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Tuesday
Aug172010

A Perfectionist's Popcorn

Care for some popcorn anicdotes while you munch?

When it comes to truffled-up foods, I’m a sucker for them. Despite the fact that I’m truly no fan of regular mushrooms, for some reason truffles get my heartbeat racing. Perhaps that’s why, in 2009, I distinctly remember tasting a really classy truffled popcorn. This past summer, I recognized the brand: It was 479˚ Popcorn, and it was again sitting out for sampling at a booth in the Jacob Javits Center’s Fancy Food Show. I snagged a heavenly bite of their Black Truffle & White Cheddar popcorn, chatted, and had to run off. Jean Arnold, creator of this premium popcorn from San Francisco, recently sent me five boxes of their very unique flavors so that I could taste them in the comfort of my own home.

            The popcorn arrived in a fancy schmancy box, with five fine flavors packed carefully inside. Anyone opening a package of 479˚ Popcorn sees the fine photography and colorful packaging with popcorn adages, such as, “Somewhere far, far away, an Italian nonna is urging you to eat the whole box.” It’s a definite interior-designer-meets-superior-popcorn-popper vibe one gets upon seeing the polished packaging and thought-out design. Even their contact number (1-888-479-YUMM) is unbearably cute and thought-out. Not to criticize, for the founder definitely conveys that this ain’t yo’ daddy’s buttered popcorn. No, this is precision hand-popped heirloom popcorn made with only the finest flavorings and ingredients. It's organic, too. 479 degrees, by the way, is the optimal temperature Jean discovered for letting popcorn really pop, giving it a consistently crunchy, full-bodied flavor.

Because I’d had such a positive experience with their truffled popcorn, I decided to see if they could do sweet as well as they did salty. The first box I opened was their Black Sesame Caramel. Though it didn’t look quite as amazing as the lovely photography on the box promised (though really, what packaged food does?), it was still nice and chewy, with a sweetly addictive bite. I found myself eating it a lot that first day, and I couldn’t seem to stop. Next I opened the Vietnamese Cinnamon Sugar. Having recently been to Vietnam, I wanted to see if I could taste the exoticism in this cleverly named popcorn. Really, if you see something flavored cinnamon sugar, you might get it, but Vietnamese Cinnamon Sugar? I’m grabbing that off the shelf, taste buds ready and waiting. Despite my excitement, the flavor wasn’t everything I hoped and dreamed. It had a lovely texture and a sweet finish, but was fairly lightly flavored. I wanted more oomph, not a delicate touch!

Interior designer meets popcorn popper?

Next came the Madras Coconut Curry & Cashews, a flavor I was extremely excited for. Given my recent rave review of Dulcet’s Mild Indian Curry Ketchup, I was thrilled to taste another tangy interpretation in popped goods. But once again, I just felt that there could have been more. More flavor, more cashews. Perhaps I have demanding taste buds, but if I’m going to the trouble to purchase gourmet flavored popcorn, I don’t want to hunt for the striking flavors; I went them to let their presence be known! Perhaps I’m being a little tough. It was a very good flavor, and I am admittedly that person who pours on tons of Sriracha sauce onto anything I’m eating. I then tried the sea salt caramel, which tasted a lot like their Black Sesame Caramel. It had that nice caramel coating with a touch of a salty bite, though I could have used more contrast. And finally, the Black Truffle & White Cheddar popcorn was there, waiting for a taste. Deliciously light, with equal amounts of white cheddar flavor and addictive black truffle flecks, this popcorn was still the standout. It was just, well, perfect. It really couldn’t be any better without being overindulgent and overwhelming.

It’s not every day that one gets to taste popcorn that’s flavored with class instead of cheap chocolate and lots of sticky goo. 479˚ Popcorn may be on the light side with some of their flavorings, but overall their popcorn just looks and tastes like a bite of, well, fun sophistication.

 

 www.479popcorn.com

1-888-479-YUMM

Packs of 5 flavors - $33-$38

Handmade in San Francisco, California

 

Monday
Jul262010

Sauces Worth Salivating Over

 Product Review: Condiments from Dulcet CuisineDulcet's zesty Moroccan Mustard

I believe it was the calm in a sea of hectic scurrying that drew me into the Dulcet Cuisine booth at the NASFT Fancy Food Show. Instead of the standard overwhelming assortment of peanut butter with 32 artificially flavored varieties, I saw just a small table offering tastes of a few hand-bottled condiments. Something about the simple logo with its signature green leaf caught my eye, and I decided to give them a taste. It was the Sweet Orange Chile Ketchup that originally drew me in, and from my small tasting that morning, I knew I wanted more.

Unlike the many sauce companies out there, it appeared that Dulcet Cuisine had truly concentrated their efforts on producing just a small number of high quality sauces instead of throwing a bunch of half-hearted attempts into the gourmet condiment world. Each flavor was rich, extremely well balanced, and craveable.

Dulcet Cuisine kindly sent me a box of goodies to try, shipped all the way from their business in Oregon. I received two condiments (The Moroccan Mustard and the Mild Indian Curry Ketchup) and three sauces (The Toasted Sesame & Ginger Asian Sauce, the Tangy & Peppery Moroccan Sauce, and the Lemon, Mustard & Dill Sauce).

Convincing people to try a specific sauce is difficult, especially when confronted with all the spreads, hot sauces, and spice blends on the market these days. But, just as I found out at the Fancy Food Show, these blends are a whole lot different from everything else available.

I immediately opened the Toasted Sesame & Ginger Asian Sauce, which I used to make my own modified version of a brussels sprouts side dish found on Dulcet’s page of recipes. I made mine with cranberries and butter, then caramelized the cut green sprouts in the sauce. It certainly changed the flavor of the dish in an unexpected way. This sauce is not for those expecting a typical teriyaki or sweet, dark soy taste; rather, this sauce lends a somewhat dry tang that stands out even in small quantities. It also makes a great stir fry base, but to get to something a bit more unique, I wanted to try the Moroccan sauce.

A few of the delectable sauces from Dulcet's handmade collectio
The Tangy & Peppery Moroccan Sauce was quite a new taste, with spicy elements that didn’t actually lend heat. Turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, and other spices have been precisely mixed to produce this well-balanced condiment. This sauce turned out to add a zing to everything from Israeli couscous and carrots to baked chicken and Mexican food. We all know that bean and cheese tacos could use an awakening. This worked.

When I saw the LMD Sauce (The Lemon, Mustard & Dill), I was expecting another boring salmon supplement. This sauce instead has bold flavors and is great as a salad dressing, mixed in with potato salad, or used to make a tangy twist on tzatziki.

I immediately tried using a smidgen of the Moroccan Mustard in my batch of pasta salad. Even a small amount gave this usually ho-hum dish a huge boost. I also have been using the sauce in egg salad, on grilled cheese, and as a way to spice up cheddar potato soup.

Admittedly, I was least excited with my bottle of Mild Indian Curry Ketchup, despite the fact that it just won a SOFI Gold. What would I do with a whole lot of ketchup? I popped open the bottle and was immediately hit with a spicy smell that reminded me of a dish of chana masala. What a pleasant surprise! After dipping in some bread and loving the result, I then tried dipping in vegetables, pasta, and more. It actually didn’t matter what I dipped in it—it was simply delicious, and quite addictive to boot. I never thought that a sauce company in Oregon could come up with such an authentically spiced concoction, but Dulcet has. The sauce I was least excited about is now my favorite, and I’ve used it in my cooking every day since I opened the jar. With an Indian taste and sweet ketchup finish, I decided to develop a recipe to bring out the spice notes in this concoction. I spread a layer of pureed sour cream and ricotta (any mild cheese The best ketchup of my life - Dulcet's Mild Indian Curry Ketchupwould work) onto some homemade flatbread and dolloped bits of the Mild Indian Curry Ketchup on top. A sprinkling of mozzarella cheese and a bake in the oven resulted in a golden pizza with delicious spicy notes. It was quite unlike anything I’ve ever had, and quite popular with everyone who managed to get a bite.

Dulcet Cuisine is worth every penny, and at $6.00-$8.00 a bottle, isn’t very expensive for a product that is handmade in small batches and produced with fresh ingredients. Look for it in Whole Foods and other specialty food stores, or order directly from their website here. These sauces are gluten free, preservative free, and all natural, and most importantly, I trust that they have been made with care. If you like anything out of the ordinary, then you’d be crazy to pass these up.

 

 

Dulcet Cuisine

Lake Oswego, Oregon

503.756.4688

http://dulcetcuisine.com

Sauces, Cooking Spices & Rubs, Mustards, and Ketchups

$6, $7, & $8/bottle; gift boxes available

Saturday
Jul102010

Mary's Gone Crackers: Taking the Joy Out of Snacking

 Product Review: Twigs and crackers from Mary's Gone Crackers

           When I was given some Chipotle Tomato Sticks & Twigs by Mary’s Gone Crackers, I was very excited to try them. After all, who wouldn’t want to try a flavorful, savory snack? The lonely cracker stood by for so long with barely an interesting flavor in sight. Then a few years ago, up popped ranch-flavored, pepper-jack-inspired, spicy-Thai-essenced crackers all over the place. So when I got a package of these snacks to enjoy while in Portland, OR, I dug in. You’d think it would have struck me instantly, but because I was so hungry and thought the pretzels would be so tasty, it took me a full 9 seconds to realize that I was eating something utterly disgusting.Mary must have gone crazy to invent snacks this terrible

            Where was the zing? Where was the rich flavor? Where was something that didn’t taste like cardboard? I offered a cracker to a friend, and when he quickly made a face, I realized I wasn’t alone in my thoughts that this had been one of the worst crackers of my life. Sure it was gluten-free, so it’s probably not going to taste like a normal cracker, but must the folks at Mary’s take all the punch out of wheat-free snacking?

            I didn’t give the company much thought until the NYC Fancy Food Show, where again I had the chance to sample these crackers. They did, after all, win a SOFI Gold the other year. Perhaps I had tasted a bad batch. Still, I avoided a sample. Though the woman handing out snacks was sweet, I decided not to risk my taste buds for the day. But what’s an ETR review without a fair chance?

 They look good, but these Black Pepper Crackers are, sadly, the worst I've ever tasted               So in the end, I received some samples. One whiff of the Black Pepper Crackers and I remembered why I should always trust my instincts. With a completely disgusting, nearly putrid smell, it was obvious that these crackers were never made for human consumption. Thicker than a cracker should be, but packed chalk-full (yes, that was on purpose) of tasty-looking crunchy seeds, these crackers are among the worst things I’ve ever eaten. Please do yourself a favor, and never sniff, taste, or otherwise consume these crackers. They give gluten-free a terrible image, and I’m never eating this brand again.



Here's the contact info, but why would you do that to yourself? http://www.marysgonecrackers.com

Thursday
Feb182010

Noble Juices: Ripe, Tangy Juice in an Earth Friendly Bottle

I met the people behind Noble Juices a while back and they promised to send over some samples. I was quite pleased when, shortly after, several 32oz bottles arrived, nice and cold, on my doorstep. The flavors included Blood Orange, Tangerine Clementine, Organic Orange, and Tangerine Cranberry, all packaged in their earth friendly bottles (http://www.noblejuice.com/difference.php) made from corn, not oil. Food shows make it difficult to differentiate among juices, chocolates, cheeses, and nearly everything else, for that matter, but...

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Monday
Feb152010

Goldbaum's Natural Food Co.: Gluten-Free Rice Crackers that Don't Remind You of Anything Good

When the owner of Goldbaum’s Natural Food Co. discovered that I reviewed gourmet food products, he immediately asked me to review his rice crackers. Not only did he follow up with a phone call and email, he actually came to my house to drop off the products. Perhaps it is because of this that I wish this review wasn’t so painful...

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