Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chez Jude

Last weekend I went camping with my husband and son near the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. When we go up there, we like to go eat at really nice places - hey, we're saving so much money camping, why not? We have chosen our camping clothes to be dirt resistant, wrinkle free, and stylish so that we don't look like total bums walking into these fine dining establishments - although we have found that if they feel like you can pay, they aren't too choosy as to what you look like. Especially in outdoor rec areas; they are used to getting people straight out of the woods.

And we were finally there and hungry when Chez Jude was actually open, so we decided to give it a try.

The place was as beautiful on the inside as the outside. The waitress was friendly and let us pick our own seating - nice. It was chilly, so I grabbed a table next to the fireplace. The fire wasn't burning, unfortunately, but it was the furthest away from the door.

The bread plate we got with our meal was fabulous. Fresh baked bread with mixed olives and what tasted like freshly made butter. I would have been satisfied with just that.

But then I got these spring rolls. They were light and delicious, but it was the pickled salad accompaniment that was really fascinating. It was their version of bread and butter pickles on arugula and possibly fresh tarragon as well. The flavors were a fantastic mix, definitely something I would like to try to recreate.

My son got the fish and chips. The chips are tucked in a spiral wire vase. What a fun presentation. The fish was not greasy. It tasted like it had been flash fried then baked. The tartar sauce was light and flavorful. Not the best that I've ever had, but far superior to most.

My husband got the side salad. My goodness! He said that if that was the side salad, he was so glad that he didn't order the full order! This was a fantastic salad. The cheese was a blue, I believe; very flavorful. He made the mistake of mixing it all into his salad only to find out that this was too much for him. He spent much of the rest of the meal picking most of it out. I would recommend taking a small bit of the cheese and crumbling it into fine particles over the salad and setting the rest aside or it overwhelms the delicate variety of tastes that this fine salad has to offer.

They offer their coffee by the cup or French press. We chose French press (2 cups worth). I was a little nervous because they only had French roast which is normally too dark for me (a.k.a. burnt), but this coffee was wonderful. It tasted like mocha. I wanted to sit there drinking that coffee, looking out onto the lake all day (did I mention that their restaurant has beautiful views of Lake Superior?), but we had to be off to set up camp.

They get a little nit-picky about splitting plates and take outs, but their afternoon tea sounds intriguing.

We may be back, Chez Jude.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Piel de Sapo

The grocery store was having a sale on various melons. This particular melon caught my eye. Although I had never tried it before, and didn't know what "piel de sapo" meant in Spanish, I had a good feeling about it.

I got it home and Googled it. It means "toad skin". Hmm. Hope it tastes better than it's name implies. It is also sometimes labeled "Christmas" and "Santa Claus" because they ripen into winter ready for Christmas, although I think that is a misnomer as those melons are said to have yellow-orange flesh.

A little more research and I found rave reviews for the piel de sapo melon. Apparently it is widely served in Spain. In fact, it is so popular in Spain that when melon is mentioned, it is assumed to be this one. Some travelers said that it was the best melon that they had ever tasted.

Most admitted that it is difficult to tell when it is ripe since it is a hard-skinned melon that is ripe while it is still green. Supposedly, you look for a spreading of yellow tinting across the melon. It has fairly good keeping qualities, so even if you buy it from the store a little unripe, you can ripen it at home. I was pretty sure that mine was not fully ripe when I bought it so I waited. I had this one for two weeks before I caved and cut it open.
It still was not quite ripe, even after the two weeks, so I would wait for the skin to get a little more yellow. Also, the ends give a little as it ripens, so maybe wait until more of the end is springy.

The flesh is white and somewhat juicy, much like honeydew. The seeds form three cases which were easy to remove. There wasn't much of an aroma.

The melon sliced up easily. Slice into thin slices, then filet the rind off. It is a little difficult to tell where the rind end as the flesh and rind are similar in color. Check for where it gets firm, the ripe flesh will be crisp but easy to bite into.

I thought the melon tasted like sweet, juicy cucumbers. My husband said it tasted like a really firm watermelon. We both liked it. It had crisp flesh and was light and refreshing.

I will definitely try it again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Reynolds Handi-Vac Review

I have wanted a food vacuum sealer for quite some time. Two things have kept me from getting one:
1) Space. All the vacuum sealers that I have seen were HUGE! My kitchen isn't tiny, but I am not giving up precious space if it isn't something that I will be using all the time.
2) Price. Most of the vacuum sealers that I have seen were over $100. Not a bad price if you will use it all the time and you know that you are getting something that will work the way that they say it will, but I don't want to dish out $100 and find out that it isn't going to cut it.
Plus, did I mention the space?

Then I saw the Reynolds Handi-Vac. It was small - about the size of a handmixer handle. It was inexpensive - $8.90! And the accessories weren't that badly priced either - the bags are $0.20ea for quart and $0.33ea for gallon.

I checked it out on the internet to see what others had to say about it. Most of the reviews were very good. Some, however, complained that it was difficult to use, or they just couldn't get it to work. I figured at the price, and with that many favorable reviews, I could afford to see just how difficult this was to use.

You judge for yourself - watch this video of my very first attempt at sealing a bag. A disclaimer is necessary, I didn't have a cameraman so I had to film with one hand and do everything else with the other.

It was SO EASY!! Kind of noisy, but very easy; I literally was doing this one handed. This video shows my very first attempt. I did not even read the instructions (who needs stinking instructions, right?). I just picked it up and went for it.

There were a lot of reviewers that said that it was tricky to get the bag to lay flat with bulky items; but I didn't even try to get it to lay flat and it worked fine, as you can see. I think the only thing that matters is that the vacuum surface has complete contact with the bag's vacuum valve.

There are no parts sticking out the bag; the vacuum valve is flat and smooth. The ziplock is easy to close (did I mention I did this one handed?). You can write on the bags just like other freezer bags. And these bags can be opened and vacuum-sealed over and over; so you can take a little food out and reseal the rest for later. I am thinking that this will be great for fresh vegetables that tend to slime before their time - like cilantro and green onions.

And, it came with batteries! It requires 6 AA batteries, which is a lot of batteries; but, I buy rechargeables, so that's not such a big deal. It would have been nice if they had included an AC option.

Also, the bottom of the device is rounded, not flat. So it does not stand upright, which would have been nice. My husband said that they might have designed it this way to prevent falls that might damage the vacuum nozzle. OK. Fair enough, but I'm sure there could have been other ways around that -- like a storage base to stick it in.

The vacuum itself is ergonomic and lightweight. Although it sounds like it is vibrating terribly while in use, there is only a slight vibration.

The nozzle end detaches for cleaning in the event that some liquids get into it. Since I was sealing steamed beans that were still steamy, this end filled with steam. You should not try to vacuum seal really wet ingredients, like sauces and soups, since they will just suck right into the vacuum. These are easy enough to seal in regular freezer bags by just squeezing the air out by hand before sealing -- I've been doing that for years!

Over all I would give the Reynolds Handi-Vac high scores on usability, price, comfort, size, speed and effectiveness. I would recommend this for anyone looking for a vacuum sealer that wants something small and inexpensive.

I will be updating this post in a couple months to let you know how the food actually stored in my crappy freezer that burns everything that isn't vacuum packed.