The Food News Roundup

Okay, that was a chronic fatigue syndrome-motivated episode of disappearance, these past few days. That coast-to-coast travel last week really wiped me out. Of course, traveling all week sometimes also means that some of the regular work has to get done on the weekend, which it did.

Beyond that, as summer comes on, I’m in serious crunch time at work, and my CFS really has been getting me down. I’m hoping to cook something (something, anything!) this weekend.

For the time being, here’s the product roundup. I get a lot of food newsletters, and they’re perpetually peppered with PR pitches for new products. Sometimes the products featured are remarkable in some way. I’ve noted in bold, below, into which category each of these notable products fit.

Food Products That Scare Me A Little Bit

Z-Trim is a “corn fiber fat replacement.” Does the model on the front page give you the creeps? She’s a little too tan, a little severe…she looks like a model for a miracle weight loss substance rather than a food product. Oh wait, the website says that Z-Trim will help me lose weight without giving up the foods I love, so I guess it is a miracle weight loss substance, and in that case, that model is perfectly appropriate.

It’s corn bran and guar gum.

You could just eat more fiber, but that wouldn’t help you lose weight without giving up the foods you love, unless you love fiber-rich foods.

Food Products That Sound Sort of Gross

General Mills is introducing a line of cereal-flavored milks this coming year, including one flavored like Wheaties. No word in this article as to whether the drink will include that nasty sludge at the bottom of the bowl.

Food Products I Thought of Years Ago When Shopping for a Road Trip, Darn It

Hummus to Go, a shelf-stable single-serve hummus. I’m not kidding; I probably thought of this about ten years ago. Oh well, there goes my million dollars.

Food Products That I Hope Are Better Tasting than Their Level of Achievement in Website Design

Images1I was actually a little disappointed when I went to visit Bubble Wrap Chocolate. They do have an anthropomorphized food mascot, but by the name, I thought I might be getting into something that really did look like bubble wrap rather than just have lots of tiny holes.

They seem to have slapped a TM after almost every phrase on the page, and not in superscript either, which makes it More TM Fun TM to TM Read! TM.

If you do read all the way to the bottom, you’ll be treated to this mental image: “BUBBLE WRAP Candy plans to use some rap-sensibility to delve further into the teen market, with the new Rap, Hip Pop group sensation, “THE BUBBLE RAPPERS.”

You let me know how that goes over with the kids, now.

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Danger Sev

I started three little fires while making this.

The rule from now on is that sev is made in the deep fryer ONLY, never in a pan on the stove which can too easily boil over. It’s amazing nobody went to the hospital.

I now have far less baking soda than I did last week.

Sev, fried noodles made from chickpea flour, are an essential part of chaat (Indian street food) dishes like bhel puri, a mix of it, chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro, puffed rice and spices. I never get around to making bhel puri; I eat sev like potato chips. It’s also great on top of salads to add crunch, or on top of soup, especially very spicy lentil soup.

In order to make this, you really need a sev machine, which is something like the child of a cookie press and a potato ricer, but not entirely like either.

You can also buy sev, but I can’t find that brand (my favorite) here in Fresno, and besides, there’s a far slimmer chance of setting your kitchen ablaze and getting to douse it with a liberal sprinkling of baking soda (it never fails to amaze me how well that works) when opening a bag of snacks.

Here’s someone who has clearly mastered the technique; a wide, deep pot (like the karhai shown) being essential.

(While I was writing this, I found this fascinating antique wooden sev press for sale; if anyone has a spare grand around, I’d love to have it in my home.)

Continue reading “Danger Sev”

Barbecubes

I’ve just finished two very productive days of a photoshoot for work. On my way out yesterday morning I grabbed, on impulse, a pile of 1960s-era food-company sponsored recipe pamphlets and booklets that I had out because they had been with something else I pulled down to refer to the other day. These would be fun for us to flip through during the shoot, I thought.

Well. Chalk one up for The Joys of Jell-O, Fourth Edition.

A batch of food professionals can actually talk about food nine hours a day for two days in a row without much trouble, so it’s not as if we needed fodder for conversation. However, one of our number pounced on this book and took a good steady browse through it. We were amused by a number of the photographs of the Jell-O concoctions, but I can hardly do justice to the hysterics on our examination of this recipe for Barbecue Cubes, which was unanimously selected as the winner of Worst Recipe.

Now remember, we were taking food shots during this session, which are style-dependent, and it is entirely possible that someone might look at the work we did this week and laugh at it forty years hence, but this photograph has a spatula with a brownie-sized Barbecue Cube (Barbecube to its friends) descending into a salad of ingredients unidentifiable except for the picture’s caption, and do any of you want to eat that, knowing that it’s described as a Barbecue Cube, not knowing yet what its constituent parts are?

It turns out that it’s basically very stiff tomato aspic – for those of you who aren’t old enough to remember or are not collectors of old cookbooks, think of tomato-sauce based Jell-O Jigglers with vinegar and perhaps onion juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, or prepared horseradish.

Then try to put that thought out of your head as quickly as possible, before you accidentally taste it in your mind’s eye.

The barbecue cubes are made with Jell-O Salad Gelatin (any flavor). We were able to discover, through close reading of the salad section, that Jell-O Salad Gelatin was available in celery, mixed vegetable, and Italian flavors. For some reason, none of us could recall seeing that product on store shelves.

Click through for the big version, with the recipe for Barbecue Cubes, as well as Barbecue Cheese Cracker Pie (Serve as an appetizer with sea food, if desired) and Chicken Salad Surprise. (What’s the surprise? I’m not sure, but it must be one of these listed ingredients: lemon Jell-O, garlic salt, onion, mayo, pecans, chicken, celery, olives, pineapple…should I stop? I should probably stop.)

A tip of the hat to James Lileks, of course.

Products for Which I Am Not Optimistic on the Possibility of Long-Term Survival

The product is filtered water in disposable plastic trays.

“But,” you say, “I’m not sure I see why I should want this product, and as advertising apologists tell us, I am entirely rational and will only buy the products I truly want. Is there anything on the Aqua Ice website that might help motivate me?”

Well, how about an alarmist FAQ? What if I told you that:

Daydots.com, an online resource center for food safety reported that in the summer of 1999, an outbreak of E. coli at a drill team camp in Denton, Texas, infected 58 people and caused severe gastrointestinal illnesses in 41 individuals. Experts believe that the cause of this outbreak was contaminated ice – the campers were using their hands to scoop ice out of the machine and contaminated the ice. For one camper, the disease spread from her kidneys into her brain, causing high blood pressure, seizures, severe headaches and nausea.

Note that in this story, the bacteria came from the hands and was transmitted by the ice – if you touched this packaged ice with your E. coli-infested hands, it might have the same result, mightn’t it? Of course, even if you do touch it with your E. coli-infested hands, this ice doesn’t sit in a filthy ice machine.

They also helpfully point out these ways you can protect yourself from contaminated ice, including the diretion to clean ice-making machines once a week, as slime and mold can build up inside, allowing bacteria to grow and contaminate the ice, despite the cold temperatures.

Or, I’ll add, since they didn’t say this and you have to give them a little bit of credit for at least letting the consumer make the link and not totally spelling it out, you could just buy filtered water packaged in disposable plastic trays.

A friend’s response to this product was “The people responsible for this should be forced to pick every single one of those disposable plastic trays out of every landfill they end up in.”

If this lasts five years, I will buy everyone in my family a case. See you in 2011, Aqua Ice. (Just watch, it’ll go like bottled water and then I’ll be sorry.)

Products For Which I’m Sorry There’s A Market

I was looking up websites for meal-preparation chains today, and on one of the sites I checked out their current menu. One of the recipes had a product logo next to it. With a slightly closer look, I realized I was finding out about a product for which I was sorry there was a market.

The product is Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners.

Now, I don’t begrudge the good people at Reynolds the opportunity to create new products for which there is consumer desire and profit from them. There comes a point, though, where I do start to roll my eyes.

The idea behind slow cooker cooking is that it requires almost no effort; a little prep in the morning or the night before and you’re all set when dinner rolls around. It’s all done in one pot.

And I suppose that’s what rankles me here; it’s one pot. We, as Americans, can’t be bothered to wash one pot, and instead we need to use something once and put another piece of synthetic material into a landfill?

I suppose you could do the calculation of the amount of resources that go into manufacturing a single Slow Cooker Liner and compare them to the resources needed to wash one pot, but washing one pot doesn’t result in another thing to throw away.

Could we get Con Agra together with Reynolds, do you think, and get them to manufacture Crock-Pot® Classics already in a Slow Cooker Liner? Maybe SC Johnson would like to jump in and throw a genuine Ziploc on the top of the thing?

Jane’s Krazy

If I am ever prompted to write Remembrance of Things Past, it will probably be because of a slice of avocado sprinkled with Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Salt. This is one of the earliest things I can distinctly remember eating.  These avocado slices ended up on top of the black beans in the foreground after they received their sprinkling.

Jane’s Krazy, as it is colloquially referred to in my family, is also great on cottage cheese, an item that clearly needs more salt.  I don’t eat cottage cheese at this point, but I ate a lot as a kid and loved loading it up with Jane’s Krazy.

Jane’s Krazy also improves a ripe tomato immeasurably.

My mother came to use it on the suggestion of Sarah Knickerbocker, one of our neighbors in Maine, when my father was stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  Sarah’s husband was Admiral Knickerbocker. The Knickerbockers lived down a long lane near our house; when I visited Maine in 2001 after not having seen their house since the age of four, I distinctly remembered the lane, the large mossy rock along it, and their house at the end of the drive upon seeing each of those items again.

New Rice (Pilaf)

I bought a bag of Brown Jasmine Rice (something new from them, as far as I know) from Lundberg Family Farms (a longtime favorite of mine) this past week at Whole Foods. I cooked some last night. It’s awesome – definitely better than their brown basmati. I usually use their brown long-grain rice, but I think this is better. I can’t say for sure, since I cooked the rice as a pilaf rather than plain, but it was awfully good. I highly suggest you (yes, you) buy a bag and try it.

I buy rice bagged, even though I’m perfectly willing to buy beans in bulk – I have had experiences with rancidity when buying bulk rice, even at reputable stores. With brown rice, unless you use it at the rate of a couple of brown-rice-loving-vegetarians, it’s best to store it in the fridge. Set it in there next to your whole-wheat flour.

Here’s a simple pilaf I make from time to time. I’m going out of town tomorrow, (the National Restaurant Association show) so we had this with a totally random chickpea curry which used up a sprouting onion, three fresh tomatoes, a lonely green pepper, and half a bottle of tomato juice. I realized that I don’t have a chickpea curry recipe up on this website at all, and I have about four that I really like, so I should get on that. I’ve also made a couple batches of chapati recently, but I’m still working on getting it just right. I think I might have an old Cook’s Illustrated with a flatbread recipe in it – I’ll have to dig that out.

2 c. brown jasmine rice
4 c. water
1 medium onion, chopped
½ c. slivered or sliced almonds
2-3 T. oil
1 T. butter
pinch of saffron threads
8-10 whole peppercorns
salt to taste

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Drop in the onion and sauté for a minute or two, until just starting to soften. Add the almonds and sauté until the onions are near translucent. Add the rice and sauté, stirring occasionally, until a few of the grains have picked up reddish spots. Pour in the water and add the butter, saffron threads, peppercorns, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat until the water remains just above a simmer. Cover and cook undisturbed for about 1 hour, until all the moisture is gone.