October 2009

Today’s installment of our favourite webcomic, xkcd, features the following dialogue:

“You know what’s delicious? Nachos.
“When you layer the cheese so it gets on every chip… Then smother them in sour cream and salsa…”

“Mmm, that is delicious. And I’ve got the ingredients, too!”

“You should make some!”

“I will!”


Now Randall Munroe, the giant geek man behind xkcd, generously publishes his thrice-weekly visual humour under a Creative Commonscopyleft” license. Basically, for those of you who’ve never read the fine print on Wikipedia, that means anybody can do anything they want with his comics, so long as they’re not claiming it’s their own work in order to make money with it. He even graciously allows hotlinking, though we prefer not to get into that bad habit even when it is allowed by the host site. Besides which, we’re happy to do our part to drive traffic to the xkcd.com domain. So, to see the hilarious context for the above conversation, click here (or on the other link at the beginning of the post).

We doubt we’ll make it a week without making some nachos for ourselves…


Now, in general, Jack and I are perfectly willing to drop a bundle on the various 100% juice shelf-stable blends whenever they go on sale. I will go out on a limb and say that my juice intake has one whole hell of a lot to do with my general health over the past few years. I’ve gone from catching ‘colds’ once a month — or more (auto-immune disorders like Lyme disease really do a number on the rest of the immune system) — to making it through whole seasons without so much as a sniffle. There are other factors, of course, but the main change I made to my life upon moving in with Jack was to ramp my 100% juice intake to an average of at least 8 oz. per day. I recommend it to everyone. However.

Sometimes? A girl wants some punch. Some nectar. An ade or two. Something sweet and thirst-quenching that doesn’t feel the need to smack you around with how healthy you’re being. Something unpretentious. Something —

Well, fuck it. These things? Tend to be a lot damned cheaper than the 100% juice, and they’re satisfying enough to make you forget about all the high-fructose corn syrup. Especially the Tropicana (sorry, it’s a flash-heavy site. It’s pretty easy to find the products I’m talking about, though) punches. I —

Just —

Wow. You open up one of these, you take a swig, and then a few minutes later half the carton is gone and you’re trying to remember how much you love your partner and why you want to share with them instead of pressing the carton between your breasts and doing your best impression of Gollum.

It’s not pretty. But it’s delicious.

When these bad boys went on sale, we immediately made a beeline for the Peach Orchard Punch and the Berry Punch. The Peach Orchard flavor has a powerful aroma of fresh peaches and teasingly tart apples, a flavor to match, and a finish faintly reminiscent of wine. It’s incredibly refreshing and may make you forget that summer is over. Seriously awesome.

Jack describes the Berry Punch flavor as what Kool-Aid would taste like if it were made with real fruit juice instead of all that other stuff. “Good enough to please the adult palate, but friendly enough to the palates of kids raised on fake juice beverages to help them transition to healthier real juice products.” I have to agree wholeheartedly with that. If anything, it’s more kid-friendly than the Peach Orchard Punch, which, since I’m a wildly overgrown child, means that I actually prefer it.

Normally a 64 oz. juice or juice drink will last us at least a day — at the very least, we usually pick other things to drink when the juice starts getting warm — but this stuff didn’t even make it five hours. For a while Jack was pouring it directly into my mouth and I could. Not. Let. Hir. Stop.

For both flavors, it’s honestly difficult to believe that you’re only getting 10% juice. There are none of the overly thick textures or bitter, chemical-y notes that you often get with punches and nectars, and the whole thing is handled with wonderful, food-loving professionalism.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m recommending the hell out of this product. To be sure, we’ll be buying it again, and I’m looking forward to trying the other flavors.


Ingredients & Nutrition Facts:

The seven 100×100 pixel images at the top of every page in this blog, taken together, are what we call our “filmstrip.” (WordPress calls it a custom header.)

From time to time, one or more of the seven photos may change to another, newer and more-delicious-looking photo. At the moment, though, what’s there is this version of the filmstrip:

f o o d g a s m | f i l m s t r i pStarting from the left:

  1. An enlarged macro shot of a cube of frozen chopped cilantro. Nice strong direct sunlight provided the rich glow. The actual area shown is approximately 5/8″ (1.5 cm) square.
  2. A spoonful of our own Pistachio-Cannoli Ice Cream, with the container visible below it. The whole pistachios visible should give a fair idea of the scale, even though they’re partly submerged.
  3. Two of what we call “lemon olives” due to the presence of tiny lemons in the jar with the jumbo green olives, which adds a lemony flavour to the olives. Each olive (and lemon) is about 1 1/3 inches (3.33 cm) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) across.
  4. A slice of pesto artisan bread, generously glazed with garlic-infused extra-virgin Kalamata olive oil.
  5. Several garlic bulbils (the tiny bulbs which grow in a floral formation on “field” garlic) cupped in Jack’s palm. The longest of these are barely 1/3″ (7.75 mm) in length, and the smallest ones are only half that; overall, the bulbils or bulblets are roughly the size of grains of assorted varieties of rice.
  6. Seviroli brand ricotta-stuffed ravioli, dressed with red sauce, an extra drizzle of extra-virgin Kalamata olive oil, and of course grated Parmigiano Reggiano. The oval-shaped ravioli are around two by three inches (5 x 7.5 cm), more than a mouthful.
  7. Some muscadine grapes showing off their delightful natural colour variations. The average muscadine is an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter.

There will be links to other posts with more information about each photo as it comes up in the blog, so “watch this space,” as they say.

What we English-speakers call raisins, the French-speaking world knows as raisins sec (literally “dry grapes”); in French, raisin by itself means grape. If that’s confusing, don’t worry — both raisins and raisins are featured in today’s post.

On the left, “golden” raisins; made from green-skinned grapes, they’re more brown than yellow due to being unsulphured1, but not as dark as raisins dried from red or black grapes. The raisins in the larger bunchlet at right were dried from red grapes, giving them a deeper colour.

two bunches of home-dried raisins, sunlight glowing through them like stained glass

two bunches of home-dried raisins, sunlight glowing through them like stained glass

Red-grape raisins are finally starting to be available commercially, often sold under the name “flame” grapes, after the most common variety of red seedless grapes. Drying your own may be easier than finding some sold in your local area, and it may be cheaper, too, especially if you wait for the grapes to go on sale. (For some reason, raisins rarely go on sale, whereas fresh grapes are often on sale for $1/lb or less, and even organic grapes can be had for under $2/lb, at least here in Connecticut.)

But is drying your own raisins complicated? Do you need special equipment? Not at all! It’s so easy, the first time we did it was by accident…

It’s a regular occurence with a bag of fresh grapes: you get to the end of the bunch and have just a few grapes left, all of them suspiciously small, or maybe with a crack or other blemish, or they’ve come loose from the bunch and you’re just not sure they’ll still have that fresh-grape pop! when you bite into them. We used to simply throw those grapes away. But one day the bag with the few questionable grapes left in it got moved onto the bedroom windowsill — we have nice, deep cat-width windowsills which often get used as handy shelving for piling things on — instead of being thrown away. We forgot about them entirely, for long enough that by the time we noticed they were there, they’d shrivelled to the point where they’d started to look raisinish. So, always game for an experiment, we left them on the sunny windowsill for another few weeks, until they really looked like raisins. Larger and plumper, and slightly redder, than raisins from the store, but definitely fully raisin-like in appearance and texture.

Carefully, I bit into one. Not only was it definitely a raisin, it was the best raisin I’d ever tasted! We quickly devoured the rest of the handful of raisins we’d inadvertently made, some out of hand but mostly in breakfast cereal (and the last of them in a fantastic raisin and grape-infused-pecan trifle dessert) and deliberately left the less-pretty grapes at the end of our next few bags of grapes on the windowsill. Now, when there’s a really good sale on grapes, we buy more than we’ll be able to eat fresh on purpose, so we can make raisins from the rest.

The technique: Rinse the grapes you want to use, then wipe all the water off, or let them drain a couple of hours to evaporate the rinse-water. You can leave them on the bunch, or take some or all of them off, and each batch will dry more evenly if you at least separate bunchlets from the main stem until you can lay the grapes out no more than two grapes deep. You’ll want to have kept the bag the raisins came in, if it has ventilation holes in it — this page at the manufacturer’s website2 shows one of the most common designs for bags fresh grapes are sold in — or you can add some holes to another bag. Air needs to be able to flow around the grapes, but you want them to be loosely covered to keep dust off, because air-drying does take a few weeks, even in a sunny, south-facing window. We have successfully dried grapes this way even when the weather was almost constantly overcast and/or raining for weeks at a time, but of course the light and heat of the sun helps. We’ve gotten good results in spring, summer and fall weather alike (We’ll update this post once we try raisining over the winter) but the exact length of time it will take for your grapes to dry fully into raisins will depend on how much sun they receive, the ambient temperature, the humidity level, and other local conditions.

Alternate technique: If sun-drying takes too long for your taste, or you’re not comfortable with the air-drying method, there’s a quicker method, too, although we find the resulting raisins not quite as good as the ones dried on a sunny windowsill. Start by rinsing and thoroughly blotting dry the fresh grapes (or letting them dry at room temperature, as above). Lay the grapes out on cookie sheets or in disposable-aluminum3 trays — since the grapes will be going into the oven, it’s best to leave them on the stem as much as possible so that they can’t roll or bounce out into the bottom of your oven — and arrange them in the oven. You can fill each rack in your oven, or dry just one pan-full, just make sure there’s enough room between each rack, and between the racks and the top and bottom of the oven, to allow air to flow between levels. Turn your oven on at its lowest setting; it only needs to be about 180F (82C), but it’s okay if yours doesn’t go lower than 200F (93C). This is important: Once the oven has heated to 180F, open the oven door and leave it open. This increases air circulation and helps keep evaporated moisture moving out of the oven. If your oven door won’t stay open a few inches on its own, you can use an oven-safe utensil to prop it open, but obviously be careful doing this, especially if the utensil you use is metal rather than silicone or another less heat-conductive material. Since it can take two days or longer to dehydrate grapes into raisins using this method, it’s best to do it in colder weather.

Of course, if you own a food dehydrator, you can just use that to raisinify your grapes. But we’re willing to bet windowsill-dried raisins will beat them in a taste test.

One of the subjects of this post is DIY ingredients — DIY standing for do-it-yourself. There are many foods we make that aren’t necessarily meant to be eaten by themselves, as opposed to being added to a variety of other recipes. Typically (though not always) these DIY ingredients could be bought ready-made from the store, but we’ve found that they often taste better and are usually less expensive when we make them ourselves. Home-dried raisins are an example of what we call a DIY ingredient; others which will feature in future posts include garlic oil, simple syrup, and a surprising substitute for parsley.

And now, for something that’s completely different while still being grapes:

vibrant, gold-spangled muscadine grapes by nature; funky background by Photoshop*

vibrant, gold-spangled muscadine grapes by nature; funky background by Photoshop*


I’ve been saying for ages that the main reason I hadn’t yet started a food blog was the lack of a digital camera. Food blogs just aren’t the same without photos to show what the food looks like, after all.

Well, as of last night, I am the proud owner of a (sparkly purple!) Kodak M893, a late birthday present from my wonderful fiancee, Te. (By the  way, “Te” rhymes with day — and fiancee. Also for anyone who surfed in from a link and doesn’t know me: I’m Jack.) Te helps me develop many of my original recipes, as well as some of her own, and of course helps me with the eating, too.

So far I’ve just been taking some experimental pictures to get a feel for the M893‘s settings; it features a nice selection of both manual and “point & shoot” options. The next post should have some images, though, if not necessarily the first shots I took — those will have to wait until I have photos of the dishes the ingredients go into. There will be two different ice cream recipes (another of my birthday gifts this year was a Cuisinart ice cream maker) and several other dishes with some fantastic lemon-cured green olives from Egypt.

The lack of natural light at this time of day (night) is a hindrance, because many subjects, food especially, just don’t look their best in artificial light. Watch this space for a post illustrating the difference in quality between sunlight and electric light, and/or between ambient light and the dreaded camera flash…