Sunday, January 31, 2010

Peanut Butter Creme Oreo Cakesters

These are like Decepticons. When I opened the package to eat them, I expected them to be better than regular Cakesters, which have typically been dry and puck like, so I was hoping the extra oil in the peanut butter would be enough to make them softer.
Unfortunately, I wasn't very conscientious. I failed to notice that these were peanut butter creme flavored, making them artificial and tasting of sugary, confectionery neglect. The cakes themselves were a little softer, and when I opened the package, I was very excited. I could smell the peanut butter from across my desk, so of course, I expected that the peanut butter would naturally be in the cakes themselves.
Not so. There was a greasiness, a lardy, filmy consistency that stayed in my mouth, and a sugar high that stayed, too, but no lasting peanut butter flavor at all. The cakes were chocolate flavored and didn't remind me of Oreos. Probably great snacks for lunchboxes. I was just disappointed at the sugar flavor of the peanut butter filling. It was too whipped and not dense enough for me. It was great that they finally got the cake formula down, but that the filling is now crappy irritates the living daylights out of me.
On the plus side, I'm now experimenting with getting the detritus out of my photos! Check it out.

Hageland Ecuador 43% Milk Chocolate

Hageland Ecuador

This is the second of three Hageland bars in my possession, and it also falls into the middle as far as cacao percentage. Earlier this month, I had the 80% cacao from Uganda, and I have a 34% bar from Madagascar on deck.

Like the other Hageland bar, the ingredients list was simple: cocoa butter, sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, and skimmed milk powder. According to the box, there is a minimum of 43% cocoa solids and at least 22% milk solids. The flavors of cacao from Ecuador were described as rich, intense, and acidic with hints of flowers and herbs.

Hageland Ecuador

The chocolate smelled nutty, milky, and very sweet. Luckily, it was not as sweet as it smelled. The melt was smooth, cool, and creamy, and the chocolate had a nice, traditional cocoa taste that I enjoyed very much.

The bar was well tempered, and though I prefer a little darker, this was a very tasty milk chocolate bar. My husband really liked it, and described it as some of the best milk chocolate he'd ever had (he would give it an A). The cocoa flavor was quite strong, but it was well-balanced by the creaminess.


Kim's Chocolate website

Morinaga Dars Crea Chestnut and Caramel

Dars Maron and Caramel

Orchid64 of Japanese Snack Reviews recently held a contest to win a cool, Japan-exclusive KitKat mug. While I didn't win, she was kind enough to give a couple honorable mention prizes, and that's how I got these cute chestnut and caramel chocolates.

Chestnut is a lovely flavor that's not too common in the United States, at least not where I live. It's great for fall and winter (especially when roasted on an open fire, I hear), and typically goes well with sweets.

Dars Maron and Caramel

The chocolates were very cute! They were about an inch long and smelled like chestnut. The textures of the chocolate and the filling blended together beautifully, as both were creamy and smooth, with a cool and buttery feeling on the tongue.

The chestnut flavor was mild and toasty, giving way to burnt caramel notes that complemented the sweet milk chocolate. I didn't find these to be too sweet, probably because of the small size. Dars is something I've never tried before, but I will definitely seek out other flavors in the future.

Be sure to check out what Japanese Snack Reviews thought of these, too.


Morinaga website

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vosges Black Pearl Bar

Vosges Black Pearl Bar

I've been eating so much chocolate recently, but I haven't gotten tired of it. It's hard to get tired of Vosges! The only bar of theirs I haven't liked was the bacon bar, and I'm not a bacon enthusiast to begin with.

When stores only offer a few Vosges bars, Black Pearl is almost always among the ranks. At first glance, wasabi chocolate doesn't sound too appealing, but the whole flavor palette here is pretty interesting. I love sesame seeds and ginger and wish they were used more in chocolate. Like the Red Fire, it's another barely dark bar at 55% cacao.

Vosges Black Pearl Bar

It was easy to see and feel the sesame seeds from the bottom of the bar. The chocolate smelled earthy and roasted, with the ginger and sesame seeds in the background. The chocolate tasted fantastic and had a delightfully smooth melt, and the sesame seeds added to the texture.

The wasabi flavor wasn't strong, but that's probably for the best. The ginger stood out much more. As expected, the flavor progression was interesting. The bar started savory and sweet (full of umami), then toasty, with a mild wasabi/ginger finish. Overall, it was a complex bar, and I enjoyed it.


Vosges Haut-Chocolat

Vosges Red Fire Bar

Vosges Red Fire Bar

Although work has kept me busy, I have continued to work through my chocolate stash. I received some Vosges Haut Chocolat bars from my in-laws, and this is the first of two reviews.

I love all things spicy, and while I've only had one bar that was really hot, when it comes to chocolate, less is more. The heat has to compliment the chocolate, not overwhelm it.

The chocolate smells fantastic, with sweet and toasty notes. At 55% cacao, it's not a very dark chocolate, but the flavor and texture of the chocolate is fantastic. It has a wonderful, smooth texture and a creamy melt.

The flavor progression is also lovely. It started smokey and toasty, then the chocolate emerged, full of flavor. Towards the end, the heat kicks in, and it's a nice chili bite that was just right for me. I loved this bar, and always had to stop myself from eating too much at once. This is probably my favorite Vosges bar.


Vosges Haut-Chocolat

Loves It Brittle

I got a lovely tin of brittle from Loves It Brittle last night and have been chomping all night long. I love peanut brittle, but until now, I'd only had the opportunity to try regular brittle and chocolate covered, so this was a great treat for me to nosh on.
The first one I tried was the Family Favorite, which had lots of wonderful peanuts and a great brittle base. The base was delicious, and crispy. It was a thinner base, which I really liked, and it absolutely melted in my mouth. Some of the peanuts fell off the brittle in the process, which was kind of a pain, but I tipped the bag into my mouth at the end and all was well. But overall, the flavor was really great and it all went together deliciously. The sea salt comes out really well with the creaminess of the butter, and there are little air bubbles within the brittle that pop and fizzle nicely. The second brittle I tried was The Works, which was the same as the Family Favorite, but with more nuts. What I really enjoyed about this brittle was that the nuts were all chopped to a roughly uniform size, so that I didn't have to guess what each one was and that they were each relatively equally distributed, so there wasn't a large chunk of cashew in one section or a hunk of walnut in another. And again, the brittle base was really delicious and buttery.
The third brittle I tried was easily the best brittle of them all, but surprised me, because I didn't think it would be my favorite when I tried it. This was the Calypso Crunch, and although I'm not normally a big fan of coconut, I was intrigued by the idea of mango extract in the brittle base itself. And it succeeded brilliantly. The buttery cheeks of the mango coupling with the buttery base in itself went together like a good wine and cheese and with the coconut and cashews, it made for an incredibly rich candy treat. It was a really complex and subtle flavor. If I had any criticisms, it would be that it did a strange thing to my mouth where if I ate too much at once, it numbed it a little, which was definitely odd. However, this was definitely the best flavor, with great notes of toasted coconut and burnt sugar. Really excellent.
I tried the PMS brittle next, with spices and peppers mixed in. I ate some and it went down the wrong way and I coughed a little, but it was very chewy and tasted great and added a nice kick that went along well with the buttery flavor. I enjoyed the spices and didn't think they were too overwhelming or overpowering. I also loved the Tree Hugger brittle, although the granola got stuck in my teeth at first, but soon integrated into the brittle. It made it even butterier and was a really nice textural difference. It was very crunchy and crispy! I thought the addition of almonds was a good change, too. Very different! Those two were definitely my favorites, as well.
The pumpkin spice brittle was good, but it was a little too sweet for my tastes and the pumpkin seeds, when chewed, left a bitter taste in my mouth. The nutmeg was too heavy in the flavor, but the texture was like the others, and I liked that. It was very, very buttery, much like regular pumpkin pie filling and emulated the flavor well.
If there was any brittle that I didn't like, it would have had to have been the Cup of Joe brittle, with cocoa powder and coffee extract. I didn't find that the combination of nuts and coffee to be good at all, and the texture was too brittle. It shattered in my mouth and I had to let it dissolve because it was too crunchy and hard to chew up.
Overall, though, this brittle was tasty! Some of these flavors really took a deviation from the standards and I thought that was a neat thing to do. I loved it and thought it was really clever and creative.

Loves It Brittle

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hero Pommes Fines Herbes

I made these as a side dish last night with some dinner. They looked gourmet and reminded me of some MREs, in their package. They came all foiled and when they spilled out in the pan, came out in a giant lump.
While cooking, the directions, which were extremely sparse, mentioned that it would take about fifteen minutes. In actuality, it took about a half hour before any crispiness was present, and by that time, all the potatoes were reduced to tiny potato shards, and although they were very soft, they were bubbling and freaking out and skipping all over the pan.

I was also disappointed in the usage of sunflower oil over duck fat in the potatoes. Call me an asshole or a gourmand or a lover of trans fats, but if you're going to make easy to cook French cuisine for the every day housewife or aficionado, use the actual ingredients. I don't want the damned sunflower oil. But maybe I'm just picky and when I die at the age of 35 from liver failure, cite this article and raise a glass of Riesling for me.

When the potatoes were finally ready, we had them after dessert. And to be honest, they were decent, but none too impressive. They weren't fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. They were very irregular and some were undercooked and slimy and some were very crispy. The good ones were tasty and had an earthy, very natural taste and the herbs were intense and also delicious, but the remainder wasn't impressive and the overall package just didn't yield what we expected at all.

Blogiversary. Yet, Again.

As I enter my fifth year of food blogging, it's time to take the annual look back at the previous year's posts. A heartfelt thank you to all who stop by to read my gibberish, and an even bigger thank you to those who leave comments. Well...not the spammers.

Favorite Posts
A labor of (didn't quite) love (it), I put a lot of time into researching Cincinati Chili. I spread the word of my BoBerry love. And, did you know that I love peanut butter and pickle sandwiches?

Best Restaurant DishesThe simple combo of salty Halloumi and sweet date jam at Zahav is so good,I hope they never take it off the menu. This deviled egg junkie would like to give props to Supper for their deviled egg happy hour. Not from a restaurant, but from a couple of ladies who dish up raw food at monthly meet-ups, this raw apple crisp was the best dessert I ate out the entire year.

Best Restaurant
What I really meant to talk about under Best Restaurant Dishes was Bebe's...but I had to spread some love around. Bebe's is killin' it when it comes to Southern cooking. I'm talking about their all-vegetarian sides of course, and their mac and cheese in particular. And don't forget dessert. Meat eaters say they're killin' it in the barbecue department, too.

Favorite Dessert Recipes
The whole bbq fever in Philly last year had me disappointed with the banana pudding offerings (Bebe's got it right), so I posted a banana pudding recipe to show 'em how it's done. Gingerbread pudding cake became my bestest snuggle buddy. Chick-O-Stick ice cream? O-yeah!

Favorite Recipe...Ever!Mac and cheese, of course! And, it's made by my cute lil' ol' Mom. She sends her love.

Most Popular PostsBut who cares what I think. The most viewed posts from 2009 were recipes for donut muffins, charoset truffles, and tomato pie.

Judge and Be JudgedLoads of fun was had being a judge at A Full Plate's Annual Rib Cook Off, as well as at an Iron Cupcake Challenge in New Jersey. Nervous at my first public speaking as a food blogger during 215 Festival's Food Blogger Brunch, I quickly got over it and couldn't shut my mouth.

BurgersHave y'all been to a Burger Club Philly meating put on by the Burgerbaroness? You should. It got me thinking about how I was unfamiliar with the Philly veggie burger scene. Many meatings have veg burgers, so I love to go and skew the ratings (usually down). Veggie burgers I've eaten this year (not all with BCP) include those at: National Mechanics, SquareBurger, Sketch, PYT, The P.O.P.E., and two more that I haven't posted yet. Oops.

VacationA free trip to St. Martin was lovely, even if Lyme disease fudged the end of the trip. (Eat more deer, all y'all meat-eaters!) This time last year I was in Belize having the time of my life. Now I'm just perma-stay-cationing in Philly.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Max and Dylan's, Boston, MA

Erik and I went to Boston to see Of Montreal last night and after the show, went to this little restaurant to grab food before heading home. It was tiny and chic and I'd seen the menu online and was pleased to find that although it was quite upscale, it had really cool and comfortable foods that one wouldn't be afraid to order and enjoy with a nice glass of wine and company.

So after the show, it wasn't quite empty, but that was perfect because our food arrived within ten minutes of us ordering it. Erik ordered the beef tenderloin flatbread with mashed potatoes, frizzled leek, and truffle oil, and I ordered the flash-fried jalapeno cheese sticks. I wasn't too enthusiastic about the beef flatbread because it contained two things I really try to avoid- beef and mushrooms. Truffle oil being a far cry from the actual fungi, but still.
However, being a food critic, I had to do my duty. And hot damn. First off, when it came out, it wasn't what I expected, which was the one piece of flatbread like a sandwich with the potatoes and leeks on the side, but the flatbread was covered in the potatoes, drizzled with leeks, the beef was also liberally placed all over it, and then, the truffle oil.

It was cut into squares like a pizza, and what I imagined would happen was that I'd take a piece, from Erik's chiding, nibble off a piece, pretend I liked it, and then let him eat the rest, but I ended up eating half of the entire pie. It was amazing. I've heard people say, "That beef melted in my mouth," only to eat beef and have it be stringy and disappointing, but that beef actually melted. It was so tender and buttery, with just the tiniest bit of rock salt on top, which sweetened the truffle oil and accentuated its buttery flavor. The mashed potatoes, which I originally thought were some sort of ricotta or mascarpone cheese, were gods unto themselves, and to think that I thought them a lowly side dish. They were creamy and amazing, like the sperm of the gods. The leeks added a crunch to the flatbread that the bread itself also gave, and it held together in a wonderful combination that I would have never tried if it wasn't for stepping outside of my damned comfort zone.

Ain't it good?
The jalapeno cheese sticks also exceeded my expectations, because I thought that the cheese sticks would have rounds of pickled jalapeno studded amidst them, which isn't really my forte, but I liked the idea, and was excited to try something spicy. When they came, they were colorful, big triangles with sea salt on top and gooey mozzarella on the inside. The serving was more than enough for the two of us to share and still be full. The jalapenos were infused throughout the breading, which was made of tortilla chips. The flavor was great, and since they were flash-fried, there was virtually no grease to be found in them. They were fresh tasting and wonderful, and the salsa they served it wish was sweet and very ripe.
We really loved the restaurant, and it inspired me- MAYBE- to try a few more new things in my diet outside of the general meat and potatoes. I'm not going to try mushrooms, so don't expect to see them on the reviews anytime soon, but maybe a few new things will pop up. But I really did enjoy the atmosphere and loved the home-like and comfortable menu. If only there were desserts! Overall, though, we loved Max and Dylan's pretension free style and laid back way of service.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Growing Shiitakes

We were part of a White Elephant gift exchange with friends over Christmas, and were thrilled when we unwrapped a Shiitake mushroom growing kit. Immediately, we vocally gushed and then gave the stink eye around the room to anyone who might consider stealing our present. It worked.

Having lived for two years in Kennett Square, PA, "the mushroom capital of the world," and toured a few mushroom growing houses in the area, I've always wanted to get a batch of mushrooms going, but it's been one of those simple and easy indulgences I've just never acted on.

If you're an apartment dweller or a city dweller and don't have a patch of soil to grow vegetables or herbs, this may be the thing to placate the primal urge we all have to grow something edible. It's so simple. Here we go...
Take your mushroom kit (basically a block of spore inoculated substrate) out of the box, and read the directions. The kit you get may have different direction, but below is what happened when we followed the direction with our kit. The block may already be sprouting, but in our case it was not, so the block still wrapped in the incubation bag went into the fridge for 3-5 days.
Then the bag was cut open at the top and the block was soaked in water (spring, well, rain, or boiled tap water) for 24 hours.
The block goes down to the basement (or any room with indirect sunlight and temps in the range of 60-80 degrees). The bag is turned upside down to form a humidity tent over the block. Skewers are poked in the block to hold the bag up. The surface of the block gets misted 3-4 times a day with water (spring, well, rain, or boiled tap water). This is what the surface of our kit looked like at the beginning or the misting — white, popcorn-like bumps.
Misting multiple times daily and with the humidity tent still on, after about 10 days, the surface started to blacken and blister, which are young mushrooms beginning to form.About two weeks into the daily misting program, a protuberance appeared (kind of nubby like the one on the top middle of the block), and over a few days developed into a full grown mushroom (like the one on the top right corner of the block).

Supposedly, we'll continue to get flushes of mushrooms for the next 6 months. Yay! I'll try to update about how many and for how long we got mushrooms.

Mi Tierra, Hadley, MA

I ate the best Mexican food in the world this weekend and now I am scheming. I am scheming to abduct a worker from this restaurant so that they can cook for me. Because I must know the secrets to this restaurant. Erik showed me this restaurant a little while ago and now I simply can't get enough of it. It's just incredible, and the food couldn't be more simple, hearty, or good for its value. And the best part is, it's in the backwoods of Massachusetts, untouched by the rabid Smithies in Northampton or the drunken UMass kids or rowdy Mt. Holyoke girls or pretentious Amherst College students or granola-munching Hampshire hipsters. So nobody, save a few older people, knows about it.

And now all that will change.

So Mi Tierra is tiny and amazing and wonderful, and we are in love with it. We went there tonight after a healthy workout at the gym and ordered the best thing on the menu- the tacos dorados, mine with potato, Erik's with cheese.

At the start of every meal, the lovely server, usually Dora, will bring you a massive basket of hot, homemade chips with a fresh salsa verde. The salsa verde is to die for, and I could probably drink gallons of it and not break a sweat. It's spicy, enough to make you blush but not make you swear (out loud), and the chips are very crispy, bubbly, not oily at all and the perfect size for dipping. I wish they were a little saltier, but they bring out the salsa quite well and balance without one overpowering the other. The salsa is smooth and perfect- no chunks, just the way I like it, and is a wonderful bright green color.
Onto the entrees. We both ordered the tacos dorados, which are four corn tortillas with your choice of filling, (steak, chicken, cheese, or potato) deep fried until golden brown, covered in homemade queso and sour cream, and served with rice and beans. For years, I avoided most Mexican because rice and beans, for me, is just a side dish to be swept aside or given to someone else. It's too goopy or too dry or too something or not something enough, but this...I've never had something like this, where I've finished the side dish before I've even stared at the entree. The rice is perfectly seasoned, and I usually end up pouring the extra salsa verde on it for a little more kick, and the beans are godly. They are salty and buttery and probably have pure lard in them, but taste amazing. They aren't mushy, but are tender enough to melt in my mouth.

The tacos themselves were incredible. As I write this, I'm eating the leftovers. They are the size of a large penis, semi-erect, and taste better, too. The potatoes are spiced and crispy on the inside and tender, and the outside is smothered in freshly grated queso and sour cream. They are extremely crispy, and for being deep fried, really not all that greasy. The cheese tacos are amazing. The log of cheese inside is semi-solid and creamy, tastes fresh and has a nice bounce to it when you bite into the crispy taco. The shell stays firm around the entire thing and makes a great pocket to keep the entire thing in.
The portions are also massive. When Erik and I go, we generally order these and, though we try to finish, on an average day when we haven't had anything else to eat, we generally end up bringing home two to four tacos to snack on later and rave about. If I kill anyone, I want to eat these when I'm brought my last meal, they're so good. The best part, though, was that our entire meal, with drinks, (the chips are free!) came to under $20. How's that for entirely awesome?

In short, Mi Tierra is a place where unicorns go to have their children. We're going to camp out until they let us live there.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Doritos Late Night All Nighter Cheeseburger

Being a student on a budget, sometimes I have to make substitutes. Some days, I want filet mignon, but I'm usually broke, so that generally results in me reheating a leftover steak burrito and shaking pepper on it. Some days, I want Baked Alaska, so I shake some rubbing alcohol over Cool Whip and take a lighter to it. It ain't pretty. But I ain't rich.

All kidding aside, I'm generally not a fan of beef, so when I have a craving for greasy fast food that a cheeseburger can only satisfy, and I have only a vending machine at my disposal, I have to get creative. Luckily, these new Doritos are here to help. I saw them at the convenience store today and had to try them. Although these are remarkably similar to the secret flavored X-13D Doritos that were out a few years back, these are much tastier. There's less of a pickled flavor to these, and much more of a beefy, meaty flavor, a much more flavorful and savory, salty taste.

Although the corn base is quite prevalent, it's definitely noticeable that these are burger flavor chips. There's a great smoky flavor and a cheesy powder on these, and a mustard and onion, too. I didn't notice as much cheese, so these are more "hamburger" than cheeseburger, in my opinion. However, they're damned addictive. Be careful of that. What's next from the late night section? Doritos already did buffalo wings, but they're liable to bring that back for their Late Night selection. Loaded nachos? Loaded potato skins? Chicken sandwich? Cheesecake laced with a massive hangover? Pepto-Bismol and Chaser Collisions?

And more importantly, how drunk do you have to be to come up with a name as awkward as Late Night All Nighter? Chrissake.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shank's At Pier 40

Need a plumber? How about an electrician? Stand in line at the new Pier 40 location of Shank's, and you can easily find a repairman to fix your sink. Or your lights. Or probably anything that's broken.

The South Philly location of Shanks Original (original location near the Italian Market closed and reopened on 15th St. in Center City last summer, and they added a second location at Pier 40 along Columbus Blvd. at the end of 2009) appears to be a great location for working men and their trucks to easily pull in for a traditional Philly hoagie lunch break.Not quite as mod and glam as the architect's rendering, this small box on the side of the road has little indoor space for placing orders, but smartly has a window that opens up to take orders from the long lunch lines that form outside. When warm weather arrives, perhaps the patio area will be filled with tables and seats, as the architect envisioned.There are two veggie hoagies on the Shank's menu (not counting the breakfast hoagies, which I'll have to return for — egg, cheese, potato, and spinach sounds like a good combo to me), and I tackled them both.
The Eggplant sandwich can be ordered Shank's Style (pan-fried, lightly breaded eggplant with greens and homemade gravy) or Parmagiana Style (pan-fried, lightly breaded eggplant with homemade gravy and Provolone).

I went Shank's Style with spinach instead of broccoli rabe. Every thing — eggplant, spinach, and a mound of tomato gravy — goes on the grill to get heated before being tucked into the long Italian roll. What I liked about this sandwich were the ultra thin slices of eggplant with crispy fried edges. No thick-cut spongy eggplant here.
The Veggie with pan-fried, lightly breaded eggplant, broccoli rabe, roasted peppers and Sharp Provolone was not different enough from the Eggplant to really warrant another listing in the sandwich column, in my opinion; it's all just a fried eggplant hoagie. Slap some gravy on The Veggie and you've essentially got the Eggplant.

Always a fan of sauce, though, I preferred the Eggplant. And bitter broccoli rabe is not a favorite of mine, but I braved it just in case they laid their hands on a mild bunch. They didn't.

While these are great hoagies (the thin-sliced eggplant is a revelation) from an iconic Philly hoagie maker, this non-native Philadelphian will never be head over heals for the Philly-style veggie hoagie with fried eggplant, broccoli rabe, and Sharp Provolone that can be found at Chickie's and other Philly hoagie institutions. It's just not in my blood.

Shank's Original at Pier 40
901 S. Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19147


Mon-Sat, 7:30am-4pm