Tuesday, February 16, 2010

48 farthings

More free coffee found its way into my world over the weekend. After I had brewed a pot with a sample packet of Folgers that I had picked up along the way, my wife's brother went out to his car and got the remnants of a bag of Allegro Coffee that he had purchased in Northern Virginia. The blend was labeled "extra darker," which means it's super special, right?

As I scooped the grounds into the filter, he suggested that I sprinkle some cinnamon on top of the coffee before brewing. It tasted good but I didn't have anything with which to compare it. He let me keep what was left in the bag. Tonight I brewed a little more of the Allegro to have with dinner. However, I still didn't experience the pure taste of "extra darker." Because it was Fat Tuesday, it was my last chance before Lent to use a chocolate-covered spoon that my wife had received for Christmas.

None of us noticed it on Sunday morning, but as I look at the photo now, I realize that my jar of Schilling Cinnamon is at least seven years old. My wife thinks we might have bought it in Burbank.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

don't lose your head

It's important to back up your words with actions. That's why my wife and I did our part to support the transition of Taylor Swift from singer to actress. We braved the crowds at the Regal West Town Mall 9 to see "Valentine's Day" on Valentine's Day. It turns out that a lot of the people who were there came to watch the Daytona 500 on a theater screen while enjoying pizza and beer.

The movie wasn't as bad as I feared. I had heard that it was basically a two-hour "Love Boat" episode. It finished stronger than it started, which will help generate positive word-of-mouth. The biggest disappointment was the story line involving Julia Roberts. I felt like something got edited out, such as a plausible explanation for her quick trip to Los Angeles. I expected her to at least be on her way to a wedding or funeral. My favorite story threads were those with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Biel and yes, Taylor Swift.

When the movie let out, we walked through the mall in search of a kiosk offering free samples of jAVERDE flavored coffee. My friend Lissa has suggested several times that I try it. Of the four I tasted, Shell Shock was the best. The clerk told me that they plan to open a store across from Food City on Middlebrook Pike in a space vacated by Bear Creek Coffee.

What's Valentine's Day without chocolate? Earlier in the day, my wife surprised me with a heart-shaped box of hand-dipped truffles that she bought from Belle's Sweet Boutique. The proprietor, Ann Douglas, is an acquaintance of hers. The candies are truffle-licious.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

cracker hack

The very addicting cracker candy that my wife made for Christmas was supposed to last until our son went back to school. The plan was for him to take some to share with his roommates. Yeah, right. Instead, my wife and I made another batch to send him as a care package along with the necktie he left at home.

Normally, cracker candy is made with Saltines. Because we like chocolate-covered pretzels, we substituted Flipsides and used dark chocolate chips. Upgrade! Here's the recipe for those of you playing along at home.
  • Preheat oven to 425°
  • Arrange crackers in a bricklayer design on a cookie sheet covered with parchment. (We used two disposable aluminum pans.)
  • Melt two sticks of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add ¾ cup sugar and stir constantly. Bring mixture to a boil for three minutes.
  • Pour hot mixture over crackers and spread evenly with spoon. Bake at 425° for five minutes.
  • Sprinkle chocolate chips over toffee. As they melt spread chocolate evenly with a spoon
  • Top with chopped pecans or almonds (I used broken pretzel pieces!)
  • Cover with foil and chill until hardened. Break into bite-size pieces, dropping the pan on the floor if you have to. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and mail them to college as fast as possible before they "accidentally" get eaten at home.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

heck of a job, brownie

Chef Walter is a favorite of mine. I try to watch his daily cooking segment as often as possible on the noon news. Several of his recipes have even inspired me to write blog posts, most recently the egg nog cake. Because I like him, I'm a little sorry to throw him under the bus for today's segment. However, I think that broadcasters can learn from it. The lesson is how not to interview kids.

Kids can be great interviewees because of their honesty. Google Art Linkletter if you need proof. Because they may not have their BS generators turned on yet, they can't be expected to fill in the blanks. When you ask a child a yes or no question, you'll get a yes or no answer.

Today's recipe looked promising. Who wouldn't want to try brownies with Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies mixed in? An actual Girl Scout stood alongside Chef Walter while he mixed the ingredients. It would have been nice if he had let her stir or at least pour something into the bowl but he did not.

At one point, he almost asked a question that did not require a yes or no answer and then changed it! He said, "Tell me about... I understand there's at least one new cookie this year, is that right?" She said, "Yes." After an awkward pause, Walter asked, "What is that cookie?" The girl replied, "It's the Thank U Berry Munch and it tastes like..." Walter cut her off and said "I just wanted to hear her say it, I knew that already. Say that again, Thank U Berry Munch is that right?"

Chef Walter also failed to answer the number one question on my mind. Would the recipe work with Samoas?

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

people who need peep'll

A fantastic tourist destination has recently opened near Washington, D.C. On my next trip to Northern Virginia, I need to get across the Potomac to Oxon Hill, Maryland, home of the new Peeps & Company retail store. My thanks go to former Comedy World listener Ravin' Dave, who tipped me off to a Los Angeles Times article about it.

The store is located in the National Harbor development along with other shops, restaurants and hotels. As the name suggests, it sells Marshmallow Peeps and Peeps-related products. Many of the 850 items are not edible. They have t-shirts, plush toys, figurines, books, coffee mugs, and much more.

Of all the things pictured in video reports by the Associated Press, and by WRC-TV, I am most interested in trying the new dark chocolate covered marshmallow chicks that will debut elsewhere next Easter.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

bake and wake

The annual cookie-baking party thrown by some friends of ours has become a holiday tradition for my wife and me. The host couple provides food and drink and the ingredients for several types of treats. They also had the SEC Championship game on their big TV. The guests each bring whatever is necessary for their specialty. This year, my wife and I made Oreo Truffles, which are well-known to longtime readers of my blog.

During the party, I posted a few bon mots and pictures on Twitter from my cell phone. When I got home, I was frustrated to find that my favorite comment never showed up on the Internet, yet it resides in my phone's "sent items" list. Here it is, because I still think it's funny:
Overheard at the cookie party: "I never heard of this Lady Gaga until this morning on NPR."

For the past several years, my wife has hoped to get the recipe for cappuccino cookies from our hostess. She would get busy or we would get distracted and leave without the recipe. We knew that instant coffee was involved but never had enough information to find an exact match online. There are enough similarly-named recipes out there to really confuse the issue. That changes today, as my wife found the recipe card at the party and transcribed it into the little notepad I carry. I had no idea that the dough had to chill for six hours before baking.

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
½ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon water
1 egg
1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate
3 tablespoons shortening

  • In a heavy saucepan, heat and stir unsweetened chocolate until melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  • Meanwhile, stir flour, cinnamon and salt together.
  • In a large bowl, beat ½ cup of shortening and butter until butter softens. Add brown sugar and beat until fluffy.
  • Stir coffee into water until dissolved. Add coffee, melted chocolate and egg to butter mixture and beat well.
  • Add flour mixture and beat until well mixed. Cover and chill for one hour.
  • Shape into 7 inch rolls, wrap in waxed paper and chill for 6 hours.
  • Cut into ¼ inch slices. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
  • Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove and cool
  • In a heavy saucepan, heat chocolate and 3 tablespoons of shortening. When melted, dip half of each cookie into chocolate. Place on waxed paper and cool until chocolate sets.

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Monday, November 23, 2009


The most appealing items to me at the church bake sale on Sunday were some cupcakes that were brownie on the bottom and white cake on top. The fudge frosting held up to handling better than butter cream (or even But-R-Creme) would have. Whoever made them wisely broke one open to reveal their chocolaty goodness. My wife and I split one of those and one of something that would best be described as a graham cracker praline. The cupcakes were so good, they made me wish I had bought more.

The sale is part of the annual Harvest of Blessings at All Saints Church. In addition to the food, they sell religious items from the Paraclete, some handmade crafts, Boy Scout popcorn and the like.

There were two marshmallow treats that I was able to resist. The chocolate-peanut butter mallow bars were sold by the plate, not individually. The marshmallow snowmen were cute but the little fellas looked squished from all the handling required to assemble them. Even if the chef wore gloves, I would still prefer a gentler touch.

We also saw some kid-friendly sugar cookies decorated as turkeys and some actual pralines labeled with the important disclaimer that they contain pecans. Oh really?

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

red swirlie

Without question the Brussels Sprouts I had on Saturday were the best I've ever had in my life. In fact, they were the first I've had as an adult. Unlike the gross boiled Brussels Sprouts of my childhood (sorry, Mom), these were roasted at a high temperature. My wife and I enjoyed the unpopular vegetable while we were at a friend's house for dinner.

Our host prepared the main courses. My wife and I brought dessert. Last year when I was writing one of several blog entries about Fischer & Wieser sauces, I found a recipe that seemed simple, yet exotic. It called for a whorl of Roasted Blackberry Chipotle Sauce in a pan of regular brownie mix.

We finally got around to making the sweet and spicy treats but used Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce instead. The magical condiment gets swirled into half of the brownie mix. The rest of the mix goes on top. The chipotle taste was subtle but definitely present. I might be tempted to use more than ½ cup of sauce the next time.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009


A few lists of the best and worst Halloween candies came across my web browser yesterday. Hershey's national survey listed the top ten treats for adults and the top ten for kids. I was surprised to see some Mars and Nestlé products on the Hershey's list.

SF Weekly chose five candies kids love even though they don't taste great. I can agree with their dislike of wax lips and Pixy Stix but not candy corn. The tasty tricolor treats are addictive in their super-sweetness. I don't like Smarties but I will give them a free pass because my kids like them. The fifth choice was Ring Pops. Eh.

It was snooty Bon Appetit that got me riled up. They did get a couple of items right on their best and worst lists. For example, they like Whoppers and Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins. The worst list includes Necco Wafers and Milk Duds. They foolishly put candy corn on both lists. But how dare they impugn one of my all time favorites, Circus Peanuts. Screenwriter and candy-lover Paul Rudnick also dissed the Peanut on his list. Back in my heavier days, I would often eat Circus Peanuts on airplane flights. The last one in the package tasted just as good as the first.

The trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood will have to wait until I get home from work and my wife gets home from church before they can access our goodies. She bought an assortment of Mars products including Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, Snickers, Twix and Skittles. My wife likes to serve them from a bowl with a ceramic hand reaching up from the bottom. To give this photo an appropriately blood-red tint, I held my finger over the flash. Oooh, very scary!

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

gorpedo factory

Smart people know not to go food shopping while hungry because of the impulse purchases that happen as a result. Apparently I am not a smart person.

Today I went to Walmart to buy some excellent peaches at 98¢ per pound. I saw an endcap display of trail mix that made me want some. I thought back to a year ago when we were filming "Fish Bait," which was the last time I had any trail mix. I also thought ahead to the two upcoming road trips to Virginia that my wife and I will be taking. It would be nice to have a treat for the car that was still deliciously decadent while better than the junk food available at convenience stores along the route.

The mixes were labeled Great Value, which I assume is a Walmart brand. I wanted something with lots of pineapple but the tropical mix also had coconut, which my wife can't eat. Another bag had white chocolate chips, which I reject totally. Even the real chocolate chips would be a bad choice in a hot car. The mix containing regular M&Ms gave me an idea. Why not make my own trail mix?

I wandered over to the dried fruit aisle and starting grabbing Great Value products. Raisins, banana slices and apricots were obvious choices. The only dried pineapple on the shelf was from Mariani. I took two bags of that. I tossed some apple slices, dried cherries and mixed berries into my basket. Next it was off to the snack aisle to get some mixed nuts and the only M&Ms worth their calories. I picked up a bag of peanut and a bag of regular Dark Chocolate M&Ms.

When I got home and combined all the ingredients, they filled two one-gallon Ziploc bags. Then I looked at the receipt and realized I not only had some of the best tasting trail mix of all time, I had some of the most expensive trail mix of all time.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

just jivin' honey

The elusive deep-fried Oreo almost did it again. Last year I was unable to find one at the Tennessee Valley Fair. I thought I was going to be denied on Friday night too. While leaving the Homer Hamilton Theatre, I saw a sign that plainly said "Deep Fried Oreo's" and should be submitted to ApostropheAbuse.com. The woman in the booth said they had not yet received their Oreos and tried to sell me a funnel cake instead. No thanks.

My wife and I soon saw two friends who told us there were DFOs to be had elsewhere in the park. Their group had purchased a deep-fried sampler plate, which included an Oreo, a Snickers bar, a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and a glob of cookie dough. They could have also chosen a fried PB&J Jamz. Our friends agreed with my theory that of all the deep-fried treats, the Oreo is the best because it can take it. The candy bars tend to melt inside the batter. They sent me the following note and one of the pictures that they put on Facebook. I zoomed in for a close-up on the goods.
Here is the picture of the fried candy. Oreos, Snickers, and Reese's were yummy. Fried raw cookie dough was just weird. Cookie dough should either be cooked or raw, but fried raw was a strange no man's land of mushy goo.

I found what I was looking for at a different trailer. In addition to the usual fare food of burgers and hot dogs, they offered deep-fried Twinkies and Oreos. I had a deep-fried Twinkie once. It wasn't worth it because the filling, which is the best part, liquefied and was absorbed into the cake. Four deep-fried Oreos cost $3. I didn't need or want that many, so I convinced the guy to sell me two for $1.50.

The headliner at opening night of the fair was Rick Springfield. I was shocked to learn that he is 60 years old. I remember the time he came to KLOS and serenaded our phone screener Preva. During Friday's concert, Rick told the women in the audience to close their eyes while he changed shirts. A lot of the ladies knew to bring bouquets of roses, which he whipped against his guitar strings, showering rose petals upon the stage. I bet he always makes the salad at his house.

About an hour before the Springfield concert began, my wife and I wandered past a tent where a hypnotist was just starting his show. Terrance B asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine that their left hand held a heavy book while their right hand was tethered to a helium balloon. The book got heavier while the balloon went higher. I wasn't feeling it. My two hands had barely moved by the time Terrance walked by and selected my wife to follow him to the stage. She was one of about 16 people chosen. He made them think they were watching funny, sad and scary movies. A woman seated in the center of the row onstage was put back to sleep by Hypnodog, a border collie that stared her down.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

a real s'mouthful

The thought of Labor Day cookouts reminded me of a book I saw a few weeks ago at a silent auction. "S'mores" by Lisa Adams is full of mouth-watering photographs and recipes for gourmet marshmallow treats. The auction was part of the American Cancer Society benefit that brought Gilles Marini to town.

A Google Preview of the book shows s'mores made with pieces of fruit for a supposedly healthier snack. Other suggestions include using Milky Way Minis or Andes Mints instead of plain old Hershey's Bars.

The copy of the book I saw had a flyer for Plush Puffs Marshmallows inside the front cover. I didn't win the book at the auction but I did add it to my Amazon Wish List. The same publisher also has a book on homemade "Marshmallows" that looks good but would involve a lot more work than a s'more.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

debbie dogs

A link in yesterday's post about my "portable birthday cake" led back to something I wrote four years ago about Twinkies. Back then I was griping about Hostess Cakes being overpriced. While at Walmart the other day, I saw some Little Debbie products that are low-cost alternatives to their competitors.

Obviously Golden Cremes look like Twinkies. The Chocolate Cremes look somewhat like Oreo Cakesters and a little bit like Whoopie Pies.

I wonder if there is any difference in the flavor of Marshmallow Pies and the famous MoonPies. The real thing is usually too dry for my taste.

Most interesting to me was the box of Devil Cremes. They look like Drake's Devil Dogs, a childhood favorite of mine but could they taste as good? Even at that low price, I resisted the temptation to buy them. I've had more than enough sweet treats lately and didn't want to buy a box of six. If I do buy some, maybe I'll eat one Devil Creme and freeze the other five for later, like I did two years ago with Reduced Fat Devil Dogs.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

cupcake break

There is no way I could try every sweet treat that I saw on our trip. But I like window shopping for cupcakes even if I don't get to taste them. Here are some we saw at Hershey's Chocolate World on the second day of our trip...

...and some we saw at the Blue Duck Bakery Café in Southampton on the eighth day of the trip.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009


On the northbound leg of our vacation road trip, we stopped for lunch in Pennsylvania at Hershey's Chocolate World. We got salads for lunch and a S'mores Cup to share for dessert. It was basically a pile of sawdust-like graham cracker crumbs under a layer of melted chocolate which was covered with a layer of mini-marshmallows and a drizzle of chocolate on top. It tasted fine but could have benefited from being stirred before the marshmallows were added.

I saw a family ordering ice cream cones and couldn't believe my eyes. Here they were inside Hershey's Chocolate World and they ordered plain vanilla cones. One of them was happy to comply when I asked if I could photograph the insanity.

A few other treats caught my eye. The peanut butter cookies were decorated with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The Chocolate Iced Chocolate Mini Cakes appeared to actually be slices of cake covered in icing on all sides. I think local supermarkets that sell cake by the slice could steal this idea and add more icing.

When we saw the display of Hershey's Barbies, my son said, "I thought she would be bigger."

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

if there's a place you got to go

A few bonus destinations presented themselves as my wife and I continue planning our upcoming trip to New England. Janet and Holly, two Drive Vacation Specialists at AAA, helped us choose hotels and routes. While Janet found the least expensive lodging, Holly made computerized TripTiks. In the past, we would get the old school TripTiks, assembled and highlighted by hand. When we got home, my wife broke out the highlighters and marked up the state maps for Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and a wee bit of Delaware.

Up until yesterday, I had assumed our trip north would not include Pennsylvania. Instead of taking I-95, as I have countless other times, we will take Route 15 from Northern Virginia into Maryland and Pennsylvania. We can visit Gettysburg National Military Park and then stop at Hershey's Chocolate World for lunch.

Following a different path south will allow us to see Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, Massachusetts. If time permits, we can also take the Ten Mile Drive in Newport, Rhode Island.

I like squeezing some sightseeing into our longer travel days. Maybe my wife can be persuaded to make a stop along I-81 in Virginia too. We can always return to Foamhenge or bite the bullet and pay to finally see the Natural Bridge.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

kid in a candy shop

The folks at Earth Fare invited me over for pre-opening tour of their new Bearden store. It's across Kingston Pike from Mayo Garden Center in a building that has been vacant since Bi-Lo moved out several years ago. The "healthy supermarket" opens Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. The first 100 shoppers will get a goodie bag. 5% of store sales and the proceeds from one dollar hot dog and burger sales will go to the Beardsley Community Farm.

A sign in the produce section spells out Earth Fare's food philosophy. Of all the things they prohibit, I'm most pleased by the bans on high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. If they slip up and you catch them, you get a $50 gift card for every banned ingredient you spot. Clerks stocked the shelves and workmen adjusted the fixtures while I was there. Once the store opens, I can picture myself getting lunch at the salad bar or even at the sushi counter.

The bulk foods section offers a variety of trail mixes, snacks and unusual grains. My tour guides, Troy DeGroff and Nicole St. Charles suggested I taste the Carob Peanut Clusters, which were excellent. Later when they left me alone to take pictures and try some other snacks, I was blown away by the Chocolate English Toffee. No wonder it's $20 a pound. Both products come from SunRidge Farms.

Troy offered me samples of some organic foods and the opportunity to compare their labels with popular mainstream brands. Earth Fare's organic peanut butter was good, their organic blueberry conserves were outstanding. I was very pleasantly surprised by an Oreo alternative. The stuff inside Country Choice Organic Sandwich Cremes was soft and delicious. Best of all, there was enough of it. I didn't feel shortchanged.

One of the managers (based on his name tag, it might have even been the CEO) told me that photography is not normally allowed in their stores. Because I was there for a media preview, I was permitted to take pictures. I was reminded of both an upscale grocery store in St. Louis and a downscale store in Knoxville where I was asked me to put my camera away. Fortunately I was able to take a picture of an interesting dispenser for first cold press extra virgin olive oil. I didn't notice until I got home that the "Fresh Grassy Overtones" qualify for ApostropheAbuse.com.

I was thrilled to see my all-time favorite condiment, Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce, on the shelf. A brand of spaghetti sauce made me wish my dad was still around. I would have liked to ask him if Rao's Homemade has any connection to the Mr. Rao who lived across the street from us in Crestwood, New York. If there isn't already a band named Hot Pickled Okra & Dilly Beans, there certainly ought to be. I should call WDVX and ask them.

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