Thursday, May 12, 2016

PICS & PANS SIXTH ANNUAL FOOD FIND EDITION

Welcome to the 2016 Food Find edition; a heady mix of reader’s fav’s and mine, that are available at the very least on a regional level and/or by mail order. Ready? Okay. Everyone smile and “Cheese!”

CHEESE


SNOWFIELDS CHEESE from Wisconsin’s Saxon Creamy is a rich, buttery, creamy cheese that nearly melts in your mouth. It is a seasonal Butterk√§se cheese made, in the German/Austrian tradition, where, according to their website, they use their herd’s wintertime milk. Bev in Springfield, who, like me loves good cheese, turned me on to it. And now I do the same for you.

Another Wisconsin cheese made out list this year, thanks to one adventurous reader, who picked it up out of curiosity, and found it to be worth passing on

As described on the cheesemaker’s website, BELLAVITANO ESPRESSO CHEESE is "reminiscent of an aged premium Wisconsin Cheddar balanced by a full- flavored Parmesan.”  Hand-rubbed with freshly-roasted espresso, it would, I think, be an interesting addition to your next dinner party's cheese tray.


 
David R. of Germantown, TN. notes the CELLERS MOSES SLEEPER CHEESE by Jasper Hill Farm is one of his latest and greatest 'Finds'.  The brie-style round is a soft and creamy bit of heaven. Look for the azure-blue label, and be prepared to swoon.  

BACON




BENTON'S BACON is pricey; no getting around it. But it has a following, and after hearing about it from a vendor at my local farmer’s market last summer– who, I might add, was selling his own version while admitting that it had not reached the heights of Benton's, I bite the bullet, took out a second mortgage, and bought a pound at a local purveyors. Beware bacon lovers, it is smoky. Reeeeeeeeeeeeeally smokey. So smoky that just touching the air-right packaging will leave your fingers smelling as if you bathed in it. But it is good. Really good. It comes from Knoxville, TN, where it is made in small batches. I actually called them to find out whether they recommended frying in cast iron, or putting it in the oven. The fellow I spoke with said, "Why not try both?", and so I did.  It was pretty much of a toss-up, with the pan-fried (left) slightly beating out the oven version (right). Buy it on line, or at your local specialty market.    
 



CRACKERS and CHIPS

MILTON’S ORIGINAL MULTI-GRAIN CRACKERS are great all by their lonesome or paired with cheese or your favorite preserves. The have a unique flavor and unlike many multi-grains in their category, are far from dry. They don’t taste healthy, but they are, which makes them all the more munchable.


I’m also a fan of their CRISPY SEA SALT  CRACKERS, which take a back seat to whatever you pair them with, but add that special bit of punch.



It was another one of those happy 'accidents'. I bought a bag of what I thought were CLANCY'S regular tortilla chips at Aldi's, only to discover that they had 'a hint of lime'. Uh oh. As it turned out, CLANCY'S WHITE TORTILLA CHIPS WITH A HINT OF LIME were incredibly tasty - not overwhelming at all, especially when paired with salsa.

Another trip - this time to Kroger, and another bag, this time, KROGER'S  WHITE TORTILLA CHIPS WITH "A KICK OF LIME." And surprise, surprise; these over-sized, crunchy chips were just as good or better, and like the Clancy's chips,a bargain. Later, I would try potato chips with lime: a definite mistake. But the tortilla chips, well, that's a totally different story. Try them! I think you'll be surprised at how good they are!

JAMS

Years ago a friend introduced me to red pepper jelly, which she served with a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese and Triscuits. Ive been making them around Christmas holiday ever since. But this year, shortly before the season commenced, I found a jar of PRIVATE SELECTION OREGON PEA AND PEPPER JELLY in the 'bent and dent' section of my market (no doubt a cast-off before the new stock took its place). At half its usual price, I thought it was well worth a try. With no Triscuits handy, I spread it on one of my previously mentioned MINTON's crackers, and was pleasantly surprised. A little sweeter, but with a kick and a hint of pear, it was a keeper.

 

VEGETABLES

VISCONTI PEELED YELLOW TOMATOES were a pleasant surprise. I’d never used a canned yellow tomato before, and found them to be a vibrant alternative to the traditional red tomatoes. Imported from Italy, they’re available at Kroger, where they sit close to Visconti’s red Italian Crushed Tomatoes. But both are excellent products. 
 Just last night I made actor Stanley Tucci’s chicken caccatori substituting them for the red-whole tomatoes his recipe called for.  Why the yellow tomatoes are packed in cans, and the red in waxed cardboard containers I do not know. As the king said in "The King and I", It is a puzzlement.


You’ve no doubt seen it in the supermarket, next to the broccolini no doubt. But if you haven’t tried it, you need to buy yourself a bunch of creamy YELLOW

CAULIFLOWER.



So simple to make, so delicious to eat. Steam it, boil it, drizzle it with olive oil and bake it, sprinkle it with cheese, brush it with a bit of high-quality butter, or eat it plain and simple. But buy it and try it! It’s not bitter like regular cauliflower can be. And next to your favorite green vegetable, it looks like sunshine on a plate.
PICKLES

As with the tortilla chips, every now and again, a mistake turns into a ‘find’. Such was the case not long ago when I reached for a jar of VLASIC pickle spears, only to find when I got home that they were their lower-sodium option. I immediately assumed that equaled ‘tasteless’ – but I was wrong.



I tell you true; I could not tell the difference between these tasty spears and the originals.  And with zero calories, and less sodium, VLASIC REDUCED SODIUM KOSHER DILL SPEARS have become my new spear of choice.


RICE

I have to admit that when a Colorado reader sent in this “FIND” I had my doubts. I just didn’t see how this quick-fix rice could compare to that made-from-scratch, but after buying and trying it, I am a believer.

  VEETEE DINE-IN BASMATI RICE comes in a small see-through cardboard container, with enough rice (9.9 ounces) to easily feed two as a side dish. Prep time is two minutes from beginning to end. And with no pots or pans to clean, and no having to make more than you need, it is the perfect choice for singles or couples. Add to that the fact that it contains no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. Who could ask for anything more?

Paula H could, and did - two 'mores'. The first, HINODE MEDIUM GRAIN BROWN RICE, is both quick and easy to prepare. "It's great" says Paula. "Just snip off a corner and microwave it for ninety seconds"

She's also a fan of DELTA JASMINE RICE WITH ROASTED GARLIC, which, she says, husband Clay bumps up a notch by addinga little more of this or that, according to what's for dinner.

 


SAVORY SAUCES AND FLAVOR BOOSTERS

Steve in California is a fan of FRANKS ORIGINAL RED HOT SAUCE, which is, he says, available just about everywhere. I found it at both Kroger and Fresh Market.  You'll find his better half's sweet pick under "Toppings". 
 
 


Elissa in Melrose Park, PA sent in a rave review about BETTER THAN BOUILLON  ORGANIC CHICKEN BASE, which she uses in place of bouillon to give her chicken soup and gravies that something extra. The company has a slightly less expensive chicken base as well as a seasoned turkey, vegetable and beef bases.

                                                  


The HEMISFARES line of pasta sauces are different from most of your basic brands, in that their ingredients are a bit unexpected, going far beyond the usual meat, veggie and vodka-laced varieties. 




Their SUGO ALLA CAPRESE CHERRY TOMATO AND ACETO BALSAMICO DI MODENA IGP sauce is pictured here , and made for a wonderful meal with one of last year’s ‘Finds” – their unbeatable tagliatelle di Campofilone pasta. It's loaded with sweet, whole Italian cherry tomatoes, and unlike any other jarred sauce I've ever tried.




MAIN DISHES

Geoff L. in Indianapolis recommends PALERMO'S ROASTED VEGETABLE AND BBQ CHICKEN FLATBREADS which you'll find in the freezer section of your supermarket.  To see if they're available in your are visit their website (Palermospizza.com) and type in your zip code.
Roasted Vegetable Flatbread Prefer a traditional pizza crust that's gluten-free and still tastes great?


Paula H comes to the rescue with SABATASSO'S GLUTEN FREE THIN AND CRISPY PIZZAPaula says it's so good you'll never know what you're missing.

Are you a seafood lover? If, like me, you've been disappointed in frozen dinners that featured pint-sized shrimp and less-than-stellar other shellfish, take heart.  PRIVATE SELECTION’s NEW ENGLAND STYLE CLAMBAKE DINNER  defies the odds. offering up a very tasty meal of clams, mussels, shrimp, along with red potatoes, polish sausage, carrots and corn-on-the-cob that is as pretty to look at as it is to eat


Okay, so the corn-on-the-cob is a bit mushy, but it’s still tasty, and the rest of the ingredients more than make up for it, including an extremely tasty “traditional herbed garlic lemon butter flavored sauce” that really sets it off. You'll find it at Kroger.
Several months ago the Kroger chain closed one of its smaller locations, slicing the prices on many of their items in that store by 50-to-75%. Among the great buys, a ‘log’ of BOAR'S HEAD PEPPERONI.t’s not something I generally (if ever) buy, but the price was right, and as I am a fan of their bacon and assorted deli meats, I took a leap of faith.

While I don't make pizza from scratch (which is pretty much where my relationship with pepperoni began and ended) I knew I'd find some way to incorporate the meat in my menu. And so it was that the other night I sliced a few coins-worth and sauted them in some extra virgin olive oil along with slices of fresh green and red bell pepper, Brussels sprouts, and red and Vidalia onions, seasoned with salt,pepper, oregano, basil and a clove of fresh garlic. Tossed with a serving of one of my favorite "Finds" from last year (HemisFares tagletelli pasta) it was delicious.

FRUIT

You may already be acquainted with these luscious guys, but just in case you haven't had a MEDJOOL DATE, this 'Find' is for you. If the only dates you've had have. been boxed, cubed and sugared or processed in some other way, you have no idea what you're missing. These dates are the best of the best. Plump, moist, chewy and loaded with flavor, they are a naturally sweet treat. What's more, they're good for you! Find them at your better fruit and produce retailers.  

DESSERTS AND TOPPINGS

Let's start with cookies. Cookies are always good, and HANNAHMAX CHOCOLATE CHIPS are great.

  
Bite-sized and just 20 calories each, they have the crunch of a chip, but all the flavor of a fully-loaded cookie. The list of ingredients says it all. Among them, cane brown sugar, enriched unbleached flower, unsalted butter, chocolate chips, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, vanilla, cane sugar and cage-free eggs, (with salt the very last ingredients in a seven-line list, and no preservatives, trans fats, GMO's or artificial flavors and colors.)
                           
                        Find them. Buy them. Eat them. And love them.   
Looking for something a little fancier for your next dinner party? 


SWISS DELICE BRASILIA PREMIUM BISCUITS (the European version of our cookies) are as tasty as they are beautiful, and they are beautiful; their meringues elegantly covered in artfully painted dark and white chocolate. Somewhere between a cookie and confection, these Swiss bites are just one in an impressive lineup of assorted biscuits, each more beautiful than the next. Forgive my Italian dish (I was going for a European theme), and concentrate on the artistry. You’ll find these and other glorious offerings from Swiss Delice at Amazon.com or in the international section of your supermarket. 

                                    

There's a good reason why brownies are at the top of almost anyone who loves chocolate's hit list. When they are good they are very very good, and when they are bad they are still better than a lot of what's out there. Miss M. has this to say abut her favorite Brownie mix: “My favorite food find of the year is the GHIRARDELLI TRIPLE CHOCOLATE BROWNIE MIX available only from Costco.
                                                   
 
 
 It is divine in its sublime chocolateness. You have to buy a giant box that contains 6 packages of mix, but it is now my favorite go-to for parties and the ultimate indulgence. (Other varieties by the same company don't even come close.)
And while we're talking 'brownies', Ruth B passes on  this "Find", found by a friend who was kind enough to pass it on to her, and through her, to you. Ruth is one smart cookie, and if she says SHEILA G'S CHOCOLATE CHIP BROWNIE BRITTLE is de-lish, I know it is.

                                                    

ICE CREAM TOPPINGS

Like a little hot fudge on your ice cream?  Ashlyn G. suggests heading over to TRADER JOE'S, where you'll find TRADER JOE'S FUDGE SAUCE AND FONDUE. 

                                                          

Now when it comes to hot fudge, I have set a pretty high bar, having grown up in Philadelphia, where, as a child, I feasted on some of the best hot fudge sundaes ever at the local Hot Shoppe and Dairy Maid. Those memories were challenged when a package arrived from Ms. G, containing two jars of Trader Joe's version. As someone decades younger than I would write, OMG!

This most unexpected and thoughtful gift won me over after the first spoonful.
I heated a little of the richly smooth fudge in a small microwaveable bowl and poured it over a scoop of BREYER'S VANILLA FUDGE TWIRL:one of my all-time favorite ice creams. Oh boy oh boy oh boy. Thank you, Ashlyn!


 

 

What? You say you're more of a butterscotch person? While i have to admit that I lost the source of this next "find" , I did manage to save it when it came in just after last year's list posted. 

FAT TOAD FARM CARAMEL SAUCE is, according to their website, a goat's milk caramel, "based on the Mexican confection cajeta', and hand-stirred in copper kettles 'to velvety perfection' over the course of five hours.

The result is a sumptuous caramel sauce just waiting to be 'drizzled over rice cream or fruit, paired with your favorite cheese, mixed into your mourning coffee, or eaten straight out of the jar with a spoon." For another caramel 'Find", read on! 

NUTS

I wasn't the only one who tried MARCONA ALMONDS this year. Ann L in Mississippi sent in her "FIND" shortly after I bought a container-full of these trendy Spanish almonds at my local Murray's Cheese Shop. They're a bit sweeter, a bit nuttier, and a bit softer than their California cousins. Known in Spain as "The Queen's almonds", they're fried in olive or sunflower oil and dusted with sea salt, then packed in that oil, making picking one up out of the container a bit messy. I have to admit that I was a bit put off by the oil, but our reader adores them, and the food magazines are filled with ideas for using them
in various dishes.  



PRIVATE SELECTION HEAT AND EAT SOUTHERN STYLE SPICED or GLAZED PECANS are just two of the flavors you can choose from in this new line of microwavable nuts. No mircowave oven? Eat 'em straight out of the bag. I won't tell.

                            .

CANDY

                                                     

Another find in the form of an unusually flavored hard candy. Jackie in Barlett was drawn to these confectionery drops by the uniqueness of their natural blood orange flavor. GOORGANIC HARD CANDIES are both organic and gluten-free and at only 20 calories a piece. are a real (you'll excuse the expression) lifesaver.  

Show me a box of candy, and chances are I'll pick out a caramel, which I pronounce "car-mul" but all of the announcers on TV refer to as "cahr-ah-mels." But whatever you call them, they are at the top of my list of favorites.
And so when several boxes of PRIVATE SELECTION VANILLA CREAM SOFT CARAMELS appeared on the shelf in the Bent and Dent section of the supermarket some months back, I couldn't help but pop one in my shopping cart. 

Once home, I opened up the box, and unwrapped a piece of the candy. It was so incredibly good, that I got back in the car, drove to the supermarket, and diet be damned, bought two more boxes - one of which, I gave away, the other which I kept for "later".


All too often, store brands don't match in quality or flavor to the name brands that are widely advertised or pricey small label offerings that make their candy or other food products in small batches. But, as you've seen in this latest FOOD FIND edition, there are exceptions to that rule; and this is another of those exceptions. Oh my goodness. They were to die for. Well, maybe not die, but beg for. Yearn for. They are that good.

BEVERAGES

Jackie K. offers two for tea:   PUKKA HERBALTEA, to be exact.The company has an extremely full line of organic herbal teas to choose from. Among Jackie's favorites: PUKKA LEMON, GINGER AND MANUKA HONEY TEA and CHI. Beautifully packaged, 100% organically grown, fragrant and delicious, you'll want to have a cuppa of cuppas. Find them on line, or, on occasion, at Homegoods and other retailers.

You drink milk out of a carton. You drink juice out of a carton. Heck, you even drink wine out of a carton. So why does it seem a little crazy to drink water out of a carton? My niece commented on the absurdity of it on Facebook. And I can understand why. It wasn't all that long ago that paying for water and drinking it out of a glass - then plastic bottle seemed a little nuts. 


Anyway, it was only a few days after her post that I spotted a couple of cartons of water in the now famous bent and dent section of my supermarket. A bargain at just sixty-nice cents. Now, it doesn't taste particularly special: it is, after all, only water. But it's far better for the atmosphere than those other options. So, why not I say?
                                       

Well, water you waiting for? There must be at least two or three dozen "FINDS" that you can absolutely not do without. My thanks to all of the foodies who took the time to share their favorite things with others who are always looking for something new, fun and absolutely delicious. Be well. Eat well. And enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

THE STRAIGHT STORY

I have been a fan of Richard Farnsworth’s work since I first saw him in 1980’s Resurrection. His portrayal of Esco, owner of a funky gas station in the middle of nowhere, won Ellen Burstyn’s admiration and mine. I loved him in The Grey Fox (which, for some reason,  isn’t available on DVD – or even VHS), and as Red Blow―the affable coach in The Natural, singing along with Wilfred Brimley in the dugout.
  
And so it comes as no surprise to learn that I loved him in The Straight Story; one of the few bio pics with a heart.

Richard Farnsworth had one of those marvelously well-lined, character-driven faces that photographers love to capture on film. He projected an image that was both gentle and genuine, and like Sinatra, he was extremely adept at phrasing.

He began his movie career in the 1930s, working as a stunt man in a series of iconic pictures like A Day at the Races and Gunga Din, and later, took on uncredited acting roles in much-loved classics like Gone With The Wind, Red River, The Wild One, The Ten Commandments and Spartacus. Later credits included a comedic turn as the sheriff in Blazing Saddles and far more serious roles, such as that of a slave catcher in Roots.

The Straight Story would be the last of his three hundred-plus credits, but certainly not the least. Cast in the lead role, he starred as seventy-three-year-old Alvin Straight, who in 1994, set out on an extraordinary six-week odyssey to visit his ailing brother. 

The fact that this is a true tale makes it all the more remarkable. Brought to the screen by producer Mary Sweeney, who co-wrote the script along with John Roach, it is one of those special films that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

Directed by Sweeney’s long-time partner, David Lynch, it is the story of Alvin and Lyle Straight: two brothers who, in 1984, fought a fight fueled by anger and pride and far too much alcohol. Things were said that were hard to retract, and even harder to forgive, and so the brothers, who had been extremely close all their lives, went their separate ways.  

The film picks up their story a decade later, when, after a sobering visit to the doctor, Alvin is forced to come to grips with the fact that time is no longer on his side. Learning that Lyle has just suffered a life-threatening stroke, he is overcome with the need to put pride aside and make peace with his brother before it’s too late.     

Far from a wealthy man, Alvin hasn’t the wherewithal to hop on a plane and make the 240-mile trip from Laurens, Iowa to his brother’s home in Mount Zion, Wisconsin. With aging eyes, and an unforgiving body that has him falling to the floor more often than not, he is no longer able to drive a car, or walk without assistance. But Alvin is determined to make the trip on his own, if not by car, then by tractor.

And so he takes to the road on a 1966 John Deere, after a false-start on an even older tractor. The bulk of the movie follows him over the course of six weeks, as he makes his way down the highway at a break-neck speed of five miles an hour, the tractor pulling a make-shift trailer filled with little more than a blanket, a couple of rusty folding chairs, an ice chest full of beef jerky and hot dogs, a change of clothes, and a few basic necessities.

As Indian summer turns to fall, we watch Alvin deal with the elements, the tractor’s and his own short comings, while touching the lives of the people he meets along the way.

I can’t think of another actor who could have pulled this role off―not in such a natural, truly believable way. Whether Alvin makes it to Lyle’s, and if so, if Lyle is still alive and wiling to reconcile when Alvin gets there, is certainly part of the story, but not at the very heart of it. For this is a character-driven film. And over the course of some 110 minutes we will get to know the man behind the wheel, and what has brought him to this place in time. 

We’ll also get to know his daughter Rose, (thoughtfully played by Sissy Spacek), who has had more than her fair-share of heartbreak, and rightly worries that her father and his tractor aren’t up to the trip. 
   
While, like many true stories adapted for the screen, some names (including that of Alvin’s brother) have been changed, characters melded, and events merged or created for a variety of reasons, The Straight Story remains a purposefully small film, and is all the better for it. Shot, in sequence, along the same highway that the real Alvin Straight traveled, it is a simple tale, told simply and beautifully.

To this I add a small caveat, Upon coming to a scene involving a distraught driver who unintentionally hit and killed a deer, I chose to fast-forward past it, even though I knew that no animals were harmed - let alone killed in the making of the film. That doesn’t mean that you should do the same, or keep you from renting or buying what I believe to be an exceptional piece of movie-making.

Richard Farnsworth would receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the seventy-three year old traveler, and rightly so, especially when you realize that he was battling bone cancer at the time, his inability to walk unaided, required no acting on his part. That he believed enough in the film’s message to take on such a demanding role, is a tribute to him and to Alvin Straight, who passed away in 1996. According to one source, a mower much like the one he drove to Iowa, led the funeral procession to the cemetery. Way to go, Alvin.

For Richard Farnsworth, there came a time in 2000 when he could no longer live with the unrelenting pain of his disease, and opted out. But if anything, this last work is a testament to life: a heart-warming, thought-provoking, and ultimately uplifting look at the power of love; family and the kindness of strangers.