Wednesday, December 22, 2010

PRODUCT REVIEW: Nonni's Bakery

I'm doing a double review for two of Nonni's products, their biscotti and their Tusconi.

Cutting straight to the chase, their biscotti is the best biscotti on the supermarket shelf. They come individually wrapped, which helps keep them all supremely fresh. They are crisp, with not too many nuts, and a good, high-quality chocolate. Their turtle pecan biscotti comes with chunks of toffee inside, which adds a sweet, buttery, cruncy, chew to the cookie. And if you prefer, you can get almonds in place of pecans in yet another variety. The selection of cookies alone is enough to recommend Nonni's. I just wish that a variety pack was available.

I still prefer the biscotti available from local Italian bakeries, such as Scialo Bros. on Federal Hill, which are just epic in their dedication to huge amounts of everything in them. But Nonni's more than makes up for that by being available in most major grocery outlets. I very much like Nonni's Biscotti.

Nonni's Biscotti: RECOMMENDED

Nonni's Tusconi is made of fresh, high-quality ingredients, individually wrapped, and looks delicious. Unfortunately, it tastes like the brownie from my fifth grade school lunch.

Nonni's Tusconi: NOT RECOMMENDED.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

PRODUCT REVIEW: Mario Batali Pasta Sauces

Rao's is the best jarred pasta sauce on the market. Mario Batali's isn't better, but considering that it is cheaper, how close does it get to Rao's? Pretty close, but given the choice, I'd still take Rao's. I compared their vodka, marinara, and tomato basil sauces, and without fail, Rao's sauces had more punch to them, were heartier sauces with greater chunks of fresh ingredients, and also had more body, whereby they coated my mouth with flavor.

Batali's sauces, in contrast, were universally thinner. They were much lighter sauces with milder flavors, body, and few chunks of ingredients. The sauces tasted far from bad. For example, the tomato basil was rich, smooth, and had a fresh, sweet flavor to it. Everything about the sauces was smooth, sweet, natural, with just the right amount of salt to bring flavors out. They're just so lacking in body and flavor in comparison to Rao's sauces, though. Rao's uses more seasoning, more garlic, larger amounts of fresh ingredients; truly, everything about Rao's is one (sometimes small) step above Batali.

Still, if you can get Mario Batali sauces, they're good in every way. A high-quality sauce for a fair price. Jars usually run in the $5-7 range, but I think that I would always opt to spend the extra $2 on Rao's, given the choice.

Mario Batali Sauces: RECOMMENDED

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PRODUCT REVIEW: Delacre Royal Moments Cookies

As always I'm on the lookout for pre-made goodies without HFCS or vegetable shortening. Bahlsen and LU cookies are two of my widely-available favorites, and I think that we can add Delacre to this list. After trying a few of their cookies I'm happy to report that they're certifiably good. The biscuits are of high-quality, dense, crisp, but not buttery. Most of their cookies use vegetable oil, not the hydrogenated kind, in place of butter and it tastes it. For example, the biscuit in LU's Petit Ecolier is noticeably creamier on the palate and tastes more, for lack of better descriptors, decadent.

The chocolate in Delacre cookies is also behind LU. There's a bit of bite to the aftertaste and a lack of smoothness that betrays a cheaper chocolate. It's of greater quality than a Hershey bar, certainly, but I expect more from something that crows about its rich, Belgian chocolate. It's weird, because the ingredients in the Delacre are, at least quantitatively, better than the Lu cookies. They use real vanilla, as opposed to vanillin, but there it is; the chocolate in the LU cookies is better.

While this isn't the most ringing endorsement I've ever given something, it's still a damned good cookie. Paired with a hot cup of espresso, it's a good little getaway, even if I'd prefer to have LU's Petit Ecolier.

Delacre Royal Moments: RECOMMENDED

http://www.delacre.com/Home_us.html

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pies Pies, What Wonderful Pies!

I forgot to mention on Thanksgiving that my favorite bakery in Rhode Island has pies available for the holidays. The Village Hearth in Jamestown makes the most bestest pies that you can buy. If you're in the market for someone else to make your holiday dessert, there's only one place that you need to go. They're a bit pricier than other places, but trust me, these are pies, and pies are important. Spend the extra cash and get some good pies to follow up a good meal. And if your meal is bad, wash the taste out with pie.

Friday, December 3, 2010

PRODUCT REVIEW: Black Cat Espresso

Black Cat espresso is the flagship product of the now officially world-class cafe, Intelligentsia. Because of its fame, widespread availability, and quality, I think that calling it the bar by which other espresso blends are measured is not an exaggeration. I'm a big fan of Black Cat and buy it quite frequently and this product review has been something of a late comer.

First thing that someone coming from Starbucks or grocery store coffees will notice is how light the roast of Black Cat is. I'm not entirely sure what it was, but for whatever reason, America has grown accustomed to super-dark coffee roasts. This has benefits and detriments, of course. Dark roasted beans can make anything taste acceptable, so that's good, but it does that by erasing the terroir of the beans, which for good beans is bad.

The best espresso roasts are loaded with sweetness, chocolate, caramel, with the roasting process creating not char, but the flavor of lightly toasted bread. You don't ruin this with a dark roast! Go try local roasters and their espresso roasts. You'll find that many of them, if not most, will have espresso roasts in the city to full-city range, with some even including roasts as light as half-city. Again, the exaggerated flavor of the espresso process brings out everything the beans have to give, so more so than any other process, espresso demands good beans.

Black Cat is a case study in this. It's rich and smooth, and even when you screw up shots it tastes pretty good. When you get it right, it tastes amazing. I must admit to preferring my espresso a bit richer than Intelligentsia shot for. They obviously want a bit more complexity, which they openly admit, whereas I am totally happy to have espresso marked almost exclusively by chocolate and caramel. This is not a knock against it, obviously, since they are skilled roasters shooting for a specific flavor profile and they achieve that goal with aplomb.

That being said, there is one thing that pisses me off about this roast and that is how easy it is to screw up. It's a very light roast and this means that your espresso machine is going to be hyper-finicky with it, frequently side-channeling and wanting you to change your grind level from day to day. It can be a major pain. It's aggravated if you have an already pissy machine, like my La Spaziale Vivaldi II.

But that's my problem, and yours if you choose to use BC, and the only thing that is a true knock against the beans are the price. They are rather expensive at well over $1 per ounce. You can buy them cheaper from other retailers (Like NeedCaffeine.com) than through Intelligentsia... for some reason... but it's still far more expensive than other famous blends, like Stumptown's Hair Bender or local blends like that which can be had (in Rhode Island) from Updike's Newtowne or New Harvest.

To put a point on this whole discussion, Black Cat is a high-quality espresso. It's worthy of its fame, and, while expensive, tastes fantastic. You would be well-served to drink this if you like espresso.

Black Cat Espresso: Highly Recommended

http://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com/about/black-cat-project

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

PRODUCT REVIEW: Breyers Extra Creamy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sandwiches

Holy crap, these are terrible. The ice cream texture is icy, the ice cream flavor is artificial, the cookies taste like some kind of floury mess with fake chocolate chips in them.

The chocolate chips are NOT fake, though. They just taste terrible and waxy. The cookie is the way it is, I assume in an attempt to prevent them from becoming too hard when frozen. So, instead of just using real cookies that taste good and accepting that people might have to chew a bit, we have this mess. It tastes and feels like a cookie in which the baker accidentally added too much flour and then also baked the cookie for about half the necessary time.

Everything about this sandwich is bad. It's only redeeming quality is that it is not poisonous.

Breyers Extra Creamy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sandwiches: NOT RECOMMENDED

Monday, November 15, 2010

PRODUCT REVIEW: Immaculate Bakery

I am on a seemingly endless quest to find foods that are made with food, as opposed to some substance that has been turned into another substance via the wonders of science. This means no hydrogenated oils. No artificial sweeteners. In their place I want eggs, butter, sugar, and other things that can be bought in bulk in the baking aisle.

Sadly, this eliminates nearly ALL pre-made baked goods. Pepperidge Farm, while remembering many things, have forgotten how to make cookies without hydrogenated oils. Pillsbury, among others, are a veritable chem lab in a cookie. While I recognize that most of these ingredients are totally harmless and have been true wonders of the chemical age, they taste inferior. Butter tastes better than hydrogenated oils. Sugar tastes better than HFCS.

So it was with great interest that I tried Immaculate Bakery products. I'm covering all of their items in this review since they are pretty consistent across their line. I first tried their chocolate chip cookies. They are without doubt the best pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough on the market. As are the sugar cookies, the biscuits, and scones. They are moist, sweet, flavorful, and taste as close to home-made products as anything I've tried from the freezer.

As far as taste and especially texture goes, their cookies are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, as are their joyously simple ingredient lists. Everything about them is better. Their crescent rolls are better, but not to the degree of the cookies, and their cinnamon buns make Pillsbury buns taste cloying in comparison.

If you are going to buy pre-made cookies, biscuits, or scones, Immaculate Bakery is your best choice.

Immaculate Bakery: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

http://www.immaculatebaking.com/

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chocolates the World Over

Huffington Post has an article about chocolate makers in Brugge, Belgium. Apparently, there are artisan chocolate makers on almost every street corner making world-class candies from cocoa nibs that fall from the sky. Sounds like my kind of place. While the article didn't fail to cause an increase in saliva production, I think chocolate in the Rhode Island area is pretty good. All of the makers might not be in the same city, but while you would walk in Brugge, you can drive in RI. Moreover, Rhode Island has Garrison Confections, a world class place in the truest definition of the term.

And while we're on the subject of Rhode Island chocolates, Garrison is going to start holiday hours for its factory store. It's down some crap-hole alleyway in Central Falls, and it's easy to miss the street even with GPS, but it's totally, completely worth it.

Old World Chocolatiers in Brugge (Huffington Post)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

PRODUCT REVIEW: Kicking Horse Espresso

Well, this is sorta' a product review; Kicking Horse makes many varieties. I discussed my disappointment after opening my 1kg (2.2lb) bag of espresso, which lists as a medium roast, to find it very dark indeed. Just to give you an idea, lighter espresso roasts like Black Cat or New Harvest require a grind setting of 9-10 on my grinder. Darker roasts are lower. Crappy supermarket coffee is usually so dark and dry that it requires a setting of 2-3. Starbucks is usually 4-5 and, drumroll, Kicking Horse is 6. A 3-4 grind difference from other medium espresso roasts reveals just how much of a chasm there is.

So it came as no surprise to find that the espresso also tastes very dark. There's more there than Starbucks, but not too much. Very roasty. It's not terrible, and if you prefer darker roasts for your espresso, this is quite good, but if this is medium, what the hell are their dark roasts? A bag of black powder? I'm drinking it, and enjoying it, but I think that calling this a medium roast is an inaccuracy. It makes me hesitant to recommend it even though I will because it is a good dark roast. If you buy, expect it dark, because it is.

Kicking Horse Espresso: RECOMMENDED

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Insta-Crabs

Getting crabs from a vending machine sounds like something that happens to college freshmen. But no! These are actually the kind of crabs that people want... just from a vending machine. I can't tell if Japan is at the vanguard of modern society, or if it's just fucking weird. Regardless, here it is, vending machine crabs. Guaranteed alive or you get three free!


crabby vending

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Portland Maine Gets Its Huffington Due

Portland, Maine, a surprisingly gourmet city, has received a workup in photos from the writers at the Huffington Post. The quality of the city is likely because there's fuck-all to do up in Maine. If you live anywhere in Maine, and want to do anything, you have to go to Portland. Thus, the city acts like it has double its population.

Not only does Duckfat, one of my favorite places in Portland, get mentioned, but it was put on the list compliments of Matt Jennings, chef at La Laiterie in Providence! And we come full circle. It's a short list of photos, but it makes me want to visit the city all over again.

Chefs' Guide to Portland, Maine (Huffington Post)

Michelin is Unimportant

Josh Ozersky has written a Time article expressing similar views as myself on the Michelin Guide. His specific criticism of the guide isn't the act of reviewing itself, but the perplexing way that the guide writes reviews.

Roger Ebert said it best, a critic is not someone who determines what is "good" and "bad," terms too nebulous to use effectively; no, a critic is someone who says whether they liked something or not and effectively explains why they liked it or not. The explanation is the skill of the critic, not their status as an arbiter of taste. It's in this important task that Michelin fails.

I argue that Michelin fails because it's stupid and useless for all but the most self-important in the internet age. Just as Gayot, or San Pellegrino's 100 Best Restaurants (an intellectual task on par with arranging angels on the head of a pin), the final result will undoubtedly bring increased attention and money to the top eateries, but the effects on food at large will be small if not completely hypothetical. And if food isn't changed on at least a regional level, how can we say that some restaurant has been great as opposed to merely a good place to get some food?

My greatest criticism is that these reviews largely ignore food-at-large. All of the major review sites are utterly obsessed with French food, and only recently have they become enamored with molecular gastronomy. I'm nearly positive it's because MG allows those who advocate for it to feel even more self important. Want evidence of this? Many of the products of molecular gastronomy aren't actually terribly hard or expensive to make. If anyone tried to open a discount MG restaurant, it would go under in a month. The price is part of the reason for going.

I like to review restaurants and I think the job of the critic is actually an important one. It prevents people from going someplace and wasting money; it helps restaurants that are worthwhile succeed in an increasingly-crowded market; and, almost eugenically, it helps moves the bad restaurants out of the market, thus freeing space for new ones to try their hand. Michelin doesn't do any of these things. With terse, useless review snippets, stars given to already famous, hilariously expensive restaurants, limited coverage, and a positively myopic view of global cuisine, we're left to ask, what does the guide do?

Very little, I argue. Except let you feel even more self-important when you eat at Le Bernardin.




Restaurant Ratings: Is Michelin Lost in the Stars?
(Time)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dove Bars & Pancakes

Notice anything... AWRY? You can't see because they no longer show the number on the front of the box, but Dove bars only have three bars in the box. I'm not sure when they started doing this, but it has to be recent; I buy these pretty regularly. It's interesting that, instead of raising the price, they've reduced the number in the package. This is a trick that lots of companies will pull in an attempt to avoid exposure and possibly piss off consumers. I'm pointing this out not as an attempt to defame Dove but to simply hold it up as an example of the greater economy. I think that in better times, they would have had no problems raising the price.


I don't think I've ever discussed my love for the pre-made jugs of Bisquik. I don't use them, but I still think that they are marketing brilliance epitomized. Let's face it, pancake mix isn't exactly a red-hot and innovative market, so any advancements in that area are going to come from marketing. Look at it with a critical eye and it's a profligate waste, in the same vein as 100-calorie packs and packaged salad mixes. But I'm not discussing whether it's a good deal or not, I'm simply in awe of the idea.

Industry Renames HFCS

Apparently, instead of, ohhh I dunno', NOT using high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) anymore, they're going to take a page from the American automakers playbook and simply rename the offending ingredient! The new name? Corn sugar.

You can practically smell the Calvin Klein aftershave coming off the MBA that thought up this brilliant plan. Everything about it is retarded. First, technically, it's correct. But they'd still have to call it high fructose corn sugar, because HFCS is not simply corn sugar. That would be corn syrup, which no one has an issue with.

First off, saying that there is no evidence that HFCS is linked with health problems is a total lie. There is conflicting evidence, but that is far from no evidence. We have a variety of studies showing that there may be a link between HFCS consumption and lower-quality blood chemistry and weight gain. The fact that there may be any link at all shows that, if alternatives exist, we shouldn't eat it.

Just stop using it! Use ordinary corn syrup. Use sugar. Use molasses. As a manufacturer, I understand that you have to think about your bottom line. I also understand that government subsidies, tariffs, and other regulatory muckings-about have made sugar more expensive than it should be (GO-GO Gadget government intervention!). But think about your demographic groups.

People who are very concerned about HFCS will appreciate, and also be willing to pay the small premium for, your use sugar. For example, if you have to raise the price of Chips Ahoy by $0.50, that is a significant percentage increase, but it's not large in practical terms. The people who cannot afford that increase or are unwilling to pay are very unlikely to be the demographic that cares or is even aware of the controversy.

Split your demographics. Make Chips Ahoy Natural for the markets that care and continue to make the ordinary Chips Ahoy for other markets. Don't try this semantic dodge, it will just piss people off.

Goodbye High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hello Corn Sugar (Signed, Corn Industry) (Huffington Post)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Starbucks Stuff

I was in Starbucks today at around 5pm and saw something I haven't seen before. People! On Laptops! Hangin' out! While I would imagine that the crowd of digerati (is that word even still being used?) at Coffee Exchange at the same time is five times the size, it's still impressive. I saw four people. Considering that, in the past, I would see one or two at most, this is a big success. I'd be curious to see the actual connection numbers, but Starbucks will undoubtedly never release the raw data, because that will just show how stupid they were to have not done this years ago.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More About Raw Milk

I've been gearing up to buy some raw milk, I just haven't gotten around to it yet because I'm lazy. Truth be told, though, I also have a little bit of lingering fear about all of the nasty little pathogens inside of raw milk that are just eagerly waiting to kill me, because almost every other living thing on Earth is in some way eager to kill me.

Scientific American has a work-up of the current debate over raw milk, discussing as much as space allows from both perspectives. They have an utterly (udderly?)amazing reference to a form of microbe purification that is apparently used on things like canned hams, where the food isn't actually heated, instead it's subjected to intense pressure, which, I assume, literally crushes the bacteria. Cool, very cool. But not nearly as cool as killing all the bad stuff with sound waves? Sound waves?! I would totally kill my bacteria with The Beastie Boys.



I still feel that if someone wants to buy raw milk, they should be allowed to. I have an internal debate going on if raw milk should be labeled as dangerous, like cigarettes, by law or not. Still, even though the chances of getting sick are higher from raw milk than from pasteurized, they're still rather low. I also have the immune system of a shark (look it up). It's too bad that Rhode Island has laws against raw milk, since that means I have to make a trek to some farms in Massachusetts. That also means that, in the hot, hot days of summer, my trip home, and to the waiting deep chill, is going to be longer than I would like. So either I can bring an ice-filled cooler or wait till fall.

Got E. coli? Raw Milk's Appeal Grows Despite Health Risks (Scientific American)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

QUICKVIEW: Fairlawn Cafe - +++/$$

I'm a huge fan of breakfast. Breakfast is the only meal of the day where you can eat almost anything and call it fair. Just think about. French toast loaded with sweet cream cheese. That's not a freaking meal, that's a dessert that you're masquerading as a meal. But at the same time, it's equally reasonable to eat a 12oz porterhouse, which is also not a meal; it's three meals.

So, yeah. I go out to breakfast a lot and love making it. It is in this breakfast-loving mindset that I happily present to you the Fairlawn Cafe. It's a small, nondescript shop in a proto-stripmall in suburban Lincoln. The outside is easy to miss, but you can easily spot it on weekends by the huge crowd of cars vying for the small number of parking spaces.


The inside is dense and quirkily... quir... quirkishly... uniquely appointed. It reminds me of Julian's on Broadway, just without the tattoos, Cloves, and pretentiousness. There are very few spaces to sit and the tables are small, but they make use of what sidewalk they have to wedge in a few more tables during the summer.

Service was a bit slow but very friendly and attentive. They have a large number of aesthetic flourishes that combine to form a sense of distinction, for example, you receive chilled water in a capped bottle, and orange juice is brought out in a wine glass with an orange twist. Very simple stuff, but it's nice to see a cafe adding a little flare to otherwise pedestrian tasks.


The menu is enormous. The kitchen is apparently dedicated to the proposition that all ingredients are created equal, and can be combined in any way imaginable... and put on the menu somewhere. A whole page for various french toasts. A whole page for eggs Benedict. A whole page for omelettes. And multiple pages for sandwiches and other breakfast foodstuffs. The menu alone would have been impressive, but they also have multiple signs both inside and out displaying specials and more menu. Smoothies, salads, sandwiches, you get the picture. If you even remotely like brunch food, you'll find something here that you like.

And about that food, it's delightful. High-quality ingredients combined with inventive breakfast ideas like the tiramisu french toast. It had coffee-flavored sweet cream cheese. Very good and sporting an excellent price. My friends followed my french toast lead, because, duh, french toast is, like, totally the best food ever. For example, french toast is good, french toast with pan-seared apples, cranberries, brie, and walnuts is even better. Their standard breakfast offerings are exactly as you would expect, but prepared well. Eggs, toast, and very soft but spicy home fries. I like my home fries super-crispy; these were more like broiled potatoes, but the tasty seasonings made them enjoyably different. They serve dinner and lunch-type stuff, which I have yet to sample, but I have no reason to espect anything other than good to very good.

So after a single trip, Cafe @ Fairlawn (or Fairlawn Cafe, I'm not sure which, really) is one of my favorite breakfast places. It's right up there with T's. And if you live nearby, they deliver! That eliminates any reason whatsoever to not give them a shot. A great selection of excellent food and good prices, including a few recipes that I've seen nowhere else, really makes this a winner.

For those interested, Fairlawn Cafe has very little presence on the web, so I've uploaded a number of their menu pages to my Picasa gallery.

UPDATE: Here are some more photos of their available french toasts and crepes.



Fairlawn Cafe: +++
Price range: Entrees- $5-$10

893 Smithfield Avenue
Lincoln, RI 02865-3534
(401) 365-1385


View Larger Map

Hours
Monday & Saturday 7:00am to 2:00pm
Tuesday through Thursday 7:00am to 4:00pm
Friday 7:00 am to 7:00pm (serving dinner)
Sunday 7:00am to 1:00pm

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My New Qik Stream.

I have started a new vlogging channel at Qik where I will upload videos. I've wanted to upload videos from the places that I visit and review, but the post-processing takes so much time that I never find the drive to finish it. Qik gives me the ability to not only make videos but directly upload them on-site. They're rough, unpolished, and the video isn't of terribly high-quality, but it's stupid-easy. I'm hoping that this will be the motivation that I need to start creating more, higher-quality videos to go along with these impromptu ones.

UPDATE: I just realized that my old videos display with that, as such, you should probably ignore them.

UPDATE AGAIN: I just uploaded my first real video and I've found that there's a pretty bad delay such that the end of my videos sometimes get cut off. I'll try to compensate for that in later videos.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Very Long Engagement

I've been a bit lax in posting, lately. I'm working on an epic how-to about home espresso that's taking awhile to write, film, and edit. It'll be up soon, along with a redesign of the blog. Yaaaaay.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Latte Art Wallpaper

I uploaded a Latte art wallpaper at my fō-tō-gră-fē blog. I'm re-posting it here in case anyone would like some beautiful coffee forever tempting them on their desktop.

4:3 ratio
From fō-tō-gră-fē Wallpapers


16:10 ratio
From fō-tō-gră-fē Wallpapers

Monday, June 7, 2010

Paula Deen Cutting Board

I bought this Paula Deen cutting board because it was the biggest cutting board I could find for cheap. Thankfully, they included this helpful weights and measurements on the side to remind me of such important data as 1 cup equaling 8oz and 2 cups equaling... 16oz. They apparently think that people will be so consumed with their cooking that basic math will just be too freaking much. We're only human! No one can live at this speed!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Raw Milk.

I generally side with the scientists, and they say raw milk has no benefits in comparison to pasteurized milk, nor does it cure anything. But, it HAS to taste different. Even though pasteurization doesn't take the milk past its heat tolerance point, it gets it damned close. Changes in chemical structure do occur, as any scientist will admit, and I'd love to find out how raw milk tastes. I'm healthy enough, I think that I can take a shot of ebola, or hanta, or whatever raw milk carries.

If you're drinking Hood, stop, and start drinking Rhody Fresh. If you're drinking Rhody Fresh, stop and start ordering from Munroe Dairy. Munroe's 2% tastes better than Hood's whole. There's a big difference. So I'm left to wonder if there can even be a big difference moving from Munroe to raw. I'm especially intrigued because of my latte making. Steaming milk requires the proteins and fats in milk, both of which are damaged by heat. Could raw be the sweet, creamy, milk-filled, holy grail of latte production?

I'm going to try, and if you want to, this page has the info you need. Be aware of the risks. You can get sick from this! It's of a low probability, but it can happen. As for me, I look forward to my lattes.

Pasteurization Without Representation (The Atlantic)

PRODUCT REVIEW: Cascadian Farms Frozen Vegetables

This is going to be a group review, since it would be silly to review just their corn or broccoli. My girlfriend and I are pretty busy doing things. We don't really have the time that we want to dedicate to making meals on a nightly basis. We're also too lazy to wander too far every day. Thus! Our reliance on frozen foods was born. We can't bring ourselves to buy frozen meals (seriously, yyyyuk!), but we will buy frozen raw materials. As such, our freezer is completely open to frozen vegetables.

If you've ever eaten frozen veggies from the likes of Birdseye and Green Giant, you know that they're totally acceptable, but not really the best of the best. Broccoli is heavy on the stems, corn isn't exactly bursting with flavor, and the peas are small. Broccoli is the worst offender. It's usually so bad that I'll keep everything else frozen, but the broccoli gets bought fresh and steamed in a microwave steamer bag.

If your nightly meal sounds similar to that, do I have the product for you! Cascadian Farms is organic, but don't hold that against it. Its vegetables are in a different league than GreeGi or Birdseye. More expensive, but as worth the extra money as anything in the store.

The corn is exploding with super-sweet flavor. The texture is denser with more snap. I swear, even the color is better. The peas are large and not the slightest bit mushy. The pre-made blends like the Garden Vegetable Medley are absolutely amazing for frozen food. Not just acceptable, but downright friggin' good. It's the broccoli, though, where Cascadian hands the other brands their deportation order. NO stems. Not one. Just big, beautiful, tender florets that steam up and taste as close to fresh as I think anything frozen could ever taste. The only sore spot was the spinach. It was watery and light-to-devoid of flavor. It didn't taste bad, but that's kind of because it didn't taste like much of anything. I wouldn't buy that again, but that might just prove that you shouldn't buy spinach frozen. I mean, would you buy iceberg lettuce from the freezer?

As I mentioned, their products are more expensive. Single-steam, 8oz boxes usually cost about $1 more than comparable products from Green Giant and others, but it's completely, totally, 100% worth it. Cascadian Farms are the best frozen veggies that you can buy. And, honestly, can you really say no to a company that does this?

Cascadian Farms Frozen Vegetables: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Illy Needs to Check Itself Befo' It Wrecks Itself.

Giorgio Milos, a master barista from Illy, and apparently ambassador to the world for Italian-style espresso, has a few choice words for American espresso. Thankfully, I have a few choice words for him.

His article is vaguely elitist, but not too bad. No more elitist than anyone writing about some food about which they know too much. But he makes mention of the "authentic Italian technique," which I found funny. First off, espresso has gone far beyond little Italy. The most renowned, successful, award-winning cafes are all outside of Italy. An Italian Barista has yet to win the Barista World Championship. The Clover was invented in the US. Psychotically complex syphon pots for making coffee are more common in Japan than Italy. Global espresso consumption was fundamentally defined by an American company. Italy... is small potatoes.

Second, he says that if these foundations that "that international associations agree on" aren't met, it's not espresso! What International associations? Ones of Italian origin, perhaps? Truthfully, I have no idea to what organizations he's referring, but I think it's ridiculous no matter what. Food stuffs evolve. It's like saying that just because we added chocolate chips to vanilla ice cream, that it's no longer ice cream.

He then uses the "some people think that" trick for which Fox News is so famous. As in, like Fox News uses the line "some people think" and then simply states its own opinion as though it's supported by others, he critiques beverages from "cafes," as though ALL American cafes have the same problems, then proceeds to talk about roasting like others don't know. Strange, even in little Rhode Island, the quality, taste and style of drinks varies wildly from cafe to cafe.

He talks about cafes using, gasp, 20-25 grams of espresso for a drink. First off, I have no clue where the hell he went. I have never encountered a cafe that does that. Upwards of 20grams? Yeah. More than that? Never.

Finally, he assaults poor grinds. I find this freakin' hilarious, but also telling. I use pre-ground Illy when I'm lazy or my grinder is out of commission, so I'm well-acquainted with it. I now know why it is absolutely impossible to get a perfect double: the grind is aimed at singles, the virtues of which Milos can't seem to extol enough. It's pretty easy to nail 9-bar and 25 seconds with a single, unless you tamp with a metal press, getting the same 9/25 espresso out of a double is impossible. I've gotten close! But not quite.

I can grind the slightest bit finer and nail 9-bar in both a single and a double easily. And even in Italy, doubles are a thing! It's not like no one in Italy drinks a freakin' doppio (Italian for double) now and then. And it's that that makes Milos wrong. He attacks the grind more than anything else, and yet, Illy's grind could use a little help.

And, frankly, any company who produces these:


Has NO room to speak.

A Winning Formula for Traditional Espresso (The Atlantic)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Extinct Cheeses.

I didn't know that cheeses could go extinct. Extinct? Really? I guess it makes sense. Languages can do it. Anything that requires constant participation. Regardless, this gives me a great idea! We need to start a massive, gourmet cheese factory that's sole purpose is the make as many cheeses as possible! If we centralize cheese manufacturing into a giant cheese clearing house, sort of like a stinky Amazon, the global market can support the making of small, artisan cheeses. The global market for cheese is so huge and diverse, even the smallest cheese operation could be supported.

France's Distinctive Cheeses Are Disappearing (Huffington Post)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Creatine is Great.

I've had a light weight-lifting routine for a number of years, now. It's the way I stop from becoming an absolute porker as I pursue my hilariously opposed life as a gourmet. I started taking creatine not as a physical supplement, but for its cognitive benefits. With even a small dose, increases in memory and processing speeds have been noticed. I'm always after ways to give myself an advantage in... in... whatever the hell it is I do that requires an advantage (Got it, Street Fighter IV!), so after hearing that Creatine is actually pretty well-supported experimentally, I was on Amazon with my credit card out.

But holy crap, I noticed quite an increase in my weight-lifting stamina. I've gone off and on Creatine multiple times to make sure that it's not in my head, and I feel highly confident that it is a real effect. It has no effect on how much I can lift, nor does it affect my ability to handle weight and cardio without tuckering out completely, but if I slowly work my muscles, I can do significantly more repetitions per set.

Without creatine, it is difficult to impossible to do three sets of ten reps of a tricep lift with a 30-pound weight in each hand. With creatine, I can do three sets of twelve reps with more in reserve. I'll frequently do fifteen or sixteen reps on my final set. It's very impressive.

Side effects? After not taking any for a few days, then taking a decent dose, I fart... a lot. Combined with my hilarious doses of Fibersure, I fart even more. My urine is also incredibly odoriferous. I can't describe the smell. It's just... a smell. And holy crap is it a smell. It dissipates quickly, but it's strong as hell.

I haven't encountered any other side effects. My dose isn't high enough where I'm bloating. My muscles don't look any bigger, which is a big goal of many body builders. And since I drink a lot of water anyhow, I haven't encountered issues with dehydration.

Considering the cognitive benefits, I recommend creatine to anyone. The studies show no nasty side-effects, and if the only notable result from extended usage is smelly pee, I think it's pure gold.

Continuing Adventures in Latte Art

I was able to grind out some pretty good pieces of latte art with my old Jura Capresso Z5. But it was never meant to do that. It took a LOT of work and fiddling to get it done. Still, I managed this, and also these. Not baaaad, I'd say. But still not barista-level work. Now you can see the difference between a machine that's just playing around, and one that's meant to be used and abused.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

PRODUCT REVIEW: Planters Black Label


Planters is making a big push to expand their brand. Their first big effort was launched about eighteen months ago with the NUTrition line of mixed jars and food bars. I recommended both of those as quite tasty, especially the delicious mixes. I was also happy to see a real focus on quality in these new products, more so with the mixes. The bars are good, but they're a bit high in weird ingredients and a bit low in actual nuts.

Planters newest family member are Black Label. Ooooooh. Black Label. Sounds exclusive. Well, as exclusive as anything sold at Wal-Mart can get. This is certainly no Johnny Black.

I think it shows that Planters is really trying to expand their brand with the noticeably omission of peanuts from any of these mixes. Up until the NUTrition mixes, I don't think Planters even made a mix without peanuts in them. Hell, they were apparently so infamous for making their mixes primarily peanuts that they started listing maximum percentages for peanuts on their mix jars.

But here, zip. Zilch. Nada. No peanuts to be seen. The two most used seem to be almonds and cashews, with macadamias and pistachios making a couple of cameos. While the limited selection of nuts might be disappointing, the variety of flavors and dips will not be. Chocolate, chipotle, Santa Fe, sea salt and cracked pepper. These are not your ordinary nuts. This sort of flavor experimentation is usually restricted to small, niche-label food brands sold either online or from specialty resellers. But no. Here's Planters throwing the universe upside down.

Also surprising is the price. A large jar of Santa Fe will set you back $10 minimum, and small jars of the dark and milk chocolate mixes sell for nearly $6 at Wal-Mart. But that price certainly goes somewhere. The seasonings on the Chipotle are spicy and don't taste artificial like on most chip seasonings. The chocolate-covered nuts use a surprisingly high-quality chocolate, especially the dark.

And as I mentioned with the NUTrition mixes, these are NOT low-calorie foods. They are decidedly high-calorie. So don't think that almonds and dark chocolate, the super friends of super foods, make this overly healthy. If you add them to an otherwise healthy diet, you're good, but if you just munch on these bad boys, your weight will grow faster than you can say "Oprah."

The label has yet to expand nationwide, and currently you can only get the chocolate ones at Wal-Mart locations. Mentions of the Black Label start popping up online about a year ago, so I'm assuming that Planters has been rolling the product line out since then. It hasn't gotten an official mention on the Planters page, either.

I'm a bit torn as to how to recommend this. They're all good, but local shops dipping their own chocolates and adding higher-quality (but perishable) seasonings will be better. So I'll recommend this with a caveat: if you can get these same products locally, they'll be better. But as it stands, these are some of the tastiest snacks nationally available.

Planters Black Label: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Starbucks Machines.


Starbucks' roll-out of their new espresso machines is finally hitting the more rural locations that I usually frequent. Apparently, the machine should be in around 75% of locations, on its way to 100% some time next year. It's part of Starbucks continuing effort to change its direction by staying exactly the same, but saying that it's trying to be different.

I don't mean to bash Starbucks, I actually like them, but their efforts at turning around their fortunes are laughably poor. Instead of unleashing a torrent of business model experimentation, they're doing the same thing. Their food selection is decent, but overpriced and limited. Their WiFi is still limited. Their coffee selection is still limited. The list goes on. The design of the new machine is now on that list. What's the big difference? Well, it grinds beans as opposed to using pre-ground coffee packs. That's good. And it's also shorter! Oooooooh! This means that the barista has a better "connection" with the person ordering the drink by blocking "the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista." If there was ever something that the customer didn't care about, it's that.

But enough about that. How's the machine? First off, it looks different than the picture being passed about. The sides are a copper color and it melds in with the Starbucks aesthetic better. And the baristi are universal in their love of the machine over the old Thermoplans. The big difference that they're reporting is temperature stability. Apparently, under heavy load, the old Thermoplan machines would suffer from pretty bad temperature fluctuations in the shots. I'm assuming that this explains the wide differences in drink quality I've encountered at Starbucks...es.

The biggest difference that I've noticed is the milk steam quality. I haven't had a crappy steam job at any location with the new machines, whereas I've had numerous poor lattes on the old boxes. It's still semi-automated, which means no latte art-ready foam, but it's velvety and feels good on the tongue. Starbucks does a good job of talking up the machine at this online Flash app which also gives you the best view of the machine apart from actually going.

The thing that keeps running through my mind is that, if this machine is as good as they say it is, why does Starbucks insist on using only ONE bean blend? Their current blend is adequate, in that it tastes like coffee and isn't too bitter, or sour, or dark, or anything. It's just this bland thing sitting smack dab in the middle of a dark-roast flavor profile. It's crema level is very poor, and there's simply a lot of room to open up the variety.

Having one blend at Dunkin' Donuts or McDonalds is fine. They're not a coffee shop. But Starbucks is a cafe. They should have half a dozen coffees, at least one more type of espresso, and other ways to explore the coffee world. That's why a cafe exists! If I just wanted a high-quality cup of joe, I'd make it myself. As it stands, local cafes are whomping the 'Bucks in this department.

If Starbucks really wants to push the envelope, which I'm beginning to think that they don't, they should make a machine that can espress multiple bean types. Because until they do that, there's nothing bringing me to Starbucks over Coffee Exchange or Updike's Newtowne save for convenience. And now that I've got a new machine, even that's fading.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Survey is Dead. Long Live Survey!

Well, I last asked in which season you eat the most, and boy did you answer. 54% of your answered that you eat the most in winter (just keeping warm). Fall barely got 9%, spring got NO votes, and summer only landed 18%. The remaining votes went to people who eat 24/7.

Now with summer here, I'm curious as to your favorite frozen delight? Yogurt? Ice Cream? Milk shakes? Let your voice be heard.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Archer Farms Pre-Ground Espresso


Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that Target had their own house brand of pre-ground espresso beans. Targets are everywhere, while places that carry Illy are... not. Better still, the grounds were contained in the same metal tin as Illy. Similar size, shape and price. Everything seemed to indicate that Target was targeting Illy quite directly.

Usually store brands are at least comparable to the name brands, and since I'm still getting used to my new espresso machine (read: screwing up shots) I figured saving a few bucks was worth it for the sake of experimentation, even if the final product wasn't quite up to snuff.

So, I was already going into this with low expectations, and I'm happy to report that Archer Farms espresso missed even those. First off, it's not the slightest bit comparable to Illy. The blend is way off. It's more acidic and not in a good way. The texture of the grinds is also different. Illy has a powderyness to it, along with the slightly larger bits of coffee. Archer Farms is certainly super-fine, but is completely missing that powder texture.

This is the only thing that explains my problems with the shot. I tamped my shot, began the pull, and water flowed through the shot like shit through a goose. I got slightly strong, bad, coffee. I assumed that I had simply tamped too lightly. It happens. Did it again, with a deliberate, strong tamp. Same thing. Next step, doubling my tamp pressure. I pushed down with at least sixty pounds of force. Same thing.

I blew through five shots. Every one was the same, regardless of what I did. This grind is nowhere near Illy and completely useless for espresso. The package is a complete lie. I would imagine that if you had a moka pot, Aeropress, or even French press, then this would work fine. But in a real espresso machine, that applies real pressure, this is laughably off the mark.

Archer Farms Ground Espresso: NOT RECOMMENDED

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Proud Father


I am a proud new dad...

Of an espresso machine. Same deal, really. It takes forever to go to sleep at the end of the day, produces lots of brown stuff, requires a lot of cleaning, cost a fortune, and I have to put it through college. I'm so happy. My very first pro-level espresso machine. And to think that it cost a cool grand less than the Jura Capresso Z5 I had been using.

Now, you may not know it, but you're looking at an incredibly special machine. This is one of the very few pro-sumer espresso machines that are generally available that rock TWO boilers. Usually, high-end consumer espresso machines will use a heat exchanger, where the boiler only heats the steam boiler, and hot water for espresso extraction passes through pipes that pass through the steam boiler, thus flash-heating water as it heads towards the group head.

That's actually a really great way to wedge everything that's needed to make good espresso into a compact package while also making it affordable. It does have some disadvantages, such as a long recharge time between drinks. After pressure and temperature drop in the steam boiler from both a pulled shot and steamed milk, it could be multiple minutes before you can do anything else. Conversely, if the steam boiler sits for awhile, all of the metal around the boiler heats up, thus dumping too much heat into the water as it heads to the espresso.

It's a complication that is pretty easily dealt with once you understand your machine, but if you plan on hosting guests or run a light commercial operation, that extra time and effort is unacceptable. Thus, we have the wonders of the dual-boiler machine.

These have their own problems, as many in the recent past who have tried to run a pro-sumer dual-boiler machine in their home have discovered. In theory, it's perfect. In practice, though, there are some serious issues. First, there's the weight and cost. Dual-boiler machines can be upwards of twice as heavy as a comparable single-boiler machine, and they can cost an equal percentage more.

Worse still, even if your wallet and biceps are up to the task, your house may not be. Dual boilers draw an enormous amount of power, and usually require 20-amp socket to function correctly. Even if the manufacturer claims that the machine can run on a standard 15-amp socket, it probably does so poorly.

But my machine is different. My machine is special. Somehow, through some weird, Italian magic, La Spaziale has made a 15-amp dual boiler machine that actually works. Better still, if you ever install a 20-amp socket, all it takes is a small switch inside to turn the machine into a 20-amp monster.

I've had the machine for a few days, now, and all I can say is "WOW!" I'm loving it. Freaking loving it. The extraction is what you would expect, but the steam power out of this bad boy is just incredible. The joys of a dual boiler are not lost on me. Without a doubt, this is the best at-home steam machine I've ever used. It's the absolute equal of a commercial machine.



The drip tray is deep and large. The accessibility of the water tank is just fantastic. Unlike other pro-sumer machines that are basically rejiggerings of pro setups, the design details of the Vivaldi reveal a machine truly meant to be used in a kitchen, and the water tank is the jewel of those details. You can access the tank by simply taking out the drip tray and then removing the water tank. Piece of cake.



Conveniently, the machine actually streamlines my drink production for tea and coffee. The hot water spout produces buckets of 195 degree water for pour-over or french press coffee, and is the perfect temperature for black tea. Previously, I had a kettle on the stove and a large Brita water filter on a shelf. I now have it all in one machine that takes about eight minutes to start up. About that, that's eight minutes on 15 amps. That's great! I'd imagine that 20 amps would reduce start up time to a mere five.

despite my accolades, the machine isn't perfect. I would have liked manual controls. The auto function is nice, but sometimes I want to call a shot as I make it. Worse, there is no way to get a pre-infusion option on any given shot. You can either install a pre-infusion piston, and thus get pre-infusion on every shot, or uninstall it and get pre-infusion on no shots. It's annoying to say the least, especially when the plumbed version of the Vivaldi II gets the option automatically. I understand why this is the case, but I wish they could have managed something, anything, to give me the feature.



I would have also liked a rotary pump. Usually, rotary pumps require pressure to work. That's why they're usually found in direct-plumb machines. But I've seen quite a few machines that use a reservoir and still manage to use a rotary pump. As far as performance is concerned, the end result is similar. I've heard that rotary pumps create a more even pressure and thus produce better crema, but I've never noticed a difference. The biggest difference is noise. The video I've posted makes the machine sound a lot louder than it actually is, but it's still louder than the quiet hum one gets from a rotary box. It's a bit comforting to me, since my old Jura Capresso Z5 sounded identical.

I was aware of these limitations before I bought, but I wanted ease of operation, and this was the only machine that offered that sort of push-button operation at this price and still provided everything else that I wanted. I could have gone for a machine with a full E61 group, but since my most important drink is the one that I make in the morning, being able to press a button and immediately fall asleep on the floor for a few minutes was important.



The machine comes standard with a four-hole nozzle for milk steaming, which is wildly overpowered for my small milk carafe. I steam the milk in five to ten seconds. Needless to say, but I will anyhow, that's way too short to develop good milk foam. If the machine had a standard steam valve, as opposed to the lever-operated version, I could set a smaller amount of steam. But as it is, the machine is basically all or nothing.

This is the only part of the machine that I regret. I didn't even think about it. So, sadly, the only way I can control steaming power is via different nozzles. It certainly gets the job done, but it's not exactly convenient or user-friendly.

Long story short, I'm very glad I bought it. The limitations of renting a house were what drove me to this machine. If I had my own kitchen, I would have bought a direct-plumbed machine and integrated the machine in with the kitchen. But since maintaining mobility of the machine was important, and I wanted that push-button functionality, this was the machine for me. I think it's swell.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Starbucks Nutrition Sheet.

video

Now THAT is a freaking nutrition sheet. Starbucks does not mess around when it comes to letting you know precisely how many calories you're taking in. Unless you want whole milk. Then you're just left to guess. I'm a bit surprised that the Venti Choco-Waco-Caloriccinno Frappuccino Creme is only about 650 calories with whipped cream. Considering that a large soda at Burger King or McDonalds is in the same ballpark, it's not a bad indulgence.

Fussy.

Who's brilliant idea was this? Huh?! Who's? Show yourself!

I don't care if you think that you might be able to make a few bucks selling this to some idiotic market for a few years before the novelty wears off and you stop. A line has to be drawn somewhere. At SOME POINT, the damage done to the soul of mankind by your product must be taken into account. Like those individual slices of peanut butter and jelly.

No fuss? What?! When the fuck did frosting become a fussy endeavor?! I don't understand what terrible inconvenience that Pillsbury is alleviating afflicts households across America to such a great degree as to require a Goddamn aerosol frosting can.

Mark my words, the ONLY people out there who will benefit greatly from this no-fuss form of frosting dispensing are stoners who now finally have something to go with their aerosol cheese and whipped cream. Fuckin' hell.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Battle Over HFCS

HFCS is the abbreviation for High-Fructose Corn Syrup. And maaaan, is that stuff everywhere. It's in soda, candy, cakes, juice, coffee drinks; you get the idea.

I avoid it because I prefer sugar. I'm an arrogant, snooty gourmet and as such demand only the very best ingredients in my swill. And much like hydrogenated oils, I have seen increasing evidence to support my position vis-a-vis health.

This most recent study comes out of Princeton, where they have smart people (or so I've heard). Seems simple enough. They fed one group of rats HFCS and another sugar. The group fed HFCS got really fat, the sugar group didn't.

They pointed out that even rats fed a high-fat diet didn't gain weight to this degree. No other experimental diet except for HFCS has shown these results. That's pretty stark.

Remember, though, that what they're testing is High Fructose corn syrup, not plain ol' corn syrup. HFCS has been chemically altered to bump up the fructose levels and, possibly importantly, free the fructose from any chemical bonds. You can still safely use corn syrup in your baking.

But HFCS is appearing to be different. I would say that either reducing your HFCS intake or eliminating it completely would be a good course to take. Sadly, this would mean avoiding most sodas. If you still want a soda now and then, I seriously doubt that it will hurt you, but it should prompt you to treat a can of soda as much more of a treat than most people have been up to this point.

A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain (Princeton.edu)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

RECOMMENDATION: Coconut Water

Any kind of coconut water, actually. I prefer Vita Coco since it's the most widely available, but I'd imagine they'll all taste similar.

Be prepared. It's definitely an acquired taste. My girlfriend developed a urinary tract infection and this is even better for you than cranberry juice. So for awhile, we had lots of it in the house. The first time I tried it I was turned off by the weak flavor, the strange oily-yet-watery texture to the liquid, and generally the whole experience.

But we had it, it cost a lot (Whole Foods, of course), and I sure as hell wasn't going to let it go to waste. So after kinda' choking it down for a few days, I found myself really growing to like it. It was super-refreshing. That oily-yet-watery texture quenched a dry throat like nothing else. The mild flavor made it easy to drink. The nutrition is tops. And the low-calorie count (5-7 calories per ounce) means you can drink lots of it and not turn into a dirigible like you would with soda. That of course assumes you can afford lots of it.

That's the other issue with it. It's pricey. It's impossible to find it for less than $1.25 per box, but Red Bull costs that much and people drink that like it's about to made illegal. Or that it's already illegal. You can buy big boxes of it, like I have in my photo, on Amazon that works out to about $1.75 per box. That's pretty much as cheap as you're going to get barring a sale.

Still, if you can swing it, it's so worth it. The health benefits are numerous, the calorie count is lower than any juice (14 per ounce for OJ), and the boxes are convenient. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the large 34-oz cartons aren't widely available, so you're stuck with the small ones whether you like it or not.

I mentioned Vita Coco, but the other big brand on Amazon is Zico. Their price ends up being pretty much the same at first, but it isn't offered under Amazon Prime, which I have, which means no free shipping, which adds a lot to the cost. Both Vita Coco and Zico can be bought in large cartons, which makes VC about $0.16 per ounce and Zico $0.10 per ounce, but none of that comes with Prime. And at $15+ for shipping, it's not viable. For example, Vita Coco becomes $0.24 per ounce.

So, in the end, it's difficult to get, expensive, and the taste can vary from box to box. Still, I heartily recommend trying coconut water. Give it a chance. Force yourself to drink a few cartons over the course of a week. I think you'll grow to like it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is Orange Juice With Pulp Better For You?

All you have to do to understand the complex slurry of nutrients in your average piece of fruit is watch any of the countless documentaries about food being produced. You can watch The Future of Food or Food Inc., or read some random book about diet and learn about pectin, fiber, sugar, and the extra calories burned by eating raw food. So this raises an obvious question for the American breakfast eater: is OJ with pulp better for us?

It's not an easy question to answer. According to Tropicana, with pulp or without, the nutrition facts for orange juice are identical. But as we all know, the nutrition facts that companies are required to print are completely inadequate — if for no other reason than we still don't fully understand the way our body digests food. For example, it would be nigh-on impossible to get fat on raw apples, but you could easily pack on the pounds with apple juice or pan-seared apples.

Also, it just seems obvious that there has to be something in that pulp. It can't just be nothing. So what the hell is it? Well, scientifically, they're vesicles. Specialized cells that do nothing but store juice. The membrane of those cells is what comprises the pulp.


Picture stolen from Ciprex


As you can see from the diagram, those cells only make up about 2.7% of the total volume of the orange, so whatever they're made of, it doesn't comprise much. The vast majority of what is in an orange is in the juice. Unless you count the peel, which no one eats. Except for weirdos.

As with a lot of nutritional things, if the information is identical, we have to turn to scientific research for some kind of quantifiable benefit. Lucky for us, we have precisely that!

Orange pulp improves antioxidant status and suppresses lipid peroxidation in orchidectomized male rats

Nutrition, Volume 23, Issues 7-8, July-August 2007, Pages 617-621

Abstract:
Objective- Oxidative stress is linked to an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease in men. The objective of this research was to delineate whether daily consumption of orange pulp (OP) modifies antioxidant status and decreases cardiovascular risk factors in orchidectomized rats.

Methods- In the present study, 45 1-y-old male rats were randomized to a sham-control group (n = 9) and an orchidectomized group (n = 36). The orchidectomized group was equally divided among the following five treatments: orchidectomy (ORX), ORX + 2.5% OP, ORX + 5% OP, and ORX + 10% OP.

One hundred twenty days after the study began, all rats were sacrificed and plasma was harvested for its antioxidant status, C-reactive protein (CRP), lipid profile, and indices of peroxidation. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase activities in the liver were also monitored.

Results- Orchidectomy decreased (P < 0.05) plasma levels of antioxidant, SOD, catalase, and CRP and increased (P < 0.05) plasma levels of malondialdehyde, nitrite, and lipid profile compared with the sham-control group. In contrast to ORX, ORX + OP increased (P < 0.05) plasma antioxidant, dose-dependently increased (P < 0.05) SOD and catalase, decreased (P < 0.05) plasma malondialdehyde, nitrite, cholesterol, and triacylglycerol concentrations in the liver; and had no effect (P > 0.1) on plasma CRP or lipid profiles.

Conclusion- The beneficial effect of eating an orange is demonstrated by the increasing antioxidant status and by the decreasing peroxidation independent of plasma triacylglycerol, cholesterol, or CRP concentrations.


So it IS better for you to keep the pulp in the OJ... but for some unknown reason. Whatever the hell pulp is can be turned into fiber and other things for food alteration, but it's not fiber when we get it, nor does it affect the nutrition label.

Pulp contains a lot of flavonoids. In fact in your average orange, nearly all of the flavonoids are contained in the pulp. And flavonoids don't show up on any label, but our body does something with them, so is there any benefit to consuming them. As this study shows, the flavonoids do not have a direct effect on the body, but instead seem to stimulate the body's own waste-removal systems, which pumps more of the "bad stuff" out of our system. That somewhat jives with what we read in the previous journal entry.

So, still, it seems that we can be at least somewhat confident in the belief that OJ with pulp is better than without, but it is a very mild and indirect effect. If your diet is otherwise healthy and balanced, drinking pulp-free OJ, if that's your predilection, is no worse than drinking OJ that's practically a solid.

But is eating an orange better than the juice? Considering that diagram, and seeing that what we actually eat in an orange is primarily juice anyhow, what's the huge benefit to eating the fruit? I think that our own behavior has more to do with this than anything. An 8oz glass of OJ requires upwards of five oranges. A person can easily bang back 8oz of juice, and likely more. But eat five oranges in a sitting? Very few people do that. The process just naturally results in fewer calories.

I also think that the simple process of digesting results in fewer net calories in an ounce-for-ounce comparison. Even though there is pulp in OJ, it's been heavily machined. Much of the energy that would have been expended by our jaws and stomachs in processing the food has already been done, meaning more easy calories. Much of the raw food movement is predicated heavily on this idea, but I suspect, and the scientific evidence indicates, that this is a small effect.

Still, I think the conclusion to be reached is that the difference between OJ with and without pulp is very small and, if anything, indirect. You can achieve it by simply having a good, all-around diet. The difference between an actual orange and juice is nothing more than calories. So if you watch your calories around the OJ, eat, drink, it's whatever you feel like.

UPDATE 6/14/2010:

Previously, I had said that there is no difference in taste between OJ with or without pulp. That was apparently incorrect. I had never noticed before, but a recent taste test of juices showed pretty conclusively that OJ with pulp is lower on both sourness and bitterness. The differences are small, but noticeable. If you strongly prefer OJ without pulp, you're not sacrificing much.

BUT, if you want juice with absolutely fantastic flavor, pick up a bottle of Orchid Island, which came in first in that same taste test. You can buy it branded as Dave's own OJ at most Dave's Markets in Rhode Island. They don't keep it near the ordinary OJ, they usually store it in that gourmet juice section of the produce aisle. Is Orchid Island worth twice the price? Amazingly, yeah. It is. It tastes significantly better than any of the major brands. It's a truly delicious juice.

Monday, January 4, 2010

World Chocolate Championship Sees a Familiar Face

The World Chocolate Championship special aired on The Learning Channel... oh right. I forgot. It's no longer The Learning Channel. It's now just TLC. Seeing as how they have excised anything remotely educational from the channel, they had to get rid of that pesky, hoity-toity intellectual word from the name.

Regardless, in the video, did you notice someone... familiar?

That's right! The judge from the United States was our very own local, chocolate celebrity Andrew Schotts!