Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Determining Your Gastronomic Limits

I am not kind to my stomach. Even when I know the two-hours-from-now Brian will be cursing the present time I-could-go-for-a-snack Brian, I continue to punish my digestive system. Think: a large ice cream sundae after a smorgasbord of sub par sushi.

Yesterday at the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, MA, I confirmed the above. After walking by a literally endless array of food vendors, I carefully chose a sure-miss lunch: jambalaya. Everyone knows that if there's one place north of the Mason Dixon line where you should get fine Cajun cuisine, it's a 200-year-old agricultural fair in rural Massachusetts.

To drown my sorrows in what was clearly a poor choice, I decided to treat myself to something that harkens back to Dawn's old post: Boardwalk Food - A Summer Must. I got fried twinkies. For a meager $5, I watched as the man from the funnel cake cart grab two chilled twinkies on sticks, dip them in batter, deep fry them, shake on some powdered sugar, cover them with whipped cream, and drizzle on a brown substance approximating chocolate.

I have to admit, I was only able to eat one of them. Even so, my stomach was cursing me for much of the day.

While I could lie and say that I've learned my lesson, I'm positive this is far from the last time something like this will happen.

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Ultimate Snack Food - Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are food royalty in my life, they rule my sweet tooth world. As most people who like cookies go, you've probably had a ton of different types of chocolate chip cookies. There are only two real kinds - crispy and chewy (a.k.a. soft baked).

Chewy is just an abomination - unless you're personally standing there watching cookies come out of the oven, a cookie should not be flexible. Any chewy chocolate chip cookie is pumped full of chemicals to make it bendable, and tastes like it.

I'll focus on the positive - Crispy! There are many good crispy chocolate chip cookies out there, from mom and pop operations to mass market. Here's my take on the top few manufacturers out there in different categories:

Top National Brand - Pepperidge Farm Nantucket Chocolate Chunk Cookie, large and crispy, loaded with dark chocolate chunks. They carry several other styles of chunk cookies, all good as well. This is the best TRAVEL cookie - car trip, picnics, camping and more. They're even stored in seperate stacks inside the bag for easy sharing as well as for protection from busting up. The bonus is that in hot weather, you leave the bag in the sun and the chips get gooey, simulating fresh out-of-the-oven cookies. I can't tell you how many summers I spent as a teenager at the Jersey Shore reading Weekly World News and munching on gooey Pepperidge Farm cookies.

Top Local Brand (Northeast US) - Peggy Lawton Choco Chip Cookies, a best kept secret of New England. This is the cookie you find most in sub shops, grocery stores, schools, and roach coaches. It's the working man's cookie. They are shrink wrapped (it's an art form learning to open them up) in a set of 3, and come in several kinds such as sugar (mmm), peanut butter, oatmeal, and more. The link above is for a chowhound.com posting about the brand, as Peggy Lawton doesn't have a website that I can locate (old school!). The Choco-Chip cookies are this amazingly perfect dry and crisp cookie with almost a "salt" feeling, the chocolate chips rounding out the "sweet". It has the same draw for me as a chocolate covered pretzel. You definitely can not eat just one. It's all or nothing for Peggy Lawton.

Top Boutique Brand - David's Cookies, I discovered this brand through a cafeteria in our building at work. They get them through a foodservice company, and bake them fresh - handing out free samples on Fridays. Or I can buy them at 3 for a dollar, which I manage to do on average of once a week. They have captured the holy grail of Chocolate Chip Cookie Texture. The outside is firm and crunchy, but the inside is slightly chewy and the chips are borderline gooey. The taste follows suit as perfect. I can't vouch for David's offerings of pre-made cookies, but all I can say is I'm ready to buy a bucket of dough from these guys.

And one final note... I'm a No Nuts girl. Macadamia nuts are OK on occasion since they are exotic, but that's it! People manage to ruin a good chocolate chip cookie with the palatable taste of aptly named WALNUT MEATS. No thanks! Blech.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mac and Cheese Fritters

All I can say about Mac and Cheese Fritters is that if they were around when I was in college, I would have been at least 400 pounds.

I don't know how they do it, but they fry up a ball of macaroni and cheese. The outside is crunchy (not greasy) like a mozzarella stick. The inside is divinely loaded with macaroni and cheese in perfect condition. It's like a Comfort Food Munchkin.

This little delight was found at the Biltmore Bar & Grille, a quaint pub in Newton Upper Falls (MA) where we recently had a private work party. If you're in the Metro Boston area and want to know pleasure on a plate, stop on in.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

Being a Virgo, I'm a huge fan of my birthday - aside from receiving well wishes, the largest icon of the birthday is the Birthday Cake. Since I've had just over 40 of these in my life, I have a pretty solid opinion on types of birthday cake, and also how to eat them.

My favorite Birthday Cake is Ice Cream Cake. Tom Carvel was my man from an early age. With a Carvel in my town, my birthday was not complete without a Carvel Ice Cream Cake. I do recall when I was small, that there was a light-colored row of crunchies in the middle layer, along with the chocolate crunchies. (anyone else remember that?) I'm not elitist when it comes to cakes, JP Licks does a good ice cream cake, and there's also the bi-sexual cake... the one layer of cake with one layer of ice cream together which is VERY naughty. I'm a big fan of bakery cakes as well, with a variety of frosting flavors - some that make your teeth ache, others that make you want to lick the plate clean.

My lovely and smart husband picked up a small triple layer bakery cake, golden cake with white frosting for my birthday. The frosting had a bit of an almond flair to it, almost undetectable but there. It was quite good - frosting sweet but not painful - perfect accompaniment to a small glass of milk. My dear co-poster Brian inscribed his drawing of the proper way to eat a piece of birthday cake in a card sent to me, which was the impetus to this posting.

Here's the way I would eat a triple layer (same general process for double layer) cake. It's all about proportion. Start with the most bland, lowest cake layer at the point, including the frosting row above it, working your way to the frosted end-cap. Move up each layer at a time in similar fashion. When you get to the top layer, eat the first part of the cake till you get about half way. Here are a few options:
a) use your fork and bisect the cake edge, so you are eating either the top frosting with a triangle wedge of cake, or the end-cap frosting with the triangular wedge of cake (as shown in the diagram).
b) eat both the top and end-cap in little blocks, so each bite has an "L" of frosting.

I tend to eat the B version, because it feels like i'm eating a lot of frosting - the big finish! I also do something similar with pies when i get to the crust.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dress Like Your Favorite Food

I've been blessed with a sweet-as-heck 5 month old baby girl, and with the impending New England weather, her Nana sent some money for a snowsuit. Doing a websearch for "baby bunting" I found an insane amount of bizarre outfits that you can put your baby in. There was a large majority of Halloween Costume-esque ones, and a few disturbing ones (the whoopie cushion) but the ones I liked the best were the food costumes.

Wonder Bread - visions of pure chemicals dance before your eyes, the only bread that tastes as plastic as the bag it comes in.

Banana - nature's greatest pleasure, my favorite all purpose fruit. Why would I dress my daughter up as one? I'm not sure, but I don't think I could take her out in public without scarring her for life.

Smarties - the candy that was the only rival to Pez in its taste, size, and stackability. Does it transfer somehow metaphorically onto a baby? Not in any way I can think of, and I'm kind of twisted.

And my favorite food outfit I think is the Mustard Squeeze Bottle. I don't know why. It might be the simplicity of the design.... sleek and yellow, with the complementary "cap" hat, and the straightforward MUSTARD text emblazoned across the suit.

If you have twins, you could get the obvious partner suit, the Hot Dog.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Living in the Lemon Light

How is it that the Lime lives in the shadow of it's far less intriguing cousin the Lemon?

Sure, Lemons deliver pure sour flavor that requires sugar to make lemonade palatable (and darned refreshing).

Sure, Lemons can delicately accent the subtle flavors of grilled fish or fried calamari.

But it's the complexity in the Lime that add depth and intrigue to foods. Limes are sour in one recipe, then sweet in the next.

It's time to upstage the Lemon.

[Keep a few in the fridge and discover new uses for the Lime.]

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Would you like a cup of REAL TEA?

Hot tea is something that, as a child, you only have when you’re sick. As you get older, it reappears as a drink alternate and this is when people’s tastes begin to change.

In my teens, I drank black tea with honey. In my 20’s it was black tea with a spoon of sugar and a lot of milk. In my 30’s it was black tea with 16 grains of sugar and a big splash of milk. In my 40’s (as in ‘still 40 for one more month’, thank you) it’s 16 grains of sugar and a medium to small splash of milk. My current reasoning is that the sugar shaves off the bitter high points of the tea, and the right amount of milk provides a nice body to it. That is the way I normally take my tea.

As a ‘tea person’, I also can drink tea with honey, herbal tea, and the only tea so far I couldn’t handle at all was Lapsang Suchong, which tasted like a hot wet ashtray. I love iced tea in its various forms (sweetened and unsweetened home made), the only brands I like in a bottle are real brewed with lemon Snapple and the Assam Black Honest Tea.

As far as hot teas, these are MUST HAVES in order of favorites:

Yorkshire tea – I prefer the red box

Canadian Red Rose tea – Red Rose Brand tea in Canada is MUCH better than the US version, can only be ordered from Canada

PG tips - they have the triangular tea bag

King Cole (they also carry THE BEST black decaf I've had to date)

Barry’s Tea - I've been drinking the Irish Breakfast but I hear it's all good.

If you are a REAL TEA drinker, I strongly encourage you to try these teas! Please comment on your personal favorite teas, we’re willing to try anything if it’s good!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cereal or French Toast -- How about both?

This morning, when my wife suggested we make french toast for the kids, I jumped at the opportunity to try something I saw on the show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on the Food Network. It turns out there's a restaurant in Baltimore called the Blue Moon Cafe that serves Cap'n Crunch French Toast.

We didn't have Cap'n Crunch, but we did have Trix. Here's how to make Cereal French Toast:
  1. Crush the cereal in a bag or with a mortar and pestle. I imagine it would work well with many crunchy, sugary cereals such as Cap'n Crunch, Trix, Honeycomb, Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs, Fruity Pebbles, Honey Nut Cheerios, and even Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Don't crush it too much, you don't want it to be a powder.
  2. Mix eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar thoroughly in a bowl. I find it's usually about one egg per piece of bread.
  3. Dip pieces of bread in the egg mixture, then in the crushed cereal.
  4. Cook the french toast in butter at a medium heat until the toast is cooked just through. Be careful not to char the cereal.
Enjoy!

Chalky Foods

I'm really not sure why, but I love chalky foods. When I was a kid and my mom let pick candy at the pharmacy, I wouldn't gravitate toward the Whatchamacallit or the Charleston Chew, but instead, I wanted Tums. Yes, Tums.

Maybe it's subconscious knowledge of some severe calcium deficiency. Or maybe I just enjoy the way chalky foods turn to powder in your mouth and spread the flavor all around. Regardless of why, I love chalky foods.

Some examples of chalky foods I enjoy:
  • Tums (minty flavors over fruity flavors)
  • Merengue Cookies (Trader Joes and Whole Foods have great ones)
  • Freeze Dried Fruit and Ice Cream (Trader Joes has Mango, Strawberries and Rambutan)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ice Cream "Melts" from 1/2 Gallon to 1.5 Quarts

At some point as an adult, you realize that the things you remember as being really BIG as a child are actually kind of normal or even small. For instance, the walk from the schoolyard through the back field to my yard at home seemed like a mile easy, when in fact it was about 200 yards. I think that Twinkies have shrunk as well, they used to be a sunny yellow color and clock in about the size of my forearm, when now they're this brownish greasy cake that i can eat in two bites. I wasn't sure if I just grew up a whole lot, or they shrunk the cakes and didn't tell anyone.

So...the other day my husband stared in disbelief when he discovered that he got only one bowl of the Breyers Dulce de Leche ice cream. I found that hard to believe, when my mother and I each had 2 very small bowls. Breyers is always good for a party, feeding umpteen people small servings. Then I was informed that Breyers shrunk their half gallon ice cream to 1.75 quarts and now to 1.5 quarts, which made me promptly head to the freezer. I pulled out the replacement ice cream (Breyers cherry vanilla) and in fact it WAS 1.5 quarts, and over $4 to boot. Same price, less ice cream?

I went online and found this great posting on Consumerist about the Breyers shrinkage. I gather it's a cost of goods issue, rather than a decrease in the popularity of the half gallon. Now I will have to pay $4.29 a gallon to drive to the store 2x a week instead of once to refill my ice cream stash. I guess it's time to go on a diet!

In which other cases has the recent economy affected other foods?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cutting Brownies

Here's a trick that my wife taught me when cutting a pan of brownies. Cut off about 1/2" of brownie from the edges of the pan, then cut up and serve only the insides. This approach works great for two reasons:
  1. None of your brownies will be 'edge pieces' (aside from my father, people tend to prefer the inner pieces).
  2. If you've made the pan of brownies for company, you can eat the edges you've cut off without feeling guilty that you're eating food you made for guests.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fried Pickles

Tonight I had the opportunity to try something I've never tried before: Fried Pickles. I really wasn't sure what to expect as I'd never even considered frying a pickle.

I was pleasantly surprised. The juiciness of the pickle was totally preserved and its tang opposite the comfort-food fried batter provided a nice juxtaposition.

While I can't see sitting down and eating any more than three of these things, they were definitely a nice treat. Pickle-lovers, check out Dawn's earlier post "Pickles Rule ~ Olives Drool" for a more, in-depth exploration of the subject of pickles.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Homemade Flip Flop Waffles II

To celebrate July 4th, I took the suggestion from a comment on my Homemade Flip Flop Waffles and made some Patriotic Waffles/Pancakes. I split my batter into three parts: one normal (white), one with blueberries (and blue food coloring), and one with strawberries (and red food coloring). While my kids didn't love the flavors, I think they came out great. The only tough part was trying to pour the three different parts together (given that I have two hands).

Enjoy!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Pat's vs. Geno's

Yesterday I found myself in Philadelphia. While there, I made a special trip to investigate one of the all-time food rivalries: Pat's vs. Geno's Cheesesteaks. On a prior trip to the City of Brotherly Love, someone told me about the two most popular cheesesteak places in the city, which happen to be right across the street from each other.



My wife and I decided to split up and each grab a cheesesteak from one of the restaurants, meet up in neutral territory, and do a taste test. The first thing we noticed was that each of these restaurants had an incredibly long line. In fact, Geno's line spilled right out into the street. Then, as we got closer, we realized that there was a language that has been developed for the sole purpose of ordering cheesesteaks: wit, whiz, provo, etc... One my last trip to Phili, I got a whiz wit from Jim's Steaks on South Street. This time, I decided to stick with provo wit's as the sodium cheese whiz pretty much hijacked the entire sandwich experience.


Prior to tasting the cheesesteaks, I was hoping I would like Pat's better than Geno's. Pat's is the original cheesesteak restaurant. Additionally, Pat's has only an understated blue sign vs. Geno's Vegas-ish neon carnival.












The first thing we realized when we got the steaks was that they were essentially identical. The bread looked the same, as did the meat, cheese and onions. Only after a few bites from each cheesesteak were we able to discern between the two. While there was definitely more meat in Pat's, the meat from Geno's (at least in ours) was significantly more tender. Therefore, even though I wanted to like Pat's, I had to give it to Geno's.

Truth be told, if there's one thing I learned about Phili Cheesesteaks, it's that they're pretty much underwhelming. They definitely could fill the role of solid, comfort food lunch, but they're definitely not packed with flavor and the meat is pretty stringy (even Geno's more tender cheesesteak). From what I heard, the Vietnamese place around the corner is significantly better than both...



Geno's Steaks on Urbanspoon Pat's King of Steaks on Urbanspoon

-Brian

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Great Idea - Failed Execution II

Here's another great idea in theory that doesn't quite work in practice -- Blow Pop Minis. I really like Blow Pops (particularly Cherry) and was pretty excited by the prospect of creating a candy that was a Blow Pop without the stick. I always found lollipops to be somewhat cumbersome and will often try to remove the stick and eat it like a sucker.

The Blow Pop Mini just doesn't work. Here's the basic scenario:
  1. Insert a Blow Pop Mini in your mouth
  2. Suck on it for a while (a la that Tootsie Roll Pop owl.... One... Two... Tha-ree... crunch)
  3. Chew it to get at the gum center
  4. Feel unfulfilled with the extremely small amount of gum in your mouth
  5. Insert another Blow Pop Mini
  6. At this point, the gum in your mouth get stuck to the Mini you've just inserted, making the new mini difficult to eat.
Unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to wait for the non-mini version as this snack doesn't work for me.

On the Vine

So, here's a dilemma... my little daughter can be pretty stubborn. She sometimes insists on doing things her way. For example, she'll only eat grapes if they're still on the vine. Unfortunately, for a 15-month-old, grapes can be a bit of a choking hazard. That's why we do this:

Monday, June 16, 2008

Things You Eat In A ROW

You can’t have come this far in life and never polished off a “row” of your favorite snack food. Perhaps you don’t want to admit it, because in some packages a row constitutes upwards of 20 items on average. Whether it was in high school or yesterday, it happens to all of us.

Here are a few of my favorite things I could eat by the row (from recent to past history):
- Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies
- Fig Newtons
- Oreos (not Double Stuff)
- Pringles (this means the whole can)
- Vienna Fingers

Those of us who have had our highly indulgent moments can look back on the food fest with a bit of embarrassment or pride. What is YOUR weakness, and more importantly, are you big enough to admit it?

Great Idea - Failed Execution

Everything about these tortilla chip 'Scoops' should be great. The theory of creating a tortilla chip that holds a lot of salsa and doesn't break is a great idea.

Then why, in my opinion, does it fail so completely?

I see a couple of reasons why it doesn't work:
  1. The tortillas are too thick. I assume this is due to the fact that these chips are created to not break, but I feel the thinner the chip the better. These chips are just too thick.
  2. The shape doesn't work. When you put them in your mouth, the sides of the chips stick into the roof of your mouth.
For now, I'll continue to stick with the easily found Hint of Lime Tostitos Tortilla Chips... and continue to be jealous of everyone who lives near a Chevy's -- man I love their chips and salsa.

Anyone know where I can get good chips and salsa in Boston?

CupCAKE

Here's a picture of a cool cake that my mother made for Father's Day. It was made using a cupcake pan.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Perfect Topping, But What Can You Put It On?

At the Cambridge River Festival in Cambridge, MA today (6/14/08), found a couple of my favorites that I only seem to eat at Festivals and Farmers' Markets. Along with a big bag of kettle corn, I purchased a jar of Hot Pepper Jelly (I got Tyler's Sweet Revenge - Hot Pepper Jelly).

I truly love this stuff. It's a great mix of sweet and spicy. Somehow the jelly seems to hold on to spice from the peppers and let it linger on your tongue. There's only one rather large problem with this stuff. I haven't figured out how to incorporate it into my day-to-day eating. Serving suggestions usually include using it as a glaze on fish or chicken or spreading it on a turkey sandwich. Unfortunately, I generally don't have these things in my regular diet. Usually, I'll just get a box of Wheat Thins and dig in.

-Brian

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Quick Mango Salsa

My wife and I sometimes like mango salsa on our salmon. The most difficult part of it is definitely doing the shopping.

Mix to taste:
  • chopped mango (hard to find a good one in Boston)
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • pickled jalapeƱo
  • chopped red onion
  • olive oil (just a little)
  • lime juice (careful not to overdo)
  • sugar (if you put in too much lime juice)
We'll serve the salmon over rice and throw some salsa on it. I then proceed to mix it up and eat it with a spoon, my wife prefers it more civilized.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

New Tastes

I'm constantly seeking new foods -- hoping I'll taste something truly unique that I've never had before (see the previous post on the durian). At this point in my life, it seems to be quite difficult to find a flavor that truly catches me off guard. I'm therefore jealous of my kids.

The other night, I had the pleasure of giving fried dough and fried oreos to my kids for the first time (see Dawn's post last year). My son's face lit up like he just got the elusive Lego Sponge Bob set that he only asks for about three time a day.

Yet another reason to want to be a kid again. :)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The King of Fruits

So, I was watching 'Bizarre Foods' on the Travel Channel and the host, Andrew Zimmern, (who eats everything from blowfish to snake penis) admits that he has trouble eating a particular fruit called the Durian. Apparently, this fruit smells so bad, and has such a gross texture, that even though it actually tastes decent, many people cannot bring themselves to eat it.


After seeing this on TV, I asked a number of people if they'd heard of the Durian. Everyone who had heard of it seemed to have a response like: "I've heard it is putrid" or "Isn't the the fruit that smells like sweaty socks" or "I think it's banned on the subway in Singapore" -- but no one had ever actually smelled or tasted it. At this point, I was pretty intrigued and had to find out for myself.






A friend of mine from the office, Jonah, and I went to Chinatown here in Boston to an Asian Market called Super 88. It didn't take long to find the Durians. The fruits are very large, about the size of a pineapple, and very spikey. In fact, Jonah's hand was impaled when one rolled on top of it. We bought a Durian and brought it back to the office to let it defrost and ripen for a day.












The following day, the Durian was soft, but still pretty spikey. A group of folks from the office brought the Durian outside (just in case in really smelled like sweaty socks) for an official tasting. It definitely didn't disappoint.

Smells included Grandma's Basement, Chinatown, A Trash Can Sprayed with Potpourri, and Butt. Upon slicing open the fruit, we were instantly hit with a strong scent of formaldehyde. The inside of the fruit had four separate sections, each yellow and fleshing resembling raw chicken. The taste was compared to Onions, Custard, and House Paint. The texture was surprisingly slimey. There is no denying that the smell and taste of the Durian is incredibly complex.









Overall, while I'm glad I tasted the Durian, it's definitely not a favorite of mine. Like others, I would agree that the problem with the Durian comes from the smell and texture rather than the taste. If you have a Durian story, please share it with me.

-Brian

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mr Shrimp, Please Remove Your Feet at the Door

Shrimp is one of the easiest seafoods to eat - most folks who aren't 'seafood people' can eat shrimp without making too many faces. This could be due to the fact that shrimp is usually battered, fried, dipped, or marinated and grilled into a mere vehicle to carry the coating to your belly. I'm classifying shrimp into two ways to eat it - appetizer mode and meal mode.

In appetizer mode, shrimp is great. It comes cooked and delivered to you with a built in handle, and you can tell which end you hold and which end you eat. If it's 'naked shrimp', as in shrimp cocktail, it's even easy to pinch the tail to get the whole piece out into your mouth. Love the shrimp!

Here's where the joyride ends on shrimp... you go to a restaurant, skim the menu and choose the MEAL... baked stuffed shrimp, shrimp scampi, the list goes on. It arrives steaming and hey, there's the shrimp with the feet still on. Now, what are you supposed to do? Here's a photo of my friend John's shrimp feet. He ordered Shrimp Fra Diavolo, which is loaded with tomato sauce over a bed of angel hair pasta. John is an architect, even architects don't know how to carefully, delicately, or smoothly extricate the shrimp from their feet as they slide around on a bed of pasta. Unless they have made a foot extractor in recent history (like a nutcracker, or an apple corer), this unnecessary surgery has to be done with a lot of consternation before you can enjoy your meal. Since you're using a fork and knife, you have to cut it, losing a portion of the foot meat inside the shell. Or, you have to reach into your bowl or dish and use your hands, which is nasty in public. Regardless of how you take them off, you have the unsightly "feet on the butter plate" thing going (as pictured here).

I'd like to think that I'm an average restaurant customer, I've eaten at all different levels of industry service and quality. I really think I can count on one hand the amount of times the feet have been removed from shrimp dishes that need to be eaten with a fork and knife. Is it a presentation thing? Is the food preparer afraid to touch the shrimp - are they using it as a sanitary handle? In Seinfeld's words, What's the Deal? Hey Chef - if anyone can actually answer why the majority of shrimp main courses MUST have the feet on them, please enlighten me and all of my Fun Food Fight friends who shout out their shrimp feet frustrations.