Friday, April 15, 2016

This Bar Saves Lives

How do you not get drawn in by the name of this company?  Saving lives seems ... good?

So I tried some bars from This Bar Saves Lives, because as you know, I'm on an unending quest to find snack bars I actually like.  Like many, the bars tick a bunch of boxes:  the bars are all-natural, non-GMO, gluten-free, kosher, Rainforest Alliance certified, etc.

As you can probably guess from the name of the company, there is a bit more to it, and for every bar you buy, a packet of life-saving food is donated.  So, actually, sorta, the bars save lives.

The bars are available in 4 flavors, I was able to try 3.  Sadly, the one that sounds the best (Peanut Butter & Jelly!) is the one I wasn't able to find.

They are all made with a "Nut and Seed Mix" of almonds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds.  The nuts add a great crunch to all the bars, but, I really can't stand flax seed in general, no matter how subtle it is.  The bars are sweetened with brown rice syrup and agave, nicely a bit sticky, and sweet enough to feel like a treat.  All have crispy rice puffs too, again, more crunch that I enjoy.

So, a very solid base for all the bars, crispy and a bit gooey, sweet.  But, none quite did it for me, due to the flax (and, the cranberries they hid in all of them).  As I told Ojan, these were really, really almost good!
 Dark Chocolate Cherry & Sea Salt.
"Packed with crunchy almonds, tart cherries and cranberries, and drizzled with antioxidant rich dark chocolate."

The first one I tried was drizzled in dark chocolate.  Because, chocolate.

It had a good quality dark chocolate drizzle on top and a coating on the bottom.  Unlike many bars, the chocolate wasn't lost and wasn't an afterthought.  The bar had a good crunch, and I liked the crisp rice even.  The tart cherries went nicely with the dark chocolate.  I really wasn't a fan of the cranberries that were snuck in though (not in the name!)

But, the real problem, is that I could taste the bitter flax seeds, and I really don't like flax seeds.  My second favorite of the flavors though, I do like the dark chocolate.
Madagascar Vanilla Almond & Honey.
"Perfectly balanced with subtle notes of vanilla and honey, and packed with crunchy almonds and Omega-3 rich flax seeds."

Next I went for the most boring sounding one.

Again, it had a good base of crispy rice and crunchy nuts, nicely sweetened with agave and brown rice syrup.    I really liked the crispy rice, which is so strange, as I usually don't in bars.  And I liked the crunchy nuts.  And the almost gooey sweetness.  But ... again, the slight bitterness from the flax threw me off.

This was my least favorite flavor, only because it was so plain.
Wild Blueberry Pistachio.
"A delicious and healthy blend of nuts, seeds and antioxidant rich blueberries."

And finally, wild blueberry pistachio.

This turned out to be my favorite of the bunch, and was almost really quite good.  I liked the addition of the pumpkin seeds, and, blueberry and pistachio actually do go together quite nicely, not something I would have expected.

But alas, flax seeds and the cranberries made it not enjoyable in the end.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Desserts from Tout Sweet

By now, you should be familiar with Tout Sweet, the patisserie run by Yigit Pura of Top Chef Just Desserts fame.  I've reviewed the signature macaroons (not for me), the cookies (ZOMG, the naughty peanut!), the breakfast baked goods (not my favorites), and assorted candies (always good to have in my purse), along with a demo or two by Yigit himself.

But now we get to my favorite type of baked goods: the "real" desserts  Yigit did not disappoint.
  Mille-crêpe. $6.25.
"Paper-thin crêpe layered with vanilla bean & orange flower water scented custard & brûlée."

Yelpers all recommend the Mille-crêpe, and it did look pretty impressive, so I went for it.

I was even more impressed when the server pulled out the blow torch to brûlée the top to order, but that aspect was kinda lost once I got it home.  I'm not sure if it was ever really crispy or maybe just a bit warm on top?  Still, a nice touch.

Made from a zillion layers of moist crêpe, with a orange flavored cream between each layer.  I don't tend to like orange flavoring, but it was fairly subtle here.  But overall, it kinda just seemed like layers of moist soggy pancake.

I guess I can see the appeal of this, particularly if paired with a cup of tea perhaps, and maybe for breakfast, not dessert?  I wouldn't get it again, and it wasn't really for me.
St. Honoré. $6.00.
"Caramelized puff pastry, vanilla custard filled eclair puff dipped in crunchy sweet caramel. "

This was the most stunning looking dessert, although I guess it doesn't look that way in the photo.  So even though I'm not really a cream puff lover (sorry choux pastry, I just don't like your eggyness!)

It was made of three vanilla custard filled profiteroles, each dipped in caramel, perched atop a flaky pastry triangle, with some chantilly cream in the middle of it all.  Two types of pastry, two types of cream, and caramel?  Yes!  It was a work of art, and I almost didn't want to cut into it.

It was certainly challenging to eat, but every element of it was absolutely delicious.  I still have no idea how you were supposed to eat it.  Or what Yigit was thinking when he came up with it.  But it was awesome.

First, the cream puffs.  The filling was a standard vanilla custard.  The puff was a basic choux pastry. Both good, well executed, but standard.  The caramel on top was hardened, a tiny bit bitter, and totally delicious.  It was like candy.  So good.  Why aren't all cream puffs candied?

All of this was perched atop a pastry triangle.  Buttery and crispy.  Perfect pie crust.  Did I need pie crust with my cream puffs?  Well, no, but, why not?

And speaking of why not, the middle was vanilla chantilly cream.  Sweet, fluffy, also delicious.

So basically, you had cream puffs.  You had some of the best parts of pie (crust and whipped cream).  And you had caramel candy.  All in one.  It made no sense.  But it totally worked.

My second favorite of the desserts, and I'd get it again.
Honey Caramel & Triple Nut Tart With Fleur De Sel. $5.50.
Since I wanted to try as many things as possible, in addition to the treats I was planning to eat immediately, I was also looking for something that I could take home and eat the next day (if I could resist that long ...).

I asked for some advice on what would keep, knowing that many of the pastries and treats would suffer from being a day old.  The woman helping me recommended the macarons, but I've never liked those, the cookies, also not really what I tend to go for, or this tart.  I opted for an amazing Naughty Peanut cookie and this tart.

I was a bit skeptical about the tart, since the mix of nuts was pistachio, hazelnut, and pecans.  I love pecans, I like hazelnuts, but I often dislike pistachios.  I also don't tend to like tarts, as the shells are usually those pre-baked hard tasteless things.  And, I'm in love with my mom's pecan pie, and almost all other attempts at anything similar let me down (except for the brown sugar chocolate nut pie from Flour & Co, made with pecans, cashews, and almonds, which is just mid-blowingly good).

It turns out, I had nothing to fear.  This was delicious, and my top dessert pick.

The nuts were a good mix, chopped up slightly but left in large chunks to really enjoy the crunch.  They were held together by the caramel, made from orange blossom honey.  It was ooey-gooey in a fantastic sticky way, but not cloyingly sweet like a classic corn syrup based nut pie.  It put my mom's pecan pie to shame.  Why doesn't everyone make their nut pies with honey caramel instead of corn syrup?  Such a more delicate, sophisticated, absolutely beautiful flavor.

And finally, the tart shell.  It was somewhere between a regular tart shell and a pie crust.  It was still hard like a tart shell, but had some flaky butteryness to it like a pie crust.  A major improvement.

I really, really enjoyed this pie.  And since I brought it home, I was able to add on some garnish: whipped cream.  Maybe that is just me, but I always eat my pecan pie with whipped cream or ice cream, and I wanted it with this too.

It did indeed keep fine for a day, when I ate half of it.  I kept the other half a day longer, and it got a bit hard.  So I decided to try warming it a little.  I know most people don't eat pecan pie warm, but I sometimes really like to do that with my mom's pie, and I figured this would work too.  And of course, if the pie is warm, it needs cold ice cream to go with it.  I only walked away from the toaster oven for what I thought was a few minutes, but either more time elapsed than I realized, or the honey filling just didn't hold up to heat well, but I returned to find a crust, a pile of nuts, and a pool of honey.  Whoops!  It still tasted great, but was totally a mess.  No fear, I busted out the vanilla ice cream and just dumped it all on top.  It was actually really, really delicious this way.  A warm honey and nut topping drizzled over ice cream, with a bit of pie crust for some crunch?  No complaints here.

As I said, my favorite dessert item, and I'll totally get another one of these, and of course I recommend it as a good take-home treat for the next day (along with an extra dozen Naughty Peanut cookies to stash in your freezer of course).
 Maui  Verrine: $4.50.
"Passion Fruit Custard with Lemongrass Scented Tapioca.'

I was so excited when I saw the verrines on the online menu.  So many different fancy layered puddings.  And I love puddings!

Unfortunately, they only had one available, the Maui.  It is the one I wouldn't have picked, as I don't tend to like passion fruit flavor (I love real passion fruit though).  But, I was there, and I wanted to try one, so I still went for it.  I figured the tapioca layer would at least be delicious, even if I didn't like the passion fruit.

Sadly, I didn't like any of it.  The passion fruit was indeed too strong and sweet for me, and strangely eggy.  Like a custard that didn't go quite right.  The tapioca layer was strangely grainy.

Not a winner, and I only tried a few bites, before passing it off to Ojan.
Cream Puff, Raspberry Tart.
And finally, a few months later, I attended an event catered by Tout Sweet, with a bunch of mini desserts.

I recognized the cream puffs instantly, from the St. Honoré.  I was fairly certain the treats were from Tout Sweet, and the moment I bit into the cream puff I was absolutely certain.  It was far too good to be from a random caterer, and, who else dips their cream puffs in caramel?  The crispy caramel disk on top was just too unique to possibly be from anywhere else. I enjoyed the cream puff again, but, I must say, they are far tastier when part of the composed St. Honoré, rather than standalone, as I don't actually just love cream puffs on their own. The hard caramel on top again was the best part to me.
The other item was a little tart, filled with vanilla pastry cream, topped with raspberries, each of which had a tiny cube of something sweet inside. The tarts looked unremarkable, but were really quite fantastic. Little, hard style tart shells are usually one of my least favorite things, always such a disappointment, but these were fantastic!   Crisp, buttery, and almost reminded me of pie crust rather than tart shell. The vanilla pastry cream was the same from the cream puff, and the fruit, even though out of season, was fairly fresh tasting. The attention to detail of stuffing each raspberry with a little cube was impressive.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Waffling Leftovers: Mashed Taro

Last week, as part of my Waffling Leftovers series, I discussed waffling leftover mashed potatoes.  We discovered, that yes, leftover mashed potatoes (and potato puree) do waffle ok, although not my greatest succcesses.

This week, I tried something similar: leftover mashed taro.  I expected similar results to the potatoes, but actually, taro worked much better.  One of my best discoveries, even better than waffled leftover pizza (although that remains the favorite of both Ojan and my mom), and just marginally less awesome than leftover cheesy grits.

So, leftover mashed taro: Will it waffle?  ZOMG yes.
The Original: Mashed Taro.
The original version was served warm, traditionally.  I adore taro, and this was fantastic.  Some chunks were left in, which I liked for a bit of texture, but it was still fairly creamy.  I think lots of oil was added.  Really amazing in its original form.

Leftover Mashed Taro.
So I kept leftovers.  For my experiments, I started with a container full of cold, lumpy, sad looking mashed taro.  No different than leftover mashed potatoes, besides the lovely purple hue.

I plopped some into the waffle iron, set for 350 degrees.  No modifications, no crusting.
Uh, uh ...
As always, I grew nervous after a few minutes when I opened the lid.  I didn't crust the taro with anything.  Would it possibly hold together?  The mashed potatoes didn't ...

I lifted the lid gingerly, and found it completely falling apart.  Doh!  I started scheming about what I'd crust the next version in, but left this one going a little longer, finger crossed that time would just fix it.
Almost Done!
And a few minutes later, when I peeked again, it looked like a waffle.  Yes!  In general, I've found that if you just trust it to release and come together, it will.  (Although, clearly, this is not always the case, and you can wind up with a burnt mess if you take it too far).
Perfectly Crisp.
This came out ... perfect.  Note to self: 350 degrees setting, ~6 minutes.

The outside was crispy, like the most perfect potato pancake or hash browns.  It didn't burn at all, it just turned a bit golden brown.  I intentionally made the patty extra thick, so the inside would stay soft and creamy, and indeed it did.

I love taro in any way, and mashed taro is comforting and delicious in its own right, but this was even better than the original.  Major success.
Oh yeah, toppings!
Because I couldn't resist, and I had more left to play with, I turned my next version into dessert, and added a dollop of whipped cream (which promptly melted) and a drizzle of maple syrup for sweetness.

They were tasty additions, but not actually necessary in any way.  It was great plain, and a savory take with a dollop of crème fraîche (and a scoop of caviar?) would have also worked wonderfully.  So many possibilities.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Banquet @ Longrain, Sydney

When I'm in Sydney, one of the cuisines I tend to graviate towards is thai. It was Sydney where I really discovered how good thai food could be (and, where I subsequently was ruined for thai food in San Francisco!).  These days, I generally stick with the casual establishments in thai town, like Chat Thai or Home Thai, or the always classic Sailor's Thai (and canteen) in the Rocks.

But several years ago, when I was living in Sydney, I frequented Longrain, in Surry Hills.  Longrain is an entirely different type of restaurant, more upscale, far more trendy, with a vibrant bar scene in the front.  We weren't ever really into the scene of it all, but, it was on the way home from work, so Ojan and I would often stop by just to grab a bite in the bar area.  We went a few times for regular meals too, where everyone is seated at a massive large communal table, and all dishes are made to share.  Like I said, trendy.

I recall it being pretty good back then, but it was before I wrote a blog or took notes, so I didn't recall much besides the fact that their signature item is the betel leafs.  On my recent visit (February 2016), I had the opportunity to join a large group of co-workers in the private froom for a Banquet meal, so I gladly accepted, even though it was my first night in town and I was crazy jetlagged.

I'm glad I joined, as it was a good experience, particularly for large group dining.  The cocktails were creative and tasty, the food was good, the dessert was swoon-worthy, and the service was shockingly on top of things, for group dining and for Sydney, not exactly known for great service.

The Setting

Semi-Private Room.
Our group was 19 members, and we had the semi-private room on the backside of the restaurant.  I say semi-private because it was behind a divider, but not actually noise isolated from the main room.

The decor was similar to the main restaurant, with a long wooden table, wooden floors, and wood on the walls.

Our server was friendly and attentive, and did an impressive job handling our large group.  Food came out hot and fresh.


Drink Menu.
The drink menu had the expected beer, wine, and cider offerings, plus a slew of fairly creative cocktails.  I appreciated the names of the cocktails, and Ojan appreciated that many of them were available virgin, as indicated by stars on the menu.
 Surly Temple. $17.
"Don Julio Blanco Tequila, lemongrass, kaffir lime, house made grenadine, ginger beer, lime."

I went for the Surly Temple, mostly because I wanted something different, and tequila sometimes hits the spot for me, particularly when I'm traveling (I can't explain this, I blame it on my trip to Tokyo ...)

The Surly Temple was a pretty drink, a lovely pink color, with a giant stick of lemongrass sticking out, and garnished with a kaffir lime leaf.

It was a refreshing, balanced drink, not too sweet, not too strong on the tequila.  I quite enjoyed it.
Longroni. $19.
"Lime leaf, holy basil & lemongrass infused Tangueray Gin, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, chilli bitters."

After watching Emil drink "Longronis" all night next to me, I finally ordered one myself.  I wanted a not-sweet drink, and this is the one the server recommended.  Yes, I wanted a not-sweet drink.  It happens sometimes.

Like the Surly Temple, the Longroni also had a big stalk of lemongrass sticking out of it.  It was indeed not sweet, as requested, but perhaps a bit too bitter for me.  As in ...  crazy bitter.  I did like the lemongrass flavor in it though, surprisingly.


Banquet Menu.
Because of our group size (19!), we were given the banquet menu, a fixed, family-style menu, for $65 per person.  The menu was:
  • Betel leaf, smoked river trout, peanut, green papaya, mint
  • Freshly shucked oysters
  • Filled eggnet, pork, prawns, peanuts, caramelised coconut, cucumber relish
  • Red Jungle curry of grilled beef rump, wild ginger & holy basil OR crispy twice cooked duck with sweet tamarind sauce
  • Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar
  • Steamed Chinese broccoli, oyster sauce
  • Thai jasmine rice
  • Young coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit
3 appetizers, 2 main dishes, 2 side dishes, and dessert, all for $65, really a good deal, particularly given their regular pricing.

One of the main courses had the choice between beef or duck, but that was a decision our host had to make in advance, for the entire group (he picked duck).  I appreciated that the banquet menu is composed of dishes available from their regular menu, rather than toned down versions for large group format.  The lineup was mostly their signature items too.

We did have one vegetarian, and he was given a vegetarian betel leaf instead of the trout one, salt & pepper silken tofu instead of the main duck/beef course, and a veggie curry instead of the pork.  Those came in individual, albeit quite large, portions.

The dishes were all served family style, with several of each dish placed on the table.  Dishes came one by one, with a new course arriving every 10 minutes or so, a good pace.
Freshly shucked oysters.
The first dish to arrive was oysters.  Since I don't really care for oysters, I skipped this one.

On the regular menu, these are $20 for 6.
Betel leaf, smoked river trout, peanut, green papaya, mint.
Next up, the famous betel leaf.  These are the item I remember from my visits to Longrain years ago.  You eat it by wrapping the leaf around the filling, like a taco.

On the regular menu, these are $6 each.  They also make a vegetarian version with pomelo, coconut, chilli, and mint.

The leaf itself was fresh and crisp.  On top were crispy bits (peanut?), that I also liked.  But, the smoked trout was really quite mushy.  The textures didn't do it for me at all, just way too mushy.  And the trout was a bit fishy as well.

This was disappointing, as I know it is one of their signature dishes, but it really didn't work for me this time.  My least favorite of the savory dishes.
Filled eggnet, pork, prawns, peanuts, caramelised coconut, cucumber relish.
The first non-bite sized dish, but still an appetizer, to arrive was the filled eggnet, a cold dish, a salad of sorts.  This is the other dish I remembered from my visits years ago.  As you can see, it is a looker.

The outside is a cage made from egg, and inside is a filling of ground pork, chopped prawns, peanuts, bean spouts, crispy coconut, and tons of herbs.  On the side is the cucumber "relish", basically, just cucumber in a vinegar with red onions, to help cut the other flavors.

This is $34 on the regular menu.
Another view of the eggnet.
Here you can see into the eggnet.

I'll be honest, the first few bites of this were disappointing to me.  Emil turned to me and said, "I thought I remembered this being good?"  Clearly, I wasn't alone in feeling this way.

The eggnet itself isn't something I care for, since, well, egg.  And, there seemed to be way too many bean sprouts.  Most bites were almost entirely bean sprouts, plus some peanuts.  Where was everything else?  The sprouts were fresh and crisp, the peanuts added even more crunch, but, there was just not much flavor.

After finishing the portion I had originally served myself, I did not intend to have more of it.  But then ... much later, we still had a ton left, and I tried a little more.  And suddenly ... it was great.  The sprouts and herbs soaked up all the sauce, and it was suddenly crazy flavorful.  This was what I remembered from Longrain, wonderful flavors and texture combinations.

I kept nibbling on it the rest of the night, until my tablemates told me to just take the whole platter as my plate.  Ooops.

So, in the end, my favorite savory dish, although it started off really not great.
Thai jasmine rice.
I skipped the rice, but we were provided with several giant bowls.  We didn't even make a dent in the rice.
Crispy twice cooked duck with sweet tamarind sauce.
I didn't intend to try the duck, since I don't really care for duck, but, after everyone around me raved about it, I had to dig in.

And I must say, this was impressively well cooked.  The skin was crazy crispy, as were the greens that seemed to maybe be fried?  The sauce was sweet and tasty.

But, at the end of the day, it was still duck, which was a bit too gamey for me.  My second to last favorite savory dish.
Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar.
Speaking of insanely crispy, the caramelized pork hock was also super crispy on the outside, yet moist and melty inside.  The sauce for this was even better, sweet, yet balanced by vinegar.

Some others said that their pieces weren't great, but, I clearly lucked out, and my pieces were cooked perfectly.  I couldn't get over how perfectly crisp the exterior was.  My second favorite dish of the night.
Steamed Asian greens, oyster sauce.
Our token vegetable side dish was steamed Chinese broccoli and snow peas.  The greens were fine, crisp, not too overcooked, but the oyster sauce was very salty.  It was nice to have a vegetable, but this came long after the other items, I would have preferred to have it arrive earlier, perhaps alongside the first meat dish?  Unless that is more traditional Asian style to serve greens after the meal?
Young coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit.
After that feast, we were all stuffed.  We had tons of savory food left over.  I think most people would have opted to skip dessert (myself included actually).  But, it was part of the banquet.

So, time for dessert.  I'm glad I mentioned my watermelon allergy to the server at the beginning of the meal, even though I didn't see any watermelon anywhere on the menu, because the dessert indeed had watermelon.

As I reached for one, the server came running around the corner to stop me, a separate one for me in hand.  She caught me just in time!
Young coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit ... sans watermelon.
This dessert was ... incredible.  One bite in and I instantly regretted polishing off the eggnet dish.  I never expected this dessert to be so amazing, given the description.

So, what was it?  It was many, many things, but, at the core, a pudding of sorts, one of my favorite types of dessert.  But a pudding with a slew of elements, each bringing a different texture and flavor to it.

For one, you can't really see it in mine, but you can see in the earlier photo, there was black sticky rice.  The rice was awesome, nicely chewy, and added a great texture to contrast with the tapioca that was a bit softer.  There was a icy foam on top, I think pandan infused, adding a colder, fluffy element too.  And then thick slices of crispy coconut, and a sesame wafer, sticking out of the top, providing a lot of crunch.

Down with the sticky rice was chunks of pineapple in mine, plus watermelon in everyone else's.

I absolutely adored this, and polished it off even though I was quite full, and these were sizable portions.  We had two go entirely unclaimed, and many half-finished, since everyone was full, and honestly, if they didn't have watermelon in them, I'm sure I would have finished those too.  So many flavors, so many textures, really quite fantastic.  My only criticism is that it was a bit too sweet overall, the black sticky rice was the only non sweet element in the mix.  I'd get this again in a heartbeat.
Longrain Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, April 11, 2016

Leslie Kay Ho via Zaarly

Zaarly is a company that has pivoted many times.  Currently, they help connect handymen and housecleaners with customers.  But before that, they provided a fairly generic online storefront for entrepreneurs, including artists, jewelers, and, my interests: gourmet food providers and bakeries.

Before the pivot away from offering food stuffs, I was able to try out several vendors, one of which was Leslie Kay Ho Bakery.  You know me, I love all baked goods and desserts, but these sounded extra creative, and I was really excited to try them.  Unfortunately, I didn't actually like any that I tried, and further unfortunately, I don't think this vendor is in business any longer, as I can't find any recent information on her storefront.
Coconut Mochi Cake with Red Bean Filling. 2 for $7.
This sounded great! I love mochi, and the baker told me this was her best seller.  It didn't look like anything I'd ever had called "mochi" before, but I figured I'd give this a shot, and purchased a 2-pack, highly anticipating liking it.

And ... I really didn't like it.  I didn't really get any mochi-like flavor, I didn't detect any rice-y taste.  The cake layers didn't have a firm, glutinous texture that I associate with mochi either.  What was the mochi aspect of this?

The red bean filling was fine.

But overall, it was just kinda soggy, and not quite as advertised.  2 for $7 also seemed a bit pricey.  Would not get again.

[ No Photo ]
Sweet Potato Haupia Pie with Macadamia Crust.

"Our unique pie is made with Japanese purple sweet potatoes, which create a incredibly smooth and tasty filling. The crust is made with macadamia nuts, adding the perfect crumbly texture to balance the filling. The pie is topped with haupia, a traditional hawaiian dessert made with coconut milk. " 

This sounded amazing!  All components I really like (purple sweet potatoes, macadamias, crumble, haupia ...).  But, it somehow didn't have much flavor.  I really wanted to taste the purple potato, and didn't.  I really wanted to taste the macadamia, and didn't.  Disappointing.