Friday, January 23, 2015

Cheesy Tidbits - Saint Agur Double-Crème Blue + Deep Fried Xangos

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Occasionally, I encounter note worthy morsels I want to blog about, but there's not enough to say about them to justify an entire entry.  In such cases, I usually write 1 to 3 paragraphs about my find and post the entry as a "Micro Blog".  However, I recently came across two such delights within one week, so I'm going to combine both tidbits into this single full length blog entry.
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Saint Agur Cheese
Subject: Saint Agur Cheese | Date: 08/30/2007 | Photographer: Micah Anderson | This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Micah Anderson at the En-wiki project. This applies worldwide.

I was looking for Cambozola, a  combination of a French soft-ripened Camembert and Italian Gorgonzola, at Tanasbourne's Whole Foods Market.  They didn't have it, but their cheese monger gave me a sample of Saint Agur Double-Crème Blue Cheese instead.

Saint Agur is a blue cheese made from pasteurized cow's milk.  Since 1988 Saint Agur has been crafted in the village of Beauzac of the Monts du Valley, which lies within the mountainous Auvergne region of central France. Containing 60% butterfat, the French blue qualifies as a double-crème cheese.

Saint Agur has the appetizingly pungent aroma of hearty blue mold.  As for the flavor, it's definitely saltier than Cambozola.  Yet, while I found it to be sharper than its Camembert bearing counterpart, a fellow eater thought it was milder the aforementioned cheese.  In any event, Saint Agur unarguably delivers the pleasing taste of blue cheese, but unlike typical blues the texture is smooth and creamy, rather than crumbly.

This easily spreadable variation of blue cheese would be great as part of a cheese plate, or on crackers alongside a garden salad and crisp white wine. At $7.50 for a quarter of a pound, I give Saint Agur Double-Crème Blue Cheese 9.5 out of 10 stars.

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Stress can often increase one's appetite.  I'd just finished activating my new debit card, after having fraudulent charges appear on my old card, and I was HUNGRY.  Upon finishing an order of Chili Rellenos and refried beans, I wasn't quite full.  It was then that I discovered a dessert I hadn't heard of before.

A Xango is cheesecake wrapped in a tortilla, then deep fried until crispy, drizzled with the diner's choice of sauces (I had the chocolate sauce), alongside dollops of whipped cream. It's crunchy, sweet, slightly salty from the fry batter, and mildly tart from the rich cheesecake. Best of all, they were only $5.00 at Lupes Escape in Aloha, Oregon.

Even though I'm not big on desserts, I have to give Xangos 9 out of 10 stars for sheer yumminess and balance of flavor.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cooking Competitions By Any Other Name

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Normally, this blog is a reflection of my opinions.  This time I'm changing things up, I'm looking for your opinion; that's right, your opinion.

Here's the deal, I often disparage reality shows. No, let's be honest, I down right ridicule them for being shallow mind numbing wastes of time.  Bethany Frankel's privileged  life doesn't reflect the day to day struggles of any hard working real housewife I ever met.

If "reality TV" isn't showing us the lives of the spoiled elite, it's depicting "Survivors" trying to stab each other in the back.  Here's a tip, if your "reality" involves you having to screw somebody over to get ahead,  YOU'RE LIVING WRONG!

The idea that such shows reflect "reality" is offensive to me.  While I chastise reality TV for being shallow depictions of the worst traits humanity has to offer, I must admit to watching cooking competitions such as Chopped, Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen, etc...

I enjoy watching contestants create new recipes in order to solve a problems e.g. using unique ingredients from a basket, feed a group of "glampers" (glamor campers), fashion a meal encapsulating the spirit of New Year's Eve, etc...  I see these shows as being food related game shows, participants exhibit a skill with the hope of winning a prize.  Yet, some people include such shows under the umbrella of reality TV.

So, who's right?  Are competitive food shows part of reality TV?  If they are, does bashing reality TV make me a hypocrite?  

Please use the pol below and/or comment section to tell me what you think, and I'll use the results in a future blog.

Supplemental Update - 01/24/15:
The survey template I was using was causing hyperlink problems for my readers.  I can't have that, so I've deleted the script.  However, I'd still like folks to consider the question below and leave your thoughts in the blog's comment section or on Facebook.

Are shows like Top Chef, Chopped, Hell's Kitchen, etc... reality shows or game shows?
A. Cooking competition shows are reality shows.
B. Cooking competition shows are game shows.
C. Game shows ARE reality shows, any distinction is meaningless.
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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Booze Traveler - Travel With A Twist... Of Lime

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When I first heard of Travel Channel's 15 episode series, Booze Traveler, I was afraid the show would either be a hootch-centric clone of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations (not that Bourdain's shows
Array of liquors
Subject: Array of liquors | Date: 02/24/2009 | Photographer: Angie Garrett | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
aren't already booze heavy), or it would be 15 1-hour episodes of Booze Traveler's host sampling Tequila in Mexico.

The show features self proclaimed cocktail connoisseur, Jack Maxwell, traveling to exotic locations to sample off beat potables.  As Maxwell drinks his way around the world, viewers are given insight into how each liquor plays its role within its culture of origin.  For example, viewers recently learned about holy men of Napal who drink "marijuana milkshakes" to clear their minds of negative thoughts.

In addition to the show's anthropological value, the show gives viewers ideas about drinks to add to their "to try" list. After 7 episodes, drinks of interest have included, but not been limited to:
  1. Boza - a popular milky beverage in Turkey, made from fermented wheat|
  2. Kumis - a fermented dairy drink, traditionally made from mare's milk, popular to the peoples of the Central Asian steppes|
  3. Golia Vodka, AKA Genghis Khan Vodka - filtering of the vodka through diamonds, rather than charcoal, removes the chemicals which cause headaches when one drinks it|
Personally, I'll never drink Boza or fermented horse milk, no, no, no.  However, I have added Golia Vodka to my list of liquors to keep my eye open for.

Booze Traveler, while not a clone of past productions, is reminiscent of its predecessors.  Given the uncommon nature of some of the featured libations, the show is more comparable to Andrew Zimmer's "Bizarre" franchise than Bourdain's work.  Still, Maxwell relays enough unique subject material to make the show worth watching in its own right.

Airing Mondays at 10pm on Travel Channel, I give Booze Traveler 8.6 out of 10 stars.
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Friday, January 2, 2015

Fuller Foods' Blue Cheese Jalapeño & Maple Bacon Cheesy Puffs

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Fuller Foods' Blue Cheese Jalapeño & Maple Bacon Cheesy Puffs
Subject: Fuller Foods' Blue Cheese Jalapeño & Maple Bacon Cheesy Puffs |
Date: 01/02/2015 | Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell | This picture was taken by the author of this blog.
I don't typically review chips, crackers, and other snack foods. I leave critiques of such munchies to the good people of Taquitos Snack Food Reviews. However, while the site has reviewed, literally, thousands of sweet and/or salty munchables, from every conceivable national brand, they rarely review offerings from mom & pop companies. Thus, when the owner of an, Oregon based, craft snack company was promoting his fare at my local New Seasons Market, I ended up taking a few bags home to sample & review.

Fuller Foods, head quartered in Portland, Oregon, makes four varieties of "100% natural" Cheesy Puffs, including; Sriracha, Blue Cheese Jalapeño, India Pale Ale, and Maple Bacon.  As a beer drinker, I've never been able to choke down an IPA, and something in the owner's demeanor told me the Sriracha flavor would be way too hot for this 44 year old.  Being a fan of blue cheese and bacon, I left with the Blue Cheese Jalapeño and Maple Bacon flavors.

According to the brown paper packaging, the Blue Cheese Jalapeño Puffs contain; corn (non-GMO Bob's Red Mill corn grits from Oregon and California), blue and cheddar cheese blend, konjac, jalapeño, salt, and garlic; while the Maple Bacon Puffs are made of; corn (non-GMO Bob's Red Mill corn grits from Oregon and California), safflower oil, cheddar cheese, maple sugar, konjac, salt, and Olympic Provisions Bacon (pork, salt, brown sugar, nitrates, applewood smoke).  Additionally, both flavors boast:
  • FEATURES KONJAC YAM (consumption of 6oz of water per serving is recommended)
  • INCREASES SATIETY
  • BLUNTS SUGAR ABSORPTION
  • LOCALLY MADE
  • NO “NATURAL FLAVORS”
  • NOT MADE WITH GENETICALLY ENGINEERED INGREDIENTS
Being slightly confused by their second to last claim, I contacted them via their Facebook Page and asked, "Your bag says, "No 'Natural Flavors.'"  Don't I want natural flavors?"

An online representative, named Jack, wrote back with the following statement.

"James,

Many natural and organic foods are flavored with additives such as "natural flavors", which is a vaguely defined and loosely regulated term that includes lots of very unnatural constituents, ranging from chemicals from non-food origins to ingredients over-processed beyond recognition. Take bacon, for example. In all commercially made snacks, bacon flavor is derived from "natural flavors" (chemical compounds that yield similar aromatic/taste properties), yeast, and/or MSG. Our bacon flavor is made from actual bacon (non-GMO, nitrate free) that was meticulously prepared, dehydrated, and powderized. 

Significant amount of work went into making Serious Cheesy Puffs a snack made from wholesome ingredients only. It is an achievement that extremely few food companies, particularly in snacks, attain and something that I'm very proud of.

Having said that, I do thank you for bringing to my attention of how "No 'natural flavors'" may be confusing to some. Such verbiage will be updated in future packaging designs.

Thank you, Jack"

Natural ingredients are nice, for eaters who care about what the put into their bodies, but the real question is, do these puffs make a tasty snack?

Both varieties of puff looked identical; pale white in color, about 50% the width of a Cheetos Cheese Puff, and about 50% longer than a Cheetos Cheese Puff.  Trading width for length, these puffs give the snacker roughly the same volume of food as their popular counterpart.  Each puff also delivered a solid crunch.

Biting into the Blue Cheese Jalapeño Puffs gave me a spicy, but not overly hot, kick of jalapeño right off the bat.  Chewing increased the level of heat, and eventually revealed a faint under flavor of blue cheese.  Likewise, the Maple Bacon Puffs delivered a strong hit of maple sweetness with a whisper of bacon flavor in the background.

While I'd have preferred a stronger blue cheese taste, the spice of the pepper was tasty enough for me to give the Blue Cheese Jalapeño Puffs 8.5 out of 10 stars.  On the flip side, the Maple Bacon Puffs were really a maple snack with bacon as an after thought.  After eating a few puffs, the sweetness became overpowering, earning these puffs 6.9 out of 10 stars.
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