Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Hammond's Pigs N' Taters

You're not even going to believe me when I tell you that this thing exists, so let's just dispense with the introductions and I'll show you proof:

Yes, ma'am... sir... ma'amsir. Yes. This is a thing. It is a glorious thing. It is so heavenly, it has a halo. That's how out of this world a chocolate bar with bacon and potato chips is. Let's not argue about it, okay? Let's just bask in the wonder.

I found this at Breed and Company when I was there for a Soda Streamer refill (they're still out of Diet Dr. Pete, dang it!). When I got home and checked out Hammond's website, I realized that we're scheduled to tour the facility next spring when we're on vacation!

So, on to the main event:

This is milk chocolate, so it's light and creamy. Since it's about 80 degrees in the house, that chocolate "snap" isn't easy to judge. The melting point of chocolate is between 86 and 90 degrees, so we are getting close. (Incidentally, that's why it has such a pleasant and unique mouth feel; it melts just below our body temperature, so it liquefies as it makes contact with the tongue.)

I didn't see any potato chips when I broke into the chocolate, but I did see quite a bit of bacon.

There was, however invisible, a very satisfying amount of crunchy chip content in the smooth chocolate. Between the chips and the bacon, this is an incredibly salty bar, which I love. This might be one of my favorite candy bars ever, which is saying a lot. It is a testimony to my adoration of my husband that I didn't open it before he got home and that I haven't now, while he's at work, finished the candy. It's just that amazing.

I have mentioned this before, but just to review: When eating chocolate, you will enjoy it more if you don't chew it. Remember that melting point? Letting the chocolate melt on your tongue allows the flavors to assault your senses of both taste and smell, and the result is a lot more enjoyable than if you chomp it up and swallow it. This is especially true as the chocolate gets darker. Very dark chocolate can taste like black glue if you insist on masticating it. But even with milk chocolate, I prefer to let it linger for a while.

With this bar, when you do that, you end up with a bunch of crunchy bit of chips and bacon left over to enjoy after the chocolate has mostly melted, but you can still taste it. It's delicious and fun to consume.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Review: Wild Ophelia American Roadtrip Chocolate

Today, Whole Foods had their Wild Ophelia bars on sale for $2.99 (they're normally $4.99). I've been curious about them, and could not pass up this deal, so I bought two.

Wild Ophelia is branded as the "sister" to Vosges Chocolate. I've reviewed two of their bars before: the fantastically fun Woolloomooloo bar, and the so-delicious-I-forgot-to-share Blood Orange Caramel bar.

It seems like Wild Ophelia is just an alt label, as they explore more down-to-earth US flavor combinations.

I am curious about their beef jerky flavor because Daphne and I tried to chocolate-coat jerky once, and the result was horrific. My curiosity isn't $3 strong, and it's certainly not $5 strong, so I'll just have to wait to see if they're ever sampling it. The Vosges bacon bar is exquisite, though, so maybe they're on to something I missed.

The insides of the boxes have a neat old-western-looking motif, which is interesting, considering that they're not actually engineered to be fully opened.

Since the hibiscus peach bar was labeled 41% cocoa, I expected it to be darker than the peanut butter banana bar.

As it turns out, they're both 41% cocoa, it's just not touted as prominently on the pb&b box.

Immediately, the hibiscus peach bar was overwhelming in its rich, fruity chocolate aroma. Because of this, I tried it first.

The chocolate was very smooth, with the only little "crunches" coming from pieces of freeze-dried peaches. The hibiscus adds a tart edge that accentuates the peach's sweetness, and the overall flavor is strong and overtly fruity.

I made the mistake of tasting the pb&b bar immediately. The flavor of this bar is much more understated, though, so I had to wait a while, cleanse my palate, and try again.

This bar is also creamy smooth, save some bits of dried banana. The peanut butter adds a richness to the chocolate, and the overall effect is much less sweet than the other bar.

I like them both, but think that I'll enjoy the peanut butter and banana bar more if I eat it first, because the flavor profile is so much subtler. The hibiscus peach is definitely more "fun," taste-wise.

Here's a little intro video to the Wild Ophelia brand. Leave a note in the comments as to how many times you count her say the word "movement."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Beer-Making, Part 1: Boiling, Brewing, and Boxers

James has brewed his own beer several times before. He has all of the equipment and only had to purchase the actual ingredients, which he did weeks and weeks ago at Austin Homebrew Supply.

Gotta give a shout-out to Austin Homebrew, by the way. We got our mozzarella cheese-making stuff there, and have recently purchased a kit to make hard cheese. Their staff is so helpful, and they love what they do, and they'll talk to you and help you decide what to do, then they'll make sure you have everything that you need. I'm definitely a fan!

Anyway, Sunday afternoon, "we" (this is mostly James, with my taking pictures and sometimes using a spare hand to hold something or to stir) started the process: cleaning and sterilizing equipment, and activating the brewer's yeast.

Some notes: 1) James had a spill on his bike Saturday afternoon, so that's what that's about. 2) The cool-down process languished into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and clothes gradually came off as apparent bedtime approached. You know how it is. 3) Since James has done this before and had all of the equipment, the actual ingredients were fairly inexpensive. Less than $30 for 5 gallons of beer, including the water. 4) What you've heard is true: I don't particularly like beer (and that's being super generous). But I LOVE hanging out with my husband, I love making things in the kitchen, and I love science. So beer-brewing appeals to me. I've made German chocolate cakes for friends, too, and I'm not a huge fan of that, either. Can't we all just get along?

Yes. The man *will* clean stuff (that he finds important to clean).

He'll even use a flower-backed scrubber!

To activate the yeast, you have to smack the packet to open the nutrient pack inside.

To the left is what the yeast packet looked like immediately after we hit it.

Below is what it looked like 24 hours later.

Now I'm just going to follow this process with pictures, for the most part. If you need detailed instructions, you can find them here. Also, you can find recipe kits like the one we used here.

I'd say the yeast is good!

Thorough review of the instructions.

Barley, malt, and... one other thing; liquid malt extract (sugar), yeast, honey (sugar), and Galena (hops).

First, we needed 2 gallons of clean, filtered water.
In the water, you boil the grain the same way you'd brew tea. We realized, setting this up, that James hadn't gotten a grain bag (think tea bag, but bigger). So...

He ironically used a Halloween promotional Budweiser beer T-shirt!

After about half an hour of steeping, you pull out the grain bag and let it drip dry. No squeezing!

The beginnings of beer. It smells deceptively (according to me) good. Some might call it an accurate preview, but I felt about this smell the same way I feel about coffee. Glad it's filling up our house with the smell, but that's it.

After the initial brew, James added 5 pounds of liquid malt.

And a pound of honey.

Little known fact: Beer contains rabbit food. Okay, that's a joke. These are hops. They smell delightfully earthy and add a bitterness to beer. People seem to like that.

He added 1/4 of an ounce immediately after returning to the post-sugar boil, and then added another 1/4 of an ounce after 55 minutes, cooking only for 5 minutes after that.

The greenish yellow bits are the bottom of the picture are the disintegrating hops.

Here's where the laboratory science comes in!
You are supposed to lower the temperature of the beer as quickly as possible to 80 degrees. This coil drops into the brew, and you run cool water through the coil for... well, until you die, if our experience is any indication.

Cold water comes from the tap, then circles around in the copper coiling in the brew.

Extremely hot water comes out the other end.

147 degrees

117 degrees
The cool-down from boiling to 90 degrees took the better part of half an hour. An hour after THAT, the mixture was still hovering around 85. The ambient temperature in the house is 80, and we were getting nowhere fast. The water coming out of the end of the coils was cool, and we'd even dumped the contents of our ice-maker into the sink.

Eventually, we decided to dump the brew from one vat into another, and back and forth until it cooled off. This also served the dual purpose of aerating it, putting a nice foamy head on the stuff.

By this time, it was well after midnight and some of us were getting sleepy! But there was a light at the end of the tunnel!
Now, we fill up the 5 gallon container. In Daphne's room, since she's gone and it's the darkest/coolest room in the house.

Topping it off with water.

Adding the yeast. Check out that foaming action!
James checking the specific gravity of the mixture, and realizing that he needs glasses because when it's dark and the print is small, we have some issues.
So, that's it for a week or so. We're leaving the mixture to ferment in Daphne's room. This morning, when I got up and went to check on it, I found that Carol had deemed herself the guardian of the beer. We can all rest assured. Check back for Part 2 late next week, when we move the mixture to another fermenter!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Question for the Public

Does anyone know anything about this van?

Once or twice a week, it parks to the side of Taco Cabana for a couple of hours. People come and go, hang out, chat, and it's basically just like a roadside living room.


We've been tempted to go over and see what's happening. They're always having a nice time. When they parked the other day, the person on the bike rode over to join them, and when the van moved, they loaded the bike up and took that person with them.

I wonder if they stay until they're made to move, or they only hang out at certain places for a certain amount of time, so that friends will know where to find them.

If you know anything about this, leave the info in the comments! I'm really curious.

The last time they were here, I had a mystery shop for a dinner delivery, and we've decided to order them dinner as soon as they park next time, then watch to see what happens...

Review: Garnier Olia Oil Powered Permanent (hair) Color

In the past, over at the other blog, I did quite a few hair color reviews, including this random observation about gloves.

This week, I tried a new hair color, Garnier Olia.

For the past few months, I've been getting my hair color at Whole Foods. I tried Naturtint as well as a henna-based colorant. While the results were adequate, they weren't vibrant. My hair stayed a reddish shade of mostly brown, and I like my red hair to be pretty red.

Because hair is what it is, and mine isn't in the best shape, any color will fade after a few weeks. That's why I need it to start out even a little bit over the top so that when the initial *bang* of color washes out, it's still... well, red, to beat a dead horse.

I am trying to avoid ammonia or anything else that's going to strip or dry out my hair. The henna dye lies on top of the strand, which means it washes out, albeit slowly. I'm starting off with pretty dark brown hair naturally, so that makes it even more stubborn to color.

Thus, I tried this.

It comes with a weird squirt application bottle, the developer, the color itself, conditioner, and a pair of, get this, BLACK gloves.

Fancy! Actually, it's nice because when I color my hair, it usually looks like I'm wearing gloves to avoid leaving proof that I violently murdered someone.

The dye mix was thick and did not drip. As soon as the mixture was activated, I knew I was on the right track. The dye began to turn a very dark pinkish orange-red, which I prefer to having it turn purple, which means that it's more of a dark auburn and not the look I want for summer.

There's nothing hugely radical about this hair color, but I appreciate that they didn't try to go the foam route which has been the rage recently. In my experience, it's difficult to use all of the foam and it's messy. I was also pleased that it was as thick as it is and didn't drip.

The end color was exactly what I wanted, but I ran into one issue: because the dye was so thick, I somehow managed to miss some pretty overt spots toward the right side of my head, near the bottom of my hair. I decided to take advantage of the fact that ombre is a fad and just leave it... 

Until a few days later when I decided to go one step further and actually color the bottom layer of my hair purple. Now, it looks like this. The pretty, bright red is courtesy of Olia, which I will definitely purchase again. Only I'll be careful to comb though to make sure I don't miss anything else.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: Triscuit Brown Rice and Wheat Crackers

Since having moved just off of the UT campus, I have rarely darkened the door of a "big box" store. We get most of our food from Whole Foods, though I occasionally will ride my bike to Wheatsville Co-op to pick up a few things or stop by Central Market or Sprouts when I'm out. Within the next couple of months, we will have a Trader Joe's within a few miles, and then the other one opens next year close to our house.

But I digress. You get the point.

MY point is that, today, while James and I were out running some errands, we went in to Target for... something we realized last night that we really needed, but we couldn't exactly put our fingers on what that thing was.

As we walked the aisles, we were still completely lost as to what we'd felt it was so important to obtain that we would end up inside a store like this. Whatever it was, it was something that CVS probably wouldn't carry.

We never figured it out.

We did, however, find these. And they looked interesting enough that we picked up a box.

It's a mouthful, but here is what they are: Brown Rice Baked with Sweet Potato Triscuits, Roasted Sweet Onion.

The ingredients?

Long grain brown rice, soybean oil, whole grain soft white wheat, dried sweet potato, onion powder, brown sugar, sweet potato powder, sea salt, sugar, garlic powder, dried molasses, natural flavor, dried parsley, yeast extract, distilled white vinegar, citric acid.

Hey, did you notice something? That stuff is all food. Even though there are three sweeteners, and the wheat is white, and the second most plentiful ingredient is oil, the thing is made out of food ingredients that I can immediately place by name.

What's the difference in sweet potato powder and dried sweet potato? I have no idea!

But these crackers are delicious. I know you probably either love Triscuits or hate them. I like them okay, in general. I tend to prefer Wheat Thins, of which I can eat an entire box. But with a nice dip or when they're well-flavored, I can go for some Triscuits.

These are delicious. The sweet onion flavor is stronger than the sweet potato flavor, but you still get that, too. The flavor is balanced, and it's delicious enough to be addictive on its own...

But there is an idea on the box that I desperately need to try: topping the Tricuit with a square of gouda and a slice of fresh fig. Yes. This needs to happen.

Highly recommended.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Dark Side of Cake

This morning, as James and I were eating cake for breakfast (it's pound cake but we had lots of unsweetened strawberries and blueberries on it, so it's healthy!), we had a conversation about angel food cake.

James said that he remembered his grandmother being so proud of her Angel Food Cake, then horrified when James would cut a slice and crumple it up into a ball to eat it, destroying her hard work. (I used to do the same thing with Wonder Bread!)

He also remembered a pastor saying that he LOVED Devil's Food Cake, but that he had to hide in his closet when he ate it, because he couldn't bear the thought of his congregation knowing that he'd eat something called "Devil's Food."

This led me to ponder how to rename the cake into something less offensive. James' idea was "chocolate cake," but I think I might have eaten something else known commonly as "chocolate cake" before.

My ideas were:

1. The Supremely Misguided Angel's Food Cake
2. The Angel Formerly Known as Prince of Light Cake
3. Beelze-Yum
4. Hell-o Cake! (With a nod to Hey Cupcake!)

What about you? Any other ideas? Leave your renamed cake titles in the comments!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why I Happen to LOVE Whole Foods Market

According to Google Maps, we live 1.2 miles from the Whole Foods Market flagship store here in Austin, Texas. Whole Foods, as you might know, is expensive. Like, REALLY expensive. Shopping there requires a complete paradigm shift from my days of couponing and bargain shopping. Our family priority now involves clean eating and knowing from where the stuff we put into our mouths comes. Well, that, plus...

But, seriously, that's not the only reason. It's a reason I'm drooling, sure, but... there are many more reasons I love Whole Foods. In no particular order:

1) Rubber bands. They put rubber bands around your egg cartons so they don't flop open and eject embryonic chickens all over your trunk, kitchen floor, etc. They will also do the same with berry cartons, but the cashier today was telling me that he doesn't like to do that because he is concerned that the rubber band could cut through the clear plastic and bruise the berries.

2) Ice packs. If you buy meat and aren't going to be heading to a refrigerator very soon, they will give you little bags of Sonic-esque ice to keep the stuff cold. Sweet.

3) Samples. Yes, on weekends, they have samples everywhere in the whole store. But also, the other day, my sister and I were hanging out looking curiously at the persimmons. The gentleman who was working in produce asked if we wanted to try one, then he went in the back to get a knife, came back, and cut into a persimmon, which he ate with us. The best way I can describe it is a sweet, citrus-y tomato kind of thing. It was yummy and while I didn't feel the need to spend three bucks on one of them, it was awesome that he just split one with us, and that he hung out chatting while we enjoyed it together.

4) It's biker-friendly!

5) The meat... well, the meat has some quality of life before it's slaughtered to feed me and my family. That might sounds dumb, but I really don't want to contribute to a system that has chickens hatched in cages and their leg muscles don't even work because they have no room to stand, and they poop on each other (which I have no doubt they do anyway, but at least it's their disgusting choice instead of a by-product of the fact that they're just stacked on top of each other. 

6) Homeopathy and other personal products. There are so many choices here. If you want a deodorant without aluminum, you can find several options instead of just one. Today, I got an herbal allergy symptom treatment. It worked very quickly!

7) James loved Whole Foods before he moved here because everyone he met who worked at a Whole Foods LOVED it and thought they had the best jobs in the world. All of the places here in Austin must be awesome because they're not quite as happy-happy around the flagship store. Personally, I'm fine with this. The butchers are AWESOME; I love to watch them.

8) The escalators. There are stair escalators up, for people who have legs. But when you're going down to the parking garage with your cart, what do you do? The escalators are brilliant. The carts magnetically "attach" to them so the carts will not roll down the escalator (de-escalator?) when you're heading to the garage.

9) So. many. choices. The flagship store is HUGE. It's awesome.

I'd articulate more, but Munchkin calls!