Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nuts About Almonds

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Food blogs can be inspired in the strangest of ways.  I was taking a shower and noticed my Head & Shoulders for dry scalp contains almond oil.  Intrigued, I decided to do some research to see if there were any actual advantages to such an oil being in shampoo.  Apparently, according to multiple beauty sites, the protein in almond oil helps cleanse and strengthen hair, and increases its elasticity.

As I paused to consider this idea, I glanced at my desk and spotted the can I keep next to my computer seven days a week.  It's a can of Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds.  Being surrounded by the things, I wanted to know more about them.

Almonds, or Prunus dulcis, are actually drupes (fruit containing a pit) rather than nuts.  However, because it's the pit that we eat, we refer to them nuts. As luck would have it, the drupes in question are one of the healthiest foods a person can eat.  In fact, the good people at Nuts.com supplied me with the following graphic outlining the health benefits of almonds.

Almond Chart
Subject: Almond Chart | Source: Nuts.com |

Regular readers of this blog know I'm not going to eat something simply because it's good for me.  Since I'm an out of the closet hedonist, a food has to taste good before I can get excited about it, and almonds definitely fit the bill.

Personally, I rely on them as a crunchy salty snack while I struggle to overcome writer's block.  Others use the milk as a lactose free alternative to dairy.  In addition to snacking and drinking, many people use almonds in a variety of desserts, including; Marji Stark's Scandinavian Almond Bars, Averie Sunshine's French Almond Cookie Cake with Apricot Cream Cheese Glaze, Almond Persimmon Cream Cheese Tart from Food52.com, and Annalise's Chocolate Almond Cake.

Not being a big dessert person myself, I prefer to use almonds in savory cooking.  The drupes can be used in a stir fry or to encrust a chicken.  However, in my mind, the most classic savory use for almonds is to put them over trout in Trout Almondine.

The average food snob will tell you, the dish was a 70s food fad and went out of fashion at the same time fondue and venison with cherry sauce left the popular mainstream.  Yet, I see the rich French dish as a classic, and classics never go out of style. 

I dug through my recipes, but couldn't find the Trout Almondine recipe I'd collected a decade ago.  Luckily, I finally found one by Metallica_Band at Food.com, added a note regarding the need for whole butter, and posted it below.

Happy Eating. 1 photo 121.gif

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Trout Almondine
by, Metallica_Band at Food.com

Ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup butter (for almonds)
  • 1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 4 (8 ounce) trout
  • 4 tablespoons butter (for trout)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • salt & pepper


  • Directions:
    In a small bowl, melt the 1/3 cup butter in a microwave for approximately 30 seconds. Add almonds and heat, uncovered, in the microwave for 3 minutes or until lightly browned; stir occasionally. Set almonds aside. Arrange fish in a shallow, 10-inch, heat resistant, baking dish. Place 1 tablespoon of butter on each fish and sprinkle with lemon juice, salt, and pepper, to taste. Cover with wax paper and heat for 7 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Spoon browned almonds over fish and heat, uncovered, in the microwave for 2 minutes or until heated thoroughly.

    Note:
    You want to use whole butter rather than clarified butter, because some degree of
    browning of the milk solids in the butter is desirable.

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    Recipe prints as a single pages for your recipe file or refrigerator.

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    Wednesday, February 25, 2015

    Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack - A Review

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    I spent this morning shopping and stopped at Taco Bell for their new "Triple Steak Stack," which is basically their version of a cheese steak sandwich on flatbread.

    According to their product description, Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack, "has a heaping triple portion of tender-grilled juicy steak, is covered in a real three-cheese blend and served in a warm nine-inch Mexican-inspired bolillo flatbread."

    TacoBell.com has a picture of
    Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack
    Subject: Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack | Date: 02/25/15 |
    Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell | This picture was taken by the author of this blog. |

    folded flatbread teaming with thick strips of sliced steak covered in molten cheese.  You can click the link at the beginning of this paragraph to see what I mean.

    I unwrapped the item when I got home and found what looked like a closed burrito with a little cheese peaking out of the edge.  There was certainly no meat visible from the outside.

    When I opened the sandwich, I found a decent helping of melted cheese covering a few piles of thinly chopped steak.  Upon closer inspection, one could see 3 or 4 bits of green and red bell pepper dispersed among the meat piles.

    Taking a whiff, my friend thought it smelled "weird."  However, to me, it smelled cheesy and warm, like a grilled cheese sandwich.

    The flatbread was soft, pleasantly pillowy, and tasted like warm Naan bread.  I'm not sure why they call it "bolillo" flatbread though.  Bolillo is a savory Mexican variation of the crusty French baguette, but is typically shorter in length. It's NOTHING like flatbread.  Nevertheless, the "bolillo" flatbread was the best part of the sandwich.

    I'm not sure how Taco Bell defines "a triple stack of steak," but the ration of beef was pretty paltry.  I had several bites of bread and cheese, or just bread, because, despite the P.R. photo, there wasn't enough meat to get some in each bite.  If one were eating a steak, the amount of beef in this sandwich would be comparable to 5 or 6 bites.  The steak itself was cooked to medium well and tasted OK.  It wasn't good, but wasn't bad either.  The meat was just kinda somewhat there.

    I'm not sure why the peppers were there at all.  They didn't add any flavor, and being deep inside the sandwich, the weren't there for color either.  The peppers were a non-player

    The dominant flavor was the delicious melted cheese.  $4.99 is a lot to pay for a grilled cheese sandwich though.

    If someone bought me Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack I wouldn't turn my nose up at it, but its not something I ever need to buy again.  I give Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack 6 out of 10 stars.
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    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    Celebrate National Margarita Day February 22nd

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    I have to begin by confessing to a bit of confusion.  My calendar lists National Margarita Day as February 20th, but most sites, including Food.com, list it as being on the 22nd.   I'd assumed my
    Margarita at Pepper's Mexican Grill
    Subject: Margarita at Pepper's Mexican Grill | Date: Summer 2014 |
    Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell | This picture was taken by the author of this blog. |

    calendar was a misprint until this morning's local news said it was on the 20th.  At this point I don't know which date to believe, so I'll be doing some drinking on both days.  Yet, for the purposes of this blog I'm calling it the 22nd, simply because that's how the majority of web sites list it.

    Whenever you choose to honor the classic mixture of; tequila, triple sec, and lime juice; the fact remains that it's delicious.  Named for actress Marjorie King, or Dallas socialite Margarita Sames, the drink holds a secure spot as one of my three "go to cocktails."  The Dirty Vodka Martini is my dry cocktail, the Bloody Mary is my spicy cocktail, and when I want a sweet cocktail I partake of a Margarita.

    Now, there are almost as many flavors of Margarita as there are kinds of soup.  However, when I say, "Margarita," I mean a glass of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice on the rocks with salt on the rim of the glass (see recipe below).  I don't need strawberries, raspberries cherries, peppers, or anything else masking the tequila and citrus flavors, and I CERTAINLY don't need an alcoholic version of a Slurpee. I want an easily sippable sweet lime drink with a slightly tart note, salty contrast, and a pleasant burn of tequila on the palette.  That's a Margarita to me.

    The combination of flavors serves as a balance to spicy dishes, which is why it pairs well with Mexican inspired food.  While less traditional, I've found the Margarita also pairs well with spicy tomato based Italian inspired cuisine.

    As I said, I'm a traditional, no frills, Lime Margarita man.  Yet, just in case some readers want to mark the day by experimenting with funky variations, I've posted links below to some of the most interesting recipes on the internet.  Below the links you'll find a printable copy of my recipe for what I consider to be the real thing. 

    Happy Drinking!

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    Margarita Recipe: 

    Ingredients: 
    1 1/2 ounces tequila (I use Hornitos Plata)
    1/2 ounce triple sec
    1 ounce fresh lime juice
    Salt to rim the glass

    Preparation:
    Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Shake well. If desired, salt the rim of a chilled margarita glass. Pour contents, with ice, into the glass.

    Recipes print as page 3 for your recipe file or refrigerator.
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    Wednesday, February 11, 2015

    Ads Can Make Blah Fast Food Look Spectacular

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    Commercial: [kuh-mur-shuh l]
    noun
    Radio and Television. a paid advertisement or promotional announcement designed to entice the buying public. (sic)

    It's an advertiser's job to make goods and services appear irresistibly purchase-worthy, to tempt buyers to spend money on whatever it is they're trying to hock.  Taking advantage of food makeup and descriptive phrases, the fast food industry has mastered the art of making the mundane seem seductive.  The sad part is that I keep falling for it.

    Bacon & Swiss Buttery Jack
    Subject: Bacon & Swiss Buttery Jack |
    Source: Jack In The Box's Press Image Library |
    I love bacon, Swiss Cheese, and garlic butter, so I was excited about the Jack In The Box's Bacon & Swiss Buttery Jack, with its 1/4 lb beef patty topped with melted garlic herb butter,  hickory smoked bacon, Swiss Cheese, and bacon mayo.  I expected a succulent burger delivering the flavors of smoky bacon, garlic, and Swiss. What I got was just kinda dry & blah, featuring no big flavors, other than the sweetness of their "new gourmet bun."  This mediocre offering gets 5 out of 10 stars from me.


    Likewise, last year when I heard about Taco Bell's Waffle Taco I was excited.  I ordered the sausage version.  Being from Taco Bell, my expectation was that the dish would be slightly spicy and full of flavor. I got bland eggs and bland sausage on a bland waffle.  When drizzled on, the syrup does add a pleasant sweetness, but it makes the taco sticky and hard to pick up. I gave Taco Bell's Waffle Taco 4 out of 10 stars.  Sweetness on top of blandness just isn't the recipe for a tasty breakfast 

    Little Caesars Pretzel Crust Pizza
    Subject: Little Caesars' Pretzel Crust Pizza |
    Source: Little Caesars' Press Release |
    Then there was Little Caesars' $6.00 Pretzel Crust Pizza. Topped with a Cheddar cheese sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, all sprinkled with an additional blend of; Asiago, Fontina, Parmesan, and White Cheddar cheeses; the salty Cheddar cheese sauce, salty/spicy pepperoni, salty four cheese blend, and soft salted pretzel crust pummeled me with saltiness on top of saltiness on top of saltiness on top of saltiness.  The addition of mushrooms, bell peppers, and/or sun dried tomatoes would have added some badly needed balance to this one note pie. I gave Little Caesars' Pretzel Crust Pizza 5 out of 10 stars.

    Being a cheese lover, I couldn't wait for my first bite of Burger King's Four Cheese Whopper, consisting of flame-grilled beef, melted American cheese, a creamy three cheese blend, cheddar sauce, freshly cut lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and onions.  Wait, a slice of American cheese (check), a creamy three cheese blend (check), cheddar sauce (check).  What's the fourth cheese component?  Perhaps Burger King counts the three cheeses within the creamy blend, but three plus two equals five, not four.  Weird math aside though, the cheeses were so mushed together that their flavors canceled each other out.  The dripping mess deserves no more than 6 out of 10 stars.

    Don't even get me started on Popeyes' Shrimp Po'Boy, which they describe as deep fried shrimp on a French baguette, with lettuce, pickles, and tartar sauce.  While I like their spicy fried chicken, this sandwich marked the first, and hopefully LAST, time I've been served rock hard shrimp.  Being exceptionally hungry, I choked down a forth of it before I surrendered to the fact that I was burning more calories, by trying to chew the thing, than I was taking in. Popeyes' Shrimp Po'Boy gets 3 out of 10 stars from me.

    Two of the products above are items I'd previously reviewed.  Regular readers will remember my reviews of Little Caesars' Pretzel Crust Pizza and Taco Bell's Waffle Taco.  Still, the list above makes my point.  Commercials will psych me up for a new dish, which will turn out to be mediocre, at best.

    I could ignore such messages completely.  The problem is, I really like; McDonalds' JalapeƱo Double Cheeseburger, Taco Bell's Double Decker Taco, and Pizza Hut's Triple Cheese Covered Stuffed Crust Pizza; none of which I would've known about if not for the commercials.

    Like it or not, as consumers we're dependent on advertising to keep us cognizant of out buying choices.  However, I'm going to try to watch such ads with a proverbial grain salt.  After all,  it's the advertiser's job to sway us with subjective opinions, rather than inform us with objective facts.
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