Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Harry & David: Raspberry Chardonnay Salsa

"...This distinctive blend pairs sweet fresh raspberries, peppers and spices with a splash of Chardonnay..."

This was bought during my trip to MacArthur Mall. The ingredients in this salsa included tomatoes, raspberries, onions, green chilies, Chardonnay wine and jalapenos. It was slightly sweeter than other salsas, but in a good way. The raspberry flavor was more noticeable in the aftertaste than in the first bite. I liked the heat of this spicy, chunky salsa.

Hershey's Kisses: Cherry Creme

Purchased at: Parker's (gas staion), Midland, Georgia

Last night, I bought Hershey's Cherry Creme Kisses. Each package had five milk chocolate kisses. The filling was soft, pink, slightly grainy and smelled like maraschino cherries. I found the cherry Kisses too sweet, although they're much tastier than the Cherry Cordial Kisses.

Simply Indulgent Gourmet: Carrot Cake Cookies

"9 oz. of satisfying Big Carrot Cake cookies bottomed in White Chocolate"

I purchased a box of Simply Indulgent's cookies at the Cracker Barrel in Salisbury,NC. They looked so enticing, with a picture of fresh carrot cake and white chocolate bottomed cookies on the box.

When I opened the box, it smelled of spice cake. There were about ten large cookies in the package. They looked just as promised. The white chocolate was thick and creamy. The cookies were crisp and had a delicious spice cake flavor. The down side is that they sprinkled carrot strips on top. Stringy carrot strips are not what I want on a cookie. Every time I bit into one, it was like a bird yanking at a worm. Carrot cake requires grated carrots, not shredded carrots.

These cookies were decent, but not worth a repeat purchase.

Cracker Barrel, Salisbury, North Carolina

Cracker Barrel
I-85 , Exit# 76
I-85 & Innes Street
1070 Free Land Drive
Salisbury, NC 28144
Located off I-85
(704) 636-1873

Broccoli Cheddar Chicken Skillet

This meal consisted of hash brown casserole, cheese sauce, broccoli, chicken and crushed crackers in a skillet. Our waitress gave me a funny look for asking how big the meal was ("Um, it's the same size as the menu picture.") Like that's not a valid question; the menu picture had one skillet, a veggie side (I think) and three biscuits on one plate. After a long day on the road, I certainly didn't want a potentially small meal.

This casserole had enough broccoli, chicken and cheese sauce. I would have preferred much less crushed crackers and more hash brown casserole. By the last bite, I was sick of the crackers. Also, there were mushrooms in my casserole. I don't remember mushrooms being on the menu description; if I remembered wrong, someone correct me. I assume the same serving spoon was used for their chicken mushroom jack skillet and the broccoli cheddar skillet. It's a good thing I'm not allergic to mushrooms.

Over all, the broccoli cheddar skillet was okay but not outstanding. I'll probably choose something else next time I eat at Cracker Barrel.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Williamsburg Pottery Factory, Lightfoot, Virginia

Williamsburg Pottery Factory
Route 60 West
Lightfoot, Virginia 23188
(757) 564-3326

Today the AMW family went to the Williamsburg Pottery Factory. My sister and I noticed a sign across from their building #22 that said "Home Care, Hardware, Wine and Cheese." It sounded like an odd combination, but what the heck. I love cheese, so how could I resist exploring ?

The first things we saw were aisles of pet care supplies. But then I noticed a doorway just past that with grocery displays. It turned out to be a big gourmet grocery, with a wine store in the back. Yay! I think there was also a bakery or a deli counter, but I don't remember which one it was.

Here's what I picked out after wandering a bit:

  • Flathau's Gourmet Cookies: Key Lime Snaps

  • For some reason, I expected a crisp, waffle-print cookie with a tart key lime taste. That's just what pops into my head when I hear "key lime snaps." What I expected and what was in the box were two different things.

    The snaps were shaped like flattened tubes. They were covered in buttery powdered sugar and tiny green flecks. The center of the cookies looked like crushed graham crackers. Apparently those were shortbread cookies.

    The cookies had a rather dry taste. There was only a tiny lime flavor present; the package listed "lime candies" as an ingredient. I do not like that. It's a peeve of mine that Persian limes (and even lemons!) are used on products labeled as key lime. Those are not the same flavors.

    Thumbs down for Flathau's Gourmet Cookies: Key Lime Snaps.

  • Hachez: Cocoa D'Arriba: Blackberry and Cocoa Nibs, 77% Cacao

  • I had high hopes for this bar. My thinking was "I love blackberries. I love chocolate. They must be good mixed together."

    When I unwrapped the bar, I was hit with a thick, artificial blackberry scent. There were cocoa nibs and little bits of blackberries mixed in with the chocolate. The dark chocolate was horribly bitter, to the point of being unenjoyable. The blackberry taste started out as a funky wine flavor and then blackberry flavored cough syrup. Eating just that one tiny square was disgusting : P

    Thumbs down for Hachez Blackberry & Cocoa Nibs.

    Lindt Peach-Apricot Yogurt Bar

    Lindt Chocolate
    MacArthur Center
    300 Monticello Avenue
    Norfolk, VA 23510
    (757) 627-5900

    "Enjoy this delicious new combination! Milk chocolate taste complemented by a delectable peach apricot yogurt filling"

    "With fruity flavorful peaches"

    Before the cheesecake debacle at MacArthur Mall, my sisters and I had visited the Lindt Chocolate store. The woman behind the counter was giving out free samples. I received my sample just as the other two were biting into the chocolate. They both made a face, but I chalked it up to them not trying chocolate covered apricots before. That's what I thought I was receiving, since it was a milk chocolate square with a bump on top.

    The filling was white, solid and had pale peach colored specks. After taking a bite, I said "This is good. I don't know why you...Never mind. Yuck. Napkin please." The peach-apricot Lindt had way more sweetness than I could stand.

    I would never eat a Lindt Peach-Apricot Yogurt Bar again. Yuck. If you're interested in trying them, I don't see a listing on Lindt's USA site.

    *ETA:SugarHog gave the peach-apricot Lindt a good review
    **1/25/13: SugarHog's site no longer exists

    Heavenly Sweets 'N' Things: Portsmouth, VA

    I need help from my Hampton Roads readers. I saw a beige-ish truck in Portsmouth today that said "Heavenly Sweets 'N' Things", with "Snacks To Go" below that. I would like to know if it's a wholesale business, a bakery or something else. I didn't see a phone number or address on the truck. Any help is appreciated!

    Cheesecake Factory, Norfolk, Virginia

    The Cheesecake Factory
    MacArthur Center
    300 Monticello Avenue
    Norfolk, VA 23510

    Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple Cheesecake
    "Our Original Cheesecake, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Butterfinger. Baked in a Chocolate Crust and topped with even more Reese’s and Butterfinger and finished with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Rosettes"

    My sisters and I went after Christmas shopping at MacArthur Mall yesterday. We decided to stop at The Cheesecake Factory for a pre-movie snack. I blame the fact that I hadn't eaten since 9 PM the night before for picking the peanut butter cheesecake. It looked so delicious in the glass case, with rosettes of frosting and a chocolate crust. All I thought was "Ooh, I love peanut butter, cheesecake and chocolate. Let's have 'em all together!"

    The first bite I had was raw, gooey peanut butter. Bleh. I don't want plain peanut butter in my cheesecake. Then I tasted Butterfingers, Reese's and something else. I tried one more tiny bite and gave up. There were too many flavors in one piece of cheesecake.

    I was annoyed about feeling hungry and having that awful peanut butter taste in my mouth. And that Cheesecake Factory was not serving sandwiches or salads that day. So the three of us tromped around the mall, found every single restaurant stand packed and ended up wolfing down a Mrs. Field's Cookie Sandwich, a pretzel dog and a giant Coke on the lower level.

    Thumbs down for Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple Cheesecake.

    Wednesday, December 24, 2008

    The Bier Garden, Portsmouth, Virginia

    The Bier Garden
    438 High Street, Portsmouth, Virginia 23704
    Phone: 757-393-6022
    Fax: 757-393-6021

    On a recent afternoon, the AMW family headed to downtown Portsmouth for lunch. A few choices were debated until the Bier Garden's German fare was chosen.

    The Bier Garden has a down to earth, welcoming entrance. There are three seating areas: outdoors, a heated area surrounded by a tent and indoor seating. The indoor seating, which is where we ate, had old wooden floors, wooden hutches, brick walls, a shelf of beer steins and various signs (old sayings, beer ads, etc).

    The wait for a table was very short. We were offered a seat in the tented area until a table was vacated. Our drinks were brought while we waited. Our meal order was also taken at that time.

    Once a table was available, we were moved to the indoor area. Here's what the AMW family thought of the meal:

    Crusty white rolls and butter

    The rolls were hot, warm and fresh.

    Goulash Soup: Hungarian Beef Soup

    Two people had this soup. The broth had a nice tomatoey flavor. There was plenty of tender beef in both bowls. However, only one person had vegetables in their soup.

    Lentil Soup: Lentils, Carrots, Celery

    The lentil soup was served in a glass mug. It was brown, thick and peppery. This soup was perfect on a chilly day.

    Potato Soup

    This soup was highly recommended to us by various people. However, it was not available that day.

    Brotzeit Teller: Appetizer plate of bread, German meats and cheeses

    The Brotzeit Teller was very large. It consisted of gelbwurst, bloodwurst,ham, turkey, salami, bologna, 2 spreads, Swiss, cheddar, tomato, onions, lettuce and 4 triangles of marbled bread on a wooden board.

    The bread was soft and delicious. I was pleased with the amount of cheese.

    The amount of meat was enough for several people. I didn't care for the bloodwurst and gelbwurst. Both had a jellied, overly soft taste. I liked the other meats, though.

    I'm not sure what the two spreads were. One was orange, with a tomato flavor. It was delicious on the marbled bread. The second spread had the color and flavor of mushy, uncooked hot dogs. I did not care for it.

    Over all, the AMW family was pleased with the Bier Garden. The decor was cozy. The servers were friendly and brought the food in a timely manner. The food itself was hearty and filling. A return trip is definitely in order.

    Godiva Chocoiste Pearls

    Two more purchases from Norfolk International Airport:

    Godiva Chocoiste: Milk Chocolate Pearls With Caffe Latte
    "Solid Milk Chocolates Flavored With Caffe Latte"

    I love the metal tin the Pearls come in. It's gold colored, with a silver border and images of coffee beans. Too cute!

    The candies had a delicious coffee and chocolate smell. The taste of each tiny chocolate ball was equally mouth-watering. I loved the sweet, milky flavor. I'll definitely keep some of these in my purse for snacking.

    Godiva Chocoiste: Dark Chocolate Pearls With Mandarin Orange
    "Dark Chocolate Pearls With Mandarin Orange"

    The dark chocolate Pearls have a chic, brown tin with an orange border and orange swirls.

    The richness and bitterness of the dark chocolate was perfect. I didn't care for the orange flavor, though. The chocolate and orange flavors clashed terribly. I won't buy this variety again.

    Welch's Blueberry Fruit 'N Yogurt Snacks

    Tonight I purchased Welch's Fruit 'N Yogurt Snacks at Norfolk International Airport. The package shows clusters of plump blueberries and yogurt clusters. The label promises "Delicious Fruit Centers Surrounded by Creamy Yogurt."

    The yogurt coating was decent. It wasn't overly sweet.

    Beneath the white yogurt was a brown, crumbly layer. I have no idea what it was made of.

    Under the brown layer was a purple, gummy lump. I thought it had a sickly sweet grape taste. I didn't notice any blueberry flavor. The ingredient list gave me an explanation: "...Fruit Puree (Grape, Apple, Blueberry), Juice Concentrates (Grape and Pineapple)..."

    Thumbs down for Welch's Blueberry Fruit 'N Yogurt Snacks.

    Cinnabon Cinnamon Mousse Pecan Clusters

    I bought the Cinnabon Clusters at a gas station in Manning, South Carolina. The label on each cluster promised "Rich Makara Cinnamon Mousse Topped With Crunchy Glazed Pecans and Toffee Bits Drenched in Dark Chocolate Goodness" and "Flavor That Warms the Soul."

    The Cinnabon Clusters had a very earthy cinnamon smell. It reminded me of semi-sweet chocolate chips with a pinch of cinnamon.

    Top layer: Chocolate covered toffee and pecans = There was much more toffee than pecans. The cinnamon didn't mesh well with the toffee and chocolate. It was too many flavors competing.

    Center layer: Cinnamon mousse = The mousse was grainy. I was expecting a gooey filling. The cinnamon mousse was instead thicker than nougat. The overall flavor was cinnamon flavored sand.

    Bottom layer: Chocolate = Had a decent amount of chocolate. But it was bland and lacked bitterness.

    Thumbs down for Cinnabon Cinnamon Mousse Pecan Cluster.

    ETA: If you were thinking "what the heck is Makara Cinnamon ?", as I was, here's what Cinnabon says:

  • Cinnabon press release: Cinnabon At A Glance

  • "In order to make the world’s greatest cinnamon rolls, Cinnabon buyers traveled the spice-growing regions of the globe to find the best, most flavorful cinnamon. They finally discovered cassia trees high in the mountains of Indonesia and used the bark to create the legendary Makara Cinnamon"

    A long explanation begins further down the release starting at "The Legend of Makara Cinnamon."

    Russell Stover Outlet, Santee, South Carolina

    Russell Stover Outlet
    9083 Old Number Six Hwy
    Santee, SC 29142
    (803) 854-2127

    These are the candies I bought at the Russell Stover store:

    Dark Chocolate Mint Dream
    "Fluffy Mint Cream Covered in Dark Chocolate"

    Each Mint Dream was individually wrapped and weighed 1/8 oz. The Dreams were hefty sized lumps of chocolate. I had quite a gooey mess on my hands after cracking open a candy. The mint filling tasted like marshmallow flavored toothpaste. I was disappointed by the Mint Dreams.

    Candy Kitchen Values: Sugar-Free Toffee Novelties

    These were chocolate covered toffee pieces. The toffee was buttery and firm, but still chewable. There was not enough milk chocolate coating for my taste.

    Candy Kitchen Values: Sugar-Free Coconut Novelties

    I enjoyed these chocolate covered coconut candies. They reminded me of Mounds Bars. The amount of coconut was substantial. The top and bottom layers of chocolate were thick.

    Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Honey Bread

    Honey Bread

    "Homemade bread baked with honey instead of sugar will remain moist longer. The following recipe is for a fruit loaf that makes an excellent gift or a morning snack with coffee."

    Megan's note: I only had 1/3 cup honey. So I added in 1/2 cup white sugar, juice from 1 large orange and generous pinches of nutmeg and cinnamon. I didn't have wheat flour, so I used 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour instead.

    1 1/4 cup sifted all purpose flour
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    2/3 cup flour
    1 cup buttermilk
    3 tbsp oil or shortening
    2 eggs, well beaten
    1/2 cup raisins or chopped dates
    1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

    Sift the flour again with the salt, soda and baking powder. Add the whole wheat flour. Separately, mix the honey, buttermilk and oil with the beaten eggs. Stir in the dry ingredients. Do not over-stir. Fold in the nuts and dates or raisins. Spoon the batter into a greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes in a 325 degree (moderate) oven.

    Source: Selected Recipes From The Saturday Evening Post Family Cookbook, edited by Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Frederic A. Birmingham, 1975, The Curtis Publishing Company


    Congratulations to Barnaby,Colin and Sheri at Foodista. They recently launched an online food and cooking encyclopedia. Click on the link in the title to check Foodista out. It looks really cool : )

    Refrigerator Rolls

    Refrigerator Rolls

    1/2 cup shortening
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 tsp salt
    1/2 cup boiling water
    1 yeast cake
    1/2 cup lukewarm water
    1 beaten egg
    3 1/4 cup unsifted flour

    Mix shortening, sugar and salt. Add the boiling water. Cool. Dissolve yeast cake in lukewarm water. Add to first mixture together with egg and flour. Mix well, store in refrigerator overnight or until ready to use. Form into desired rolls. Set in warm place to raise. Bake in hot oven 10 to 15 minutes.

    Megan's note: Next time I will sprinkle the rolls with a pinch of garlic, parmesan and oregano.

    Source: A Bit of Old Holland: Recipes from Holland Michigan, page 3

    Saturday, December 20, 2008

    Choo Choo Bar-B-Que & Seafood, Middleburg, Florida

    Choo Choo Bar-B-Que
    County Road 218, next door to Wilford Propane Gas Co.
    Middleburg, Florida
    Take-out: 904-406-0539

    Today I noticed a grand opening banner for Choo Choo Bar-B-Que on CR 218. I had seen their mobile concessions trailer parked there several times before, but never stopped to check it out.

    The first thing I noticed was the dimness of the restaurant, due to the gray walls. The decorations included two deer heads, various nautical pieces and a hutch with trophies. The overall feel was a dreary multipurpose room one might see in a church. What I liked were the small black cauldrons on each table for salt and pepper packets. I thought those gave a more homey feel to the restaurant.

    Decor aside, I really enjoyed the food at Choo Choo Bar-B-Que and Seafood. I also found the owners to be very friendly and enthusiastic. With a minor amount of tweaking, this restaurant has the potential to become a Middleburg favorite.

    Here is a breakdown of the menu:

    Grilled shrimp with 2 sides
    This meal was listed on a menu board near the counter. It included 6 large shrimp on a skewer. Each piece was plump and fresh. Very good!

    What was brought out was bbq beans. When the error was pointed out, our server's answer was "We don't have greens. That was a misprint on the menu. Can I get you a different side ?" On the menu was a listing for bbq beans and another for green salad, with the salad crossed out and "greens" written underneath. So yeah, none of us thought that made sense. But the offer of a replacement side (french fries) was accepted. The fries were hot and lightly salted, so we weren't entirely displeased about the mix-up.

    The coleslaw had shredded carrots and a pinch of black pepper. It was the right amount of of creaminess.

    The Cannonball Combo
    1/4 lb pork sandwich with 1 side and a drink

    The pork sandwich was delicious! The meat was tender and smoky. It was served on a hearty sized bun.

    Green onion potato salad
    The potato salad was bland. It desperately needed pickles. The green onions did nothing for the potato salad.

    Choo Choo's has no dessert menu at the moment. We hear they are working on that and may have desserts later.

    The unsweetened tea was good. However, the cola tasted flat. It was poured from a liter bottle, which is probably the cause.

    There's a charge for refills. This aspect probably won't go over well, as other barbecue restaurants in this area don't do that.

    Takeout menu
    The takeout menu had a cluttered, disorganized look. This was caused by words written sideways and an abundance of stars and exclamation points. The takeout menu needs a focal point to guide the reader. Hopefully this will be fixed at some point.

    Other items available
    -Stuffed flounder with crab meat, Mayport fresh fried shrimp, fresh fried oysters, catfish and hush puppies, fried fish

    -Smoked chicken, Brunswick stew, St. Louis style ribs, baby back ribs, 1/2 lb ground steak with au jus

    -Cucumber and tomato salad, country fried sweet corn, pole beans, fried okra, fried squash, onion rings, ribbon fries, buffalo wings (original, hotter and suicide), shrimp appetizer meal

    - Children's menu: Includes fries and a small drink. Popcorn shrimp, chicken tenders, corn dog, hot dog

    -Listed on the menu board: Macaroni and cheese, chicken and ribs combo

    *6/27/09 Update: Choo Choo Bar-B-Que appeared closed shortly after my one visit. I have called the number on their menu a few times, but nobody ever answered. Their mobile bbq trailor is still parked there most weekdays, though. Anyone know for sure what happened ?

    *8/19/09 Update: A new grand opening sign was put out about two weeks ago. The chainlink fence around Choo Choo is now gone. I have to say that's a huge improvement, because it gave the impression of "this is private property, do not enter."

    *7/04/10 Update: Did Choo Choo Bar-B-Que close again ? There is a sign out front saying "Future home of the (local lodge club)"

    Sunday, December 14, 2008

    Baskin-Robbins Soft Candy: Mint Chocolate Chip

    "Our all-new Baskin-Robbins Soft Candy is the every day, any moment indulgence. Baskin-Robbins® Soft Candy is the newest way to enjoy the delicious flavors of Mint Chocolate Chip and Very Berry Strawberry ice cream anywhere, at any time! And, since they're also available in Sugar Free, they are the perfect way to indulge on your terms."

    I bought a box of Baskin Robbins Soft Candy the other day. I had tried their ice cream flavored hard candies before and enjoyed them.

    The box had a nice mint smell. Each piece was individually wrapped in silver foil, with the Baskin Robbins logo stamped on it. The candies were a pale green color and had tiny chocolate specks. The soft chew did not have the nice mint smell of the box. Instead, they smelled like plastic and mint. The AMW family rated them as as "really soft" and "mint flavored plastic, taffy and gum rolled into one piece."

    Big thumbs down for Baskin-Robbins Soft Candy.

    Saturday, December 13, 2008

    Dove Assorted Miniatures

    Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate
    The Dove milk chocolate didn't have much of a smell. The taste was kind of plain. It tasted better than Palmer's milk chocolate but worse than Hershey's milk chocolate. The aftertaste reminded me of a Wendy's frosty or a Fudgesicle [read: not chocolatey enough]. "Silky smooth" seems a bit of a stretch. I found Dove Milk Chocolate boring in taste and smell.

    Dove Milk Chocolate With Caramel
    The Dove with caramel had a light milk chocolate smell. Caramel squirted out on the first bit. The caramel had a nice texture, but was not buttery enough. This candy was just so-so.

    Dove Extra Dark Chocolate, 63%
    The extra dark chocolate smelled like semi-sweet chocolate chips. The chocolate had a milkier taste than Hershey's special dark chocolate, but with a less intense cacao taste. The overall flavor reminded me of hard shell dark chocolate used on ice cream. This candy was not that great by itself. The flavor would be brought out better if paired with the right wine. This is another "will eat if there's nothing else" candy.

    Ghirardelli Filled Squares Chocolate

    Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate With Peanut Butter Filling
    "perfect combination of intense creamy milk chocolate and gourmet peanut butter with crunchy peanuts roasted to perfection. This "grown-up" version of your childhood favorite is one you are sure to crave!"

    This square had a sweet, pleasant peanut butter smell. The filling was peanut butter, with a few pieces of peanuts. I liked the smooth taste of the chocolate. The peanut butter filling was okay. I prefer peanut butter filling that's crunchy and gritty, like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. This bar fell under the category "will eat if there's nothing else."

    Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate With Caramel
    "delivers the perfect balance of intense Ghirardelli milk chocolate and a rich buttery center. Our smooth caramel center is so popular and uniquely delicious, we offer it with two different chocolate shells: milk chocolate and 60% cacao dark chocolate. "

    When I broke the caramel square in half, a curtain of caramel drizzled out. The caramel filling was indeed buttery. I like my caramel a little thicker; but other than that, I have no complaints. I think this candy would be nice paired with a cup of espresso and a good book on a rainy day. I would buy the milk chocolate-caramel square again.

    YouBars vs Element Bars

    If you're interested in custom made energy bars:

  • YouBars official website

  • Element Bars official website

  • New York Times article on YouBars

  • Gadling Article on Element Bars

  • Sources:

    "With These Nutrition Bars, Every Order Is Special", by Lisa Napolin, The New York Times, 2/20/2008

    "Like energy bars? Element Bars lets you design your own", by Scott Carmichael,Gadling, September 18, 2008

    Friday, December 12, 2008

    Subway's Flatbread Sandwich Creations

    located in Wal-Mart Supercenter
    1580 Branan Field Rd
    Middleburg, FL 32068

    Subway recently added flatbread sandwiches to their menu. So of course a taste test was in order:

    Chicken Florentine
    "...tender, juicy chicken, olives, tomatoes, Tuscan spices and melted cheese, all topped off with our creamy spinach artichoke spread..."

    This sandwich had just the right amount of chicken, cheese and Florentine spread. The bread was oh-so-soft and a perfect pairing with the chicken, in both the toasted and untoasted versions. The Florentine spread was deliciously savory. Thumbs up!

    Steak & Bacon Melt
    "...steak, crispy bacon, peppers, onions, melted cheese and your choice of veggies..."

    When my sandwich was being made, I noticed two containers behind the glass. One had what looked like chunks of steak. The other had something that resembled Steak-Umms chopped into little pieces. What was put on my sandwich was the Steak-Umm type meat. I don't think I would've wanted the first bin, though; those pieces had an odd look and color. And by that I mean "overcooked and left to harden in a sunny, dusty spot." Ew.

    Steak issue aside, I should have requested the bacon be left off. The salty bacon flavor overpowered the rest of sandwich's flavors. I wouldn't order the Steak and Bacon Melt again.

    Simply Orange: With Mango, Pulp Free

    Yesterday I bought a bottle of Simply Orange: With Mango. I'm not a fan of mango in general; fresh mango tastes metallic to me. But I thought it would be fun to try something new.

    Simply Orange: With Mango tasted like peaches to me. The fresh mango and orange flavors were not obvious to me. This product had a heavy, overly sweet aftertaste. The aftertaste reminded me of cheap citrus flavored candy.

    I'm also skeptical about their slogan "Simply Unfooled Around With." The ingredient list reads as "Contains orange and mango juices, natural flavors." The mystery third ingredient(s) presumably negate the claim of "Oh, this is just o.j. with a squeeze of mango."

    I probably wouldn't buy Simply Orange: With Mango again.

    *ETA: Kitchen Sink / EatMyWords has a kick butt piece about why it's not "simply unfooled around with" juice:

  • Eat My Words
  • Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    B's Family Restaurant, Middleburg, Florida

    B's Family Restaurant
    2216 S Mimosa Avenue,
    Middleburg, FL 32068

    If there's one thing Clay County lacked until this year, it was a restaurant that had good down-home cooking. I couldn't name one non-chain restaurant here that served delicious fried chicken and all the fixings. Good news, Clay County: I've found such a place!

    B's Family Restaurant moved into the former site of Smokey's Barbecue in Middleburg late this year. Their breakfast menu has simple, homestyle meals. I have not visited them for breakfast yet. (If anyone else has, let me know what you thought of it).

    The lunch and dinner menu has a great selection of old Southern favorites. I highly recommend their fried chicken and macaroni. Both are as good as my homemade recipes! If you're not in the mood for fried chicken, try their hamburgers and fries. The burgers are juicy and mouth-watering. The fries are served piping hot. Finish off your meal with their delicious banana pudding, chocolate cake, lemon cake or orange cake.

    I found the food to be outstanding. And the staff at B's was friendly and outgoing. Thumbs up for B's Family Restaurant!

    *11/16/2012 update: B's is no longer in business.

    Fresh Coconut Cake

    This cake is best served after setting up overnight. Also, I made many substitutions. I didn't have coconut, orange liqueur, cake flour and mandarin oranges. Instead, I used lemon juice, all purpose flour and strawberries. I skipped the snow peak frosting since it's not popular in the AMW house. So I ended up with a custard & strawberries cake instead of coconut custard cake. Either way you make it, you won't be disappointed!

    Fresh Coconut Cake

    1 fresh coconut, cut into pieces
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    3 eggs
    3/4 cup butter or margarine, chilled
    3/4 cup milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
    2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    Custard filling
    Snow peak frosting
    Mandarin orange sections

    Position shredding disc in food processor bowl; cover with top. Peel brown skin from fresh coconut pieces; cut coconut to fit food chute and shred, using firm pressure. Remove the coconut,and set aside.

    Combine sugar and eggs in processor bowl; process 1 minute. Cut butter into chunks, and add to processor bowl; process 1 minute, stopping once to scrape sides of bowl.

    With processor running, pour milk and vanilla through food chute.

    Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to processor bowl; top with cover, and pulse 4 to 6 times or just until blended.

    Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9 inch round cake pans. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely.

    Split cake layers in half horizontally to make 4 layers.

    Spread custard filling between layers; spread top and sides with snow peak frosting, and sprinkle with coconut. Garnish with mandarin orange sections. Yield: one 4-layer cake.

    Custard filling:
    2 cups milk
    4 egg yolks
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/3 cup cornstarch
    3 Tbsp orange-flavored liqueur or 1 teaspoon orange flavoring
    1 cup grated fresh coconut

    Combine milk, egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan; stir with a wire whisk until well blended. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth. Stir in liqueur. Chill thoroughly. Stir in coconut. Yield: about 2 1/4 cups.

    Snow peak frosting:
    1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
    2 egg whites
    Dash of salt
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Bring corn syrup to a boil.

    Combine egg whites (at room temperature) and salt in a large mixing bowl. Beat egg whites at high speed of an electric mixer until soft peaks form; continue to beat, slowly adding corn syrup. Add vanilla; beat until stiff peaks form and frosting is thick enough to spread. Yield: enough for one 9-inch layer cake.

    Source: Southern Living 1985 Annual Recipes, Oxmoor House Inc. , page 281

    Tuesday, December 09, 2008

    Arby's Mint Chocolate Swirl Shake

    896 Blanding Blvd
    Orange Park, FL 32065
    (904) 272-1225

    "Creamy mint chocolate flavored shake with a chocolate swirl"

    Today I went to Arby's to try their mint chocolate shake. It should've been a red flag when the girl making our shakes yelled "HEY (co-worker's name), I DON'T KNOW HOW TO MAKE THESE SHAKES !" What we received were two vanilla shakes with a puddle of green coloring and mint flavor at the bottom. The sides of the cups looked like someone played paintball with brown paint. Thumbs down for Arby's Mint Chocolate Swirl Shake.

    T.G.I. Friday's, Orange Park, Florida

    T.G.I. Friday's
    1301 Wells Road
    Orange Park Mall
    Orange Park, Florida 32073
    (904) 215-7030

  • Cobb Salad

  • Chilled and diced fire–grilled chicken, crisp bacon, avocado, Cheddar cheese, egg, black olives, tomatoes and bleu cheese on salad greens. Tossed with your choice of dressing.

    The Cobb salad was very good. It had the right amount of eggs, bacon and cheese.

  • Order of onion rings

  • The amount of onion rings was skimpy.

  • Chipotle Grilled Steak Sandwich

  • Tender Cajun–rubbed skirt steak served on toasted ciabatta with a blend of Colby and Monterrey Jack cheeses, roasted plantain slices, lettuce, tomato, onion & Chipotle mayo. Served with beer–battered onion rings.

    My first impression was "This sandwich is kind of small." But it was much more filling than I expected. The bread was soft and flavorful. The skirt steak was tender and perfectly grilled. I didn't taste any Cajun rub on the meat. It had just the right amount of Colby and Monterrey Jack. I would recommend asking for the mayo and lettuce on the side; the mayo and the heat of the steak made the lettuce limp and soggy. The three plantains slices were put inside the sandwich; I should have asked for them on the side, too. For some reason, the onion rings and the plantains all tasted like French toast. I guess they were cooked in the same oil. I was given a rather tiny amount of onion rings, just like my dining companion.

  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

  • Peanut butter graham crust filled with layers of chocolate ganache and fluffy peanut butter mousse topped with whipped cream and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup

    The peanut butter pie cost $4.89. What our waitress brought was a 3 inch wide, 1 1/2 foot long rectangular plate with a teeny, tiny sliver of pie. Most of the plate was just pudding (excuse me, mousse) drizzled artistically. The pie was tasty. But you can bet I won't buy desserts at T.G.I. Friday's again. What a ripoff.

    Monday, December 08, 2008

    M&Ms Holiday Mix: Mint Chocolate vs Peppermint

    Mars has a few holiday M&M varieties on the market. One version is peppermint & milk chocolate. The other is mint and milk chocolate.

    The mint milk chocolates had a smooth, cool mint flavor. The peppermint candies were another story. The peppermint bags had a mint smell but almost no mint flavor. The mint flavoring in both varieties tasted exactly the same. There was no difference in the ingredients listed, either.

    I would buy the mint M&Ms again, but not the peppermint M&Ms.

    Chex Mix Turtle Bars

    I recently received a sample of Chex Mix Turtle Bars in the mail. The package promised a mix of wheat Chex, chocolate, peanuts and pretzels. It also proclaimed "good source of whole grains."

    The Chex bars had a honey-nut smell. They were very sticky. The bars stuck to the bottom of the package, due to puddles of caramel. Each bar looked fairly like the package picture, except for the lack of chocolate chunks.

    The turtle bars had plenty of peanuts, caramel and cereal, a small amount of pretzels and only 1-3 candy coated pieces. The taste was like a poor knock-off of a Butterfinger bar. It was not satisfying to eat at all. There was a sore lack of sweetness or saltiness. The pretzels were overpowered by the honey, caramel and cereal.There was not enough chocolate, either.

    Hershey's Take Five bar is a tastier alternative to this product. I wouldn't recommend Chex Mix Turtle Bars to any of you.

    Mrs. DuBois' Yummy Mandelbread (Biscotti)

    Click the link in the title for the biscotti recipe. These were a hit with the AMW family last night. Instead of the cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg, I used the Vienna filling. Yeah, we're getting our money's worth from that recipe this week:

    Pecan Vienna Dream Coffee Cake

    1 cup flour, shifted
    3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
    4 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
    1/2 cup butter or margarine
    2 cups pecans chopped (Megan's note: I used 2 cups Blue Diamond cinnamon brown sugar almonds)

    Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter or margarine; blend until mixture is crumbly. Add pecans, mix well.

    Cake and topping source: The Best of Mayberry Cookbook,copyright 1996, by Betty Conley Lyerly, page 60

    Mandelbread source: Simmer Till Done Blog, 8/27/2008

    Mini Bread Loaves

    Check out the link in the title for a kick butt bread recipe. I made a batch of the mini bread loaves last night. They came out soft and delicious : D

    Source: "Mini bread loaves", Culinary Cory blog, 11/09/2008

    Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Orange Park, Florida

    Five Guys Burgers and Fries
    1910 Wells Road, #C02D-5
    Orange Park, FL 32073

    I'd heard about Five Guys Burgers and Fries on various food blogs, but never tried their food. There seemed to be two camps of thought: the long-time fans ("It's the best burgers ever !") and the nonplussed newcomers ("Um, I don't get the hype.")

    Recently, Five Guys opened a location at the Orange Park Mall, next to Maggie Moo's. There were four of us dining that day: two major fans and two newbies. We were assured "You don't know what you're missing. So yummy !"

    I'll note this up front: If you're allergic to peanuts, Five Guys is not the place for you. There is a warning about peanut oil and peanut dust on the front door. Upon entering, I noticed sacks of peanuts and potatoes stacked around the restaurant. There was another peanut warning sign posted, asking customers not to take peanuts outside the building.

    This location was very noisy. I have a high tolerance for loud music, but the volume of their radio was beyond ridiculous. The employees kept trying to greet us across he room, but the music drowned them out ("WELCOME TO FIVE GUYS !" "WHAT ?" "WHAT CAN WE GET FOR YOU ?" "WHAT ?").

    The employees were very friendly, once we were in hearing distance. They pointed out the sacks of potatoes were for homemade french fries. When asked about the brand of hot dogs, both employees shot each other panicky looks. Then they answered "kosher beef." No kidding, I could see that on the menu board.

    The wait for the food was rather short. Kudos for that. Our group had 3 drinks, 3 burgers, 1 hot dog, 1 order of plain fries and 1 order of Cajun fires. The hot dogs were worth trying. They were juicy and plump. The fries were hot, crisp and fresh. The hamburgers were hot, fresh and properly cooked. Although we newcomers commented "I'm not impressed with the meat itself. I've had this hamburger at street fairs. Meh." The price tag for this meal was $31. Ouch.

    My overall reaction: Five Guys gets an A for the concept, simplicity and efficiency. The service we received was quick, friendly and efficient. The fan girl hype is over the top, but the food is good. I might go back for a hot dog. I wouldn't order a burger again, though, due to the price. Also, I would be happy if Five Guys added a simple dessert option to the menu.

    Bertolli Pasta and Sauce: Spinach & Ricotta Cheese Manicotti

    Bertolli's Spinach & Ricotta Cheese Manicotti sounded good to me on a recent shopping trip. So into the cart it went. After all, I like cheese, spinach and pasta. What's not to love about that ? I probably would've put the bag back if I'd noticed the romantic, J. Peterman-ish story on the back of the bag. It was about an Italian artisan and how he gathered his fresh ingredients, from his cheesemaker friend and various places. That should've been a red flag.

    When I got home, I poured the bag's contents into a pan. My reaction was "Huh, there's not much pasta. And what are these other chunks ? Carrots ? Oh, duh, it's the sauce." In total, there were nine 2 inch x 1/2 inch pasta tubes. The servings promised was 4 cups total. Yeah, right, Bertolli. The picture Bertolli has of the manicotti is deceptively large (see the link in the title). The giveaway is that the fork is bigger than the manicotti.

    I will give Bertolli credit for the sauce. That aspect was rich and delicious. It was not too chunky or acidic. The filling, on the other hand, was just average. I considered the shells to be too soft (almost soggy) and missing any oomph.

    At $4+ a bag, this was not a good buy. Nine tiny pasta tubes is not enough for three people at dinner. I can make better manicotti shells and filling from scratch myself.

    Gourmet Dining: Chicken Florentine

    "Complete Skillet Meal With Rotini Pasta, All White Chicken Meat, Spinach and Florentine Sauce."

    I picked up a bag of Gourmet Dining's Chicken Florentine at Super Wal-Mart last week. It contained frozen, precooked chicken, a sauce packet, rotini pasta and spinach.

    The chicken: This meal needed 2 to 3 more tablespoons of chicken.
    The spinach: Had just the right amount.
    The rotini pasta: Had just the right amount.
    The Florentine sauce: At best, it's broth flavored. I wasn't wowed. Sun-dried tomatoes would have improved the flavor quite a bit. I expected a bigger punch from a sauce that was made with white wine, olive oil, Parmesan, Romano and garlic powder.

    The quality of Gourmet Dining's Chicken Florentine was average. I probably won't buy this again.

    Andes Peppermint Crunch: Indulgence, Candy Cane Design

    The other night, I was on an errand at Winn Dixie. I came across a stack of Andes Mints called Andes Peppermint Crunch: Indulgence, Candy Cane Design. You know I can't resist trying something new. And I do love Andes mints !

    The caption on the bag is "crunchy bits of peppermint & has a delightfully embossed candy cane design on top." The bag itself is red,white and silver, with 2 green holly leaves and 2 images of the candies. Each candy is individually wrapped in red, white and silver foil. There are about 28 pieces in a bag.

    The mints had a nice peppermint smell. Each piece had three layers:
    - Layer 1: White chocolate with red peppermint speckles and candy cane design
    - Layer 2: Red [tasted the same as white layer]
    - Layer 3: White chocolate with red peppermint speckles
    The white and red layers tasted like Wilton Candy Melts. They were very sugary. The peppermint bits were more like crunchy cookie bits than peppermint candy. Also, the peppermint flavor left the AMW family commenting "it's like I used mouthwash and ate candy melts simultaneously."

    I probably won't buy these again. They were not of the caliber I usually expect from Andes mints.

    Cinnamon Pineapple Babka

    A Jewish Classic

    3/4 cup lukewarm milk
    2 Tbsp yeast
    1 cup all purpose flour
    4 eggs
    2 teaspoons salt
    1/2 cup white sugar
    3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon mace (Megan's note: I didn't have any mace, so I left it out)
    4 cups all purpose flour

    In mixer bowl, mix milk, yeast and 1 cup flour; cover with plastic wrap and let stand 30 minutes, until spongy. Slowly beat in remaining ingredients. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes. Dough will be soft. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 45 minutes before making up.

    1/2 recipe Babka dough
    Cinnamon sugar, see Index
    Streusel, see Index
    Vegetable oil
    Simple syrup, see Index

    Roll out dough on floured surfaces to 8x16 inch rectangle. Brush with oil. Sprinkle all over with cinnamon sugar; press sugar into dough. Roll up and seal edges. Stretch out to about 20 inches, fold in half and twist twice. Place in a greased 9 1/4x5 1/4 inch bread pan and press down. Brush top with vegetable oil, sprinkle with streusel, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped. Cool on wire rack.

    Megan's note: I skipped the streusel, syrup and cinnamon sugar. Instead, I used the topping from the Pecan Vienna Dream Coffee Cake and added 2 1/2 cups frozen pineapple I'd shredded in a blender:

    Pecan Vienna Dream Coffee Cake

    1 cup flour, shifted
    3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
    4 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
    1/2 cup butter or margarine
    2 cups pecans chopped (Megan's note: I used 2 cups Blue Diamond cinnamon brown sugar almonds)
    Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter or margarine; blend until mixture is crumbly. Add pecans, mix well.

    Credit for babka: Gottlieb's Bakery: 100 Years of Recipes,Compiled and Tested by Sarah Gaede with Irving and Isser Gottlieb, page 106, Copyright 1983

    Credit for topping: The Best of Mayberry Cookbook,copyright 1996, by Betty Conley Lyerly, page 60

    Pecan Vienna Dream Coffee Cake

    This is a very simple, delicious recipe you should try. I keep a batch of the topping in my freezer to toss into various recipes. Enjoy!

    Pecan Vienna Dream Coffee Cake
    Great for freezing!

    1 cup flour, shifted
    3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
    4 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
    1/2 cup butter or margarine
    2 cups pecans chopped (Megan's note: I used 2 cups Blue Diamond cinnamon brown sugar almonds)

    Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter or margarine; blend until mixture is crumbly. Add pecans, mix well.

    4 cups flour, sifted
    4 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 cup butter or margarine
    1 3/4 cups white sugar
    3 eggs
    1 cup milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract

    Preheat oven. Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream butter or margarine and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until light and creamy after each addition. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk and flavoring, blending well after each addition. Divide batter equally between three greased 9-inch round cake pans. Cover each evenly with an equal amount of topping. Bake until done and browned.

    Temperature: 350 degrees.
    Baking time: 35 minutes.
    Yield: 3 (9 inch)coffee cakes

    Source: The Best of Mayberry Cookbook,copyright 1996, by Betty Conley Lyerly, page 60

    Kraft Live Active Blueberry Almond Bars

    Thank you to my mom for this review of Kraft's Live Active Blueberry Almond Bars:

    I loved these bars ! A lot of times when a granola bar has "frosting" on it,it makes the granola bar too sweet ! This one has the perfect amount of sweetness coming from the frosting to compliment the granola part of the bar !! I would definitely buy these bars and I am no fan of granola bars with any kind of glaze or frosting on them !!

    Sunday, December 07, 2008

    The latest trend: tooth friendly foods

    Source: The latest lure: Joy for your teeth, Laura Capitano, Florida Times Union, 12/07/2008

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    Hershey's Bliss: Milk Chocolate With Creme De Menthe

    A friend of my mother mentioned she'd found Hershey's Bliss with a creme de menthe filling at CVS Pharmacy. I made a trip over to CVS today just to find the candy.

    The Creme De Menthe Bliss were in an attractive brown and green package. There was a shiny silver star, gold ribbon writing that spelled out "Bliss" and a picture of a mint filled Bliss candy split in half. After seeing such a festive bag, I was inclined to expect a top notch candy.

    The candies had a moderate, fairly nice mint smell. The milk chocolate smell was heavier than the mint, though. [I noticed the same problem with the mint milk chocolates in Hershey's Miniatures: Mint Collection.] The milk chocolate was smooth and creamy. The creme de menthe center gave me a pleasant taste for a second. Then it evolved into a toothpaste mint flavor. Bleh ! A peppermint center would have tasted much better.

    Thumbs down for Hershey's Bliss: Milk Chocolate With a Creme De Menthe Meltaway Center.

    *ETA: I see I'm not alone in my opinion of mint Bliss.

  • Gigi-Reviews
  • noticed the toothpaste taste, too. Take note, Hershey: toothpaste mint + chocolate = wrong.

    Friday, November 14, 2008

    Hershey's Miniatures: Mint Collection

    Last night, I bought a bag of Hershey's Miniatures: Mint Collection at Super Wal-Mart. The bag contains three flavors: mint dark chocolate [dark green wrapper], mint white creme with candy bits [white wrapper], and mint milk chocolate [pale green wrapper].

    The mint sweet chocolate candies were made of Hershey's Special Dark variety. In previous reviews, I had noted a strong dislike of Special Dark's powdered cocoa taste. However, I found the mint sweet chocolate quite delicious. Each one smelled like an Andes mint. The chocolate itself had a creamy texture. There was a nice balance between the chocolate and mint flavors. The aftertaste was very satisfying.

    The white mint creme with candy bits were the second best of the bunch. Each candy was white, with red and green sprinkles. The addition of the sprinkles made for a less than attractive appearance. However, the smooth taste of white creme and the crunch of the sprinkles were a good pairing as fa as taste. The mint scent was lighter than that of the mint sweet chocolates, yet overpowered the taste of the white creme. This candy would have been better without the mint.

    My least favorite in the bag was the mint milk chocolate. The mint smell was not as pleasing as the one in the mint sweet chocolates. The smell was heavier on the milk chocolate side. I found the milk chocolate and mint flavors clashed garishly; it was reminiscent of eating Wrigley's gum and a milk chocolate Hershey bar simultaneously. The aftertaste was horrible, too.

    I would probably buy Hershey's Miniatures: Mint Collection again. Hopefully Hershey will replace the mint milk chocolate pieces with a more palatable flavor.

    Orville Redenbacher's Natural Buttery Salt & Cracked Pepper Popcorn

    Today I received a sample of Orville Redenbacher's Natural Buttery Salt & Cracked Pepper Popcorn. The Redenbacher website describes the product as such:

    Natural whole grain goodness with a buttery taste and a touch of cracked black pepper; no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. It's naturally delicious!

    Two of us tasted the popcorn. The other person tried it first. Her reaction was "Ewww, it's so salty. Ick ! It's burning my tongue. Way too much salt !" Then I tried the popcorn. My reaction was "It's not burning my tongue. But it tastes like someone dumped a bunch of black pepper on it...Okay, now I get why you said it burned. Because now it's burning my tongue." So "touch of cracked pepper" is a huge understatement. The taste of whole grain was largely overshadowed by the salt and pepper. The popcorn definitely did not taste buttery or "naturally delicious."

    Thumbs down for Orville Redenbacher's Natural Buttery Salt & Cracked Pepper Popcorn.

    JELL-O Singles: Sugar-Free Vanilla

    Last night, Super Wal-Mart had a sale on JELL-O Singles. This product appeared simple and convenient to make. So I bought a few boxes of the sugar-free vanilla flavor.

    Each box of JELL-O Singles had six sleeves of .23 oz instant pudding mix. The package promised "Ready in 5 minutes. Just add milk", "1/3 fewer calories than regular pudding" and "makes 6 one-half cup servings."

    I found the foil packets difficult to open. A paper pouch would have been a better idea. I didn't care for the taste of the sugar-free vanilla pudding, either. The aftertaste was sort of papery. [I've tasted much better sugar free pudding]. Also, the mix only produced 1/3 cup serving when I followed the directions to the letter.

    I didn't find JELL-O free singles to be terribly convenient or time saving. If I took the Singles to work, I'd have to worry about spilling the powder, bringing 1/2 cup milk, a spoon and a bowl to mix the powder [1 1/2 minutes, per the directions] and let the pudding set [5 minutes, again per the directions]. And that's if I wanted room temperature pudding. I would find it more convenient to buy pre-made pudding cups or put a bit of homemade pudding into a small container each day. I can't see myself buying JELL-O Singles again.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    Gottlieb's Bakery: Challah

    Last week, I came across a recipe for challah in my Gottlieb's Bakery: 100 Years of Recipes cookbook. [Gottlieb's was a bakery in Savannah, Georgia that's no longer around] The bread turned out perfectly delicious. I'm not terribly good at braiding challah yet, but I hope to get better at it.


    Made traditionally for the Sabbath - different from bread eaten the rest of the week.

    1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees)
    3 Tbsp yeast
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup vegetable oil
    2 eggs
    1 Tbsp salt [Megan's note: That's how it's listed in the cookbook. I used less.]
    5 to 6 cups all purpose flour
    Egg wash

    In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

    Beat in oil, eggs, salt and 2 cups of flour. Beat in additional flour 1 cup at a time until dough is too difficult to handle in bowl.

    Turn out onto well floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary, for at least 10 minutes.

    Shape into a ball and place in a well-oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft free place until doubled in size.

    Punch down, divide in half, divide each half into 4 or 6 equal pieces, roll out like sausages and braid following illustrations. If you absolutely cannot brad with more than three strips, that's okay, too.

    Place on greased baking sheets, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled.

    Brush with egg wash and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped, about 30 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

    Egg Wash

    1 egg
    1 Tbsp water

    Beat until well mixed. Brush over unbaked cookies, bread, pastry, etc. for a shiny finish.

    Credit: Gottlieb's Bakery: 100 Years of Recipes, Compiled and Tested by Sarah Gaede with Irving and Isser Gottlieb, page 23, Copyright 1983

    For helpful instructions on braiding challah, check out

  • MayaSophia's YouTube video Braiding a Six Strand Challah
  • Hershey's Kisses: Hot Cocoa Creme

    I was browsing the Dollar Tree this afternoon for candy. I spotted some three ounce bags of Hershey's Hot Cocoa Creme Kisses among the Christmas displays. My initial reaction was "Oh, I bet these will taste terrible. Hot cocoa flavor in a Kiss ?!"

    When I opened the bag, the aroma was that of powdered cocoa mix. The outer shell had a smooth, creamy taste. The filling was gooey, with a pleasingly subtle cocoa taste. The aftertaste perfectly mimicked the feeling one had just drank a mug of cocoa.

    Thumbs up for Hershey's Hot Cocoa Creme Kisses !

    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    Wendy's Breakfast Menu

    Recently, Wendy's has been offering a breakfast menu. Some of you may remember their failed attempt at that years ago. Apparently Wendy's custom omelettes made service slow.

    The new menu looks interesting. [The link to the menu is in the title]. Unfortunately, the nearest Wendy's that serves breakfast is 40 miles away from me. If you've tried Wendy's new breakfast menu [or the old one], please share your experience.

    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Venice Pizza & Italian Cuisine, Orange Park, Florida

    Venice Pizza & Italian Cuisine
    Fleming Plaza
    1605 County Road 220
    Orange Park, FL 32003


    As I've mentioned before, I tend to stash restaurant coupons and bring them out when the family gets bored. Today was definitely another "please, not the same old hangout" day. So we drove out to Venice Pizza in Fleming Island, next to Player's Grille.

    When I stepped through the door, I was struck by the mediocrity of the decor. I had expected to see either the candle lit, romantic decor of an Italian restaurant or a laid back, bright pizzeria. What I saw was darkly lit, with bland artwork that blended into the background and no music playing. That should've been a red flag to me.

    Let me take your through our menu choices:

    Soup of the day (limited quantities)

    I understand that (1)We're in Florida and soup isn't in high demand and (2)sometimes items just run out. But it's not a good sign when "limited quantities" is on a menu. When I asked what soups were available, the waitress replied "we don't have any soup."

    Pizza by the slice (when available)

    I know many restaurants only have pizza by the slice at certain times. That's fine. However, I would've preferred Venice Pizza put on the menu "available after 5 PM" or "Monday through Thursday only." Our waitress just said "we don't have it right now." I still don't know what day(s) or times their slices are available.

    Veggie Pizza: Onions, Mushrooms, Olive, Green Peppers, Spinach, Broccoli, Fresh Tomatoes, Extra Cheese
    The toppings on this pizza were good. It was a little skimpy on the mushrooms, but otherwise fine. The tomato sauce was thin and unremarkable. The crust was unremarkable as well.

    White Pizza: Our homemade white sauce, mozzarella cheese, spices, fresh tomatoes

    The toppings on the white pizza were outstanding and had a nice garlic flavor.

    Eggplant Parmesan sub

    I had to choose between an eggplant sub and the eggplant dinner. The dinner would've included tossed salad, homemade garlic bread and a side of spaghetti. However, I think it was a good idea I didn't order the dinner. I say that because my dining companions received garlic bread with their dinners, consisting of buttered, toasted sub rolls mysteriously missing garlic. My sub came with the same bread. The slices of fried eggplant inside were crispy but void of flavor. The bread and sauce had nothing interesting for the palate.

    Lasagna: A tasty homemade combination of beef, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese

    The lasagna set before us was a burrito of sorts. It was a big noodle wrapped around beef and covered with tomato sauce. There was a bit of cheese sprinkled on top, but mostly covered by sauce. I don't know about the ricotta being in the lasagna. After leaving the restaurant, I said to everyone "Did that lasagna have ricotta or cottage cheese or anything like that ? I didn't see any." Not one of us remembered tasting or seeing ricotta. And that was before I whipped out the take-away menu to double check. All of us found the lasagna semi-soggy, under spiced and terribly disappointing. I've had better lasagna in school cafeterias : P


    The tiramisu was rich, creamy and delicious. It was a bright spot in an otherwise half-hearted presentation.

    Would I return to Venice Pizza ? Probably not. This restaurant lacked the personality, warmth and charm that make for an outstanding dining experience.

    Turkish Ramadan Pide / Ramazan Pidesi

    Yesterday, someone on a website I frequent mentioned Ramadan bread. That got me interested, so I set off in search of a recipe. I came across Binnur's recipe for Ramadan Pide at Turkish Cookbook. What a delicious bread it made ! My family loved it.

    Clink on the link in the title to check out her yummy recipes. I can't wait to try more of them.

    Source: "Turkish Ramadan Pide (Ramazan Pidesi)", Binnur's Turkish Cookbook blog, September 19, 2006

    Quaker True Delights: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Almond

    Previously I reviewed the banana & macadamia version of Quaker Delights. This week I tasted the dark chocolate, raspberry & almond variety.

    The box of raspberry bars promises "whole,sweet, Heritage raspberries...crunchy toasted almonds and chunks of 45% cacao premium dark chocolate." The bars indeed had lots of delicious chocolate pieces. The raspberry flavor of the granola was natural tasting and subtle. However, the actual raspberries were minuscule. Most of the bars had just one or two almonds, or none at all.

    I am on the fence whether I'd buy this product again.

    Wednesday, October 08, 2008

    Quaker Taste Test

    Thank you to Peter and his family for being my taste testers recently:

    Quaker Granola Bites: Chocolate Flavor
    the granola bites had a crunchy bite,the taste of it was just ok

    Quaker Mini Delights: Chocolatey Mint, 90 Calorie Packs

    the Quaker chocolate mint cookies had a horrible taste

    Quaker Cinnamon Life
    the life cinnamon cereal we all liked even my aunt tried them she loved them lol

    Quaker Simple Harvest: Honey Roasted Nut Bars
    Quaker Chewy Peanut Butter and Chocolate Bars

    the granola bars i don't like peanut butter or any type of nuts in it,but my dad liked them very much

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    Kristin's On The River, Jacksonville, Florida

    Kristin's On The River
    2511 Blanding Blvd [Blanding and Lake Shore Blvd]
    Jacksonville, Florida

    Open Tuesday through Sunday

    I first heard about Kristin's in a local coupon magazine a few months ago. I clipped out the ad and left it in my purse. I forgot about it until last weekend, when the AMW family became bored with the usual restaurant choices. So off to Kristin's we went.

    The first thing we noticed was a sort of hole at the front entrance. There was a big chunk of rock missing in that area. We each sidestepped that to get inside.

    Upon entering, we were greeted by a friendly hostess. She seated us indoors, which proved problematic due to the thick smell of plastic and fresh paint. Also, the interior boasted garishly bright colors. Both proved too much for the three of us and we moved to the outdoor seating. The outdoor tables were much better, with cooling fans, high tables and a good view of Cedar River. But then we noticed the windows behind our table us had big cracks, which seemed unsafe.

    One of us ordered the 2 Jamaican Jerk pork chops from the Hearty Portions selections. Two of us ordered the 2 crab cakes from the Light Portions side. Each entree came with a salad, vegetable of the day and mashed potatoes or rice pilaf.

    One person found the pork chops to be thick, juicy and delicious. The other two thought they were too tough and that the seasoning was too sausagey. Also, the chops lacked any spicy heat.

    The crab cakes got a thumbs up from all three. Two for each person was more than enough, even for hearty eaters. The crab cakes were neatly cut in high, thick circles and lightly breaded.

    One person had the vegetable of the day, which was steamed broccoli. The other two asked the waitress if anything else was available. She offered fried eggplant and we took that option. The thing about eggplant is that most people make it mushy, thick and unpalatable. What was brought to our table was pure heaven, though. Each plate received three large disks, lightly breaded, thinly sliced and golden brown. So good ! The person who ordered broccoli was made fun of ; )

    One person had rice pilaf. The other two had the mashed potatoes. Those were really good mashed potatoes, in fact. There were thick and creamy. Yum !

    As for dessert ? Well, Kristin's dessert menu was not that large. It listed cheesecake, carrot cake, something with chocolate mousse and maybe 2 other items. When asked about dessert, our waitress replied "We're out of everything today, except butter pecan cheesecake. And brownies. Maybe brownies. I'd have to check and see if we have any left." We respectfully suggest Kristin's amp up their dessert menu. Those really good entrees were just begging to be paired up with super yummy desserts.

    Hopefully Kristin's will fix their walkway, windows and dessert menu soon. We would definitely like to eat at this restaurant again.

    Kashi Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Cookies

    I am not usually a fan of oatmeal cookies. To me, they're the sad, boring cousins of chocolate chip cookies. However, Kashi has changed my mind about oatmeal cookies.

    Kashi's oatmeal cookies weighed 1 oz each and were pretty hefty. They had just the right amount of dark chocolate chips and grains [wheat, oats,rye, barley and buckwheat]. One cookie was surprisingly enough for me. I did not feel the need to eat a second or third cookie. I would definitely recommend Kashi Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Cookies to all of you : )

    Quaker Mini Delights: Chocolatey Mint, 90 Calorie Packs

    Quaker Mini Delights: Chocolatey Mint bites sounded really tasty to me. How can you screw up chocolate, mint and rice cakes [sorry, "multigrain cakes"] ? You would think I'd learn, but nope...

    My initial reaction was to love these little suckers. They were bite sized, coated in chocolate and came in 90 calorie packs. The first bite revealed a good chocolate taste. The second bite produced mint. Not spearmint or wintergreen mint, but toothpaste flavored mint. Ewwww.

    Adding to my disappointment was the ingredient list. The chocolate was not in fact chocolate. It was "coating", made from cocoa powder and partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil. There was also that side note of "adds a dietarily insignificant amount of trans fat."

    Another Quaker thumbs down.

    Quaker True Delights: Toasted Coconut Banana Macadamia

    I came across Quaker True Delights at Super Wal-Mart this weekend. These granola bars come in a black box. There are two other varieties available. I would tell you what they were, but I don't see them on the Quaker website right now. I'll have to look again next time I go shopping.

    Anyway, getting back to the point...I really liked these bars. They have a pleasant banana bread flavor. There's a good balance between the amount of dried bananas and the macadamia nuts. This product did not have a grainy taste like the Chewy Peanut Butter and Chocolate bars. And it mercifully lacked a thick, artificial coconut flavor that many products have.

    Thumbs up for Quaker True Delights !

    Quaker Chewy Peanut Butter and Chocolate Bars

    Tonight I sampled Quaker's Chewy Peanut Butter and Chocolate Granola Bars, With Protein. Each bar is .98 oz and is made with whole grain oats.

    This bar got mixed reviews in the AMW family. I liked the peanut scent, but felt the peanut flavoring was too much. I thought the soy rice crisps made it too grainy tasting. My mother had the opposite opinion. She said the bar had the right amount of peanut taste. We both agreed the bars had the right amount of chocolate chips.

    For me, this product fell under "will eat if nothing else is available." Definitely not terrible tasting, but not a prize winner either.

    Quaker Simple Harvest: Cinnamon Brown Sugar

    As you've read in my previous review, I was on the fence about Quaker's Simple Harvest bars. I decided to give Simple Harvest a second chance. I tried the Cinnamon Brown Sugar, With Apple and Cranberries variety.

    Like the Honey Roasted Nut version, this bar too says "All Natural: Multigrain Chewy Granola Bar, *Oat, Wheat, Barley." But then I looked at the ingredient list. There were 10 grams of sugar in a serving. That's three more than the Honey bar. You must be wondering what caused such a difference. Look at what's in the Cinnamon Brown Sugar bars: "Whole grain rolled oats, brown rice sugar, crisp rice, sugar, apples, molasses, honey, sunflower oil, barley, apple juice concentrate, whole grain rolled wheat, soybean oil, cranberries....brown sugar, salt, vanilla, cinnamon."

    Ingredients aside, I found myself unimpressed yet again. The bar had a funky, artificial apple smell. There were plenty of dehydrated apple pieces in each bite. The apples were soggy and unpleasant, almost gooey, when mixed with the other ingredients : P The apple flavor overpowered the entire bar.I neither tasted nor smelled any cinnamon or brown sugar. The size and amount of cranberries was paltry. This bar brought to mind a poorly made oatmeal cookie.

    Another thumbs down for Quaker Simple Harvest: Cinnamon Brown Sugar bars.

    Quaker Granola Bites: Chocolate Flavor

    Quaker Granola Bites initially sounded tasty to me. I like granola, chocolate and bite sized snacks. What better pairing for me, right ?

    The first problem I had was the appearance of the Granola Bites. If you are eating right now, you might want to skip this next sentence: It looked like someone vomited cereal and rabbit pellets. And threw chocolate chips into the mix. If you can't picture that, consider yourself lucky.

    Appearances were not deceiving in this case. The food tasted as awful as it looked. The bites tasted like Cocoa Krispies, only heavier on the faux cocoa taste.

    The final killjoy was the ingredient list. Who doesn't love to see "...partially hydrogenated palm kernel and palm oil...high fructose corn syrup" and "adds a dietarily significant amount of trans fat."

    I'll pass on the Quaker Granola Bites. I need to find a good granola recipe instead

    Quaker Simple Harvest: Honey Roasted Nut Bars

    Quaker has a line of Simple Harvest Granola Bars. One of the flavors available is Honey Roasted Nut. The package touts it as "Multigrain Chewy Granola Bar: Oat, Wheat, Barley." Some of the other ingredients are whole grained rolled oats, brown rice syrup, crisp rice, cashews, peanuts, sugar, pecans, molasses and honey. Each bar has 7 grams of sugar.

    The first whiff of the Simple Harvest bar revealed a peanut scent. A Pay Day candy bar came to mind. It was not an overbearing, heavy peanut scent. The taste of the peanuts were noticeable first, followed by a touch of honey and the cashews. The pecans were not noticeable. I disliked the lingering peanut taste of the granola bar.

    Over all, The Honey Roasted Nut bar tasted better than the Apple Cinnamon version. I felt the Honey Roasted Nut bars were good, but not great. I probably won't buy those again.

    Quaker Cinnamon Life

    I recently had an opportunity to try Quaker's Cinnamon Life cereal. I had tried the original Life cereal years ago and enjoyed the taste.

    The Life cereal squares had a pleasant, wheaty taste. That flavor was ruined by the cinnamon, though. The cinnamon left a heavy, artificial, lingering aftertaste.

    Let's talk about the ingredient list. In a 3/4 cup serving, this cereal has 8 grams of sugar. This is a problem, as I'm trying to avoid cereals with more than 1 gram of sugar per 1 cup serving. I was also very surprised to see yellow 6, yellow 5, red 40 and blue 1 listed. I had to look those additives up, as my knowledge of them was limited to "It's not good for you." So you can imagine I was surprised to see the phrases "coal tar", "banned in other countries" and "allergen inducer" repeatedly show up. Yuck. I'm crossing Quaker's Cinnamon Life off my shopping list : P

    Romano's Macaroni Grill Restaurant Favorites

    I recently purchased a box of Romano's Macaroni Grill Restaurant Favorites. The flavor I picked was Creamy Basil and Parmesan Chicken and Pasta. The kit came with linguine pasta, grated Parmesan and Romano blend, basil and cheese seasoning, creamy sauce and sun dried tomatoes. This product does not contain chicken. You would need to purchase that separately.

    I found this meal very easy to make. It was ready in less than the 20 minutes listed on the box. The flavor was outstanding, too. The sauce was perfectly creamy.The Parmesan, basil and sun dried tomatoes played off each other magnificently. Also, I managed to get several serving out of this over 2 days, for 3 adults with big appetites. Big thumbs up for Romano's Macaroni Grill Restaurant Favorites !

    **I have never been to Romano's Macaroni Grill. So I cannot tell you how the restaurant meal compares to the boxed product.

    Key lime Cookies

    I found this recipe in Mr. Food's cookbook Quick and Easy Diabetic Cooking. I added sliced almonds to the batter, left out the cherries and added key lime powder to the powdered sugar. This recipe was a big hit with my family!

    Nicole's Cherry Bonbons
    Air Date: 6/3/2008
    24 servings

    3 tablespoons butter, softened
    5 tablespoons corn oil stick margarine, softened
    1 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, divided
    1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 tablespoons fat-free (skim) milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    24 maraschino cherries, drained with 2 teaspoons liquid reserved


    1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, beat the butter, margarine, and 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar until creamy. Stir in the flour, milk, vanilla, and salt; mix well.

    2. Shape into 24 balls. Press each ball around a cherry and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until light golden. Cool on a wire rack.

    3. Place 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar in a shallow dish and roll the bonbons until lightly coated.

    4. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar and the 2 teaspoons reserved cherry liquid; mix well. Place in a resealable plastic storage bag. Cut a small corner off the bag and drizzle the glaze over the bonbons.

    5. Allow the bonbons to cool until the glaze is firm, then serve, or store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

    Pillsbury Flaky Twists With Chocolate Icing

    Last night I wanted to make a pizza. I grabbed a tube of Pillsbury Flaky Twists and rolled it out on a baking tray. I set aside the chocolate frosting that was included, intending to save it for another recipe.

    I was a bit baffled when I noticed a cinnamon aroma and a brown substance sprinkled on the dough. There was no mention of cinnamon on the front of the tube. It was hidden on the bottom of the ingredient list on the back. I am puzzled why Pillsbury did that. I've seen commercials and print ads for Flaky Twists With Chocolate Icing several times; not one mentioned cinnamon. That discovery put a crimp in my pizza plans. I decided to make the best of it and just bake Chocolate Twists.

    Rant aside, you're probably wondering how it tasted. Let's start with the twists. Those were slightly salty and a little bland. I was surprised the cinnamon scent did not translate to cinnamon flavor. The twists lacked the sweetness one expected.

    The chocolate icing was also a disappointment. It tasted like Betty Crocker brownie batter, a far cry from the sweet and delicious icing in other Pillsbury products. The icing and the twists paired together were a sad combination.

    Neither the icing or the twists added any sweetness to the finished product. I give this product a big thumbs down. I will not buy it again.

    Sunday, September 07, 2008

    No Wine Without A Permit

    Source: "No Wine Without a Permit. But Try the Cheese", by Robin Finn, The New York Times, September 5, 2008

    If You Want A Fresh Sandwich....

    Source: "Slight change in order should bring fresh sandwich", by Jerry Romansky, SeacoastOnline.com: The Source For the Seacoast, September 07, 2008

    The Starbucks Egg Sandwich Double-Cross

    Source: "The Starbucks Egg Sandwich Double-Cross", Joe Nocera, Executive Suite: Joe Nocera Talks Business, The New York Times, September 5, 2008

    Friday, September 05, 2008

    Carousel Cakes: New York Cheesecake

    Carousel Cakes
    5 Seeger Drive
    Nanuet, NY 10954

    Fax: 845-627-0258

    I recently sampled a New York Style Cream Cheesecake from Carousel Cakes. I had previously heard about Carousel Cakes on a wedding message board, but hadn't tried their cakes yet.

    I was very pleased with the cheesecake ! It was creamy and delicious. I liked that the cheesecake had a thin bottom layer of white cake instead of the usual graham cracker crust. That really allowed the flavor of the cheesecake to stand out on it's own.

    My mother and father loved the cheesecake. My mother's immediate reaction was to say "Come here ! You have got to try this !" [I think I know what they'll order for my birthday : D ] I also shared some of Carousel Cakes' cheesecake with a friend. He is originally from New York and gave the cake a big thumbs up ! I would recommend you all try some for yourself. I'd offer you some of my cheesecake, but most of it is gone already : D

    Here are my parents' reviews:

    "This tastes good ! It's creamy, a little lemony...."

    "Dear Megan: I was very impressed with the slice of cheesecake you shared with me. Years ago,before you were born,there was a NY style deli in Va Beach that was very well known for their cheesecake. This cheesecake brings back fond memories of that cheesecake. I loved the texture.Very creamy and not too sweet. I'm not a fan of cheesecakes that have a lot of crust on it. I loved the fact that there was little crust to this cheesecake. I would not hesitate to order from this company,not only because of the unique quality of their cheesecake,but also because of the packaging it arrived in. I liked the multiple layers of Styrofoam they used to send it. That tells me they know they have a quality package and want their product to arrive in the best possible shape."

    Blue Cheese Burgers on Homemade Buns

    The other day, I had a pound of ground beef in the fridge. I decided hamburgers on the George Foreman grill would hit the spot on a rainy day. After a bit of Google searching, I came across these two recipes:

  • Blue Cheese Meatballs

  • Hamburger Rolls - The Ultimate in Softness

  • Two changes I made: I skipped the olive oil and tomato sauce in the meatball recipe. I mixed the blue cheese in with the ground beef before making it into patties, instead of inserting one piece.

    Both recipes turned out really well. My family quickly devoured the burgers and asked for seconds. I highly recommend trying these recipes. They are simple and delicious.


    "Recipe(tried): Blue Cheese Meatballs", Board: Daily Recipe Swap, From: Micha in AZ, RecipeLink.com

    "Hamburger Rolls - The Ultimate in Softness", Recipes For the Future blog, Secretfoods.blogspot.com, July 24, 2005

    Kashi Cereal Bars: Blackberry

    I recently received a coupon for a free Kashi product. I decided to use the coupon for a box of Kashi's Blackberry Graham Cereal Bars. The bars are considered "soft baked snack bars" The box touts "3 grams of fiber", "nothing artificial", "made with real fruit" and "7 whole grains."

    The crust is made from whole oats, barley, long grain brown rice, etc. The blackberry filling is made from pear juice, molasses, blackberry puree and apple powder, plus a host of other ingredients. I find it slightly deceptive that the box says "Real Fruit: Sun-sweetened blackberry with a touch of tang."

    Ingredients aside, I didn't care for the bars. The crust tasted fine, but the filling tasted like artificial grape flavoring. Also, each bar contains 9 grams of sugar and 125 mg of sodium. I will stick with buying fresh blackberries instead.

    Thursday, July 31, 2008

    Good-bye, Ruby Tuesday

    I received a weird email from Ruby Tuesday recently. Click the link above to view it. Apparently they are blowing up "the last old Ruby Tuesday" and will air live coverage of the event.

    My honest opinion ? I kind of cringed at the ad. The old Ruby Tuesdays had a laid back, fun atmosphere and tasty food. I don't visit the new ones anymore. Everyone in my family refuses to go, in fact. The last two times we visited Ruby Tuesday, the salad bars were smaller. The furniture and decor was changed to have a formal, dreary, business meeting appearance. Also, I received a very sad excuse for a quiche and asked for a different meal, only to be brought another bland, sad looking entree. I read somewhere that Ruby Tuesday wants a formal, upscale steak house feel to their store. Hmmmm....

    So, dear readers, share your thoughts. Do you prefer the old Ruby Tuesday or the new Ruby Tuesday ?

    *August 8th update: I received another email about this:

    "The news we've sent to you in the last few days about the demolition of the last old-style Ruby Tuesday and the building we "blew up" by mistake wasn't really real (you already had your suspicions?). It was all for fun and our way of showing just how much we have changed, how most casual dining restaurants have come to look alike, and how much fresher and better Ruby Tuesday really is now.

    Cheeky's Bar & Grill, the other "restaurant" that was "demolished" by mistake was actually a scale model in a studio in Hollywood. We were joshing you a little, and we hope you'll forgive us. We couldn't help it, really. All these changes that have made our restaurants the best they've ever been make us smile - put us in the mood to make a joke or two while we're telling the world our brand is really different from all the rest. We hope it made you smile, too."

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    New Happenings At Starbucks

    This is a six page article, so I'll give you the highlights:

    - Starbucks has a hush-hush new half-drink half-dessert coming out. ["I think we have the next Frappuccino!"]

    - Starbucks is closing 100 stores.

    - "I'd heard that, not long ago, two women sitting in a Seattle Starbucks were griping about how horrible the breakfast items were, when a tall, well-dressed man sitting near them -- Schultz himself, or so it was said -- chimed in that he agreed. All true, Schultz says. "I have been embarrassed by the food," he goes on. "The food is going to be completely reinvented by fall. With a stake in the ground. Done."

    -"...Truth be told, Schultz would probably rather have Mickey Mantle's mitt; as a kid in Brooklyn, he wrote Mantle's number in Magic Marker on all his clothes, even his underwear."

    -"On weekends, he [Schultz] reads emails from employees, who have his address. There have been 9,000 messages since January, and he says he's read them all."

    -"Schultz can make himself seem like a saint, which can be a little disconcerting. How many people do you know who describe themselves as "benevolent"? He also embellishes -- calling Starbucks' iconic store at Pike Place Market its first (it's really the fifth) or saying that Starbucks was named after the character in Moby-Dick (only partly so) or that he served the first latte in America (he didn't) -- and has let people depict the Brooklyn streets on which he was raised as something out of West Side Story (they weren't). The press has generally overlooked such things."

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Restaurant Ripoffs

    Source: "I Spy...Restaurant Tricks", AOL Money and Finance, June 2008

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    South Beach Living: Cinnamon Raisin Cereal Bars

    As some of you may remember, I reviewed Kraft's South Beach bars and found them rather terrible. However, I have been proven wrong, to a certain extent.

    I recently bought the cinnamon raisin variety of South Beach's bars. It smelled so good when I opened the package. I was reminded of a Hardee's cinnamon-raisin biscuit. The actual flavor was a surprise, too. The frosting was just the right amount of sweetness. The amount of raisins was reasonable. The soy nuggets [read: the crispies] were crunchy, sweet and had the perfect kiss of cinnamon flavor. I would definitely buy South Beach cinnamon raisin bars again : D

    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    Yogi Tea: Meditative Time

    Yogi Tea recently offered samples of their teas. Y'all know I love my tea, so I had to try it. Their Meditative Time tea is made from these ingredients:

    Organic Sage, Organic English Lavender Flower, Natural Boysenberry Flavor, Organic Nettle Leaf, Organic Skullcap Leaf, Chrysanthemum Flower, Organic Blackberry Leaf, Organic Gotu Kola, Organic Helichrysum, Shank Pushpi, Organic Lemon Myrtle, Stevia Leaf, Organic Lavender Flavor.

    I did not enjoy this tea. It tasted like a mouthful of soap. I assume that's caused by the lavender ? Thumbs down for this tea.

    Republic of Tea: Honey Ginseng

    I received a Republic of Tea catalogue recently. Included with it was a sample of honey ginseng tea. RT's website lists the tea as follows:

    Daily Green Tea - A relaxing blend combines the ancient healthy properties of China green tea with Panax ginseng and full blossom honey. This delicious, subtly sweet tea offers a peaceful sipping experience.

    When I opened the sample, I was hit by a heavy honey smell. I boiled some water and made myself a cup of tea. The honey ginseng tea tasted like water with too much honey. Yuck. So much for "subtly sweet tea." I won't be buying that : P

    Saturday, May 31, 2008

    Osem Bamba Peanut Snack

    Do you love Cheetos ? Okay, picture eating a handful of those, sans the cheese flavor [read: a plain corn puff]. Now imagine biting into that puff and tasting burnt peanut butter. If you're one of the few people still thinking "Yum, that sounds good," have I got a snack for you. They're called Bamba Peanut Snack and are made by an Israeli company called Osem [Random facts: "one of the largest food corporations in Israel"; Nestle has 50 % of Osem's shares].

    Bamba Peanut Snack is made from peanuts, corn,rosemary extract, among other ingredients. There isn't a peanut filling in the corn puffs, just a peanut flavor. I give this snack a big thumbs down : P

    *11/13: After 2 attack comments in this review, I would like to add two things:
    (1)The information I posted came directly from Osem's website and the bag I purchased. Those were the ingredients listed.
    (2)Yes, I did not think Bamba tasted good at all. Maybe you [general you] liked them. That's fine. Comments not related to the product will be deleted.

    Pastry Dough [Pasta Frolla]

    I made a pie crust from this recipe tonight. It has a nice biscotti flavor:

    2 cups flour
    1/2 cup sugar
    Pinch salt
    1/2 cup [1 stick] sweet butter
    Grated rind of 1 lemon
    3 egg yolks

    Place flour and sugar in processor, add salt and mix for a few seconds. Using a knife, shave strips of butter and place in processor. Add the lemon rind. Using the pulse button, cut the butter into the flour for 10-15 seconds. Lightly beat the egg yolks and, again, using the pulse button, dribble the egg yolks into the processor. As soon as the pastry dough develops into a ball, turn off the processor and remove dough. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough for a few seconds into a round ball. Seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours before using.

    "Note: If pastry dough is a bit dry after adding egg yolks, add a bit of water if necessary. Pastry dough freezes beautifully and can be kept frozen for months on end in the freezer."

    Credit: An Italian Peasant's Cookbook, by John Scialdone

    Friday, May 30, 2008

    Fiber One Chewy Bars: Oats & Chocolate

    I know what you're thinking: "Ewww, fiber and chocolate !" The picture on the box isn't exactly endearing: 2 lumps of a rather messy, gooey granola bar, melted chocolate, and "35 % of the Daily Value of Fiber." If that's not an appetite killer right there : P And obviously that ruled out finding taste test guinea pigs for this post.

    But Fiber One Chewy Bars really taste good. They're a little chewier and stickier than other granola bars. But they're sweet and chocolatey and not that bad. Word to the wise: don't eat an entire 1.4 oz bar in one day : X

    Beigel Beigel Nish Nosh: Mediterranean Herbs

    I spotted these "crispy baked snacks" yesterday at Super Wal-Mart. The crackers resemble puzzle pieces sprinkled with seeds [the main ingredients are wheat flour and sesame seeds]. I'm not sure what the Mediterranean herbs are supposed to be; the package simply lists "flavors, flavor enhancers." There is also an allergy warning about barley, rye, egg, mustard,poppy seeds, soy and oats. None the less, I enjoyed these very much. They have a light, pleasant garlic taste. I would buy these again. I think these would go well with a spinach and cheese dip.

    *Update: The back of the package says "Zaatar mini crackers." This is what Wikipedia says about Zaatar:

    ...Za'atar is generally prepared using ground dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, or some combination thereof, mixed with toasted sesame seeds, sumac and salt. Some varieties may add savory, cumin, coriander or fennel seed....

  • Zaatar
  • Virginia Ham Biscuits

    2 cups flour
    4 tsp baking powder
    Pinch of salt
    2 Tbsp shortening
    3/4 cup milk
    1/4 cup ground Virginia Ham

    Note: I left out the Virginia Ham. I added 2 oz crumbled garlic feta, 2 oz shredded Colby and 1 egg. Instead of making individual rolls, I oiled and floured a loaf pan; then I made 1/8 cup balls of the dough and pressed them into the pan. I brushed the top with melted butter 5 minutes before the loaf was finished. This bread smelled
    amazing : D

    Sift flour and baking powder. Mix with salt and ham. Cut in shortening with a knife until all is consistency of meal. Add milk. Handle as little as possible. Pat out with hands or roll on floured board. Cut out. Bake in hot oven till brown.

    Credit: From Williamsburg Kitchens, 1968, Tory Hill Press

    Baked Devil Float [aka Floating Disaster]

    I tried making this recipe this afternoon. I'm still not sure what this was supposed to be. The batter tasted like brownie mix, but turned into a goopy mess when I added it to the syrup. Also, I was confused about "bake at 350." Was I supposed to scoop the dollops out and bake them in the oven ? Or just let them cook in the syrup ?

    1 cup sugar
    2 cups water
    2 Tbsp Crisco
    1/2 cup sugar
    3 Tbsp cocoa
    1/2 cup milk
    1 cup flour
    1/2 cup nuts [optional]
    2 tsp baking powder
    2 tsp vanilla

    Boil 1 cup sugar and water. Cream shortening and 1/2 cup sugar. Add dry ingredients: alternate with milk. Add nuts. Drop from spoon into boiling syrup. Bake 30 minutes at 350. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

    Credit: From Williamsburg Kitchens, 1968, Tory Hill Press

    Thursday, May 29, 2008

    Torestas Black Bean Sour Cream Crackers

    I spotted a coupon in the Sunday paper for Lance's Torestas Black Bean Sour Cream on Southwest Crackers. So I bought the 8 count box at Super Wal-Mart this afternoon [each packet has 6 crackers] The package promises "zesty southwest fillings on oven-baked crackers made from stone ground corn."

    I don't think the filling tasted like black beans or sour cream; it was more of a Dorrito flavor, which I enjoyed. The crackers were quite tasty, too. They were thick and crunchy, with a wheaty flavor. I would definitely buy these again, even if the name is a little misleading.

    The miracle berry

    Source: "The Tiny Fruit That Tricks the Tongue", by Patrick Farrell and Kassie Bracken, The New York Times, May 28, 2008

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    Del Monte Harvest Selections: Cheese & Spinach Ravioli

    I've seen Del Monte's ravioli several times at Super Wal-Mart. And you know I love spinach and cheese, so I had to try it.

    The bowl is microwavable. That'd be great, except the plastic was difficult to remove [yes, Delmonte reps, I know you cook with it on, not off] I pulled off one layer of plastic, only for it to split into two layers : / I ended up with sauce on my shirt, the counter and my fingers. The smell of the tomato sauce was repugnant. If you dislike Chef Boyardee and Spaghetti-Os, you will hate this smell, too. Yuck !

    But I decided to heat up the ravioli and give it a shot. That made the sauce taste richer and more flavorful. However, the ravioli filling was beyond nasty. The cheese and spinach filling resembled chopped mystery meat with green streaks. The filling and after taste again brought to mind Chef Boyardee. I won't buy Harvest Selections again : P

    This was all Del Monte had on their website about Harvest Selection:

    Del Monte® Harvest Selections® Meals
    Talk about convenience! Harvest Selections are a shelf stable meal that can be kept either in your cupboard at home or within easy reach in your office desk drawer. Pop them in the microwave for 90 seconds and you get a hearty and delicious meal loaded with vegetables. No more diet-dooming trips to the vending machine!

    Del Monte® Harvest Selections® Meals
    New Del Monte® Harvest Selections® entrees are a line of delicious, wholesome, microwavable meals that deliver two full servings of vegetables per meal. Harvest Selections® does not require a fridge or freezer. Available in six varieties, including Beef Stew, Italian Pasta Bake, Chicken Cacciatore, Homestyle Chili with Beans, Cheese and Spinach Ravioli and Santa-Fe Style Rice and Beans, this convenient new product can be eaten in the office, at home or on the go.

    Reese's Dark Chocolate Bat Signal

    I heard Reese's had a contest to win Batman memorabilia, with game pieces in specially marked packages. So I bought the Dark Chocolate Batman Reese's at Winn Dixie last weekend because of that contest.

    Hershey has a Bat Signal shaped candy on the website. What I bought was not shaped like that at all. [The Batman candies are sold in packs of one instead of the usual 2 cups]. Depending on how you turned it, the candy either resembles (1) a chocolate version of Yoda's head or (2) the imprint of very tiny shoes that stepped in *ahem* animal by-products.

    Oh, right, you want to know about the flavor ? The Reese's didn't taste like dark chocolate. It was darker in color, but no different in flavor, than a milk chocolate Reese's. [I bought a Batman milk chocolate Reese's for comparison] There was a faint texture difference between the two chocolates. But I think that difference was psychosomatic. I won't be buying dark chocolate Reese's again.

    Wild Cherry M&Ms

    I bought a bag of Wild Cherry M&Ms at Food Lion on a whim. I'm not usually a fan of artificial cherry flavoring. But it was Wild Cherry, so I thought that must taste better. After all, I enjoy wild cherry flavored sodas. Big mistake. Wild Cherry M&Ms are equivalent to eating a chocolate bar and cherry cough syrup in one mouthful : X

    Nobody in my house liked them. Even my dad, who loves all things cherry flavored, said "Um, they're...alright : P Okay, they're gross..." My mother offered the remaining candy to her co-workers. All of them found the candies disgusting, too. So a big thumbs down for this product.

    Mint Crisp M&Ms

    If you love Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, you're in for a treat. Mint Crisp M&Ms are the candy answer to the scout's best seller. Each one has a mint candy shell, a layer of chocolate and a crispy center. The candies are light green, dark green and white. Heaven, I tell you : D I bought 12 bags at Walgreen's the other day. We're already down to 6 bags. Yeah, they're that good.

    Greek-Style Bread

    My poor bread maker has been neglected and ignored for one year. I dusted it off last night, scrubbed the bread pan and insides clean, etc. Then I made this delicious loaf of bread:

    Greek-Style Bread
    1 cup milk
    1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil [I used olive oil]
    1 tsp salt
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    3/4 cups crumbled feta cheese, drained and patted dry is necessary
    1/4 cup sliced pitted black olives, drained [I left these out. We're not an olive family]
    1 Tbsp sugar
    2 tsp bread machine yeast

    Add ingredients to bread machine pan in order suggested by manufacturer,
    adding cheese and olives with flour.

    Recommended cycle: basic/white bread cycle: medium/normal colour setting.

    Credit: Bread Machine Recipes: Great Recipes from Gold Medal and Fleischmann's Bread Machine Yeast