Monday, August 29, 2011

Farberware Stainless Steel Blender

Recently, Keepitcoming Love and I received a few new appliances from the wonderful folks of Farberware in anticipation for their new line, debuting this September. The three new pieces include a blender, food processor, and coffee and tea machine, and are all made of stainless steel with LED touchpad controls. Today, we checked out the blender and made our first batch of homemade hot sauce.

The Farberware blender retails for $59.88 and features a seven cup capacity for all of your liquifying projects. I would have killed for this when my wisdom teeth had been taken out. Taking it out of the box, it has a few features and interesting add-ons that I'm a fan of. There's a special cord hiding system in the bottom of the machine, which allows you to store the cord and keep it out of the way or tether it closer to your outlet. Speaking from the point of view of someone who continually stretches the limits of most appliances, I found the cord a hair too short and, though I appreciated the hiding system, I didn't find that I really used it while using the blender.

So, the recipes. I tested this out on two of my favorite foods, hot sauce and milkshakes. The hot sauce was the brainchild of an unexpected bumper crop of Hungarian Wax and Jalapeno peppers, all five of which you can see here. Each pepper happened to ripen in a different color, thus inspiring the name "Rainbow Sauce" for my eventual product. I expect to trademark it by next week. The hot sauce was perfect to test out in the new blender. After checking out a few recipes, dumping my ingredients in, and turning the ignition, I played around with the settings.

The blender's LED touchpad isn't really a touchscreen in the sense of an iPad, but is configured more like a fancy keyboard with a persistent backlight. It's somewhat difficult to tell when the blender is off or on as the light stays on at all times. It does not have a safety lock when the pitcher is off its stand. It has manual settings for ULTIMATE CONTROL and pre-set speeds. I tested all of them and didn't find much of a difference between them, but left with the new found knowledge that this blender is powerful. In both a good way and a bad way. On one side, it only takes about three pulses on the medium setting to get a smooth, creamy milkshake. On another side, those three pulses nearly pulverized it into oblivion and made crumbs of the three Oreos I crammed inside. Slap a Tengwar inscription and call me Sauron, because this was almost too powerful for its own good.

12:03 is sexytime. Milkshake, anyone?

The little perks of buying a nice blender are similar to the perks of buying a nice car. Our last blender was loud, not very powerful, and had a faulty design that made it nearly impossible to clean. People often ask what the appeal is in nicer versions of the same thing. Mercedes over Honda. iPod over Zune. Leather over latex. The answer is that the sum of its parts may appear to be the same, but the details are so enticing that it makes it completely worth it. Take this blender. The stainless steel accents are both pretty and easy to clean. The Easy Clean button is an ingenious concept that is just now being put into reality. A drop of hot water and dish soap and a thirty second pulse and the blender is clean. And this! This is fucking awesome!

Measuring lid...or bomb diggety shot glass? My lawyers endorse the former!

With the hot sauce, the blender did its job correctly, but my ratios were a bit off and to get the consistency I desired without adding too much liquid, I had to strain the sauce to take away some of the pulpy fiber leftover from the peppers and onions. Once strained, the hot sauce was relatively seamless and tasted oddly like I'd expected it to taste- wildly, vehemently tangy with a pungent heat that requires a deep inhalation and a slight bit of smoky sweetness. Not bad for a first try.

"The Pound and the Fury" was already taken.Although my rainbow motif turned out like a rejected Lisa Frank design and my five little peppers ended up looking like they'd passed through the cat's digestive tract once or twice, I was pretty smitten with the end result. All in all, this is a blender I can get on board with. It's easy to use, easy to clean, has a sophisticated design scheme, and allows me to live out my spicy, sweet dreams. How many Make A Wish Foundations and birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese can make that claim? I'm proud to have made my first hot sauce in this, and I'm proud to add it to our collection of appliances. I think it's a good first blender and a good blender to easing oneself into some of the more finely pureed intricacies of cooking. Nine out of ten discerning single felines agree that the housing box makes an excellent makeshift cave. Who knew? Special thanks to the folks at Farberware and Russell Hobbs, Inc, for hooking us up with these. Stay tuned for my foray into dough! And potato chips!

Coastal SC Eats

To go to the beaches of South Carolina for an entire week is to lose all sense of time, as well as good internet connection. After the initial night of exuberant partying and excessive drinking in celebration of the commencement of vacation, time slows down, days of the week are forgotten, and the day's agenda involves nothing more serious than taking a shower — at some point.Everyone brings essential provisions, as well as summer's last hoorah from their gardens to stock the kitchen. Trips to the Piggly Wiggly for restocking Blenheims ginger ale and beer, stops at the roadside vegetable stand for peaches, and visits to the seafood store down the road for fresh local shrimp complete the kitchen.

Not a single meal was eaten at a restaurant the entire week. Why? Because it doesn't get any better than homemade coastal Carolina cuisine.

This roadside farm stand sign just about sums up what you'll be eating at the beach in South Carolina come late August.

As well as pimento cheese. Lots of it! These are pimento cheese sandwiches I made in Philly to take along on our ten hour road trip to the coast.

The first night, M. rocked her pimento cheese on toast set under the oven broiler. The house has canners, too! Two kinds of pickled okra, dilly beans, and pickled Jerusalem artichoke accompany fresh veggies for the evening happy hour of snacks and drinks. Deep into puzzle mania (three puzzles were completed before week's end), C. busted out her version of pimento cheese presented on celery sticks.

Everyone makes pimento cheese a little bit different. K. likes to add a little hot pepper to her pimento cheese. Sorry, but SC peaches really are better. There's both a little bit of bias and truth in that statement.You know you're at a beach in SC, when the realty company dishes out boiled peanuts as a welcoming gift. These huge cans of boiled peanuts displayed under the boiled peanut hot bar (yep!) at Piggly Wiggly are actually not bad, especially the spicy ones.But you'd do better getting them from the side of the road, though. This is a lowcountry boil, which is a traditional one-pot coastal dish. Shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes are all boiled in a big pot with seasonings, then put in the middle of the table to be ravaged. Blue crabs were caught right off our marsh deck one evening. Crabbing involves tying a chicken neck to a trap, casting the trap, sitting back drinking a beer, and checking on the trap whenever the mood strikes. Might be even lazier than fishing. The collaborative cooking of fried okra, grits, and gravy. Gravy here is not red sauce or a flour-based sauce, but diced tomatoes, corn and onions.

The coarse-ground grits we used are actually from Bradley's Country Store near Tallahassee, FL, and they are exceptional! Bradley's is a tiny county store known for their homemade smoked sausage and grits. They ship 'em, if you're interested.

If you want exceptional SC grits, there's always Anson Mills. They ship, too.Shrimp and grits with gravy. Shrimp salad. Hush puppies fried up in a cast iron skillet as an afterthought to frying fish. Did you know that black eyed peas are green when they're fresh?Homegrown speckled butterbeans with tomatoes, slaw, and a slice of soft white bread. 'Nanner puddin'.

And a plate of some of SC's best whole hog barbecue from Scott's Bar-B-Q in Hemingway, SC. Pit master Rodney Scott stopped by our house to chat a bit on his way to Myrtle Beach. We talked about his uncomfortable new-found fame from being featured in The NY Times, as well as the documentary Cut/Chop/Cook produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance; felling trees; and how he comes to Philly for Eagles games. Turns out he was born in Philly!

Oh, how I'll miss the pimento cheese and boiled peanut snacks, happy hour every hour, warm ocean waters, and marsh dock sunsets. Til next year!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Trader Joe's ¡Mango! ¡Mango! Fruit and Yogurt Gummies

After I work out, I reward myself with something small to eat. Usually, it's gummies. Today I rewarded myself not for working out, but for sitting through the entirety of Ree Drummond's premiere episode of her new show on The Food Network. Is there nothing that ginger buffoon can't infiltrate? Even my sacrosanct workout ritual is now sullied with her pinched grimace. Soon, the grocery store. Soon, my sex life. So after my G ritual, as my pasty Swedish skin refuses to tan and laundry is for people with lives, I took a brief jaunt to Trader Joe's to check out the latest goods.

Little did I know, of course, that the path of Hurricane Irene, mere incontinence when I arrived at the store, would lead me directly to the bombardment of bumper stickered Prius cars and corn oil powered bicycles hinting at the frenzy inside for the last cases of organic tofu chili and free range bottled kombucha. We escaped with a few necessities (read: frozen pizza) and these gummies, half of which we ate in the car on the ride home. These are new from Trader Joe's, at least in our area, and are surprisingly made in Germany. Regardless of their provenance, they are exceptionally good. Their bite in relation to Sharkies or Haribo fare is very, very stiff, with an almost meaty, substantial chew. One gum takes about six or seven good chops to macerate it into oblivion.

The gummies came in three flavors, all incorporating mango into the chew. There was a plain mango gummy, a mango and yogurt, and a mango and passionfruit. Personally, I would have liked to see a mango chili as well. The molding was decent and did a good job at mimicking the rough shape of a mango. The texture wasn't filmy or overly oily, but slick and smooth. Each flavor replicated the flavor of a mango, with a tangy, creamy, somewhat mild peachy flavor. They were quite jammy, with a richness similar to fruit leather with the sweetness coming mainly from the fruit without relying on too much extra sugar. The yogurt flavor added a sweet creaminess to its gummy, but didn't really taste like yogurt. Of the three, our favorite was probably the passionfruit and mango as the tartness from the passionfruit complimented the mango beautifully. Unfortunately, there were very few of these in the bag. It was roughly 60% plain mango and 20% each of the yogurt and passionfruit gummies.

These were phenomenal and very well made. The chew of these was enough to tire our jaws out after half the bag and we finished the bag over the course of an afternoon. For a mere $1.99, these were not only an excellent value, but were a sophisticated way to enjoy a classic childhood treat. I'll definitely get these again, and am hoping that Trader Joe's continues to tinker with gummies.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mike's Lite Hard Lemonade, Original and Cranberry

I saved Mike's Lite Hard Lemonade for a warm summer day when I needed some mild afternoon refreshment. In photographing the bottles before drinking (a charming ritual to which I have become accustomed chez Foodette), I pondered how Mike's brought the calorie count down from 220 in the original version to a mere 109 in the Lite. These two factors appear to be mainly in play: Truvia, and reduced alcohol volume. They are evident in the taste and effect, respectively.

If you've ever tried reduced calorie versions of your favorite beverages featuring stevia sweeteners, you'll have a sense of that slightly different, not-quite-like-sugar taste and mouthfeel which are noticeable in Mike's Lite drinks. The regular lemonade was a little truer to the taste of the original than the cranberry, where that weird Jello-like Truvia taste was on display.

Also important to note, the alcohol volume in the Lite lemonades is 3.2%, down from 5% in the original Mike's Hard Lemonade. It doesn't even rank in the "alcopop" range (4-7% alcohol content) of beverages, an ignoble variety that includes Smirnoff Ice, most bottom shelf Chardonnays, and Juicy Juice. Seriously, who is the intended customer for this beverage? Yes, I'm a calorie-conscious pretty lady, but I am not willing to trade off this much in the buzz department! I was literally not feeling it.

If I wished to ingest 100+ calories and not feel the effects of alcohol, I would have had a San Pellegrino Limonata without vodka. The original Mike's is a summery, refreshing alternative to beer, but unfortunately, the Lite versions have shed calories in a way that defeats the purpose of the brand.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

recette, New York, NY

As we rode further downtown in the taxi, I kept asking myself what we were doing on the eve of a huge storm in an area of Manhattan we weren't familiar with. The wind blew trash around and the street took on a yellowish tinge. New York seemed bare and empty. When we entered the doors of recette, our dinner destination for the evening, I had my answer. It was packed with patrons snaking around the kitchen bar to all the far corners of the room, and in our seat by the window, we could look out into the heart of all the bustle and action. recette was clearly the place to be, as evidenced by the throngs of New Yorkers and tourists alike sitting down for dinner.

Eating at recette is like being at a dinner party at an old friend's house, that is, if your friend's names read like a famed culinary rock band, with 27 year old chef Jesse Schenker and his Per Se trained pastry chef, Christina Lee rewriting the definition of centuries-old French cuisine. The outside of recette resembles a classic French bistro that's been kicked into the 21st century, the inside filled with candles and interesting knick-knacks (as in not TGI Friday's) dotting the shelves and staircases of the room, giving the impression of being in just one area of the event. We saw first dates, anniversary dates, and dinners with friends and co-workers materialize before our eyes as the storm set in, mere minutes after our arrival. As we tucked in to a couple of cold drinks, our server explained the logistics of the menu to us. I get the impression that everything at recette is done as simply as possible in a way that evokes an Occam's Santoku knife, but in the best and most creative fashion. For example, the menu was set up in an infographic fashion similar to Alinea, but instead of bubbles of various textures implying the substance and flavor of the item, they were arranged from light to heavy. Although we chose to go for the tasting menu, we were encouraged by our server to pick and choose elements from the regular menu that we wanted to try and also ones that we would rather avoid. I thought this was an ingenious approach to the persistent anxiety I experience as a control freak, as I was able to maintain a certain element of whimsy to the menu yet bypass items that I would rather not eat. What can I say? I'm an infant.

We were warned that the plates veered toward the small side, but that with the tasting menu, people tended to get full fairly quickly, so we opted for the five-course tasting menu and a couple of cocktails to start off. I started with the poivre noire, a minimal yet delectable combination of Hendrick's gin, black pepper, and cucumber spirals. This was an incredibly well-prepared cocktail with a complex flavor infused with black pepper in both large flakes and something else, perhaps black pepper vodka, that peppered (pun intended) the entire drink with piquant bursts of freshness and spice in a smooth, sweet way. It had a restrained sweetness and fruitiness to its flavor. The texture of this drink was harmoniously balanced between solid and liquid as the cucumber pieces dissolved from little turgid morsels in the glass. I was tempted to order another one of these shortly after I finished the first.

My companion went for a fruitier concoction, recette's citron et menthe cocktail with a summery mixture of Ketel One, lemon, and mint. Another refreshing cocktail, the offspring of unsweetened iced tea and lemonade. From the start, it's nice to see that the bustle and excitement of recette's atmosphere balances a very delicate subtlety in the flavors of their food. No one element was over the top in our drinks.

Our tasting menu started with an amuse bouche of uni, marinated hamachi, sea beans, and a harissa cream. This was a lovely, briney bite that I scooped up and ate in one piece. The texture was soft with a bit of crunch from the sea beans and each element was complimentary to another. The hemisphere of harissa cream mimicked the spongy, soft texture of the uni and the hamachi's velvety bite cradled the softness of the heads of the sea bean. This was a dish I could see Rodzilla relishing! It was an excellent start to our meal.

Our salad course consisted of a mixture of heirloom tomatoes, Peekytoe crab, hearts of palm, tarragon, and aged balsamic vinegar. This was a wet, succulent example of a salad that even a die-hard meat and potato lover like myself relished down to the last bite. The tomatoes were slightly warm, which gave them the sensation of tasting like they'd been recently picked after sitting in the sun that day, and were salted perfectly with a dollop of balsamic vinegar. They were sweet, much like the crab, and with the crunchy hearts of palm adding an element of spice and grassiness, made a perfectly seasoned salad to start the meal. Not a whole lot of tarragon could be tasted in the melange of flavors, but that wasn't a big deal.

Our first main course was absolutely stunning. One of the most magical components of the tasting menu that we realized quite early on is that recette was pairing foods we wouldn't normally order under the standard three course constraints of a meal and preparing them so perfectly so as to alter our preferences completely. This was the case of the sea scallops with artichoke, carrots, asparagus, and caviar beurre blanc. None of the elements were particularly strange, and scallops aren't a dish I generally choose to order, yet these were prepared so perfectly, with a crisp, thick outer crust yielding to a translucent, soft interior and pops of salty flavor from the caviar bobbing in the beurre blanc that I was almost inclined to lick the plate. Even the vegetal element, which initially appeared to be a toss-away to maximize filling the plate, was covered in a slick coating of this sauce and made even the most lowly of ground roots salty and as poppable as a potato chip. Butter and sturgeon can do that to food, but this was just stunning.

We moved on to our second savory course, ocean trout with spaetzle, cockles, hummus, cilantro pistou, and pickled onion. Despite spending most of my childhood growing up on a marina where the definition of fresh fish was whether or not it was moving while on the hot grill, I've never quite enjoyed the flavor or texture. This, like the scallops, proved to be in a tier above the rest. As you can see, the trout was so soft that in the ten foot distance it took to carry it across the room, it fell apart. It was prepared with a slight poach on the outside with a rare, jewel-like inner core. Each of the complimentary elements added a new level of texture and flavor to the blank canvas of the trout, which, on its own, was very minimally seasoned. The cilantro pistou seeped into every cranny of the flaky trout, with a fresh, creamy flavor and texture. The spaetzle and cockles, which we originally thought were whole chickpeas, were prepared with a char on the bottom and a smoky, buttery flavor, and the hummus bound each bite together. This was a daring dish with multiple elements designed to cut through the monolithic structure of the fish. No one component outshone the other, though I'd be hard pressed to admit that I didn't want an entire bowl of that spaetzle laced with the pistou.

Our last savory course was the only one that we found missed the mark. Missing the mark for recette would normally be the best meal of another restaurant. Had I been served this at Paragon or The Suburban, I may have been singing a different tune. This dish had an element that I'd requested, sherry caramel, glazing a piece of Berkshire pork belly (proving that we always end up where we started, no matter how far we go!) paired with a salt cod fritter, turnips, and a grainy romesco sauce. None of these elements really came together in a complimentary way. The romesco, which I suspect was an attempt at adding an acidic element to the otherwise rich piece of meat, came across a little too jammy with overachieving umami-laden notes to really settle on the pork belly, with a whipped, light texture more characteristic of dessert than of dinner. While the sherry caramel was decadent as expected, it was applied in a very light coating on the pork, more reminiscent of a regular sugar glaze on a ham than a caramel, so to speak. The pork belly was a tad too undercooked and gelatinous in places, stringy in others, and left too much up to fate in each bite. More consistency would have been preferable. Don't get the idea that I didn't enjoy this, though. For a "subpar" dish at recette, I ended up wolfing down both mine and most of my companion's.

After our savory courses, we ordered another round of drinks. This time I chose the exquisite-sounding Le Figure, consisting of prosecco, agave nectar, and marinated figs. The agave added a thickness to the drink and a syrupy consistency, yet imparted very little sweetness to the beverage on a whole. The figs sat sullenly at the bottom of the drink, releasing their earthy sugars only when consumed at the end of the drink. The first 80% was bready in that typical Processo manner but unfortunately, no different from one until the end.

Our other drink was somewhat conventional, but tasty. It wasn't memorable enough for us to want to get it again or even finish it. It had raspberries, lemon, and Ketel One, but suffered from the same tempered lack of sweetness of Le Figure. The lemon overpowered the raspberries, whose natural sugar wasn't enough to tame the tartness of the citrine elements. It wasn't as well-balanced as either of our previous cocktails.

To get us ready for dessert, we received a small palate cleanser after our pork. But this was no paltry spoonful of granita or melting ball of sorbet. This was a fluffy spice and ginger cake topped with an olive oil foam and a juicy piece of plum. Honestly, even though I'm not too big on fruity desserts, if I'd seen this on the menu I probably would have ordered it. It smoothly transported our tastebuds from savory to sweet with the spiciness of the ginger and olive oil and the sweetness of the fruit and cake. On a rainy, cold night, it reminded me of eating gingerbread in the winter. Easily one of the highlights of the meal.

We received two different desserts that we switched back and forth. The first dessert was an interpretation on hot chocolate, with graham cracker ice cream, toasted marshmallow accents, and a dark chocolate ganache and swirl on top. This was a warm, comforting flavor whose cozy feeling was accentuated by a surprise ingredient our server hadn't mentioned- chili pepper and cinnamon! We liked that these were omitted from the description for us to discover ourselves, as it made the sensation of being warmed from the inside out even more palpable.

Our other dessert was a deconstructed Snickers bar parfait. A block of salted chocolate mousse topped what tasted like a Rice Krispie treat with a garnish of peanut nougatine and chocolate sauce, flanked by salted caramel gelato. This was perfectly seasoned in all of its elements, the delicate salt flakes cutting through the creaminess of the mousse and gelato. The mousse tasted disturbingly like a Snickers, without the stringiness of its characteristic texture. I appreciated the bits of crunch to give texture to the otherwise mushy dessert. A wonderfully executed piece to finish a decadent dinner.

Toward the end of our meal, the woman to our left turned to us and asked us how the pork belly was. The man sitting to our right inquired as to which desserts we'd gotten. As the night drew on, each party grew more curious and more communal. That was the crux of recette's offerings, to entice and coax you to curiosity- a noble feat for some New Yorkers. (It is worth noting that I dispelled this hopeful conclusion in an elevated state of inebriation and shouted my answers six inches away. Dear anonymous diners, the cocktails were that good.) Although recette's tasting menu did not offer completely customized offerings, instead utilizing smaller versions of what was already on the menu, it was an excellent way to get an idea of what the full plates and snacks are like without ordering every plate on the menu or bringing all of your friends. I'm looking forward to coming back to recette and hopefully trying the special Mondays with Jesse tasting menu as well.