Monday, June 26, 2017

Geoffrey Zakarian's Pro Home Food Storage by Tarhong

When I went to the Housewares Show in Chicago this past March, one of the coolest things was when I met Geoffrey Zakarian and he showed me his new line of kitchen storage products. He was friendly and warm and really enthusiastic about the products.

Well, of course he was enthusiastic about the products, because he designed them. He said that after working in restaurants for years and seeing and understanding the proper way to store food, he was disappointed that there weren't similar storage products sized for home kitchens.

So he decided to create them.

The containers are clear, so you can see what's in them. They seal well, and have a tab on the corner that makes it easy to remove the lid. They are dishwasher, microwave, and freezer safe. And there are removable trays so food doesn't sit in liquid, if it's not supposed to. Obviously, if you're marinating, you want it in liquid. But if you're storing fresh strawberries, you don't want them sitting in any sort of moisture that could cause rotting.

The containers nest for storage and they stack when they're full. They also include a pen that can be used to write on the containers to label them, and it wipes off nicely so you can re-label again cleanly.

I only got one container at the show (which was plenty, because there's only so much stuff that can be stuffed into a suitcase) so I haven't used it a lot, but it's really a nice container. Sturdy, solid, well made. If I was tossing out all my current containers and starting over, I'd definitely be looking at a set of these.

He also has some other products that are in the design stage that aren't for sale yet that looked interesting. I'll be curious to see how well his new product line does, considering there are w whole lot of storage containers on the market. Right now, I'm not finding them widely distributed, but I hope we'll be seeing more of them.

As a side note ... my one regret about meeting Geoffrey Zakarian at the show was that after I walked away, I realized it would have been totally cool to get a video of him telling me that I'd been chopped. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Who's it for: People who store food in the refrigerator.

Pros: Nice containers, made similar to professional storage.

Cons: Limited distribution right now.

Wishes: I'd love to be able to just buy the sizes I need at the grocery store.

Source: I received this as a sample at no cost when I was at the Housewares Show.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Degustabox - June

Another month, another mystery box of goodies from Degustabox. I get these boxes for free so I can tell you all about them.

This month's had some items I liked a lot, along with a few I passed along to some very appreciative friends and neighbors. (Don't you want to be my neighbor?)

I get a lot of free samples (ain't it great to be a food blogger?) and I know it makes no sense for me to sample things that I know I won't like (for example, anything with coconut) or things that I know that someone else would appreciate much more than I would (gluten-free or high-caffeine foods, for example).

If I know I won't like something (hello, coconut), there's no way I could honestly say nice things about it. It would be a waste to open it. And in the case of gluten free products or others that just don't fit my food agenda, it simply makes more sense to give them to someone who will love them, instead of me eating a bite and saying, "yeah, it's okay but just not my thing."

There were quite a few things in this box that I like, a few I tried before ... and some that I passed along to other deserving folks.

So ... here we go. 

Amazon links are included for products or companies, where available, so you can find more information on individual items.

Nativas Naturals
This is another nutrition bar, this time minimally processed, organic, and plant based. Since I work from home, there really aren't a whole lot of times when I want an energy bar to fill the food gap. There's pretty much always something here I can eat. So ... this one I passed along.

Briannas Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing
Honestly, I don't buy a lot of bottled dressings, but I might seek this one out. It was good on salad, but I also drizzled some on half of an avocado that I devoured. This would also make a lovely sauce on top of poached or roasted chicken.

Ritz Crisp & Thins
Sort of like a cracker and sort of like a chip, these were great for snacking. Or they'd be good next to a bowl of soup. These are good as-is, but they'd be great with a dip or some cheese. Since they're baked rather than fried, they're lower in calorie that fried chips and crisps.

Hodgson Mills gluten free muffin mix
I passed these along to a gluten-free friend. I've tried a lot of Hodgson Mills products and they've all been high quality. I'm betting these are darned good, too. The mix can also be used to make pancakes, so it's not a one-trick pony.'

Brooklyn Organics ginger ale
I'm a sucker for ginger ale, so I liked this. It's sweetened with stevia and organic. There are several different flavors of this ginger soda. I got to sample one of them, but I'm sure they're all pretty tasty.

Julian's Recipe Waffle Thins
These are cracker-like waffle-textured snacks that come in both sweet and savory flavors. I got the meyer lemon, but there are also cheese-flavored and herby ones. I'm going to look for the cheesy variety because I love cheesy crackers. The lemon was good, but wouldn't be my first choice if a cheesy one was within reach.

Popcorners Salt of the Earth Bean Crisps
I loved Popcorners snacks that tasted like popcorn, so I was pretty interested in this version with beans along with the corn. I haven't actually opened it yet since I had other open snack foods and there's only so many crispy snacks I can shove into my maw in a given week. But if you're looking for a new snack, I think this one would be a good bet.

Entenmann's mini apple snacks
I used to work near an Entenmann's bakery and the smells coming from that place were intoxicating. I had a few favorites among their offerings, but this seems to be a new one. They're little hand pies, about the size of the bottom half of a slider bun. I loved these. They'd be too sweet for me if they were larger, but this was a perfect little dessert.

Bibigo Go-Chu-Jang Barbecue sauce
I haven't opened this one yet because I had two other kinds of barbecue sauce already opened, but I'm seriously looking forward to trying it. It's described as bold, smoky, and spicy. I'm betting it would be awesome on wings, which are now on the shopping list.

Sir Kensington's Ketchup
Another interesting ketchup. If your idea of ketchup is the sweet stuff we all grew up with, maybe it's time to venture into new ketchup territory. I suggest slathering this on a burger or using it as a topping on a meatloaf.

Viter Energy Mints
This was an added "gift" in the box. These are little breath mints with 40mg of caffeine and B vitamins. While I tend to keep my caffeine intake fairly low these days, these would be awesome to tuck into a purse for those time when someone is out and about and feeling a little tired, particularly when there's a boring drive home on the agenda. Probably also good before a test at school or a before a business meeting.

Thanks to Degustabox for supplying these fun boxes (at no cost to me).

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Red's Natural Foods Burritos

Let me be perfectly honest.

Since I've been living alone, I've been buying more heat-and-eat foods. I still cook from scratch, and I still like making some more complicated dishes, but there are days when I get busy, I'm past hungry, and all I want is a quick lunch.

So, when the folks at Red's Natural Foods sent me a bunch of coupons, I stocked up. (Red's also makes "bowls" but they didn't have them at the store I went to.

I tossed the burritos in the freezer and munched on them when I had one of those day. Home from shopping and too hungry to make something else. Saving the leftovers for dinner. Whatever.

I've tried frozen burritos before, and the one thing I remembered was that they were pretty much all the same, no matter if you got chicken, beef, or pork. Same flavors. Nothing to see here.

I bought a bunch of different Red's burritos, and every one was different. It tasted like what the label said it was. There was cilantro and lime flavor in the one that was supposed to have those flavors, and there was steak in the steak burrito. And they were super-easy. Just microwave and eat.

The burritos were the perfect size for a lunch for me, but they'd be a little small for someone with a larger appetite. Or maybe serve them with sides and toppings. But really, the whole point for me was to have a super-quick and easy meal. So I didn't serve them with any sides or toppings.

If it's important, these are natural, non-GMO, and organic.

Who's it for: Hungry people who like burritos.

Pros: Easy, tasty.

Cons: A little more expensive than the non-natural brands.

Wishes: I wish I could find their other products at my local store. I'll be looking.

Source: I received coupons from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Organic Mahatma and Organic Carolina

I am a rice fiend. I'm always trying new brands, new types, new recipes, and new gadgets for cooking the rice.

So, when a company asked if I wanted samples of their white and brown rice to try, I said yes. They sent me Mahatma Organic Brown Rice ...

 ... and Carolina Organic Long Grain White Rice.

I tried both of them, in both of my rice cookers, and in different recipes. The result? To be honest, the white rice was pretty similar to the rice I had been using. Which is a very good thing. It was a nice rice with good flavor when I cooked it very plainly, and it was perfectly happy to have flavor added to it.

The brown rice, though, was a little different. It seemed to cook better, and had a better texture. When I cooked it until it was "just done" the rice had nice chew and the grains stayed separate. When I cooked it further with more water (not quite risotto, but a softer texture) the grains still stayed separate rather than going pasty, which sometimes happens. This was really nice.

Overall, I like both of them, and I'll look for them in stores.

Who's it for:  People who like rice.

Pros: Good flavor, good quality.

Cons: Let's face it; rice isn't very exciting.

Wishes: I'd love to see these in 5-pound bags. Did I mention that I eat a lot of rice?

Source: I received this from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sabatier Edgekeeper Self Sharpening Knives

Sharp knives are a pleasure to use in the kitchen, but I have feeling that most folks don't recognize when their knives need sharpening. The dulling process happens pretty slowly, so it's not like one day you're slicing through carrots like a pro and the next day you're struggling to cut through a hard boiled egg.

What I hear often is that someone will get a new knife and they'll be all giddy about how sharp it is compared to the old ones they have. It's not that the old knives were always sup-bar. It's just that over time, they got dull, and the new knife is perfectly sharp.

While there are a ton of different sharpening tools, it seems that most folks don't own them, they don't use them, or they don't know how to use them. So their knives just get duller and duller.

When I heard about the self- sharpening knives from Sabatier, I was intrigued. How does this magic work? I imagined the knives coming to life at night and getting to work on keeping that sharp slicing edge.

So I said, yes, send me samples. I received the 8-inch slicer, the 8-inch chef's knife and the 3 1/2 inch paring knife to test. They came securely packaged, and each included a sheath. I unpackaged, inspected, sliced, and even took a knife to a friend's house to get a second opinion.

Alas, the magic is not quite as mystical as I imagined. Each of the knifes sheaths has a little embedded sharpener, so every time you insert the knife or take it out, the blade runs through that sharpener.

Well, sort of. If you slide the knife into the sheath with the top edge (the flat unsharp side) sliding against the sheath, the sharp edge of the blade doesn't make much contact with the sharpener. So you do need to pay attention to how you're sliding the knife in and out of the sheath. It's not difficult, and it's certainly not necessary to slide against the sharpener every single time. But if it's your goal to keep the knife sharp at all times, it's a good idea to get into the habit of letting the blade contact that sharpener regularly.

For me, that took a little bit of thought to make it a habit. I don't use a lot of sheaths - my favorite knives are on a magnetic hanger, and other knives are in a block - but when I use a sheath, I tend to try to keep the blade from scraping the sheath. So I had to remember to run the blade along the sharpener, and in the case of knives with a curved edge, I had to make sure the whole length of the blade contacted the sharpener. Once it became a habit, it was easy peasy.

I think this is a genius idea, particularly for people who don't want to deal with sharpening knives regularly and for people who are intimidated by the idea of doing their own sharpening. Even better, these knives are affordable. Most of them are under $20, so these would be great for new kitchens, vacation homes, for a take-along knife in the picnic basket, or in a desk drawer at work for apple emergencies.

Who's it for: Everyone needs a good knife, right? But these are particularly good for people just starting out, or for anyone who's averse to sharpening their knives with a stand-alone sharpener.

Pros: It really works.

Cons: I haven't had these long enough to know how long the sharpener will remain useful. I imagine it will be years, but not generations. On the other hand, the knives are not expensive, so I don't think anyone will expect to pass them down to grandchildren.

Wishes: A self-sharpening steak knife set would be kind of sweet. Does anyone ever sharpen those? And having sheaths to store them would be better than a box.

Source: I received this from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Degustabox - May

Every month, I get a free box of goodies from Degustabox, so I can tell you all about it. Sometimes they they send boxes to customers with different options, based on customer requests. But (lucky me!) I get all the options. Yum yum.

This time, some customers get a box with tea for Keurig-style coffee makers, while another box is for folks who don't have Keurigs.

I have to say that this might be my favorite box so far. It was sort-of Italian themed, and I love Italian and Mediterranean foods.

I say that it was "sort-of" Italian themed, because while there were quite a few Italian items, there were other product as well. You'll see.

Mulino Bianco shortbread cookies
I love shortbread cookies. They're buttery and not too sweet, and they're sort of a "pure" cookie since they don't include a lot of extra ingredients. So I don't need to worry about finding coconut in there. Also, shortbreads are great for making cookie crusts for cheesecakes or similar desserts. I hadn't tried this brand before, so I was happy to have another option. These were pretty typical shortbreads, except that they had a bit of a toasty flavor. They were nice. I got the "Galetti" cookies which have a rooster stamped on them, but Mulino Bianco has a whole bunch of other shortbread cookies as well.

Mulino Bianco tomato and oregano bread sticks
I adore bread sticks. They're perfect with soup or salad, but I also like them as a snack. Kind of like pretzels without all the extra salt. These were flavored with tomato and oregano, so they had plenty of flavor.

Barilla Farfalle Pasta
When I was a kid, we called this shape of pasta "bow ties" and my mom often used them for tuna noodle casserole, but now I know they're supposed to be butterflies. It doesn't matter what the shape is supposed to represent, I still like it. I like it a lot for pasta salads. Hmmm. Pasta salad with pesto would be good, right?

Goya lentil and vegetable soup
I was going to make soup, but then this showed up and I decided to give it a try. It was supposed to be cooked in 30 minutes (to cook the dried lentils all the way) but I needed about 10 minutes more, since I live at high altitude. This was a good soup and super-easy. For a heartier meal, it would be great with some leftover chicken tossed in.

Pure Growth Organic Oatmeal
Since there was a photo of SpongeBob on the box, I'm guessing this is aimed at kids, but it's basically an instant oatmeal. I prefer steel cut oats, but I use instant and rolled oats quite often for baking, so I still have a good use for these.

La Tortilla Factory corn and wheat tortillas
These are awesome. They're made from both wheat and corn, so you have the flavor of corn tortillas, but they're more pliable and less prone to cracking and breaking that's typical with corn tortillas, while not being fluffy and bready like flour tortillas.

Mutti finely chopped tomatoes
I use a lot of canned tomatoes. I even use them when tomatoes are in season, because they're so convenient. I'll be looking for these at the store since the finely diced texture is great when you want pieces of tomato rather than a puree, but you don't want giant pieces. Like for a salsa, where you want to get all the ingredients onto a chip.

Barilla traditional pesto
Pesto is easy to make, but it takes a lot of basil. If I have a garden growing, I might have enough basil. If not, this stuff is handy to have on hand. Pesto is great mixed with pasta, but I also like it mixed with broccoli.

Some boxes contain the following two:

Soy Vay honey barbecue sauce
I've tried a bunch of different Soy Vay products, but I didn't know they made a barbecue sauce - I thought they mostly made things like teriyaki. This was an asian-style sauce with honey and soy, and it had sesame seeds floating in it. So it's not what you'd find at your local barbecue place ... or maybe it is, if they have a lot of sauce.

Village Harvest quick-cook whole grain blends
This includes rice, lentils, and spices, and cooks in 15 minutes ... or a little longer for me, since I'm at high altitude. I usually make rice in my rice cooker since I can put it in early and it keeps the rice warm and fluffy until I need it. But this is great for when rice is more of a side dish than something that's there to sop up a sauce. And it's done in 15 minutes. Easy peasy.

Other boxes contain the following two:

Chicago Vegan dandies marshmallows
These vegan marshmallows are made without any gelatin, but I didn't notice any significant differences between these and regular marshmallows, except seemed a little softer than the usual store-bought brands. Perhaps that's just because they were fresher and probably made in a small batch. When I make my own marshmallows, they're usually a lot softer than purchased marshmallows when they're first made, but they get firmer over time. If you're vegan and want marshmallows, these are worth a look.

Skinnygirl Mojito Mint green tea for Keurig
I love mint tea, so I was pretty happy to get this. It's got green tea as its base, so it's not all mint - a nice mix, actually. The mint helps make the green tea seem sweeter and not quite as astringent as a typical green tea. Overall, I liked it.

I receive these boxes at no cos to me, so I can describe them to you.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Keli's Sauces

It's kind of hard to review food products, because what you get is my personal taste. But still, there are some things that can be described, right?
I got a selection of sauces from a company called Keli's that makes Hawaiian-style sauces.

Since I've never been to Hawaii, I can't tell you whether these sauces really are typical in Hawaii, but I am a big fan of teriyaki sauce. Sometimes I even make my own, although I don't do it very often.

Now that I've tried Keli's, I'm perfectly happy to not have to make it at all.

I haven't tried all of the products yet, since I don't have room in the fridge for a bazillion bottles of sauces that I would use in the same way. But so far, I'm pretty happy with what I've tried. the sauces aren't too sweet or too salty or too ... anything. They're well balanced and flavorful.

My first attempt was some sous vide chicken breasts. Basically, I put some of the sauce in the sous vide bag before cooking. And then I served it with a little extra sauce on top. Good stuff.

So far I haven't tried all of the sauces I received (and I didn't get every single one, but I got enough to keep me happy for a while) so I can't really say which is best. But if you like teriyaki, I think these are worth giving a try.

FYI, these come in smaller bottles as well as big jugs, in cake you're really a fan of teriyaki.

Who's it for: Peeps who like teriyaki.

Pros: Yum.

Cons: Might be hard to find at your grocer. But you can buy it from the company's website or Amazon.

Wishes: Ummmm. Can't think of anything at the moment.

Source: I received this from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

D'Vash Date Nectar

So ... there are a bazillion types of sugar these days. Besides the crystallized white and brown sugars, there are the wet ones, like honey and agave. Coconut sugar seems to be getting more popular.

Recently, I got a chance to sample some date nectar (another wet sugar) from a company called D'Vash.

They sent little plastic tubes of the date nectar. Perfect for taking along for sugaring drinks at work or on the go. Or for sticking in the cabinet for pre-measured sugar. They also sell it in a bottle.

I tried it several times in tea. While I don't usually sweeten tea, there are some occasions where I like the little extra sweetness.

The verdict is that the D'Vash Date Nectar has good flavor, but not strong flavor. It didn't overpower the tea, but it added just a little bit or richness without really changing the flavor of the tea.

If you're trying to avoid the crystallized sugars, this one's a nice choice.

Who's it for: People who want to be sweeter.

Pros: Tastes good. Not weird.

Cons: It's a little spendy.

Wishes: This would be nice if it came in a much larger container to lower the per-serving price so it would be reasonable for baking.

Source: I received this from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Degustabox April

Another month, another box of interesting goodies from Degustabox. They send me a box every month so I can tell you all about it.

This one was pretty interesting. I've saved the most ... unusual ... for last.

Nando's Peri-Peri Sauce
This is basically a hot sauce made from Bird's Eye chilis, along with spices. I've tried Nando's before, so I didn't open this bottle, but I'm sure it will be in the hot sauce rotation soon.

Mutti Tomato Concentrate
This stuff is awesome. Since it's in a squeeze tube, you can use a little bit, then just put the cap on and put it in the refrigerator. It's great in soup, stews, rice, or even to boost the tomato flavor in pasta sauces that are a little weak. Pretty much anywhere you might use a little bit of tomato paste. A must buy. I always have some of this on hand.

Skinnygirl Peach Bellini Green Tea K-Cups
Easy-to-make green tea with peach flavor. This is sweetened with stevia, so it's zero calorie. Personally, I thought it had a bit of astringency that's common in green teas, so I added just a tiny bit of sugar. Oopsie. I guess that ruined the no-calorie aspect, but I liked the flavor better when it was very lightly sweetened.

Since not all Degustabox subscribers have K-cup machines, they could opt for the following three items instead:

Cafe Bustelo Instant Expresso
I use this sort of thing for baking - you know, when a recipe calls for strong black coffee? Or sometimes I add just a little bit into chocolate desserts. It's great to have on hand, even if you don't drink espresso, and it's great when you need that really strong cup of coffee, but don't have an expresso machine.

An anti-oxidant drink that has all the goodness of green tea, but no caffeine, in a convenient can. I haven't popped this one open yet, but it sounds like a good idea.

Steady Energy
An energy shot with coffee and cocoa. I didn't get to sample this one, but energy shots certainly are popular.

And now, back to what was in ALL the boxes:

Wilton Candy Drizzles
Here's an interesting idea. You melt the candy bits right in the pouch, then snip the corner and drizzle onto fruit, baked goods, or whatever you like. This is a genius idea. Great for people who don't want a lot of fuss.

Lovely Candy
Chewy caramels. Can I say more? I didn't buy any Easter candy, so this is a nice treat. This particular brand doesn't use any artificial flavors or colors, and not high fructose corn syrup. Munching on one of these while sipping coffee or hot tea is particularly nice.

PR Bar
Gluten-free, carbs, vitamins, and stuff to boost performance. I almost wish I worked outside the house so it would make sense to take these sorts of bars with me for road food. I've handed this off to someone who will make more use of it.

Better Oats
Here's something different. Steel cut oats that are quick-cooking. I'm not fond of rolled oats or quick cooking rolled oats or instant rolled oats. I don't like the texture. But I totally love steel cut oats. So I was really curious about this product. Could I really have steel-cut oats in a few minutes rather than having to plan ahead to have them cooking in the rice cooker on a timer for morning ... or without waiting a long time for them to cook? The answer is ... this stuff is decent. The only quibble I have is a personal one. I'm not a huge fan of sweet foods for breakfast, and the sample I got was a maple and brown sugar version. I think I would have liked the plain version better. But ... because I'm weird, I do like this sweet one as a dessert or snack with a little pat of butter.

Bush's Hummus Made Easy 
and Bush's Chickpeas
Genius. I love hummus and I make it at home quite often, but this makes it so much easier. Hummus ingredients aren't difficult, but tahini can be a little hard to find and it's somewhat perishable, so if you don't use a lot of it, it might be one of those things you throw out before you use up. Lemons are relatively cheap and easy, but some folks don't have lemons sitting around all the time. I gave this a try - just put the chickpeas and the Hummus Made Easy in the blender and let it do its job. Pretty tasty. I thought it was just a tad salty when I first tasted it, but pita chips usually aren't salty, so when I ate it with the chips, it was fine.

This hummus "kit" is a great compromise between home made hummus and store-bought, pre-made hummus, but it's got one advantage over both. It's shelf stable. So you can have hummus pretty much any time you can summon the effort to push the button on your food processor or blender.

Wild Planet Free Range Chicken
I've tried the Wild Planet tuna and it was high quality and really good. I haven't opened this can yet, but I think it will be a great product to have on hand when I want something with chicken but I don't have a cooked chicken lurking about. Like chicken and noodles. Or chicken fried rice. Or chicken salad. Or chicken soup. I'll tuck this in the cabinet for later use.

Last, and weirdest. These are chips made with cricket flour. Yup, you heard it right. Cricket flour. I stared at these bags for a long time. Waffled over whether I was brave enough. Crickets are high in protein ... I know that. But ... but ... but ... in the end I decided that it would be better to pass these along to someone else. I'm sure they're tasty. Crunch, crunch, chirp, chirp.

I get these boxes from Degustabox at no cost so I can describe them to you.