell after going back and forth with wings and thinking, "I need a bit more of this ... no, maybe that." Again, a well designed recipe.
I had received some gift pack version with a 5-ounce bottle each of the sauces. Each comes with a shaker top which lets you easily treat wings - or anything else - with a few dashes. My wife suggested using the sauce with left-over chicken in a wrap sandwich, which sounds like a great idea to me. The problem, though, is distribution. Right now you can get the products in Colorado, but you can't count on easily finding it elsewhere, to my knowledge. There is an online outlet, but it appears to be a third party's selling more than just this company's sauces.
[UPDATE: some of the shipping price info has changed - I'll explain at the end.]
One 5-ounce bottle is $3.85 and the price to ship UPS ground is ... wait for it ... $9.14 to western Massachusetts. That's right, two and a third times more expensive than the product itself.
This is a serious problem and will - and should - keep many from buying the products. If you're desperate for a good wing fix for a party, you could try the 12-ounce bottle at $5.65 for the product and the $9.14 shipping if you're as far from Colorado as I am - or two of those bottles for $9.75. In other words, someone is probably treating shipping as a profit center. Now, the Captain Spongefoot (sorry, the name seems goofy to me) people don't seem to be the ones at fault, but if they want more customers, they should find a way to address this. I'll be sad when my supply runs out, but unless I can get a local store to buy a case, I don't think I'll be picking up more.
Now, for that explanation. I sent a link to the review to the PR contact for the sauce company. A little while ago, a comment waiting for moderation hit my inbox:
The shipping rates that are used are the published rates with NO ADDITIONAL MARK UP. The third party distributor does not add one penny to the cost of shipping. Shipping costs are calculated by weight of the packed being shipped and the destination it is being shipped to. It has nothing to do with the cost of the product in the package.And then I got another email, this time directly from the PR person. Here's part of it:
Thank you for the great review of the sauce, AND for bringing the shipping problem to our attention! The company had requested Centennial Food Distributors to add a U.S. Postal Service option to the shipping section quite some time ago, but it was inadvertently dropped by Centennial for some unknown reason.Let's address the anonymous comment. As I wrote the PR contact:
If you look at the product purchase page now, the cost to send you that same 5 oz bottle to your house is $4.60 via the least expensive U.S. mail option. It actually costs even more, $4.72 to send ME the same bottle to my home right here in Colorado. Any sauce (or product for that matter) you order from anywhere in the country will have a large shipping charge, which is why it’s best to order multiple bottles at the same time.
I really, really, really dislike anonymous comments, especially when it’s obvious that they are coming from a company representative or PR person. That’s the main reason I have moderation in place on my site – because I’ve even had people try to dampen the effect of a mixed or negative review by people whose language and speed of reply gave them away as interested parties.Now, I'm sure the sauce company wasn't making money on the shipping, but I'd make a bet that the distributor was. Even FedEx Home Delivery charges $9.14 for the same roughly one pound to be sent along roughly the same route - and that's for someone without a regular shipping discount checking the rate on the web. When I looked at UPS, it was about the same, including a 50 cent fuel surcharge.
But I know that regular shippers do get discounts - I used to work at a direct response company and am aware of the drill. My bet is that Captain Spongefoot (Why do I keep thinking Spongebob Squarepants?) had nothing to do with it, but that the distributor is claiming to be paying actual invoiced rates, and, I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. And it does make me wonder why the distributor dropped the far cheaper surface mail option without telling the sauce vendor. Finally, even if buying multiple bottles at once could cut the shipping cost per bottle (assuming that shipping two pounds wasn't twice as expensive as shipping one), who wants to have to buy extra bottles that you don't need to use then?
[And another update.... It appears that the anonymous comment came from the distributor, not the sauce company or PR rep. I didn't think it was for the latter given the email she had sent me, though I thought that someone at Captain Spongefoot might have left it without thinking of putting in a name. Ah, well, mystery solved.)
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Review: Trader Joe's Lemongrass Chix Stix and Thai Shrimp Red Curry Rice Bowl
Less impressive to me was the Thai Shrimp Red Curry Rice Bowl. It's not that it was bad, but it seemed a little skimpy on the sauce. Also, you're only supposed to poke a small hole in the center of the film covering the microwaveable bowl, but the material easily tears, which can lead, as I found, to too much steam escaping and a subsequently longer cooking time. (I knew it had too little heat when a couple of the shrimp still looked raw, though a minute more took care of things.) So, a decent enough quick meal, but not something I'd go out of my way to get again.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Review: Trader Joe's Celebration Chocolate Cake
The short take is that the cake was surprisingly good. The people assembled - particularly my wife and one of our family's friends, were discriminating and also accomplished in baking. The overall rating was an 8 out of 10, even if compared with home-made. If you compared it with take-out cakes, you hit a 10 and the results were a good sight better than many you'll find in bakeries. Although the size seemed small - maybe 7-inches - it easily could serve 8 to 10 and possibly as many as 12. The cake does come frozen, and as a result has a shelf life in months. You do need to let it defrost at least four hours ahead of time, but, jeez, it's not as though you need do anything serious to have a pleasing dessert on hand. I can recommend it highly.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Review: Chef To Go, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada
You don't actually get to go through every step of the preparation, as, to be fair, that could take hours of work and offer too much room for mistakes. Instead, most of the prep work is done. For example, our menu consisted of the following:
There were two people serving all the food, including the first two appetizers, already prepared, while everyone was working. (There were also several choices of wine to lubricate the physical labor.) Everyone is done about the same time, sits at tables, and enjoys the dinner. Some of the ingredients came out of the chef's backyard garden.
The "restaurant" is acutally the first two floors of his house, and his wife and he live on the top two. Having an eating establishment in a home is actually an old tradition: you can find it in Havana today, and some decades ago there was a well-regarded and famous example in Manhattan, a woman who offered diners whatever she decided to cook that day.
Arniel had an accomplished career as a chef before opening this spot, and the results tell. Not only are the recipes good, but he has enough understanding of the dynamics of cooking to make the diners comfortable and successful in their efforts. As this is geared to groups, it might be difficult to do one of the dinners. But aside from classes that last a few weeks, he also offers intensive Saturday classes. Cooking and eating in a pleasant atmosphere - what else could you ask for? Chef Arniel said I could post a recipe or two from the ones I received, so here is one for the tenderloin dish:
Cabernet Sauvignon Sauce
- 250 ml cabernet sauvignon
- 250 ml light cream
- 125 ml minced shallots
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2.5 ml fresh thyme
- 1 ml sea salt
- 0.5 ml fresh pepper
- Place all ingredients in heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until reduced by half.
- Pour sauce into blender and puree until smooth.
- Strain through fine strainer and keep warm.
Blue Cheese Crusted Beef Tenderloin
- 250 g Stilton (substitute other blue cheese)
- 100 g butter
- 350 ml coarse fresh bread crumbs
- 10 ml fresh thyme
- 8 beef tenderloin steaks
- clarified butter (substitute olive oil)
- salt and pepper
- Process first cheese and butter in a food processor.
- Add bread crumbs and thyme and process until combined.
- Heat saute pan over high heat, add 1 TBS clarified butter or olive oil, and sear steaks on each side until just browned.
- Let steaks cook and coat each one evenly with blue cheese mixture.
- Finish steaks in 375ºF convection oven (400ºF in normal oven) until medium rare, about 10 minutes.
- Serve with cabernet sauvignon suace.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Cookbook Review: Modern Indian Cooking
The introduction says that this is "an attempt to recreate classic Indian dishes by using simplistic techniques along with a delicious juxtaposition of non-Indian ingredients." Many of the recipes struck me more as an attempt at a type of fusion cuisine, only driven by the spices of the southern, and not eastern, part of Asia. But this sort of combination is tricky - you can get a new take on classics, in which case you need to be grounded enough there, or you can try for something in between two cooking cultures, but that requires maintaining a balance and offering adroit flavor blends that offer complementary hints of each.
I find Modern Indian Cooking to stumble about this ground, so that you will see in the same soup and salad section a take on carrot and ginger soup (not all that startlingly new, even with mustard seeds and curry powder) and a curry corn chowder with roasted poblanos (and if you drop the curry powder, is similar to a corn chowder recipe I saw in Fonda San Miguel).
That's not to say that the recipes look bad. On the contrary, I'm looking forward to trying a number of them. But it's the overarching concept that I find weak. I think it would have been better to pick one ground: either simplifying Indian for western cooks, or sticking to modern approaches to Indian cooking. That said, it does offer many ideas for starting to incorporate Indian spices into western dishes, which could open new ways of practicing cooking for many. The list price is $29.95.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Review: FoodShouldTasteGood Chips
The company name is the same as the chips: FoodShouldTasteGood. You can buy them online, but check your local merchants before paying for shipping and having to get 12 bags at once. And if you need a dip, here's an herbed hummus recipe I posted back in may.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Cookbook Review: Cucina Del Sole
But the lack of pictures makes more room for the writing, which is engaging, and I'm delighted to find someone whose penchant for rambling sentences exceeds even mine. The recipes are marvelous and often surprising. For example, I had done a lot of research into pizza last year as I finished the Complete Idiot's Guide to Pizza and Panini, but I had never seen an approach that called for a biga - a starter slurry of flour, water, and yeast that is variously called a poolish, levain, or sponge, depending on where in the world you are. (And certainly I hadn't seen the tip of adding a teaspoon of white vinegar to adjust the pH of the dough and make it easier to work.) There's a recipe for making semolina-based pasta, rather than the ubiquitous northern Italian approach of eggs and regular flour. There are terrific seafood recipes (no surprise in southern Italy) and meat dishes with variations that are usual in English texts, like Sicilian Braised Rabbit in a Sweet-and-Sour Sauce. The delights continue through vegetables (Marsala Carrots - what a natural pairing) and desserts (Olive Oil Cake with Walnuts). List price is $29.95, and it will be worth every penny - and a lot cheaper than flying to Italy to collect the recipes and know-how yourself.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Book Review: The Spice and Herb Bible, Second Edition
Of course there are sections on growing and using spices, and I found interesting the section on the spices and herbs that specific cuisines use. An approach I hadn't seen before is using relational weights - for example, in Indonesian cooking if you used cloves, turmeric, and coriander seed, they would likely be in a ration of 1 to 5 to 8. My first impression was that there were supposed to be proportions of spice blends, but that didn't make sense when you had, say, 15 different ingredients and you know that the cuisine in question doesn't use all of them every time. And there are recipes for specific spice blends at the end of the book. No, this chapter was to give you a feel for how the given cuisine uses and combines spices - very good to know.
What really grabbed me, though, were the entries for individual spices and herbs. Each includes the following: origin and history, processing, buying and storage, use, other names for the item, names in other languages, suggested quantities for a given type of dish, and what other spices and herbs that work well with it.
You do need to keep in mind that the book is from Australia, because some terminology might throw you. For example, there was a recipe for a savory biscuit. I was thinking the flaky type you bake, and then I suddenly remembered that in Australia and the UK, biscuit can mean a cookie or cracker. You will also find a few spices that aren't readily found in this part of the world. That said, at $24.95, this is a bargain.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Product Review: Smart Chicken Poultry
We had purchased some and put it into the freezer, usually a safe enough thing to do. After defrosting the package of plump leg quarters, I baked the chicken without adding anything. The meat was spongy, like you might expect from a Purdue chicken, and nowhere near the quality of the organic. My guess is that their touted cold air processing doesn't do much to the texture, as the two types of birds receive the same handling, yet the difference would have been obvious in a blindfold test.
If you're thinking of trying Smart Chicken, my suggestion is to purchase the organic or else pass it by and pick up a kosher bird.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Cookbook Review: The Culinary Institute of America Vegetables
Let's ignore the very last claim, as restaurant schools from Johnson & Wales to those in Zurich, France, and Germany might disagree. Physically this is a well-illustrated and designed book. Recipes are laid out with the steps on one page, ingredients running vertically next to the steps, and a full color picture facing. That's critical, because students in a culinary school get to see the food when the instructors show them how to make it. But if you've never laid eyes on a dish, it's difficult to tell whether your results are correct or not.
The one place where the visuals are lacking is in basic preparation and cooking techniques as well as information on storage and individual vegetable types. But economic realities come into play. The volume is already just over 290 pages long at a suggest price of $40; any more, and it would quickly hit the $70 and higher price of culinary text books, putting it out of the price range of all but the most ardent home cooks.
Recipe organization is in a standard set of categories: soups, appetizers, salads, entrées, side dishes, and sauces and relishes. What is unusual for a book covering vegetables is that it’s not vegetarian; there are some recipes that include meat. I was actually happy to see that. Too often vegetables are treated as accompaniments to meats, poultry, and fish, and not as integral parts of the recipe concepts. Those who eschew eating that which moved about at one time won’t like those parts of the book, but for most people, I think it’s a sound approach. I also saw enough unusual dishes – such as Thai Fresh Pea Soup and Hoisin-Caramelized Root Vegetables – that this collection is unlikely to be a duplicate of the standard “exotic” recipes that you find turning up in one book after another. I look forward to the next volume they do in this fashion.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Site Review: Rouxbe Cooking Instruction Video Site
There are some minor weaknesses in the recipes. For example, the cod one said that the fish goes into an over for five to eight minutes, depending on the thickness of the cod. They eventually do say how to tell that the fish is done, but it would have been smart to tell people to wait and that they'd see it soon. But that is criticism almost reaching quibbling.
Even if you are an experienced cook, you might find that you will learn a few new tricks. For example, in the cod preparation, the cook used the flat of a knife to crush olives, making it easy to remove the pits and then chop. Now there's a handy tip that I had never seen before.
I do think that the price is a bit high for this when currently they only have 83 recipes by my count, not including the various intermediary demonstrations, like how to cut a chiffonade, though if you can choose to watch some ads to get to the content, it's not bad at all. It's also tough to get a real sense of the site, and things aren't necessarily clear in the layout. For example, at first I couldn't find the list of ingredients; someone from the site had to point out that clicking a Print button would have given that.
However, I look at this as a first step to new types of cooking sites that will undoubtedly spring up. In fact, I had already planned a series of videos of how to make dough for my new cookbook's web site. This is giving me additional ideas, particularly in terms of integrating background music and using production to get a more useful result.
Apparently the people who run the site see it as an online cooking school, comparing the price in a favorable way. But, as I wrote back, video and even in-home materials aren’t enough, because there are a thousand and one things that someone won’t correctly get and that the teacher won't know without significant professional experience: short-cuts, ways of recovering from problems, tips about how to handle certain ingredients, someone there to correct when the student is doing something wrong, and so on. While video can be a useful tool, it’s not a replacement. However, overall the site is a worthy attempt.