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.

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.

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.

Time to Make the Sausage

Since we’re all sitting at home avoiding a global pandemic and looking for stay at home things to do I thought I’d drag out the old meat grinder and make some bratwursts.

When I was out buying essential provisions to shelter in place I saw this big old hunk of pork shoulder on sale and this 7 lb slab of meat made the trip home.

Now cleanliness is very important and the first thing I did was sanitize all the work surfaces and the sink I’d be additionally sanitizing the various tools and parts in with a mild bleach solution. Then using the same one step sanitizer I use in brewing sanitized everything in the cleaned sink.

Once everything was clean and sanitary it was time to cut the meat into pieces that would fit in the grinder chute, about an inch or so. I had enough brat seasoning for 5 lbs of sausage and a 7 lb piece of meat so as I was slicing I grabbed a piece that happened to weigh in a 2.1 lbs and vacuum sealed it for later use in a pot, either Crock or Instant depending on what time of day inspiration strikes.

After getting the meat cut into manageable chunks they got to chill out in the freezer for a bit because firmer bits go through the grinder easier. This gave me some time to clean up the work area and get started on the casings.

I used natural hog casing. They came packed in salt so I had to rinse them off then soak them for a bit before running some water through them to make sure the insides were rinsed as well. Let me tell you if you think getting the plastic bags at the self check out to open up is a pain they have nothing on trying to get a slippery wet hog casing to open up. Once that was all done I could set it aside for later. And back to the meat.

The little meat grinder I have was a Christmas gift that I had only used a few times up to this point and with mixed success. This turned out to be the most successful usage to date. The meat was nice and firm and the flow was consistent so the job didn’t take very long. The next part was adding the spice mix and combining it with the meat.

I had premixed bratwurst spices so fortunately all I had to do was dump and blend. I didn’t have a bowl big enough initially to hold all the ground meat so I did two bowls and split the seasoning. The mixing reduces the volume so I was able to ultimately add the two together and do some more blending to get a reasonably uniform dispersal of the spice blend which is key. Now I was ready to stuff the sausage.

My meat grinder came with a sausage stuffing attachment but it didn’t work well for me the first time so I bought a dedicated apparatus for the situation. Upon reflection the issue was probably more inexperience rather that machine fault but that’s in the past now.

So after clamping the stuffer in place and filling the barrel came the lubing of the tube so the casings slide on nice and easy. This is actually more time consuming than you might imagine because you’re trying to keep it even and not tear the casing while carefully sliding it over the plastic tube. Once I had that done it was tie off the end and start cranking. You have to be careful and try to avoid air pockets and there is even a little pricker tool you can use to make small holes in the casing to let the air out. I wound up going through 3 casings and some hiccups that left me with a busted casing and some bulk sausage not to mention the uneven link sizes but overall not a bad haul.

If I had a bigger freezer I’d have probably made more but as it was this would be enough for this round of sausage making. It’s really not that hard to do and if you want to get started they have manual grinders that aren’t very expensive and little electric ones like mine that aren’t that bad and even attachments for some stand mixers that do the job. It’s an interesting way to control what goes in your sausage and maybe add some flavors you might not get just anywhere.

After a trip to procure some buns the end result was grilled, topped with a little spicy mustard and some homemade sauerkraut. Deee-lishus.

Polish Yums

The most recent box from Universal Yums was loaded with great snacks from Poland. I was excited for these because I’ve been to Poland a couple of times so I felt more connected even though I didn’t have any of these.

Another pretty solid box, nothing that would make a top 10 all time snack list but nothing making the worst 10 either.

It was actually difficult to pick a favorite because there was no “star” but several I really liked. Upon reflection I enjoyed one of the simple ones most.

E. Wedel Ptasie Mleczko are dark chocolate covered vanilla marshmallow treats. The chocolate was moderately dark and had a good cocoa taste. The marshmallow was a slightly different texture than most I’ve had. It was almost like a cross between marshmallow fluff and a gummy. Very sweet with a hint of vanilla. As I said simple but tasty. The next favorite was more complex in the flavors dept.

This big bag of Pierniczki Basniowe turned out to be heart shaped gingerbread covered with dark chocolate and filled with an apple jam like substance. Lots of flavors going on here. The chocolate was decent, the gingerbread was mild and the touch of apple filling was appley and sweet. Very nice combo and hard to stop eating. Weirdly it was also hard to stop eating what I’m putting in the “worst” category.

I didn’t even get a picture of these so here’s a photo from the internet.

Image result for beskidzkie paluszki

These were poppy seed covered pretzel sticks. Worst in this case means they were the most disappointing, not that they were bad. The pretzel stick was actually delicious and the poppy seeds were plentiful but there was no salt other than what might have been in the stick batter. In my opinion that was a significant lack. However once I started munching on them I kept going back for one more crunchy little stick.

The oddest one was also one I’d say was probably my third favorite of the box.

Rarytas Crackers were little Ritz like crackers with black cumin seeds and onion. I like cumin as a spice but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to add it to a cracker, fortunately someone else had better vision. After tasting the first of these I immediately went and made a bowl of soup to go with the crackers and make no mistake the soup was the side dish for the meal. I mean I really enjoyed these crackers.

I’m going to throw out a mention to the first of the snacks I had out of the box just because they were fun.

These little ghost shaped potato crisps were light, crisp, salty and potatoish. A tad on the greasy side but still made me smile as I devoured the little spirits.

I think next month’s box is going to be from France so I’m hoping for wine and cheese but no snail flavored snacks.

Spaghetti Western

Italy

To be fair I didn’t have spaghetti but the restaurant was such a ghost town tumbleweeds were blowing through.

It occurred to me that I have really given Italian restaurants a short shrift for much the same reason I avoid the standard Chinese & Mexican restaurants in every shopping plaza in America. They tend to be generic and for all practical purposes share the same menus. Acknowledging that prejudice I decided to give a local Italian joint a chance.

Right around the corner from me I have two to chose from, located in adjacent shopping plazas, Mario’s & Luigi’s. It makes me chuckle every time I think about it, all we’re missing is a Princess Peach Ice Cream Parlor. I’ve eaten at both since moving to Rock Hill so I knew Mario’s had very little in the way of atmosphere and the menu was pretty standard. Luigi’s has the Italian restaurant aesthetic with pictures, vines, and wines.

When I got there the staff was already outnumbering the customers and the single table of 3 left shortly after I arrived so I was soon the lone diner. My server was very nice and attentive throughout the meal. The menu did have the staples of various noodles with red sauce or alfredo and various parmigianas plus of course pizzas. I decided on the Chicken ala Luigi as something that was a little different.

The Chicken ala Luigi was a couple of thin chicken breast pieces lightly floured and seasoned along with mushrooms and artichokes in a garlic, white wine sauce over fettuccine. It came with 3 little garlic bread sticks. The first bite was not impressive. The sauce was decent but it felt like it was missing something. I got a bite with some of the chicken and the blank was filled in, salt. The bit of salt from the seasoned chicken made the difference and the same for the bread that had garlic salt on it. It had the effect of making one appreciate the chicken and bread more than usual. Now lest you wonder why I didn’t just add some additional salt, I probably would have as a reflex except there was no salt or pepper on the table. I decided not bother requesting any and just enjoy the extra importance the chicken and bread assumed.

Honestly if I had to pick between this and Olive Garden the only reason I’d pick Luigi & Sons is because they were local and not a chain.

One bit of amusement I probably wouldn’t have gotten at the Olive Garden was my server talking with a co-worker about things going on in their lives and a subject came up that the one said to the other, “That’s probably not something to talk about out here”. They walked into the kitchen and because of the noise raised their voices so I heard the conversation even clearer than when they were standing in the dining area.

It was good enough I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it even if I’m not making it a regular on the “I’m too lazy to cook tonight” tour.

Holiday Yums

Well after several weeks of laziness I decided to drop the December Holiday Yums box entry.

The 2019 Holiday box had 13 snacks from 13 different countries; Spain, Uruguay, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Philippines, France, Jordan, Austria, Croatia, Belgium, Japan, and Poland. There were a couple of repeats from previous boxes but mostly it was new stuff. My favorite was a repeat.

The Jabri Mixed Baklava was my favorite from last year’s Holiday box as well. The regular is great but the birds nest version with pistachios is just a special treat. It did have some competition this year in the form of a Belgian treat.

If I haven’t said it before I’ll say it now, white chocolate is not my jam but add some cinnamon cookie bits and I’m inviting you to the party. It was like an uber-sweet snickerdoodle. A little went a long way sort of like the most unusual paring of the box.

The Spanish weighed in again with a twisted chip flavor because someone thought, “you know what this chip needs? Raspberries!” It really didn’t. It was better than I expected but I had the bar pretty low going in. The raspberry flavor was reasonably muted so it was more like a distraction from a quality chip that an enhancement. The French, not to be left out of the chip wars said “hold mon bier”.

Roasted chicken chips? I had high expectations in spite of past experience with most “meat” flavored chips. First chip had me impressed and thinking “by golly these do have a roast chicken flavor” by about the 4th chip though I was over it.  It was just too much of the roast chicken flavor, which is something I never imagined saying. I could’t even finish the bag. Croatia managed to come in with powerful entry though that I did finish.

As soon as the package was opened the garlic smell ventured forth like it was planning to conquer the world or at least the room.  The pretzel sticks were good and crunchy even with the hollow core that was loaded with garlic.  I do mean loaded.  It was so garlicky I had to go brush my teeth and gargle just so I could move on with my day. 

Most interesting taste sensation goes to the Polish gingerbread.

This was actually the first thing I had from the box. Gingerbread snacks have been hit or miss but this entry with black currant icing was tasty and light with a hard glaze icing.  For the interesting taste sensation. As I was biting it I got a strong hint of black currant that was like a combination of scent and taste but it hadn’t yet hit the tongue. This certainly has happened with other foods but this was probably the most remarkable because the black currant taste on eating it was very subtle until I was finished and then it lingered. Good start, good finish.

The other snacks were mostly good with a couple of so so but the grade for the Holiday box was an A-.

The next blog entry will have me out and about again for a lunch at one of a couple of new (to me) restaurants I’ve found.

   

Spanish Yum

The Culinary Passport has been gathering dust recently and I need to get that turned around and do some searching for new restaurants. Until that happens here’s another box review. Goodies from Spain as curated by Universal Yums.

I didn’t have any ideas what the folks in Spain may be snacking on but if the box is a good representation they have a bit of a sweet tooth. I was definitely looking forward to trying them out.

The snack I enjoyed most was the Lucasas Trufas, cocoa dusted chocolate truffles.

These little treats were a chocolate lovers friend. The chocolate was very good quality showcasing the why people would go to the dark side for their chocolate. Very rich and smooth and more than enough to enjoy over several days. The cocoa dusting was a good addition from a flavor standpoint but it was kind of like glitter in that it got everywhere.

My second favorite was about as far away from the truffles as you could get and still be a sweet.

The Gummi Spicy Mangos were definitely a fun treat. Of course they have the chewy, stretchy gummi consistency and a pronounced mango flavor that lulls you into a false complacency. I was thinking to myself, “these aren’t too spi…Hey now!” That spice comes out of nowhere to tango with your mango. It was quite the surprise and the combo was great.

There was a tie for the worst snack. Unlike some other months where that is really just my least favorite these were just not good.

The first one was supposed to be a ham flavored corn puff but it was mostly just puff. The flavor was not good and the texture was more like a decades old cheese puff without the cheese flavor or the unnatural orange color. The second was also supposed to be a corn based snack that was ketchup and mustard flavored. I was skeptical of these off the bat and they lived down to my expectations. The flavors were just nonexistent. The best use for them was as packing material to make sure the other snacks didn’t get damaged in transit.

The most unusual was probably more of a mental thing plus some bias based on hearsay.

I figured this one could go either way. I’d heard people who’d tried egg chips before comment they were nasty, smelled bad and / or were just weird. With that feedback I opened the bag with mild trepidation as I expected an assault on my nasal passages. There was not so much as a skirmish. I even decided to get in there and take a good whiff and while it did smell a tad eggy it wasn’t as bad as a boiled egg. The flavor was mildly eggish and not unpleasant at all. The chip was a quality chip to boot so I enjoyed them even if it was a combo I would not have put together.

For me the Spanish box was a mixed bag or box in this case. In addition to the favorites covered I really enjoyed some lemon cookies, a smoky snack mix, some dark chocolate covered peanuts and the Cortadillo Relleno de Crema that was OMG sweet but tasty. But there was also an olive oil, almond and spice cookie thing that couldn’t commit to being sweet or savory and suffered from the indecision.

The December box is a holiday box that is a virtual UN of snacks with 13 different countries represented and I already tried one from Poland and it was delicious.

Austrian Yum

The October box from Universal Yums had delicious snacks from Austria.

I had some high expectations for this one and there was plenty of chocolate plus some savory items that left me with a positive impression of the snack scene in Austria. There was nothing I didn’t like at least a little so the “worst” item will be the least liked.

My favorite was the Pischinger Mandel Ecken, little chocolate covered, almond topped wafers with almond creme in a tasty little square.

The milk chocolate was decent quality and the almond crunch paired with the crispy wafer worked well. There were a generous number of them and as an accompaniment to a cup of coffee it was outstanding.

My second favorite was a toss up between some Cool Mint Lemon patties and the winner, Schoko-Erdbeeren.

This was a big old bag of strawberry shaped treats. The dark chocolate shell covered a strawberry filling of an interesting consistency. It was like a cross between cream and jelly fillings, very odd but full of artificial strawberry flavor. It was weird and delicious.

My least favorite wasn’t bad but just the laggard in a decent box.

The Milch Wafflets also had strawberry flavor and chocolate but it just wasn’t in the same class. The wafers were not as crispy as the ones in the several other snacks that had wafer cookies. They were a bit styrofoamy. So they were meh.

The weirdest one in the bunch was the Big Banana.

It was a chocolate shell very much like the strawberries but not quite as dark. That shell covered a banana flavored core that again shared a consistency with the strawberries but the artificial banana flavor was not top of the line. It was pretty darn big though.

Everything I’ve highlighted was sweet but there were a couple of savory snacks as well; some Paprika Chips of the potato variety and some Creamy Onion Mini Fritts french fry sticks. There were some additional chocolate snacks and a gingerbread cookie that had hazelnuts, almonds, honey and candied orange peel. Overall the box was loaded with leckerein.

Next box is from Spain and I have no clue what to expect.

Greek Yums

Snacks from Greece

The September box from Universal Yums was loaded with treats from the land of Greece. I’ll say up front it was a mostly solid box with nothing being awful but there were a few I’m ok with never having again.

We’ll start off with my favorite and also the winner of the least photogenic of the snacks.

The poor Serenata Triplo Hazelnut did not fare well in transit due to the ovenlike temps we were having. As much as it looked like something that would empty a public pool it was quite tasty. The milk chocolate was good quality, the hazelnuts were big generous pieces while the wafers and cream filling provided a delicious platform adding even more textures. A case of don’t judge the snack by it’s melty cover.

The second place finisher was a baklava variant call Soragli.

Phyllo pastry dough, almonds, walnuts, a hint of cinnamon and syrup wrapped in a roll, how can you not like that? I will say it did spike the old blood sugar but in small doses it’s a straight up winner.

I didn’t have a “This was nasty” experience so instead of a least favorite I have a most disappointing.

OK look at the package, now look at the inside of the cake. Notice the difference in the size of the cocoa cream filling? I know the pictures always show a best case scenario but come on that’s just false advertising. Aside from being a tad dry the bread itself wasn’t bad and the filling had a decent flavor even if it was spiced with disappointment.

Most unusual goes to another one that was also a bit of a let down.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the donut shaped, cakey looking item with the grapes on the package. I did expect something grapish about it though and that expectation was met only minimally. It was a wheat cake that was sweet and the 8th ingredient was grape juice and it tasted like that’s where grapes were in the priority. The texture was crumbly and wasn’t overpoweringly sweet in spite of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and sorbitol beating out the grapes on the ingredient listing. It went ok with some strong black hot tea. There are too many other better snacks though to bother with this one again.

I want to give a shout out to the candies from the Yum Bag.

They were all three a hit with me and each was very different from the others. The white ball was an ouzo flavored hard candy that had a great anise taste. The middle one was a honey flavored toffee chew that nailed the honey flavor and the toffee just about melted in my mouth as I chewed it. The pomegranate jelly candy had the tartness of the pomegranate and the consistency almost like a Turkish delight with a light dusting of sugar crystals. All nice little nuggets of goodness.

There was also a peanut and honey bar that was reminiscent of a peanut plank, some oregano potato chips, a bruschettini pizza cracker, and some mini breadsticks with pesto flavor plus a chocolate coated wafer cookie that rounded out the box. According to the hints the next box should be an assortment from Austria. Looking forward to seeing what that includes.