Monday, January 31, 2011

Lean Pockets Pretzel Bread: Grilled Chicken Jalapeno Cheddar and Roasted Turkey and Bacon with Reduced Fat Cheese

The poor man's Hot Pocket, the Lean Pocket, has taken a gourmet twist. Once a Dickensonian tragedy with flavors like Mexican Fiesta, the lowly sandwich has now risen to the top of the frozen food chain, imitating bistro-esque flavors like pretzel bread, croissants, and chicken cordon bleu. Now that the Pocket family is putting on the Ritz, they can look down upon the lowly citizens who consume them and laugh.The Lean Pockets website has even gotten a little sarcastic with all the low-fat entitlement they can now tout. While perusing the diverse community of flavors, the site informed me that another Pocket could be cooked while I was "wasting my time" on this website, and that the breakfast Pocket was an "actual reason to open my eyes in the morning." Maybe if I was a shut-in, but not quite. However, the new Pretzel Bread offerings were a reason for me to drag Keepitcoming to the grocery more than the usual three times a week. I fancy myself a pretzel bread connoisseur. I've traveled to the deep suburbs of Windsor to locate a Blimpie for a grilled pretzel sandwich. I've navigated smoky taverns for a pretzel burger. So finding a commercially viable alternative to actually eating out definitely intrigued me, as did the flavors.Right off the bat, there were a few strange things about these pockets. For starters, of the two flavors, LP has decided that the turkey and bacon sandwich was too intense to warrant its own cheese flavor, simply designating it as "reduced fat cheese." Upon further examination, it appeared to be a blend of cheddar and mozzarella, along with bacon and tomatoes. For another thing, these look like pretzels and smell like pretzels. Until you put them in the microwave. And then they undergo a series of unpleasant and questionable scent and chemical changes throughout the two minute cooking process. Enough to make me think twice about eating them and peek in the microwave to see if they'd burnt or if I'd accidentally left a wrapper in there.
Once finished, they really do resemble pretzels, but with less rock salt and a slightly more metallic scent. They are also strangely sticky. The flavor was good as I'd expected to taste far less tinniness, my favorite aspect of pretzels, and was thusly assuaged. The turkey, bacon and cheese pretzel 'wich, or as Lean Pockets says, "the quadfecta," was blander than I'd thought. Some elements were present in flavor, some in texture. The bacon was smoky and flavorful but texturally non-existent. The turkey has disintegrated in the microwave. And the cheese blendno matter how long I let it sit, was molten hot and salty with no distinguishable sharpness or general elements of cheese.The grilled chicken jalapeno cheddar fared better, but once again, we had this persistent Clara Peller question- where was the meat? Compared to the mushiness of this sandwich, the turkey in the last one was practically turgid. With these, cheddar was a bit of a stretch, and it was more like salty nacho cheese sauce than sharp, gooey cheddar, but with a substantial spice to it and large pieces of pepper. That sort of worked to its advantage. However, with both sandwiches, I didn't feel like I was eating a complete meal. Had these been packaged as "Soft Stuffed Pretzel Snacks" with spicy and regular cheese with more in the box, I might have felt that the price was justified for what it was, but coming into these expecting a meal with meat, I was a little disappointed. Even after microwaving, the pretzel bread wasn't so hot. It was a little too chewy and plain, and a good deal of the salt had melted off in the cooking process. Both cheeses ended up being so salty that the pretzel's natural flavors were really lost in the sauces.

I hope more frozen food companies are bold enough to experiment with pretzel bread, but in the future, if they're as pretentious as Lean Pockets has been, I expect them to deliver on their product in an honest and forthcoming way.

Vitamingum Fresh Spearmint

Vitamingum Spearmint

I am a chronic gum chewer, so I was quite excited to receive samples of Vitamingum Fresh from Vitaball, Inc. I must admit that I don't take a regular multivitamin (even though I'm pretty sure I have a bottle in the medicine cabinet) because I try to take in my vitamins through my diet, but the idea of vitamin gum is certainly appealing.

Vitaball sent 3 flavors of Vitamingum Fresh: Spearmint, Peppermint, and Cinnamon. I'm starting with Spearmint, because it was my favorite. Each 2 piece serving provides 10% daily value of 12 different vitamins, and something I noticed while sampling the gum was that I didn't compulsively pop piece after piece of gum, knowing that I could overload on vitamins. That's good - just ask my dentist.

Vitamingum Spearmint

At first, the tablets were firm, but after a little chewing, the gum softened to a pleasant, bouncy texture. The gum was intensely minty, cool, and refreshing - great for morning coffee breath - and had a nice spearmint flavor. Unlike Trident Vitality Vigorate, I didn't feel like I was chewing medicine or cough drops.

Since I'm not a nutritionist or doctor, I can't comment much on the vitamin aspect, but as a gum, Vitamingum Fresh is pretty good. The fresh flavor lasted a long time (weakening after 5-10 minutes, with a milder mint hanging around much longer), and the texture was right on.


Check out another review at Gum Alert!

Vitamingum website

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Arepas Reina Pepiada

In translation, "the chubby queen." Reina Susana might have been the namesake for this sandwich, a fluffy arepa shell stuffed with avocado chicken salad, but god damn, if it doesn't ring true. Hell, the chubby queen? Might have well just saved some time and called it "El Foodetta."

Keepitcoming described these as having a mixture of seductive textures. She's right. For street food, this is awfully complex and even a little sexy, like the voluptuous queen herself. The outer layer is crisp and buttery, with an inner fluffiness from the cornmeal, and then the filling hits the senses. It's chicken salad, but more buttery, thicker, sticker, from the avocado. It's spicy. It's meaty. It's cold and chewy and utterly delicious.
You will fall in love.

The best part about these Venezuelan vamps is that they take ten minutes to make. Less if you have your fillings handy. And they're so versatile and taste so fresh. Try them out- the fillings can be swapped out for anything. We recommend the sexy- caviar and avocado. Grilled shrimp and brie. Cream cheese and smoked salmon. These might nudge out sesame chicken for our Valentine's Day menu.

Ingredients (makes ten four inch buns)
2 cups of harina- pre-cooked white cornmeal. We used the Goya one and it worked fine, though everyone on T3H INTARNETZ swears by Harina P.A.N. Pro-tip: any kind works.
3 cups of lukewarm water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp paprika
Butter for the griddle.

1. Mix all the ingredients, except for the butter, together. Let them sit for five minutes.
2. Prepare a griddle pan with butter- roughly a teaspoon for every four cakes.
3. Make small cakes, roughly four inches in diameter, and a quarter inch thick. Smooth out any cracks and make sure they are of an even width.
4. Fry the cakes until they are golden brown on both sides and puffy. Split them with a fork and spread with a filling of your choice.Arepas Reina Pepiada Filling
Ingredients (serves four, makes enough to fill ten buns)
2 pounds of chicken tenders or skinless chicken breasts
2 avocados, ripe
4 tablespoons of mayonnaise- we used chipotle mayonnaise and it gave it a nice kick and a lot of extra flavor
Seasonings to taste- salt, pepper, smoky paprika, red pepper flakes

1. Set a pot of water on the stove. When the water starts to boil, place your chicken breasts in and let them cook, stirring occasionally.
2. While those are cooking, mash your remaining ingredients in a bowl. When the chicken is done, a process that shouldn't take longer than a few minutes if they are thin chicken breasts, take them out of the water. When they are cool, shred them into small pieces and put them in the bowl. Mix thoroughly until combined and mushy. Spread on arepas.

God damn, these are tasty. And surprisingly, not too bad for you. They use about a quarter of the mayonnaise you would use in a regular chicken salad and are also gluten-free.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hot Chocolate Snackdown

Ohhh, snap. We haven't done this in ages. New England has been hit with more crap than Poland in 1939, and by "crap" I obviously mean snow. It's no longer a winter wonderland. This is war. So Keepitcoming and I have been keeping the chills at bay with hot chocolate. And sex, but also hot chocolate. After accumulating a few different brands, we thought it would be fun to compare them. Two, Chuao and TCHO, are more upscale and can be bought at your local Whole Foods or organic co-op, and the other, Ghiradelli, is available at any grocery store. Except Food Lion. 'Cause it sounds strange.All three of these took vastly different modes of preparation and had different ingredient compositions. The Ghiradelli was completely powder, with the first three ingredients being sweet ground chocolate, sugar, and soy lecithin. Considering that 2/3rds of those were just permutations of sugar, it didn't seem promising. The TCHO listed unsweetened dark chocolate, sugar, and cocoa powder, and the Chuao listed dark chocolate, dehydrated milk powder, and sugar, making it the mix with the least sugar. The TCHO was completely chunks of chocolate with no powder to be seen, and the Chuao resembled a cross between the previous two.Each of these took eight ounces of boiled milk in a saucepan, the difference being the time one added the chocolate and the amounts. Of the three, the Ghiradelli used the most powder, clocking in at four tablespoon's worth. It ended up being extremely sweet with a very watery consistency, a strange topnote of burning plastic, and coated my mouth with an unpleasant chalkiness. Despite that this is commercially viable and easy to pick up, it would not be my first choice next time.The Chuao fared much better. Unlike our ill-fated Vosges chocolate, this seized up in a pleasant way and gave the drink a pudding-like, custardy texture. The flavor was rich with a slight bitterness and was scented of vanilla. It really opened up over time, because at first it was not at all aromatic or scented, leading us to believe it was blander than it actually was, but it was truly a treat to consume. Even lukewarm, it was rich and had a defined dark chocolate flavor and left no chalkiness on the palate afterward.After that, we were pretty much convinced that gourmet drinking chocolate was the way to go, so we gave the TCHO a try. Huge mistake. I don't think I've ever been this let down by a gourmet product before. The first red flag this raised was the inconsistent melting. I was most excited about this because it was completely chocolate chunks, but after allowing it to boil down to a liquid, I was dismayed to discover that there were still gritty chunks leftover in the pot. The little bits that made it along with the milk rendered the texture grainy and chalky, even moreso than the Ghiradelli! If I had bought this for full retail value, I'd have been very disappointed, as everything about this fell flat- the texture, the flavor, the aroma. Everything was falling short with this hot chocolate.Overall, I think we'd easily get Chuao again in stores, or even order it online if we could wait that long. It comes in different varieties as well, and it seems like a pleasant combination between a dessert and a drink that I wouldn't get bored with easily. The other two are disappointing and should be avoided. I think it was the dehydrated milk powder in this that thickened it up to a drinkable, yet indulgent level, so that might be an ingredient you wish to look for in stores.TCHO and GhiradelliChuao

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Dirty Truth Beer Hall, Northampton, MA

After trials and tribulations, The Dirty Truth was exposed- as a fantastic restaurant. Having heard good things about their atmosphere and even better things on their menu, it seemed essential to give this a go.

For a bar that happens to serve food, The Dirty Truth (TDT for now) has a very eclectic and indulgent menu, spanning multiple continents and favoring the liberal usage of duck confit. That’s my kind of place. The appetizers looked tame and prosaic, standard carbohydrates that would undoubtedly sop up the copious of alcohol one generally consumes, so those were passed over. However, the entrees were strange and flavorful. Eventually, the menu was whittled down to one familiar and one foreign- macaroni and cheese with truffle oil and a side of fries and onion bhaji with moussaka, an Indian napoleon with peas and rice on the side.

It’s necessary to preface this with a warning about the obnoxious, pretentious commentary one will encounter upon reading this menu. Hipsters, approach! Neurotypicals, begone! The vintage Windows 97 “chiller” font and chatty side notes are unnecessary. Just say what’s in your crab cakes, please, and check the Def Leppard references at the door. Calling something unctuous is up to me. And finally, a disclaimer with fine print is completely unnecessary. Is this the café at Fear Factor?
The food arrived in moderate portions and steaming hot. Both were presented simply but aesthetically on the plate, treading the line between artisan and rustic. At first glance, the truffled macaroni could not be taken seriously. Having never been to a restaurant where the base for the mac and cheese was elbow noodles and not off the kid’s menu, this was a little off-putting. Soon, all fears were assuaged as it was obvious this was an intentional choice, the cheese sauce clinging to the noodles like a silk slip and adhering perfectly. The sauce was beautiful, all the cheeses mingling together and gently keeping the noodles in intact clumps, but easily breaking apart should one desire a smaller forkful. Truffle oil is one of the best ingredients for pasta, and it added another layer to the flavors, never overpowering or yielding an oily texture, but providing a fantastic earthy and nutty flavor all unto its own.

The fries on the side were beautiful and hearty, neither shoestring nor steak but achieving a glorious medium in between. They were cooked to a golden crisp, but might have been in oil a hair too low, because there was a slightly unpalatable oily presence. However, the thickness of the pieces and size was delicious, and the simple combination of salt and potato made these addictive.

As for the onion bhaji, it was presented like most Indian food- in a delightful duo of fried foods and mush. Or it should have been. Valiant attempts at ethnic cuisine are best left for the experts, because this was all mush and no crunch. The overall texture was somewhere between baby food and overcooked, and the negligence of leaving the eggplant skin and flesh ratio high resulted in a bitter flavor. If one’s eyes were closed, the cloyingly sweet flavor was reminiscent of a chunky applesauce with a blend of interesting spices, but the dish on its own was too heavy and too clashing to enjoy. The side dishes, though simple, fared quite well. Peas, a typical staple of prisons and mental institutions, were given an extreme makeover. Turns out they needed only a little fresh mint to make them fresh and snappy.

The Dirty Truth offers a wide array of food and drink to keep anyone entertained and sated during a blind date or night out with the girls, but one must be open to partying hard in a dark and cave-like environment. The bright side of this is that the art changes monthly, so the disturbing and macabre Looney Tunes portraits (a la Gacy) of our last visit are, like most misunderstood and obscure things, ephemeral. Thank god for that.

The Blogiversaries Just Keep Coming

Holy moly, it's the end of January, and that means I'm entering my sixth year of food blogging! I just won't die.

I'm not dead yet, but, if you haven't noticed, I've been ramping down over the past couple of years. Posts are down about half from my height of an average of 13 posts per month in 2008, and I'm just fine with that. I'm enjoying the more chill schedule and reduced calories.

Before we get on with the yearly recap, I'd like to give a big thank you to all the old timers and new comers who read and comment. You're awesome!

Favorite Posts
I just love doing side-by-side taste tests, especially of sweets (see here, here and here), so sampling the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookies available at Green Aisle was pure pleasure. I also love, love, love cafeterias, and the Mitsitam Café at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in DC is one of the best. Y'all probably don't give a poopstick about the newly opened Groucho's in Newark, DE, but their sandwiches and special sauce taste like home to me.

Best Restaurants
What Koo Zee Doo and Kanella both have in common — and what makes them uncommonly good — is that they're doing down-home ethnic foods (Portuguese and Cypriot, respectively) so simply and tastefully. And, Blackbird Pizzeria is killing it on the vegan front. Even omnivores love Blackbird, and if they don't, they're just macho prickish snobs.

Best Restaurant DishesThe sesame cold noodles at Han Dynasty are so simple, but big on flavor — easily, my favorite dish of the year. The vegetable board at Kraftwork is a veggie-lover's delight. Blackbird's seitan cheesesteak trumps all veggie cheesesteaks.

Favorite RecipesI'm a fruitcake lover, and these fruitcake cookies are just spectacular. And, there's just something so satisfying about the crackly and chewy texture of these gluten-free double chocolate cashew cookies. I updated my tomato pie recipe, and if you don't like it then you obviously hate the flavors of summer, and probably life in general.

Most Popular PostsNothing I ever write will get more page hits than the vegan red velvet cupcake recipe from 2008 that still racks up the hits, but the most popular posts written in 2010 were for restaurants (it's usually the recipes that get the most hits, but, in 2010, I completely gave up on being rejected 9 out of 10 times over at Tastespotting). Cracker Barrel comes in first place. Elevation Burger takes second place. I guess if you want hits, write about chains. And, Blackbird Pizzeria takes third. Yay, Blackbird!

Bargains Abound
OK, for $2 you can get a kilo of fresh-made tortillas (about 32) from Tortillaria y San Roman in the Italian Market. Head over to Viet Tofu on Washington Ave. for a huge $1 block of tofu. Then hit up Yummy Yummy for a couple of ball waffles for $4. So, for a grand total of $7, you can have a mondo tofu taco party that ends with ball waffle fun.

Vegans Step UpGrindcore House, the all-vegan coffee house that opened up this past year, is not just a godsend to vegans, but to all who live in good-eats deficient Pennsport. When the all-vegan Blackbird Pizzeria took over the spot that once held the part-vegan Gianna's, Blackbird showed everyone how it's done. Like a side of cult and super friendly service with your healthy vegan eats? Then the Loving Hut on South St. is at your service. In addition to vegan personal cheffing, catered meals, and grab-and-go meals at local groceries, Miss Rachel's Pantry now delivers vegan lunches to the downtown crowd on Fridays.

Hey, Blackbird Pizzeria was mentioned an unprecedented four times in my recap. They win!!!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Clif Shot Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Roks

I don't know about you, but I think this "Year of the Diet" theory is bullshit. People balk under pressure, and hearing that 2011 is the year to stop fucking shit up is going to only encourage failure. Personally, I'm in the "Year of the Rabbit" ilk. It combines the Chinese (sorry, lunar)New Year and this new idea and allows you to eat all rabbit, all the time. Bun? Indeed.But for those of you who aren't too keen on wolfing down a laegomorphe with every meal, Clif offers another alternative- protein in the form of rocks. I've always been keen on the Clif bars, but I wasn't sure how keen I'd be on this product. The Clif Roks boast 40% of your daily fiber in a package of ten. Each rock is roughly between the size of a malted milk ball and a grocery store gumball, and oddly enough, roughly between their textures as well. I'm not sure if protein melts, but in anticipation of that ill-fated future, Clif has opted to coat these with a protective shell to avoid this. Protein melts in your mouth, not in your hand.Yeah, that's a bacon wallet. Gotta keep up my street cred.

The texture of these is a little off-putting. From the packaging and formula, these appear to be optimized to eat while running or exercising, anything you do that requires a little extra protein. I'm sure you wouldn't chew gum and sprint a mile on the treadmill. If that's the case, you wouldn't eat these, either. Eaten whole, they're extremely unwieldy and difficult to bite through. When I gave up and decided to cut these in pieces, I found it trying to cut them with my knife. The shell shatters under the knife and the inner core is hard. When I finally cut them into smaller pieces, the chew was tough and grainy. Maybe I should have stuck with the rabbit diet. The predominant flavor is actually that of a malted milk ball, with a neutral sweetness that satisfies my craving for something sugary, but an artificial flavor shortly after. It's like cookie dough in the Uncanny Valley way that Cookie Dough Bites are- not.Also, there's no money in that wallet. I didn't bring home the bacon.

I feel like these are bulky and more gimmicky than they make out to be. They seem to serve no real purpose aside from mildly suppressing hunger, whether lying sedentary or actually using them for exercise, and have eschewed taste and texture for a ton of protein. And yet they still manage to have as much sugar as a regular Snickers bar. I doubt I'd get these again, but I like to think I'll nibble on them from time to time when I'm craving something sweet but don't want to overindulge.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Archer Farms Blueberry Pomegranate Real Fruit Twists

My suitemates and I are obsessed with Target. Ever since we won a gift card for the third most awesome looking suite, we've been buying snacks by the dozen. Third most awesome. That's going on the resume. Likewise, Keepitcoming and I love the snacks at Target, so most of my life is infused with Target joy. When I reviewed the Sharkie-like fruit twists a month or so back, I was enamored. Now there's a new flavor in town. A powerful flavor. A powerfruit flavor. Blueberry pomegranate.Pomegranate is hit or miss. For that matter, so is blueberry. When done correctly, it can be satisfyingly sweet with the perfect balance of herby, tea flavor and fruity love. When done badly, it's astringent yet achingly sweet, like being saddled up and strapped by Daria. Or Pepper Ann. Ah, Rule 34 at its best. In this case, they straddle somewhere in the middle. The chews are very aromatic, moreso than their strawberry mango counterparts, and smell sticky and slightly chemically. Luckily, their flavor fares much better. They are not very pomegranate heavy, but rely more on the sweetness of the blueberries and taste natural rather than relying on artificial additives.Again, I loved the chewy texture on these, because they had that organic graininess and jammy lush mouthfeel, but they had to be at least twice as sticky as the last ones with that strange wet, slippery feeling. It made me want to wash my hands or wipe them on the couch. Overall, though, not a bad snack.

Ichimi KitKat

Ichimi Togarashi KitKat

Shichimi Togarashi (seven flavor chili pepper) is a staple in my kitchen. It's a spicy seasoning that is typically made from seven ingredients, one of them being red pepper flakes. It's delicious on udon and ramen, and I sometimes use it on curry or donburi.

Ichimi Togarashi (one flavor chili pepper) is also available, but it's just red pepper. Shichimi has more of a distinctly Japanese flavor with the added nori and sesame seeds, but those flavors might muddle up a KitKat, so Ichimi was probably a better choice for a flavoring.

Ichimi Togarashi KitKat

I could smell the pepper right away. The chocolate was a bit bloomed from its journey (since it was shipped at a time when it was still fairly warm in that part of Japan but cold where I live), and it looked like dark chocolate.

The red pepper had a nice, slow-building heat that was noticeable but not too strong. Dark chocolate was definitely a good choice for this flavor; the slight bitterness went well with the pepper flavor. I wish I had ordered more than just one mini bar!


KitKat website

Viet Tofu

Ha! It turns out I'm not crazy.

I knew there was a place in South Philly that made their own tofu and sold it at very reasonable prices, but when I tweeted for help in remembering the name of the place, people chimed in, "Check any Asian grocery or Whole Foods for Nature's Soy."

Nature's Soy is made in Philly, and their plastic tubs of reasonably priced tofu are abundant in the city's grocery stores, but I was just sure I had heard of some other place making and selling tofu cheaper, and doing it specifically in South Philly.

That place is Viet Tofu!
In the large Vietnamese shopping center at the intersection of 11th St. and Washington Ave., you'll find Viet Tofu (right across from Nam Phuong on the 11th St. side), a Vietnamese store selling housemade banh mis, bubble teas, sweets, snacks, and quick lunches. Viet Tofu's specialty is their housemade tofu and soy milk, though. Right when you walk in the door, there is a tub filled with blocks of fresh, firm tofu. The tofu blocks (which are larger than the blocks you get in the white plastic containers) are $1 each, or 6 for $5. This is the tofu I was looking for!

And, the fresh tofu is individually wrapped in plastic, in case you're one of those that are skeeved out by sticking your hand (where did those tongs go?) into water to pluck tofu out of bulk tofu bins.Over on the hot bar you'll find assorted fried tofu creations. Tofu Viet takes their housemade tofu and blends it with ingredients like lemongrass for lemongrass tofu, or cilantro for vegetable tofu. Not all of the tofu creations are vegetarian; for instance, there is a shrimp and tofu blend, as well as some other meat and tofu blends, so be sure to read the labels before you start loading up.

Viet Tofu is pretty good about labeling their food with English so non-Vietnamese speakers don't have to guess at what that package of ambiguous food is, but, for some reason, English labeling doesn't quite make it to the food in the refrigerator section.
Prices vary on the fried tofu, but these lemongrass and vegetable fried tofu pieces were 5 for $1.
Don't miss the housemade soy milk over in the coolers. There are gallon, half-gallon, and single-serving sizes of sweetened and unsweetened soy milk (a red string on the handle denotes that it's unsweetened), as well as green soy milk (made from edamame). I picked up a single-serving bottle of green soy milk for $1 — thick, fresh, and very bean-y tasting, but in a good way.

Locally-made tofu and soy milk bargains! Vietnamese yumminess! Go, go, go!

Viet Tofu
1110 Washington Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19147

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kristy's Kitchen Artisan Graham Cracker Mix

Graham crackers are a quintessential staple of childhood. In my own experience with growing up, they seem to have been a persistent phase until my preteen years, making a comeback as an essential component in the almighty campfire snack, s'mores. These days, I don't really seem to eat them. They're cumbersome to throw in a backpack and take away without crumbling up, and aren't nearly as satisfying as a cookie or another carbohydrate.And yet I find myself compelled. Maybe it was the Smitten Kitchen post on homemade graham crackers, or the buttery Tiny Trapeze cookies I used to pick up at Whole Foods, but the draw has gravitated graham crackers enough to shift them from gritty to glamorous. When I got this artisan graham cracker mix, I couldn't resist baking them right up.
The mix came in a brown paper bag, but was filled about a quarter of the way up. It seemed like a waste of packaging to include the rest of the bag. I needed butter and a honey-water slurry to complete the remainder of the recipe. It wasn't bad preparation, but I found it difficult to incorporate the cubes of butter in with the rest of the batter. At first, I was a little worried. The flour had an artificial scent to it that overpowered even the honey and when mixed, was very wet and crumbly. Without wax paper, it was arduous to roll out the dough to the correct thickness without it sticking or snagging and tearing, and it was possible to obtain either an even surface, minimal stickiness, and a thin cookie, but not all three. Because I have a touch of the OCD, I opted for slightly thicker cookies with smooth tops and as little stickiness as I could achieve.However, this made for graham crackers that were more like soft cookies. I wasn't really able to get that wheatmeal flavor adjusted. All that crispiness and buttery, crumbly goodness was translated into a cookie that resembled a hermit or my personal local favorite, Sand Dollars. It had a honeyed flavor that wasn't overbearingly sweet, but definitely with syrupy flavors abound. At the last minute, I poked some holes on top and sprinkled some sugar. While the holes seemed aesthetic only, the sugar gave the tops of the cookies a pleasant crunch. They still came out thick. I noticed that around the edges, the honeyed flavor was a little more caramelized and far more concentrated, which is what I'm basing the overall flavor off of if the recipe had come out perfectly. I'm still dying to make homemade graham crackers, but these make a terrific lunch box treat or deconstructed dessert base, and lent a spiced streusel flavor to our Riesling pear sorbet.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sarah's Pastries & Candies

Sarah's Candies

While on vacation in Chicago, my sister and her husband stopped at Sarah's Pastries & Candies while downtown. My sister knows I love a good local sweets shop, so she kindly included some treats (Royaltines and Chocolate Delights) from Sarah's Candies in my Christmas present. After the small sampling I had, I will definitely stop in next time I'm in Chicago!

Sarah's Candies

The Royaltines looked delicious, and they sounded tasty, too: Dark or milk chocolate mixed with crispy Feuilletine wafer pieces and caramelized almonds.

From the first bite, I was immediately reminded of the crunchiness of cereal, only a delicate, more gourmet version. The bitter dark chocolate was just a bit fruity, and the wafer pieces had a light vanilla taste. I couldn't get a sense of the almonds, but the crispy, light, flaky texture was so pleasant.

The milk was a bit softer, and I could taste the nuts better flavor. The smooth, creamy milk chocolate warmed the flavor up considerably as compared to the dark. The wafers reminded me of Rice Krispies here, but the flavor seemed more decadent because of the milk chocolate.


Sarah's Chocolate Delights

Chocolate Delights were described as a delicious blend of dark, milk, or white chocolate, caramelized almonds, roasted pistachios, and crispy rice, and they were very attractive.

Milk chocolate was first up, and it was very crispy and nutty, with the almond flavor holding most of my attention. The crisp rice added a fun crackle, but the crunch of the caramelized almonds dominated the texture. The milk chocolate was smooth and melted quickly on the tongue, making for a very decadent treat.

The flavor of the dark chocolate stood out more against the almonds, and it also brought out the caramelization. Here, I was struck by the heartiness of the Delights. I almost wished they had a tad more rice cereal in them, because with all those almonds, they were very filling. It's probably a good thing that I couldn't eat too many in one sitting, since it forced me to pace myself.

Of the three flavors, the white chocolate Delight went best with the pistachios. The white chocolate itself was mild with hints of vanilla and, most importantly, wasn't too sweet. It was also delicious with the almonds, but again, I feel like these make a better snack than a dessert, due to the intensely filling nuts.


Sarah's Candies website

Camille Bloch Mousse Caramel

Camille Bloch Mousse Caramel

This is one of the more interesting chocolate bar configurations I've come across since I started reviewing candy in 2008. I purchased it from a Jewel Osco grocery store while visiting family in the Chicago suburbs.

The "bar" looked a bit like bubble wrap, and consisted of little chocolate pods full of caramel flavored mousse. According to the package, the chocolate was imported from Switzerland.

Camille Bloch Mousse Caramel

Now, I can't give this bar a real rating, since it's been almost a year since I tried it. I misplaced my tasting notes, but it seems a shame to waste the pictures, and to not talk about the few things I do remember about it.

The chocolate pod was milky and rich, and the caramel-flavored filling was sweet but very smooth and melted like a decadent ganache. I can definitely say I would love to try other products by Camille Bloch, but I haven't been able to find anything since.

If you're interested, check out better reviews of Camille Bloch products at Chocablog, Candy Addict, and Candy Gurus.

Camille Bloch website