Friday, November 17, 2017

Raw Spice Bar

I wrote about Raw Spice Bar some time ago. It's a neat idea - it's a subscription service where you get different spice blends on a regular basis.

When I last wrote about them, the amounts were pretty small. Like, you could make one recipe, perhaps, but then you couldn't make it a second time if the recipe needed a lot of spice. You could, of course, order more. But once you'd tossed the packaging, would you really remember the name of the mix? Or remember to order it?

Now, the packets are larger, holding just about an ounce of spice mix each which is a decent amount, but not so much that you'll have it hanging around until it's lost all its flavor. The subscription is quarterly, so you get plenty of time to use the spices you get and think about which ones you're going to re-order.

The packages are also nicer, which I appreciate. They reseal easily, and if you want to stand them up, the bottoms can be spread out so the packet stands on it's one. That's great if you want them open to measure and you don't want then laying flat on the counter where they can spill.

The quality of the mixes is still really good, and great for creative meal planning.

And ... you don't actually need to order a subscription, if you don't want surprise spices coming to your door. You can order mixes, individual spices, spice sets ... oh heck, don't make me tell you about it. Just go to the Raw Spice Bar website and browse around for a while. You'll see.

I received spices at no cost to me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Land O'Lakes soft butter

Lemme get this out here. The nice folks at Land O'Lakes have been sending me samples of stuff lately. I mean, it's butter. How can I say no?

I'm not obligated to post about this stuff, but I thought the time was right to talk about it.

Quite some time ago (prior to this recent samplefest), I actually reviewed their soft butter with olive oil, and I've been buying it ever since. I don't use it for cooking, but I love it for toast or English muffins, or any time I don't want to fight with refrigerator-cold butter.

Yes, I know I can keep my butter on the counter, but I haven't been doing that lately.

So, yeah, I'm addicted to the butter with olive oil.

Then they sent me a new low-salt version as part of this new send-some-samples thing. Hmmmm. When I tried it on its own, it didn't seem bland, the way low-salt things can be. When I tried it side-by-side with the regular version, I could tell that there was a difference in the salt level.

I'm going to just say that it's going to be personal taste whether you like the less-salt or more-salt version. At the moment, I'm sticking with the one with olive oil rather than a canola version and salt will be my second consideration. So ... it depends on what's at the store.

Then ... they sent me a pumpkin spice butter. Obviously a seasonal product. All I've got to say is that if you like pumpkin spice, run out and buy this NOW. I've been eating it on English muffins. It would also be awesome on toasted pound cake. Mmmm. Warm toasted pound cake.

Excuse me while I put pound cake on my shopping list.

I'm on a list, so I'm getting free samples from Land O'Lakes on occasion. No obligations, so you'll only hear about them when I think they're worth a discussion. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Degustabox November 2017

Another month, another box of treats and savories from Degustabox.

They send me one of these boxes every month so I can tell you all about it, so you get an idea of what you might get if you subscribe.

November's box is one that I dug into almost as soon as it arrived because there were so many things I wanted to eat. And a few that I wanted for recipes.

I slapped my fingers and waited until I took a picture of the goodies, but there were jars opened and bags ripped pretty darned quickly.

Here's what showed up.

The Lovely Candy Company caramels
I've gotten these before, and they're very nice caramels. There are several different flavors, so you can choose your favorite. I love caramels. Yum.

Walkers Shortbread
These are a classic shortbread, and they've showed up in these boxes before. This time, though, the shortbreads were in the shape of Scottie dogs, so they were a little more fun than the more classic shapes.

Bauducco mini panettone
How cute, and a nice little cake for people who don't want a ginormous panettone hanging around. I'm not a huge fan of this classic cake, so I passed it along to someone who enjoyed it much more than I would have.

Arteasan Iced Tea Infusions
Just one gram of sugar and five calories per bottle, this is a good tea-to-go-with-no-fuss. I haven't tried it yet - weather has turned chilly, so I've been drinking a lot of hot tea. But it's in my fridge for a day when I want something more flavorful than my usual water that I drink during the day.

Goya Tortillas
I've bought a lot of Goya products over the years, but I never knew they made tortillas. It just happened that I had some leftover steak that wanted to turn into tacos, so I ripped open this bag right away. They're nice tortillas right out of the bag and even better when they're lightly toasted.

Country Archer Jerky (Option 1)
Turkey jerky arrived. Hmmm. I don't dislike jerky, but it's not really my thing. Which is odd because I love cured sausages. I didn't want to sample a tiny bit and hand someone an open bag, so I passed the whole thing along to a friend. If you're a jerky fan, this is made from cage-free turkey breast with no added hormones.

Aneto Natural chicken broth (Option 2)
People received either the jerky (above) or this broth. While I like making my own broth when I have time and bones, I've been using more boxed broths. They're handy to keep in the pantry, and they save time when I'm cooking, since they don't need to be thawed. I'm looking forward to trying this one. I've got risotto coming soon.

Goya Pico de Gallo Salsa
Remember those tacos? Yeah, I needed salsa, too, so this got opened. This is a chunky salsa with a thin sauce. Great on my tacos, but I can also imagine it spooned over chicken breast to give it a reason to be on the plate. This was flavorful with a little heat, but not painfully hot. Good stuff.

Oreo Chocolate Candy Bar
I was sooooo curious about this. I was slightly worried that it would be overly sweet, but it really wasn't. Inside the bar is Oreo bits and Oreo filling, and it's coated in Milka chocolate, which is a European brand. I've heard that there's a mint version as well. I'm going to look for that, because I adore mint and chocolate.

Cafe Bustelo Cafe con Leche
This instant coffee includes coffee, sweetener, and nondairy creamer, so it's pretty much emergency coffee for that day when I've run out of coffee and the milk needs to be used for a recipe. Or for when I want to take coffee on the go. This would be great to keep in a desk drawer or in the car, too.

Bell's Seasoning
Apparently this brand got its start in 1867, but I don't remember that far back. Obviously. I think I've seen this in stores, but didn't really pay attention. It's a mix of herbs and spices, but no salt, and according the the company, it's "a staple of Thanksgiving tables throughout the country." After I read the ingredients, I decided it would be good on pork, too. Experiment will ensue very very soon.

Rufus Teague barbecue sauce (sample)
This little freebie is just about enough for one serving, so I'm hanging onto it for that time when I've got leftover chicken and I want a barbecue chicken sandwich. Gotta love that single serving.

Degustabox sends me a box every month at no cost to me.

Friday, November 10, 2017

OXO Chef's Mandoline 2.0

I've owned quite a few mandolines over the years. Some I bought; some were sent to me for review. This mandoline finally does the one thing that previous mandolines didn't.

Yes, it cuts thick and thin straight and waffle slices. Yes, it just small and large square (julienne or fry) cuts. Lots of mandolines do that. Yes, the blades are freakishly sharp, so it slices easily.

But most mandolines do that, right?

This one, though, does it ... elegantly. There's just one knob that you turn to set the slicing thickness. If you keep turning, the teeth pop up to cut the julienne or fry slices. Easy peasy. There's just one blade that slides in and out - easily - to switch sides from straight to wavy.

Because of all that, there are no sharp loose pieces that you need to store. Nothing that snaps into the bottom or that needs to go into a storage case. It's all just part of the mandoline. Well, there's the hand guard (which works really well, by the way) that isn't part of the actual mechanism. But there are two hooks on the bottom of the mandoline that grab the edge of the guard, and then the fold-down legs hold it neatly in place.

So, yeah, this mandoline is definitely an improvement over previous models I've owned. Which is probably why it's named the Chef's Mandoline Slicer 2.0.

Who's it for: People who slice.

Pros: Works well; stores neatly.

Cons: SHARP! (If you refuse to use a guard, I suggest a cut-resistant glove).

Wishes: An even larger fry cut would be nice, but I have a feeling it would be too difficult to slice.

Source: I received this from the manufacturer at no cost to me.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Vita Clay Multi Cooker

This review took quite a while to get written, because I wanted to be as thorough as possible. I didn't want to cook one or two recipes and go on my merry way without answering some important questions.

And those questions took time to answer. So ... I've been living with this on my counter for months.

The Vita Clay company makes slow cookers and rice cookers with a twist. Instead of a metal cooking pot, the Vita Clay appliances have a clay pot. Crockery. Without a glazed coating. So ... completely different from everything else on the market.

Or anything else that's an electric appliance. There are plenty of clay cookers for oven and some that are good for the stovetop as well.

One of the biggest questions was whether the clay would absorb flavors and odors that would then transfer to other foods. The surprising answer is no. I've cooked everything from pork and sauerkraut to chili to soup in my cooker, and I've also cooked plain white rice after those more pungent foods. And ... there's been no transfer of flavor.

Honestly, I was surprised by that. I expected to have to tell you that you shouldn't cook your yogurt after cooking your kielbasa surprise.

The other surprise was that the clay pot was much easier to clean than I expected. Even with foods as sticky as rice can be, I was able to wash the pot easily afterwards.

There are some downsides to this cooker. You've got a clay inner cooking pot and a clay lid. If you're a klutz and you drop it, it's going to break. If you're not in the habit of dropping your other cookware on a regular basis, you should be fine. There's also some risk of thermal breakage, so you shouldn't take out the hot inner pot and put it on a cold surface. Also, the pot shouldn't be stored while it's still wet or damp, so you need to let it dry completely before putting it back into the cooker and closing the lid.

Cooking in this is much like any other slow cooker or rice cooker, with a couple of exceptions. For one thing, since the clay is porous, you'll loose a little more moisture than when you're cooking in a similar device with a metal pot. If you've ever made a soup or stew in a slow cooker and wished that it wasn't so thin and watery, you'll love that the liquid disappears a bit more in this cooker. In that sense, it's similar to cooking on the stove.

It has a buttons for different foods (rice, soup, stew, yogurt). I was quite surprised at how short the cooking time was for the soup and stews, so you shouldn't plan on putting food into the cooker before you go to work unless you've got some kind of super-tough meat. On the other hand, it would be ideal for unattended after-work cooking. Think of it as a stovetop replacement rather than a slow cooker, and you've got the idea.

The rice was also a success. I tried both white rice and brown rice, and both turned out perfectly. There's also a special button for reheating rice, in case you want to make a lot in advance and reheat as needed.

I haven't tried the yogurt, but I'm pretty sure that will be just fine, too, based on everything else I've made.

Who's it for: Great for people who want a countertop appliance for cooking, but prefer more natural cooking vessels.

Pros: Works well, foods cook quickly and aren't watery as can happen with slow cookers or pressure cookers.

Cons: The clay insert is breakable and it needs a little more care than a teflon-coated metal pot. Good news is that there are replacements available.

Wishes: Since this is really different from a standard slow cooker, it would be great if there was a larger cookbook with recipes (it did come with a recipe book, but more is always good.) While I'm pretty adept at creating and adapting recipes, some folks might appreciate more recipes to get the most use out of the cooker.

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

The Vita Clay folks make a pretty large variety of appliances. Some are better for rice, so if that's a priority, make sure you pick one that is designed for that use.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Degustabox - October

Once again, the nice folks at Degustabox sent me one of their boxes, so I can describe the goodies you'd get if you subscribed. For the most part, all the items are full-size items, like you'd buy in the store. On occasion, there are small samples that are tossed in as extras.

The October box had some really fun items. Some were new to me, and some were very familiar. Overall, a good mix.

Kernel's Seasons
Popcorn seasoning! If you're a popcorn fiend like me, you've probably messed around with adding different flavors to you popcorn. Some work and some ... are just weird. Kernel's Seasons has 13 different flavors; two were included in my box.

I know you've seen these in your grocery store. Boboli is a pre-baked pizza crust that makes it super-easy to whip up a pizza at home. Just add toppings and bake until the cheese melts and everything is warm. While this isn't the same as a home-made crust, it's a nice compromise between frozen pizza and totally home made.

Goetze's Candy Company Cow Tales
Caramel candies with a cream center. I wasn't familiar with these until they appeared in a box quite some time ago. They're a nice little individually wrapped sweet treat.

Chickpea puffs. If you're trying to avoid corn products and you're staying gluten-free, these are a nice alternative snack. They satisfy that need for crunch.

Loacker wafer cookies
I remember something similar from my childhood, but these are higher quality.

If you like the idea of peanut butter, but you can't have peanuts, this is a great alternative. it's made from sunflower seeds, so it's safe for people with nut allergies. It's also great for people who happen to love the flavor of sunflower seeds. I got two smaller samples of this one rather than a large jar, but I'm guessing it would be great for nut-free cookies that are similar to peanut butter cookies.

Welch's Fruit'n Yogurt Snacks
I've gotten these before. They're sweet snacks made from fruit and yogurt.

Bush's chili beans
As soon as this box arrived, I grabbed one of the cans of chili beans to make a quick chili. So simple, since the spices are right in the can.

Dave's Gourmet overnight oats
I've tried other Dave's Gourmet products before (mostly pasta sauces) but this was new to me. I'm not a huge fan of overnight oats, so I passed them along to a friend. Based on my previous experience with the brand, I'm sure they're good.

I get a free box from Degustabox in order to write about it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Degustabox - September

+*You know how this goes, right? Degustbox sends me one of their monthly boxes and I tell you all about the goodies in the box.

This month's box had quite a few things that I gave away - not that the products were undesirable, but just my personal taste.

Actually, that's kind of a nice thing about these boxes. I can always pull out a few things and set them aside for little gifts.

And then I hoard the rest for me. Because that's how I am.

King Arthur Flour Essential Goodness Lemon Bars - I've tried a number of different of these mixes, and I've liked all of them a lot. When this box arrived, I had no interesting sweets, so I baked this right away. It was the perfect mix of sweet and tart, and didn't need a whole lot of extra ingredients. Definitely recommended.

Reese Fruit Quinoa Cups - When quinoa first started appearing in stores, I went overboard a little bit with it. Quinoa everything. Since then, my love for it has waned a bit. This quinoa-mango fruit mix sounded and looked interesting, but I decided to pass it along to someone else who would appreciate it more.

Natural Sins Fruit and Vegetable Chips - The idea is good, but I got coconut chips, and that's one food I don't like at all. So ... off it went to a coconut lover who appreciated it very much.

SunRype Fruit-to-Go Bars - I packed these up in a little gift basket where they looked quite welcome. SunRype makes a bunch of different bars, so there's something for everyone. Take a look at 'em!

Lee Kum Kee Korean BBQ Stir Fry Sauce - Oh yeah! I've bought other Lee Kum Kee products, but I hadn't noticed this one in the store. This is a super-easy way to make a quick meal that isn't just a peanut butter sandwich. Have some rice on the side and you're the kitchen rock star.

Wild Planet Tuna - I've used this tuna before and it's really good. And there are a bunch of different varieties, unlike when I was a kid and the only options were oil and water - no big differences in the tuna itself. The Albacore tuna is line-caught and hand packed. They suggest you don't drain the tuna, but save the liquid for whatever it is you're cooking.

Post Shredded Wheat Mixed Berry - I'm currently full-up with cereal, so I handed this off to some friends who absolutely love cereal. They were pretty excited about this new variety.

Angelic Bakehouse Bread Crisps - These are cracker-sized slices of crisp bread. While I don't think I'd snack on them as-is, they're perfect for making little snacks and appetizers. I thought they were a tiny bit salty, so that's something to keep in mind when deciding on the toppings. Choose something that's not over-salted, and you'll be fine.

Mutti Passata (tomato puree) - Tomato puree is the secret ingredient in the tomato soup that my mom made, and so I was really happy to get this, since the other Mutti products I got were really good. Degustabox provided a recipe for using the puree, and it was pretty darned close to mom's soup recipe. There were a few differences, but I'm sure it would be really good.

Goya Rice Pilaf - I've been buying Goya products for years, but I've never tried this rice pilaf. What's not to love, though? Rice. tiny pasta, and seasonings. I'm going to hunt down the other flavors and see which other ones I might want to try. Perfect when I've grilled a steak, I want a side, and I don't want anything too complicated so I can get back to the rerun marathon that I'm amusing myself with.

I receive a monthly box from Degustabox at no cost to me, so I can write about it for you.

Monday, September 11, 2017

New Foods!

As much as I love testing new gadgets and small appliances, the food samples I get are a whole lot of fun, too. The things I get to sample are often new, improved, or updated items, and maybe not yet available in my local grocery store.

And, seriously, even if they are available at my local stores, most of the time they're foods that I might not pick up. There are plenty of shopping days when I'm pretty narrowly focused on getting exactly what I need for recipes, so I might not notice the new items even when they're right in front of me.

A lot of the samples I'm offered are sweets and snacks, which is great. Snacks are handy to have on hand for when I'm feeling particularly peckish. But the savory foods can be even more fun, since those are most likely to end up in recipes.

Here's a roundup of what showed up here recently!

Pereg Gourmet Freekeh

Pereg Gourmet sent me both Freekeh and Farro. I'm familiar with farro - it's a tasty grain that's a little bit hard to find. The farro they sent me was the basic grain with no added seasonings, so it was ready for any recipe or side dish. I actually like it fairly plain, with a little salt and a touch of butter or olive oil. If you think of it as a grain like rice or barley, you'll probably have a lot of ideas for how to use it.

The Freekeh they sent me was in a mix that included dried vegetables and spices including carrots, peppers, currants. onions, and mustard seeds, so it was a pretty complete side dish.

When I emptied it into a pot to cook it, the scent of the dried vegetables reminded me of a dried soup mix that I've used on occasion, probably because of the dried vegetables. The flavor was good once it was cooked and the bits of vegetables added some color. I thought it needed a touch of salt. But that was easy to adjust.


So ... it's fairly easy to render fat from chicken. Just about as easy as making butter. Heh. It's not hard to do, but there are other things I'd rather do. It's nice to know these fats are available for times when I want some clean chicken fat for a recipe and I don't want to start by rendering the fat myself.

Fatworks sent me a nice selection of their products. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with the tallow, but that chicken schmaltz was perfect for cooking potatoes (and freaking delicious). Goose fat is good for that, too. The leaf lard has a lot of uses, but I haven't yet opened it.

Before these arrived, I'd never seen them in a store, but recently I spotted them. I'm definitely going to be putting these on the list for when I need some really pure fat.

When you buy these, make sure you look at storage instructions. Some need to be refrigerated while others should be stored at room temperature.

Kettle & Fire Bone Broth

I'm generally opposed to the term "bone broth" because it's really just a good stock. But, hey, I can't blame a company for jumping on a trend. Ignoring that word on the label, this actually is a good stock. The containers hold slightly more than 16 ounces, which is a nice amount for me. Most of the stocks in the store are either a quart or a liter, and sometimes that's just too much for what I need.

I used one of the flavors to cook rice and the other to make soup. I'll be looking for these again because of the deep flavor and the convenient size. That's not to say that I won't make my own stock any more. But I like to have a container on hand for the times when I don't have any in the fridge or freezer.

Nutz. Er ..... nuts. I've tried a lot of different flavored nuts, and usually they have spices, salt and flavorings adhering to the nuts. A coating, if you will. The difference with these was that the flavor was infused into the nuts, so there wasn't really a coating.

I haven't tried all of them (there were a freaking lot of packages of different flavors!), so I guess it's possible some do have a coating, but it says on the package that they're infused, so ...

Anyway, the flavor on the ones I tried was in the nuts rather than on them, so I'm thinking they'd be interesting for baking. Also good for snacking without making a mess. The texture of these was slightly different than typical roasted nuts ... I'm not sure exactly how to describe it. Softer, maybe. Not actually soft, but not quite as crunchy as other nuts I've eaten. You'll see when you try them. They're interesting. And with the huge variety of flavors, there's something for everyone.

I've done a couple of posts using products from Honey Ridge Farms, and recently they sent me an email and said, "we're going to send you some stuff." They sure did. That honey balsamic vinegar is really stellar. I like it drizzled on fresh ripe tomatoes. It's also good on green salads or on asparagus.

The Blure is one of my favorite things ever. I've used it in a couple different cocktail recipes. I'm glad to have a refill. The tea is lovely and the honey is really nice. And who says no to fancy salts?

Overall, there's a lot of great stuff here. Something for everyone. Check 'em out!

I wrote about the Land O Lakes soft butter quite some time ago and I've been buying it ever since I ran out of the free stuff. Mostly I buy the version with olive oil, but I've also bought other versions. Now there's a new version that has 25% less sodium.

The nice buttery folks sent me a sample, and although I can taste a slight difference in saltiness when I try both versions next to each other, it's not so pronounced that I'd miss the salt in regular use. It's definitely not unsalted - although now that I think of it, and unsalted version would actually be kind of nice, too. I hope they decide to make that.

I mostly use this for spreading on toast, bread, or English muffins, but I've also used it for cooking when I don't need an exact measurement - because in that case, cutting a tablespoon or more off a stick is easier than measuring the soft butter.

So there ya go. Lots of fun food.

What new food products have you tried lately?

These were provided at no cost to me by the respective manufacturers.