Thursday, May 19, 2016

Oh Yeah! One Bars - Lemon Cake, Birthday Cake, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

I tried a few of these popular new Oh Yeah! One protein bars. As a fan of the Quest bars they're kind of emulating, who also dabbled in the original Oh Yeah! bars, I feel qualified to give my opinion. Not that being qualified to give an opinion has ever stopped me from doing it before.

Generally all these bars are softer & less chewy than the Quest bars, and covered in a thin layer of chocolate or choco-style coating. If you're sensitive to the aftertaste in protein bars I don't think these will change your mind - however if you can handle Quest bars, these are no worse. Some flavors will mask it better than others, like the first two I review. From what I've read and my own rudimentary knowledge, these are nutritionally sound with 20g of protein and just 1g of sugar. They're not 'natural', but see my dearth of Japanese novelty candy reviews to see how little I care for nature, anyway. I'll break down the first three flavors I tried, and will be updating again once I've tried the remaining 8.

Lemon Cake - I'm kinda 'meh' on lemon flavored things, but this is so accurately sweet, 'wholesome' and lemony, I actually love it. There's something to be said about accuracy in flavor making up for whether or not that flavor is actually great or not. I mean, the texture of these bars lends itself so well to something dense but not chewy, like a lemon bar.

Would I ever choose a lemon cake over a spoonful of cookie dough or a birthday cake? No. Would I choose this bar over those flavors? Oh yes, because it tastes exactly like a lemon square. I'm putting out an APB on APB - accuracy in protein bars. This one is the main suspect.

Birthday Cake - This is the flavor everyone else seems to go nuts for, so my expectations were high. I wouldn't say I was let down, but I did think it was inferior to lemon cake. I think it comes down to a personal preference thing though, as I prefer more 'strong' flavors rather than subtle. This birthday cake is pleasantly sweet & has a good base of vanilla, but it just didn't knock my out.

To be fair, I just don't think anything birthday cake flavored really would at this point. I've had it a lot, it's been a trending flavor for a few years now... while it is pretty tasty, it is basically sweet vanilla and not exactly mind blowing. I can see why people love this one so much because it does hardly taste like a protein bar (that protein taste is very well masked here!) but as someone who doesn't mind that protein bar aftertaste, I'm looking for something a bit more...esoteric. The sprinkles were cool, though.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough - This one gets very few admirers, as Quest really cornered the cookie dough fan market. You can see my review on that ol' classic here. Right away you can see that the Oh Yeah bar is covered in chocolate, while the Quest bar is left unadorned. The base flavor is pretty similar, which is salty, sweet, and indeed a lot like cookie dough.

 The main difference is that the Oh Yeah bar is covered in a thin layer of chocolate, but the Quest bar has large chunks of it throughout the bar. That emulates cookie dough far better than a thin coating. I think that the Oh Yeah bar has maybe one or two chips, but definitely no chunks at all. Then there's the issue of microwaving - the bar is coated in chocolate which would definitely melt, and make it too messy to experiment with in that way. The Quest bar, however, is elevated to perfection when microwaved - gooey & texturally accurate.

It's not a bad bar by any means, but I'd always choose Quest for this specific flavor. Over all though, Lemon Cake wins over all other protein bars I've had before!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Pancake KitKats

I know these are pretty late, but if you can still find them out in the wild - spoiler alert - definitely get them. So yes, technically these were an Easter promotional KitKat in Japan (hence the bunnies) but I don't really get what pancakes have to do with Easter, or really, any season at all. The only holiday that I can vaguely connect to pancakes is Mother's Day, just because of all the mothers in advertising who love brunch.

It's the same format as Japanese KitKats usually are, small two finger bars in a sharing bag. These are special as the two fingers are fused together to create the ears of a bunny face. Pretty cute, but forget about splitting them in two. Frankly these are so teensy I don't think anyone would be sharing a single bar, anyway!

The flavor is intensely maple and therefore incredibly sweet. The crispiness of the wafers really does bring to mind the edges of a stack of diner pancakes with tons of syrup & melty butter.

I think these would make a really good permanent edition to some KitKat line, somewhere. They're very sweet so I don't think it's something you'd necessarily binge on, but a mug of coffee or tea coupled with one or two of these would make a very tasty treat, no matter what time of the year.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ritz Crackers Ultimate Butter

Ritz Crackers are an American classic that everybody loves; like Lucille Ball, Tillamook cheddar, and Sinbad...both the comedian and the legendary sailor. They're salty, a bit sweet, and have a buttery flavor & flaky texture. They pair well with savory toppings or sweet ones, and Ritz Bits are one of the best examples of American fake cheese snacks.

What happens though when that classic gets coated in more artificial butter flavor than it's usually coated in? Let's see!

Visibly, they don't seem all that different from standard Ritz crackers - there are visible grains of salt, cute little scalloped edges, and a golden brown color.

When you taste them, however, you can really tell the difference. They're indeed more 'buttery' in flavor, but what seems even more evident to me is that they're a fair bit sweeter than standard Ritz. That I kind of don't like...where regular Ritz can stand up to toppings and accompaniments both salty & sweet, these seem like they'd really only work on their own, or topped with like...peanut butter. I do think they'd be a nice ice cream topping, or macaroni and cheese topping. I do get a hint of nutmeg as well, which is why I think it'd couple quite nicely with mac & cheese.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Graeter's Cheese Crown Ice Cream

I'm visiting family in Indiana right now, so I thought - hey, now's my time to try out things that really only exist in the Midwest. There is lots of cool stuff about San Francisco, things you can get there that are really difficult to find most elsewhere in the United States...but some things I know I'll be missing. Like a lot of chains - I know it's not all that cool but I wish I could, if I so chose, go to a Red Lobster or something. In San Francisco, they just don't have 'em. Nor do they have Graeter's ice cream parlors - a very small Midwestern chain that must've just recently expanded to Indiana, as I'd never heard of them before.

They had a special flavor this month based off of a cheese danish pastry that they refer to as a Cheese Crown. Apparently in the Kentucky & Ohio region they have bakeries, but in Indiana it's just ice cream...for now. Graeter's also sells lots of their premium chip varieties in grocery stores across the nation, so keep your eyes peeled for this flavor at shops near you. (no, I'm not sponsored by Graeter's ;) )

The mix-ins for this flavor include cinnamon sugar pastry pieces & fondant icing flakes. As you can see, there are plenty of both - as I went further into the pint, the amount only seemed to increase. Very generous!

The ice cream itself seems to be a cream cheese base with a hint of fresh, sweet lemon. It's very reminiscent of cheesecake, and is thick & rich rather than icy & sweet. You can really feel the quality of the ice cream itself - it's not just good because of the bits, like a lot of other ice cream parlor flavors out there in the world.

The icing flakes had a very creamy, smooth texture and were truly thin slivers. The flavor was very sweet, it was really similar to the light frosting that tops danishes & cinnamon rolls. The pastry was soft, and had a taste very similar to graham crackers - or perhaps more specifically, Cinnamon Teddy Grahams.

It was a great flavor, very well put together (cinnamon sugar & cream cheese is hard to go wrong with) and high quality, smooth ice cream.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Wild Ophelia Caramelized Banana Peanut Butter Cups

There are so many new brands in the US right now - being here not really on vacation opens me up to finding different stuff, as there is no harried kinda "gotta get these before I go back to the UK!" feelings. That way I can be like, "eh, I'll get the limited edition Oreos soon. In the mean time, these banana peanut butter cups sound good."

So it was - at Target all of these Wild Ophelia Peanut Butter Cups were on sale, but only by like 10%. They sounded awesome, but this caramelized banana variety was definitely the most unique. It's about $2.00 for 6 miniature Reese's size cups, which isn't a great deal - but isn't too expensive compared to other more gourmet chocolates.

The top is covered with bits of tough caramelized banana chips. To be honest, I don't care for the firm crunch of banana chips (never have) but since they're minced up in a small way they're easier to handle. The peanut butter seems to be a bit sweeter than usual, probably has a bit of banana flavor or puree blended in it.

The chocolate is milk based at 41%, so again it was pretty sweet and creamy. Everything was really smooth in texture, minus the crunchy bits of banana chip. They were nice with coffee, but in all honesty I feel like the quality wasn't that much better than Reese's, and actually these old Reese's Elvis Peanut Butter & Banana Cups were significantly nicer in my opinion. Bring them back, please!

Friday, March 25, 2016

What I Will Miss from the UK

So before I go, I really wanted to just run down some of my favorite things from my time spent in the UK. Food related of course, as I'm sure you're not that curious what British TV I will miss (for the record, First Dates, various Screenwipes & Dragon's Den) nor my apprehensions for any public transport other than England's...

These are the things I know I will miss - some kinda generic, some really specific.

Biscuits...I will miss you most of all. From the humble Custard Cream, to the finest dark chocolate covered ginger biscuit, what will I dunk in coffee or tea in America? American cookies are designed to be dunked in milk exclusively, and when they're popped into hot drinks they basically disintegrate immediately . The structural integrity of a Chips Ahoy! is rather poor and to be honest, they're all just a bit too sweet to have all the time. Shortbread is easy enough to get ahold of, but what about speciality shortbreads? Your earl grey type, your rose flavored? Ain't happening.

For as much as I love Oreos & other American cookies you can get on the shelf, when they're my only option...I think I'll be dreaming of a pack of Viennese Fingers.

Abundance of tea...Everybody knows America is not a real tea-centric country. Sure, green tea has become quite popular and there are interesting brands like Davids' Tea & Celestial Seasonings, but PG Tips? Fuggedaboutit. I anticipate that I'll crave simple tea like that every once in awhile, and it won't be in easy supply.

Clotted cream...Does this need any explanation? Clotted cream is the most delicious & horrible-for-you thing that I've ever had in England, and I've eaten a lot of delicious garbage here. It's unctuous cream with the texture of some kinda butter/stringy cheese hybrid, and you put it on top of warm sweet things. The British in general love cream, and I am right there with them - pouring cream, flavored creams, cream as a standard dessert condiment...It's just not like that in America. I'll make due with whipped cream, but I'll be thinking of clotted cream.

European meat...While I love Mexican chorizo & I'm glad I will be able to enjoy it again, I will be missing Spanish chorizo. Also German Garlic Sausage, and German Brunswick Ham, and many Italian & Spanish meats. While nearly all of these are available in America in some form or another, they're quite a bit harder to find & will set you back a far prettier penny...or, pence. American lunch meat is way cheaper than British lunch meat of the same style (plain turkey, for instance) but the continental stuff will be hard to replace.

European/British cheese...Cheddar is better here. There are dozens of speciality continental cheeses at almost every supermarket, and if you want a deep-fried camembert damnit, you can get it. There is no question in my mind that cheese variety & quality is better in the UK than it is in the US. While my husband is excited for Monterey & Pepper Jack, I know that the novelty will wear off soon and he'll want something with the sting (and stink) of European cheese. Velveeta won't sustain us in the same way extra mature cheddar did.

Brewdog...Tons of cool beers in America, for sure. Are they Brewdog though? Nope. The packaging, the variety, all the pubs along the city of London (and beyond!) make Brewdog feel special, and like something I'll be missing. It helps that it was the very first beer I tried that didn't make me recoil in grossosity, and while my tastes have expanded now to enjoy all sorts of beer, Brewdog's Punk IPA will always hold a special place in my heart for being the very first!

Pret & Eat...There are plenty of alternatives to these two chains in terms of generic mid-range lunch option, but I've gotten so used to the rhythm of Pret & Eat's seasonal menu, and I look forward to the introduction of new toasties or wraps every few months. The flavor combinations are also usually pretty different than what we get in America, so my favorite Red Pepper Tapanade & Halloumi hot flatbread from Eat will be hard to replace like-for-like.

Luxury yogurts...Obviously we've got loads of yogurts in America, actually probably more than in the UK. Red velvet greek yogurt, yogurt with mango & sriachia, and even weirder varieties...the issue is in America yogurt is really only considered a 'diet food', or at the very least, healthy. Nobody's trying to make it more caloric, but listen...adding whipped cream to that yogurt makes it REAL good. Makes it like a smooth cream dessert with the addition of kinda-healthy probiotics. What's not to like? America, think about it. Meanwhile I'll be missing the M&S range of luxury yogurts and Muller fancy corners.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Chinese Laundry, Islington Restaurant

As you may have read earlier, I'm moving to San Francisco in the coming months. As much as I've loved so much of the food I ate in the UK, and even found plenty of great analogues to American foods that I missed, there was one (okay, two counting Mexican) food genre that just never hit the spot for me here like it did back home...Chinese food.

Of course, American Chinese food is nothing like real Chinese food, but it is super delicious, especially if you're raised on it. I've had plenty of Chinese takeaways here in London and they always just fell a bit short on the flavor side of things. Like, it was serviceable chicken-with-sauce but it wasn't the flavor-blasted chicken with extreme sauce that you get in American Chinese buffets. Also,  there is a soul shattering lack of Crab Rangoons.

 For all I know here in London it's closer to authentic (I'm certain it's closer to 'authentic' than Indiana!) but it's just a bit 'meh', usually. Kung pao tasting rather like sweet & sour, you know what I mean? Samey samey.

Okay, long lead up to tell you that I've had the best Chinese food ever in London now, so I'm feeling even more bummed out about leaving! D'oh!

Chinese Laundry opened up in Islington sometime last year, and I was quite keen to give it a try as I love the theme: Northern Chinese food, as prepared by/for a family, in the 1980s. Specific...I love it. We made it over for brunch and I thought it was awesome that the theming continues all throughout the restaurant. I spotted some super-cool drinking glasses, including a Mondrian print one that I must've pointed out to my husband no less than a half dozen times. The chairs, all the dishes, it was all very on theme and a bit kitschy - not the familiar kitsch of the West - but still identifiable as of a time and of a type. We split everything we ordered and felt very satisfied.

Started off with what I assumed was a drink, but later figured out is kind of a soup - Peanut & Rice Milk. Top tip - use a spoon. It was very nice, more savory than the Peanut Milk at Bao, which is fair enough as they're from two different parts of the world and of course, definitions of 'peanut milk' will vary! Either way, it had the savory nuttiness of a satay sauce, with none of the accompanying spice, and a bit of rice grain sweetness. It was very thick, and a really pleasant start.

Next we had the Bacon & Egg Bing, which is a fried 'pancake' of sorts, in the same way that Korean pajeon is a pancake. The flavors were very different though. Pajeon is almost always kind of oily tasting, but the bing at Chinese laundry was fresh & much 'lighter' in feel. Seemed like there was a lot of basil involved, with a soft-cooked egg & thick and plentiful salty bacon. Lovely meld of textures and flavors of sweetness, herbs, and spice.

The Pork Belly Baozi was next, and it's like a massive bao, slightly bigger than a man's fist. The pork belly was sweet & slightly hot and just the perfect texture of pork belly - with a bit of softness & a bit of chew. There was nothing to dislike about this one, it's an easy pleaser! The green bean version also sounds interesting.

We also ordered the Milky Little Buns which come as one steamed bread, and one fried version of that steamed bread. Two different sauces also accompany, one quite hot & vinegary thin sauce and one thick, condensed milk based sweet almost frosting-like sauce. You could mix and match the two buns with the two sauces, my favorite pairing was the steamed bun with the sweet sauce. Soft, kinda chewy, and so milky sweet. It was an awesome extra, I really loved being able to go from sauce to sauce.

We finished off the food with the Dumpling Stir Fry which was a ton of tasty dumplings fried up with peanuts, bacon & garlic. I think they were pork dumplings, they also had a bit of a basil taste to them. There was a kind of creamy, peppery sauce on top - it's hard to describe this one really, but it was probably my second favorite course after the bing! Highly recommended.

We also enjoyed a couple different teas, I definitely remember one had the word monkey in the title...regardless, they were both very nice. There was a salted lemonade as well that was rather intriguing, I'll order it next time!

I'll have to fit in another visit to Chinese Laundry before I go, although I'm sure San Francisco has it's fair share of awesome Chinese food, this place seemed really special & unique.