Saturday, September 16, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Swedish Cookies

     Once again some cultural differences will be evident in the names of the products I'll be discussing today.  As I've mentioned previously (see May 13, 2017 post), some places, notably the U.K., Ireland, and other English-speaking, former British colonies, call thin, individual-serving sized dessert-type pastries "biscuits," while here in the U.S. we call these "cookies."  To Americans, a "biscuit" is a savory-type roll, often used as a side dish, covered in butter or gravy.  Well it gets even more confusing this time.  The foods I ate are named various kinds of "crisps."  Which is what folks in the U.K. call salty, crunchy potato chips, while referring to what Americans call "French fries" or just "fries" as "chips."  To add to the fun, under the brand name for the products I'll be talking about it reads, "for good cookies."
     All these cookies I tried were made by a Swedish company called Gille.  This company was started by Tord Einarsson in 1967.  By the 1980's they'd successfully expanded into Germany, Norway, and Denmark.  By the 1990's Gille became the market leader in Sweden.  After this they were absorbed by the conglomerate Continental Bakeries North Europe AB.  Continental is wonderfully ancient--it was started by Jacob Bussink in Deventer, in what is now The Netherlands, way back in 1593!  Some of Gille's other cookie offerings include ginger snaps, blueberry rings, apple oat crisps, sweet cardamom, and punschrolls, a traditional Swedish pastry covered in green marzipan with its ends dipped in chocolate.  Their website also mentions how they use very little food coloring, rarely use preservatives, don't use trans fat, and utilize only sustainably-grown palm oil.  They also avoid using peanuts and hazelnuts, evidently because of some peoples' severe allergic reactions to these substances.
    The three Gille cookie kinds I got were the orange flavored oat crisps, the sweet oat crisps, and the double chocolate crisps.  (The last is their best seller.)  Each cookie type was round and about 6 cm. (about 2.5 inches) in diameter.  The orange oat crisps also had chocolate on them, in the form of thin stripes.  I tasted the oats and chocolate up front, and an orange tinge at the end.  These were pretty good.  Respectable, but not spectacular.  I guess orange and chocolate isn't the best flavor pairing for me.  The double chocolate crisps were, of course, two thinner cookies stacked onto each each other.  One side was glazed, and the other side was coated in chocolate chunks.  The flavor pairing of chocolate and oats was better than that with both of these and orange.  This cookie could maybe have been a little sweeter (or maybe I'm used to (possibly) overly sugary sweet American cookies).  Again I'd rate these as solid, but not great.  Finally, I liked the plainer sweet oat crisps the best.  Yet again these weren't overly sweet, but for this one it seemed to work better (oddly, the first ingredient for all 3 cookies types was sugar, so I don't know why they didn't taste that sweet).  Just the simple oat taste was the most pleasing to me, and this is the one I'd buy again.  Plus, even the other two were decent, so I'd certainly give other Gille cookies (or "crisps," or whatever) a chance.
     Finally, I noticed on the Gille website that famous drag artist "Babsan" helped the company celebrate their 50th anniversary on May 24th of this year.  It would appear that Babsan is Sweden's answer to Dame Edna, or RuPaul.






















Saturday, September 9, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sugar Palm Fruit

     Before this, I wasn't familiar with the sugar palm tree.  Since, I've learned a bit.  It's quite the amazing plant, all things considered.  As with many of the foods and drinks I discuss in this blog, the focus goes by many names.  Doub palm, toddy palm, wine palm, tala palm, palmyra palm, ice-apple (British name), taati munju (in the telugu language of India), and kaong (Filipino name).  This last one is particularly appropriate, as the sugar palm fruit examples I tried were both produced in the Philippines.  This is another gift from the Bitter Melon Asian Market in Angier, North Carolina (near Fuquay-Varina), which I referenced in the milkfish post recently (see the August 26, 2017 post).
     Like many palm trees, the sugar palm requires tropical temperatures; it's native to South Central and Southeast Asia (Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia).  It's also been successfully transplanted to parts of China and Pakistan.  The tree itself can grow up to 30 meters high (or 98 feet), and has separate male and female individuals.  I was reading up on how humans utilize it, when I quickly grew tired.  The sugar palm is basically a living embodiment of The Giving Tree, from the Shel Silverstein book of the same title.  The fruit, stems, and sap are edible.  The leaves are useful as thatching material, mats, fans, umbrellas, paper, and even hats.  The skin and trunks can be made into fibers or a stout rope.  And the wood itself is a fine building material.  It's no wonder that the folks in these areas value the plant so much.
     The two sugar palm fruit examples I bought were from Tasty Joy (through Golden Country Oriental Food Co. again) and Pinoy Fiesta (distributed by Northridge Foods).  Both contained oval fruits that were about 2 cm. by 1 cm. (about .75 inch by .375 inch) with a jellylike texture.  The natural color of the fruit is a whitish, almost translucent shade, but the folks at Tasty Joy artificially colored them red, and those at Pinoy Fiesta artificially colored theirs green.  They both had a pleasing, sweet flavor.  This, too, was enhanced by additives, in this case the addition of cane sugar, but still.  I enjoyed the jelly-like texture, too.  Overall, it was another example of a "nature's candy"--I had no trouble finishing each 12 ounce (340 gram) jar in one sitting.  The green ones (Pinoy Fiesta) were maybe a hair tastier, but this may have been a psychological effect (I like the color green more than red), which I couldn't test because I bought and ate the two jars several days apart.  I recommend both, and will buy these again when/if I can.  I would also be willing to try other sugar palm products, especially the fermented sap drink called toddy.
     Healthwise I noticed a discrepancy.  One website claimed that the sugar palm fruit was chock full of Vitamins A, B, and C, along with calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, and phosphorous.  However, the labels on the jars I got noted that they were not a significant source of these vitamins and nutrients.  Maybe the processing removed these, or else someone is wrong, or exaggerating.  Some people claim that sugar palm fruit is good for dermatitis, ulcers, liver problems, and as a laxative, but these have not as yet been substantiated by medical science.
     I didn't find out much about either the Tasty Joy or the Pinoy Fiesta companies.  The former also markets water chestnuts, fruit mixes, purple yams, and straw mushrooms, while the latter also makes jackfruit, mung beans, peppers, and various types of fish and seafood.  Both jars of sugar palm fruit were about $3, or not too expensive.























Saturday, September 2, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Czech Dessert Snacks

     Today I'll be discussing two Czech foods--wholegrain chocolate rice squares and wholegrain rice checkers (mini rice cakes covered in chocolate).  I wasn't really sure what to call these, as the rice part would typically indicate a snack, while the chocolate part suggests a dessert type concoction.  Hence the title.  Both of these came from the sublime Wegman's supermarket once again.
     Both of these products were made by Paskesz.  Paskesz bills itself as the "premier brand in the kosher food market," and I for one can't dispute this.  A look at their product line on their website showed cookies, crackers, pasta, snacks, cereals, chocolate, gum, canned veggies (mostly cucumbers, olives, and peppers), and, oddly, candles.  They also are licensed to distribute some other major companies' products, such as Pez candy, Orbit gum, and Haribo candy (see May 18, 2015 post for more on Haribo).  The company history was a little peculiar in that it didn't give exact dates.  So I can report that Paskesz originated in Mako, Hungary, in the early 20th century, and that it's been family owned and operated for over 60 years.  Anshel Paskesz started a store that sold hard candy and citrus fruit, and the company took off from there.  After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust Paskesz moved to the U.S. in 1954 and cornered the market on kosher cookies, and then kosher gum in the 1960's.  While the company's corporate offices are located in Brooklyn, NY, the rice products I bought were made in the Czech Republic.  (They also used authentic Belgian chocolate, to increase the whole scenario's cosmopolitanism.)
     After seeing all that Paskesz manufactures, I was disappointed that the two foods I could locate were extremely similar to each other.  But, I went with what I could.  The rice squares were about 8 cm. (about 3 inches) on a side, and about .5 cm. (about .2 inches) thick, and had a chocolate coating on top.  They tasted pretty much exactly like I expected.  The rice cakes were bland, as are all rice cakes, in my opinion, but the addition of chocolate made it okay.  Not great, but alright.  I occasionally eat regular rice cakes, but they're always flavored (usually with cheese powder), or else I put a condiment on them (mustard, taco sauce, ketchup, etc.) to make them more palatable.  These were kind of the same situation, only with chocolate instead of a savory type condiment.  They were made from 55% dark chocolate, which surprised me when I read it after eating them.  Normally I don't like dark chocolate much (see September 20, 2015 post for more detail on that) but the dark chocolate on these rice cakes was quite good.
     The mini rice cake "checkers" were essentially the same thing as their rice square sibling.  They were smaller and round--about 5 cm. in diameter (about 2 inches), but were once again a white rice cake with a chocolate coating, which this time was 50% dark chocolate.  And yet again I liked them, but didn't love them.  A rather "meh" reaction.
     Therefore, to sum up, I don't think I'll buy these particular Paskesz products again, as I wasn't very dazzled by them.  I would, though, try other Paskesz foods if/when I get the opportunity.
     I'll end with a couple of tidbits about kosher foods.  I grew up in a mostly Christian town, and the Jewish friends I've made since haven't been very strictly observant of their dietary laws.  So much of this is a new concept for me.  From what I read, there is a ban on flying animals that creep on the earth, with four exceptions--2 kinds of locust, grasshoppers, and beetles/crickets (the former is from an older translation of ancient writings, while the latter is a 19th century translation).  Also, it is forbidden to eat hyraxes.  These are the wonderfully weird and obscure Middle Eastern and African animals which appear to be rodents, but are actually most closely related to manatees and elephants.  (Like their larger cousins, they have unusually-placed teats, and males lack a scrotum.)  I don't think a lot of people, whatever their religious beliefs are, eat hyraxes much, but be that as it may.































Saturday, August 26, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Milkfish

     Recently I learned that the town that I'm currently staying in, Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, has a Filipino grocery (thanks, Tracey, for the tip).  I picked up a bunch of things from there, so you'll probably be hearing more about this supermarket in the coming weeks and months.  Anyway, one of the foods I bought was a new-to-me sea creature called the milkfish.
     As if it were an Italian zombie movie, milkfish goes by many names.  It's called "awa" in Hawaii, "bangus" in the Philippines, "ibiya" in Nauru, and "bolu" or "bandeng" in Indonesia.  Also, I couldn't get an exact reason for its "milfish" moniker.  Some sources reported it was because its cooked flesh looks like milk, others because this flesh had a creamy, milk-ish flavor, and still others claimed it's because the fish is often cooked in milk.  Whatever the reason, this fish lives in tropical portions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, often in offshore waters around coastlines and islands.  The average adult size is about 1 meter (or 3 feet, 3 inches), but some individuals have grown up to 1.8 meters (5 feet, 11 inches) long.  They can reach weights of up to 14 kilograms (about 31 pounds), and are mostly an olive green color with silver markings.  This school-attending fish lives on algae, cynobacteria, and small invertebrates.  Milkfish seem to be the anti-salmon in that their young quickly leave the ocean waters they're born in to move to mangrove swamps, estuaries, and rivers.  They later return to the ocean when they're mature, to mate.  They can live up to 15 years.
     Milkfish have a long history of being eaten by humans.  They've been farmed for at least 800 years, in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, and many Pacific islands.  Typically this involves capturing the young (called "fry") and putting them into saline ponds (or in modern times, cement tanks and sea cages) until they're mature, and more fit for consumption.  They're known as being bonier than most fish of their size, but clearly many folks think they're worth the trouble.  They're actually the national fish of the Philippines, too.
     The milkfish I got was prepared in one of the Philippines' signature cooking styles--adobo.  (Not surprisingly, given the country's history, adobo is also a Spanish cooking style, with some variants.)  This style, usually used with meat, seafood, and some vegetables, involves marinating the base food in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, and then browning the result in oil, and then simmering that in the marinade.  I bought the 7.8 ounce (220 gram) jar, made by Manila's Best in the Philippines, and imported by Golden Country Oriental Foods out of Chicago, IL.  I couldn't find out anything about Manila's Best online, but GCOF does have a website.  Among other things they make other flavors of bangus in corn oil, smoked, in olive oil, soy sauce, and/or hot versions of all of these, etc.  They also import foods from many foreign countries, including many Asian, and African nations.  Anyway, inside the glass jar was cut up chunks of brownish-pink fish flesh.  I found the fish itself to be good.  There was also a happy medium of spiciness to it--not so much that all I tasted was fire and heat, but enough to give it some nice "bite," and not be bland.  All in all then, a solid meal.  I'm big fan of canned/tinned fish, which are usually herring or sardines, and this stacked up well against the best of these.  I think I will pick up some more, and try any alternate flavors I can locate.





















Saturday, August 19, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Several Goat Cheeses With Weird Things Stuck in Them

     I was wandering around the cheese section of my local Shop-Rite supermarket recently when I saw something strange:  small goat cheese "logs" which had dramatically odd colors, and, when I checked more closely, correspondingly odd flavors.  So I snapped up a selection of the weirdest ones I could find and gave them a try.  I ended up with one from Alouette Cheese, and two from Montchevre (Betin, Inc.).
    Just as a review, goat cheese has a few differences from the typical cheeses made from cow's milk.  For one thing, it doesn't melt in the same manner--instead it basically just softens when exposed to heat.  Also, due to the presence of more particular types of fatty acids, cheese made from goat's milk tends to have a more tart flavor.  Finally, while some goat cheeses are made with the usual rennet, it can also be made by adding lemon or vinegar to raw goat's milk, or by simply letting the milk naturally curdle, and then draining and pressing the resulting curds.  Goat cheese is popular around the world.  Some of the countries which particularly enjoy and produce it are Venezuela, the U.S., the U.K., Turkey, Australia, China, France, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, and of course, Greece.  For more info about goats in general, and their meat, consult my June 23, 2013 post.  And to read about a wonderfully bizarre Scandinavian goat cheese (one especially popular in Norway), gjetost, see the June 4, 2012 post.
    Alouette Cheese is an American brand of the French company Savencia Fromage & Dairy (nee Bongrain).  Jean-Noel Bongrain started Alouette in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania in 1974, and then later expanded into Illinois as well.  The company proudly notes that almost all of their cheeses are kosher and gluten-free, and that they use no animal rennet.  They also are known for their soft spreadable cheeses, dips, brie, and crumbled cheeses.
     Montchevre (Betin) is also an American production started by French expats fairly recently.  Arnaud Solandt and Jean Rossard started it back in 1989. They make cheese only from goats, over 75 different kinds.  Alternate flavors of the 4 ounce (133 gram) "logs" I got are natural, garlic and herb, 4 peppers, honey, jalepeno, lemon zest, fig and olive, peppadew, pumpkin, truffle, and sundried tomato and basil.  The company's products are now non-GMO, too, if you care about this issue.
     Now I'll discuss the cheeses themselves.  All were the 4 ounce/133 gram "logs."

1) Alouette Chavrie mild goat cheese with sundried tomato, garlic, and parsley:  This looked whitish, with many red and green specks embedded in it, especially around the exterior.  I had it plain, sliced into pieces.  It was delicious.  Kind of tangy, and the tomatoes and garlic spice it up really well.  A superior flavor pairing.

2) Montchevre (Betin) goat cheese with blueberry and vanilla.  This one had a whitish center, with purplish/blue blueberries embedded around the edge.  It was sweet, obviously.  I easily detected the blueberries, but not the vanilla, really.  Kind of a strange taste, but still top notch.  In this case a sweet and savory taste is a winning combination.  I think this would make an excellent dessert cheese, if that's a thing.

3) Montchevre goat cheese with cranberry and cinnamon.  Once again, the center was a white color, while the outer edge was reddish from the cranberry chunks.  This time I could pick out both advertised flavors.  And again, the result was very good, and I loved it.  Some folks like to serve plates with cheese and fruit (grapes, etc.) on them, so I guess this and the blueberry kind just make this more efficient.  Another dessert cheese.

     So, yet again, I tried some new varieties of cheese and came away impressed.  Each of these logs were $3.99, meaning they weren't ridiculously expensive, or anything.  I will definitely buy these again, and wholeheartedly recommend them.  And hopefully I'll be able to locate some of the alternate flavors and products from both of these companies.  I'm particularly eager to pick up some "peppadew," because I'm not sure what flavor this is.  Peppers with honeydew melon?--I'll have to find out.




 






















Saturday, August 12, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Three Dutch Desserts, and an Aside About Monster Trucks, of All Things

     Today I'll be talking about two kinds of candy from Gustaf's, and a cookie made by Daelmans.  All of these came from Wegman's once more.
     Alas, I can't give even a brief background about Gustaf's, as I couldn't find anything online.  There were several sites which marketed their wares, but I didn't see an actual company website.  Therefore, all I can report is that aside from the Foamy Fruity Gummies and the Soft Licorice & Fruit that I ate, they also manufacture black and salted licorices, and candies in lace, sandwich, button, and filled straw shapes (I think these are probably licorice, too).
     Daelmans, fortunately, has a website and thus more info.  The company was begun in 1909 by Hermanus Daelmans, starting in the town of Vlijmen.  From this small beginning Daelmans has blossomed into a large, successful corporation which exports to at least 30 countries.  Aside from the Amsterdam short cake cookies I tried, their primary pastry categories are speculaas biscuits, coconut pastries, caramel waffles, puff pastries (turnovers and rolls), and filled pastries (with fruit, etc.).  Daelmans is quite the socially conscious company, too, as they are into various causes such as sustainable palm oil, sustainable agriculture (they're UTZ certified), and fair trade.
     On to the food itself. From Gustaf's, I had two Freeway-themed candies--the Monster Truck Foamy Fruity Gummies and the Double Decker Soft Licorice & Fruit.  The former were about 4 cm. by 2 cm. (about 1.5 inches by .75 inch) candies available in three flavors, shaped like monster trucks.  The latter were double decker bus-shaped, and about 2.5 cm. by 1 cm. (or about 1 inch by .5 inch), coming in six varieties.  I'll list each kind below.
      Monster Truck Foamy Fruit Gummies:
            1) Strawberry (pink truck body, with red tires): Okay, distinct strawberry flavor, just average.
            2) Banana and licorice (yellow body, with purple tires): Strange flavor pairing.  Didn't like, but then I'm not generally into banana flavors.
            3) Orange (orange body, with orange tires): Alright, orange-y in flavor, obviously.  Was the best of the bunch, but not great.
      For all of these the truck body parts were a taffy-like texture, and the tires were gummy-ish.

     Double Decker Duos Soft Licorice & Fruit:
           1) Raspberry (red color): Reminded me of Twizzlers in texture.  Strong raspberry flavor, very good.
           2) Orange (orange color): Also decent, but not as flavorful or good as the raspberry.
           3) Apple (green color): Green apple flavor.  Not very good, but I don't particularly enjoy this flavor usually.
           4) Lemon (yellow): Rather "meh."  Just okay, not very memorable.
           5) Pineapple (white): This one was pretty tasty.  Above average.
           6) Black Currant (purple): Tart, and again very nice.  Probably my second favorite.
     All of these had the flavor color at the first third of so of the bus, while the back two thirds were black.  In order I liked the raspberry best, then black currant, then pineapple, orange, lemon, and apple.
     The Daelmans cookies were about 3 inches by 1 inch (about 7.5 cm. by 2.5 cm.), yellowish-brown, and in the shape of little buildings.  They had a sweet odor, and were fairly crunchy.  They weren't overly sweet, but still were tasty.  I would characterize them as a solid cookie.  I learned later that they came in 8 different shapes.  The website didn't mention if these are based on 8 different real buildings (and if so, which ones), or just 8 different building styles.  All the different shapes tasted the same, though.
     I'll end with some brief info about monster trucks.  Monster trucks, for the uninitiated, are pickup trucks with modified, larger suspensions and tires.  I was curious that Gustaf's chose this shape for their candy, as I thought that these trucks were mostly an American phenomenon.  Although they evidently did start in the U.S., other countries, including The Netherlands, apparently, have interest in them as well.  Also, there's controversy over whose truck was the first to drive over and crush other cars.  Jeff Dane's "King Kong" (aka "Bigger Foot") claims to have done it in the late 1970's.  The Dykman Brothers also claim to have been first, using their "Cyclops." as did the owners (unnamed) of "High Roller" (aka "Thunder Beast").  But the earliest verified video shows that Bob Chandler's "Bigfoot" was the first, in April of 1981.  Let the argument begin, I suppose.  Finally, the longest monster truck ever was 32 feet (9.8 meters) long, owned by Brad and Jen Campbell.  And my favorite monster truck name is probably the one which is less obvious and cliche macho, and instead is more honest and mockingly self-aware: "Blown Income," owned by Jeff Champ and Jared Vogle.
   












































Saturday, August 5, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--French Soft Drinks

     Normally my local grocery at home (Shop-Rite) isn't a great place to find foreign foods or drinks.  But this time it came through.  I was able to get a couple of beverages from Geyer Freres, from their Lorina line.  Specifically, their sparkling coconut lime and sparkling pomegranate flavors.
     The Lorina website notes that the company was developed by Victor Geyer, starting back in 1895.  They have a short company video, too.  The site also mentions that they're a "well kept secret."  Hopefully for their sake this refers to the products' secret recipes, and not their overall sales.  Not sure if more than two people know the recipes, as is the case with the American Coca-Cola.  Additionally, Lorina makes various modern popular claims, such as their products lack gluten, artificial colors and flavors, and high fructose corn syrup.  (Their sweetener is "pure crystal" sugar derived from sugar beets.)  There's also an unusual item about their containers.  It's "more than a bottle, a decorative item."  It's suggested that consumers use the empties as vases, or as water carafes.  I think this refers to the glass, metal flip top-equipped ones that are evidently sold in France.  The two I bought were plastic, with twist off, plastic caps.  Clearly one could reuse these plastic bottles to hold your flowers or drinking water, but I don't think they'd have the same panache.  Finally, it appears that the local French Lorina flavors are slightly different from their export ones.  They list pink lemonade, blood orange, pomegranate blueberry, Authentic French lemonade, lemon, strawberry, and coconut lime.  Plus citrus lemonade and French berry in their "prestige" sub-line.
     But on to my impressions.  Both bottles were 1.15 liters (38.3 ounces).  The coconut lime one does not contain any actual fruit juice, but does boast its water is from Vosges sandstone.  The drink's color was a cloudy whitish.  It had a weird taste.  I could pick up on the coconut tinge, as well as a citrus-y one.  It was a little off-putting at first, but it kind of grew on me.  So my eventual opinion was that it was alright, but not great.
     The sparkling pomegranate cam in the same size bottle, and had a red color, of course.  This one did have a little juice--a whole 2%.  This drink was pretty good.  Nicely tart.  I liked this one better than the coconut lime.  It was a solid soft drink.
     Therefore, neither beverage was bad or anything.  I might get the pomegranate one again. To be fair, I'm more familiar with, and enjoy the pomegranate flavor more than coconut.