Archive for January, 2012

Sometimes buying coffee feels a lot like buying wine.  Dozens of styles, countries, and flavors.  Not to mention the environmental and labor impacts and lingo.  Flashy labels seeking to stand out and seemingly to capitalize on the confusion are beginning to pop up.  Since “cupping” is unlikely to be done by the majority of coffee drinkers, it makes one wonder why a decent coffee rating system hasn’t come into vogue.  Or why independent grocery stores don’t follow the lead of bookstores and offer staff ratings and tasting notes.  Perhaps because coffee has more flavors than wine and everyone takes theirs differently, arriving at a standard might be too difficult.  These guys have made a go of it, but have yet to really get the number of reviews up to where its useful.

While we wait for the Robert Parker of coffee to get things going, we’ll be forced to rely on our own biases and what we can discern from labels and packaging.  The Barista’s Beans Colombian Mesa de los Santos is an organic, Rainforest Alliance, Bird Friendly, medium roast coffee from South America.  At the base of the label it reads, “Sustainably farmed coffees roasted in small batches on a Diedrich roaster.” My coffee biases have generally veered towards dark roasts, brewed strongly and usually consumed black.  Recently half & half has found its way into the house and subsequently into my coffee.  Over the period of a week I brewed and drank this coffee a variety of ways, strong with milk or half and half and then black, weaker with milk, and so on.  In all of these forms the coffee was pleasant and I found it nicely balanced but relatively mild.  The suggested tastes of hazelnut, milk chocolate and toffee (perhaps through the power of suggestion) rang true, most notably with the darker brewed coffee taken black.  I wouldn’t hesitate to buys this again and plan to return when my coffee IQ has bumped up a few notches.  We’re still getting our head around the best ways to describe coffee, and plan on using these commonly referenced terms for future reviews.

Verdict: A pleasant breakfast blend that offered a nutty, milky coffee.  

Roasted in Hyde Park, we spent a solid ten minutes staring at the coffee aisle at City Market before grabbing this roast.  Purchased for $13.99/lb.  Read about roaster Erik’s story and follow him on twitter @RoastingBarista


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McNeill’s Blond Bombshell

A few weeks ago when the mercury dipped down to zero, I was dreaming of summer. I love winter and have no trouble with the cold nights, but I needed a break from the darker beers. Perhaps it was an overdose of holiday themed beers and porters through the end of January. Regardless of the cause, I craved a beer that made me think of summer and was a little lighter on the palate. After roaming the shelves at the Beverage Warehouse, I grabbed this bomber and headed for home.

It poured an attractive gold/straw colored with a slightly unfiltered look. I didn’t find much nose to speak of and a mellow citrus taste that eased of quickly. In many respects this beer tasted and smelled like beer. Nothing offensive, but really nothing memorable in my mind. I’m a fan of other McNeill’s offerings and will return, but likely not to the Blond Bombshell.

Verdict: This bombshell turned out to be a dud.

Brewed in Brattleboro, McNeill’s beers are primarily available outside of Windham County in 22 ounce bottles, commonly referred to as bombers. In a rush to get back home, I’ve forgotten what we paid for this one.

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Red Hen Bakery – Cyrus Pringle

Do you think Cyrus Pringle was out hunting for plants the day they came up with children’s songs, so Old MacDonald got the headlining feature instead? Certainly rhymes better with BINGO in my mind. Knowing nothing about Dr. Pringle, that’s the type of gibberish that popped into my head when I saw his name and likeness headlining this loaf of bread. A short narrative on the back of the bread bag referencing Dr. Pringle’s work as a botanist and his home of Charlotte offered more insight into the name for this bread made with grains source locally (from Nitty Gritty Grain Co. in Charlotte), but hinted that there was more to the story.

Sure enough, despite the threat of internet censorship, Google directed me towards this lengthy history of Doctor Pringle’s life. It’s worth a read if you have a few minutes, but suffice to say that Pringle was more than a botanist. He turned a hobby of amateur plant breeding into a passionate career. His opposition to fighting in the Civil War (founded in his Quaker beliefs) remarkably took his life to the brink and at the same time somehow seems completely unsurprising. He has been honored in other ways, but naming a loaf of local bread seems perfectly appropriate too.

Correction, naming a tasty loaf of bread after him is appropriate. Red Hen Bakery makes beautiful loaves and Cyrus Pringle is no exception. A satisfyingly chewing crust, yields to a soft, delicious bread. This loaf was perfect for soaking up stew, toast or the base for a sandwich.

Verdict: You don’t put someone’s name on a loaf of bread if it ain’t good bread.

Made in Middlesex, we bought this loaf for what felt like a steal at $4. Sure other loafs might be in that range, but ones that are locally sourced? I don’t think so. Read more about the story behind this loaf at http://www.redhenbaking.com/cyrus-pringle 

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When you name a product “Our Favorite” you set a certain level of expectations. I might not expect my favorite is the same as your favorite, but it better be damned good. My criteria for granola include having some crunch without being rock hard, a generous blend of ingredients that share the spotlight, and that it must go well with milk or yogurt.

I’m not ready to call this my favorite granola, but it met or exceeded all these marks. It had a good crunch with small chunks of well roasted oats. It was sweet without being sugary and a nice maple flavor tied everything together. Raisins, sunflower seeds, bits of almonds, and shredded coconut rounded out the ingredients.

Verdict: Really, really good granola. Who knows, might wind up being your favorite too.

Something about bulk granola just feels right. Made in Marshfield, we poured a few scoops of this granola into a bag at City Market for $5.99/lb.

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I haven’t met Liz Lovely, but I imagine the number one question she gets after people try her cookies is “Are these cookies really vegan and gluten free?”  Which would quickly be followed up by an “Are you sure? These taste too good.”  In Sapbucket  imagination-land, it would be a lot like being the spokesman for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and having to find new and creative ways to reassure people, that yes, it isn’t too good to be true.  Hopefully for Liz its rewarding and she doesn’t decide to make a career change back to dotcom-ville to make the next Pets.com.

Upon removing the cookies from the (double)bag packaging, its clear that you have a moist, substantial cookie on your hands.  Well sugared and thick, this cookie wouldn’t be out of place in a bakery counter window.  The ginger flavor is strong and spicy and while the texture is a tad sandy, it doesn’t take away from the overall flavor.  We should note here that growing up, in our house it was not uncommon to find bags of candied ginger in the snack cupboard as a replacement for traditional candy.  Pair this tid-bit with the soft spot we have for cookies that have a huge hunk of sweetness in the middle, candied ginger in this case, and we’re sold.

Verdict: This ginger cookie has a soul.  

Made in Waitsfield, we picked up a pack of 2 Cookies for $2.89 at the Hunger Mountain Co-Op.  Cookie locator, product information and background at http://www.lizlovely.com/ you can follow Liz Lovely Cookies @LizLovely

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We haven’t used any clichés recently, so we’ll use one to describe this mustard: Good things come in small packages.  This thick, creamy mustard tastes sweet up front and has a slow developing peppery heat.  It’s tangy and delicious, pretty much everything a mustard should be.  We used this as the base for a honey mustard salad dressing, put it in sandwiches and dipped a few pretzels in it.

Verdict: The NEK Mustard Co. tells you to “Tempt your taste buds,” we concur. 

Started in 1994, the Northeast Kingdom Mustard Company was sold to Jed’s Maple Products in 2004.  We received this jar as a gift from family, you can buy larger jars online here.

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Pizza dough is pretty easy to make at home, but for whatever reason it is one of those things that I never feel like doing. When I want to make pizza at home, I want to grab a dough, throw some ingredients on it and have a fresh pie ready ASAP. Pastabilities dough is pretty easy to find around Vermont and fit the bill for my needs. Purchased in a frozen state, we let the dough come sit on the counter for a few hours to warm up. It had the appropriate amount of elasticity, not so tense that it shrank after every roll with the pin or so soft that it stuck to the board. Fully rolled the dough was about the size of a medium pizza, maybe a little larger. We loaded it up ingredients for Eating Well’s White Bean, Prosciutto & Arugula recipe, transferred to the pizza stone and baked for 14 minutes.

After cutting with a pizza wheel, we held up a slice to check how the dough turned out. It was crisp on the bottom and the slice remained perpendicular to the table, no sagging or drooping. The texture of the dough was pleasantly chewy, there were no large air bubbles in the crust. The whole wheatiness of the dough carried through a tasty sweetness that was noticeable but not distracting.

Verdict: Bake your homemade pizza with confidence, this dough is up to the task.

The largest maker of pizza dough in Vermont, we found Pastabilities at Hannaford for $2.59. Check out their other products and follow them on twitter @VermontPasta.

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