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Product review: CASCAL fermented soda

On the surface, it sounds kind of funny and maybe not too appetizing–”fermented soda.” And maybe when you realize that CASCAL is a product endorsed by Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame, you might think you’re about to taste something strange. Then again, what do you think wine is? Basically fermented grape juice, right? And it’s also worth noting that there are no odd things in this beverage like, oh I don’t know, Mediterranean bug juice or bull testicle extract. They are basically sodas with fruit flavors, but with a couple of twists. For one, some of the fruits are fermented, giving it a half-sour, on its way to being alcohol flavor; and also there are some flower flavors such as rose and magnolia.

The taste? They are actually really delicious and refreshing. I’m a big fan of flavored, unsweetened seltzer, and since these are not as sweet as soda or even fruit juice infused seltzers, it’s refreshing without coating your mouth with sugar. The brightness of the fermented aspect is nice too without being over the top. My favorites were the Bright Citrus–with flavors of lemongrass, tangerine and pineapple; and the Berry Cassis, with black currant, tangerine and lemon. I wasn’t as crazy about the Ripe Rouge. The cherry and chocolate flavors in that one were nice but were overpowered by the rose flavoring. The same goes for the magnolia in Crisp White, which took over the pear and apricot tastes.

Zimmern offers advice on which flavors go best with which fare–such as Crisp White going well with egg dishes; and Ripe Rouge a nice complement to barbecued ribs. Thankfully, he doesn’t suggest pairing any of them with some of the weird things he eats on the show. So go try CASCAL in confidence if you are intrigued, and I know you are. The stuff is really interesting and for the most part, mighty tasty.

Cooler weather=warmer food

I have to admit, by the time September hits, and there is a chill in the air, I’m ready to stop grilling and making salads and gazpacho and ready to start cooking stick-to-you-ribs meals like chili and stew and roasts. One of the reasons I was excited about moving to Wisconsin last year was for the earlier changing of the season from that of Nashville. Of course, there is the down side to that–i.e. early and lots-of-it snow. But we have some time before that happens (well, hopefully we do). And the warmer fall has been a mild bummer in a cooking sense, because who wants to make stew when it’s 80 degrees outside, as it was the first week to 10 days of the month here in Madison. Something is wrong with that picture, but I’m no climate scientist.

As I write this, however, it’s a brisk 60-ish with temps dropping into the low 40′s tonight. It’s stew time, and I’ve got a beef stew on the stove. I’m not making the one I posted here last year, but a new recipe I found in a magazine. But I have to tell you guys, I re-visited my chili recipe last week during a football Sunday (the beef one), and it came out way better than it ever has before. I think the key was just to let it thicken naturally, but either way I felt pretty good about that recipe, admittedly better than the first time I made it and created the recipe.

I’m also looking forward to re-visiting casseroles and mac & cheese like this one. I also want to give another go-round with this Buffalo chicken mac I saw in the Food Network magazine recently. Man, was that amazing. Oh, and don’t forget about soup. Maybe I need to make new soups a priority this year–dude soup. Yeah, that’s it.

Product review: Schwan’s mini meatball sandwiches and mini mozzarella bites

You’ve probably seen those yellow delivery trucks that are essentially refrigerators on wheels. These vehicles carry Schwan’s Foods. What you may not know is that you can order these products online now to be delivered to your door, but not necessarily by yellow refrigerator truck.

Anyway, I have never tried anything that Schwan’s made but I have heard that their food is mighty tasty, something you can’t always say about frozen foods. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was pitched two new products from Schwan’s–mini meatball sandwiches and mini mozzarella bites–as the company tries to appeal to the football watching public. So I popped them in the oven (the meatball sandwiches require about twice the time so I put those in first) and ate them–you guessed it–on Sunday while watching football.

Chef JimThe mini meatball sandwiches are kind of like mini Hot Pockets, but with one difference (no offense to the folks who make the aforementioned pockets)–they taste really good. The crust is actually nice and flaky, despite being a frozen product, and still house a good amount of whole grains without being grainy tasting. The meatballs do not taste like mystery meat, and don’t even have a weird texture as some frozen meatballs do. The only thing I would have liked more of is the tomato sauce, but this can be easily rectified by nuking some spaghetti or pizza sauce and dipping the sandwiches.

Chef JimIn fact, you might want to nuke extra sauce to go along with the mozzarella bites. For some reason, I was expecting breaded cheese sticks, but these were more like tiny pillows of dough with mozzarella cheese inside. Just like the sandwiches, the crust was nice and flaky and these were nice little bites. These have no sauce–it’s basically dough and cheese, but still delicious and perfect dipping into warmed pizza sauce.

Bacon woes

I had good intentions with another bacon recipe to post this past weekend, but lo and behold, not every recipe I develop is any good. My plan was to take refrigerated crescent rolls, and fill them with bacon and sausage and cheese. Mmmmm, breakfast-y goodness, right? Well, not really, and this makes me wonder how many recipes out there that are really good actually fail sometimes and fail as miserably as my breakfast sandwich.

I cooked a bunch of bacon, and our 4-year old son ate more of it than I needed. That’s my boy. I was left with two slices. I cooked a link of turkey breakfast sausage. Then I took the rolls out or should I say, Mrs. Mike and I (mostly her) had to fight to open the package, which should have been our first sign. I won’t say the brand, because I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus here, but I will say this–the crescent rolls I bought were butter flavored. Now, you’d think that anything’s better with butter, right? The catch here is I don’t think it’s real butter we’re talking about.

Anyway, I assembled the roll by pinching two triangles together to make a rectangle, and then I laid down some cheese, bacon and the sausage link and rolled that sucker up. I baked it for a few minutes longer than what the recipe suggested, and took a bite. B-L-E-C-H. I took another bite. B-L-E-C-H. It was the butter flavored roll, not anything else that made it disgusting. I imagine that with normal crescent rolls or biscuits, this sandwich would taste really good. But I haven’t recovered from that vile butter taste to give it a go.

I will say this, though…..it’s been fun writing about bacon and coming up with recipes, so why not extend bacon week for another little while? I’ll be preoccupied for a few days but will deliver more bacon posts next week and into the following week before turning our attention to Halloween candy. Sound good? I thought so.

Maple-y bacon breakfast sandwich

Psst, don’t tell your cardiologist about this one.

Last week, I saw Eggo French Toast Waffles, which are more of a waffle and less like French toast (the key is there is maple syrup baked in), in the freezer case at the grocery store. I thought our 4-year old would like these, so I picked them up. Then of course, I realized it’s bacon week and anything goes.

So this morning, I toasted two of these “waffles,” and scrambled some eggs. I cooked up two slices of thick cut bacon in the microwave. When the pillows of maple goodness were toasted, I put a slice of cheese down on one of them, then topped with the scrambled eggs and the bacon slices and put the other waffle on top. And there you have a breakfast sandwich that is every bit as tasty as it sounds, and looks (above).

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