Friday, March 31, 2017

Pamela's Products

Another day, another random gluten-free snack bar to try.  As you know, I'm always on a quest for good grab-n-go snacks to have stashed in my bag when I'm out and about.  Bonus points for things that make easy breakfasts, as I dash out of a workout in the morning.

Pamela's makes an assortment of products, including baking mixes of all types (pancakes, breads, brownies, cookies, cakes, cornbread, biscuits, scones, waffles, pizza crust, etc), cookies, fig bars, flavored graham crackers, all gluten-free.  Those items didn't really interest me though, so I only tried the "Whenever Bars":
"Made with gluten-free oats, chia seeds and lightly sweetened with agave and coconut sugar, these bars offer a delightfully filling and great tasting snack whenever you need one."
Whenever Bars come in 6 flavors: Oat Blueberry Lemon, Oat Chocolate Chip Coconut, Oat Double Chocolate, Oat Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Oat Raisin Walnut Spice, and Oat Cranberry Almond.  Unfortunately, I was only able to try the least interesting variety, Cranberry Almond.

The bars all use the same oat/chia/flour blend base with agave/coconut sugar, and are a soft style, intended to be perfectly suited for, well, "whenever".  I opted to have it for breakfast.
Oat Cranberry Almond.
"Delicious chunks of cranberries play with savory slivers of almond in Pamela’s Oat Cranberry Almond Whenever Bars."

This is the last of their flavors I'd pick if I had a choice, but, alas, this is the only variety I had (I really don't remember where I got it).

The bar is actually twice as big as what you see here, but, it had broken in half.  Which is an indicator of the texture, it was soft and crumbly, almost like an oatmeal cookie.  In that sense, it did seem pretty suited for "whenever", as claimed.  If you like soft, fairly healthy, oatmeal cookies, this could be a dessert or snack.  The oat content and not-too-sweet nature made it fine for a breakfast bar too.

I'm not a fan of chia, but it wasn't too distracting in this bar.  I'd prefer it not be there, but, it wasn't too strong.  I liked the extra crunch from slivers of almonds.  But what I didn't care for was the cranberries, as anticipated.  Dried cranberries, to me, are just a step up from raisins.  I just don't want them.  I give Pamela's credit though, they weren't dried out and hard, they were plentiful, and nicely tart.  But, you have to like cranberries, and I don't.

Overall, I liked the texture, and I do agree with the "whenever" naming, but, this flavor just wasn't for me.  I'd still be happy to try others.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mission Pie

Update Review, March 2017

I don't live in, nor visit, the Mission all that often, so I've only had Mission Pie a few times.  When you ask folks who do live in the Mission about recommendations for pie though, they'll all tell you to go there.  Long before I wrote a blog I did visit in person once or twice, and I recall not really being blown away.  Since then, I've had a couple chances to try Mission Pie when a co-worker has nicely brought it in, like the strawberry-rhubarb pie I had mixed feelings on, or the very delicious Peach Blackberry Crumble Pie.  But still, not somewhere I seek out normally.

I'll skip all the details about Mission Pie since I've covered that in past reviews (all butter crust, 2/3 wheat flour, yadda, yadda), and just focus on the pie I tried this time around.
Mission Pie!
Just like my previous chances to try Mission Pie, this one began with an e-mail: "Pie in the microkitchen!"  The sender didn't say where the pie came from, nor what kind of pie it was.  And I was in the middle of a TRX class when it arrived.  It was about 30 minutes after the e-mail when I was able to seek out pie for myself.

I turned the corner, and saw boxes of pie.  Yes!  The boxes said Mission Pie on them.  Yes!  But ... most were entirely empty, not even a stray crust remained.  There was just one box left with anything in it, with a handwritten sign that said "Shaker Lemon".  Doh.  30 minutes is a long time in the world of exra pie.

I'll be honest - I almost just turned away.  I remembered having mixed feelings on Mission Pie.  But, moreover, I just don't like lemon desserts.  And, I was coming straight from the gym, I shouldn't really dash right for the pie ... right?  Yeah right.

I decided I'd take a small piece, just to try it.  I took my little slice, grabbed a fork, and started walking away.   I took one bite, and then promptly turned back.  And took a "real" slice, you know, a "this pie serves 6 people only" sort of slice.
Shaker Lemon Pie. $27/pie.
"Meyer lemons (rind and all!), sugar, eggs and that's it! Sweet, tart and unaccountably delicious!"

I didn't know what Shaker Lemon Pie was before I tried this pie.  I didn't know that you could make citrus pies that weren't just a curd or custard filling.  I didn't know that I could like a lemon pie.  And then I tried this.

It was strange, I'll start with that.  Shaker lemon pie, if you are also unfamiliar, has thin slices of whole lemons in it.  Peel and all.  It is tart and it is chewy from the rinds, but also sweet, as the fruit is macerated in sugar, and there is a bit of quasi-custard to hold it all together.  The flavor is not mild, so you have to like lemon, which I do ... just not usually in desserts.  I'm starting to think that perhaps I just don't like lemon curd, and that is the common way lemon shows up in dessert?  Anyway, it took a bit of getting used to, such strong flavor, tart and sweet, but really quite delicious.

The crust however was fairly meh.  Double crusted, lovely sugar topping, thick, well sculpted back crust, but, it tasted a bit dry and I wasn't into the whole wheat nature.  The crust sure looked great, but didn't really deliver, and certainly not in the way I remembered from previous Mission Pie pies.

But that filling.  It was pretty spectacular, and I'd gladly get it again.  

Thank you Mission Pie, for showing me that I can I like lemon desserts.

Update Review, October 2015

If you didn't read my original Mission Pie review, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around.  See "Original Review, June 2015" below.

One Friday in July, a mere month after I published my original review of Mission Pie, I was sitting at my desk when an e-mail with a very appealing subject line showed up: "Peach and berry pie in the kitchen".

It had the following explanation: "I was at Mission Pie on my way to work and it looked awesome so I got one.  Because Friday.  Help yourselves.   Its still warm."

I love my coworkers.  Now, it was only 9:30am, but I rushed to the kitchen area.  Pie is totally legit breakfast, particularly if it has fruit, right?
Peach Blackberry Crumble Pie.
I apologize for this photo.

As I mentioned, I dashed to the kitchen moments after seeing the e-mail at 9:30am, and there was indeed a whole, hot, fresh pie.

I grabbed my slice, made a cup of coffee to enjoy alongside, went back to my desk to savor it, and then returned to take a photo.  I don't think it was more than 20 minutes later.  Definitely still before 10am.  And ... this is what was left.  Turns out, others were just as shameless as I was about eating pie for breakfast, and it was nearly gone.

For good reason.  This was a very good pie.

Inside were huge chunks of peach and blackberries.  The fruit was crazy sweet, definitely sweetened, but still quite tasty.  It really needed some whipped cream or ice cream on the side to counter it, which, if you got it at the shop itself, they would serve it with.

The topping was delicious, sweet, crunchy, and the perfect crisp topping.  The crust was buttery and flaky.

Overall a winner, and I love this concept of getting the best of both a crisp and a pie in one dessert.  Pie crust AND crisp topping.  YES!

I'd definitely eat this again.

Original Review, June 2015

Mission Pie is, you guessed it, a pie shop, located in the Mission.

Apparently they also sell some savories, such as soups and salads, plus quiches, pot pies, galettes, and tarts, although I'd argue that quiche, pot pie, galettes, and tarts are basically pies themselves, even if savory.  To go alongside your pie you can also get coffee or tea, or, if you stop in earlier in the day, they make scones and muffins too.  But basically, they make pie.

They do care about sourcing, and use local and organic ingredients as much as possible, even including the flour.  The pies use an all butter crust, which they make in large batches and then hand roll (except for vegan varieties, that use coconut and conola oil).  You might not expect a company whose business is pie making to care about health, but they do purposely use 1/3 white and 2/3 whole wheat flour and not too much sugar.

I was really excited when Mission Pie came to San Francisco, because, well, dessert.  And people all raved about it constantly.  Hype was high when they opened, and I eventually trekked all the way to the Mission for it.

I remember not being very impressed.  I visited perhaps two or three times a few years ago, and then moved on, and haven't thought about Mission Pie since.  But, recently, a co-worker showed up with a fresh whole pie, so I was eager to try again.

I also dug  up the tasting notes I somehow still have, from when I tried the banana cream pie, clearly something I got with Ojan, since it is often a favorite of his.  My notes were simple: "Not very good.  Crust not yummy.  Pudding layer totally generic.  Whipped cream totally generic".  Hmm, I wasn't impressed!  I hoped this time would be better.

And indeed it was.  I'm glad my co-worker brought the pie in, because now I'm eager to try Mission Pie again.
Strawberry Rhubarb, 9 inch, $24.
If you've read my blog for a while, you might recall how I feel about rhubarb in general.  It was the ingredient that ruined jam for me as a child.  I still have a thing against it.  So I wasn't thrilled when I saw the variety of pie my co-worker had chosen, but still, I persevered.

The pie did not have not the tartness I expect from rhubarb, although there were generous chunks of nicely cooked down rhubarb (and strawberries of course).  The fruit was in a very thick sauce, which I think was highly sugared, even though they claim they don't use much sugar.  The filling was far to sweet to be just from the strawberries alone.

It was double crusted.  The top crust was perfect, although the edges were pretty crisp.  It had a rich butteriness that reminded me of a croissant.  I guess all butter crust will do that.  The bottom crust was quite doughy, not actually cooked through, but, I liked it that way.

Right after lunch I had a slice alongside a cup of black coffee, and it totally satisfied my sweet tooth.  The super sweet pie plus the black coffee made for a great pairing.  However, when I went for a second slice later, it was just too sweet for me.  It clearly needed whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream, to cut the sweetness (which I would have gotten if in the shop itself).

You can get pie by the slice ($4), or a whole 9 inch for $24.  If you get a slice in store, it comes with complimentary Straus Family Creamer organic whipped cream, or you can add Strauss vanilla ice cream for $1.50, and I'd clearly opt for at least one of those with this pie.

Click to add a blog post for Mission Pie on Zomato

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Waffle Iron Cooking: Polenta

I use my waffle iron more than any other appliance in my kitchen ... well, besides my coffee maker that is.  And no, not because I make a lot of waffles.  Or, at least, not traditional waffles.  I use it to reheat just about everything, rather than a microwave or a oven.  You can read about all my ridiculous waffling adventures from my master post.

Most of the time, I use the waffle iron to reheat leftovers, very rarely do I use it to actually cook something in its original form.  I'm not sure where today's experiment falls though, I wasn't just reheating leftovers, but I also wasn't cooking exactly ... I'll call it *almost* cooking, more advanced than simply reheating leftovers.
Block of Polenta -> Polenta Waffle with Ratatouille.
My adventure started because I had leftover ratatouille, and I wanted to do something interesting with it.  I could have served it over pasta, or cracked an egg in it, or served it with some crusty bread, all standard ways of serving ratatouille.  The idea of serving it over creamy polenta came to mind, but, I didn't have any creamy polenta just hanging around, nor the desire to make any.

But what I did have was a block of shelf-stable pre-made polenta in my pantry.  I knew I could work with that.  That, and my waffle iron, of course.

My creation was a success, a lovely polenta waffle, topped with ratatouille!
Block of Valsugana Polenta.
I started with a block of Valsugana Polenta, pre-made, pre-cooked, shelf-stable polenta.

It came as a big solid block in a plastic package like tofu.  It seemed perhaps like a step up from tube polenta, but, barely.  It was pretty gross and slimy, and really not appealing.

The package claims this is Italy's #1 polenta, but, it sure didn't have anything going for it straight out of the package.
Slices of Polenta in the Waffle Iron.
Since it is pre-cooked all you need to do is slice and heat however you want.  They recommend cutting into triangles and grilling or pan-frying.  I of course had other ideas.

I sliced the block lengthwise to form large nasty blocks of polenta.  Into the waffle iron they went.  The size was great, it fit into the iron easily, and was a good size serving.  I was able to cut 3 slices from the block.

Since the polenta was so firm, I had to press down hard on the waffle iron to get into the solid mass of polenta, but once it warmed up a bit, it was fairly easy.
Polenta Waffle.
The polenta took longer to cook than I expected, and at first, it didn't seem like it was going to crisp up.  I raised the temperature from 350° to 400° and that helped.  It still never got an amazing crust on it, but, it did get a little bit crisp.

The waffle came out decent enough.  The ridiculous firm solid mass worked well for this, and it held together great.  It wasn't as magical as when I waffled cheesy grits, likely because plain polenta doesn't have cheese or other fats to crisp it up.

I would have been bored with it at this stage, far too plain.  But I had my toppings at the ready.
Polenta Waffle Topped with Ratatouille.
I topped each polenta waffle with ratatouille, the thing that inspired this whole adventure in the first place.  It soaked into the waffle, was super flavorful, and made the dish.  Without it, it would have been boring, but with it, I deem this success.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lisbon Airport Dining

My visit to Lisbon concluded at, well, the Lisbon airport.

Airport dining may not normally be high on anyone's list of things to get excited about, but I read online that Terminal 1 had a great new food court, featuring actual good versions of Portuguese baked goods, from some famed establishments from the city.  I of course welcomed this chance to get “one last pastry” before jumping on my TAP Portugal flight, where I knew the food choices would be abysmal.

Although I didn't have much time in the airport before boarding, I managed to scope out all the options, and visit not one, but two bakeries to get a pão de deus from each, since I discovered that I loved them at A Padaria Portuguesa at the end of my trip.

Pastelaria Versailles

I started at Versailles, the one I had read the most about.  It is a cafe that has been around since the 1920s, apparently with amazing elegant ambiance (think: crystal chandeliers, marble counters) at the main location in Lisbon.  I didn't visit the real cafe, only the airport location.  
Display Case.
The display counter was loaded with a fairly small selection of treats, far fewer than what I was used to from swinging by bakeries around town.

I was planning to get one last Bolo de Arroz, after being fascinated by the one from Sacolinha, but the ones at Versailles didn’t really look good.  I also had my eyes on one last pão de deus, but, alas, they didn’t have any plain ones, just ones stuffed with ham and cheese.  It wasn't quite what I wanted, but is what I went for, knowing I could discard the fillings (or, perhaps be a more reasonable human and actually have some protein with my sweets?)

The ordering/payment system was kinda crazy.  You order and pre-pay at one counter.  That made sense.  No card reader, but, they do take credit cards, they just have to pull out a machine every time.  For an airport location, this seems crazy.  Then, you are supposed to know to take a few steps over, put your receipt onto a tray, and then someone else will go begin fetching your goods.  If you, like me, just throw your receipt into your pocket, your stuff will never come.  Sigh.

Then your stuff is put onto a tray eventually, and you are supposed to be watching and grab it, as nothing is ever called out when your order is complete.

To recap: no orders are sent to be filled, no orders are called out when ready.  I struggled with strange ordering/paying/pickup systems all over Lisbon, but this was certainly the worst.

I was not the only one who was confused by all of this, as I watched everyone around me mess it up.  Anyway.
Pão de Deus Misto. 3.95€.
"Ham & Cheese Coconut Topped Bread".

I had only had two pão de deus at this point in Portugal, and was eager to get one last data point.  I loved the absolutely dreamy one from A Padaria Portuguesa, but I knew that was actually not the authentic style, as it was softer and had more of a coconut paste on top, and was not crispy.  I also had the horrible ones from the Sheraton Lisboa Bistro Restaurant buffet, hard and stale, but, I have a hard time believing those were a legit version either.

This one seemed to be more like what I read about.  The top was a bit crunchy and the bread was still fairly soft, basically a cross between the two versions I previously had.  The dough wasn’t particularly interesting, soft but not fluffy, not really sweet.  Better than the Sheraton version in that it wasn’t stale and it wasn’t hard, but, no where near the perfectly lightly sweet fluffiness of the one from A Padaria Portuguesa.  Same with the top - definitely not like a paste like the one from A Padaria Portuguesa, but not quite as crispy as the Sheraton one.  There wasn’t as much topping as the A Padaria Portuguesa one, but, again, I think this was a more authentic ratio.

Overall, kinda boring, honestly, but I think this is what the bun was supposed to be like.

The ham and cheese were just a thin slice of each.  No spread of any sort, aka, mayo or mustard, to jazz it up.  I’m not sure I understand the combination of sweet coconut bun, ham, and cheese, although I guess Monte Cristos are a mix of sweet with ham and bread …

Anyway, I was glad to have one last chance to try the version that I think is representative of what they are supposed to be, but, alas, I just wished I had one more of the dreamy, soft, fluffy, not authentic ones.  Ojan however said, “that is one of the better Portuguese desserty things I’ve had”. Later, he said, "That was pretty tasty, it was like honey ham, but, with the honey in the bread!".  So, I guess it had its place.

Pastelaria Aloma

I’m a strategic person.  Although I was grabbing the pão de deus to take on my TAP Portugal flight to Paris, I tried a bite immediately just to make sure I’d like it, else, I had to make a backup plan.

If you couldn't tell from my review above, well, I didn't really like it (not tons of coconut topping, crisp top, soft but not very sweet nor fluffy bread).  I really wanted something more like the version from A Padaria Portuguesa.

So, I hightailed it to another bakery in the airport, Aloma.
Croissants, Local Specialties, Sandwiches.
Aloma too had a display case loaded with goodies.

They had pastel de nata baked on site.  While literally every single merchant had nata, these folks had ovens, right there, in the middle, and they were coming out hot.  This seemed much more promising.

And ... they had pão de deus!  The pão de deus looked softer, fluffier.  And there was only one plain one left, over with the croissants on the far left.
Sandwiches, Croissant Sandwiches, Pão de Deus Sandwiches.
I quickly jumped into line to order the last one, hoping no one before me would get it.  That said, they also had a ham and cheese stuffed one, and plenty of those, so, I could have gone with that to compare.

This shop's ordering made sense: you ordered from one person, they got your food, and you paid there.  No crazy multiple lines, putting out your receipt, etc like Versailles.
Pão de Deus
This pão was indeed closer to the one from A Padaria Portuguesa.  It was softer, the dough sweeter than the Versailles version.  Not quite as soft, not quite as dreamy as the A Padaria Portuguesa one, but I’m pretty convinced that no where else’s compares to that.

The top was also soft, not crisp, and more like a coconut paste.  Again, not quite as good as the A Padoria Portuguesa version in that there wasn’t as much topping, and it wasn’t as sweet, but, still, I really prefer this to the authentic crispy style.

So, overall, it was ok.  If this was the first pão de deus I ever had, I probably wouldn’t have tried another.

Turns out, the first one I ever had really was the best, I should have just stopped there.
Pastelaria Versailles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, March 27, 2017

Catering by Wise Sons

My apartment building recently hosted a brunch with catering by Wise Sons Jewish Deli.  I'm not a big lover of bagels, but, I know many in the city consider these to be "the best", so, I had to try them out.

I've reviewed Wise Sons before, but since those were always visits to the actual stores, I'm separating this catering specific post into its own, since, well, catering isn't reflective of your experience visiting in person.
Assorted Bagels & Shmear.
"Our bagels are kettle boiled, double- coated in classic toppings, and carefully baked for just the right amount of chew."

The hosts arranged for bagel and toppings platters, each of which came with assorted bagels and cream cheese (dubbed shmear).

We had an assortment of bagels (plain, sesame, everything) and shmear (plain, scallion and smoked salmon).

I tried an everything bagel.  It was ... fine I guess.  Chewy, if you are into that style.  A normal sized bagel, not a monster like the ones from Panera.  It had all the standard "everything" toppings: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic, onions, salt.  I thought the salt was a bit too strong. Since it was an event, no toaster was available, so I can't evaluate its toastability.
California Veggie Bagel Platter. $85.
"Choice of assorted Bagels and Bialys with Hummus, Plain and Scallion Shmears. Served with Pickled Onions, Olives, Cucumbers, Radish and Roasted Seasonal Vegetables ."

The plain and scallion shmears came with the "California Veggie" platter.

I tried the cream cheeses, and they were fine, but really, just cream cheese, nothing particularly interesting about them.  The scallion one did have lots of scallion bits, clearly freshly made.

I also tried the roasted squash since it was a bit funny to me that they put huge chunks of cold roasted squash on a bagel platter.  I had no idea how I was supposed to use this on a bagel.   I think it was pumpkin?  One chunk had ... a stem.  It was fine, but just roasted squash.

The pickled red onions were a nice compliment with the cream cheese.
Smoked Salmon Platter ($160).
"Choice of assorted Bagels and Bialys with Sustainably Raised Smoked Salmon, Whipped Cream Cheese, Cucumbers, Radish, Red Onions and Capers. Served with Dill Pickles ."

From the other platter, I tried the briney capers (standard, but I always love capers) and crisp slices of watermelon radish (again, just something I love).

I wish I had snagged a dill pickle, as there was a full pint, but they were gone by the time I returned.
Intelligentsia Drip Coffee. $21.
Catering coffee comes in large cardboard boxes with a spout.  The cardboard box doesn't keep the coffee particularly hot, and is a bit difficult to serve from.  But, without renting real carafes, not sure what they can do better.  The catering package included Wise Sons branded cups, lids, half and half, sweeteners.

The coffee is Intelligentsia.    It was fine.  It certainly would have been better if not lukewarm.
Wise Sons Jewish Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato