Swiss Miss

It’s been a month or so since the last blog entry and I haven’t been too motivated but I got a box from another country this month and as you might surmise from the title it was from Switzerland.

The Swiss Box comes in 3 varieties and I opted for the mid range box at $40. The cheaper one is all chocolate and the more expensive one you can pick items you want. Once I ordered the box there was a wait for shipping day and when it shipped I got an email notification but there was no tracking info only a message that it would take 2-4 weeks. It was right at 2 weeks for me. Here’s what I got in my box.

I have to admit I stirred up the packing peanuts looking to see if I was missing something because this didn’t look like much for my forty bucks. Alas, this was it and I started off disappointed from a perceived value standpoint. The only hope was that one or more of these food items would be such a home run (since we’re talking Switzerland I suppose a goal is more appropriate) that it would overcome that perception. First up was one of the raspberry hazelnut tarts.

The snack consisted of three parts; a crispy hazelnut ring, raspberry jam, and a biscuit, I mean cookie (watching too much British TV). I tried just the cookie first since it was the quite prominent base the other two sat on. It was so bland and at the edge of stale I almost didn’t bother with a real bite to get all three components. Fortunately I did. The hazelnut ring had a great taste and excellent crispness that started making up for the sad, sad cookie and then the delightfully sweet and tart raspberry jam joined the party and made this not just tolerable but delicious.

The next two items were also not bad but I wasn’t enthused enough to offer them their own photo opportunities. One was a fairly tasty bite sized chocolate covered malted milk morsel that was pleasant. The chocolate was a darkish and the malted center was crunchy and malty. The other was chocolate covered shortbread balls. They were enjoyable. The milk chocolate was of good quality and the shortbread had a good flavor and crumbly cookie texture. It wasn’t as buttery as an excellent shortbread would be but maybe the chocolate would have masked had it been. Both were well done snacks I’d happily have again.

The item I saved for last, because I hoped it was going to be the one that made me most nostalgic for Swiss snacks, was the chocolate bar.

My hopes were met as the Frigor bar by Cailler turned out to be the star of the box. It was an excellent milk chocolate bar with a hazelnut almond cream filling. The chocolate and the cream filling melded so well together it was hard to call it a filled chocolate. The whole had a silky texture that literally melted in the mouth, as well as hands if you held it longer than a second or two. This conjured memories of Geneva where I used to get a plain milk chocolate bar at a tobacco shop located by the central bus station whenever I took the train and bus home from school. That bar had the same silky consistency and meltiness that this bar had and while I can’t swear to it I believe it was made by Cailler as well.

As much as I loved the Frigor chocolate bar it didn’t totally overcome my issue of perceived value. So while all the elements included in the box were very much quality examples of Swiss snacks I didn’t feel like it was a $40 experience. If I was going to recommend Swiss Box I’d say try the smaller box and enjoy the Swiss chocolate experience at the lower price point.

Turkish Delights

Well since there aren’t really any new restaurants opening, ethnic or otherwise, I’m still having to have my global flavor fix delivered. I found a very reasonable snack box on Amazon from Turkish Munchies and ordered up their Midi box.

The neat little pamphlet on top was something I appreciated. It has a list of possible snacks you could receive and each one has a thumbnail picture, a bit about the item and a couple of other nice touches. One being a group of icons showing major allergens that might be present as well as beverage pairing icons (non-alcoholic). There are also Stars you can use to rate the snacks and they encourage you to share on social media, because who doesn’t like free advertising. Here is a layout of the contents of my box.

I didn’t take photos of the individual snacks out of the package except the Kagit Helva wafer cookie on the bottom right.

I only did that to show the scale of the thing. Unfortunately that was the only impressive thing about it. It had the taste and texture of one of those cheap ice cream cones you get in the super market, one step above sweetened Styrofoam. There were some really nice ones though. The chocolate cupcake that was supposed to have cherry filling was really tasty. The cherry filling had just been absorbed by the cupcake so it was actually just a moist center but the flavor melded in a lip-smacking way.

The Bidolu wafer cookie’s filling of chocolate with nuts and crisp cookie was a standout along with the herb coated Krispi snack sticks. The banana wafer cookies and the coconut / chocolate ones were both more than acceptable versions of their type. The Cubuk Kraker pretzel sticks were nothing special but they had the advantage of being the most plentiful snack in the box.

I wasn’t in love with the sour bubble gum or what was supposed to be popping candy (there was no popping). The weird strawberry cupcake with sprinkles was in my bottom four as well. It wasn’t so much bad as it just wasn’t my deal.

I would definitely recommend this little slice of Turkish snackdom for the price, quality and taste. They offer other options too but I think for under $15 you can’t beat this for an intro.

Egyptian Yums

Happily the August box from Universal Yums was not a repeat and instead filled with treats from a first time country (to me at least), Egypt.

I thought this box was a notch over average with none of the snacks being rock stars but on the other hand none totally tanked either. My favorite of the Yum turned out to be the least photogenic of the lot.

The Chocolate Wave Hazelnut was one of 3 snacks that had wafer cookies. In this case the chocolate got a little melty and presented a patchy appearance. Fortunately I was grading on taste. The wafers were crispy and the hazelnut filling was appropriately nutty so the end result was a delight. The one I’d say was my number 2 was a savory snack.

I’ll have to admit when I first saw these the apparent lack of salt had me skeptical that this would be good. My bad. Although they weren’t at the salt lick level of a lot of American pretzels they had a very pleasant flavor. These were butter and herb flavor and they lived up to the billing. The butter was evident and the outside had a light dusting of an herbal mixture that went splendidly with the turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich that I paired them with. Solid pretzel.

The most disappointing yum for me was the Cono Puffs Crazy Tomato.

Even one of the Puffs on the package looks less than enthused about the product. On the positive side the puffs were all nicely uniform and pufflike. The ingredient list was short and often that’s a good thing but in this case it seemed like something was missing. The initial flavor was a bit oniony then an acidic tartness that I guess might have represented the tomatoes and finally there was a sweet corn taste that didn’t all meld together. I felt like that pissed puff after a few of them. Cono didn’t totally let me down though.

Now I didn’t find these Mind Blowing as the title suggests but they did have a pizza flavor quite loaded with olives which I love on a pizza. So unlike the grumpy cone on the bag I was sold on crispy corn and pizza flavor of the Bugle like cones. Oh and like I have done every single time I’ve ever had one of these cone shaped chips I had to turn one into an edible talon.

The other snacks included some chili & lemon chips, a Halawa & coffee wafer cookie, a date filled cookie reminiscent of a Fig Newton but with dates, a weird green apple gummy called Spaghetuss Apple that you could tear into, you guessed it, spaghetti like strips. There were a few more as well in the solidly above average box. Next month is going to be from South America but I’m not sure where. Looking forward to it.

German Box

Since the pandemic has made it more of a challenge to go out I thought I’d try some other boxes besides the Universal Yums to get some new international flavors. My first was one I felt relatively safe with and by the title I’m sure you aren’t quite in a state of suspense wondering what it was. I only ordered the one month just to see what this was about.

The box was nicely packaged to protect the items inside but I did find little shreds of paper days later under the sofa. When opened there was a nice card with a recipe for jaegerschnitzel that had somewhere around 20 ingredients so it was tossed to the side as that looked like too much work. Here are the items from the box.

The soda was wrapped in bubble wrap to keep it safe during shipping, which it did. I wasn’t blown away with the selection but I tried everything but the egg noodles so far and I’m pretty comfortable I’ll like them well enough when I do use them.

The tin of candies I’m still not sure what flavor they are supposed to be but the tin is big and they are sweet and taste good so I’m okay with that. The orange chews were interesting. There were 6 strips wrapped like chewing gum that were scored into 5 sections and had the consistency of silly putty that is just about too dry to play with any more. In spite of that the flavor was a pretty good tangy fake orange flavor.

The black licorice cats I’ve still not managed to finish off in spite of the fact that I love licorice. They looked like they were going to be in the gummy family and they are slightly pliable for the initial nanometer and then switch to a hard plastic texture. If you gnaw on them long enough you can disrupt the molecular cohesion and tease out a nice flavor. Not a quick snack is what I’m saying.

I was kind of excited when I saw the Knorr soup package because I know they make a quality product and this was Spargelcremesuppe. I was excited again because I recognized spargel from a trip to Germany during white asparagus season when every restaurant had a seasonal dish on the menu. I was able to figure out the cremesuppe part without overloading my brain as well so I had high hopes.

My hopes were well founded. This was some tasty soup that paired well with a ham and Swiss sandwich. I might check the local stores to see if they have this on the shelf.

The soda was Karamalz Classic, a non-alcoholic malt beverage.

This very much reminded me of Kvas I had from a Russian place a few years ago. It had the same kind of raisin bread flavor. The carbonation started strong but died to a level that meant you weren’t fighting head with every sip. It was a good change of pace drink and I liked it but I wouldn’t want it to be a regular drink.

Lastly there was the box of pretzel mix. This one I wasn’t sure about but I managed to work through it and make some reasonable facsimiles of pretzels.

Now I have to admit when I first looked at the box and read instructions I just about tossed this to the side for what would likely have been ever. I mean one of the last steps was dissolve food grade lye in warm water. Lye??? Who am I Granny Clampett that I’ve got lye just, well lying around? Then I got to studying it a little more and realized this was a kit that had everything you needed, including yeast, coarse salt and lye so I pulled out the mixer and bread hooks and went to town.

I know I’m not going to win any style points with the results but they were sehr gut. I tried them with yellow mustard, Dijon mustard and stone ground mustard and if I’d had some beer cheese I’d probably have eaten the whole dang pan of them in one sitting. Definitely worth buying a box and giving pretzel making a go. The box didn’t explain how to make the pretzel shape but unsurprisingly there are a number of YouTube videos that can help in that regard.

Overall I was pleased with my choice to try a box from these folks. I’m not going to make it a habit but it was a great little box.

SpiceBreeze part 2

As mentioned in the SpiceBreeze review I decided to make at least one of the recipes included with the spice blends from each of the three envelopes I received. Each of them turned out pretty well and the spice blends played key roles in every case.

The first one was using the “Tacos al pastor” seasoning mix.

This recipe called for creating a thick, onion heavy marinade that included the spices, some oil and tomato paste then coating the pork with it and letting it marinate for a while. It also called for frying up some pineapple rings to go along with the meat. The recipe called for the pork to be cooked then cut into strips and then fried again. I had some salsa in the fridge and threw that on as well to get the end result you see below.

They were terribly tasty tacos that had a smoky flavor imparted by the spice blend. Was worth my efforts.

The next one was a spice blend for and Indian dish, Summer Aloo Gobi Matar.

This hearty dish is a stew of potatoes, cauliflower, and peas that also included garlic, onion, tomato and ginger. In my case I exercised one of the suggested options and included a bit of chicken. Served with the suggested Basmati rice and naan this was filling and had some nice color. The spices in the blend played well together and it was savory and satisfying as well. For the curious the spices were; fennel, cumin, turmeric, coriander and cardamom. As an aside there was another pack in the envelope of whole cardamom seeds with a Mango Lassi recipe that also got used. I love mango lassi.

The last one was a Kabob Koobideh spice blend. This is a ground meat grilled kabob popular in Persian communities, as well as with others who just like good food.

Now I’ll admit up front these aren’t as visually appealing as they could have been and bear a striking resemblance to something you might not want to eat but trust me they tasted better than they looked. The restaurant versions of this dish I’ve had were a little thinner and were formed such that there were little ridges along the length almost like delimiters for bite sized chunks.

The recipe called for lamb, beef or chicken and had the store had lamb I’d have gone that way but instead I settled for lean ground beef. The recipe is fairly basic other than grating an onion and squeezing out all the juice, which isn’t difficult just something I’d never done to an onion before. Next up was adding some garlic, egg, spices and then the meat. Then you knead it for a while to incorporate everything and give it texture. In this case the spice blend consisted of sumac, turmeric, black pepper & parsley. The recipe called for just shaping the meat into long patties and frying but I was having none of that and decided they’d be shaped on skewers and grilled like they should be. The end result, when paired with the marinated cabbage (also included in the recipe) and some rice, was very good and bonus there were plenty of left-overs.

I have to give the SpiceBreeze team props for some fairly simple recipes that were delicious and did a good job showing off the spice packs they sent. So while it wasn’t something I wanted to continue I could certainly recommend it to others who might want to try their hands and discovering new cuisines.

Thailand Yums 2

I really wanted to title this “Thai 2, the Eclectic Bugaloo” but it didn’t look quite right on preview.

Since the Yum boxes were in repeats and I canceled the subscription after the current one runs out I had pretty much decided to stop reviewing them. Indeed, the UK box was thoroughly un-photoed and un-remarked on but the Thailand box flipped that script after I tried the first 2 items. The first one had me nibbling the hook and the second one set it.

The first one I grabbed was the bag of Tasto Devil potato chips. They were supposed to be spicy with flames on the bag and blah blah blah. Everything that has ever been “spicy” was medium at best in all the months I’ve been trying these. Imagine my surprise when I reached in and grabbed a couple of chips, tossed them in my mouth and before I could finish the second crunch I was feeling the heat. Wow these did have Thai chili flavor going on. I was impressed as I felt my scalp beginning to tingle. Then I discovered they didn’t just have powdered chili coating the chips they included a goodly amount of dried chilis in with the chips. I found this out when I started chewing on one that infiltrated my mouth by hiding between two of the chips. It was hot. My eyes wanted to help my mouth by providing liquid but since crying wouldn’t really help I vetoed that idea. OK they weren’t quite that hot but they were no joke and I did break a sweat.

The next contestant from the Thai Yum box was the bag of sea salt & caramel coconut chips. These were simply great. Strips of crunchy dried coconut, lightly salted and boldly caramelled (I’m sure that should be a valid word). The caramel was not like chewy gooey caramel but only the flavor so if I hadn’t read it on the package it would have been a total surprise and even knowing it I was impressed with the execution.

Because the folks from Thailand apparently love their salt there were also some salt and lime gummy’s too. Another hit snack. They were about 1/4″ wide (6.4mm) and 2 1/2 – 3″ long (64-76mm) gummy strips lightly covered in a fine powder of salt and sugar and a nice lime taste. I would actually have liked to have someone who drinks tequila eat one of these after a shot just to get their thoughts. Sadly I didn’t save any for my tequila drinking friends.

I didn’t bother taking a photo of what I considered the weirdest of the snacks but it is worth mentioning as a cautionary tail if nothing else. It was a corn flavored chew from the Yum bag. I’ll give them this, it was definitely corn flavored but it was also like chewing wax that started morphing into plastic and I’m sure if I’d swallowed it that thing would have rattled my digestive system for quite a while.

The last one I’ll mention was one I saved for last because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to care for it and wanted to put off confirmation until there was no other choice.

The name of this is Z Roll Farm Fried Shrimp & Salad Cream. A seaweed wrapped potato stick with fried shrimp and mayonnaise flavors. With that name and description you might understand why I approached this with trepidation. I like the individual elements here but as a combo and based on experience with seaweed and seafood snacks I cringed opening the pack. I had a bit of hope when it didn’t reek like a week old dead fish in a tidal pool. Alas, the first bite confirmed my suspicions that this would not be a snack for me. The unusual texture combination of the semi-pliable seaweed and the powdery crunch of the potato stick followed by the respective tastes was, shall we say, off putting to me. I’m sure if I’d grown up with this as a snack option I’d have a different opinion but as it was this was a big ole “NOPE”.

If the next month is a repeat I hope they deliver as well as the Thai box did. Even the crappy ones were worth talking about.

SpiceBreeze “Box”

After I decided to stop the Universal Yum snack box description I searched for some other subscription box that would have an international flavor, literally, and be suitable for adding content to the blog. I was also considering the price / value as well. I decided to take a chance on SpiceBreeze. They call themselves a subscription box but it’s really a subscription envelope.

The plan I got came with 2 spice packets with recipe cards and 1 additional item like the cardamom seeds with the instructions to make a mango lassi on the label. For $7.99 I don’t feel cheated but I did feel disappointment when I got my first envelope.

They delivered everything they said they would on the website and the quality of the contents was decent but the presentation and packaging says “shoestring” to me. The first envelope had taco al pastor spice blend and furikake blend with recipe cards and I honestly forgot what the other packet was but it was a Mexican spice blend that I mixed into some refried beans to make a dip and air fried some small flour tortillas to make chips from. I’ll cover some of the recipes in a follow up entry but for now I’m just reviewing the subscription.

The recipes are definitely interesting but aside from the spice blends you have to provide everything else. None of the 6 recipes I saw over the 3 months I received had anything too exotic or difficult to obtain under normal circumstances but with the pandemic your mileage may vary. There is enough of the spice to make 1 instance of the recipe that generally feeds 2 or more. The recipe cards offer variants and on the back some additional detail on the blend and or the country it’s from.

Overall I’d say this was an ok subscription worth a solid 3 stars out of 5, maybe 3.5 but I just wasn’t feeling it enough to continue beyond the initial 3 month subscription.

Beach Week 2020

In spite of efforts by COVID-19 to destroy this year my family still got together in Surf City for our Beach Week vacation. Dining out, however took a big hit and instead of eating both breakfast and lunch out most days I only ventured forth 4 times and 3 were to places covered in other blog posts but I’m going to revisit 2 of them in this entry because I got something new at both places. The first place, Hot Diggity Dogz, was just a short walk from the house.

My brother-in-law and I strolled over and grabbed a couple of dogs each and wolfed them down at one of the picnic tables. I got the Carolina dog that had mustard, chili & coleslaw plus a Hawaiian dog that had cheese sauce, jalapenos and crushed pineapple. The grilled all-beef hot dogs were served on potato buns with toppings that were fresh(ish). I say ish because some of it came out of a can but it seemed like the can was recently opened so I’ll take it. I’m sure somebody is going, “back up there big kahuna and explain what was up with that Hawaiian dog” so I’ll tell you. It’s pretty obvious the only thing remotely Hawaiian was the pineapple but that was weird enough to get me to try it. It never occurred to me that pineapple and jalapenos would be a great pairing much less throwing in some cheese but it turned out to be a successful three way. The sweetness of the pineapple took some sting out of the jalapenos but left enough to let you know this wasn’t a wienie for weenies and cheese goes with anything. I might get it again but they have a handful of other dogs I need to try before another repeat.

One day a subset of the family headed to the Riverview Cafe. Another repeat but on this trip I got the scallops with two sides special.

That plate full of fried scallops was down right dee-licious. A quick word about the restaurant. It’s in Snead’s Ferry, NC, has a nice view of the New River and they make better than passable pies. As for lunch they have a multitude of options and change specials daily but I’ve only ever gotten seafood and after this trip I see no reason to change that up. The scallops were beautifully fried tender morsels of seafood goodness. The cheesy, garlic potatoes had no choice but to be good just based on the ingredients and the broccoli casserole offered redemption to broccoli for being broccoli. Between the lot of us we wound up taking home a box of seafood and a box of sides to be consumed later because the portions were so generous.

The last place I wanted to cover was a new (to me) place I checked out on the last full day we were there. It was also within walking distance, just a few steps past the hot dog joint actually. I was solo this trip but I think next year I’ll be able to talk some folks into going to The Fast Fish with me.

The Fast Fish is a Poke place with some other stuff too as you can see from the menu board.

I’d never done the poke thing before (stop laughing) so I decided to get a bowl. I started with one of the daily specials, spicy soy salmon, as the protein with rice for the base and kept it relatively simple with pickled vegetables and green onions for add-ins.

This was a very tasty lunch. In case you can’t tell from the picture the salmon was not cooked but the spicy soy sauce it was marinated in dressed it up just fine. The pickled vegetables were mostly cabbage and carrots but there were some onions, cucumbers and a jalapeno or two floating around. The whole thing was topped with toasted black and white sesame seeds. Stirring up the bed of white rice into this mix made for an excellent lunch that was filling but not heavy. Would very much recommend this place if you’re ever visiting Surf City, NC.

Now I’m just going to throw in a gratuitous food pic and let it speak for itself.

Philippines Yum 2

The May Universal Yum box was another repeat country and while none of the snacks were a repeat exactly I decided it was time to move on from the Yum boxes. The subscription has a few months left so I’ll have a some more entries but now I’m searching for something new.

In the meantime let’s look at what this box offered.

There were a couple of nice treats but they were outnumbered by the sub-par snacks. My favorite was the ChocoMucho bar.

Not a pretty bar but quite tasty. The chocolate outer coating was a decent quality dark over crispy rice. That crispy rice covered a chocolate cookie with a caramel blanket. I could have eaten a whole box of these. Thankfully, for my weight, that wasn’t an option. Number two on my list was a bit more numerous and was enjoyed over several snackings.

Soft cookies with mango bits. I’m a mango fan so I loved these. They were kind of soft and doughy and each one was individually wrapped in a foil pack to keep them soft.  The mango bits tasted fresh and had an excellent flavor.   The cookies also had a bit of granular sugar that gave the occasional satisfying crunch.  Now let’s look at the weird and worst.

This Hulk colored sponge mess was supposed to have a cream filling but if there was any it had long since degraded into some goo that was absorbed by the cake around it. This was supposed to be flavored with Macapuno coconut which is, and I quote the booklet, “filled with a soft, jelly-like flesh.” It was as appetizing as that sounds. Not a winner.

Sticking with the offputting colors let’s move onto the Cupp Keyk Coco Ube.

If it had been the bright color of the package it would have at least had that going for it. Instead it was the grey purple that was more akin to the skin color of a floater fished from the river on a crime procedural. The taste wasn’t quite as bad as it looked but again it was not something I’d ever want to have again unless the option was a macapuno sponge cake, then it would be a coin toss.

Now there were some additional snacks that were serviceable like the cheese puffs, a cookies & cream ChocoMucho bar, some adobo corn nuts and a couple of hard candies. But the Farmer John BBQ sausage chips were just loaded with artificial and chemical tastes that were almost enough to edge past the mutant sponge and cup cakes.

Overall the box was average at best and made the decision to not renew the subscription pretty easy. Next post should be either a new spice or a restaurant visit.

Togarashi Testing

This week’s entry in quarantine cuisine takes me from the Mediterranean across Asia to the islands of Japan. I came across a small packet of togarashi spice blend and decided that would serve nicely as the next entry.

There are different versions of togarashi but some elements are pretty much consistent which are; red chili peppers, orange peel, sesame seeds, nori (seaweed), ginger, and white pepper. Other items are added depending on who’s making it and what profile they’re going for. The blend I have uses hot and sweet paprika, black and white sesame seeds, orange peel, poppy seeds and powdered nori but no ginger or white pepper so I added both to the mixture myself.

Typical uses are adding it to soups, noodle dishes or rice dishes. In my case I decided to make a simple soup using thin sliced beef, dashi broth (thanks Lynn), shitake mushrooms, green onions and udon noodles and add the togarashi.

I marinated the beef in a mix of soy and teriyaki sauces then browned the bite sized bits just a tad before adding to the dashi broth with the other ingredients. So I never took a snap of the beef at any stage and even in the finished product below it is hiding beneath the other ingredients but trust me it was tender and tasty.

This turned out to be very tasty and quite filling. The togarashi spice added a little bit of heat and some nice color to the dashi broth. The pepper flavor was there and melded well with the marinated beef and green onions, which also added a color element. I really liked the finished product and there were left overs so I’m expecting one of those “better the next day” experiences.

I’ve used this spice blend as a rub before and also sprinkled on roasted vegetables. Both good but for some reason this blend smoked at any highish heat. I’d definitely recommend trying it if you never have.