Food Product Reviews
Good Humor and RZA ice cream truck jingle just dropped with the goal of ending the racist roots the current song subliminally drives into our brains. Here in Queens, this oppression is monotonous most afternoons. The song is derived from “Turkey in the Straw”, an old mistral song. If that doesn’t mean much to you take a listen to this NYTimes podcast. Now that you understand why that connection is horrific, watch and listen to the new tune here. Leave it to a Staten Island rapper and a 100 year old ice cream company to bring some equality-based joy into our lives amidst one of the darkest times in our country’s history. I always said, “You can count on ice cream to always bring a smile.” I never thought it would simultaneously help deconstruct generations of systemic racism. If you are so moved by this to obtain a music box of your own to perhaps gift your local ice cream truck proprietor, Nicholes Electronics specializes in pre-programmed, looping, music boxes for just such an application.
They make these RED hot dogs in Maine. Locally they are called red snappers and are what everyone from Kittery to Caswell uses in their summer backyard BBQ’s. We picked up a pack of Rice’s (one of two OG competing makers) before we left the state to try the red dye, natural casing snap for ourselves. There are two bits of folklore important in this maker story. One, sometime in the late 18th century, the red dye was added as a marketing gimmick to have their dogs standout amongst the 30 other competing butchers. Two, after World War II, Rice headed down to NYC where he heard a few German sausage makers, turned soldiers, turned POW’s were being held. He interviewed them and hired one to create his hot dog spice mixture. Kidder & Rice, the companies original name, was sold to a few larger industrial meat purveyors over the years until W.A. Bean and Sons, Rice’s original competitor in 1898, bought the Rice name back from Tyson Foods. Today W.A. Bean and Sons pump out 500,000 pounds a year of Rice’s original recipe. With all that history we were intrigued what a naturally cased, steamed Red #40 food dye, pork and beef dog would taste like. The snap lived up to the legend. The taste was on par with the Nathan’s of the world but the marketing trick was what hit the home run for me. The contrast of the red dog, yellow mustard and green relish just makes it stand out and create conversation. Just like when you repeat this story to your pals when you try one. What’s still confusing is W.A. Bean and Sons also makes a red snapper. How they both “stood out” with the same marketing trick is unclear as is who was first. Regardless W.A. Bean and Sons now make both recipes so I suppose that origins moment is moot.
EatOkra is the anti-yelp. A resource that is, in their words, “a food-themed directory that encourages fellowship through one specific avenue, black food”. If there is a single reason why food has been such an important part of our lives, this is it. A window into culture, but more importantly the people and the stories that make up that culture. In 2016 Anthony Edwards Jr and Janique Bradley launched the EatOkra App when they noticed there were no resources for black owned restaurants. As the two began to catalog them for the app they discovered there were many. With the help of their third co-founder, UX/UI designer Justin Johnson, GetOkra was born. In the four years since launch the app has added more than a dozen cities. As we sit squarely in this radically necessary 2020 shift this directory becomes an incredibly important resource to support for our black community. Not to be overshadowed, you’ll also have the opportunity to devour some of the most delicious food you’ve ever tasted.
This brings us to an equally important point in this post. Supporting black owned food businesses is one way to raise awareness and support in an ongoing way. This movement is not a today and tomorrow thing but a “this year, next year and so on” thing. Supporting black owned food business’, restaurants, farmers and packaged goods is a worthy way to vote two to three (sometimes four) times a day for something that makes an immediate impact. We’ve pulled together this list of links that have been curated by some amazing people across the country. Thank you all for doing this work. Start with downloading the EatOkra App. I’m sure they are adding to their listings thanks to these curators. We’ll be highlighting many of them in weeks to come and hope you’ll choose to support the ones in your community often.
It took two American pandemic’s to create Peter Luger’s Delivery. Remember 1887, their founding year, was before 1918 Spanish Flu season. We’ve been vocal about our love for this establishment and its place in a New Yorker’s New York history. Legend has it, they get first pick from all the meat that comes through the boroughs. That means if they were to turn into a butcher shop, they would instantly be the best butcher in the city. If you believe this lore, well, that butcher shop is now open for business. Launched yesterday with 6 pre-fixe packages, the legendary cuts can be yours to take home. There’s no mention of how to cook them to the delicious perfection they have mastered in restaurant, nor are they accompanied with those kitschy doneness tags they stick out of the chop when it comes bubbling to the table. For that, you’ll have to hit the interwebs. There’s one modification to the packages and we found it a bit odd. A drop down allows you to add on 2 or 4 packs of their supermarket bacon. (We’re head-scratching on that one a little) None-the-less, for the cost of the rest of your grocery bill you can have steak for 4 at your home table. Sizzling, “shine” dripping, monogrammed plate not included.
Spring at FTHQ means firing up the grill and picking shishito peppers straight off the plant to toss on those sizzling cast-iron grates. That scent becomes the envy of our Queens neighborhood and we bask in it. Before we can wear that urban farming crown we need to get dirty in some soil. If all that trouble isn’t your style and black specs under your freshly primp and polished gel manicure makes you throw side-eyes, Back to the Roots has a solution that is as easy as opening a can of beans. That’s mostly because it is opening a can just not beans. Pre-canned seeds sit dormant waiting for you to crack open and pour in sunshine and some H2O. Besides ingenious, the clean design looks perfect amidst your $300 toaster and fair trade coffee display. BTW, save those grinds for healthy soil, ohh wait, dirty nail issue again. Never-mind Now you just need to choose what to grow. From herbs and flowers to tomatoes and peppers they have a DIY kit that’s even easier than your second-grade avocado pit science project. Remember that? In terms of timing, plant now so you are ready to show off during your Memorial Day party even if that will be over zoom this year.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been making, or trying to make, a lot of bread. In San Francisco they are taping sourdough starter to street poles. No lie. This apocalypse looks different to us in so many ways but never did we think baking would be at the epicenter of a lockdown. Enter the Balmuda Toaster or oven or steamer. Yeah, we’re not sure either but it definitely makes you look amazing when toasting up a slice of that aforementioned sourdough. Brass tacks, this Japanese designed feat-of-engineering has possibly taken our most mundane cooking task and up-leveled it with some NASA grade innovation. A water port allows you to fill a steam reservoir inside the toaster’s Ferrari grade heater core. This steam cloud envelops your bread allowing a faster, crisp without drying out. Now that the moisture is sealed in your slice, the steam dissipates and the heat fires up a second time. This result is a pillowy soft inside with a crisp, golden, toasted bark of tasty. Need more. Gen Terao, the CEO, built in several other settings for bread baking and high heat if you want to go full oven. A simple knob with pictures of bread styles leaves little room for error, unlike your sourdough process. With a black or white option it will compliment any kitchen and frankly out shine anything else in it including you. Save up your shekels though, performance and beauty like this come at a cost. We hope you are getting great at baking because you might not be able to afford store bought bread for a while after Balmuda ownership. Don’t sweat it, we think we’re spending 2020 at home anyway.
Open sourced beer to lower production costs at all corners might sound like Silicon Valley and Golden Colorado had a baby but actually it was the Connecticut Better Half Brewery guys deciding to help their industry, and community, stay on their feet during COVID-19. All Together Beer is the aptly named collaborative brew experiment now being produced by over 700 breweries in 51+ countries. As they mention in their pointed but heartfelt explanation of this project, their business relies on social gathering. The idea was to align a recipe, label design, printers and other resources to cut the production costs and increase the margin. In turn putting more profit into the small breweries utilizing the open source tools. Donate the excess or use it to stay afloat is the only ask from the Other Half team. Based on the recipe, the brew sounds to be a pretty straight forward IPA which will promote consistency across brewing around the world and as the weather gets warmer a cold, refreshing reprieve from the doldrums of our quarantine. Early batches have sold out but with more crafters jumping in weekly more is just a hops away.
Right about now you might be thinking of fleeing the city and hunkering down in the wilderness to escape this pandemic or those who just don’t comprehend “social distancing” and in turn, are jeopardizing all humanity. We understand. The city, yours and ours, feels a bit eerie and tense these days albeit less dramatic than my previous statement evoked. Interestingly enough, before COVID-19 showed up we here at FTHQ started to research the overlanding trend. In short, overlanding is rigged AF car camping usually done with an aftermarket kitted out 4X4. Through this investigation, and frankly awe with some of the tweaks enthusiasts make, we discovered the Nomad Kitchen Company. This pop-in-pop-out kitchen is just what you need to gourmet yourself while waiting out the virus. Or, dare we say vacation in the wilderness. There will be a day this scare has subsided and “camping” will be a recreational activity, not an isolation tactic. We’ve been backcountry fans for decades and have our share of lightweight gourmet cooking kits. For years a quick setup, quick cleanup at camp has been a tricky maneuver. Even with three decades of innovations perfecting our pack kitchen, there’s room for improvement. That’s one reason Overlanding is so appealing. The Nomad Kitchen has all the specs of a quick set up, fully functioning, quick clean up kitchen. Best part, you can drop it in the back of your G-Wagon as easily as your Tacoma. A 10-second deployment sets you up with a sink, prep area, and stovetop so you can get to your mise en place tout suite. Complete with locking slides that can hold up to 200lbs you’ll not only have a solid extension kitchen but you can apply that extra force when carving your bone-in ribeye. At the time we wrote this they have 35 days left on their crowdfunding campaign. Shipping this summer. So, yeah, we hope that is post-pandemic but look at it this way, you’ll not only have a new gadget for vacation this year but be extra prepared for the new normal of our world. That isn’t meant to be doomsday talk. It is meant to be positive. We will leave our houses again soon and enjoy our lives as we used too just with some new precautions and a little more preparedness than before. This kitchen makes that all the more comfortable.
It’s not news to anyone that the hospitality industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 threat. The shutdown mandate for the industry has been in effect for three weeks now and writing about food seems a bit insensitive and frankly less meaningful, although, a mindless escape from the morbid 24 hour news cycle we’re captured in is a welcome reprieve.
What’s incredible to us is how the hospitality industry is reacting. Down and out (for the time being) many have funds to help their employees while others are still cooking to help frontline workers stay nourished and healthy. It’s these selfless pivots that have us most impressed (humbled and optimistic). Hedley & Bennett, the apron makers, launched the Wake Up & Fight mask effort this week and besides impressing us gave us an amazing way to help our frontline workers be more protected. They have innovated by turning their apron factory into a protective mask operation to aid in the worldwide shortage in personal protection equipment (PPE).
Pulling from the get one give one model, each purchase allows a mask to be made for frontline essential workers. It’s a triple collab between HEPA filter maker Think Crucial, Dr. Robert Cho, Chief of Staff of Shriners for Children Medical Center in Pasadena, CA and them. Their apron material is used to sew a mask with an inside pocket for a replaceable HEPA filter. It’s important to note that this doesn’t replace an N95 respirator in effectiveness but the CDC says the point of a mask is not to protect you from inhaling the virus but to stop the spread of it, especially if you are asymptomatic. Frontline workers need PPE because they are face-to-face with live, confirmed, symptomatic patients all day long. Heros in other words. In such a critical moment in history this selfless, in it together humanity will be rewarded not just those who spearhead these efforts but all of us worldwide. You can purchase masks from their website or send a bulk order inquiry if you are so inclined to help at scale.
We love cereal but, in all honesty, we’ve been out of the carb for b-fast game a while. The occasional cereal milk cone from Milk Bar and my once a year splurge on an oversize bowl of the Great Tony the Tigers’ Frosted Flakes are about all the Saturday morning, five-year-old-kid impersonations I allow myself. Imagine my zeal when I realized a few boxes of this more than playful, yet almost none of the guilt, quad pack of keto-friendly cereal showed up at my door. Magic Spoon is doing god’s work, if your god’s name is Kellogg. As the disruption and bettering of just about everything these days continues with a heavy foot on the pedal, Greg and Gabi disrupted an industry built on sugar-coated grains with free prizes inside. Taking the four most popular cereals; Frosted, Fruity, Cinnamon and Cocoa and turning down the crap but keeping all the flavor is no small feat. Any of their keto-friendly, gluten and grain-free flavors barely have carbs, 3g net if you’re counting, and are packed with 12grams of protein. Considering a comparable bowl of Fruit Loops has 21 grams of carbs and 2 grams of protein, they quite literally flip the nutrition on it’s head. I know, what about your love for Toucan Sam, Count Chocula and the gang? Magic Spoon has that covered too. The boxes come with their own mascots and ride on sidekicks like Frosted Wizard and Flying Bunny. The team hasn’t produced any catchy jingles or wacky cartoon commercials yet but we wouldn’t put it past these guys to have animated mascots in the works. After all, they broke themselves into food disruption developing cricket energy bars so, this is an obvious second act. Uhh, sort of. As we learned when we were 5, pretty boxes and dancing animals only get you so far. If Magic Spoon tasted like the knock off Sugar Smacks your mom tried to pass off as authentic after a secret run to Pathmark we wouldn’t even be writing this story. So, product flavor is critical. First let’s talk about the shape. They went with the classic “O” for all four flavors. It took me a second to get past my love of the “flake” but on taste that quickly was forgotten. Each of the flavors was a time machine back to the 80’s right down to the last slurp of bowl milk. Impressed, I went in for a second round and decided the $40 a month subscription is as critical as my Spotify and Netflix monthlies. Speaking of, a little pairing of the two seem in order this Saturday morning. Here I come Papa Smurf.
Gray Whale gin could be the hardest working spirit in the business. As gins become more and more interesting to me I’ve begun to seek out the less straight forward botanical mixes. Thankfully the UK is having a craft gin explosion and on a recent trip to California, I discovered the US isn’t far behind. Gray Whale gin chose its flavors based on the migratory path of the gray whale. Aside from being so #verycalifornian the foraged ingredients made for a unique taste and that, after all, is what I am after. With foraged botanicals running from Baja all the way up to Mendocino, the effort for that flavor may be unmatched by any other craft distiller. The outrageously mesmerizing aquamarine bottle that has an enticing depth illusion adds to our allure while their simplistic, contemporary, labeling design sold us. We’re suckers for a well-branded spirit.
We’ve always been big fans of eating at home. So much so we often recreate our favorite restaurant meals in our home kitchen with fairly good accuracy. The favorite is a solid, full spread, Peter Lugar’s recreation that we get super pumped about, but we digress. Equal Parts is a new cookware company aimed at helping us eat, and cook, more in our kitchens. To aid in this increasingly difficult behavior, considering the ease of food delivery these days, every purchase includes a coach. The coach is accessed through a text chat provided when you receive your products. They dub it “Your friend in the kitchen” which we love because friends who know how to cook are some of the best. Starting up is pretty easy. A simple chef knife runs you $80 with “your friend coach”. You can then work your way up to an entire 20 piece kitchen set. Interesting side note, Equal Parts was a design agency called Gin Lane just a few short months ago. They gave up their clients to focus full time on birthing their own DTC products and brands. A huge move, and that’s coming from an agency owning veteran. With that news, you’re probably wondering what a former design agency knows about making cookware. Apparently a lot. Not surprising they lead with design and decided to shroud their cookware in a sleek matte black. This covers the aluminum and ceramic core. Ceramic instead of Teflon keeps the toxicity at bay while letting the eggs slide away. The aluminum makes for a lighter, and faster to heat, base with the same cooking quality as steel. They finished off each piece with a comfort forward handle and universal lids. We LOVE universal lids. They are by far the hardest thing to store in a kitchen. Less of them means a more organized pan draw. We likey. Enamored with the service we’re anxious to try this first hand. No NYC pop-up store yet so we started with a chef’s knife. We’ll report back on the experience here and on our Insta. Needless to say, we have high hopes.
We love things in boxes. From shoes to toys to Apple products to stories, (That last one is a very obscure Magic Garden reference for our 70’s and 80’s born tribe.) our zeal redlines with every seal breaking, top flopping, layer sorting moment. It’s something about the first peek inside that makes our eyes widen and our knees knock like a school kid discovering an old milk crate of spray paint. Mix that with food and our vitals jump to a level we are some what slightly embarrassed to admit. Hence the rarely mentioned 2013 unboxing of a surprise bacon of the month delivery. When Luke’s Lobster announced their DIY lobster roll kits it took everything inside us to not drop to the food alter in the middle of 7th avenue and thank the seafood god (Crustaceous of course, right?) for the box bounty of sweet meat and firm, fresh buns that was now just a quick call or text away. We’ve been long time fans of Luke’s even collaborating on a stunted dinner series a few years back. Their expansion from NYC and Philly across the country and into Asia has been fantastic to watch. To think, that Maine fresh quality not only can make it across the world but to your kitchen table with the same perfection that you’d get in Kennebunkport is quite a herculean feat. Equipped with their secret recipe each box contains enough perfectly cooked knuckle and claw meat for 2 rolls, 2 fresh and non-soggy buns and a secret spice packet. We’re thinking summer party gift to augment the obligatory bottle of rose. Who doesn’t love the team that shows up with lobster rolls in tow. Crowdpleaser to say the least. Delicious food and a DIY craft. No one is better than you.