Orchard Bars from Liberty Orchards

Orchard Bars

Orchard Bars are slightly irregular in proportion from one to another. I like that.

During my peak backpacking years I was a big consumer of Gorp—the do-it-yourself trail mix made by dumping a bag of M&Ms, a can of mixed nuts and a box of raisins into a bowl and mixing them up together, then dumping the result into a Ziploc bag. (Internet searches suggest that GORP stands for “good old raisins and peanuts”.)

Since then I have tried the various snack bars that come along as improvements, especially Clif and Luna, and I am sure they are healthier and more nutrition-packed, but to me they taste like cardboard even with peanut, chocolate, lemon and other attempts at flavoring. The purpose of a snack bar, in my opinion, to deliver a measured dose of sugar energy and protein to keep you going in a strenuous exertion.

Greg Taylor, a onetime advertising client who is president of Liberty Orchards in the apple country of eastern Washington, sent me a selection of his Orchard Bars to check out and I like them a whole lot better. Greg is a master of delivering a precisely controlled sweetness through apple juice, instead of refined sugar, and Orchard Bars are definitely sweeter than most snack bars but without approaching the sweetness level of candy. They are firm without being hard and the generous amounts of nut bits provide a quick dose of crunch. My tasting panel (consisting of school age kids) proclaimed them the best of all snack bars they’d tried. One more test: I left a bar on the top of a heater, to simulate the experience of spending a hot day in a backpack, and it held up fine.

There are six flavors of which Strawberry-Walnut seems to be the most popular, though I like Macadamia Banana the best. They seem to be somewhat hard to find at retail but you can order them on Amazon. You can also get a sampler of two bars for $2.50 with free shipping, direct from the producer, which is probably the best way to satisfy initial curiosity. Orchard Bars are vegan, non-GMO and contain no gluten or dairy products.

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Recipe: Mari’s Little Lamburger

Lamburger done

Lamburger, done

Adapted from the somewhat mysterious Conspirator’s Cookbook, this provides a very juicy patty you can enjoy on a bun or on its own. Serves 4.

1 lb ground lamb*
¼ c chopped parsley (or chopped mint, or a combination)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 T milk
2 T tomato juice**
1 large egg
1 t salt
¼ t pepper
White flour, for dredging
Butter, for frying

Method: beat egg in a mixing bowl, then add other ingredients except flour. Mix well and refrigerate for 2 hours. Shape into 4 mini-meat loaves or patties. The meat will be gloppy; it helps to wet your hands between patties. Dredge lightly in flour on all sides then sauté in butter over medium heat, turning once, for about 5 minutes or until medium rare.

* I find that most packaged ground lamb is way too fatty so I grind my own from shoulder or leg or “lamb stew meat”
** If you don’t have tomato sauce on hand, you can use a little of the liquid in a can of tomatoes. Or, for a tarter taste, substitute lemon juice.

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“Secret” ingredient makes best bread ever

Secret Ingredient Bread

Can you guess the secret ingredient?

Yesterday I produced what I felt was the best tasting baguette I’ve ever baked, for a local food swap group. I was surprised because I’ve made this recipe (it has 20% white spelt flour and 80% all-purpose) several times and this was a step above all the others. Then I realized I had done something different: used “too much” salt.

I normally toss in about 2 1/2 teaspoons/20 grams for a recipe with around 1500 g total weight. This time it didn’t taste salty enough so I added more at the last minute. (Yes, I always taste my raw dough and you should too.) It seemed “too” salty now but the salt resolved beautifully in the bake.

I remember when star baker Michael London was a judge in my country miche taste test a while back, he said his biggest complaint with most bread is insufficient salt. Now I know what he’s talking about.

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Baking with sprouted grains

Sprouted Bread

Sprouted bread and sprouted flours

Sprouted grain baking seems to be a rising food trend. Chad Robertson’s new Tartine Book No. 3: Modern Ancient Classic Whole has a section of recipes using seeds and grains which are sprouted, then folded into the dough. At the Fancy Food Show this past January, Central Milling was showing its 1 and 5 pound chubs of sprouted grain slurry which are shipped frozen, defrosted at the bakery, then added to a bread mix. And I talked to the folks at To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. who sent me home with a couple of packages to play with.

The loaf shown here was made with their Kamut flour, along with high extraction and standard bread flour, with sprouted barley from whole grains folded in. It roughly follows a recipe in Robertson’s book. He warns that barley grains often sprout unevenly and that was my experience; some are crunchy and you run into a husk here and there. My reviewers don’t mind this, but next time I think I will grind the barley after sprouting it.

The Sprouted Flour website has a page on why sprouted flours are better for you, which includes better digestibility and improved transfer of vitamins to the system. When you mix in whole grains, I also find the bread keeps longer, probably because the grains absorb water that might cause molding. And there’s a great nutty taste which goes well with peanut butter or tuna sandwiches.

If you want to do some experimenting on your own, get the Tartine book which has other useful recipes. You can probably find sproutable, untreated organic whole grains in your local health food store. And To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. currently has a deal where you can get flat $12 shipping on an order of 30 pounds or more of flour. If you have mail ordered flour, you will recognize that as a great deal. Their selection includes einkorn, an ancient grain that’s very hard to find.

UPDATE: Sprout People, my favorite source of seeds for sprouting, sells both hulled and unhulled barley as it turns out. Hulled, which I got, is for a wheat grass-type concoction. The unhulled are purple, which is what Chad Robertson said he used and I am guessing they were his source since they’re in San Francisco. So get the unhulled if you don’t want your customers picking the husks out of their teeth.

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Fish Sticks with Pineapple! [cue gag reflex]

Here’s another great link to check out, though maybe not after dinner. Vintage Recipe Cards reproduces the extremely unappetizing food photography of the 40s and 50s, then provides a text version of the recipe in case you want to try and make it.

At some point we will examine this whole megillah in greater detail. Seems like food photography came into its own during the WWII years, when consumer rationing was patriotic. If you can photo Mom’s meat loaf and make it disgusting (and maybe provide a recipe that substitutes broom corns for onion), that’s a good thing.

Today we’ve got a lot to complain about, surely, but let’s be glad we’re not eating food like this.

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Keeping it real at Jones Dairy Farm

Jones Dairy Farm products

A cross section of Jones Dairy Farm products at the CIA

I had not had a high degree of awareness of Jones Dairy Farm prior to their inviting me to their 125th anniversary celebration at the Culinary Institute of America. But the time with the Jones folks turned me from an ignoramus into a fan. Let me talk about a couple of things that impressed me about the company and its philosophy.

First, Jones was “natural” before natural was cool. Their products tend to have a very short ingredient list not because they have taken out all the additives, extenders and cost cutters, but because these items were never there in the first place. Jones’ Original Breakfast Sausage is basically the same as when the original Milo Jones started the company in 1889. Compare the ingredient list to another brand in the supermarket and you will get a quite an eye opener.

Rick Lowry, Executive Vice President, told us at the CIA that the only time something is added to a Jones products is when the USDA requires it. Having worked at a Fortune 500 food company before he joined Jones 13 years ago, Rick also shared some of the tricks competitors use to cut corners. An example is caramel, an additive that provides a pleasing color without actually cooking or smoking the product. Some caramel brands contain gluten, a fact that will be interesting to celiacs.

Jones competition ingredients

A few of the ingredients used by Jones competitors

Jones also has high standards for the quality and preparation of the meats used in its products. Slaughterhouses are regularly inspected to be sure the animals are not stressed and conditions are clean. Only pork shoulders or turkey legs are used in its sausages, only full muscle cuts in its hams. Others might combine scraps from less desirable cuts or even “white slime” (formally “mechanically separated meat”), a turkey derivative made from blasting the bones with a high pressure device after all the meat is removed. This is similar to “pink slime” which is no longer used in burgers, but it’s still found in the sausages of some competitors.

One final Jones standard that impressed me was its management selection process. The company is in its sixth generation of family leadership, but family members do not automatically ascend to the corner office. In fact, you have to have proven you can make money in another line of work before Jones will even give a family member a job. Philip Jones, the current president, studied at La Varenne in Paris and was an executive chef for a number of years before he was offered a job in a maintenance facility at a Jones plant. He immediately made the transition, worked his way up internally, and in 2000 became the company’s president.

In the U.S., Jones Dairy Farm is the leading seller of Canadian bacon (even though theirs is considerably more expensive than the next best-selling brand), of Braunschweiger and of scrapple. (Scrapple is also the top seller on its website, due to the efforts of homesick Mid-Atlantans ordering a fresh supply.) It’s the only company in American to make a vat-cured ham in which the pork leg spends 2 ½ days for each pound of weight in a salt and sugar cure. It makes both uncooked and precooked breakfast sausages and most products are gluten free. Because of their wide distribution, Jones Dairy Farm Products are probably available in a store near you. Give them a try.

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First look at a new food concept—Market Bistro in Latham, New York

Lew Shaye Market Bistro

Market Bistro’s Lew Shaye at the front of the food court

We have a battle for the high end of the supermarket business in my corner of upstate New York—including Trader Joe, Healthy Living, Shoprite, Fresh Market and Whole Foods coming soon. Price Chopper, the dominant chain in the area, has now weighed with Market Bistro, a “living, breathing laboratory” where they’ll test concepts that may roll out in the rest of the chain.

Smoked Meats Market Bistro

Smoked meats at Market Bistro

I took a tour of this enormous food court this past week. It is still a work in progress (the “Chef’s Kitchen” restaurant within the store was not yet open and a chef was taking pictures of dishes for training purposes when we visited) but there was plenty to see and sample. It’s divided into individual specialty areas including ice cream, salads, burritos/quesadillas, burgers, smoked items, fish fries as you come in; stations selling sausage, cheese and other meal components in the back, and then several sources of pre-made meals as you navigate the horseshoe to the opposite side of the court. (Bottled drinks and canned/frozen/dried goods and a checkout area are in the middle.)

Brisket Chef

Corporate Chef Dave Hamlin at Market Bistro

According to Lew Shaye, Vice President of Culinary Concepts, the goal was to look at each specialty and see what they could do to make it “remarkable” in comparison to expectations. For hamburgers, as an example, Golub (the corporate parent) invented a brioche-style bun that is wide and flat and is “caramelized” with a few seconds in a special toaster to provide a crisp surface for meat and condiments; they wanted good bacon for bacon burgers so they decided to smoke and cure their own in-house. In the pizza area, they use a special dough which is aged 48 hours; in the ice cream station there’s a bittersweet hot fudge sundae topped with Ghirardelli chocolate and whipped-from-scratch cream.

Smoker Market Bistro

The Smoker at Market Bistro

The element that interested me most was, of course, the smoker station. Corporate Chef Dave Hamlin has developed a proprietary rub of 13 spices that go on everything, and the smoked meat is (hallelujah) served without sauce. (You can get sauce on the side, if you like, and it’s excellent.) Items go into a big smoker within the store with less-tender cuts fired first thing in the morning and others added throughout the day. Hamlin’s brisket (they use CAB flats) and ribs were more tender and tasty than any I would ever expect to find in these parts, and certainly in a supermarket. Not surprisingly, the smoked items are selling at 1000% of projection so far.

Mini Lobster Roll

Mini Lobster Roll for tasting; the full size is served with fries and slaw

There are a variety of strategies in place to make Market Bistro a destination for people who want to get excellent ingredients for prepping their own meals, order pre-made meals to go, or just plop down in one of the seating areas after shopping in the store. There is a big Italian deli, cheese and pasta area (Shaye informed us Italian food indexes at 143 in our region, which means in the “Capital District” it’s eaten nearly 50% more often than in the U.S. overall) and an impressive sushi counter where you can get pre-made trays from a long counter with disco lights or have it made to order. For the latter, Shaye says it’s briefly zapped in a TurboOven—presumably to take off the chill that might turn off some people—another unique value added touch.

Sushi with Chef

Sushi Bar with Chef at Market Bistro

The prices are designed to be just a little lower than restaurants, and they’re talking restaurants like Chipotle and Panera, not fine dining places. In my value obsession, I did not see anything that I would reject for price other than a hunk of Buttermilk Blue cheese that was $15.99 a pound; I know I can get it for $12.99 at “Wealthy Living”.

Locl Red Sauce

Locally produced red sauces displayed at Market Bistro

My family doesn’t live near enough to the location to make it a regular stop, but we’d definitely eat here when coming to the “city” for movies or shopping. There’s plenty to put smiles on the faces of my two boys. And it’s right on our way to the airport!

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This guy really knows how to work a buffet

M.L. Guide to beating the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet

Midtown Lunch draws a bead on its target

On a recent trip to the Times Square area, I made good use of the Midtown Lunch advice on what places to patronize and avoid. While browsing, I ran across this very useful guide to beating the buffet.

Zach Brooks, I bow down in tribute. If I had known about your guide I would not have troubled to write this one. P.S. Be sure to read the comments on the Midtown Lunch post. Readers add their own tips, as well as recommendations for buffets to beat.

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Thanks, Daily Meal!

Rat in Cake Alert

After I read the 96 Year Old Man Finds Rat in Birthday Cake story, The Daily Meal made me an offer that’s hard to resist.

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Who knew you could do this with a hot dog?

I’ve been saving up a bunch of tasty food-related links, mostly to other blogs. First up is Maida Heatter, a well-respected food writer from the 60s (I’ve got a couple of her cookbooks), who apparently had to pay the rent like everyone else.

Who knew you could do this with a hot dog? Thanks to the folks at Kitchen Monkey (apparently a retro wife-and-husband team) for bringing this to our attention.

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