You may not get a hankering for peanut brittle often, but when you do, the yen can be inexorable. Making it yourself can be more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s not easy to find high quality peanut brittle in most stores, even in candy shops. (A quick search for "peanut brittle" yields mostly recipes, not readymade shopping sources.)
Enter Anette’s Chocolates by Brent, maker of arguably the best commercially produced peanut brittle in the world. Anette’s is based in Napa, the heart of Northern California’s Wine Country. Napa Valley and surrounding areas are known for their world-class vineyards as well as top-notch microbreweries, artisanal cheese, and gourmet food products. Thus, it makes sense that one of Anette’s most popular products is its Beer Brittle with Spanish Peanuts.
Honestly, mixing beer into peanut brittle didn’t sound especially appealing to me, but I gave it a chance. I was floored by how good it was, the blend of dark roasted Spanish peanuts, amber ale, butter, sugar, and a little sea salt. If it sounds weird, give it a try — that is, if a good, satisfying peanut brittle is what you really want.
The Beer Brittle is Anette’s signature peanut brittle, but more adventurous brittles include Buttery Chardonnay Wine Brittle, Firey Beer Brittle with Spanish Peanuts, and Triple Nut Bourbon Brittle with Pistachios, Almonds and Pecans. The Chardonnay Brittle is also excellent, but I found that the taste of white wine isn’t as perfectly suited to peanut brittle as beer is. (In the context of peanut brittle, chardonnay is surprisingly tame compared to the pungency of brewed hops.) The "firey" brittle, laced with chili peppers, is so spicy and hot that it’s hard to eat more than a mouthful or two at a time (which is probably a good thing). It’s therefore wise to reserve the firey brittle as an unusual treat, perhaps consuming it alongside Anette’s standard beer brittle. (I haven’t yet tried the Tripe Nut Bourbon Brittle, which sounds sumptuous.)
Because Anette’s is so close to an abundance of superlative wineries, it blends wine and liqueurs into other confections as well, notably chocolate truffles and sauces. The Tall Chocolate Wine and Liqueur Sauces set, for example, includes Chocolate Cabernet, Chocolate Port, Belgian Chocolate Brandy, Chocolate Raspberry Liqueur, Chocolate Amaretto, and Caramel-Butterscotch Scotch sauces. Other notable sweets include nuts, chews, and toffee, as well as what I’m eagerly looking forward to trying next: the S’mores Kit with Madagascan Vanilla Marshmallow, Rich Chocolate and Graham Cracker.
Anette’s Chocolates ships throughout the U.S. and Canada.
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Posted August 4, 2009 by Mariva in edibles, entertaining
This is a story about pancakes. It begins in one of my favorite places. Let me explain.
San Francisco is not the densest city by any means, but space is at a premium nonetheless. So when a single store occupies an entire city block — a large city block — that is a big store in San Francisco. The experience of shopping at the only Costco in San Francisco feels like half-privilege, half-pandemonium. Wheeling a ginormous cart around the street-width aisles of Costco, for me, is a guilty pleasure. There’s only so much paper towel and laundry detergent I really need, but I find any excuse to go. I would imagine that anyone who’d grown up behind the Iron Curtain might bask in the consumer abundance of Costco as a sort of earthly paradise.
In one of the refrigerated aisles, an entire case contained shelf upon shelf of bright golden-yellow spray cans. I thought nothing of the spray cans at first, assuming that the cans were just a brand of whipped cream I hadn’t seen before. But I did a double-take as I noticed something horrifying on the cans: the word batter. Costco, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? Batter — (pancake and waffle, that is, not cake) — in a spray can? Look, spray cheese is bad enough, but spray batter heralds the end of civilization.
Perhaps even more amazing was that the word organic also appeared on the can. I’ve been brainwashed by Whole Foods, I admit, but when I see the word organic, I automatically think healthy. (Or at least healthy-wannbe.) Was it possible for something healthy to be stored in spray can — which, by defnition, indicates processed food? Who could have predicted that I would stumble onto such a paradox in the refrigerated section of Costco? Organic and spray can seem like matter and antimatter: how can they simultaneously occupy the same space?
I went home with my jugs of dish soap and jumbo box of Spring Mix pre-washed salad greens and spent several days pondering the mysterious pancake batter in a can. Is this a viable business plan? Are enough consumers able to overcome the inital gross-out factor and purchase this product? Certainly there have been many times when I craved pancakes but had neither the ingredients nor the desire to engage in the time-consuming process of making them. And the yen for pancakes rarely justified a trip to a restaurant. So what to do? The solution to this conundrum may, in fact, be contained within the scary golden-yellow can.
Before I made any investment, I conducted some research on the cleverly named Batter Blaster. I watched the 1960-style demonstration video, which got me to sing the jingle repeatedly: Make a better breakfast faster: Batter Blaster!. (I can’t decide if the jingle is cute or annoying — or both — but it’s certainly memorable. Well done.) I read the canned — (sorry) — testimonials. I was prepared to experiment.
Costco offers a package of three 18-ounce cans for $9.99, which seemed like a good deal until I realized that I had nothing to compare it to. One can produces enough pancakes for a breakfast for two hungry adults or for three moderately hungry adults. In this era of escalating food prices, $3.33 for the bulk material of a breakfast for two doesn’t seem too bad.
Batter Blaster is remarkably easy to administer. Heating the frying pan to medium-low eliminates the common problem of the inedible "first pancake." (To avoid any burning at all, I recommend a quick spray of PAM between each pancake frying.) In fact, if you’re hungry for just a single pancake — and no more — you can fry a shot of Batter Blaster, rinse off the nozzle, and return the can to the refrigerator. (For this reason, and because of its ease of use, the product appeals to empty-nesters as well as to non-cooks.) Waffle lovers can also spray Batter Blaster onto a waffle iron.
In the frying pan, the batter bubbles surprisingly well for a mixture that doesn’t include fresh whipped egg whites; while they aren’t the most ethereal pancakes I’ve ever had, they definitely qualify as fluffy.
The most important question is, of course, how do Batter Blaster pancakes taste? The answer, in my opinion, is: solidly mediocre. Mediocre, however, is better than disgusting, which is what I’d initially expected from pancakes out of a spray can. The batter comprises a few simple ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, dried egg products, soy powder, leavening agents — and something I’m not sure I want to know about called "propellant." The bland taste is probably explained by what’s missing from the list: flavorings (like vanilla or almond extract) and spices. To be fair, I should mention that it’s the pancakes made from the plain batter, without any added ingredients, that are mediocre. Bisquick pancakes, or even pancakes made from scratch that contain no flavoring or spices, are also mediocre. The way to make them not mediocre is to add something to them.
For the purpose of livening up the batter, recipes are available at the Batter Blaster web site. Following the recipes, however, requires squirting the batter into a bowl and mixing in other ingredients. This defeats the whole point of Batter Blaster, which is ease of use and avoiding the whole mixing-batter-in-a-bowl procedure.
Here’s a tip I discovered after some trial-and-error: mix only the additive ingredients in a bowl and add a small amount of the mixture to the pancake while it’s frying. For instance, I mixed a cup of chopped pitted cherries with chopped walnuts and almonds, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. To each pancake, I scattered a spoonful of this mixture while the pancake was frying. The result was a plateful of uniquely flavorful pancakes. To skip any mixing process entirely, scatter a handful of rinsed-and-dried blueberries and/or sliced bananas into each frying pancake.
Hopefully in the future, if Batter Blaster is succesful, proprietor Sean O’Connor will add new lines of flavored batters, such as cinnamon-apple, spiced pumpkin, blueberry, lemon-ricotta, strawberry-banana, chocolate-peanut butter, savory herbs (for brunch or dinner crepes), and so on. (O’Connor has already tested strawberry and blueberry, as well as a sprayable brownie mix.)
I’ve been enjoying pancakes on weekend mornings, despite annoying myself with the catchy . . . better breakfast faster . . . jingle. I returned to Costco for another set of Batter Blaster cans. The refrigerator case was half full, which bodes well for the company — and for the future of easy pancake-making across America.
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Posted September 9, 2008 by Mariva in business, edibles, health, innovations, kitchen
It’s hard to imagine a better — or funnier — gift for the parents-to-be who already have everything than Safe Baby Handling Tips by David and Kelly Sopp.
This novelty picture book is basically a series of contrasting dos and don’ts with regard to taking care of an infant. For example, the correct way to "bond with baby" is to hold and coo at the baby, not attempt to engage him or her in a timed game of chess! And when you’re putting the baby down to play, put him or her in, say, a playpen, not a cage. When taking baby for a walk, put him or her in a baby backpack, not in an old potato sack.
I mean, sheesh, people — take care of the baby! Get this book.
Posted March 23, 2006 by Mariva in books, education, entertaining, entertainment, fun, gifts, home
In the spacious but homey split-level basement of Cody’s Books, I always find myself drawn to the tables displaying the Cavallini & Co. stationery products. I can’t seem to keep my eyes off the passel of varicolored notebooks, notecards, carte postale (postcards), flashcards and magnets and accessories, among other products.
Many of the designs embody a neo-Victorian aesthetic, reminiscent of decoupage and Beatrix Potter books, whereas the frames have a distinctly Italianate flavor. Whole maps feature prominently in Cavallini’s collection of gift wrap, making the paper itself a gift. (With Cavallini map gift wrap, I don’t use tape and I advise the recipient to open the package carefully without tearing the paper.) The file folders are works of art, almost too beautiful to kept in a drawer.
Posted March 9, 2006 by Mariva in arts, books, decor, gifts, home
If you like to bathe in luxury, try Pacifica soaps. Before buying, you can wander through a virtual garden of high-quality scents with names like Sandalwood, Tahitian Gardenia, Tunisian Jasmine, French Lilac, Bergamot Amber Rose, Vanilla Orchid, Bali Lime Papaya, Hawaiian Ruby Guava, Thai Lemongrass and so on.
The soaps are nature-friendly (biodegradable, vegan, not tested on animals, no artificial colors), and the scents are strong but smell authentic — it’s hard to detect a chemical base that’s typical for some scented soaps. Each beautifully boxed 6-ounce bar is priced at or close to $7 — which might seem extravagant until you realize that with scented products of this caliber, you get what you pay for.
Posted March 2, 2006 by Mariva in bath & spa, beauty, gifts, home
The Solutions catalog offers all sorts of, well, solutions — or, as the company puts it, “products that make life easier.” Lest you think that Solutions products are akin to Kenji Kawakami’s 101, 99 More and The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu, check out this sampling of potentially useful items:
If you need help with home improvement or getting organized, Solutions also provides a handy list of free clever tips.
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Posted February 22, 2006 by Mariva in decor, entertaining, gadgets, gifts, home, innovations, kitchen, resources, travel
Half the fun of a gift is the packaging — and all the better if the wrapping paper is unique. If you’re lucky enough to have this unique designer paper, would you use it to wrap a gift — or would you frame and display the paper itself?
Posted February 21, 2006 by Mariva in arts, decor, gifts, home
Whoo-hoo! Macy’s is having a big fat Presidents’ Day Sale on apparel, jewelry and shoes for him, her and kids — but today is the last day. Also, this is the last week of the annual Home Sale on bed & bath, dining, housewares, luggage and rugs.
Posted February 20, 2006 by Mariva in bath & spa, decor, entertaining, fashion, home, jewelry, kitchen
Ever feel nostalgic for products or supplies that you remember from childhood, but haven’t been able to find in years? Your search may be over. The Vermont Country Store offers a wide variety of products that your parents or grandparents used — all brand-new and recently manufactured. How is this possible? The proprietors get permission to re-create vintage products as close to the originals as possible — including design and packaging — and bring them to market for another generation of consumers. If you’re not in the neighborhood of one of the stores in Weston or Rockingham, Vermont, you can order vintage games, classic New England apparel (warning: not for the fashion-conscious), long-lost fragrances and even food and beverages online. If you can’t find what you want, let them know, and they’ll consider re-creating it for you.
Posted February 15, 2006 by Mariva in bath & spa, business, decor, edibles, fun, games, gifts, home, innovations, kitchen, resources
Tarzjay is having a big furniture sale this week. Get cute stuff for your home without spending a fortune.
Posted February 7, 2006 by Mariva in decor, home