Thursday, June 30, 2011
And like Princess Diana, this summer, marshmallows have received a new and somewhat anorexic makeover. Too soon? No? Okay. Because my other joke was something along the lines of, "And speaking of Lady Di, she looks better in the car than she does at fifty," but that would have been tasteless and inappropriate. No more tasteless than photoshopping that ghastly hat, though! Anyhow, Kraft Jet-Puffed Stackermallows are indeed that, both stackable and marshmallows. They taste like the standard, fleshy innards of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man himself but are now rectangular and flattened.
When Kraft offered to send me these, I was immediately intrigued as with most foods, I like the outside's surface area to be fairly large so as to have a large amount of space for crust, seasoning, sauce, what have you, so I was fairly excited to try these out. I started using these in the method God wants us to use them in, by cooking them over a makeshift campfire on the gas range. While the marshmallows are optimally designed for room temperature usage, they simply do not hold up to the standard rigors of marshmallow activity. The corners of the Stackermallows are very prone to catching fire, and make it difficult to get an even char on each side. I wouldn't consider them jet-puffed in their flat form, either.
For the stove, I tested these in five distances from the flame. The first was approximately one inch from the stove, or as I like to call it, "The Evel Knievel." It can be seen at the 12 o'clock mark on my 14 hour clock. You don't know me! The distances went up by an inch, culminating in the one furthest from the stove, also known as "The Bedwetter." With each test, I kept the marshmallow roasting on each side for twenty seconds. On the one inch mark, the marshmallow immediately caught fire instead of broiling quickly like I expected it to and charred not only itself, but the skewer it held as well. It was like watching a crime happen and I felt uncomfortable after. Note that this is the only marshmallow of the entire bunch with an even, albeit charred, cooking.
The two-inch markmallow managed to retain some of its midsection, but the edges, border, and most of its backside, were burnt and gooey. It smelled like caramel but tasted like pain. When I flushed it down the sink, I heard its gurgles of cold relief burbling from the surface. The three inch met a similar fate, its shorter ends curling upwards like the belied surface of a ribcage. It slumped and fell off and ended up cooking on one side only. The four and five inches were indistinguishable as they both cooked only on the edges and still had a soft, powdery midsection. Just like me! The toasting was less of a failure than these.
It was clear that roasting these marshmallows would not have the desired effect, so I turned to my faithful microwave to do the trick in a makeshift s'more out of Newman's Own Organic hermits, a piece of salted caramel chocolate, and hot honey sauce. No, I wasn't high. No, I don't know what I While ten seconds in the microwave was effective for melting, the marshmallow did not retain its flattened shape and instead, melted off the cookie and slumped over. This effect could have been achieved with a regular marshmallow. With the cookie, the hot sauce, and the chocolate, this was a gross s'more, but not as a result of the marshmallow. If you're looking for value and novelty, pick these up.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The Hornet’s Nest Deli in town really does a nice job of capturing the Branford High School atmosphere with a plethora of Branford high sports memorabilia from lacrosse sticks to jerseys and even including the football helmet of the legendary football star Jim Balzano. The owner Dino really does a good job capturing the BHS atmosphere with the decorations and in the few moments of conversation with him, he definitely has some great future plans for this little deli by displaying artwork from aspiring artist can be bought form the artist if customers of the deli develop enough interest in them.
Like almost every other deli on earth, this one offers regular sandwiches to extreme specialty sandwiches. If you can think of a sandwich, wrap, or a combination of both, they’ll probably make it. On my visit there, I got the “widowmaker” sandwich which consists of: roast beef, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, cheese, and their own horseradish mustard. This sandwich was very well divided and offered the complete spectrum of all the ingredients in every bite. Their special horseradish mustard offered a very nice sweet counterpoint to the red onion but offered a very nice kick also. This sandwich was a perfect blend of the ingredients in every bite and was quite a large sandwich for the very modest price.
The Hornet’s Nest offers at least seven more specialty sandwiches that are all equally as creative as the “widowmaker” and equally as delicious. For me this place will be a consistent go to for a great sandwich and a hearty dose of nerd beating nostalgia of the good old days. This place is affordable and simple. If you’re not expecting haute cuisine, and want a place to grab a reasonably priced and delicious sandwich while getting a great look at what Branford High School is like if not just to gaze upon the wonder of Jim Balzano’s football helmet, The Hornet’s Nest is the place to go.
Again, only 6 items in this week's Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA half-share when there can be up to 9 items. You farmers having a hard time? I know there was a late planting start due to all the early spring rain, then a mini-drought and heat wave, so I'm not really busting your balls.
I ended up swapping out a head of lettuce (still have lettuce kicking on the back patio) for an extra bunch of yellow onions, 'cause you can always use onions, and, dang it, I was too slow to swap out for potatoes.
I immediately ran home from picking up the CSA and boiled the beets (too hot to roast, so opted for the quicker boil) to throw on top of a salad that had our homegrown lettuce, CSA pea tendrils, and leftover roasted potatoes from the Italian Market. OMG, beets are so good! You know you can eat the beet greens! I usually don't, but the greens atop the Chioga beets were so pretty and unmarred from pests, I saved them to throw into smoothies. I only do smoothies for breakfast on the weekend (and sometimes still do cereal), because it doesn't matter how many calories you pack in smoothies, they never hold me til lunch when I go to work. This smoothie had bananas, juneberries, cherries, beet greens, flax seeds, bee pollen, and almond milk all blended together.We got a juicer a few weeks ago, and have been busting it out on the weekends. The boy juiced beet greens (along with about 5 other things), which didn't yield a lot of juice, but we're still in the experimental stage with our juicer, so had to try it. Best to save your greens for smoothies or cooking!
Hey, look! It's another raw kale salad. This time with mangoes and pepitas.
I took two collard leaves and used them to make wraps stuffed with leftover couscous salad, and leftover mangoes. Collard leaves make great low-carb wraps, but, of course, it's not low-carb if you stuff your wrap with couscous! I would pass out if I ate low-carb. Just not gonna happen.
Well, that collard wrap used 2 of the ten leaves in the bunch. I was eating solo for most of this week and needed to get through the veggies much faster, so turned to my favorite way to eat collards - Southern-style. I also used some of the CSA onions, which were so mild and sweet, in these collards. Onions were used here and there, but not in any grand way.
How did you use your CSA or farmers' market haul?
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
On the surface, it looked like a greasy, offbeat dive bar with wonderful local hot dogs. Teo's is located in a neighborhood in the middle of the Berkshires similar to the one my mother grew up in, a blue-collar industrial town largely dominated by factories and farms. Drawn to such places and their respective eateries, I was immediately entranced by the comfortable, dank atmosphere of Teo's with its grimy stained glass windows, lingering decades-old cigarette stench, and lottery machines in the corners of each dining room. This is a restaurant with obvious regulars. They sit at the bar and watch TV while eating their hot dogs, presumably on break from the local factory.
I ordered a classic combination per the recommendations of the internet- two hot dogs with everything, everything being meat sauce, mustard, and onions, and a root beer. I paid my $4.50 and sat down at a table. Waitresses brought steaming plates of hot dogs over to other patrons, and I waited. Ten minutes later, I noticed the waitress beckoning me from the corner of my eye, shouting, "Two everything. Two everything." I came over and received a sad, greasy paper bag with two hot dogs crammed in wax paper and thrown in. When I told her that I wanted to eat in, she merely shoved the bag at me and raised her eyebrows. She was done helping, that much was true.
The hot dogs are around four inches long, hence my ordering two, and are gently nestled in New England-style hot dog buns about an inch longer than their contents. All the better to hold you with, my dear. The buns weren't so much steamed as they were saturated and rendered mushy and pasty with the seepage from the sauce and mustard, and the outsides were smeared with a lethal combination of the two. Now, I understand that the whole experience of a dive is swift and unglamorous service, but this was unacceptable. Raising the little sausage to my lips, I felt as though I was embarking on some terrible, 2 girls 1 cup inspired version of Fear Factor. And to be honest, I might not have been able to tell the difference had these just been given to me on a plate.
The fully erect hot dog, positively referred to as "snappy," seemed to be more in the realm of rubbery and turgid when I got it. The texture was purely Bubblicious, if Bubblicious came in a salty hot dog flavor. The casing was tough to rip through, so chewy that in the grip of my last bite, the hot dog gave up, squirted out the bun, and landed on the floor, leaving a dirty trail of condiments in its wake. Inside the casing is a chunky, beefy meat that tastes mainly of salt and fat. This hot dog is the epitome of the choking warning that every childhood and chain letter inevitably came with.
When ordering, I noticed a wide discrepancy of cooking levels on the hot dogs, ranging from pink and fleshy to burnt and crispy. I requested well-done and received undercooked. The insides were cool and tough, reminding me of my elementary school's reviled boiled hot dogs as a child, though even those were preferable to these little suckers. I was not only tired and hungry from the car ride, but baffled as well. The teaspoon of meat sauce slopped onto my hot dogs was also salty, and with the one-noted flavors of the entire thing, the dominant taste was the mustard, and a weak, watery one at that. I've had better service and quality from a Bronx-based White Castle in the middle of the night. Although my portion was small, I was glad I had not ordered more as the resulting two left a slimy feeling in my mouth and an ache in my stomach later on.
Going to Teo's, I felt pretty burnt, as I'd spent a good chunk of my day making the trip out and had been stiffed in the process. It was unfortunate to find that my money clearly wasn't as good as that of the regulars. In an establishment such as this, I know I'm not the top dog, but the real charm in going to a restaurant is knowing that and still being treated as though you go there every day. Unless you can receive that, why bother going? At least it beats The Suburban.
Note to Eastern CT readers: Last week, a significant part of my grandmother's property was broken into and trashed. I spent a good part of my childhood there and am greatly distressed. While I'd rather not reveal too much here, I'd love it if any locals could email me and give me any possible information they have on it to turn over to the police. Our family is quite upset and would appreciate any help.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Cook Farm has the added geniality of seeming as though it's off the beaten path but existing no more than a mile from the center of Hadley and Route 9. Unlike most off convivial roadside pleasures, though, this is more entertaining than the world's largest ball of yarn and less depressing than a year-round Santa's Village.
Those of you who know me well will no doubt find it amusing to conjure up the image of me cruising blindly down the road, each turn getting more bucolic, whizzing past a slowly moving tractor on the road, epithets and curses gnarled up in my head, stopped at the eleventh hour from leaving my lips as I remember that this was an intentional diversion off my regular beaten path to work. My anxiety mounting as I wonder if I'm actually getting to where I want to go or whether I'm going to wind up on the ground, my knees broken by pitchfork wielding youth in overalls with freckled smirks, the waning drawls of Dierks Bentley my last sentient thoughts. The realization that I am, of course, overreacting and that, if only for a moment, I am privy to beauty in such an unlikely place, minutes from the shopping malls and campus. And ice cream. Delicious, delicious ice cream.
It is not often that I have a moment to myself to savor and meander as I please, so when I came across this, I was more than happy to sit in the sun and eat my ice cream, watching the cows who provided the milk for it low and whisk flies off their tails. Cook's Farm is a sylvan oasis in a bustling, busy town, a fraction of what the world may have been like some 100 years back, had they been abundant with ice cream, though, and just as modest. You'll see no neon signs or advertisements here, their only self-endorsement the amenities of their indoor air conditioning.
The Hadley Grass is aptly named. Swirls of shredded asparagus gently dot the surface of each bite and render the entire confection green. It is generously crammed with sliced raw almonds whose flavor has gradually seeped through the ice cream, making it taste of almond milk and the everpresent asparagus. The flavor is not as uric as I expected it to be, rather, it is summery and verdant and mixes well with the nutty base flavor. Like last night's wasabi Kit Kat, it takes an ordinarily uncommon ingredient in dessert and combines it so that it retains a modicum of its first form yet becomes something entirely unique in a different setting.
This is a popular ice cream, one I would get again as well as recommend to others. Apparently my advice is not necessary, as I was informed by the server that the cup I received was one of the last in that day's batch. Flayvors, despite being burdened with a somewhat awkward name, is a lovely place with ice creams and settings as pastoral as the world around it. Stop by if you need a break from the world and the half-assed suckage of Jenji Kohan's attempt to keep Weeds edgy. Man, season 7 is up to no good. No good can come of chinstraps and ten second's worth of lighthearted lesbian prison motifs.
It's been over 5 years since I've eaten at Cuba Libre, so I jumped at the chance when the restaurant invited me to join them for a bloggers brunch to sample their new Brunch Without Borders menu.
The Brunch Without Borders menu features 30 small plates ranging from breakfast staples like French toast to traditional Cuban taro root fritters, and just about everything else you could ever want for brunch, all with Cuban flare.
For $25 you can sample as many small brunch plates as you want until 1:30pm. Conditions of the unlimited Brunch Without Borders are that all guest at the table must participate, and bags of leftovers are not allowed. If you're not feeling quite so hungry, you are free to order a la cart from the menu until 2:30pm.
The brunch menu is broken down into four sections: pescados, carne, vegetales, and sopas y otros cosas. There are plenty of dishes for a vegetarian to choose from without feeling limited.
Our server recommended about 5 plates per person, but, of course, if you're doing the unlimited brunch you can order as many as you like. Our server also stating that the service would be paced so that all of the plates did not come out at once, so if you're feeling too full and realize you over ordered, you can call it quits. While not all of the plates came out at once, four dishes landed at the table to start, and I already felt overwhelmed with the pacing of the dishes.Cuba Libre has many rum drinks and tropical cocktails, as well as mimosas and bloody marys (drinks aren't included in the $25 brunch), but we chose to keep the imbibing healthy with a sampler of aqua frescas. Small glasses of fresh passion fruit, mamey, guanabana, lulo, and guava juices arrived in a cute blue wooden crate. Perfect for the indecisive, or those who want it all.
The corn pancakes (sans bacon) were my favorite dish, despite the fact that I rarely order or truly enjoy pancakes at restaurants. The fluffy pancakes tasted for the most part like standard pancakes, and only slightly of corn, but the dollop of sweet mango butter and slightly bitter rum molasses syrup jazzed up a brunch standard. If you like mineral-y syrups like cane syrup, sorghum, or molasses, you'll love these pancakes.
Note to deal-seekers: these pancakes ($6) are larger than they appear, and, honestly, this dish alone would have sufficed if you want to keep brunch to a reasonable amount of food.
My second favorite dish was the Huevo Habanero. Despite the name, the poached egg in enchilada sauce with grilled corn salsa is not a mouth burner, but a pleasantly balanced savory dish with just a hint of heat. We just wished for more subtly sweet, spongy, Monterey Jack cheese arepas to sop up the sauce.The Cuban chocolate waffle with bananas, dried cherries, whipped cream, and vanilla syrup was one of the boy's favorite dishes (mine, too) even though the dried cherries could have been a little more hydrated to make them softer, and we wanted a bit more syrup. The edges of the waffle were crispy, and the waffle was chocolate. Chocolate! Enough said.The boy's other favorite dish was the African adobo-rubbed charred tuna with pickled cucumbers and avocado salsa surrounded by Meyer lemon-curry oil. I can't comment on this dish, but it made the boy's top two, so there's that.Another dish I can't comment on is the mojito cured salmon and Boursin cheese grilled “Medianoche” sandwich with grape tomatoes and pickled cucumber salad. While the boy said the sandwich was perfectly fine, and resembled a grilled cheese in preparation crossed with a finger sandwich in fillings, he just wasn't feeling it (I bet he'd be feeling it at midnight!). The slightly sweet and salty pickled cucumbers and tomatoes were gobbled up, though.Similarly, I felt the hazelnut and almond encrusted brioche French toast topped with a dense and rich Frangelico-Mascarpone, strawberries, and strawberry-honey drizzle was perfectly fine, but I just wasn't feeling it. The sum of the parts of fancy French toast at almost every eatery just never seems to add up to my high expectations.
Billed as a traditional Cuban appetizer of purple taro root, garlic and culantro, the friturras de malanga (taro fritters) were our least favorite of the bunch. The outside of the fritters had a great crunch a deep brown color, but the insides were soggy (undercooked?) and bland. Taro is not that flavorful naturally, and I'm sure the exotic sweet and sour tamarind ketchup is supposed to counter the neutral taro, but I want flavor at both ends of the plate.Problem is solved by ordering the very flavorful and rich spinach and Manchego cheese puffs atop a tangy goat cheese ranch sauce and organic olive oil that was so good we wanted more to drag the crispy puffs through. Like the taro fritters, though, we thought the inside could have been cooked a little more, or at least a little less wet.Hope you like mushrooms (I do, but was expecting more greens than mushrooms), because you get a fairly large plate of fungi when you order the grilled, citrus marinated mushroom salad topped with mixed micro-greens. The citrus marinade and thinly sliced red onions add a little zip to the salad.If you're militant about having guacamole "just so" you might want to skip the Guacamole Cubano which has cubed (not mashed) avocado and hunks of pineapple. I found the guacamole perfectly salted, light, and tropical, but I don't get upset when "foreign" objects (pineapple in guacamole is actually traditional in Cuba) find their way into my guac. The accompanying ultra crispy, salted plantain chips are a nice change from tortilla chips.The twice-fried, savory, green plantain tostones were bigger than any we've ever seen. Hot, lightly salted, and non-greasy, I wish I had more room in my stomach to use the fried green plantains as a vehicle for the compelling garlic mojo dipping sauce which was tart and garlicky, two of my favorite tastes.
We ordered eleven dishes between two people in order to sample as much of the menu as we could (there were still a few vegetarian dishes that we didn't get to!), and lets just say that we grossly over ordered. If you do not enjoy gorging yourself, I might recommend ordering a la carte.
If you want a license to order without limits, you really can't go wrong with any dish on Cuba Libre's Brunch Without Borders menu, as we were quite impressed with the quality and tastiness of all the dishes that came out of Cuba Libre's kitchen.
With a new, expansive menu, you might want to consider Cuba Libre for brunch (I never had until now), not only for the great food, but, seriously, it's just crazypants to wait an hour for brunch like you have to do at some of the more popular brunch spots in town.
Disclosure: The above meal and drinks were provided to me by Cuba Libre as part of a "blogger brunch." However, my opinions are all my own.
10 S. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Sometimes, the world can be a cruel, cold place.
And other times the fates shine upon us. This is true in the case of the wasabi-flavored Kit Kat, a condiment I am often known to eschew. Only in the humid days of summer, in the sweating, balmy walls of a sushi house quietly playing Maggie May, will I consume a blob with my delicious Philadelphia roll. However ambivalent I may be toward wasabi, Keepitcoming's enthusiasm for the stuff is tenfold. We ordered this treat on a lark from napaJapan.
The consistency of this snack is the quintessential 'Kat you all know and love, but the taste hints of exoticism with a smile. Truly, this is a snack with its feet in both worlds, but a home in neither. The wasabi flavor is gentle, much like my persistent, sweetly drunken caresses in the shadows of local watering holes, paired with a natural, powerful vanilla bean cream in and outside the bar. While the wasabi is not as powerful or as nose-clearingly intense as that of the restaurant paste, it establishes its presence as a grassy heat and makes a pungent and unique dessert. This candy is not of the ilk of shock foods, whose intense ingredients merely serve the purpose of boasting rather than bolstering the quality of the overall confection. It is far more accessible than chipotle in most desserts and should replace it as the go-to spice for sweets. I found that the flavors melded together extremely well while maintaining the integrity of each component and created a unique sensation in the mouth. Candies like this rejuvenate my élan for the absurd. With wasabi flavored Kit Kats, anything can happen.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Alternatively, I could just purchase these "modern" margarita mixers by The Modern Cocktail. They'd give me the ball-breaking satisfaction of feeling like I paid $15 for a cocktail with all of the mediocre flavor and disappointingly low level of alcohol and the bright, tropical neon colors that would provide a potable Bat signal to natives of whatever island I'm inhabiting- "Scam me! I'm a giant tourist with money!" Now that I can do this in my home, I'm away from all those fears. At $7.99 a pack, you get your choice of five different cocktails. You, however, must provide the alcohol and ice. The pack also comes with the ever-hilarious "rimming crystals," which sounds like it might be a fetish involving cat litter as well as body parts that are able to be rimmed much like a margarita glass. The rimming crystals look like tasty powdered sugar but are in fact, salt, and are overwhelming within the composition of the beverage.
However depressing it is that I'm doing this by myself, I can only imagine the sheer level of despair should this product hit a couple whose marriage is on the rocks (HA HAAAAA). Each flavor will make you feel as though the maker of this beverage wants to personally hunt you down and kill your family, or at least try to sell them store-brand soda syrup. The process of making these is fun but also lulls you into a false sense of complacency. You're making drinks! You're wild and spontaneous! Your marriage will be okay and your teenage son will stop killing the neighbor's pets!
And then you take a sip of the classic margarita, the exotic blood orange or mango margarita, or the ever-friendly watermelon or strawberry margarita, and you realize that all of these flavors are terrible and your wife is cheating on you with the disturbingly homosexual-looking man next door named Rafaelo, who regales you with tales of Bermuda in his days of youth, picking fresh pineapples and using them to make margaritas, or whatever the hell actually goes in margaritas, as you frantically sweat and blink and nervously thrust these food coloring ridden bastardizations on him as though you are bringing a gift from civilization and technology. He delicately disposes of them at night and makes sweet, sweet love to your wife.
Rafaelo aside, these are not worth your $8, which in fact, may be better off allocated to that $15 cocktail. At least the bartenders know what they're doing. Unless you're poorer than I and even more pretentious and somehow equate faux mixology and the lingering taste of Tums and cough syrup in your mouth with wealth, polo, and the elite class, these will not satisfy the collegiate cocktail connoisseurs of the country. Cunt. Cabbage. Can't commence creating cocktails. Crap.