Saturday, February 06, 2016

Bounce Energy Balls, Australia

Another day, another review of snack food bars that I discovered while visiting our Sydney office, (like Carman's Muesli Rounds that I loved!).  These were ... less successful.

Bouce makes ... balls.  Energy balls.  The company was founded by a couple in Australia with health and fitness backgrounds, who wanted to build a snack products that helps people feel good, by highlighting superfoods.  They also make protein powders for shakes, but, I only had the balls.

Bounce makes 8 different varieties of these balls, all with kinda funny names: one is a "protein burst", another a "protein bomb", another a "protein punch", yet another is a "protein bliss", etc.  Most have protein added via one of my least favorite ingredients, whey protein isolate.  They do have interesting flavors, and all have fun coatings like bits of nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts), coconut, or cocoa nibs.

Like many other bars I have tried, they are gluten-free, high in protein, etc.  They use natural sweeteners (blue agave, brown rice malt syrup, grape juice, dates) rather than sugar.

I tried 5 different flavors.  They ranged from truly dreadful (I'm sorry, I can't stand the texture nor flavor of awful whey protein junk) to almost ok (no whey protein, phew).  I do appreciate that they take a different spin on traditional energy bars, and really do like some of the outside coatings.  But ... whey protein, I just can't take it.
Almond Protein Hit.
"A tasty pocket rocket, bursting with nutrients from the king of nuts. This Ball contains the optimum balance of high quality proteins, complex carbohydrates and heart-healthy mono and unsaturated fats."

The first Bounce bar I tried was the "Almond Protein Hit".  How do you resist a "tasty pocket rocket"?

Almonds make up the majority of the ball (29%), with whey protein making up the next largest component (15%).  The whey protein shows up in several forms: isolate, hydrolysate, and concentrate.  The rest of the ingredient list is a random assortment of stuffs, including brown rice malt syrup and grape juice as sweeteners.

I went into it with low hopes since I don't tend to like protein bars, particularly ones with whey protein.  I liked the crunchy nuts on the outside, but, I didn't like the flavor of the base.  It wasn't necessarily the whey protein I didn't like, rather, it tasted like almond butter, and even though I do like almonds, for some reason, I don't generally like almond butter.

So not as awful as I feared, but, not something I wanted another of.
Peanut Protein Blast.
"The Golden Nugget - a filling and satisfying powerhouse of protein,packed with peanuts, to help keep you energised and feeling at your best."

Next, I moved on to a peanut based one, since I identified the almond as the problem in the first ball I tried.

The one is primarily peanuts (34%), plus all the expected whey proteins (22%), and the laundry list of ingredients I also found in the almond bar.

This one didn't look very good, the nut coating wasn't as evenly distributed, and the ball itself was kinda mushed.  Perhaps it was the higher nut percentage in this ball, or perhaps it was the fact that I've been craving peanut butter lately, but I liked this one far more.

The crunch of the bits of peanut on the outside, just like the almonds on the previous ball, were again a nice touch.  The ball itself had a decent peanut flavor.  It obviously still had whey protein stuff, but, I *almost* liked it.  My favorite of the balls, and the only one I'd consider eating again.
Cacao Mint Protein Bomb.
"An epic new recipe that harnesses the healthy power of cacao nibs, sunflower seeds, quality proteins and rice bran. It’s exploding with delicious, nutritious goodness."

After the near success of the Peanut Protein Blast, I decided to keep trying Bounce balls, since they seemed so close to tasty.  For my next bar, I selected the one that sounded like dessert: cocoa mint!

At first, this looked like a winner.  The outside was coated in crunchy cacao nibs.  I loved the crunch and the nibs.

But the ball itself ... the texture and the flavor were just awful.  All I could taste was the whey protein isolate, or maybe the whey protein concentrate, or perhaps the pea protein concentrate.  Whatever it was, it was awful.  It was also very bitter, likely from the sunflower seeds, which made up 19% of the ball.

The flavor was just dreadful, and the aftertaste lingered on and on.  No amount of nibs could save this one.
Coconut & Macadamia Protein Bliss.
"Not only is it packed with macadamias, cashews and coconut, this delicious favourite is also high in protein, fibre and antioxidants. Wow."

But still I persevered.  Maybe macadamias would be the magic touch?

This ball fared about the same as the almond and peanut ones.  It was almost good.  I liked the crunch from the macadamias inside.  I liked the coconut coating.  But ... alas, whey protein.  Whey protein makes up 18% of this bar, with macadamias only weighing in at 6%.  A surprise is that cashews make up 12%.  I didn't actually taste the cashews, but I was surprised to see them in the ball.  I guess they provide a nutty taste, and are cheaper than macadamias?

Not one I'd get again, but not as offensive as some others.
Superberry Vitality Burst.
"Gluten and dairy free, the Superberry Vitality Burst has been developed to meet the requirements of those with specific dietary needs. Combining cranberries, goji berries, raspberries and coconut, the flavours are a sumptuous mix that tantalise your taste buds."

For my final attempt, I decided to try one that wasn't a Protein Blast/Bliss/Bomb/etc, aka, one that didn't have extra protein junk inside.  After all, I know I don't like whey protein.

I opted for the Superberry Vitality Burst (the other non-protein one is the Spirulina Ginseng Defence Boost).

This one had some promise, and indeed did not have the nasty whey protein.  But ... what do most health foods bars have that I also hate?  Yup, dates.  #1 ingredient in this.  This ball had a nice texture, and good fruitiness from the dried cranberries, apples, raspberries, and acai juice.  I liked the crunch from goji berries, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and crispy rice.  But ... dominant flavor?  Dates.

If you like dates, and fruity things, I think this one is likely actually good.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Gelato Messina, Syndey

Update Review, January 2016 Visit

As you know, I used to love Gelato Messina, and I've reviewed it several times before.  Go start with those reviews if you haven't read them before ...

On this visit though, I dunno, I just wasn't into any of the flavors.
Small Choc Mint.
"Real fresh mint gelato with chocolate chip."

So, I did the thing I always say not to do.  I got this flavor without tasting it first.  That isn't to say that I didn't taste flavors, I tried at least 5 or 6, and just didn't like any. I felt bad, so I finally just picked this, assuming that a mint chocolate chip was a safe bet.

And, it was fine, although not very minty.  I guess it was creamy, and it did have nice chunks of chocolate, but, maybe I'm just over gelato?  I didn't enjoy it much at all, and I didn't enjoy the 5 or so other flavors I tried before settling on this either.

I did like Ojan's Milk Chocolate with Choc Peanut Fudge though ... that really is the best flavor.  I need to just stick with it.

Other flavors I tried:

  • Banana Split: "Banana and caramel gelato with chocolate chips, crushed peanuts and whipped cream."  Tasting notes: I somehow didn't taste any of the signature components ... no chocolate chips, no peanuts, and definitely no whipped cream.  I did taste banana.  I guess a sample just wasn't big enough to do this one justice?
  • Pannacotta with Fig Jam and Amaretti Biscuit: "Pannacotta gelato base".  Tasting notes: The fig was really strong in this, I didn't taste 'pannacotta', not that I know what that would taste like anyway.  Fig was really all I really detected.
  • Nutcase: "Peanut and coconut gelato with candied cashews, roasted coconut and sesame seeds."  Tasting notes: This had too much going on.  Lots of bits in it, all competing with each other, rather than complimenting.
  • Return of the Mac: "Macadamia and milk chocolate gelato annihilated with white chocolate and macadamia cookies." Tasting notes: This was Levi's pick, and I had a bite.  It was totally crazy, annihilated was the right word, it was loaded up with huge chunks of cookies.  Not bad.   Crazypants.
  • Wagon Wheel: "Shortcrust gelato with marshmallows, raspberry puree and choc chips." Tasting notes: I accidentally tried this one, when I meant to ask for another flavor.  I know I don't really like Wagon Wheels anyway, and this was just too fruity for me with generous raspberry puree.
  • Pavlova: "Vanilla gelato with raspberry and passionfruit puree and baked meringue". Tasting notes: This was way, way too sweet.  The passionfruit was overwhelming.  Bits of baked, crunchy meringue inside was strange.

Update Review, May 2015 Visit

No visit to Sydney is complete without at least one stop at Messina for gelato.  On my recent visit, it wasn't summer any longer, but, we still couldn't resist the temptation of delicious gelato.

Wait, do you not know about Messina?  In that case, I suggest you go read the review from my Jan/Feb 2015 visit below, and then return here, since I'm skipping all the general details this time around.
Specials Board.
On this visit, one of the specials on the week was "Messina's Momofukup".  OMG.  This sounded like basically the best thing ever: "Cereal Milk gelato smashed with Momofuku crack pie".  For the unfamiliar, this is referring to the two famous creations from Momofuku Milk Bar in New York: the cereal milk and the crack pie.

Cereal milk is basically the sweet milk left after you eat a bowl of sweet cereal, and they have made it into soft serve ice cream at the Milk Bar.  Its crazy sweet, but amazing.  But even more amazing is the Crack Pie, honestly, the most addicting pie I've ever tasted.  Very aptly named.  Both insanely delicious on their own, and I could only imagine how amazing this combination could be.

I smartly asked to sample it rather than just diving in to getting a scoop, and I'm glad I did.  It turned out to just be too sweet.  I expected sweet, but, this was just too much.  I guess some things are better individually!

[ No Photo ]
Chocolate Peanut Butter

It didn't really matter that the Momofukup wasn't a winner, as Ojan had eyes only for the Chocolate Peanut Butter.  I did want to try something new, but, I liked it previously myself, so I went along with his decision, and opted to just share with him.

Sadly, it lost its magic on me.  The gelato was fine, but it didn't melt in quite the creamy way I remembered.  Maybe that is just because it wasn't a warm day?  But the bigger issue, is that it seemed just like chocolate, I didn't really pick up any peanut butter.  The magic of chocolate peanut butter flavor is, well, the combination.

Original Review, Dec/Jan 2015 Visits

On my first visit to Sydney, a friend introduced me to Gelato Messina.  It was, at the time, the best ice cream-like treat I had ever had.  I can’t even count how many times I returned over the course of that stay, or the next visit, or the next.  For some reason however, on my recent trip, it took me a full 2 weeks into the trip before I made it to Messina.  The weather just wasn’t as warm as I was expecting, and there were too many other things that kept coming up.  I don’t know.  I have no excuse.  I regret it, and won't make this mistake again in the future.

Anyway, Messina.  Gelato.  Great gelato.  They have several locations around Sydney, including the crazy busy one I used to queue up at in Darlinghurst, and now, they even have a shop in the food court area of the Star Casino, right near my office.  Score.

Every day they offer about 40 flavors, and each weekday they come up with a new special, available for one week only.  Those flavors tend to be far more crazy than the standard offerings.  The staff are always far more patient than seems possible, and offer to let you try as many flavors as you need to make up your mind.
Milk Chocolate with Chocolate Peanut Fudge, Single. $4.
This was Ojan’s pick, not mine, since I rarely go for chocolate ice cream.  But wow, it was good.  The peanut butter was rich and totally amazing, smooth and creamy.  The gelato itself was light and creamy.  The consistency was magical.  It melted perfectly.  Wowzer.  One bite of this, and I instantly remembered why I love Messina.

When we visited a few days later, and neither of us ordered this flavor, we both regretted it, and vowed to just get it again next time.
Gianduia Bianca, Tiny.  $3.
"White chocolate & hazelnut gelato with hazelnut praline"

I opted for the gianduia bianca in a moment of pure indecision.  For some reason, I wasn't loving any of the flavors I tried that day.  And I tried many.  I like praline, so, I went for it, even though, I don't normally like hazelnut.  Whoops.  I panicked, after feeling bad for trying so many flavors and not loving any (I had tried 4 or 5 at this point!).  The staff member was ridiculously friendly and told me to try as many as I liked, but I felt bad and just made a decision.  A rather poor one.

Anyway, it as very sweet, as both the base, and the praline, were very sweet.  It had chunks of hazelnut and very generous chunks of the praline.  Certainly well crafted, and I appreciated how much candy they put in it, but it needed something to balance out the sweet.  Luckily for me, Ojan ordered the regular gianduia, which was rich was chocoaltey, so I stole a little of his to mellow mine out.  It was better this way, but I wouldn't get this flavor again.
I found this photo from one of my earlier visits.  I don't recall what kind it was ...

My full sampling notes from flavors tried on this trip:

  • Apple Pie: "Real apple gelato with our own house made apple pie throughout".  I wanted to love this since I love pie and ice cream, but somehow it was just not interesting, although I admit, it was loaded up with pie for sure.
  • Caramelised White Chocolate: This was just very sweet.  It didn't taste caramely, nor white chocolatey.  One of my least favorites.  Perhaps good in combination with something else.
  • Gianduia: "Chocolate & hazelnut", Rich and chocolatey, but not as good as chocolate peanut butter fudge.  If you want a chocolate one, just go for that!
  • Salted Caramel and White Chocolate: "Salted caramel gelato with white chocolate chip." This is their best seller.  It was ... yup, salted caramel.  Sweet and salty.  I think I've moved on past the novelty of salted caramel however, so this was rather lost on me, but everyone else loves it.
  • Pandan & Coconut Sorbet: I actually really liked this, as I was really into asian flavors, like coconut and pandan, while in Sydney, but I'm not really one for sorbets.  Bring on the dairy!
Weekly Specials
  • P NUTTY: "Peanut butter gelato with peanut butter cookies and peanut custard."  This was actually pretty good, as I love peanut butter, but it was a bit much.  Probably great paired with a chocolate or vanilla base as a second scoop.
  • FO SHIZZLE: "Caramel custard gelato with candied hazelnuts, raspberry puree and chocolate chips."  This was also pretty good, as someone who likes lots of mix-ins, I appreciated all the assorted "stuff" in it.
Gelato Messina Darlinghurst on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Martabak Cafe, Sydney

On my recent visit to Sydney, a co-worker wanted to take us on an adventure to get martabak, at the aptly named Martabak Cafe.  Martabak is a Indonesian food, and although both savory and sweet versions exist, we were there to try only the sweet ones.  In particular, he really wanted us all to have the durian one, but, given my previous experience with durian, I wasn't particularly excited about.  But, I'm always up for trying new cuisine, particularly dessert.

The experience certainly was an adventure, but, I assure you, I will not be returning.  We did not enjoy this, and not just because of the durian.
Although there is seating, all orders are taken at the register.

The sweet martabak is sold in half or full size (5 or 10 pieces), with an "original" or pandan flavor pancake, and with fillings of peanut, chocolate, cheese, and durian (or any combination thereof).  The menu also had plenty of savory items, and some drinks, but, we were there just for the sweets.

Service was ... not particularly good.  We had to repeat our fairly simple order of 3 items multiple times.  The card reader was broken, with no signage warning us that they were cash only (which, I'd understand if it had just happened, but our host told us that the card reader has never worked when he has visited).  Once we ordered and paid, we took a seat.  The food was delivered to the table, one item at a time (including drinks, so, we each got our drinks several minutes apart).
Es Teh Thailand. $4.95.
"Brewed tea leaf with ice & milk."

The thai iced tea was good, standard thai tea with plenty of sweetened condensed milk.  It was the tastiest part of our adventure.
Durian, Pandan, Half. $11.95.
The first item to arrive was the durian martabak.  We went for pandan flavored, because, well, pandan is a bit novel to us, and green is more fun?  Pandan is a $1 surcharge for any martabak.

I took my first bite, ready to find it repulsive.  It wasn't THAT bad.  At first.  I took a second bite, and then that funk hit.  Ugh, it was horrible.  Sorry, but durian is just not for me.

One co-worker, who had never had durian before, said it tasted like onion, which I kind of understand.

I couldn't get past the durian flavor (and smell) enough to evaluate much more about this.  4/5 of us hated it and didn't take more than a bite or two, but our host eagerly finished the whole thing.
Chocolate Peanut, Pandan, Half. $9.95.
Next we moved on to a more promising option: chocolate peanut.  We again opted for pandan.

I wasn't into the pancake part.  It was spongy and really oily.  I also expected a crispy exterior, and this wasn't very crispy.  Meh.
Chocolate Peanut: Inside.
But, you can't go wrong with chocolate and peanuts, right?

Well, first, the "chocolate" was a bit of a surprise.  The chocolate was ... chocolate sprinkles.  I expected chocolate sauce.  Or ganache.  Or, something more spread-like.  Instead, it was just a layer of chocolate sprinkles, unmelted.  I doubt there was any cocoa content in here.

The peanut was bits of peanut.

So, oily cake I didn't like, non-chocolate filling, and bits of peanut.  Really no redeeming qualities here.
Chocolate Peanut Cheese, Original, Half. $10.50.
Moving on, we picked a chocolate-peanut-cheese, just to try something totally different, with a mix of sweet and salty.  It was on the menu, so, it clearly must be a thing.

It again had the same chocolate sprinkles and ground peanuts, plus, shredded cheese.  Like the chocolate sprinkles, the cheese didn't melt.

I actually did like the flavor combination of sweet and cheese, as I like my sweet and salty, but the pancake again was awful, this time "original" flavored. It was even more oily.  So oily, and not in a good way.

Ojan took one bite of this one and immediately declared "I can not take a second bite of this".  And I assure you, he didn't.
Martabak Cafe Australia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Waffling Leftovers: Pizza

As I announced last week, I'm going to devote my blog posts on Wednesdays to reviews of my own waffling experiments, rather than of reviewing restaurants, snacks, etc.  Not to toot my own horn, but, waffling leftovers has radically changed the way I think of leftovers, and I hope to inspire others to have some fun too.

So to start, I present the first thing I waffled, and the simplest: leftover pizza.  This wasn't my first time waffling pizza, but was the first time I documented the whole thing.  Of all the items I have waffled, pizza is universally loved by everyone.  My mother has gone so far as to tell me she doesn't even eat pizza when it is fresh anymore, and always waffles it.  Ojan always requests leftover pizza waffled.  I prefer leftover pizza waffled of course, but I have other favorites.  Stay tuned for those.  But for now, the pizza!
The Original: Onion and roasted garlic thin crust pizza.
We started with strategic leftovers: thin crust pizza from Little Star.  Of course, Little Star is all about the deep dish, so this was a strange order, but I actually did it with waffling the leftovers in mind.  I know how amazing waffled pizza is, but I didn't think deep dish would waffle very well.  So, I ordered a thin crust in addition to my regular deep dish, and ate the deep dish when it was hot and fresh, saving the thin one for waffling.  I was planning ahead.
Leftover Slices.
As expected, the leftovers were just like any slices of leftover pizza.  Highly unremarkable.  I had a bite of one slice cold, and didn't even enjoy it.  I knew better things awaited us.
Ready to go: two ways.
After previous success with waffling pizza multiple ways, either open-faced or with dual crusts, I decided to use both techniques again.  A clear winner had yet to be determined.

First up, open faced, as you see on the left.  Yes, you really just stick the slice in whole, and close the top.  Don't worry about the consequences, it will work out, I promise.

Second: dual crust.  In this case, I took two pieces that were about the same size, and stuck them together, so a crust was on each side. You can also achieve this by just folding a single slice over in half.

So the setup?  Easy as pie.  Pizza pie.
Almost ready ...
It always surprises me a little how long the waffling takes.  Sure, I could have pulled it out at this point, as it was hot, but I knew the crust would get even better if I waited just a little bit longer ...
Waffled Pizza, two ways, with marinara dipping sauce.
My patience was rewarded.  Perfectly waffled pizza was ready!  I also included a side of marinara sauce, since it is nice to dip the waffled pizza into something.

So, how did it turn out?  Let's start with the simple, open faced pizza.

Open faced waffled pizza is an interesting thing.  The crust side gets amazingly crispy, which you'd expect.  The face up side also gets a bit crispy, the cheese gets all crusty, just like when cheese oozes out when you make grilled cheese.  When I was growing up, my dad always put slices of cheese onto the grill after making grilled cheese and just cooked them that way, and I loved it.  So crispy cooked cheese has a special place in my heart, and I love that characteristic of open-faced waffled pizza.  This version I like to cut into strips and dunk into the marinara sauce, as finger food.

Ojan prefers the dual crust, which you can do via the fold-over technique, or just using two slices as we did this time.  You get the great crispy crust on both sides, and the inside fills with perfectly melty cheese, much like a calzone.  This version I eat with a fork and knife.

I still can't decide which version I like more.  One is a calzone, one is a finger food, they each have their place.  But I do know for certain that waffled leftover pizza is far, far superior to even fresh pizza.  There is no other way to eat pizza.  Try it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Main Cabin Dining on Virgin America

Update Review, Summer 2015

I've reviewed the food served on Virgin America several times, so, I'll skip all general intro this time around.  Please go read my other reviews of the Main Cabin dining from December 2013 and December 2012 below if you are interested, or, about my First Class experiences, and then return here for the latest updates.

The following are my reviews from several flights over the summer of 2015, don't worry, I didn't eat all of these on one single domestic flight :)


Veggie Wrap
"Lemon cilantro tortilla with black rice, farro, edamame bean salad dressed with soy yuzu vinaigrette, roasted slivered almonds, edamame hummus, roasted red peppers, sliced cucumbers, arugula lettuce, and cilantro leaves."

I know, I don't like sandwiches.  I don't like rice.  I don't like edamame.  I don't like hummus.  But ... there really was nothing on the menu I wanted.  They got rid of the salads, which I really did enjoy.

Plus, the description said "soy yuzu vinaigrette", which did sound promising.

I didn't know the wrap would come with a mini fruit cup on the side, but that was the highlight.  A single grape, some fresh enough pineapple, bits of mango, and a single strawberry.  Awesome fruit? Nah, but it was fine, and I particularly appreciated the mango.
Veggie Wrap: Inside!
The wrap however, had nothing redeeming in it for me.  I never tasted any soy, nor yuzu, which was the only part I was looking forward to.

The whole thing was really quite dry.  The tortilla wasn't dried out at least, but the fillings were all just sooo drying.  No creamy sauce, just hummus.  And all the grains.  Dry, dry, dry.

I never should have ordered this, as it clearly wasn't going to be something I liked.  I'll say the good parts: the cucumbers were crispy, the roasted red peppers quite flavorful.  But ugh, not my thing.  I wish they would bring back my salads!  At least it was only half a wrap?
Roast Beef and Cheddar Sandwich
Ojan ordered the roast beef sandwich on his flight a few days prior, and told me he didn't like it (I wasn't with him to steal a bite!), but, alas, I was still hungry after the lackluster wrap.  So, I didn't heed his advice, and ordered it anyway.

I was surprised when it arrived, as it was a full size sandwich, two halves.  I thought that it would be like the veggie wrap and just half a sandwich.  Whoops.  I wasn't THAT hungry.

It didn't come with fruit salad on the side like the wrap, but instead included a small Dean and Deluca chocolate. Even better!
Roast Beef: Inside.
"Ciabatta bread, mesclun mix lettuce, sliced roast beef, mild cheddar cheese, sliced Roma tomato, sauteed pepper medley, balsamic glaze, and lowfat mayonnaise."

Ojan warned me that the sandwich was horrible.  He said the bread was soggy, the meat bad.  I didn't quite agree.

Ok, so the bread wasn't good.  It wasn't soggy exactly, but it surely wasn't good.  "Ciabatta"?  I dunno, it wasn't what I think of as ciabatta.  It certainly didn't taste fresh.

The top piece of bread contained a little bit of the balsamic glaze. It soaked into the bread, so was otherwise lost.  The bottom contained the mayo, a very thin layer, but, I do love mayo.  I mostly discarded the bread, and just scraped the mayo off.

The mesclun mix was fine, the sauteed pepper medley I really didn't like though, but mostly because I don't really like peppers. The roma tomato was rather mealy.

But, the core components, the roast beef and cheddar ... weren't bad.  Sure, the cheddar was just slices of pretty generic yellow cheese.  It didn't exactly have much flavor, so yes, "mild" it was.  But the roast beef was decent enough.  Not fatty, not chewy, just fine.

I did enjoy the roast beef, plus cheese, plus mayo.  Obviously I wouldn't highly recommend this due to the lackluster bread, but the parts that mattered were high enough quality, and if you like peppers, you probably would have found the peppers nice as well.
PB & J Sandwich.
"Sliced wheat bread topped with creamy peanut butter and strawberry jam served with Tasty Brand Fruit Snacks."

The pb & j is likely intended for kids but ... when all the other options don't sound great, what's an adult to do?  Plus, seriously, who doesn't like a pb & j from time to time?

The serving is only a half sandwich, like the veggie wrap.

The bread was very thickly sliced wheat bread.  It was highly unremarkable, except in its thickness.  While there was plenty of both peanut butter and jelly inside, it was really hard for anything to stand up to this quantity of bread.  It was slightly dried out, as you'd expect, but at least it wasn't soggy (although, sometimes, I really do like the soggy nature of a pb&j ...)

The peanut butter was smooth, creamy style, with a good peanut flavor.  Basic peanut butter, but certainly good enough.

The jelly was strawberry jam, not a smooth jelly, but also without any distinct berry bits.  Sweet.  Again, basic, good enough.

The most notable thing about the fillings is that they use two layers of peanut butter, one on each slice of bread, with the jam in the middle.  This helps prevent the bread from getting soggy, and really amps up the pb flavor.  Smart move, Virgin.

Overall, a decent, basic sandwich.  When all else fails, it works.
Chicken Mozzarella with Pesto Sandwich.
"Ciabatta bread, arugula lettuce, basil leaves, sliced fresh mozzarella slices, sliced chicken breast, sliced Roma tomatoes, lemon pesto, and balsamic glaze."

Now, I obviously don't like chicken, but the other components of this sandwich sounded great, so I figured I could just remove the chicken.  A tomato and fresh mozzarella sando with pesto sounded fantastic to me!
Chicken Mozzarella with Pesto Sandwich: Inside.
I was curious how the sandwich was composed, so I opened it up.

The bread was the same ciabatta we saw with the roast beef sandwich.  A bit stale, a bit dry, but also a bit soggy.  Not great.

The top side of the bread had the balsamic glaze soaked in, so, in order to taste balsamic, you had to go for the bread.

The bottom slice had the lemon pesto, really quite flavorful and delicious, and the winning element of the sandwich.  On top of that was the lettuce, basic lettuce, and the sliced roma tomatoes.  The tomatoes were fine, but really there wasn't much tomato.  Since I was intending to remove the chicken, this left a more meager sandwich than I was expecting.  More tomato please!

Speaking of the chicken, it came next, and was slices of deli chicken, rather than a piece of grilled breast like I expected for some reason.  There was tons of it.  Doh.  But at least they were generous with their protein?

Next came the slices of fresh mozzarella.  Decent enough, soft, but not particularly remarkable.  On top was a basil leaf.

Overall, the bread was clearly the worst aspect, and the other fillings good enough.  I really liked the pesto, but I'm really never a sandwich girl.


Protein Box.
"This protein-packed meal combines Bumble Bee lemon pepper tuna, La panzanella rosemary crackers, Heritage roasted red pepper hummus, Crunchmaster multi seed crackers, Emerald's natural walnuts & almonds, and Happytimes veggie pals chews."

One one flight, I went for one of the snack boxes, rather than trying more sandwiches.  None of them were REALLY what I wanted, like a couple with boring cheeses (munster? who eats munster?) or featuring hard boiled eggs or sliced turkey.  I went for the "protein box" because I vaguely remembered liking at least the crackers before.
Crunchmaster Multi-Seed Crackers.
The multi-seed crackers were again decent.  Salty, crispy, flavorful.  But I wanted something to dunk them in.  I know that is likely what I was supposed to use the hummus for, but, I don't like hummus and didn't want it.

I could have topped them with tuna, and actually would do that next time, except that I'd bring mayo.  Tuna without mayo just seems ... wrong.

I also really love the La Panzanella rosemary crackers.  A bit of a strange thing for me to like so much because I don't generally get excited about crackers, and I often find rosemary too strong, but, these are strangely addicting, and quite fine on their own (although I'm sure they'd be better with cheese).  The rosemary flavor is not overwhelming, and the crackers are thin and crispy.  I'd gladly eat more of these!

Update Review, December 2013

As I mentioned last Tuesday, I recently did some traveling, and I'll be devoting Tuesdays for the next few weeks to Travelin' Tuesdays!  And what is a big part of travel for me?  The culinary experience (uh, I mean, seeing my friends and family of course!).

Last week, I started the review of my journeys with snacks in the Admiral's Club.  Not extraordinary.  I was eager to get aboard my Virgin America flight.  I was flying Main Cabin Select, which is always such a treat.  Not only do you have the normal Virgin America perks of in-flight wifi, tv, movies, and food ordering at your seat, you get unlimited food and drinks.  And, completely unlike any other domestic airline, this is food you actually would like to eat!  I normally pack myself meals for flights since I know what I bring with me will be far better than anything they have on the plane, but the last time I flew on Virgin America I was so impressed with the tuna niçoise salad that I risked it this time, and decided to go for the airplane food.  I'm so glad I did!

I was again blown away by the freshness and quality of their food.  It makes me wish I could fly Main Cabin Select every time :)  I'll be back on Virgin America for the Christmas holidays, but holiday pricing led me to stick with regular Main Cabin.  As I write this up, I'm slightly regretting that choice!  I again really enjoyed the food, and continue to be very impressed.  Virgin America really sets the standard here.
Udi’s Granola with Fruit and Yogurt.
"Fresh fruit salad of pineapple, mango, and red seedless grapes, served with Udi’s gluten-free granola and fruit yogurt. "

Since my flight left in the morning, I started with the only breakfast selection: the granola, fruit, and yogurt.

The yogurt was Upstate Farms brand, strawberry flavor, nonfat.  It really had no flavor at all.  I would have never known it was supposed to be strawberry.  Not that I like flavored yogurts anyway.  It was basically just generic, runny, sorta sweet yogurt.  The type I stopped eating years ago.  I had a little of this, tried mixing in the fruit and granola, but really didn't care for it.

I was more hopeful for the fruit, since I've had some very good fruit on Virgin America flights in the past.  The first time I ever flew on Virgin America, I ordered the cheese plate, and it came with assorted fresh fruit.  I was blown away by the quality of both the fruit and the cheese then (I've had it again more recently, and I've been less impressed, the cheese selection more mundane, the fruit dried instead of fresh).  But anyway.

The fruit was indeed good.  My bowl contained four chunks of mango, sweet, and ripe.  Really quite good for mango in the United State, and impressive for something pre-cut and served on a plane.  There were also four red grapes, standard.  The majority of the dish was pineapple, which was slightly overripe, but not bad.  It was very juicy.  Overall, I was impressed with my fruit, and quickly gobbled up the whole bowl.

The granola however was my favorite part of the assortment.  I had heard of Udi's before, but I hadn't ever had their granola.  I've been missing out!  It was really flavorful, and contained fun ingredients like banana chips.  Since I didn't like the yogurt, I ended up just munching on the granola alongside my coffee, and I was a happy camper.  I've tried, and reviewed, many granolas over the years, and this was some of the best I've encountered.  I'd gladly seek it out again.

Overall, this was a nice breakfast for the plane, and I'd get it again  I just wish they'd swap out the yogurt.
Arugula and Roasted Pear Salad.
"Crisp romaine and baby arugula salad tossed with red seedless grapes and toasted slivered almonds, topped with pears roasted in fig mustard, and served with olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, and diced brie cheese on the side."

A few hours later, it was time for lunch.  I looked at the Virgin America website prior to my flight, and had a few meals picked out that I wanted to try.  There was a Vegetable and Plantain Salad that I was really eager to try, as I love plantains.  And there was a Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich, with sundried tomato and basil pesto on a cornbread baguette!  Or, an interesting set of "Flight Bites", a collection of salads and chocolate mousse!  I wanted them all.  I was a bit torn between what to pick.  But alas, I never had to solve that problem, as none were available.  I even double checked with the flight attendant to make sure all the meals were indeed loading into the system.  He had never heard of either of these choices before, and thought perhaps they were an upcoming menu that hasn't rolled out yet.  Sadness.

Instead, my meal choices were the standard snack boxes (hearty meal, protein meal, jet set kid's pack), the standard unappealing sandwiches (pb&j, veggie wrap, chicken sandwich), or this salad.  Since I was really pleasantly surprised by my tuna salad last time, and I really just didn't want any of the others, at all, I went for the salad.

Like the tuna salad, it far exceeded my expectations.

The greens were a mix of romaine and baby arugula.  As always, Virgin America impressed me with the freshness of the product in their meals.  Both types of lettuce were incredibly crispy and fresh.  The romaine was juicy and succulent.  The arugula even a bit spicy.

There were a few slivered almonds, which added some additional crunch and flavor when I got some, but there weren't many in the salad at all.  The grapes were same as in the granola/yogurt dish, standard red grapes, juicy and fresh.  These all added up to be a decent base for a salad.

The pears were the part I was excited for, since I do like roasted pears, and fig mustard sounded flavorful and tasty.  But they were the only aspect of the salad that wasn’t good at all.  The flavor was just … bad.  I didn’t taste mustard.  Or fig.  And the pears were mushy.  Just old tasting, completely unlike anything else Virgin America served.  Just not good.  But, there were only 4 slices.  Had I liked them, this would have made me sad, but as it was, it wasn’t a problem.

The brie was in tiny chunks, in a separate container.  It was standard brie, not particularly good nor bad.  Probably the same as on their cheese platter?  The chunks did all stick together and required some work to separate, but it was nice that they weren’t on the salad originally.

But the best part was the dressing.  I really can’t say what it was, but I got addicted.  At first I thought it was too thick, but once I used it more as a dipping sauce rather than a dressing, I couldn’t stop.  It was tangy, it was sweet, and well, it was great.  It was sweeter than I’d normally want for an entree salad though.  Usually, I finish a meal and immediately want dessert.  After this, I had no desire for more sweets.  So, good for them in taming my sweet tooth?  I did enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but I think the sweetness maybe needed some taming.

Overall, another impressive salad from Virgin America.  Is it the selection I wanted? No.  Was I still a bit sad that the more interesting choices weren't available? Yes.  But, I was satisfied and finished everything but the nasty pears, so, it was a winner.  If I was flying with the same menu again, I'd get it, but I hope they change up the selections before I fly again!
35° South Chardonnay Reserva 2012.
I wanted something to pair with my salad, and thought that the red wine would be too over-powering, so I went for the white.  I forgot that I'd had it last time.  It wasn't great. I like a buttery chardonnay, and this was just a bit too harsh.  Given no other option, it is ok, it did go well with my salad, and I did indeed finish it, but I'd pick the red next time, regardless of the pairing.

Original Review, December 2012

For the holidays, I travelled home to New Hampshire.  I had the pleasure of flying on Virgin America, always my favorite domestic airline.  I know I shouldn't be impressed with it at this point, but wifi on the plane still sorta blows my mind.  The time just flies by (yes, pun intended).

The first time I flew on Virgin America, I remember saying that it was like being on the couch at home, but better.  Comfortable recliners, internet, satellite tv (I don't even have cable at home!), movies on demand, and food and drink brought to me with the press of a button?  Yes, please!

My recent trip was just as I remembered, and really quite enjoyable.  I sat in Main Cabin Select, which gave me an unlimited supply of food and drinks, which I of course indulged in.  I was honestly quite pleasantly surprised by the quality of the fresh prepared food.
Tuna Niçoise Salad.  Romaine and mesclun topped with green beans, albacore tuna, potatoes, tomatoes, hardboiled eggs, and kalamata olives, exclusively by Gilt Taste.  Served with balsamic and olive oil dressing.
This was an honest surprise.  I did not expect a salad on an airplane to be remotely decent.  I had even less high hopes for seafood.  But I'm a brave girl, it was free, and as much as I love snack food, I wanted something else too.

The base of the salad was mixed greens, a nice assortment, all crisp.  The tomato came in tiny cubes, and was the most surprising part, as it is winter, and tomato is so often watery, flavorless, and not even red, and this stuff was decent.  Not a fresh ripe heirloom tomato obviously, but so much better than I ever expected.  The green beans were my least favorite element, more cooked than I liked.  They weren't bad, but I would have liked them more al dente, with a bit of snap to them.  The signature niçoise olives and hard boiled egg were unremarkable, decent, but nothing notable.  The tuna, as I hinted at above, was a surprise.  There was a generous amount of it, and it was all pretty good.  Not fishy, no dark meat, just decent.  There were also some chunks of cooked potato, that I originally thought were jicama.  Jicama made no sense to me in this salad, but that is what they looked like.  It took a while for me to identify them as potato.  They weren't very good.  The dressing was provided on the side, so as to not make it soggy.  It was good, flavorful, and complimented all of the greens.

Overall, I was just really impressed with it.  Not Michelin star restaurant quality, but honestly, on par with what you'd get at any decent restaurant in the wintertime.  And on an airplane.

[ Not Pictured ]
Protein Meal, $7.

I also tried out the "protein" meal, although this was mostly for Ojan, I just tried a bite of everything.  It was an interesting assortment, but a disappointment compared to the salad.  It was just a bunch of packaged foods:
  • Bumble Bee Lemon Pepper Tuna: I didn't try this, but I think it was just a can of generic tuna.  Ojan wasn't a fan, as he didn't like the lemon pepper flavor.
  • Emerald's Natural Almond: I also didn't try these, but they were just generic almonds.
  • Wild Garden Sundried Tomato Hummus: This came in a strange tube.  I didn't taste any sundried tomato, just lots of hummus flavor.  I don't really like hummus.
  • Multi-seed crackers: These were my favorite item.  A nice mix of seeds, crispy, and well salted.  I thought they were tasty just on their own, but also ate them with some cheese.
  • Partner's Traditional Crackers: Plain crackers, not remarkable.
  • Happy Times Veggie Pals, Carrot Orange Apple Chews: These were super strange.  They had carrot juice and some fruit juices.  They were chewy, but otherwise, not very good.

35º South Chardonnay Reserva, 2012.
This was better than I expected.  It wasn't good, but it wasn't offensive.  Not bad for generic white wine, and it paired well with my salad.
35º South Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, 2012.
Again, better than expected.  Not all that complex, but pretty drinkable and enjoyable for airplane wine.

Monday, January 25, 2016

7-Eleven Coffee - An Update

To celebrate National Coffee Day, many places give out free coffee.  I was down in Southern California on National Coffee Day this year, and gleefully went to claim my free coffee at Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme, which were conveniently located half a block from each other.  The internet was full of grump at 7-Eleven though, as they did not participate.  But 7-Eleven promised they were going to do better that just for coffee for one day.

And, they did.  Just a few weeks later, for the full week from October 12-18, they gave out free coffee.  The only caveat was that you had to use the 7-Eleven app on your phone to check out.  This allowed them to ensure that every person only got one per day, and helped drive their app usage.  Besides that, it was a much better offer, even if you went a single day, as it was good for any size coffee or hot specialty beverage (iced coffee was excluded).  One per day, every day.  And, even more ridiculously, you still earned 7-Eleven points for the free cups, so, if you went 6 days, you also got another free drink to redeem anytime.

Now, you may be thinking, "Um, yes, but Julie, it is 7-Eleven.  Why would you want their coffee? You hated it before."   I guess, I just can't resist a freebie, it had been several years, and I do love the ridiculously extensive condiment stations most 7-Elevens have.  Also, I forgot just how bad the coffee was, as my other 7-Eleven memories have been overshadowed by their glorious cinnamon rolls.

During the week of free coffee, I visited a number of different 7-Elevens, as we have a slew of them in SF, and many are within a few blocks of each other, all an easy walk from my office.  I made it an adventure every morning to visit a different one, and compare the offerings.

Hot beverages at 7-Eleven are offered in 4 sizes: small (12 ounces), medium (16 ounces), large (20 ounces), and x-large (24 ounces).  For most of my freebies, I went for the largest, because, why not?

Pricing is not consistent across stores, even when they are literally 2 blocks apart.  It seemed that the bigger locations charged about $0.10 more per cup.

Hot Coffee

7-Eleven has a number of different coffee blends.  Depending on the store, they seemed to offer between 6-10 different coffees each.

The varieties I saw were basic blends like Brazilian Dark Roast, Regular "Exclusive Blend", and 100% Columbian, plus flavors like Hazelnut, French Vanilla, and Pumpkin Spice, and a single decaf, although they also make a Crumb Cake, Texas Pecan, Cinnamon, and Blueberry flavors.
Large Coffee Carafes.
Most of the locations I visited housed the coffee in large carafes like these.  They were great - easy to dispense, the coffee was hot.  Each one had a label with the variety of coffee, a description of the flavor, and the style of roast (light, medium, dark).  The little digital displays on top were always blank, but I think they were supposed to show how long ago they were brewed?
Standard Coffee Pots.
Smaller locations I visited had old school standard coffee pots instead.  The pots were all only quasi-full, had only the name of the coffee on the handle with no further description, and were just sitting there burning away.  This coffee tasted worse across the board.  Burnt.

These locations were $0.10 per cup cheaper.
Some locations had large creamer dispensers, with half and half and non-dairy french vanilla creamer.

If a location didn't have this, they had plenty of other options for creamer.
Sweeteners, Creamers.
Most places also had powdered non-dairy creamer, and a large selection of International Delight flavored creamers.  All locations had french vanilla and hazelnut flavors, many had irish cream and pumpkin pie spice as well.  I found one with caramel macchiato, and even one with a Cold Stone branded Sweet Cream flavor.

Interestingly, not a single one of the 9 or so locations I've visited has ever had milk of any form.  They always had half and half, and non-dairy creamer in a million varieties, but, never milk.  No low-fat options, if that matters to you, and obviously nothing fancy like soy milk, almond milk, etc.

Then, time for sweeteners.  All locations had large jars of 7-Eleven branded sugar.  But if you don't like regular white sugar, do not fear.  You can also pick from brown sugar, Splenda, Equal, or Sweet N Low.
But, that isn't all.  What if you want your sweetness and flavor in another form?  Go for the syrups.

Hazelnut, french vanilla, and seasonal pumpkin spice seemed to be offered at every store, in large, barista style dispensers, self-serve, like the coffee.  Some also had sugar free vanilla or hazelnut.  This one also had ... honey syrup?  (I guess for tea?)

At this point, you may have realized that if you wanted hazelnut flavor, you had 3 entirely different ways to get it: the hazelnut flavored coffee, hazelnut syrup, or hazelnut creamer.  So. Many. Options.
But, that is not all.

While some coffee shops only offer cinnamon, or maybe cocoa to sprinkle on, 7-Eleven goes bigger.  Most stores had cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla powder, and even mini marshmallows!

I quickly discovered that I loved dumping a ridiculous number of these mini marshmallows on top of my creations.
Whipped Cream.
But it gets better.  One location even had a whipped cream dispenser, but I wasn't able to figure it out.  I really wanted whipped cream, so I finally asked how it worked.  The guy looked at me like I was crazy.  "Whipped cream?  We don't have whipped cream."  I pointed to the machine.  Then he told me that had never worked, and has been broken for years.  Um, wow.  Thanks for keeping it there as a decoy?
Extra- Large Decaf.  $2.25.
"This medium-roasted, well-balanced decaf coffee is made for all you rebels out there who like to drink coffee well into the afternoon, evening and night. "

And, for the coffee itself, I went for decaf.

The decaf was absolutely fine.  No strange funk.  Sure it had no complexity to it, but at least it wasn't bad.  It was boring black, but totally sufficient when you load it up with their plentiful selection of flavors and creamers, which I obviously did.  I got a bit addicted to Irish Cream creamer and lots of sweetener and tons and tons of marshmallows.  Yes, I realize it is totally not "coffee" that this point.

Really, the coffee reminds me of Dunkin' Donuts.  You aren't really there to taste amazing coffee.  It is all about the flavors, the cream, and the sugar.  Dessert in a cup.  For breakfast.

I also learned that if a location doesn't have the variety of coffee you desire, aka, no decaf in the morning, you can ask to have it made, and they'll brew up a whole pot.  I guess I could have asked for the fun sounding blueberry or crumb cake flavors too?

Speciality Hot Drinks

Specialty Drink Dispenser.
In addition to regular hot coffee, 7-Eleven also has dispensers that make "specialty" drinks.  Again, what is on offer at any particular location is different, but they have everything ranging from hot chocolate to a standard cappuccino, to french vanilla cappuccinos, pumpkin spice lattes, peppermint mochas, and even a cuban cafe con leche.  I don't think the names are really that accurate though, I'm pretty sure the cappuccinos, the lattes, the machiattos, etc are all made with the exact same ratios of milk and coffee, and the milk is just quasi-steamed hot milk, not foam.

Warning: these drinks are all crazy sweet.  The tagline of "Enjoy our Sweet Sensations" displayed on the dispensers is very real.  Even the basic cappuccino has 40 grams of sugar ... in a small.

Some of these dispensers also had an option to just make frothed milk, if you'd like to put that on top of your regular coffee, and avoid the sugary crazy that is these drinks.

The astute reader will now notice, that if it was fall and you wanted to indulge in Pumpkin Spice craziness, you now have a 4th option, in addition to the flavored coffee, the flavored syrups, and the flavored creamer.  This machine also makes pumpkin spice lattes.
Pumpkin Spice Latte. Large. $2.05.
"Our limited-edition premium blended coffee drink is mixed with rich cream, pumpkin flavor, and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg for a taste that totally delights and an experience that brings to you all the warmth and fun of the fall season"

I finally gave in and tried the machine.  I was curious.  And I decided to just go for it, and went for the pumpkin spice latte.

I took one sip.  Woah.  Sweet overload.  I sorta regretted my decision.  Way. Too. Sweet.  I did like the flavor though, nicely spiced, and it was creamy and frothy.  Not bad at all for something coming out of a random machine.  But, what was in it?  My guess: instant coffee, lots of sugar, and non-dairy creamer.

I looked it up after, and I was basically dead on.  Ingredient #1: Sugar.  No shocker there.  Ingredient #2: Nondairy creamer (with corn syrup in it too).  #4: Instant coffee.  #3 was "dairy product solids" ... whatever that is.  So, not lactose-free.

I did someone drink this entire thing, a large.  I felt fairly sick after, like I had way, way too much sugar, and clearly way too much caffeine.  I think a better move would be to use 1/2 pumpkin spice latte, and 1/2 regular decaf coffee.  This would cut both the sweet and the caffeine amounts in half.

By the way, if you didn't guess it, this thing is awful for you.  475 calories. 68 grams of sugar.  Even Starbucks is significantly less.
2/3 Decaf Coffee, 1/6 French Vanilla Cappuccino, 1/6 Pumpkin Spice Latte, 2 Pumps SF Hazelnut,  2 French Vanilla Creamers, Chocolate Powder, Vanilla Powder, Mini-Marshmallows. X-Large. $2.15.
So, uh, I got crazy.

It didn't start that way.

I started with 2/3 decaf coffee and then about 1/6 french vanilla cappuccino, taking my advice from above, but leaving room to tinker.  And ... I didn't like it.  It was really ... bitter.  It needed sweetness and creaminess.

I added sugar-free hazelnut syrup, not wanting to go crazy on sugar, but wanting some flavor.  It still wasn't good.  I dumped in 2 french vanilla creamers, hoping to amp up the flavor and creaminess.  It was getting there.

I was going to top it off with decaf coffee, but decided to just fill it up with Pumpkin Spice Latte.  This thing was already ridiculous, so why not just add on?  And then, just to have fun, I dumped in chocolate powder, vanilla powder, and loaded it up with mini marshmallows.

The result?  Well, it wasn't actually bad.  Not nearly as sweet as the unadulterated Pumpkin Spice Latte, but sweet, flavorful, and creamy.  I uh, liked it.

And I'm glad I went for mostly decaf, because this X-Large size would have killed me otherwise.

For $2.15 normally, or free during free coffee week, this was quite the deal, and kinda fun to make!
4/5 Decaf Coffee, 1/5 Pumpkin Spice Latte, 2 Pumps SF Vanilla Syrup, Chocolate Powder, Vanilla Powder, Mini Marshmallows.  $2.15.
I kept trying to improve my creation.

This time, I left out the french vanilla cappuccino and the french vanilla creamers, but still finished it off with pumpkin spice latte.  I left out the hazelnut syrup, but still added vanilla syrup.  I couldn't resist dumping all the things on top.

This was the best version yet.  I liked the flavoring and creaminess from the Pumpkin Spice Latte, but it wasn't overpowering.  I adore those silly little marshmallows (can you tell?)  It still had a slightly cloying property to it, not that it was too sweet exactly, just that it was wrongly sweet.

I tried a few days later with the same recipe, but added cinnamon on top too.  That was a bad move.  The flavor didn't go well with the others, which I didn't quite anticipate, since, "pumpkin spice" already has cinnamon, right?  Not sure why it clashed so badly, but, it did.

Just For Lols

Mislabelled Baked Goods.
I didn't actually have a donut, but I thought these signs were way too funny.  Look closely.