What (a) Disaster

August 29, 2011

WOW

So, like almost everyone in the Northeast, we made our way to the supermarket on Saturday to prepare for Armageddon. Well, Armageddon never came. That is, not in the sense of the Category 3 Rain Storm Irene but the scene at D’agostino…now that’s a different story.

Who eats this much bread?

I had a hard time taking myself seriously but we did indeed end up with some basics to get us through the weekend. The most important…some bourbon!

Hurricane Survival Kit

One quick rant…It’s not really fair to get aggravated with city officials. While the storm ended up being pretty darn manageable, I’m glad they took the precautions to ensure people’s safety. But the weathermen and women? They should all be fired. Not for getting it wrong because I get it, weather is tough to predict. But for being assholes. Stop “selling” the idea of a disaster and report the news. And as my buddy Mark said “when it’s over…Go Home!”

So I hope everyone out there suffered limited damage and has space for all that damn bread.


The Willy Wonka of Cava?

May 26, 2011

Freixenet!

With three and half days in Barcelona and another two in Sitges, we filled our vacation with all of the good stuff: exploring, relaxing, eating, and drinking. What else could you ask for? But it was our half day trip to the Freixenet vineyards in  Sant Sadurní d’Anoia that really surprised us by being one of the most exciting moments of the trip!

In all honesty, Freixenet Cava has a sorta ridiculous place in our memories. All through college we made a point to drink bottles of the stuff at our parties because of the shelf popping (seemingly ridiculous) black bottle and the fact that it seemed like a classy upgrade from Andre. So when Em booked the tour we didn’t have any real expectations. In fact, even on the train ride out, we were laughing about how little we knew about what was about to go down.

Cork or Truck?

You think these run on booze?

With some Santa Caterina Market goodies in tow, we stepped off of the train to a view of the eye popping Freixenet entrance. The walkway lined with cork trucks and bottle motorcycles, with tons of potted planters packed with flowers, it somehow all resonated with that now seemingly perfect black bottle!

I'll take the large please!

The tour was lavish and wonderful to say the least. Walking through the four levels of caves in the original building, the detail of the cava producing process and the sheer size of the Freixenet production was really remarkable. Little did we know the volume of Cava that Freixenet was producing annually; with close to 200 million bottles all produced at this family run producer, the tour was not only fun but it was extremely interesting.

Carlos: Tour Guide, Drummer, Friend

For example, when Carlos, our amazing tour guide (who also happened to invite us to his towns celebration because he would be playing drums that night), explained to us the evolution of the yeast removing process. Back in the day, he told us, after almost a month of slight shifting to push the yeast to the head of the bottle, the sediment was removed by hand, with a quick motion releasing the cork and using the thumb as a stopper. Not so efficient and maybe a little messy huh? So when some smart dude invented a process to freeze only the small volume of liquid surrounding the yeast and to expel that “ice” by pressure, things got a whole lot easier. Fascinating!

Willy Wonka?

I probably can’t do the whole tour justice without gushing for way too long. It was unlike any other vineyard visit we have made. Even the most educational tour in Sonoma didn’t live up to this over the top exhibition. We finished with a few amazing glasses of Cava, including a glass from one of their rarest bottles. Still hand made and available for limited sale in Spain; I absolutely loved it. Even more delicious was a sparkling rose that Em adored. With two bottles of the latter in hand, we made our way back to the train station, smiling wide, feeling as though we had just left the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. That is if you could get drunk at Willy Wonka’s!


On the move…

May 10, 2011

Life is a bit crazy these days. And not at all in a bad way. I’ve got lots going on and it all seems good to me. But the reality is, I haven’t had much time to cook. So after another late night (this time searching for a suit), the opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen was lost yet again. And with another trip abroad coming up this weekend, things aren’t looking so good from a food creativity stand point. But Barcelona should be great inspiration for when I return.

So in honor of my current craziness today’s poll is all about on the go eating. We all know it’s tough to eat healthy and delicious food while traveling but let’s hope I can buck the trend!


Frozen Food Battle: Hot Pockets!

July 22, 2009

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“I’ve never eaten a Hot Pocket and then afterwards been like ‘I’m glad I ate that'” -Jim Gaffigan

It’s been years since I’ve had a Hot Pocket…or a croissant pocket, or a lean pocket or whatever new version has hit the market recently. I remember the meat and cheese filled pastries more for Jim Gaffigan’s comedy routine than I do for their taste and appeal. But when you break it down, these hot pockets aren’t much different than empanadas or hand pies both of which I have recently eaten and enjoyed. So could my homemade “hot pockets” outshine the frozen staple, or would they too be the target of Jim’s jokes…

Taste: I’m always a bit amazed when pastry or crust manages to make it out of the microwave in decent form. The manufactures will have you believe it’s the packaged sleeves, but I’m sure it’s the product of some weird sort of  magic. With Hot Pockets, the magically flaky crust is complimented by their variety of fillings. hot-pocketsThe one I remember the most was the broccoli, chicken, and cheese version. As with most frozen options, the taste isn’t so bad, and arguably better than you’d expect. The problem is, the food doesn’t taste fresh, it doesn’t taste healthy, and it certainly doesn’t look all that appealing.

To keep the comparison fair, I decided to make a chicken, broccoli, and cheddar hot pocket of my own. Using chicken breast, fresh broccoli, and sharp cheddar I was able to make a filling that was beyond enjoyable. Along with the homemade crust I made, my offerings, despite lacking a bit of uniformed structure were full of flavor. Most importantly however, I was able to eat them without feeling ill. The fresh bite of the broccoli along with the big cubes of organic chicken breast and the creaminess from the cheese balanced with the flaky crust perfectly. I even made a eggplant parmigiana version for extra variety which was also delicious but I’ll get back to the head to head…

Cost: The Hot Pockets have always been one of the cheaper frozen options. A package of two will run you at most $3.49. Although Fresh Direct doesn’t sell them, I did a bit of research and found the average price to be around this figure. That clocks in at $1.75 per pocket. That’s pretty reasonable. So did my homemade versions, with fresh ingredients and organic chicken break the bank. Of course not! At $7.54* for four hot pockets, I was able to come in just $.14 higher per pocket once again proving that the deals we think we are getting by buying from our supermarkets freezer section are  awfully misleading.

Time: The instructions on the box tell us that all it takes is two minutes in the microwave for our golden brown hot pocket to be perfect for consumption. Based off of microwave inconsistencies I think this time can extend towards the four minute mark but either way, this is fast food to the core.  How can I compete with that? From start to finish, including the preparing and resting of the dough, my hot pockets were ready in about an hour and a half. That isn’t so bad especially considering the majority of that time was devoted to the dough resting in the refrigerator. Plus I didn’t use any magic and nothing competes with homemade crust.

The decisions we are making come back to two factors; time and money. But once again, with comparable spending, I was able to produce a much tastier and certainly much healthier version of a popular frozen food! And despite having spent substantially more time in the kitchen, I spent less time on the couch, more time conversing with friends, and ultimately didn’t regret an ounce of my dining experience. Can’t say the same for Jim and his Hot Pockets.

*Cost Analysis:

  • 1 organic chicken breast $2.12
  • 1 1/2 cups flour $.35
  • 1/2 stick organic butter $.69
  • 1/2 lb cheddar cheese $2.99
  • 1 head broccoli $.99
  • 1 jalapeno $.40
  • Total (4 Hot Pockets) = $7.54
  • Price per pocket = $1.89

Frozen Food Battle: Veggie Burgers

June 29, 2009

Veggie Burger

When I was doing my research on the frozen food endeavors of those around me, I was surprised to get so much consistency. It seems, with all of the full meal options available, many are opting for the frozen patties lining the freezer aisle. It makes a lot of sense and in fact, some of the products out there are pretty good. Plus it is easy to spruce them up with a salad or a great bun and a side or two. And as far as being convenient one box will get you almost a week’s worth of meals. But what about making these patties ourselves. There’s no doubt that fresh burgers outweigh the frozen variety, so what about the veggie patties…

Taste: Veggie burgers often get a bad wrap. Mainly because 99 times out of 100 they are called exactly that: veggie “burgers”. Now come on, these aren’t burgers and will never compete. It’s like I’ve written about before, meat is meat and there is no substitute. Maybe that’s why the Morningstar Veggie Patties are so popular. Notice the lack of burger in the name. If you read the list of ingredients, these veggie patties are filled with mushrooms, water chestnuts, onions, carrots, green and red bell peppers, and black olives. It is nice to see the first ingredients actually being vegetables and the brown rice filler is what clearly gives these patties their texture. But despite all the positives, fresh always outperforms frozen…doesn’t it.

Part of me seems to be rooting for the frozen version but I can’t lie. This homemade veggie patty was awesome. I wanted to keep them as similar as possible for comparison sake so I used a number of similar ingredients. I made my veggie patties with crimini mushrooms, red onion, bell pepper, fresh corn, and garbanzo beans. Rather than using rice, I decided to go with quinoa, a trick I’ve used before. The texture is much better; dare I say meat like. The addition of ginger and a bit of soy sauce gave these patties some awesome flavor. And the best part is, one meal worth of work netted me 10 patties. That’s a lot of future meals….

Cost: It’s a lot of meals but how much did it cost. The Morningstar patties come in a packet of four. The fresh direct price is listed at $4.79 for a whopping total of $1.20 a patty. That’s pretty good. How’d my version stack up. Not including the seasonings (kitchen staples) the total cost of my veggie patties was $9.65*. For all of you who struggle with mental math, that’s 96 cents a patty! Once again cheaper than the frozen!

Time: This time the comparison is a bit more interesting. Once again the time I spent making my meal tonight is completely demolished by the frozen option. The Morningstar instructions give two options for heating. The first, the one I’d prefer is in the oven for 12-15 minutes. The second is in the microwave for only 1 1/2 minutes. Either way the hour and a half I spent preparing my version is a commitment many aren’t willing to make. But here’s where it gets interesting. I now have eight patties in my freezer ready to go (2 morningstar boxes worth). At this point there is no difference between mine and theirs. Except the freshness of a homemade meal!

I served mine with stir fried tat soi and quick pickled vegetables with a chili mayo. Awesome!

*Cost Analysis:

  • 1 Carton Crimini Mushrooms $2.49
  • 1/2 Red Onion $.92
  • 1/2 Bell Pepper $.44
  • Corn $.80
  • Can of Garbanzo Beans $1.39
  • Basil $.50
  • 1 cup Quinoa $.73
  • 2 eggs $.45
  • Panko Bread Crumbs $1.13
  • Garlic $.60
  • Total (10 Patties) = $9.45
  • Individual Patty = $.95

Frozen Food Battle: Chicken Pot Pie

June 15, 2009

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My little bro has always been pretty independent. It’s been awesome to see him cooking as much and as well as he does but really when I look back, he’s always been up for preparing his own meals. As most hockey families can attest to, dinner time can be rather ambiguous. Often dinner consists of two portions. The first, after school, before practice and the second, late in the evening. The latter was, at least for us, a dinner prepared and ready to go in the oven. The former was often up to us. I relied on the deliciously salty ramen packets (it took  me a while to realize what was causing that awful dehydration…besides the hard work of course). But for my bro it has always been the Marie Callendars Chicken Pot Pie…

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