Saturday, December 31, 2016

Product Review: Chocolate Strawberry Oreos

The other day, a friend alerted me to the existence of a new Limited Edition Oreo flavor: Chocolate Covered Strawberry!

The idea sounded promising, and I couldn't wait to try them out.

Let's just say: I'm glad these are being offered on a "Limited" basis, because they were really disappointing. HELPFUL HINT #1: When you see the words "Artifically Flavored" appear not once, but TWICE on the front of the package, that's a red flag that ought to be heeded.

*sigh*  I had such high hopes for these.  Chocolate covered strawberries are a delicious dessert combination, but in hindsight, part of the reason for that is because the strawberries add a fresh, juicy tartness that cuts through the heaviness of the chocolate.

Unfortunately, you get no such relief from the strawberry flavoring in this cookie, and I'm sad to report that the best thing about this taste test was admiring at the pretty packaging. It was all downhill from there.

As soon as I opened the package, the cloying aroma of artificial strawberry wafted out (reminiscent of those discount store strawberry-scented lip balms that 5-year-olds are so fond of), even though you can't see any indication of strawberry at all when you first open the package--it looks like only chocolate creme between chocolate sandwich cookies. Not a good sign.

When I saw the illustration on the front of the package, I thought that the tiny dollop of strawberry in the center of all of that chocolate creme would translate into the chocolate overpowering the strawberry flavor, but no--there really is nothing subtle or understated about the artificial strawberry in this one.

Once you split the cookie apart, the bright pink creme in the center is revealed--and it's disturbingly similar in color to Pepto-Bismol.  HELPFUL HINT #2: When a cookie resembles an old childhood diarrhea medication, that's never a good sign.

Nevertheless, I pressed on and decided to give it a try, and I'm sorry to report that it tastes exactly like it smells. Fake, cloying, and way too artificially sweet.  The chocolate creme by itself is actually not bad, but the strawberry dollop--small as it is--overpowers the entire cookie.

I guess it would have been expensive for Nabisco to use real strawberry flavor in this cookie, but it probably would have been money well-spent.

Final verdict:  These were dreadful. Not inedible, exactly, but really not good.  And given the potential for greatness that these cookies had, the end result was extremely disappointing.   Sorry, folks, I wouldn't recommend buying these, even just to try them out.  You're far better off spending your money on some real strawberries and a jar of Nutella instead.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

R.I.P. Carrie Fisher -- 2016 can't end soon enough

There have been so many celebrity deaths this year, several of which were creative souls that I admired so much -- Garry Shandling, Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Alan Rickman, Garry Marshall, Gene Wilder -- but none has pained me as deeply as the death of Carrie Fisher today.

When I learned of her death, I was sitting in a movie theater, waiting for the start of Rogue One. By the end of the movie, when the lights came up, I noticed a woman about my age crying and saying how she had really hoped Carrie would pull through.  I knew exactly how she felt.

As someone who grew up in the 70's, I can tell you that Carrie Fisher represented a new, different kind of heroine from any that we'd ever seen before.  She was so young when she made her debut in the original Star Wars in 1977, but unlike other "damsels in distress" that were so often portrayed in movies of time period, there was nothing helpless about Fisher's Princess Leia. She was a brave, bad ass woman who could blast her way through a squadron of storm troopers with far better accuracy than any of her on-screen "rescuers."  She made it okay to be strong and defiant, fighting off the bad guys and saving her own skin when trouble hit.

Despite being the child of two Hollywood superstars, Carrier Fisher didn't have an easy life.  Fame had its challenges, and she battled through bad relationships, mental illness, and various addictions during her 60 years, but she did not want to be referred to as a "survivor."   In her own words:

"I don't want to be thought of as a survivor, because you have to continue getting involved in difficult situations to show off that particular gift, and I'm not interested in doing that anymore."

Monday, December 19, 2016

Homemade Limoncello: Our First Batch Ever!

The first time I tried Limoncello, it was in Sorrento, Italy--a place known for its spectacular lemons, and the high-alcohol liquor made from them. Last year, I found a recipe for it on a friend's Facebook page, "Right Dish," and was excited to make it for the holidays....until I read the recipe and discovered that it takes 90 days to make from start to finish.  Oh well, I said, there's always next year!

And yes, I actually marked my calendar for October this year, and printed out the recipe about 100 days ahead of time.   The first item on the list was something called, "Everclear", which I had never heard of before.  I know, there are college kids and Jell-O shot enthusiasts reading this thinking that I must have grown up living under a rock.  Sorry--I never got into the whole binge-drinking thing.   For those who haven't partaken of this particular libation, it is almost pure grain alcohol, and comes in two strengths: 70% alcohol, and 95% alcohol.   Good lord....this is the kind of thing that can melt your internal organs or peel the paint off of a car.  Who drinks this stuff?

Oh, wait....I guess the answer is, "Me."  Because it is the primary ingredient for making Limoncello. I went to my local liquor store, and he only had the 95% alcohol version, so that's what we brought home. The recipe calls for two 750ml bottles of Everclear.

The next ingredient is the zest of 20 organic lemons.   Let me tell you, if you've ever wondered what carpal tunnel syndrome feels like, go ahead and start zesting almost 2 dozen lemons in one sitting.

[EDITED TO ADD: Since you're only using the zest, you end up with 20 naked lemons, which translates into a whole bunch of fresh lemon juice that would be a shame to go to waste.  CLICK HERE for my solution: Homemade Lemon Sorbet.]

Next, you put the zest into a large glass container, and--only AFTER filtering the Everclear through a coffee filter several times to make it less taste less like jet fuel--you pour the strained grain alcohol into the container and give it a quick swirl.  (RightDish recommends using a gold coffee filter but I didn't have one--I eventually made do with a  fine mesh strainer for the next round of filtering). Then put on the lid and store it in a cool, dark place for 45 days.

I kept it on a shelf in my clothes closet. Every once in a while I gave the jar a little swirl, and watched the happy little bits of lemon zest swirl around in the Everclear like an alcoholic's most sought-after snowglobe.  Good times.

Once 45 days have passed, it's time to strain out the lemon zest, and then strain the limoncello-in-progress through the strainer 4 more times. Even after the straining process, it became apparent that the term "everclear" no longer applied--I tried to tell myself the neon yellow lemon-infused liquor looked cool, but that little voice in the back of my mind kept chiming in:

C'mon, admit it, you were thinking it, too.

The next step is to make a Simple Sugar Syrup, consisting of 4 cups of white sugar and 6 cups of water.  You stir the two together in a pot and then just leave it alone until it comes to a boil.  Let it boil for 5 minutes, then cool completely before adding it to the jar of strained liquor.  As soon as you stir in the cooled syrup, you start to see the color of the finished product shaping up.

All it needs now is time--another 45 days, to be exact, in the same cool, dark place you kept it before.  Right Dish recommends straining it one last time, and then bottling it up and keeping it in the freezer until you're ready to serve it.

For those who've never tried Limoncello, fair warning: it is STRONG stuff.  Typically, it goes like this:

First sip:  OH MY LORD this stuff is NASTY although it kinda tastes like lemon but WHOA.

Second sip:  You know, the lemon note is actually really nice and refreshing, but wow, you really do need to sip this stuff slowly, right?

Third sip: This limoncello is SO good!  You can taste the lemon even through the liquor so it's sort of like drinking lemonade only stronger, ha ha ha, I mean a LOT stronger, but still....

Fourth sip:  Wow do I love this stuff. You have pretty eyes. I want a unicorn for Christmas. What day is it??

Yes, I would not advise having more than three sips of this if you want to stay lucid and coherent. And please, do NOT overindulge on this stuff. When I posted on social media that I was making limoncello from scratch, I was inundated with horror stories from friends who, thankfully, lived to tell the tale of drinking too much of the stuff--but just barely.

It definitely tastes best when it's been in the freezer for at least a couple of hours, because it gets thicker and the coldness helps take the edge off of the burning from the high alcohol content.

Here's my finished batch, all bottled up and ready for gift-giving:

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Because...RAINBOW COOKIES

Whipped up not one but TWO batches this year...and I still think it'll be a miracle if any of them make it to Christmas

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Movie Review: Once Upon A Holiday

I've confessed before that one of my guilty pleasures at this time of year is hunkering down against the cold, wintry chill and watching a cheesy Hallmark Christmas-themed movie.   I don't expect these movies to be Oscar-worthy, in fact, the more predictable they are, the better. For me, Hallmark Christmas movies are like the equivalent of boxed mac 'n cheese as comfort food: not the best or most high-quality thing, but reliable and generic enough to be entertaining and (if you're lucky enough for the movie to be like the boxed mac 'n cheese with the impossibly gooey, pre-made sauce in a silver pouch) satisfying.

Unfortunately, Once Upon a Holiday was a disappointment. It was bland and not engaging at all. The acting was awful, even by Hallmark movie standards, and the two romantic leads had zero chemistry.

As soon as the movie started, I was blindsided by the appearance of Greg Evigan, a TV heartthrob that I remember from my youth as a ruggedly-handsome, "guy's guy" type.  As soon as he appeared onscreen in this movie, I recognized him, or should I say, this smoothed out, "age defying" version of him.  I fear he may have used the same plastic surgeon as country singer Kenny Rogers--their eyes look eerily similar now, and there's something odd going on in his cheeks, like fillers or implants.

I hopped over to to confirm whether or not it was him, and that's when I learned that his daughter, Briana, was playing the romantic lead. Ugh. Even more of my childhood memories dissolving before my eyes. Nothing like watching the 29-year-old adult daughter of an actor you once pined for in middle school to make a person feel like Methuselah.

The premise of the movie itself was the usual Hallmark fare: a princess hides her identity to sneak away for some anonymous fun with common folk in New York City, where she meets a blue collar regular guy and becomes smitten, and he has no idea who she really is. Oh, the drama that will ensue when he finds out! And then they get past it and it all ends well.

There was a very similar version of this story on ION TV just the other day, but with the gender roles reversed, called "A Prince For Christmas." That one is worth checking out.