Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

Big Top Marshmallow Cookies

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

The Lady Otter and I were cruising through Whole Foods last night, on a mission to pick up some flowers for the host of the cocktail party we were attending. It was supposed to be a “quick in and out” trip, as we were already running a tiny bit late.

It never quite works like that, though. Not when there is so much to look at.

Now, usually, I only hit Whole Foods for very specific things (certain cheeses and creams, vitamins, teas, baking ingredients, etc.). That said, I can’t resist poking around a little whenever I’m there. The place is a feast for the senses.

We got stuck by the baked goods, where we discovered Tiny Trapeze Confections’ Big Top Marshmallow Cookies.

These things are as close as you’re going to get to a s’more without sitting around a campfire.

So, what are they?
These are part cookie and part candy. They’re definitely big and satisfying to eat. One cookie measures about two inches across.

A thick layer of creamy marshmallow sits on top of a soft, super-fresh, graham cracker cookie. The whole thing is enveloped in a thin, crackly crust of semi-sweet chocolate.

I can’t find it listed in the ingredients, but there’s a hint of cinnamon-y flavor in there somewhere.

Who makes them?
Tiny Trapeze Confections was started about five years ago in Boston by the same folks who own Dancing Deer Baking Company.

They merged with Whole Foods at the end of 2005, becoming the grocer’s in-house artisan candy maker. It sounds like their goal is to make organic and all-natural versions of classic confections.

If these cookies are any indication of what they can do, they’re off to a great start in my book.

What do they cost?
At three cookies for $3.99, Big Top Marshmallow Cookies are more expensive than any cookie should reasonably be. For a once-in-a-while treat, though, they were definitely worth it.

The bottom line
I had two simultaneous reactions.

First, I want to try to make a homemade version, since this cookie wraps together many of my favorite flavors.

And second? Until I do, I know I’ll be heading back to the store for more.

Digg!

***
Copyright 2008 The Hungry Mouse/Jessica B. Konopa. All rights reserved.

McKinnon’s: A Carnivore’s Carnival

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

McKinnon's Meat Market at The Hungry Mouse

If you know me at all, you know one thing: I’m a huge carnivore. So is my husband, the Angry Chef. So is (understandably so) our beast, Dexter the Barking Sous Chef. So, it will probably come as no surprise that we tend to seek out the best—and best priced—meat we can find locally.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Beef short ribs

These days, that means heading to McKinnon’s in Somerville’s Davis Square. Their high-quality meats are remarkably fresh—and fantastically cheap for what you get.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Lamb Shanks

Allow me to set the scene

When I was just a little mouse, my mother used to take with her to run errands, which often included hitting one or more butcher shops.

The one I remember most vividly was Fairway Beef, which sadly burned down in the ’80s. It was a tiny market with something that made quite an impression on me: a walk-in refrigerated butcher section that took up at least half the store.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Pork Loin

Possibly, that was the beginning of my great love of steak—and just about every other meat that walks around on four feet.

Now, McKinnon’s is just this kind of old-fashioned butcher shop.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Beef Back Ribs

The white-jacketed butchers are frequently out on the floor. They’re mainly older men and they’re nice as pie to you if you have any questions—provided, of course, that you’re polite (this is Boston, after all).

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Bone-In Pork Shoulder

They’ll help you choose a cut, then give you advice for how to cook it. The cash registers are run by at least one sweet old lady and a rotating flock of very agreeable high-school girls.

It even has that unmistakable butcher-shop smell. While I know that this puts some folks off, in my mind, it’s the mark of a true butcher shop that turns over a lot of meat.

McKinnon’s in Davis Square: Meat & produce selection

McKinnon’s has a surprisingly good selection of barbecue sauces, and a small section of Italian specialties.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Lamb Rib Chops

Their deli counter features almost everything you can think of—all at a cut below what you’ll pay at any of the bigger chains in the area. You’ll find everything from imported prosciutto and mortadella and salamis to provolone and domestic cheeses. There’s a fair selection of rolls and breads from local bakeries. They also have a little produce section, stuffed with all the basic fruits and veggies.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Beef Eye of the Round

But that’s not why you go there. You go for the meat.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Lamb Loin Chops

If there ever was such a thing, McKinnon’s is a carnivore’s playground.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Veal Flank

Multiple cuts of lamb, from lollipop chops to whole legs, both Australian and domestic. Pre-marinated pork loin roasts. Ribs galore, including beef spare ribs, short ribs, and whole racks of pork baby back ribs. Familiar and hard-to-find cuts of beef. Don’t even get me going on the homemade sausage and hot dog selection.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Pork Butt, Bone In

Their boneless club sirloin steaks sell for $5.99-$6.99 per pound, which is dollars less than I’ve seen elsewhere.

McKinnon's Meat Market at The Hungry Mouse

Their boneless, skinless chicken breast is always about $1.99 per pound. Retail average at the big stores around Boston is $3.99 per pound, or more. Their chicken wings tend to be about 99 cents per pound.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Chicken Leg Quarters

Other butcher shops in the Boston area

We used to go to Hilltop Butcher Shop in Saugus, MA. Nestled behind the Hilltop Steakhouse on Route-1’s Las Vegas-esque strip, their entire market is refrigerated.

The walls of the meat section are lined with tall, stainless steel carts that are piled high with beautiful roasts, chops, and steaks. Their selection is great, but it’s a haul from where we live, which makes it impractical for day-to-day shopping.

McKinnon’s is nearby and always fresh. I know where our steaks are coming from tonight.

Somerville's McKinnon's Meat Market: A Carnivore's Carnival

Beef Filet Mignon

But how about you? Tell me about your favorite local butcher.

Digg!

***
Copyright 2008 The Hungry Mouse/Jessica B. Konopa. All rights reserved.

5 Spice Merchants To Try

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Recently, The Angry Chef and I went on a spice hunt. We headed out to Penzey’s Spices in the sleepy town of Arlington, MA. We’ve relied on them for spices—first by catalog, then online, and now in person—for years now.

Penzey’s quality is always top notch. The prices are decent. Their selection is huge. And they make a few custom blends that we really like.

Their Northwoods Seasoning—an almost-all-purpose blend of salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, garlic, and chipotle—has been a staple in our kitchen for quite some time. For a five-alarm version, try the Northwoods Fire. I also have yet to find better prices for high-quality Madagascar vanilla beans (3 for $7.25) around Boston.

All that said, I started to wonder how other spice shops might compare and decided to do a little investigating.

Here are five I’d like to try.

1. The Spice House
Established in 1957, The Spice House has an impressive pedigree. Its owners are Tom Erd and his wife Patty, a second generation spice merchant who is the daughter of Bill and Ruth Penzey (different family members own Penzey’s as a separate business).

The Spice House sells spices online and in a handful of retail shops in Illinois and Wisconsin. These guys grind small batches of spices every week, which means they should have really intense flavor.

Their website is well organized, and the main page for each spice also offers recipes for using it. They seem like a very traditional spice shop, selling everything from arrowroot to za’atar. And since they charge $5.25 for 3 Madagascar vanilla beans, I’ll definitely be giving them a try.

2. TSP Spices
Run by two friends, one a former art historian and the other an ex-journalist, this company has a unique spice angle. They package their organic spices in individually sealed, teaspoon-sized packets designed to keep your spices fresher than one large container. The packets are sold in tins of twelve.

Now, I’m not sure that this is entirely practical for how I cook (I imagine having lots of half-opened packets floating around in my spice cabinet), but I’d be willing to give them a shot since I’m a bona fide sucker for nice packaging. I can see this working best for me with spices I don’t often use but want to keep on hand.

In terms of selection, TSP definitely has fewer spices than Penzey’s and The Spice House, but they have all the basics more than covered.

Twelve teaspoons is equal to a quarter cup. All tins (no matter which spice) are $9. Spice refills (no tin) are $5. They also sell gift boxes for $16-$42.

3. JR Watkins
JR Watkins is an old-fashioned apothecary that sells herbs, spices, and extracts—along with a variety of products for personal and home care. Looking for lemon extract? Check. Lemon Cream Hand & Body Lotion? Also check. I’ve seen their bath products around, and am excited to see what they have to offer in the kitchen.

Based in Minnesota, JR Watkins has been selling all-natural apothecary products for 140 years. They have a good selection of organic and all-natural herbs and spices and sell almost all the basic extracts. Spice tins run from $4.99 – $6.49 each, and hold varying amounts of product.

4. Savory Spice Shop
Run by husband and wife Mike and Janet Johnston in Colorado, Savory Spice Shop sells all the basic herbs and spices—along with 130 spice blends. They also have an impressive and rather exhaustive list of extracts.

The ultra-yummy-sounding Park Hill Maple & Spice Pepper caught my eye. Made with real maple sugar, black pepper, coriander, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, and a whole bunch of other spices, it sounds like a great thing to try on a pork roast.

Each spice is available in a variety of sizes and prices. They also sell spice gift boxes, as well as a pretty good selection of gear, including mortar-and-pestle sets.

5. Whole Spice
Whole Spice grinds your spices to order, so it sounds like they really couldn’t be any fresher. A family-run business based in California, they have a long list of all the basic spices along with some harder-to-find Indian specialties.

I’m really intrigued by the Moroccan Meatball Mix, a blend of white pepper, ginger, allspice, mace, nutmeg, rosebuds, and cinnamon. Spices are available in a range of sizes and prices.

And how about you?
Where do you guys get your secret weapons? Shoot me a note if you’d like to add a local prize to the list.

How to Cook All the Meat That’s Fit to Eat

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Ah, meat. This is one of my favorite topics—and things to cook. Apologies in advance to all my vegetarian friends. I just can’t help myself.

So, when I ask my friends what they have the most trouble cooking, the answer will very likely be: “Meat!” (Or, “Steak!” or “Veal!”) Sometimes it’s, “I can’t grill pork chops. They always dry out, no matter what I do.” Or, “Every time I roast a chicken, it’s burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.”

The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is to match meat to cooking technique. Try to sear a brisket then serve it, and it’s going to be tough. Give it lots of slow, long heat, and it’ll melt in your mouth.

The first thing I tell my friends is, “When you buy your meat, ask your butcher how to cook it.” Followed by, “Do a little reading.”

The good news is, there are a lot of great cookbooks about meat. They’re well organized, easy to read, and make it easy to find the info you need. For quick online info, Lobel’s of New York is encyclopedic in its information.

Here’s a quick overview of some of my all-time favorite cookbooks—along with a few that are still on my shopping list.

The Complete Meat Cookbook, by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly
This is the book that I always turn to first. (Admittedly, Aidells has already won my heart with his fantastic chicken and apple sausages.) Aidells and Kelly open up with a comprehensive primer on cooking techniques, from roasting to poaching—and everything in between. They discuss each method, which cuts of meat are best suited to it, and how to select those cuts at the market. Then, they give you a “Master Technique” for each.

The bulk of the book is divided by type of meat: beef, pork, lamb, and veal. Each section talks about how to select cuts, and includes illustrations to make identification easy. I often turn to the “Steaks at a Glance” chart, which lists out every possible type of steak (along with its various regional aliases) and how it’s best prepared. The recipes are well written and easy to follow, and show you how to put their Master Techniques to work.

The book is made up of recipes and illustrations, peppered with full-color photo pages. If you had to pick just one book on meat, I’d say this is the one to buy. It’s comprehensive, and easy to read and reference.

How to Cook Meat, by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby
And this is the second book I turn to. I love Schlesinger just a wee bit more because he’s a local guy, and heads up the East Coast Grill in Cambridge, MA, one of my favorite watering holes. If you’re in the area, go have a bite. The spicy food—and luscious cocktails—will knock your socks off.

Like The Complete Meat Cookbook, the front of this book also has a detailed description of cooking techniques. The text is longer and less chunked up, which means it takes a little more time to scan for the info you need. There’s also a good discussion about different types of meat-specific cooking equipment.

The rest of the book treats each type of meat in its own section. Each chapter opens with background information on cuts of meat and what to look for at the market. This is followed by a handful of recipes. Each recipe has a handy sidebar that tells you what cut you need to make the dish, other names for it, and what you can substitute if you can’t find what they recommend. There’s also a “Butcherspeak” blurb, which gives you insider tips on what to ask your butcher for.

Steaks, Chops, Roasts & Ribs, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated
This book is extra close to my heart (and my stomach) because I had the honor of doing some editing and proofreading on it. The good folks at Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen are known for their relentless and thorough recipe testing, and this volume is no exception. What’s more, they explain how and what they tested, which can save you the time—and hassle—of experimenting with certain things yourself.

The book’s front matter features a meat-buying guide, complete with several detailed illustrations. Then, instead of being organized by meat, each of this book’s 16 chapters is devoted to a cooking technique (as in, “Chapter 4: I Want to Grill Chops.”) Each chapter includes a preface that describes how they arrived at their current recipes. They explain what they did that worked—and what didn’t. Each chapter is also packed with recipes and variations. For example, the section on “Braised Lamb Chops” includes four separate dishes.

The last chapter of the book, “Rubs, Sauces, Salsas, and Gravy” is packed with all sorts of yummy, spicy goodness to help you dress up what you make. (Hoisin, Honey, and Ginger Glaze, anyone?)

Pigs And Pork: 90 Recipes from Italy’s Most Celebrated Chefs, by Daniela Garavini
This book is a glorious tour of the pig as an integral part of our culture and society. Filled with folklore and lavish pictures and illustrations, it’s just one volume of Konemann’s “History, Folklore, Ancient Recipes” series.

The first part of the book takes you through the rich history of the pig throughout the ages, including a chapter on recipes from the 16th through 19th centuries. (Wondering how to cook Pork with Eels? Look no further.) The remainder of the book features recipes from 55 Italian chefs, complete with wine pairing recommendations.

Heller’s Secrets of Meat Curing and Sausage Making, by B. Heller
First published in 1904 by Chicago’s B. Heller & Company, Heller’s Secrets of Meat Curing and Sausage Making is basically a meat-packers manual. While not necessarily 100% relevant for the home cook, it’s a great read for anyone interested in the history and how-to of American meat packing. If you want to snag a copy, you’ll need to track it down on eBay or Old Cookbooks, or give Bonnie Slotnick a call. You can also download an electronic version of the book through the American Libraries Internet Archive.

The front of the book is devoted to proper dispatching and dressing of animals. The back portion details packing-house recipes for fresh and cooked sausages. The proportions are gigantic, but in theory, the recipes could be scaled down and monkeyed with by a determined (and adventurous) home cook. There’s a really good section on how to properly hang sausages to dry. The final pages showcase display ads for butcher’s supplies, including Freeze-Em-Pickle and Bull-Meat-Brand Flour.

(For all you zombie apocalypse conspiracy theorists out there, stick this one on the shelf right next to your US Army Survival Manual.)

Books I have my eye on
You know—and I admit that I have a problem—you can never have too many cookbooks. Here are a few I’d like to add to my collection. (My list is vastly longer, but I’ll save the rest for the inevitable Part II of this article.)

The River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Somehow, I have a feeling that anyone who runs a 60-acre animal farm can teach me a thing or two about how to cook meat. Originally published in the United Kingdom, this version has been retooled slightly for an American audience.

The Meat Buyer’s Guide, by the North American Meat Processors Association
I have a thing for manuals and guide-like books. The more it looks like a textbook, the more likely I am to be (inexplicably) drawn to it. This book is a food-service standard for buying beef, lamb, veal, pork, and poultry. While it’s not a recipe book, I’d be interested in getting an inside perspective on the modern meat business.

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
I’ve haven’t made my own sausages. Yet. Growing up, I would listen to my father’s Italian barber talk about how his attic was hung thickly with all sorts of salty, cured meats in various stages of drying perfection. I also love a good culinary challenge—which is exactly what the several-days-long process of making a salami presents. Sign me up.

Pillow Maki

Friday, August 15th, 2008

I have two words for you: sushi pillow.

You heard me. (Sushi pillow!) Now you can have your fish, and cuddle up with it, too.

As someone who counts sushi among her five basic food groups, you can imagine how excited I was to discover these. The Original Sushi Pillow is a product of the brilliantly creative Cindy Tomm and Mel Maghuyop, two actors turned pillow-makers extraordinaires.

They have a 3-minute commercial. I defy you not to dance along, at least a little bit.

[youtube]gBmjbrt_lJo[/youtube]

Here are some of my favorite sushi pillows. I’m particularly fond of the nigiri. Like all sushi, each pillow is handmade. Go order yours today.

Ebi Nigiri, $45

Flat California Roll, $40

Tuna Nigiri, $36

Tall Salmon Roll, $36

Edamame Mini Pillow, $40 (also comes in a larger, body pillow size)

Dress up your favorite pillow
Tomm and Maghuyop even make sushi pillowcases so your favorite pillows can get in on the action.

Ebi Pillowcase, $30

Soy Sauce Pillowcase, $20


Shake It Up!

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

I admit it: I’m a fairly thirsty person.

Normally I’m a red wine drinker. I love the good—and even some of the bad. Give me a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Brunello, a Bandol, and I couldn’t be happier. In the summer, I love sangria, and hardly even flinch if offered juice out of a jug. (Granted, it needs to be a *really* hot day for that last bit.)

That said, there’s a time and a place for a good cocktail. And, as with most things gastronomical, I love the equipment part almost as much as I love the food part. I think there’s a Gear Geek hiding inside almost everyone who loves to cook.

Here are some of the spiffier bar accessories I’ve seen in a while.

Lately, we’ve been using a miniature rolling pin as a muddler (you know, the kind you roll use to roll out pancakes for moo shu). It’s fairly effective, but I may change my ways. This little beast is the Rosle Fruit Muddler. Its polycarbonate paw is specially shaped to stomp the last bits of juice out of any fruit you toss into your glass. Get yours from Cooking.com for about $18.

This looks like a great way to keep wet-bar garnishes fresh, especially during the summer. Prodyne’s Condiments on Ice sells for about $25 at Linens ‘n Things. If you like this, there are a bunch of other products in the line, including a salad bowl and sectioned appetizer platter.

The stout and handsome Vintage Soda King seltzer bottle is a stylish way to get your fizz on. ChicDeuxChic is selling them Etsy from for $215.

If you open your champagne like we do, you cover your cork with a kitchen towel and twist away. For a slightly slicker way to pop your bubbly, there’s the Champagne Star by Le Creuset and Screwpull. Stick it on top of your bottle and you have an instant�and kind of festive�handle. Sur La Table sells them for about $20.

There’s something about the design of the Rosle Cocktail shaker that reminds me of a vintage airplane engine. From the description, it sounds like it’s pretty well designed, which in my mind means leak-proof. They’re about $58 on Cooking.com.

And finally, the martini robot
One last item. Now, I’m fairly traditional when I make most things. If there’s a machine that can do it, chances are�despite my Epic Love of Gear�I’ll probably still do it by hand.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Waring Pro Electric Martini Maker.

I saw this in my travels on Cooking.com, and wondered if anyone would actually buy this thing. (It sells for $190, but was on sale for $99.) I scanned down the page and got my answer. As of this writing at least, the martini maker is backordered about a week, due to overwhelming demand.


Digg!

***
Copyright 2008 The Hungry Mouse/Jessica B. Konopa. All rights reserved.

Hot Chocolate Pots

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

A few days ago, I posted my version of Mayan Hot Chocolate. It occurred to me that there are all sorts of fabulous hot chocolate-y accessories out there—specifically, hot chocolate pots.

Most hot chocolate pots tend to look like long, tall teapots. Many sit on three or four little feet. Lots include some kind of device to froth your chocolate. If you want to see some excellent vintage and antique versions, take a look at what’s for sale at Ruby Lane.

Here’s the one that I have, as well as a few others you’ll find on the market today.

I picked up my hot chocolate pot, at Williams-Sonoma a few years ago. It was one of those things that I stalked in the store for a month or two, then broke down and bought it. I’ve scoured the Internet, but it looks like they don’t sell it anymore.

It comes in a few pieces, and is for serving only (can’t go on the stove). The long wooden dowel is for frothing. When the pot’s full of hot chocolate, you put the handle between your hands and rub back and forth quickly to whip in more air.

If you look for a hot chocolate pot at Williams-Sonoma today, this is what you’ll find:

The Mauviel Hot Chocolate Pot is shaped to maximize heat and minimize any evaporation. It’s only available online, and as of today was marked down from $199.95 to $79.99. And like a lot of Mauviel’s cookware, it’s lined in tin, which means that you’re going to have to get the inside re-tinned every once in a while, depending on how often you use it.

For a modernized version of the pot I have, you can also find many that have an electric frother. These seem more convenient, though less charming than the old-fashioned ones.

The Bonjour Pink Hot Chocolate Pot goes for about $40 on Amazon. If pink’s not your thing, there’s also a white, oval-shaped one that sells for about $25.

Bodum makes a nice glass version, which means you can see just what’s happening to your hot chocolate. I’ve always liked their teapots, because you can watch your tea brew. This one is about $40 and has a manual frother.

If you have something else you serve your hot chocolate in, but like the idea of a frother, you can get one of those on its own. You can find this one (also by Bonjour, of pink chocolate pot fame above), at Cooking.com for about $20.


Give That Buffalo Some Wings

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Meat in the mail. I know. It just sounds wrong. But if you write it off, you might just be missing out on some of the most succulent—and hard-to-find—cuts available these days.

I think most everyone knows Omaha Steaks. The catalogs start showing up in September for holiday gift-giving. (Or, if you’re like me and get every catalog known to man, they come year-round.)

Omaha Steaks has been around since 1917 and have been shipping their meat all over the country since 1952. They offer everything from fancy filets and burgers to chicken and pork—as well as appetizers, sides, and desserts. I’d actually classify them as a more of a mail-order steakhouse, since you seem to be able to get the full restaurant experience—minus the coat check and valet, of course.

There are a lot of other, lesser-known companies, however, that’ll ship quality meats right to your door, too. Here are a few, along with some of their prettiest (and admittedly, most expensive) cuts.

Lobel’s
Established in 1840, family-run Lobel’s of New York offers a huge selection of meats. You can get prime-grade beef there, as well as ultra-expensive American Wagyu beef—which comes from cows that have been bred from Japanese Kobe beef stock. One 16-oz. Wagyu Dry-Aged Porterhouse steak (below) will run you about $130. (Relax, most of their beef is considerably less pricey.)

They also sell a 2-lb. Cowboy Steak (with the rib-bone already frenched), which can be tough to track down. One will set you back a cool $80.

It’s also a good order hard-to-find, thickly-marbled Japanese Kurobuta pork. Like many butchers that run a mail-order business, they also offer heat-and-serve meals. Perfect for when you want their meat, but don’t want to cook it yourself.

Lobel’s website is a great overall reference on how to cook meat, with one of the most extensive collections of animal anatomy charts I think I’ve ever seen, as well as loads of info on how to prepare each cut.

 

Allen Brothers
Allen Brothers is another butcher that’s been around since the late 1890s and is based in Chicago. They offer an array of meat, including prime-grade beef, Wagyu beef, lamb, veal, and birds. They also have a large selection of roasts. One 8-9 lb. Boned Tied Heart of Rib Roast (below) costs about $195.

They have a special section of beef that’s never been frozen, which means they pick it, vacuum seal it fresh, then ship it overnight to you by FedEx Priority Overnight.

Savenor’s Market
Savenor’s Market, established in 1939, is a small butcher located in Boston. They have a smaller selection than Lobel’s and Allen Brothers (and their website is less slick), but their meat is absolutely top notch. Their prime sirloin strip (below) runs about $40 per pound.

Savenor’s also is doing something this year called The Butcher Series 2008, where proprietor Ron Savenor gives lessons in the “lost art of butchering.” Call (617) 576-0214 for more information.

Kansas City Steak Company
In business since 1932, the Kansas City Steak Company is a family-run butchery that has a good selection of meat and poultry. Six of these 16-oz. prime-grade strip steaks run about $190.

Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company
Located in Wyoming, the Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company has been proudly selling its bison and elk since 1947. Buffalo is much lower in fat and cholesterol than regular beef, and has more protein and iron. It has a really rich, beefy taste. We actually eat a lot of buffalo—especially burgers—so we’re always excited to find new sources. Five pounds of burger patties sells for about $52.

They also sell a variety of buffalo and elk steaks and roasts, as well as trout, ham, and bacon.

A few more for good measure
Here are a few more places to round out our list.

Straub’s has been in business in St. Louis since 1901. They sell a variety of meats, as well as something called Miss. Hulling’s Split Layer Cake, which sounds old-fashioned and divine.

Taste of Texas sells a range of cuts by mail, and also offers a nice selection of steak accessories (knives, grill sets, etc.), as well as a few different kinds of mail order steak-of-the-month type clubs.

You can even buy celebrity steak
No joke. Michael Jordan and Donald Trump both sell prime cuts online.

Bento This!

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Lately, there’s been great interest in bento boxes in my (admittedly small but super fantastic) social circle. My dear friend the Lady Otter has put together some positively breathtaking lunches for herself.

Here’s a quick bento primer.

So, what’s a bento and why do you want one?
A bento box is a traditional Japanese lunchbox. It usually has a few little compartments to separate different parts of your meal. Most are between one and three stacks high.

Bentos are compact. You can stuff them with all manners of different things. They’re nicer to eat out of than a regular old tupperware. They make making your lunch fun.

What goes into one?
If you’re making a bento by the book, you pack it with a protein (meat, chicken, or fish), a starch (usually rice), and some kind of veggie matter. Great care and consideration is usually taken with the shapes of the food—and how they’re arranged. (There are rice molds, different shaped veggie cutters…more on all that some other time. There’s a whole Bento World out there.)

Honestly, though? Fill it with things you like.

This is one of my favorite topics, but I’ll keep it simple for today. Here are some of the neatest bento boxes I’ve seen online. (After all, if you’re going to pack yourself a bento every day, you need to have a proper bento box.)

Note
Most bento boxes will come with a belly band to keep them closed. Many are not microwave safe, or only partially so (as in, you can only nuke the little containers inside the box, not the box itself), so check the details before you order.

The Floral Bento Box is available from the Asian Art Mall for $24.95 and comes with a belly band to keep your bento safely closed while you travel. It’s 2-tier and measures 5.25″x3.25″.

This is a 2-tier Sushi Box, for those of you who want a bento with a handle. Get yours from the Pearl River Mart in New York for $12.50.

Think of it as a bento for two. (Picnic, anyone?) The Pearl Butterfly Three Layer Lacquer Box is much larger than a normal bento, measuring 7 5/8″ long x 7 5/8″ wide x 6 3/4″ high.

It’s beautiful, but doesn’t include a band, so you’ll want to be careful if you’re toting it around. Available from Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen for $28.95, it also comes in the red and black Crane, Fan, and Blossom design. There’s also a very similar Black Fan design available from Buy 4 Asian Life for $13.99.

This is the Hakoya Black & Red Bento from VeryAsia.com for $19.95.

The Jyubako Lunch/Hors d’oeuvres 2-Tiered box is slightly larger than most bento at� 8 1/2″ long x 8 1/2″ wide x 4 1/2″ high. Buy yours from Ichiban Kan for $20.

VeryAsia.com also sells this rather manly Hakoya Grey Silver Zen Bento Box for $13.95.

For a different shape, try the 2-tier Plum Blossom bento sold by From Japan with Love. It’s 7.9″ long x 3″ wide x 3″ high and costs $39.50.

Bentos for kids (whether you’re actually 8-years-old, or just like to pretend sometimes)

This 2-tier Totoro bento is available online from JBox for $24.95. It measures 6.5″ long x 3″ wide x 3.25″ high. (Warning: JBox has a lot of great Japanese goods, including some more adult stuff.) If you’re not sure what Totoro is, he’s a giant Japanese forest spirit and star of Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful movie My Neighbor Totoro.

The 2-tier Shinzi Katoh Happy Good Luck Onigiri Bento Lunch Box says “Happy” on one side and “Good Luck” on the other. It’s 4.5″ long x 3.5″W wide x 4″ high and is available from Heliotrope Home for $18. Like this bento? Heliotrope Home sells a bunch of boxes with Shinzi Katoh’s designs.

The Animals in the Forest bento also comes from the happy folks at With Love from Japan. It’s only $5.95. I can’t find dimensions for this one, but wanted to list it because I liked it so much. I’m guessing it’s on the small size, since it’s so inexpensive.

Happy munching!
That’s it for now. Much more on bentos and all the strange and wonderful things you can do with your food soon.

Welcome to Yogurt Nation (Population: Everyone)

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Americans are crazy for yogurt these days.

Not pizza. Not french fries. Not even apple pie.

Wait…huh?

It used to be that you had to go to a specialty store to find anything more exotic than a Columbo or Yoplait. Yogurt was health food. You ate it when you were dieting. You stuck it in your kid’s lunch bag. Not so, now. Oh, no.

Welcome to Yogurt Nation. Population: everyone.

Now, our local Whole Foods has always had the odd selection of different kinds of yogurt. Some made from goat’s milk. Some from sheep’s milk. Some from soy.

But, you know, that’s Whole Foods, and they’re always going to have stuff you don’t see at the corner market. I think I was adventurous enough to try a Brown Cow yogurt once—because it had cream on the top. (I highly recommend it if you can find it. It’s luscious and amazing.)

Yogurt as food—and medicine (well, sort of)
Yogurt has been around for about 4,500 years. History books track its spread across Europe and Asia.

It came to America in the late 1920s with Armenian immigrants, who would later hock their Columbo yogurt from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. (Yes, it’s the very same Columbo that was sold to General Mills in 1993.)

For Americans, the most recent yogurt craze tipped off in 2005, when the International Journal of Obesity published a study which found that eating yogurt may help you lose weight. The momentum seems to have picked up over the last year or so. I’ve watched the dairy section of my local Stop & Shop explode with life, literally.

Ever since pro-biotics came into fashion, it seems like new brands are multiplying in the dairy aisle every night. Yogurt’s influence has also crept out of the supermarket. We now have a National Yogurt Association, as well an organization devoted to tracking and explaining the trend.

So what’s the difference between all these new yogurts, and are any actually any better for you than, say, a good old-fashioned Dannon with the Fruit on the Bottom?

A Quick Guide to Some of the Newer Players on Your Grocer’s Dairy Shelves
The containers are smaller and the packaging is different. Product names and ingredients sound mildly scientific, and the packages read like you could find them in the over-the-counter section of your neighborhood drugstore.

 

Activia is made with the culture Bifidus Regularis. It claims to improve regularity when eaten daily for two weeks, when eaten in conjunction with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. One 4-oz. serving of strawberry has 110 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 5 grams of protein.

You should note that Dannon came under fire in January 2008 from a class-action lawsuit surrounding deceptive claims in its advertising about Activia and DanActive’s “scientific” benefits.

DanActive is drinkable yogurt made with the culture L.Casei Immunitas. It claims to regulate intestinal flora and fauna and strengthen your immune system. A 3.1 oz. bottle of strawberry has 90 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and 3 grams of protein.

Yoplait’s Fiber One makes a bunch of different products, from granola bars to cereal to english muffins. All have more protein and fiber than a lot of their traditional counterparts. One 4-oz. serving of strawberry has 4 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber (most yogurts have next to none). That’s 20% of your daily fiber for only 80 calories per serving. It’s also fat free.

Yo-Plus is made with Yoplait’s Optibalance, which includes pro-biotic Bifidobacterium Lactis Bb-12. One 4-oz. serving of strawberry has 110 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber. It also claims to have more vitamins A and D than Activia. More on that here.

Promise Activ SuperShots have slightly different ingredients—and different goals. Made with plant sterols, this yogurt drink claims to remove cholesterol from your body when you have one a day (or more) with a meal. One 3.3 oz. bottle has 70 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 1 gram of protein.

And then there’s Dannon with Fruit on the Bottom. One 6-oz. serving of the strawberry flavor has 150 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein. It’s also made with L.Acidophilus. For an old standby, it holds its own pretty well against some of its newer counterparts.

So Which is Better?
As a relatively well-educated consumer with no medical training, I honestly think it depends.

Each of these products has something to offer. Worried about regularity? The Fiber One may be for you. Need more vitamins AND more fiber? Try the Yo-Plus.

The bottom line? Like most everything else, it…well, it depends. If you’re trying to fit a food into your routine as a medicinal thing, look at your routine and see what you’re missing. And if you try one and find it’s giving you the result you want, then there’s your proof.

If you’re like me, you don’t want any of the bells and whistles listed above.

You have a decent diet. You take a couple of vitamins and exercise pretty regularly. What you want is a bunch of protein in the morning so you can motor through a too-busy day—and you also want to feel like you’re having dessert for breakfast.

Is that too much to ask from a little cup of fermented milk? Maybe not.

Enter Greek Yogurt, Stage Left
Greek yogurt almost belongs in a class of its own. (And no, that’s not just because I’m Greek.) It floats somewhere in the velvety middle of yogurt and sour cream. And it’s been seducing our country for about a year, maybe more.

Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt (because the whey is strained off, so technically, it’s denser). It’s tangier. It’s more satisfying to eat than regular yogurt. And, since it typically has more protein than most yogurts, it’s a great thing for energy in the morning. Greek yogurt is also made with live, active cultures, so you still get all the probiotic goodness you want.

Fage has always been one of my favorites, drizzled with honey. Made with the culture S.Thermophilus, I think it’s one of the first Greek yogurts to be widely distributed in the U.S., at least on the East Coast. The 0% fat version is a little thin for me, but I can hardly tell the difference between the 2% and the whole milk version. The 2% still clocks about 17 grams of protein per 7 oz. serving, with 130 calories and 4 grams of fat.

Fage also makes fruit-flavored yogurts, as well as yogurts that are pre-packaged with honey and nuts. I’d love to try these, but haven’t seen them around Boston yet.

Oikos is a newer Greek yogurt made by the folks at Stonyfield Farm. I haven’t tried this one yet, but I’m excited to, since I’ve always liked their other products. One 5.3 oz. blueberry flavor has 120 calories, 13 grams of protein, and no fat. It’s made with five live, active cultures, including L.Acidophilus, Bifidus, and L. Casei.

Then, a few months ago, Chobani popped up on the shelves.

The 6-oz. strawberry flavor has 140 calories, 1 gram of fiber, and no fat. It’s made with the cultures S.Thermophilus, Bulgaricus, L.Acidophilus, Bifidus, and L. Casei.

This is a no brainer for me. Chobani is thick. It’s tangy. AND it has fruit on the bottom. Lots of protein? Win. And fruit (you mean I don’t need to tote a sticky honey bear with me to work)? Double win.

My only complaint on this one is the packaging. I’ve brought more than one container home from the store with a foil lid that’s already slightly open in one or two places. So, buyer be(slightly)ware.

Long story short, I know what I’m eating for breakfast. At least this week.