Sunday, September 21, 2014

Moringa BAKE - Cookies & Cream

Since I was in Japan in the summer, there were a lot of these 'baked chocolates' - they're meant to keep your hands mess-free unlike regular chocolate. It's a pretty cool idea! I've tried one of these type before, in a 'Cheese Brulee' flavor.

If you read that review, you'll see how much I love the texture of these types of chocolate, they're sort of like brownies with perfect edges & gooey middles.

This was the Cookies & Cream edition, they were quite a common sight. I guess cookies & cream is a can't-go-wrong flavor in Japan, too!

 These were different textually, however, as the inside was much more 'creamy' than the cheese brulee. The cheese brulee was like a gooey but solid fudge inside, whereas the cookies & cream had a very soft, airy cream on the inside. The outside was still like that brownie edge, crispy & intensely cocoa-y.

The flavor of the cream was quite subtle, not terribly sweet, more vanilla & butter than anything. Sort of like a less sweet Oreo cream - the texture was certainly like that, ever so slightly grainy. I think it would've been a cool effect if there were bits of cookie mixed into the cream itself - as it is, when you crunch through the very thin layer of baked chocolate you're left with just the subtle cream.

There are 10 pieces in each pack, and when split between two people the little bits don't seem like much. I recommend getting 2 packs if you're looking to share!

This flavor & quite a few others are available on NapaJapan, including sweet potato & creme brulee - both of which I'll be reviewing later.

I'm glad that summer is coming to an end for many reasons, but one of them is certainly so I can get chocolate more easily shipped to me from Japan!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Japan Food Round-Up, part 2 - Drinks

What's the number one thing to come out of vending machines in Japan? You could make a pretty blue joke right now, but this is a family blog so I'll stick to the honest answer: drinks!

Not only are there lots of drinks in vending machines, there are also lots & lots (& lots) of drinks in shops. It's amazing the selection of both alcoholic & non alcoholic beverages in Japan. In carton format, in cans, in bottles, whatever you can dream of, they've put a drink in it. Here's an extremely cool example. I took a couple covert snaps inside of a Lawson 100, a discount store like a Dollar Tree or a Poundland except in Japan and 100 yen. Of course, not everything was just 100 yen, as you can see the alcohol was about double that price, making it an amazingly just over a £1 a can, for drinks that range in ABV from nothing to 9 percent. Oh, did I mention they all taste really nice & well blended? Because they do.

Calpis Sours are really, really nice. I also had those 'Strong' chu-hi drinks a lot, and they give you quite a fun buzz with a zesty, fruity taste. They're mostly citrus fruits, so it does a good job masking the taste of alcohol. The 'Strong Zero' variety are zero sugar, and they weren't nearly as nice - tasted a bit bitter for the most part. There are a bunch more of these canned boozy drinks, some of which I will get more in-depth with later on in this post.

I took this picture mostly because Energy Water cracked me up, and I never want to forget that it exists. Now these cartons are just 100 yen - unbelievable, huh? That's less than a £1, and just about a $1 for a liter of Honey & Apple juice, or Chardonnay Water. Or hey, even Energy Water. There's a bigger selection than this, I just snapped a quick one, but you can also expect cartons of pre-mixed lattes, flavored milks the likes of which you've never seen, royal milk tea, mochas, ramune flavored juice (?), and many more esotasty things. Esotasty is esoteric & tasty - feel free to use it.

Here's a drink I had a couple times - they have a lot of fresher coffee variants like this, from various brands. This Starbucks one was probably my favorite, as it was salted caramel. Of course it's my favorite, if you read this blog much at all that's no shock! The rest of these fresh, refrigerated coffees were quite nice - mostly very milky & sweet, like canned coffees but these tasted less canned. Makes sense! It wasn't a very saline-heavy drink, it seemed like they increased the sugar quotient in the caramel & then added a bit of salt. It was still very nice - not as good as a fresh salted caramel mocha from Starbucks (wish they'd bring it back this year) but hey - not bad at all.

We only went to McDonald's twice on the trip, the menu at the time was actually quite boring - not boring, however, were the McFizzes. These particular ones are the McFizz McFloats, in the flavors of McMelon & McMango. They were so generous with the soft serve, it was definitely more a dessert than a drink. However, it was still refreshing! Like the McFizz in Singapore, it was heavy on the syrup at the bottom so you have to mix it up a bit, but when you do it's a nicely balanced fruity drink. These are such a cool idea, it's a good way for a company like McDonald's to experiment with different flavors at a low cost - it's just the syrup investment.

This was a strange one, but I really enjoyed it - my husband loved it! It was so sour and mouthwatering, as you drank it you just wanted more. I think the zero meant no sugar, and if this contained actual vinegar it was probably a pretty healthy drink. Or it was just super-sour artificially sweetened water. Either way, I liked it loads and wish there was a drink half as sour that was readily available!

This was another weird one, a bottled soda float experience. I'd say it did a fairly good job of replicating the middle portion of a float - where the ice cream & soda first converges. It was thicker than soda, tasted a bit vanilla-y, but mostly like sweet Japanese cider, which sort of tastes like Sprite. So, kind of like thickened vanilla Sprite but in a really cute opaque color & with adorable label art. Not as refreshing as some of the other drinks I had, considering the thicker consistency - but definitely a nice way to get a little sugar in your system.

I really love bubble tea, and going around to London's varied bubble tea places is always a big treat. I've found one very near my office and I'm trying hard not to go everyday - so it stays special. If I lived in Japan, it would be impossible not to drink one of these everyday.

Oh yeah! On the shelf of convenience stores, just grab yourself a coconut milky bubble tea! This was delicious - thick like coconut milk (might've even been that) and lots of little pearls. I've heard rumors of Asian grocery stores in London stocking canned bubble tea...but I've yet to see evidence of that. Although I'm not sure canned would be that nice...

I mentioned earlier all these delish, fruity chu-hi boozy drinks, here are 3 that we bought one night. The hi-ball was my husband's, he liked it. The 'Roomy', while I don't have any idea what it means, was very nice and light. Peachy with a touch of apricot. The apple was super nice, very red & juicy tasting. All of them have a slight taste of alcohol, but it's nice and subtle.

Well, that's drinks of Japan for you! There were a few more I had at restaurants, but I'm going to save those for another round-up...a restaurant one, haha.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Quest Nutrition - Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

It might be surprising to hear, but there was a time in my life I actually ate quite healthily. After struggling with my weight as a teenager, I lost about 70 lbs (30 kg) in my early 20s. I did this in the traditional way: diet & exercise. I ate the same kind of food everyday, mostly chicken breasts, cottage cheese, greek yogurt, protein bars - snacks were always healthier, and I rarely ate out. It gave me a lot of confidence that I didn't have as a young girl, and it's something I'm very proud of.

 I've dropped off the majority of those good habits throughout the years, but I've kept up a few things that I think have helped me maintain a healthy weight regardless - calorie counting & protein bars.

I know protein bars aren't the best way to get protein, and some of them are nothing more than glorified candy bars, but I find them so filling & convenient for breakfast. I figure I don't have time to cook breakfast, and cereal doesn't keep me feeling full until lunch, so it works for me - and it's better than a pastry. If you struggle with low calorie & convenient breakfast options that keep you feeling satiated they're a good option.

 Quest Nutrition is definitely a top player these days, and for good reason. 20g of protein in their bars is nothing to sneeze at, and packing it into a bar that is under 200 calories is impressive. There is a wide range of flavors too, but my favorite is definitely the cookie dough. I warm it up in the microwave, but you can also bake it in the oven a bit. Warmed in the microwave it is like actual cookie dough - very soft, the only difference is it's slightly chewier. As you can see, it gets pretty shiny looking.

The texture when not microwaved has more chew to it - it's not as taffy like as some other protein bars, it's still pretty soft, but I'd always recommend microwaving them. Here is a cut-away after being microwaved for about 10 seconds.

It tastes like straight up cookie dough, with dark chocolate chunks. Now, as I mentioned, I've been eating protein bars for years - so that 'protein taste' other people complain about? I don't really notice it. So I can't objectively say whether or not it has that taste, but I can tell you that my husband who never really ate protein bars before doesn't pick up anything nasty at all. He really likes these too, for the same reasons I do - convenient & filling at breakfast. It's got a wheaty flavor like a home made chocolate chip cookie, and the dark chocolate is plentiful and blends really nicely.

They're pretty expensive for protein bars, but the quality is so much nicer than a Slimfast or a similar bar in UK grocery stores. It's a shame that this market hasn't taken off here as much as it has in the USA - back home I can get dozens of varieties of different brands at the grocery store, most of them clocking in around half the price as they are here. That being said, I think the market is increasing and certainly one business is bringing a bunch of my USA favorites to the UK, and brands I've never heard of, as well.

The very best place to get protein stuff is Protein Pick & Mix in the UK. Great selection of Quest bars and all sorts of other protein-y things. Customer service is super nice too, I've purchased from them tons because like I said, I eat these for breakfast at least 5 days a week. They're very genuine, and you can tell they care about their customers and the products that they stock. I trust everything on there to be well-curated and worth a try because of their honesty.

If you guys liked this review, and maybe you'd like to see more protein bar reviews just let me know in the comments. I eat tons, so there would be plenty of content haha, just don't know how interested the snacking community at large is with these, and I'm not really blogger at all, just kind of a lazy former fitness fan. I don't want to clog up snack feeds with protein bars!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Japan Food Round-Up, part 1 - Japanese Vending Machines

I've already covered one Japanese snack from my last trip, and these articles will be more like quick snaps of the meals I ate, the snacks I had while there, and my general musings about this vacation.

To start - I was anticipating less "weird" food & drink this time around, as that has been the trend in Japan for at least a year or so. There have been way less 'wacky' KitKats (exception being bakeable custard pudding, which was very innovative but I'd already tried it), and no 'strange' Pepsis released since Pepsi White of last year, reviewed here. Who knows why, I can also tell you that there is a bit of a shift in fashion as well; even though I don't follow fashion as strongly as I do snacks, I did recognize way more "Americana" influence there than before - lots of J Crew. Disappointingly, the women's fashion was very Tumblr/blogger influenced, same as it is here in the UK. That means a lot of the same sorts of things that you can find in a Next or Topshop, which isn't very good for me as I like the more bright/pastel color palettes & 'cute' clothes that used to be easy to find in Japan. Oh well, times they are a changing, and maybe I should too!

I'll never compromise on snacks, though. Never. So it was with some regret that I report back that yes, there were much less wild & wooly snacks than there were last time I was there. Now, some of this might have to do with the fact that I now have pretty easy access to Japanese snacks, whenever I want, thanks to NapaJapan, Candysan, and OyatsuCafe. If I see something I want, generally I can get it online now - not necessarily the case 3 years ago, due to some sites not being around and me having less of a snack budget, haha.

So, all that being said there was still plenty of interesting and tasty things on this trip to report back on!

Vending machines were still a very common sight - I was mentioning on Twitter how it would be nice if there were more of these in London, but I think even more than the machines themselves I want the options. These were just in the airport, for example:

You can't make out very well what's here (even zoomed in, sorry!) but it's a combination of hot and cold drinks of varying types. Fruit drinks, coffee, hot chocolate, teas, et cetera. 

Here's a little more detail - as you can see there is an almond drink of some sort, either hot chocolate or a coffee beverage. Lots of coffee options, and even more in the zoomed out pic. You can see a couple examples of juices too, including an intriguing Orange Julius type drink at the bottom left.

I regret never trying anything from this ice cream machine - not only was it at Narita Airport, I also spotted them frequently in arcades and on the street. It was so steaming hot, it's crazy that I didn't have even one! The most interesting flavors available in this one are green tea & red beans, watermelon with funny black specks, shirokuma (condensed milk, bits of fruit and mochi), and two 'squeezy' looking tubes of soda flavored sorbet, cider & orange. They look like they might be slushie-style. 

These Van Houten Cocoas are very nice - I had them often when I was in Japan a few years ago, and never got around to trying one while I was there this time around. I had a few other cold chocolate drinks though, and in the same way they were strongly flavored - unlike chocolate milk elsewhere. I think since they're geared more for 'adult' tastes there is just a bit more an actual cold hot chocolate, not just a chocolate milk. What a distinction, only a goober like me would even think there was a difference. But there is!

The canned coffees seen are just two examples out of dozens upon dozens seen in Japan. The differences, I feel, are generally pretty minute. The ones labelled 'black' are generally just that, black coffee without sugar. The ones I usually drink are any that aren't labelled black, because they're almost always quite milky, sweet, and easy to drink. They have a caffeine kick, but I think your average coffee aficionado would see little resemblance between these and their favorite flat white. I like both, personally. Coffee culture is making some inroads in Japan, I noticed quite a few sweet little European looking cafes, but I think it's still not as common as tea, for instance. Or these canned coffees. While we were there, the weather was so incomprehensibly hot that a steaming cup of joe would've been a nightmare.

This was a cool machine in the airport that was all Disney themed snacks and little bits. I think there was a row of little metal jewelry boxes. There were also very well-boxed Minnie Mouse truffles, and little cookies & Toppo snacks, all Disney-decorated.

You know Japan is truly the land of vending machines: here are a few more from the trip.

This is a pretty standard entry - big cans of Coke, water in both flavored & vitamin enhanced varieties, plain waiter, a selection of canned coffees, 'Real Gold' which tastes like boiled sweets & is very nice (allegedly also vitamin enriched) and my personal favorite - Grape Fanta. I so wish that this would come out in the UK - grape soda is delicious, and yeah, I know you can get it through Ka so not all is lost - but considering how many weird varieties of 'red fruits' Fanta comes out with here in England you'd think they'd at least toss one grape in the mix. It's a standard flavor elsewhere, after all.

Here's a slightly more exotic machine, not a real familiar brand in sight. I can't believe I never tried that green can on the top row, furthest right: I think it was meant to be a guarana Brazilian style soda with an 'ice cream float' texture. I did however try one of these 'soda float' pre-mixed drinks, and I'll talk about it in my drinks round-up...later. The rest of the machine is full of juices, tea drinks, vitamin drinks, water and of course, more canned coffee. This one struck me as particularly strange - like a lot of them sort of have a theme: this one is mostly soda, this one is mostly coffee, this one is mostly water & 'healthier' drinks...that's nearly what this one is, but Power Squash and the guarana one don't seem healthy? If anyone has any insight, I'd love to hear it!

I wish I would've gotten more pictures of vending machines - after awhile it just felt a bit conspicuous, like I was a particularly weird tourist. I don't mind being a tourist, I just don't like being a weird one that obsessively documents what is otherwise daily, normal life. The most exciting ones were also in the busiest & 'coolest' areas, like Harajuku and Akihabara, so I didn't want to be backing up trying to get the perfect shot & getting in the way of another person's 'perfect shot', haha.

The true question on everyone's lips - what was my favorite find in the vending machines? CC Grape, of course! Yep, it was like CC Lemon (which is lightly carbonated in Japan, at least it seems most varieties are - the imported bottles in the UK are always flat & more juice-like) but grape flavored! So a bit tangy, not too sweet, and very refreshing. The best part is that we share initials.

My husband's favorite was the Pepsi Refresh Shot, which you can buy at NapaJapan. It was just a short can of slightly sweeter tasting Pepsi, but he loved it. It doubled the caffeine of regular Pepsi, so maybe it was more of an addiction than a love.

My next round-up is coming soon, but I'm not sure what to write about next! so, tell me - what would you like to see first?
  • Savory snacks
  • Drinks
  • Sweets (might have to be 2 posts, haha)
  • Meals
  • Final Fantasy Cafe Eorzea

They'll all get written, but what's the most exciting?