Exotic Fruits of My Labor

Whether it’s traveling the world, publishing that novel that’s been in your head and on paper since high school, or living to see your kids grow up and have families of their own, we all have something we want to do before we die. For some foodies (be they world-class chefs or lowly bloggers and food writers who write about world-class chefs), their goal is to try new and exotic foods. Cuisines from around the world, a healthy spin on a favorite snack, a meal/snack that was popular in the past and can be recreated today, anything locally grown/made from scratch, a popular dish from a hole-in-the-wall eatery– those are all common items on the culinary bucket list. My culinary bucket list is no different, only I have a few culinary things I’ve done that some either wouldn’t have put on the list or haven’t done yet.

  • I got involved in a culinary education program and graduated (Job Corps does count. I know it’s not as glamorous as The Restaurant School, but I don’t want to put myself deeper in student loan debt).
  • I ate at Claudia Sanders (a Kentucky restaurant created by the wife of Colonel Sanders [the man behind Kentucky Fried Chicken]).
  • I went to two culinary expos (one in Kentucky and one in San Francisco)
  • I went to a wine tasting — one year as a greeter and another as a…well, I don’t know what I was. I originally came in to be a prep cook for one of the booths, but then I was put in charge of refilling the water pitchers, then put in charge of dishwashing. I was tossed around more times than a salad, but it was worth it, because when does someone like me get to see wine snobs up close?
  • I experienced firsthand what it’s like to work in the foodservice industry (and now have a better appreciation of those who do. I may never get another job in foodservice, but at least I know about the trials and tribulations of front- and back of house service, especially when I worked as a waitress for Chef Ron Schoenberg’s class and when a miscalculation caused me to run out of aioli for fried calamari in the middle of service. Мне очень жаль, Chef Valdet).
  • I learned baking from a German baker (Dankeschön, Kopf Egon!)
  • I ate at In-and-Out Burger. Sadly, I didn’t have any secret menu items from it, but it’s nothing a copycat recipe can’t fix. For my money, though, I like Carl’s Jr. better. Maybe I should have gone for the Double-Double special if I wanted a hamburger meal that will put me in a temporary food coma on a lazy weekend afternoon.
  • I got to work with sugar and chocolate art in pastry class. I even have pictures:

Chocolate Designs 1 P01-09-12_10.50

The sugar flower was very hard to do. I don’t know if you know this, but working with sugar that’s been heated to almost near-boiling point (by water standards) is not for those with delicate hands or a low tolerance for pain from burns. Once you get used to it, though, it’s almost like working with glass — and I should know. I went to a college where making art from molding and coloring glass was a legitimate major.

  • I got to try milk and cheese that didn’t come from a cow. Might not seem like much, but when you’re away from what you’re used to, you do begin to realize how boring it is and want to try something different.
  • I traveled to San Francisco and went to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. It’s a very nice place to go on sunny weekends (which is almost always in California. It only rained, like, twice when I was there, and snow is almost unheard-of, unless you live in Northern California) and you get to sample most things there, from homemade soda to foods I’ve never tried.

…Which leads me to my next point. Thanks to my time at Job Corps for Culinary Arts (February 2010 to September 2012), I’m still on the look-out for foods I haven’t tried, recipes I want to do for the family, and relatively unknown eateries I want to visit. One of the items on my culinary bucket list: trying out exotic fruits.

Now, this may not seem much like a feat, but some of the supermarkets around my town only have the “safe” exotic produce (and by “safe,” I mean “Everyone has tried this at least once in their lives”), like pineapple, coconut, banana, lime (which I love sliced in wedges or in circles and sprinkled with salt for a bare-bones margarita. You can dip the wedges or rounds in tequila before you salt them if you like your margaritas the way you like your women or men: not a virgin), blood oranges, mangoes, and papaya. I’m interested in the kinds of fruits  that either aren’t readily available in the United States or are only available either at a farmer’s market or as juice or part of a juice blend.

Here are some of these fruits I’ve tried, and some that I want to try.

Fruits I’ve Tried

1)

This first fruit I found was when I went shopping at this store called Produce Junction. They were labeled as “lychees,” even though a lychee’s skin is thinner and not as “hairy.” What I was eating was a rambutan, which is larger than a lychee, has a larger seed in the middle, and a flesh that taste vaguely like a white grape. My youngest sister, Ashley, took the last one I had (I bought four), then told me, “Don’t buy any more hairy grapes.” Siblings can be so cruel.

The rambutan, part of the Sapindaceae family and related to the lychee, the mamoncillo (Spanish lime), and the longan (but not the loganberry), is a Southeast Asian plant native to the Indonesian Archipelago, but has spread westwards to Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka and India; northwards to Vietnam, and the Philippines. Much like humans, the tree of this fruit can be male (producing only staminate flowers and, hence, produce no fruit), female (producing flowers that are only functionally female), or hermaphroditic (producing flowers that are female with a small percentage of male flowers). The fruit is round to oval (described as being as big as a golf ball or an average-sized testicle, depending on who you ask) and the seed inside is flat and, in Southeast Asian cuisine, edible — something I wish I knew before I ate just the flesh of it. Oh, well, next time.

There’s another fruit that looks like this (or at least has the same flesh and seed) called the pulasan, which is native to Malaysia, but has grown in the same places as the rambutan (mostly The Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand).

2)

This isn’t an orange. It’s a kumquat, which tastes like a really sour-to-bitter orange, and, unlike the orange, you can eat the entire thing whole and don’t have to worry about the pith. Credit goes to Chef Georgia Murphy (the Fine Dining instructor I first met. Sadly, I never had her as a teacher because she left) for introducing me to this fruit. Like the rambutan, no one in my immediate family likes this fruit, except for me.

The kumquat fruit grows from a slow-growing evergreen shrub or hydrophytic short tree with dark green leaves and white flowers (similar to its more common citrus relatives). Depending on the conditions, can produce hundreds to thousands of kumquats annually. Like the rambutan, the kumquat is found in Southeast Asia, but the kumquat has also been found in other Asian countries, like Taiwan, India, and Japan, and has even been cultivated on some islands on the Pacific Ocean.

3)

You have probably seen this fruit a lot on beautifully-crafted fruit baskets (Edible Arrangements does them all the time) and assumed they were pineapples cut into star shapes. I thought that’s what they were as well, until I read in my culinary notebook that star-shaped fruit does exist.

Starfruit (real name: carambola) and the tree on which it grows can be found in the tropical regions of the world, particularly in the Asian countries of India, Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, but the trees also grow in the South Pacific and even the Caribbean. Don’t let the bright orange color fool you. This is not a citrus fruit. Speaking from experience, the taste is more on-par with a honeydew melon with a hint of cucumber. Besides using it as an interesting piece in a fruit basket, you can use it as an interesting piece in fruit salad (or a green salad. Hey, if grapes, tomatoes, and cranberries can do it, then this fruit can too). And don’t rule this out when grilling fruit (it tastes just as good as grilled pineapple on a hamburger) or using it in making flavored water.

The best looking star fruit may not be the most ripe and delicious, so choosing the right one is important. Your best bet is to find the fruit with the least amount of green on the edges and the richest orange color. This could mean there are some brown edges, but don’t let that deter you. It’s still good.

4)

The stamen does look like something from a low-rent sci-fi movie about aliens, but what girl wouldn’t want this as a corsage or the centerpiece of a dress or wedding veil? I know I would.

You’ve probably seen this around — maybe not the actual fruit, but its juice has made appearances — both solo and with other juices (even if it’s artificially flavored). The top pic is a passion fruit (if you’re reading this in South Africa, then this is known to you as a purple granadilla; if you’re reading this in Hawaii, then it’s a lilikoi), a fruit from the vine plant Passiflora edulis. Its flower (shown below) looks like the kind of flower that has graced the wrists of many a dolled-up prom queen or a bride who wants a wedding that’s part fairy tale, part Polynesian/South Pacific paradise. Passion fruit gets its name, not because the fruit is said to be an aphrodisiac, but because parts of the flower will remind Christians and Roman Catholics of Jesus’ crucifixion (often referred to as “The Passion of the Christ”), in this case, the tendril-like petals circling the plant’s reproductive organs look similar to the crown of thorns Jesus had to wear as he was carrying the cross on which the Roman soldiers would nail him. Grisly, I know, after I said that the flower looked like it could be on a corsage or a wedding veil, but that’s the beauty of this blog: you get gritty, disturbing facts and whimsical opinion/kooky observation all in one sitting.

Passion fruit is native to Brazil, but have also grown in Central America (the countries between Mexico and South America, like Honduras and Costa Rica), the Caribbean (specifically Haiti and The Dominican Republic), the United States (California, Florida, and Hawaii, as those states have the right climate to grow this type of fruit), Asia (west and east, meaning that you can see passion fruit plants in Israel as well as Cambodia), and in Australia. Basically, any place that’s always warm and doesn’t have to worry about snowy conditions is where passion fruit thrive.

Passion fruit comes in two varieties: the purple one with the yellow and black seed sacs (which I have tried and is what is commonly used when bottling passion fruit for commercial use) and a vanilla type that’s elongated, yellow, and has a pale green flesh that (surprise, surprise) taste like vanilla. I don’t know if you can use it as a substitute for vanilla beans like people do with vanilla extract, but if you can find the vanilla passion fruit, it does make for a good frozen treat flavor. Can you imagine vanilla passion fruit ice cream with dark chocolate chips or vanilla passion fruit sorbet served as a tasty palate cleanser between meals?

For cost reasons, the actual passion fruit isn’t used often in the kitchen, unless you’re an ambitious pastry chef/pastry instructor with connections and/or money to burn, as I have seen pictures of passion fruit pulp used as a topping on high-end restaurant-style desserts. (You know the kind I mean: the kind served on plates with sauce fancifully drizzled over the dessert, the ice cream is molded into quenelles rather than scoops, the portions are small and the price is somewhat more outrageous than what you had to shell out for the entree, but the flavor usually makes up for it, and the dessert itself is often soaked in an after-dinner liqueur and lit on fire for dramatic effect — I’m looking at you, cherries jubilee, crêpes Suzette, and bananas Foster). Most chefs find that it’s just better to use canned nectar or passion fruit juice and only use the actual fruit if you’re making a jelly or pastry filling.

Like with the rambutan, I found and bought passion fruit at a produce store. In this case, however, it was Iovine’s Organic Produce at the Reading Terminal in Center City, Philadelphia last summer. It didn’t cost much ($2.99, I believe) and wanted to try it just for the purpose of making a blog post about it (in fact, this originally was supposed to be the second or third post, but I had a hard time making it work). You’d think a fruit like this would have a taste that’s out of this world. Well, it does and it doesn’t. It has a creamy flavor and its juice is infinitely better than what you can get at the store, but that’s if you can handle the tart flavor that almost parallels what pomegranate tastes like. Not saying I can’t handle tart flavors, it’s just that I expected passion fruit to be different since it’s a more-or-less rare fruit and not many people have tasted it. It’s similar to how people say most meats taste like chicken, despite how exotic and uncommon it is (though I’ve had lamb and goat before, and you will never hear me say that they taste like chicken, beef, or pork).

And that’s where I am in trying rare/weird fruits on my Culinary Bucket List. I want to reach ten, so that means I have six more to go. I know the next fruits I want to try are dragonfruit (pitaya), mangosteen, and, the smelliest fruit on the planet, durian.

Which exotic/tropical/rare fruits do you, my readers, think I should try. The comments section is yours to offer suggestions.

Thanks, and Happy Eating!

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TV Dinners #1: A Cooking Lesson from Cartoon Network

“And then, the Three Little Bacon Steaks WERE PUT IN THE OVEN and baked at 350, SMOTHERED IN CHOCOLATE! The end.”

The Red Guy, Cow and Chicken

This was an actual line from the late 1990s animated show, Cow and Chicken, Cartoon Network’s answer to Nickelodeon’s Ren and Stimpy (only it wasn’t that over-the-top with gross-out humor, but it did make fun of gender identity and transsexuality a lot — not in the same way as South Park and Family Guy have done, but a lot of the jokes would be considered a little near-the-knuckle for more prudish audiences) and part of Cartoon Network’s original programming series, Cartoon Cartoons, which also includes popular series like Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Codename: Kids Next Door, and Johnny Bravo, along with lesser-known shows, like Sheep in the Big City, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Whatever Happened to Robot Jones, and a favorite I watched in high school, Time Squad*.

This quote was from the season three episode, “Going My Way?”, in which The Red Guy is a drifter who gets adopted by Cow and Chicken’s insane parents and treat him better than their own offspring. One of the ways The Red Guy impresses Mom and Dad (that was their names) is by reading a “fairy tale” from a cookbook.

In this era of food blogs, people emulating food dishes that appear on their favorite show has become common, from people trying to recreate Skittlebrau (Homer’s beer and Skittles concoction from the season nine Simpsons episode, “Bart Star”) to someone setting up a  Tumblr blog centered on making real-world versions of the Burger of the Day specials seen in the background of the FOX animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers (including an especially dubious one from the first episode called “The Child Molester – Served With Candy”).  I’m jumping on the bandwagon as well, but my twist is I’m going to find out if any of the dishes in my favorite TV shows can be recreated in real life.

Welcome to “TV Dinners.” Today’s Special: Bacon Steaks Smothered in Chocolate.

Savory Chocolate Sauce

It may seem like a pregnant lady’s or 20-something stoner’s favorite dish (I mean, really? Who mixes chocolate with anything that isn’t cookies, cake, or candy?), but that’s because chocolate has been pigeon-holed as the stuff of desserts, pastries, frozen delights, breaking dietary taboos, warm winter drinks, sweet summer treats, and, if you really want to let your mind wander into the red-light district, sex. Seriously, who among you hasn’t had prurient thoughts of drizzling someone’s naked flesh in hot fudge and licking it off in sensual voracity? Adult toy stores online and in the real world cater to those who believe chocolate is an aphrodisiac, whether it’s in the form of body paint or performance enhancing bonbons, but that’s another blog entry for another day.

Savory chocolate dishes aren’t rare, but, outside of ambitious young cooks and eaters with an open mind, no one really thinks to try them, which is a shame, as savory chocolate dishes aren’t as nasty as you’d think. In savory chocolate dishes, dark chocolate is commonly used, but some dishes, like this take on baba ghannoush (or ghannouj), uses white chocolate to bring out the creaminess of the mashed eggplant.

Even if you don’t want to dive in headfirst into a savory chocolate dish, you can try a savory chocolate sauce. The one most people would be familiar with is mole (pronounced “mo-lay,” not “mohl,” like the underground animal, a treacherous double agent, or the benign skin tumor that can either be a beauty mark, a sign you may have cancer, or, in some ancient civilizations, a sign you were into witchcraft if you stuck it with a needle and it didn’t bleed), which is served on chicken. Mole sauce is actually the generic name for the dishes served with that kind of sauce, with mole poblano as the most common type outside of Mexico.

Much like a lot of stories of how popular dishes are made, mole was made purely by accident and with limited ingredients. A visitor had stopped at a Mexican convent and two nuns were scrambling for whatever they could provide for him. The nuns had little in the way of food and used a molcajete (a stone mortar and pestle used in traditional Mexican cuisine) to grind every ingredient they could find and simmered it in liquid until it thickened.

Traditionally, mole is made with guajillo chiles (roasted, stemmed, seeded, and chopped), stewed tomatoes, cinnamon, unsalted peanuts, and cocoa powder (though you could substitute that for Mexican chocolate or a bar of dark chocolate that’s been melted in a double boiler). Speaking from personal experience, mole sauce tastes like barbecue sauce without the sweetness and with a little more heat and it goes great with grilled chicken.

However, if you just want a barbecue sauce with a dark chocolate edge, you can prepare this. It’s the homemade barbecue sauce I first made when I decided to take culinary arts at Job Corps, with some minor adjustments.

Dark Chocolate Barbecue Sauce
• 2 tbsps unsalted butter
• 1 oz semisweet chocolate (chopped)
• 1/3 cup brown sugar (packed)
• 2 tbsps cider vinegar
• 2 tbsps unsweetened cocoa powder (I recommend Hershey’s Special Dark baking cocoa)
• 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tsps dry mustard
• 2 tsps chili powder
• 2 tsps kosher salt
• 1/2 tsp ground coriander
• 1/4 tsp cayenne
• 1 cup apple cider vinegar
• 1 cup stewed tomatoes
• 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
• 2 tablespoons minced garlic
• 2 tablespoons liquid smoke (optional)
• 1 tablespoon paprika
• 2 teaspoons dried oregano
• 2 teaspoons dried thyme
• 1 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation:
Melt butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add remaining ingredients (vinegar last), reduce heat and simmer over low for 20 minutes. Allow to cool. Optionally, you can puree this sauce to make a smoother barbecue sauce.

Bacon Steaks

A bacon steak (also known as a bacon chop, but not a pork chop, because a bacon steak is from the part of the pig where we get bacon – the belly if you want the streaky, fatty strip bacon that you can enjoy from breakfast to dinner; if you want Canadian bacon, you have to take it from Porky’s back) is just bacon cut thick enough to pass for a steak, hence the name. It can also be regular beef steak with bacon wrapped around it if you want to get fancy, but, for the sake of this blog post, a bacon steak is a thickly-cut slab of bacon that looks like a steak.

As for whether or not you can bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius, or 4 on the gas mark if you’re using a gas oven), you…actually can. Depending on your oven (I’m going by the electric oven I have in my house currently), bacon steaks/chops take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes to cook in the oven, turning ever so often so it cooks on both sides. Compare with pork chops, which can take 35 minutes to cook (maybe a little longer, depending on your oven). And yes, you can smother the bacon steaks in chocolate (or rather, the savory chocolate sauce) in chocolate as it cooks. The end result will taste salty, smoky, incredibly rich, and (depending on whether or not you puréed the sauce) very smooth.

And that’s how you make bacon steaks smothered in chocolate.

Thanks, and happy eating

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*There are some Cartoon Network-made shows that have aired on the channel, but aren’t Cartoon Cartoons: Samurai Jack, Class of 3000, Megas XLR, anything made during Cartoon Network’s failed attempt at airing live-action shows (Out of Jimmy’s Head, Dude What Would Happen, Destroy Build Destroy, Incredible Crew, Tower Prep, and Hole in the Wall [even though that was a short-lived game show that aired on the FOX Network]), and the post-Golden Age Cartoon Network shows, like Adventure Time, The Looney Tunes Show (not the installment show of classic shorts, the sitcom), Regular Show, Steven Universe, Uncle Grandpa, MAD, Robotomy, and The Amazing World of Gumball.

A Very Foodie Christmas: Novelty Need Not Appli-ance

On this side of the world (Western hemisphere), there’s only two more shopping days until Christmas – unless you’re like my family and decide that the after-Christmas/year-end clearance sales (which last from December 26th to around New Years’ Eve, maybe New Years’ Day, if a store decides to stay open then. Some stores will even stop the day before New Years’ Eve so they can differentiate between the after-Christmas sale and the year-end clearance sale) are the best time to buy Christmas presents.

Shopping for a foodie or a home cook is a lot like shopping for a child: there are a lot of new, shiny toys out there that everyone wants, some of which are good to have, while others are just novelty that no self-respecting home cook/foodie would want or need. A quesadilla maker does seem like a good idea, but, as the “Thanksgiving Leftovers” post showed, you can get the same results with a good cast-iron pan and a canned good or the back of a spatula pressed firmly, but not too firm or the cheesy filling will spill out (unless you like it like that). I guess I should be one to talk, since my grandmother recently got our family a breakfast sandwich maker from Hamilton Beach and that’s about as novelty as you can get on a kitchen appliance without it being a knock-off of something you’d find at a county fair or circus (cotton candy maker, snow cone maker that’s not the classic Snoopy one, or hot dog roller). However, my family hasn’t had a bread toaster in years, our toaster oven broke, and there are days where we (myself included) either don’t feel like using the oven or stove or can’t, because we ran out of vegetable oil. In that regard, I say, “Don’t pick a novelty kitchen appliance unless you have a good reason to use it and you will use it more than once,” like a pasta maker:

I had to work with one of these monsters in my Bistro class and my Fine Dining class at Job Corps. It seems easy and you’d think I’d get the hang of it just because of my quarter-Italian heritage, but it just didn’t happen, especially since the hand crank kept falling off. The only successful time I had with this machine was when I made kreplach noodles for my Jewish chicken soup, but that was because I had a partner who helped me hold down the machine. If you want to make fresh pasta and you don’t have anyone to be your spotter when hand-cranking it, then invest in an electric pasta maker, get a pasta maker attachment for a Kitchenaid standing mixer, like this one…

…or learn how to cut pasta by hand. The last one isn’t recommended unless you have the time, patience, skill, and a good kitchen knife or pizza cutter and ruler to do it.

So, what constitutes a “kitchen need” vs. a “kitchen want”? It all depends on whether or not you can see yourself using the appliance frequently or if you answer “Yes” to the question, “Could I do the same thing without this appliance?”

Like the panini maker/George Foreman grill. While you may jump down my throat and say that a panini maker is essential in the kitchen, it’s actually not (and this is coming from experience, as I have two broken ones). You get the same results with a cast iron skillet with a ridged bottom, whether you’re making a turkey and brie panini or a pan-grilled steak. On top of that, you can easily soak a ridged cast iron skillet in the sink and not have to worry about emptying the fat/oil reservoir every time you use it.

Then there are the specialized cutters (the ones used for one kind of food, like watermelons, corn, bananas and butter). The only kind of cutters you need in a kitchen are for cookie dough (though you can easily make stencils out of sturdy paper and not bother with those metal ones) and an apple corer. The knife kits they have in stores from Williams-Sonoma to Wal-Mart look almost like the ones that professional chefs use, and work just as well.

Coffeemakers: I’m not much of a coffee drinker, and, if I am, then it’s always cold and always sold at Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Cosi’s. I did have one in college, but that was because my sister and I also bought a blender so we can make cold coffee drinks and it ended up getting thrown out when we moved out. If you just have to have coffee, then don’t go for the needlessly complicated ones, like this one (yes, I know it’s a parody commercial from Saturday Night Live, but the Verismo is real. They’re just making fun of the crummy service of real Starbucks cafes): http://vimeo.com/62425881. Go for the ones that look like this:

So, what have we learned in this blog post? We learned that a foodie Christmas shouldn’t have to break the bank like a regular Christmas. It should be about what you need in the kitchen, not what you want (though if it’s not considered redundant and you plan on using it more than once, you can splurge on a “kitchen want”).

Thanks, and have a very foodie Christmas.

 

 

Kitchen Fever Dreams: A Look at “This Is Why I’m Broke”

Before I start my blog, I’d like to apologize to my readers for dragging my feet on updating this blog. I’ve been searching for steady work, and so far, I’m either in waiting or rejected. On top of that, I was having writers’ block on how I wanted to approach this blog (yes, I still owe my readers part two of my barbecue lesson, but now’s not the time for it). It’s my baby, but I also want it to be different than the others. Then I realized that if I have a good idea or an opinion about food, restaurants, markets, and kitchen stuff, I should just jot it down in a notebook and come here ASAP (and that my over-thinking is getting in the way of my acting on a lot of major creative decisions).

Which is why I’m here today.

My aimless Internet surfing has lead me to many websites featuring kitchen equipment and ingredients (for the home kitchen, the commercial kitchen, and the institutional kitchen), though none have reflected how nerdy and excessive we as a people have become (thanks, in no small part, to the Internet)  than the food and drink section of the website, This is Why I’m Broke (http://www.thisiswhyimbroke.com).

Now, some of This Is Why I’m Broke’s kitchen equipment and food seems like things I would “unironically”  have/eat (whatever that means to anyone who isn’t a hipster. I guess it means I wouldn’t be ashamed to have or eat it), such as…

Chopstick Eating Utensils

Chopstick Eating Utensils: I’ve been teaching myself how to eat with chopsticks (by practicing with pencils) from a young age. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I wanted to add another useful/useless skill to my full arsenal. Maybe I wanted to eat like an East Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese) person. Who knows? With this, I don’t have to furtively pocket extra chopsticks when I order a Chinese noodle dish, or, failing that, ramen noodles. They look kinda plastic, like something from KFC, and the $7.89 price tag isn’t doing anything to convince me otherwise.

Slate Coasters

Slate Coasters: I’d probably only use them once, for a Flintstones/prehistoric-themed party, but they look a lot classier than the ones casinos give out or the ones that look like ashtrays (and probably were used as such).

Green Tea Kit Kat Bars

Green Tea Kit Kat Bars: The milk chocolate Kit Kat has been my favorite for years. I’ve had the white chocolate Kit Kats too, but not as often as I’d like. I know a dark chocolate one exists, but I prefer my dark chocolate to be more upscale or organic, like Ghiradelli, Lindt, Godiva, and  Dagoba (though I’ve had Reese’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. They taste almost like the ones you’d find at a homemade candy shop). Green tea flavored Kit Kats are found in Japan, but thanks to online shopping and San Francisco’s Japantown, you don’t have to go far to find it. I haven’t tried it, but, if it’s anything like Haagen-Dasz’s green tea ice cream, it’ll (a) taste good to me, but not anyone else, and (b) it  will have a slightly off aftertaste.

Any of the offbeat cookie cutters: They’re so much more creative than the ones used for Christmas or the animal-shaped one used all-year. You have the Game of Thrones ones for fantasy geeks, Tetris and Pac-Man ones for video gamers and 1980s nostalgia-holics, zombie ones for zombie heads (and anyone you know who has the characteristics of a zombie: dead eyes, bad posture, unholy stench, limping gait, only speaks in grunts, moans, and monosyllables, so probably your elderly relatives or your teenaged/20-something-year-old son), iPhone-shaped ones for techies and Appleheads, and a 3D dinosaur cookie cutter set for those who want to reenact Jurassic Park (the first one), make a model replica of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event for either high school biology or your culinary school’s Food-Based Centerpieces course, or want a bit more of a dimension to their dinosaur cookies that these can’t provide.

Square Ice Cream Scooper

Square Ice Cream Shaper: This is a godsend for people like me who are amazed at how dessert, pastry, and confection chefs can turn a pie à la mode into modern art and want to emulate that, like my pastry and confection teacher, Chef Kin Joe. The sticker price ($14.99) could be a bit lower, but it’s worth it. And even if it isn’t, you can achieve the same effect by scooping some ice cream into a biscuit cutter or a cleaned out soup can with both lids removed.

However, for every one of those, there are some cookware/flatware/kitchen appliances on that site that make me wonder, “Really? Is this what people want these days, whether as a joke or seriously?” It’s not in my place to judge someone for their purchasing decisions (maybe you’re having a themed party or are at that impressionable age where you think fads will make you cooler), but if I met you and you had this in your house for visitors to see, I’m going to make a lot of hilarious, yet broad (and, at times, politically incorrect) jokes and assumptions about it in my head, to my sister (who also shares in my broad, un-PC humor), and on this blog. No disrespect; it’s just how the world works now. Everyone is fair game, whether they like it or not.

Like this wonderful piece:

Trash Can BBQ

No you’re not seeing things and it’s not a Photoshop or a still of a parody product from Saturday Night Live or any SNL-esque sketch series  (either on TV or online). It’s a barbecue grill that’s shaped like a trash can. It goes for $78.22, which I think is too much. For less than that, you can find the kind of trash cans that Oscar the Grouch calls home on alibaba.com (or any store that still has those kind of trash cans. They are becoming a dying breed, thanks to recycling bins and Rubbermaid) and build a charcoal pit inside of it. Judging by the legs and feet of the individual using the product, I take it that college students are the main demographic for this product, probably to practice for their post-college life of living in an alley roasting dead rats and pigeons over a trash can fire while struggling to find work to pay off the exorbitant student loans they’ll owe back to the school. The implications to this just seem unfortunate, even if it is meant to be joke.

You Have Been Poisoned Glass

Yes, it’s a gag glass, but this is just begging to be used as “People’s Exhibit A” in a murder case that started out as a harmless prank. Besides, if one were to poison someone’s glass, that person would be secretive about it, and come up with a million alibis for it. I’ve seen enough Investigative Discovery shows to write at least three murder mystery novels featuring a poisoning. See also: the “Big Mistake” plate.

Vegetable Grilling Clips

There’s nothing wrong with this vegetable grilling clip, but I think a $14.95 price tag is outrageous. I can go down to either WalMart or a discount beauty supply store that caters to women of color and get at least three packs of hair clips big enough to hold asparagus spears or carrot batonnets together on the grill — or, better yet, eschew the vegetable clips all together and just place the long, skinny vegetables on the grill at an angle at which they won’t risk falling through the grates.

Gummy Worms Cereal

$38 for sugary cereal?! Are you mad? I can get sour gummi worms for $1.00 and a sugary cereal of my choice (I’m a sucker for Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Golden Grahams) for two or three dollars (depending on whether or not I’m buying a no-brand version of Cinnamon Toast Crunch that tastes just like it). That leaves $33, $34 that I can use for other things (except for useless kitsch) or put towards a savings account. On top of that, that product looks like something you’d find in a parody commercial, making fun of childhood obesity.

Edible Chocolate Anus

That is a chocolate anus. Yes, really. Fortunately, it doesn’t have a filling in it, but still, it’s a sign that there are some body parts you just shouldn’t recreate with chocolate. I don’t mind erotic cakes or confections shaped like breasts or penises. Food and sex go together like whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and the hot, naked body shuddering in ecstasy as his or her lover dollops the cream (or drizzles the chocolate) all over him or her. This, however, is not going to appeal to most people (except for the anal and butt play fetishists crowd), even if you lie and say it’s a molar with a really deep cavity in it.

Candy LEGO Bricks

Candy Lego Bricks: These are a lot like candy cigarettes or those European chocolates with plastic candies in them: all it takes is one kid to choke on it (or, in the case of the candy Legos, mistake a real Lego for a hard, tasteless candy Lego) and soon, you’ll have One Million Moms protesting over these and they’ll be recalled. This, my friends, is why we can’t have nice things.

On that note, I’d like to thank you for reading. Good day, and happy eating.