Sunday, December 16, 2012

Beatles for Sale…and so am I!

Well, not really.

A long time ago, in a galaxy not that far away (Marlboro, to be exact), Elayne and I used to go to a particular craft fair held at the Marlboro Royal Trade Plaza, or some crappy name like that. While Elayne liked the scarves and the like, I preferred to go around and sample the foodstuffs. Many people were just re-sellers, but some were also the inventors or manufacturers; those I liked best. What they didn’t like was my brutal honesty about their product. If they asked, after I sampled: “so?”…I’d tell them the truth, whether they liked it or not. That’s what makes me the Critical Palate…honest to a fault.

Those of you that have been faithful readers from the very beginning know that my focus has primarily been food, with an occasional dabbling in popular culture and movies. I am now adding something else: product reviews, done with Critical Palate flair. How will this differ from what already is going on these pages: it won’t, really, but I am offering my Critical Palate review skills, and those of my crack research and taste-testing team, to those of you food purveyors out there looking for market research. My team is made up of a culinary school graduate, several lawyers, a CPA and teenagers…I can serve any market or demographic. Use our tongues for your benefit (that didn’t really sound quite as good as I hoped…or did it?).

Recently, two different purveyors reached out to me and asked that I review a few of their products. Tutorosso Tomatoes sent me three cans of their certified Kosher tomato products: Crushed, diced and whole. I expect to use and test them shortly.

Even more delicious, Aigner/Prensky Marketing Group recently contacted me and asked me to review three items: Two pepper jellies and a calendar! The pepper jellies are right up my alley…I love the sweet/spicy/savory umami thing, and the calendar…wow!

Aigner/Prensky Marketing Group is the marketing firm for the New England Food Truck Festivals, and as it says on their website: “…[we] wanted to create a product to raise money for CommunityServings, whose volunteers, sponsors and staff prepare and deliver 7,500 lunches and dinners to hundreds of homebound individuals and families in Massachusetts.” The pin-up calendar features hot models in throwback pin-up style dress, in front of the food trucks. This is a very well made, beautiful to look at calendar, and most importantly, raises money to help those that can’t get out and eat like me, and the Critical Palate team. Learn more about it here, and help this worthy cause.

Pepper Jelly Triumvirate

For sampling, we tried “Sweet Heat” pepper jelly, original flavor, produced by “Stir It Up Cuisine”, a catering company in Weymouth, Massachusetts that is now breaking in to retail sales of pepper jellies; you can see where you can buy these here. Our crack team was on this like flies on trash. With great anticipation, we broke the hermetic seal, drove the plastic knife in to the jelly, and spread a tasty layer on a wheat thin. I like it…a lot. Critical Dave thought it was too hot (baby!), and Critical Sterling, who has made some homemade pepper jelly in the past, thought it was a little too sweet and was missing some mystery flavor she couldn’t quite identify, but thought it needed. It didn’t stop us from eating a lot more of it, and within the next few days, we’ll be dipping our pretzel sticks and wheat thins into the bottle of “Orange-Mango Sweet Heat Pepper Jelly”. You can do a lot of things with this pepper jelly. Use it as a glaze on chicken or fish, or slather it on a wedge of cheese or a wheel of brie, then spread across a cracker…that’s good eatin’.

Stay tuned for more information on our Orange-Mango jelly review, and while you’re waiting, visit the food truck web site here to buy your calendar…

Our crack sampling team stands by, ready to receive your treats to be put to our taste test. We eat for you!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The hills are alive...

Cleaning out the clutter in my mind…while I deal with a partially torn rotator cuff (insert sympathy “awww” here)

While I gorge myself on holiday treats in the office, I have been pondering all sorts of holiday foods.  On December 22, 2012, join me on The Jordan Rich show as Jordan and I, along with you callers, discuss holiday meals, foods and other treats.  There may even be a special guest or two in studio.  Tune in to 1030AM in Boston, or streaming live on the Internet at from midnight to 3:30am.

While holiday treats circulate through my system, let me empty out the clutter in my head.  Believe me, there is plenty of clutter.

Call me kooky, but I love the original “The Sound of Music”.  The music, the scenery, the lederhosen!   I am not meeting the news of a remake starring Carrie Underwood with much excitement; some classics are best left alone.  Julie Andrews, with her light British accent, was perfect in the role of Maria. With Carrie’s Midwestern/southern twang, I wonder if they’re going to set this in Little Rock, where the family has to come together and sing while escaping from Mike Huckabee.  Who’s playing Captain Von Trapp?  Jeff Foxworthy?!  This whole thing disturbs me.  What’s next?  A remake of “Red Dawn”?
The hills are alive...with the sound of money...

I just read that Starbucks expects to open a couple of thousand more cafes here in North America over the next few years.  Besides me, who’s drinking all this coffee???

A few weeks ago, I awoke from a not-so-sound sleep to sound of my Keurig K-cup machine pumping water through one of their patented K-cups.  I could smell the wonderful aroma of freshly re-constituted coffee, but was perplexed, since I’m the only one here who drinks this swill.  Elayne told me that Josh had gone to bed quite late the night before, and thought a small cup of coffee would help get his engine running, so to speak (he does eat a substantial breakfast every morning).  Though he was repulsed by the taste, it got me thinking about my personal evolution with coffee, and coffee in general.

I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was in my last year of law school; around 25 years old.  Between the warnings that it will stop me from growing, to the concept of grinding a seed pod into a pulp and pushing water through it (what kind of mind realized this would be ok?), it did not appeal to me.  The Great State University did have a coffee shop in the Campus Center (Blue Wall), which played a pivotal role in my marital relationship, though I would eat there, not drink coffee. 

To me, growing up working at my father’s diner, coffee was a workingman’s drink.  I poured a lot of coffee for the GM workers changing shifts, the cops coming on duty, and the old timers who would sit at the counter and just drink endless cups, exchanging war stories, literally.  All those years, it never appealed to me, nor would I ever have thought of drinking it.  Soda was for kids…coffee for grown-ups.  Not until my last year in law school, once a Dunkin’ Donuts opened across the street, did I begin my appreciation for the sublime bean.

But when did it become a kids’ beverage?  A teacher mentioned to me last week that she sees more students than teachers coming to school with coffee every morning, and that girls more than boys are showing up with giant cups of coffee-based beverages to start their school day.  Breakfast is no longer the most important meal of the day-the triple foam, double-cafĂ©, light, vanilla, skim cup of caffeinated nothing is!

I call this the “Starbuckinization” of the American youth.  All you faithful readers know how much I like Starbucks…my championship-winning trivia team is called “Team Starbucks”.  But Starbucks and coffee isn’t for kids.  My third realm, quite frankly, has become a pusher of caffeine on the unsuspecting youth who will now be addicted for life.  Like Phillip-Morris or Camel giving away cartons of cigarettes to inner-city youth, Starbucks has led these youngsters on a path to ruin with their “Mocha Frappuccino” or “Peppermint Lattes”-very tasty, and highly addictive.

Admittedly, I let my daughter cajole me into getting her a “grande, decaf, mocha Frappuccino light, with whip and caramel drizzle” once a week because she tells me “it tastes so good”.  When I tell her “you don’t need that”, her retort is “and you don’t need your coffee”, using the knowing, exasperated tone of “if you don’t have your coffee, you’re like Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ Dad…”  But we have preached the evils of caffeine, and I have led by example by cutting down my daily intake to one cup a day, and Mrs. Palate has cut out Diet Coke altogether.  While it may be too late to stem the tide of caffeine intake by teenagers, perhaps an age limit should be placed on Starbucks consumers, and the baristas can start carding people as they order.  But as long as these drinks are this tasty, it’s not your daddy’s coffee anymore, it’s crack or crystal meth.

You’ve been a great audience…until next time America…gotta go grab a cup of coffee.