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.

Za’atar Thyme

This installment I go a bit further east along the Mediterranean Sea to the middle east for a spice blend. Thyme is not the only herb in Za’atar, the particular version I used also has the requisite sesame seeds, sumac and salt but also marjoram and oregano. A very aromatic blend.

If you haven’t guessed this is another cooking at home entry. Za’atar is used a lot of different ways from adding it to olive oil dipped pita to sprinkling it into hummus to adding it to meat and vegetable dishes. I opted to try the last of those by using pork as my protein. While pork is not a huge middle-eastern favorite I had that 2lb slab of pork left from the sausage making so it would do. I had about 2 tbsps of the spice so mixed it with olive oil to make a paste to spread on each side of the pork and then let it marinate (sort of) for a while.

I wanted it tender so I decided to sear it on both sides and then throw it in the pressure cooker with some chicken stock for the pressure liquid and a small onion sliced thin. It came out tender, however in hindsight I think baking it would have preserved more of the spice blend on the pork. It still tasted nice with the thyme and oregano coming through well. I captured more of the other flavors using some of the juices later.

To keep the meal in theme I made some couscous and homemade pita bread and then added some mixed vegetables for color and just because they’re good.

After taking the picture I added the aforementioned juices to the couscous and pork and that perked up both.

I’ve used za’atar before in chicken dishes from Blue Apron so I know it goes well with chicken too. My favorite way to date though was using some on a pita with olive oil and a bit of feta and baking it just a bit. It’s a very versatile blend and worth trying out.

Scandinavian Yums

The April 2020 box from Universal Yums had snacks from various Scandinavian countries one of which was my hoped for licorice.

The countries represented in this box were: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. I expected the licorice to be from Denmark but it turned out to be Finnish.

As the package says it was indeed salty. It was packaged such that you could peel the strips apart and there were three layers of strips together so you could stretch out the fun of this for a long time. In spite of the the fact that I’ve mentioned it so many times it wasn’t my favorite item from the box.

My favorite item turned out to be the Choko-Flager, an oat cookie sandwich with chocolate filling.

The cookies were light and crispy with some really nice darkish chocolate. Was amazing with a cup of coffee. I wouldn’t have known they were oat cookies. It had a nice texture and that dark chocolate had just the right amount of bitter to compliment the sweetness of the cookie.

The runner up for me in this box turned out to be one of the little candies in the Yum bag. Sadly I didn’t snap a picture of any of these which is truly unfortunate because they made up two of the four highlight spots.

Number 2 was the Nöt-creme cookie dough pralines. Man these were close to number 1. The chocolate outer shell was okay but the cookie dough flavored filling was excellent. It was definitely thinner than real cookie dough but the taste was spot on unlike my least favorite snack in the box.

The Kolafabriken Fizzy Toffee was supposed to be bubblegum toffee and it was a pink and blue sugar bomb that would pull teeth out. It was very colorful and that’s about all I can say for it. At least the one I’m classifying as the weirdest got cool points for the shape.

When I first saw this package I thought that was an octopus and was very afraid of what this might be but then I noticed the name and looked closer and saw it was a skull and crossbones. Well nothing says cheery snack like pink skulls and crossbones. Turns out that’s true. These little raspberry gummies had a sour sweet outside dusting that dissolved into a sweet chewy raspberry workout for your jaws. It was a big bag and required more than one sitting to finish. I don’t know what the Swedish fascination with skulls is but there was another snack shaped like a skull as well (chocolate with strawberry filling).

Have to give a shout out to these Norwegian chips just for the name, although they did have a nice spice blend.

Overall not a bad box. I think they could have done better but I enjoyed most of the treats. Next month is another repeat country, the Philippines.

Sweet Harissa

Tunisia

eu irish passport stamped with entry and exit visas with arabic ...

This is the first time I’ve added a new country to the blog in quite a while. Unfortunately it’s not because I found some great new restaurant specializing in foods from Tunisia. Nope it’s because I was stuck in the house and had a left over ingredient from a Blue Apron meal I didn’t make, harissa paste. Harissa paste is used widely in North Africa but generally thought to have originated in Tunisia so I decided to run with it.

I expect you’re saying to yourself, “that looks like ketchup that’s been sitting out too long how did that inspire anything but nausea?” Well let me tell you. Since I haven’t been able to get out to the international eating places I decided I’d have to bring them to me and try out spices and recipes from countries I haven’t been able to find restaurants for. I had the harissa paste so this became the first entry in the quarantine series. Hopefully this will be a short series.

Harissa paste comes in many variations but basic elements are red peppers (hot and not), coriander, cumin, garlic, caraway seeds, and olive oil plus others stuff that strikes the creators fancy. When I peeled back the label on the Blue Apron version the smell of the peppers and cumin were very prominent and it smelled good. Now I had to figure out what to do with it.

I decided to use it in a chicken stew I threw together using some chicken and stock I made and froze to use as a base for soups and stews.

In keeping with the north African / Mediterranean theme I added a can of chickpeas and then some tomatoes and spinach for some additional color and taste. Of course the harissa paste of which there wasn’t as much as I would have liked. The aroma that filled the kitchen while the stew simmered was quite pleasant. Once it had simmered and thickened a bit I decided to serve it over rice to stretch this out for a couple of additional meals.

It was very hearty and delicious for this and the additional meals I made out of it. Two things I wish are that I’d had more harissa paste and that this paste had been a little hotter but otherwise this was a great use of a very versatile spice mixture / condiment. If you’ve never tried it don’t be shy about giving it a shot and if you have let me know how you liked it or didn’t as the case may be.

Since this is a new country there is a Tell Me More page you can check out for recipes, a music video, and a random fact.

Brazilian Yums

Universal Yums presented the first repeat country this month with a second box of snacks from Brazil. Fortunately there was only one actual duplicate among the goodies.

It was a good mix of sweet and savory so a little something for every taste. I did get something different this month in the form of cassava chips that wound up filling the “weird” snack spot. My favorite though was a white chocolate strawberry number.

Bib’s Morango Extreme bar was quite the surprise. As soon as the package was opened the strawberry smell leapt out and grabbed me by the nostrils.  The bar itself was decent white chocolate and the strawberry was in the form of crunchy little bits of concentrated flavor that made this a delight to eat. Number 2 for me was the 1891 bar.

Another white chocolate entry. I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate so having it be top two is something I’d consider unusual. I’m not even sure how to describe this. I didn’t feel like it was all that tropical but it was delicious. The banana was there but muted for me and the caramel was a nice addition. Somehow it all worked. Now for the weird.

The Mandioca Chips Cebola were thin sliced and fried cassava chips flavored with onion and garlic. I liked the flavor of these but the texture was what got it slotted as weird. It definitely had crunch but I wouldn’t call it crispy, unlike a potato chip. Basically it had more give before the snap of the crunch. Not sure how to describe it other than that. Flavored ok but just an odd crunch. Still head and shoulders over the worst snack.

These were the only ones I actually disliked. They were coconut and cheese flavored cookies. I’ll just wait a second while you process that.

The sleeve of cookies held a boatload of half dollar sized cookies.  The coconut was evident by smell and coconut was the prominent flavor to start.  Then a weird sour flavor surfaced that was apparently supposed to be cheese.  It was cheesy but also kind of stinky feety.  Not a fan.

Brazil 2 definitely suffered the sophomore slump from my perspective but still enjoyable on the whole.

The next box is filled with Scandinavian snacks. Fingers crossed there will be at least one good licorice treat.

Edit: Shortly after wrapping up the post the Scandinavian Yum box was delivered and there is some licorice now I just have to hope it’s good. From my quick perusal I think I’m going to enjoy this box a lot.