Tea posing as juice

And now, for the Trader Joe’s Random Food Product of the Week!
I like to buy my juice at TJ’s. It’s because I believe that most, if not all, their juices are 100% natural, meaning that they don’t contain junk like high fructose corn syrup (although if you believe this Corn Refiners Association commercial, maybe you don’t mind so much).

Here is what it does contain:

An odd collection of ingredients, to be sure. I don’t remember if I read this carefully before I purchased the product. Probably I didn’t. If I had, I might have thought, “Hmm. Most of this stuff might taste pretty good in hot tea. But as a cold juice? Really?

And my instincts would have been right. On the tongue it’s got some lemon and honey notes, and there’s a definite gingery zing, especially in the aftertaste, but combined with the apple and grape juices, it doesn’t work that well.

As an experiment, I heated it up and tried it as a “tea.” Much better! Plop in a cinnamon stick, you’re good to go. Plus, it’s got built-in echinacea, which is my signature cold prevention trick.

Drink this product as a tea when you’ve got the sniffles. Not recommended for breakfast with your toast and cocoa puffs.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Joes. joefoxjoefoxjoefoxjoefoxjoefoxjoefox


Goo is good

I bought this product at a Trader Joe’s the other day (cell phone for size comparison).


Let me now just say the following, to quote a Whitney Houston song: It’s not right, but it’s OK.

We “chefs” are not supposed to do it, right? If a recipe calls for chicken broth (or stock), it’s hoping that we’re going to use homemade chicken stock. We start with a mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery), brown that up (caramelization … extra flavor), then maybe add some thyme, parsley, a bay leaf, salt, then a whole chicken, water, and cook it for an hour – preferably more, depending on how full-flavored you want it to be. That’s just for the broth.

Do you have time for this?

Most of us need to use the canned stuff, which is, admittedly, a rather weak substitute for homemade, but certainly acceptable when time is of the essence. Now there’s this product, a broth concentrate with the consistency of goo (And who doesn’t love goo?). When I saw it in the store, I wondered: are my days of lugging around canned chicken broth over forever? Not an unappealing thought!

Among the advantages this product has over the canned stuff is that the package is smaller and lighter, and it gives you more control over how much you want to use. With the concentrate, you can make as little as a cup (8 oz.) of broth, while a can forces 14.5 oz. on you (an awkward measurement as well). The canned (at least, the supermarket brand) and the concentrate are about the same price – 4 cents per ounce. The canned will be slightly more expensive if you go for a name brand, such as Swanson’s, though it will offer a better taste.

My panel of expert taste testers (me) thought that the goo broth had more authentic chicken flavor than the canned market brand, though you will have to squeeze the goo into hot water, which I suppose is slightly more work. Cook’s Illustrated prefers Swanson Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, which was not on my tasting panel today, but I’d say go with it, if you need to impress somebody, and impress them in a hurry.

So all the broths have their merits. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how we can kick pre-made broth up a notch, and test out some recipes with it over the next couple of days.

Another shot at PB pastry

Fans of this blog will know that I will NOT be using low-fat anything in this recipe. But I will be using a curious ingredient, one that I have never used before. Drumroll please: chocolate peanut butter!


They sell it at Whole Foods (though I’m not sure that every WF has it. Better call ahead to check.). Whole Foods chocolate PB is much like their house PB – basically just fresh ground peanuts, only this time, with “chocolate” added to it. It’s not clear what kind of chocolate is in it – it does not really have a label. A quick call to WF revealed that the chocolate component consists of cocoa, carob powder, and cocoa butter, along with some sugar and vanilla.

Sounds sweet, doesn’t it? Yes, it’s probably more of a dessert item than something you would, say, spread on a celery stick or an apple. But, hey, if the spirit moves you…

I have to tell you guys that it was not easy trying to find a recipe to retro-fit into this oddball ingredient, but I’m going to give this one a shot:

Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies, courtesy of bakingbites.com

(Makes 16 brownies.)

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup all pupose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F and line a 9×9-in square pan with aluminum foil. Lightly grease the foil with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and peanut butter until smooth, then beat in sugar until light and fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. In a small bowl, sift together cocoa, flour, salt and baking powder. Mix in to peanut butter mixture at a low speed, stopping when just combined. Stir in chocolate chips and scrape batter into pan, spreading into an even layer.

Bake for 26-29 minutes, until set. Edges should feel slightly firm and the center should not look wet or jiggly. Cool on a wire rack and lit brownies out with the foil when ready to slice.

Results to follow. I think these will be better than the low-fatties. Wish me luck.

Sugar plums

Yes, it’s 4 days after Christmas, but bear with me here and enjoy some classic poetry.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads…

Everyone knows and loves this poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” originally published in 1823. And those of you who are fans of the Tchaikovsky ballet “The Nutcracker” are familiar with the Sugar Plum fairy. But does anyone know what a sugar plum is? Do we take this Christmas treat for granted, not give it a second thought? Yes we do, and that’s an injustice that ends right here.

I found this to be quite an interesting website (godecookery.com). If you are interested in exploring recipes and food trivia from the Renaissance, you’ll enjoy it. Will you be making capon in milk and honey, or dragontail very often? Probably not. But if you are on the way to your local Renaissance festival, or if you just want to get a little creative in the kitchen, give it a try.

Juggling matzo balls

Tonight, in several cities across America, is what is known as the “Matzo Ball“. You can read more about the origins of it here, but basically, it’s clubbing on Christmas Eve for young people who aren’t spending the evening with their families (as well as those who get tired of their families by around 10 o’clock and want to go clubbing). Ostensibly, it’s for Jewish people, the theory of course being, what else do they have to do on Christmas Eve? I attended one once. Let me tell you – it’s maybe 60% Jewish kids. Maybe.

Anyway, in celebration of tonight’s Matzo Ball, we’re celebrating Matzo Ball soup! A Jewish staple comfort food (it’s been called “Jewish penicillin”), it is starting to become very trendy in the United States among people of all faiths. I’m actually starting the trend.

This is the Smitten Kitchen’s story of their making matzo ball soup, including a recipe, in case you’re feeling adventurous. If you don’t want to make the chicken stock (don’t feel bad – it involves some work, although it’s worth it), you can make life a lot easier by just using chicken broth bought at the market.

Here is another recipe for the soup from the queen of American Jewish cooking, Joan Nathan. If you are interested in Jewish cooking, or Jewish food history, consider her fantastic book, Jewish Cooking in America.

Hey Santa, all I want for Christmas is Matzo Ball soup.