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Archive for May, 2012

Berry season is almost upon us.  That means quarts and pints chockfull of strawberries and blueberries that disappear before you’re home from the market.  For those berries that survive the car ride home, their destination is often a starring role in a crisp, buckle or grunt.  There’s no better companion to fresh berries or a baked berry dessert than vanilla ice cream.  The Sapbucket recently did a taste comparison of two of Vermont’s finest purveyors of frozen dairy products.

Islands Ice Cream French Vanilla – The ice cream was a white-cream color with small flecks of vanilla bean throughout.  There’s no fooling that this is a milky ice cream.  It’s delightfully rich and thick, coating your mouth in a wonderful way.   That leaves the taste of sweet, vanilla creamy milk lingering as you contemplate whether you want another scoop.

Leonardo’s Vanilla Bean Gelato – The gelato has a yellowy cream color with flecks of vanilla bean size of freshly ground pepper.  The vanilla flavor jumps out at you from the first taste and is prevalent in every bite.  The gelato was slightly icier and sugary than the ice cream, but I describe those characteristics only to distinguish the two.  It was similarly rich and delicious, the perfect companion to a berry dessert.

Verdict: Two tremendous vanilla options for a summer brimming with opportunity for dessert. 

Made in Grand Isle, Island Ice Cream is available throughout Franklin, Chittenden and Grand Isle counties.  Leonardo’s Gelato is made in Barre, and is sold at locations throughout central and northern Vermont.  Like Island Ice Cream on Facebook here and like Leonardo’s on Facebook here.  

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An under appreciated aspect of the Vermont beer scene is the incredible affordability and availability of growlers.  By and large you can snag them at breweries in all sorts of shapes and sizes with the added bonus of being able to try before you buy.  In recent years retail operations began getting in on the business, with Hunger Mountain Co-Op doing weekly fills on Thursday afternoons and Pearl Street Beverage installing a growler bar with rotating taps.  One would hope the popularity of these retail offerings will spread further.  I’d hazard a guess that since it won’t last more than a day or two most customers don’t just buy a growler and run.  Rather they browse the shelves for new bottles or pick up a few items for dinner.

It wasn’t until a holiday trip that I realized how good we have it in Vermont.  Stopping at a beer house restaurant for a quick beer my jaw dropped when I saw the growler list.  The prices were staggering, ranging from $20 to $40 for beers that in Vermont would set you back roughly $8 to $12.  Good beer isn’t hard to find, but good beer at bargain prices is something to celebrate.

On a recent Thursday at Hunger Mountain we grabbed a growler of the Trapp Dunkel.  I had my hopes on another offering, but as is true with some many things in life, if you snooze you lose.  The high profile and rare beers are long gone towards six o’clock, but I was still more than happy to grab my growler and head on the way.  Pouring the beer into a glass later showed of the beer’s deep chestnut brown color. The nose has a great roasted malt flavor and while the beer is on the darker side it has a thirst quenching quality.  It’s a crisp and bright beer with a light sweetness on the finish.

Verdict: A delicious dunkel at a bargain price. 

Brewed in Stowe, we’re thrilled when Hunger Mountain Co-Op features beers from the Brewery at the Trapp Family lodge.  Follow them on Twitter @TrappFamily and like them on Facebook

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The week is lagging, so we’re firing off a quick late week coffee post to jumpstart these last two days.  The Sapbucket household has been trying to ease back on the number of cups of joe consumed each morning.  But the Black River Roasters French Roast was so good that it lasted just over a week.  Great for the tastebuds, not some much for our overall caffeine intake.  Oh well, it was worth it.  We brewed this a variety of ways (strong and stronger), drinking it black, with half and half, and milk.  It never lost the essential french roast flavor.  Sometimes the phrasing on coffee packaging is misleading at best, but with this coffee what you read is what you get: A full bodied blend with a smooth, rich finish.  The coffee wasn’t bitter or overly roasted, just dark and smooth.

Verdict: Black River Roasters delivers a go-to French Roast

Roasted on Flynn Ave in Burlington (and also in NJ for the New York City area) we purchased this bag of beans at City Market.  Check out Black River Roaster’s story (name changes, expansion and offerings), like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @BR_Roasters

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Given the chance, what would you name as Vermont’s state treat?  We’ve got a pie (it’s apple) but seem to lack a true state dessert.  It seems that most folks don’t realize that pie is not dessert, but a course onto itself.  Our neighbors to the South have an official donut (Boston Crème), New Hampshirites are too cranky to have anything but a state vegetable (Pumpkin) and the folks to the west have copied our state fruit (Apple) and have a totally lame state muffin (Again, apple).  Only our friends over in Maine seem to really get it, and have dubbed the Whoopie Pie as the state treat.

If the Vermont legislature thinks that it should spend time establishing Skiing and Snowboarding Vermont’s official outdoor sports and adding Walleye as another official fish, it is past high time that we get a state treat.  Therefore the Sapbucket officially calls on the Legislature in its next biennium to formalize an official treat for the state of Vermont.  Since it seems that election season has already started, we further declare that this will be the litmus test by which the Sapbucket judges every candidate for office.  Will you take a strong position in favor of an official dessert for all Vermonters?  (We’ll be taking suggestions for what that treat should be during the rest of the year.)

In the meantime, we’re discus Maine’s official treat the Whoopie Pie.  I’m not vested enough in the history of the dessert to take a side in whether Mainers or the Pennsylvania Amish invented it.  Heck, I had never even had a Whoopie Pie before trying the Nomadic Oven’s devilish creation last year.  It recently caught my eye in the City Market dessert case and I figured the time was right for a Sapbucket review.  The pie is a large size, comparable to a hamburger from Al’s French Fries with a second patty between the bun, and comes wrapped in plastic.  That seems to help the outer chocolate cakes stay fresh and moist.  The cakes are soft (bordering on sticky) and fantastically chocolately.  Not a crazy rich brownie chocolate, just simple chocolate cake goodness.  The icing is sweet and marshmallow like in texture and flavor while binding the two cakes together so you consistently have both chocolate and icing bites.  As noted, I’m a Whoopie Pie novice, but I thought this was an excellent treat and a great dessert.

Verdict: Maine’s official treat will always be welcome here in Vermont. 

Baked in Burlington, we picked up a Nomadic Oven Whoopie Pie from City Market.  A few years ago Seven Days did a small piece on the story behind the Nomadic Oven’s creator, Jen Smith.  After reading that, like the Nomadic Oven on Facebook and follow them on twitter @TheNomadicOven.

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Ben and Jerry’s is probably the most commonly sited feel good entrepreneurial story about a Vermont business.  That’s understandable, it’s a great story and one that has done a tremendous amount for the Vermont brand.  (Some will debate whether there’s any value to branding products as Made in Vermont, but that’s an argument for another time.) While Ben and Jerry’s is the story everyone knows, there are hundreds of other Vermont products out there with the potential to be next big thing and certainly dozens that will achieve national standing and recognition.

Salad dressing certainly isn’t on the same plane as ice cream, but the arc Drew’s products have an impressive reach nationwide.  The Sapbucket recently uncorked a bottle of Drew’s Lemon Goddess Dressing for a salad of baby greens.  Despite coming from a professional looking bottle, the dressing has a taste of being homemade and is a  perfect choice for pairing with fish, quiche or other lighter fare.  There’s a lightness to the dressing that belies it’s a creamy (but not too heavy) texture.  A nicely blended flavor of  soy, lemon and tahini makes the dressing a nice addition to a variety of salads and we’ll be curious to see how it works as a dressing for noodles (as suggested by Drew’s).  Drew’s doesn’t rely on it’s Vermont roots for branding purposes, but is one the growing number of nationally recognized products made here.  If we’re truly going to be a leader in eating local, we need more products like Drew’s to be made and consumed in Vermont.

Verdict: A fresh tasting dressing perfect for foods you might cook up in summer Vermont weather. 

Made in Chester, Drew’s dressings are currently on sale at most Co-Ops and natural food stores for $2.19 a bottle (regularly $3.89).  Check out Drew’s full line of “all-natural” dressings and where you can find them from coast to coast

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Otter Creek Vermont Sampler

Make new friends but keep the old ones is how the saying goes.  It seems not a day goes by without a new brewery opening or a new beer coming on the market.  It’s been a bit overplayed, but it does occasionally feel as though this is a golden age for beer drinkers.  With all these new offerings and excitement generated by “extreme” beers, it is important to remember your true friends.  The ones that have been a bed rock of the craft beer movement for decades.  Otter Creek was my first craft beer.  And while it hasn’t been cranking out beers that people line up for hours to get a taste of, it has produced reliably great craft beer while showing it can master new styles as well.

For my money, the Otter Creek Vermont Sampler 12-pack is one of the best bargains in craft beer.  Selling for $12-$13, the mixed 12-pack gives you Copper Ale, Stovepipe Porter, Black IPA (now year-round) and the current seasonal. To break down this bargain box in a little more idepth: you get Otter Creek’s flagship beer (Copper), a flat out exceptional porter (ranked by the NYTimes as #2 in their porter tasting), a wonderful rendition of the Black IPA style created by VT Pub & Brewery founder Greg Noonan, and a one off like Roasted Red, Spring Bock, Otter Summer, or Oktoberfest.  In some cases the Copper might be the weakest of the bunch.  Which is a hard thing to type since it was easily my favorite beer the first few years after I turned 21.  But you get the enjoyment of that old friend while tasting the new offerings like Black IPA.  There’s a little something for everyone here and if you’re stocking up for a summer weekend with friends, you can’t go wrong with Otter Creek’s Vermont Sampler.

Verdict: A box of beer that’s both a bargain and a bounty.

Brewed in Middlebury, Otter Creek’s Vermont Sampler is available at most grocery stores, gas stations and beer stores throughout Vermont for $12.99.  Like Otter Creek Brewing on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @OtterCreekBrew

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Pancakes have a way of slowing down a Saturday morning.  It feels that all too often, the morning gets rolling and you head outside.  Before you know it you’ve eaten lunch and are turning the corner towards the evening.  Start the day with some pancakes and you’ve got an instant slow motion button for the morning.   You’ll find time to read the paper, savor rather than mainline your coffee and even talk to your breakfast companions.

If you’re the type to only reach for a box of premixed pancake batters such as Bisquick for a camping trip or vacation, I understand.  I’d encourage you to revisit that stance the next time you are in the store on a Friday and thinking about taking it easy on Saturday.  Grab a bag of Stewart’s Pancake Mix and start your day off right.  The mix is as easy as any other, with a basic recipe and “Stewart’s” recipe that calls for yogurt and apple sauce.  We’ve made it both ways (including subbing kefir for the yogurt) and you can’t go wrong.  Stewart’s version did produce the lighter, fluffier pancake, but then again the Sapbucket household generally favors that type of thicker-fluffy pancake.  The distinguishing factor about Stewart’s mix is the blend of poppy, sunflower and flax seeds.  The seeds add just a hint of crunch and nuttiness, a really nice hearty flavor that conveys a true sense of being homemade.

Verdict: Use this mix to slow down your Saturday with some delicious, creative pancakes.

Made in Williston, we prepped for our Saturday at City Market, picking up this 2lb bag of mix for $5.99.  

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