Saturday, July 30, 2011

Steaming Frozen Milk

When making a latte, I like to stick my milk-filled carafe in the freezer for a couple of minutes to get the temp down. Well, today, I forgot that I had done that and went about my business for about 45 minutes.

The milk was, as wouldn't surprise anyone, half-frozen. I tried to break it up with a spoon to not much avail. So, I figured, what the hell. I jammed my steam wand into the milky little arctic ocean and turned it on.

The ice faded very quickly, the whirlpool whipped up, and about twenty seconds later, I had a perfectly-steamed carafe of milk. It worked! Delicious.

So, yes. If you ever accidentally freeze your milk, don't worry. Just jam that wand into the frozen mess and turn that mofo on. There's no need to cry over frozen milk.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My First Pinkberry In RI!

My last visit to a Pinkberry was in New York back in 2007. They have seriously beefed up their offerings since then. More flavors, more toppings, and less thudding techno.

Friday, July 15, 2011

REVIEW: Parker House Restaurant ***1/2 / $$$$

The Parker House Hotel Restaurant is one of the more storied restaurants in New England. Not only is it the namesake of Parker House rolls, but it is also the origin of Boston Cream Pie. The hotel has been in continuous operation for over 150 years and is an absolute landmark in Boston history.

The restaurant is fabulously appointed, with giant chandeliers dropping down from twenty-foot ceilings, well-dressed tables, intricate carpets, and lighting that is a bit too dim for my tastes. It is not ultra-refined in details and service like, say, the restaurants of Alain Ducasse such as Le Louis XV, but I like that. I find, and always will find, details for the sake of details nothing more than an excuse to charge more money. And classic French service and cuisine is filled with details for their own sake.

I have now been to The Parker House on four occasions and enjoyed it very much each time. The service is always good, and the decor is a treat. There is also a relaxed sense that one gets, probably because it is, after all, a hotel restaurant. They have a buffet for brunch and breakfast, and bar patrons wander in and out. It's not a restaurant where you feel that there is any particular behavior or dress that is expected. Even if those things are expected, I like being in a restaurants where it feels like they aren't. And the Parker House has the benefit of both feeling that way, and also being that way.

The food is all flawlessly prepared. But, again, likely because of its status as a hotel restaurant, all of it is just very good, default expensive food. Good cuts of steak? Check. Lobster in some form? Check. I can't say much bad about, since it's all, again, perfectly prepared. And it's also not for those with a bland palate. But it's also not anything that you couldn't get elsewhere.

One bright spot for me was the onion soup. It is the absolute best onion soup I've ever had at a restaurant. The onions are actually cooked, which is a concept that many places seem to not quite get, and it has a powerful wine flavor to it. It bathes your tongue in a rich, beefy broth, and the whole experience is invigorated with the strong sweetness of the onions, and the bright twinge of the sherry. The kitchen was also not stingy with the cheese, which, again, is a memo that many other restaurants have not yet gotten.

Other than that, if you want some standard continental fare with a New England twist, prepared perfectly, in what is arguably one of the nicest dining areas around, you would be well-served to check out the Omni Parker House Restaurant. And if you are from far away lands and want to visit Boston, the hotel's decor is like a luxurious time machine to an era before modern design ruined everything. I like everything about The Parker House.

Omni Parker House Restaurant: ***1/2

60 School Street
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 227-8600

View Larger Map

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good Dinner At Providence Prime

Providence Prime remains my favorite steak house in Rhode Island. They've moved away from the "steak house" model that became so wildly popular during the economic boom moreso than any other place in the state. Most of the steakhouses were very reticent to move away from the model, where you order a steak and get... a steak. Nothing else. You want sides, you order sides. This is an enormously profitable restaurant model, but also depends on people with more money than brains.

I only wish that Prime had kept their pastry chef, since their desserts are pretty boring, now. If you want some excellent dessert options, your only options to really have your mind blown are Al Forno and Cafe Nuovo.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pinkberry Now Open in Rhode Island

While Rhode Island certainly hasn't been lacking for frozen yogurt, what with Juniper, Red Mango, and Froyoworld, it's cool to finally get a location from the brand that restarted the craze. Thankfully, this Pinkberry location appears to be taking it easy on the thudding techno music that me feel like I was living inside a Fisher Price version of The Matrix.

As you can see, the crowds were not insignificant. I witnessed quite a few people, including myself, simply leave and wait for another day.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fake Fats Makes us Real Fat

A study has been released showing the same hypothesized effects of fake fat that have been speculated to exist for fake sugars. Namely, our bodies taste fat and sugar, and thus prepare for an influx of calories. When no influx comes, it throws our metabolisms out of whack, our energy levels drop, and our bodies amp up the drive for more food.

Christopher Wanjek has a good article on it over at Live Science, but there are a few things that I want to add. Primarily, even if we didn't suffer negative effects from fake fats and sugars, they would still be a bad thing.

The emotional awakening that is required to not only start a healthy life, but stick with it, requires abandoning old eating habits and behavioral patterns. When I ditched pre-packaged food and soda years ago (and lost nearly fifty pounds in the process) I went back some time later and tried to eat the foods that once constituted so much of diet and I couldn't! Doritos tasted like cheese-flavored slime, Snickers burned going down, Coca-Cola caused a near-instantaneous diabetic coma; this food tasted like shit!

It was my emotional, physiological epiphany. So much of the food that we start eating as kids remains tasty simply because we keep eating it. If we break the pattern of sugary consumption that started when young, we lose our taste for the foods.

Fake sugars and fats does not do this. We try to maintain our old, unhealthy patterns with fake food and are surprised when our diets fail?! Of course they fail! The behavioral patterns that foster poor eating are only encouraged with fake junk food. We need to eliminate the sensation of junk food altogether. We need to replace it with healthy foods until we stop craving the junk. Then, the emotional and cognitive changes necessary to lead a healthy life have taken place.

Admittedly, for some people, this is easier said that done. The only junk food that I crave anymore is ice cream and the occasional root beer float, but for others, the cravings may persist. But no matter how strong your desires, the only way to win is to eliminate the cravings. If your dietary life is defined by resisting temptation, you've already lost. You have to find a way to eliminate the temptation, or reduce it to a point where it rarely enters your mind. Using fake fats and sweets does not encourage behavioral changes and only serves to make you weak in the face of junk.

Continued Testing of Archer Farms at Target

Target, partially in response to the economic downturn, partially in response to Wal-Mart, has wildy expanded its food offerings. Truly, they've managed to turn small sections of their stores into veritable supermarkets. Obviously, they skew pre-packaged food, since those have longer shelf lives, wider profit margins, and require a lower level of maintenance. But every Target has a central section that has a surprisingly large selection of fruits and veggies. Moreover, they have Purdue chicken for cheaper than anywhere else on Earth, as far as I can tell.

But it's in the freezers that Target really impresses. They have a selection of frozen vegetables, pasta, meat, seafood, and pre-made goodies that easily matches most supermarkets. Likewise for their sections of cereal, breads, snacks, and coffee.

Target's in-house, mid-range, wanna-be-organic brand Archer Farms is represented with about 1,000 products in the freezers, and I've been busily trying them all. Considering Archer Farms' high-end aspirations, many of the things that I've purchased have been rather disappointing.

First up are the frozen appetizers, such as bite-sized spanikopitas. These are almost universally too salty, and no matter the tricks that I used, they tasted like pre-packaged food. In fact, anything that was perishable, the frozen pizza, the dips, frozen desserts like the Cheesecake Bites, or Asian entrees were all overdone with one particular flavor. Most tasted acceptable, but only in comparison to other frozen foods.

Their meats, such as sausages and fish, are rather good. They taste as they should and there is nothing about them that stands out as negative. The same goes for their dairy, juices, frozen fruit, and baking mixes. In general, their raw materials seem to be of universally good quality.

I didn't try their tea, but their coffee is as good as one would expect from supermarket shelf coffee, that is, stale but decently flavorful. It wasn't a disappointment per se, since all it did was fulfill my expectations, but I still wouldn't buy it.

Their pasta sauce was a big point of hope for me. High quality pasta sauces are not cheap, with the best one, Rao's, costing significantly more than any other sauce on the shelf. A jar of Rao's can quickly eliminate much of the cost savings of having pasta at home. As a quick experiment, I picked up two jars from the shelf, Mario Batali's Tomato Basil and Archer Farms' Tomato Basil for a comparison. At only $3.99, the Archer Farms jar was half the price of the Batali brand.

It didn't specifically taste worse, but it did taste cheaper. It was closer in flavor to the lower-priced brands, but if placed among them was certainly one of the better sauces. Its smell was much less complex and enticing than the Batali sauce, and the flavor was predominantly tomato. Batali's sauce is more complex, a little sweeter, and it doesn't bathe the palate in thick tomato flavor, thus overpowering other elements. All things considered, Archer Farms is good, but I'd still either make my own, or opt to spend the extra cash on Mario Batali or Rao's.

I think that the takeaway from Archer Farms is that, if the product that you are thinking of buying is a raw material, be it meat, or jam, or bread, it will be quite good. If it required preparation somewhere, such as pizza or frozen meals, it's a total crap shoot.