Friday, May 26, 2017

Skinny Dipped Almonds

Skinny Dipped Almonds.  Healthy, but satisfying, slightly indulgent, coated nuts.  "The new chocolate covered almond," the company promises.

Hmm.  I can't say that Skinny Dipped Almonds sounded particularly exciting to me when I first encountered them.
"Finally, a chocolate covered almond that is healthy and indulgent. Our almonds are roasted to perfection then skinny dipped in a thin layer of artisan dark chocolate and finished with a whisper of cocoa, espresso or pure raspberry."
I mean, I love to snack, I like having things to munch on, but these just didn't sound like my sort of go-to item.  Still, having nuts to munch on is always good for me as they have protein, and the flavors did sound slightly promising.

Skinny Dipped Almonds come in 3 flavors (raspberry, espresso, cocoa), all of which come dipped in chocolate, and portioned into little 70 calorie bags.  They really are trying to help you make a healthy choices, portion controlled, and only slightly indulgent.

But you have to set your expectations accordingly.  "A thin layer of artisan dark chocolate" means truly that.  A thin layer.  Actually, I'd barely call it a layer.  I'd barely call it chocolate.  Think of it as a dusting of cocoa perhaps, and then try these, else, you will be disappointed, as I was the first time I tried a bag.  Once I did reset my expectations though, I liked these more than expected, and ended up trying all 3 varieties.
Dark Chocolate Raspberry.
"Whole almonds skinny dipped in a thin layer of artisan dark chocolate and finished with a whisper of raspberry."

The first time I tried these, it didn't go well.

I picked the most unique sounding flavor to start: dark chocolate raspberry.  I knew to expect only a thin coat of chocolate, but this really was an incredibly thin layer.  I can't say I tasted it.  I did taste the raspberry though, and although raspberry and chocolate are a fine combination, they didn't do it for me.  The raspberry was just too tangy with the biter chocolate and nut.  The package was tiny, but I wasn't really interested in finishing it.

A couple months later, I tried again.  This time, I knew better what to expect, and I liked them much more.  I liked the crunchy almonds, nicely roasted.  I liked that they were slightly salty.  I could actually taste a little dark chocolate, and wow, yes, I could taste the dominant raspberry.  They certainly weren't an indulgent snack, not anything I'd consider a dessert, or use to satisfy a sweet tooth, but, compared to plain nuts, they were far more interesting.
Dark Chocolate Cocoa.
"Whole almonds skinny dipped in a thin layer of artisan dark chocolate and finished with a whisper of cocoa."

Since I wasn't entirely into the intense raspberry, the next time I went for the simple cocoa version.  These nuts were basically the same as the raspberry, just, uh, without the raspberry?  Which meant that they were fairly boring, just roasted almonds with a tiny bit of cocoa coating, resulting in a slightly bitter overall experience, that wasn't particularly satisfying in any way.  I wouldn't get this flavor again.
Dark Chocolate Espresso.
"Whole almonds skinny dipped in a thin layer of artisan dark chocolate and finished with a whisper of espresso."

The final variety I tried was the dark chocolate espresso, which shockingly turned out to be my favorite.  Still the same basic roasted almonds, with a thin layer of cocoa, but the espresso had an intense flavor, bitter, but, tasty.  I also liked the hint of salt.

Did I want more of them?  Nah.  But they were my favorite.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Jelly Donut

Donuts are a big part of my life.  I have them at least once a week, usually more often.  It isn't that I seek out donuts though, donuts just seem to find me.  Particularly on Fridays.  When my office has donuts all over the place, and I can't help but have one.  Or two.  Or bring one home to waffle the next day.  It is a hard life.

Like one Friday, when I already had a full breakfast, and a co-worker sent out a message to our group chat: "Donuts on my desk!"  She called me out by name, knowing I'm a donut girl, which prompted a popup on my computer and my phone.  "They are from The Jelly Donut on 24th street," she continued.

I was delighted and sad at the same time.  I had never had a donut from The Jelly Donut before, but, it has certainly been on my radar for quite a while.  My understanding, not from visiting myself, is that The Jelly Donut is a total hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop, cash only, no-frills place.  They are known for throwing in some free donuts if you get a dozen, or free donut holes if you just get a donut or two.  Generally well regarded, and I was eager to try the donuts.  Except I was just not hungry at all.
Box-O Donuts.
I took my time making my way over to the box of donuts, sorta hoping that they'd all be gone, sorta hoping that I'd magically gain an appetite.  And by took my time, I mean that I finished the meeting I was in, and then arrived at the box of donuts about 6 minutes after the initial donut message went out.  For me, this is restraint.

Three of the donuts had been cut in half, and maybe one or two were missing, but, the box was still mostly full, with an assortment of donuts, including two large filled, glazed bars (one maple, one chocolate), two glazed old fashioned (again, one maple, one chocolate), a couple cake donuts (crumb, maple glazed with sprinkles), raised (chocolate glazed), a glazed buttermilk bar, and, a namesake jelly donut.

I had no choice but to try something.
Glazed Buttermilk Bar (half).
I opted for the glazed buttermilk bar, which had already been cut in half.  The chunk was still the size of a regular full size donut (which you can see better in the above photo), so it must have been quite massive in its full form.

I tried a few bites then, but saved the rest for after lunch.  It held up fine*.

It was a good buttermilk bar.  The glaze was thick and sweet, and I liked how it soaked into the donut.  The exterior was crispy just like I like, and inside it was nicely moist.  It didn't taste too fried or oily.

There was nothing earth shattering about this donut, but, it was a well executed classic.  I did wish for more buttermilk tang however.

*Note: buttermilk bars, and cake donuts in general, don't tend to hold up well past a few hours.  These really need to be consumed fresh.
Boston Cream Bar.
I walked by the donut box a while later, and there were still donuts remaining, including the massive Boston Cream bar, Ojan's favorite.  I had to get it for him, and, of course, try a bite myself on my way to deliver it.

The donut was a raised fluffy donut, light and airy.  The filling was vanilla custard, quite creamy, and it was well filled.  Good chocolate coating on top, although some of it broke off where the donut made contact with the maple sprinkle donut in the box.

Again, nothing earth shattering, but, well made and obviously fresh.
Maple Glazed Bar. 
I have one co-worker, who really loves donuts, but was not coming in to the office until lunch time.  He was sad to be missing out, so  I suggested that I save one for him, and picked the maple glazed for him.

It had lost nearly all its glaze though, from being against the edge of the box.  The Jelly Donut really could work on their boxing skills so as not to have all the donuts touching each other/the box and losing their toppings!  I used a knife to scoop all the glaze off the box and back onto the donut.  It didn't look very pretty, but hey, he got his glaze.

I didn't try this donut, but, he said it was great.
Jelly Donut.
I walked by the donut box again, after lunch.  (Hmm, maybe I do seek out donuts?)  There were still 3 full donuts left, including the jelly donut.  I don't understand how this was possible.  My co-workers clearly have more restraint than I.  There weren't that many donuts to begin with!

I still had most of my chunk of buttermilk bar waiting at my desk.  And I had carrot cake and a fun Filipino dessert at lunch already.  I surely didn't need more sweets.  But ... I knew that it would waffle great in the morning, so if I didn't manage to eat it during the day, I could save it for waffling purposes.  (Seriously, try waffling your leftover donuts, I promise, it is transformational!  My favorite waffled donut to date was a waffled jelly donut, so I knew this would work well.)

But of course I tried it fresh, for evaluation purposes.

Like the Boston Cream Bar, it was a fluffy, light, airy, raised donut.  It was not too fried.  The glaze on top was sweet and good, but it only covered the very top.

The best part was the filling though.  Sweet raspberry jelly.  Lots of it.  It was gooey and very flavorful.  I really liked the jelly.

Overall, a very good donut, but I actually prefer sugar coated jelly donuts over glazed.
Leftover Jelly Donut Panini!
I did save the rest of the donut until the next morning.  I took a bite of it then, day old, and, as expected it had gotten a bit stale.  So I turned on my handy Cuisinart Griller to waffle it ...

I realized once it was already heated up that I had the panini plates rather than the waffle iron plates in my Griddler.  Whoops.  I rarely use the panini plates, so I didn't even think to check.

Never one to back down from a crazy experiment, I just panini'ed it instead, and it was great too.  You'll be able to read all about that too, soon ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Mashed Potatoes & Potato Puree

Do you really need an intro to my Waffling Leftovers series at this point?  By now, you know what I do.  I reheat my leftovers, generally as is, in my waffle iron.  And I usually love the results.  I've covered Italian main dishes (lasagna, pizza, etc), I've covered casseroles (tuna noodle, shepherd's pie, etc), and now, its on to side dishes (like the crazy successful grits from last week).

Mashed/pureed potatoes: Will it Waffle?  Yes ... but, like mac and cheese, some crusting is required to maintain structural integrity.  Or ... make it opened faced.  More on that below ...

Mashed Potatoes

The ingredient I had in mind for this experiment was simple: leftover mashed potatoes. 

Mashed Potatoes.
The potatoes actually came from leftover shepherd's pie, so there was a bit of peas, carrots, and corn also in the mix, but, just go with it.

Inside the waffle maker ...
I thought the mashed potatoes would waffle up and get a crispy exterior, like a potato pancake.  It sorta did ... except, there was absolutely no structural integrity.

I left it cooking for quite a while longer, and it got slightly more crispy, but it was clear that there was no way I'd ever be able to extract it as a full waffle from the waffle iron.

Tasty, and I liked the crispy bits, but certainly not a waffle.
Crusted Mashed Potatoes.
I had a tiny bit left of the mashed potatoes, that I was planning to just heat up and eat as regular mashed potatoes, but I couldn't resist trying to improve on my failed experiment.

Remembering how adding a cornflake crust made waffled mac and cheese a success, I added a crushed cornflake crust to the mashed potato and made a tiny little crusted mashed potato patty and waffled it.

And ... it worked.  While this was a small test, it held together fine and got super crispy on the outside.  I didn't mind the slight cornflake contamination of my mashed potatoes either, although I certainly wouldn't think of combined the two normally.

Next time, I'd certainly go for a crust again, although I'd try breadcrumbs.

Potato Puree

A few months later, I again had leftover mashed potato.  Ok, technically, it was potato puree, not mashed potatoes. 
Potato Puree.
The puree was incredible, loaded up with soooo much butter and cream, plus chives for even more flavor.  It was crazy creamy, crazy decadent, and oh so delicious.

Thus, into the freezer the leftovers went.
Leftover Potato Puree.
I pulled out the leftovers, and heated one block up in the toaster oven.  It came out fine, and I was impressed at the texture of the potatoes, even when frozen and reheated.  I think because it was such a smooth puree, no strange texture resulted from the freezing, as usually happens with mashed potatoes.

But you know me, I wanted to waffle things, so, into the waffle iron the other chunk went.
Almost there ...
Except ... I forgot to read my previous post, and failed to crust it.  I remembered this when I opened the lid to check on it, but actually, it looked like it was holding its structure fine, just obviously not done yet.

So, I let it go a bit longer, so the two halves would bind together.
I waited a bit too long though, as the top got a bit burnt.  Somehow the bottom side didn't though, which upset me slightly, because it means that my waffle plates aren't the same temperature ...

Anyway, even without crusting, this was a success.  It held together nicely, was super crispy on the outside, and a bit creamy inside.  It was kinda like hashbrowns or fries even.  I really enjoyed it, even if slightly over done.

Mashed Potato - Open Faced?

Another day, another batch of mashed potatoes to waffle, but this time, something didn't go quite as planned ...
The Original: Silky Smooth Mashed Yukon Golds.
I started with some seriously good mashed potatoes.  Just mashed yukon golds, with the perfect amount of butter and milk.  Creamy, with a bit of texture from a few chunks.  They were really fantastic potatoes, somehow not too decadent, but also still very delicious.  I think there was likely more butter than I realized, but, hey, they were great.

They were great cold the next day.  They were great warmed up in the oven.  But, I had to try waffling them too.
Cooking Underway.
I did not crust the potatoes.  I set the waffle iron to 350°  fairly randomly.  I was having them for breakfast, so I was going for more of a thin crispy hashbrown style than a big potato pancake, so I spread it in fairly thin.

After a few minutes of cooking, things didn't look good.  After 5 more minutes, it still didn't look good.  Because I did it so thin, the top grill didn't make contact with the potatoes, so it looked like a pool of mush, not crisping up.  I thought it was going to be a disaster to remove.  I didn't take a photo, and decided it was likely a waste.  I put another batch of potatoes in the regular oven, and returned to the waffle iron to clean up.
Lightly Waffled Mashed Potatoes!
And then I realized my creation was actually fine.  The bottom was in contact with the plates.  It did crisp up, lightly, and it didn't burn.  The waffle extracted from the iron with no problem.  And the top (now underside once I flipped it out), was creamy and moist.  It was the best of both worlds.

I actually loved this creation, and it inspired me to think about more "open-faced" style waffles, where I only intentionally waffle the underside, either by doing it thin like this, or, by not closing the top.

The evolution continues ...

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Delta Sky Club, SFO

Most of my travel has either been domestic with JetBlue or Virgin America (main cabin or first class), or international with OneWorld partners (like British Airways, Qantas, or Cathay Pacific (business class and first class).  However, this year, when I lost my status, I decided to take this opportunity to explore other airlines and options.

And thus, I flew on Delta for the first time ever, on a quick connection from SFO to LAX (before heading to Sydney on Virgin Australia ... stay tuned!)  Because I was flying international business class, this gave me access to the Delta Sky Club in SFO.

I don't have comparison points with other domestic Sky Clubs, but it was clean, modern, and well designed.  It was also barely occupied, likely because it is member's access only (aka, my First Class domestic ticket would not have given me access).


Vacant Entry Way.
Check-in for the lounge is located on the same floor as the gates, but the lounge is upstairs.  Once up there, there is another check in desk that wasn't staffed, and lots of vacant open space.  It felt a bit strange walking into such a deserted area.
Window Seating.
The open area along the windows was light filled and quite bright, with standard round tables and more comfortable arm chairs.  I was surprised that very few people choose this area, as it had all the views.
High Tables.
I choose to camp out at a high table so I could just stand (I'd be sitting enough soon!), but there were also individual work stations that seemed to be the most popular seating, which is funny, as this area was relatively dark and not welcoming.

Outlets were plentiful, even built into the high tables.

Local artwork hung on the walls.
A fairly long bar has both complimentary basic drinks and a premium menu, plus food you could order (and pay for).

The bathroom was particularly stunning, with red countertops and Malin + Goetz hand soap and lotion.  Showers were also available, which you could sign up for at the check in desk.  I imagine they were stunning as well, but I didn't investigate.

Food & Drink

The food lineup is buffet style, fairly basic, with some things to nibble on and a handful of hot options.

I wasn't really needing food while I was there, so I only nibbled on a few things, so, unfortunately, I can't tell you much about food quality.

I did appreciate that everything was well labelled and constantly refilled.
Snack mixes: ranch pretzel mix, unlabelled snack mix, roasted tomato popcorn.
Snack mixes are my favorite part of airline lounges, even when they are generally stale and not very good.  You know how much I love snacks!  I'm just a muncher, what can I say?

The ranch pretzel mix was mostly just seasoned assorted shapes of thin pretzels, with a few corn chips.  It was fine, but, I'm not really one for pretzels.

The tomato flavored popcorn tasted like plain popcorn to me, but, at least it wasn't stale.

The final mix was not labelled, and seemed to have all sorts of things in it.  Pretzels, corn chips, almonds, peanuts ...  It was salty and seasoned in some way.  Decent enough I guess, but I didn't find myself getting addicted to it in the way I do with American Airlines Admiral's Club snacks.
Cheese, Salad, Crudite, Dips.
Next up came some little cubes of assorted cheese, base for salad, and some veggies to dip, and hummus, caesar, and ranch dressing.

I didn't try these, but they seemed popular.
Next up was more veggies to dip/make salads with (cherry tomatoes and broccoli), and 3 prepared salads.

The options were Greek chicken and cucumber salad, Mediterranean bulgar and veggie salad, and ramen salad with kale and edamame.

I tried the ramen one.  It was ... ok, the noodles were not too mushy, but there wasn't much flavor to it.
Chicken Pho Base.
A novel unique element of the Delta line up was a Pho station, with bowls ready for the broth to be added.  There were plenty of instructions to ensure that people understood what this was all about.
Chicken pho broth, veggie chili, toppings.
The broth was next to a pot of veggie chili, and both had assorted toppings, like crunchy corn chips and shredded cheese.  And crispy french fried onions, which I was thrilled to see.  I didn't want the soup or chili, I just like fried onions!
Veggie Fried Rice.
 Next up was fried rice, two trays of the same thing.
Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownies.
The first dessert was brownies (using quality Guittard chocolate).
Chocolate Chunk and Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Fruit.
There were also jars of cookies and individually wrapped fruit.
Coffee Station.
The coffee station is Starbucks branded with drip coffee and a machine.  Decaf is offered in both.

I tried the drip decaf and it was only lukewarm.

The toppings were particularly impressive, several types of syrups (including pumpkin spice, because, November), chocolate powder, and mini marshmallows.
Tea was from Harvey and Sons, a decent selection, but no rooibos

Assorted sweeteners and honey were on offer.
Infused Water, Iced Tea, Water.
I appreciated the sparkling water tap, except that I wanted a bottle of water to bring out the door with me.  Lemons were provided as well.

Other soft drinks were available at the bar, but, alas, no cans or bottles there either.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Chaat Corner

I've walked by Chaat Corner more times than I can possibly count.

I used to live a block away.  I walked by it daily on my way to work.  I walked by it every night on the way home.  Yet I never went, even when it was the only place open in the neighborhood.  Chaat Corner is open every day, and that area does not have many options on Sundays.  They are open until midnight every night, and it certainly isn't an area with late night options.  They are open for lunch, starting as early as 11am.  Yet these things still never encouraged me to visit.

Even since I moved down the street, I still walk by several times a month.  It has managed to stay around for years now, which should be a sign of something.  And I still never visit.  Why?  I have no idea.  I like Indian cuisine, and I'm always looking for good indian food in the city.  But this place just never jumped out at me.

Chaat Corner recently opened a second location near Union Square.  That too should indicate that they are doing well.  But Yelp reviews are fairly mediocre.  No one I know has ever mentioned going there.  "Meh", I thought.

And then one day I was at home and really, really wanted salad.  And naan.  And something with spice.  I quickly looked online at menus of indian places nearby, and saw that the intersection of naan and salad is fairly limited, but Chaat Corner had several salads that sounded interesting (Indian ceasar? Grilled paneer topped salad?), and a huge assortment of breads, so, Chaat Corner it was.

I placed my order online, and headed the few blocks to pick it up.  My order was completed soon after I arrived.


Chaat Corner is really quite large.  I was shocked by how much seating and open space they had inside.  It was 5:15pm when I arrived, and it was mostly empty.

It isn't fancy.  It has basically no charm whatsoever.  I was glad to be getting takeout.
Cashier at Front.
Right inside the door is a cashier station, with a menu board on the wall.  This surprised me a bit as I thought this was a regular full service restaurant, so I think they must do a lot of takeout (unless tables order and pay up front too?)

On the side is also a cooler with canned/bottled drinks (do tables get cans too?)
Decor is not particularly interesting, fairly low end, lots of shiny materials and faux stone.
There is a small bar with counter seating, where I was invited to sit while I waited for my takeout.  I could have watched TV while I waited.


The menu is large, all standard indian offerings.  I didn't explore it much, as I had my eyes on exactly two things: salad and bread.  That said, they had an extensive selection of pakora, and I almost threw some battered fried onions into the mix too ...
Sometimes, you just need 2 spoons and a fork?
Things started going downhill as I opened up my packaging.

I was provided a fork and 2 spoons.  No knife.  Luckily, I was bringing it home anyway.
Tandoori Roti. $1.99.
I'll admit, I was overwhelmed by the bread selection.  I thought I knew indian breads, but, once I started reading the list, I realized I'm still uncertain.  One section was titled naan, with 13 different options, including 10 types of naan (plain, butter, garlic, garlic pesto, paneer, cauliflower, potato, onion, chicken pesto, ground lamb), plus tava roti, bhatura, and tandoori roti.  Then, another section, labelled paranthas, with 8 more options (plain, laccha, potato, cheese, onion, cauliflower, ground lamb, chicken).  Why were the roti and bhatura listed as naan?  And what is tava roti vs tandoori roti?

I fairly randomly picked the tandoori roti, thinking that tandoori items are usually nicely smoky, and, I like roti.

It turned out to be basically ... whole wheat naan?  Hearty tasting, but, very boring.  Dry, no butter.  Crispy bottom.

I guess fine, but highly, highly boring, although I suspect it was supposed to be?
Chaat Salad. $6.99
"Romaine lettuce, lentil chips, spicy chickpea noodles, cilantro and spices tossed in
tamarind and mint sauces."

For salads, I could pick the interesting sounding caesar (zesty mint caesar dressing!) or the chaat salad (lentil chips and spicy chickpea noodles!).  I opted for the later, based entirely on the promise of fun crispy things on top.  Since I had other food at home to finish, I decided not to add a protein topping, but I could have added chicken breast, chicken kebab, tandoori salmon, shrimp, seekh kebab, or paneer on top.

Since I got it to go, my salad came disassembled.  I appreciated this so it wouldn't get soggy.  The dry toppings came in separate containers, and the wet sauces even came with an extra protective foil wrapped around them.  Points for this.
Chaat Salad: Lettuce.  $6.99.
I did have to laugh when I opened my box though.  It was ... lettuce.  Just lettuce.  It seemed freshly chopped, not wilted, very crisp.  A decent base.

The menu said there should be cilantro too, and other people seemed to have tomato and cucumber in theirs (in the photos I saw), but mine?  Just lettuce.
Lentil Chips, "Spicy Chickpea Noodles".
Things got more amusing as I opened my other containers.

I quickly discovered the "spicy chickpea noodles" were ... just chickpeas.  Not toasted, no spicing.  Just chickpeas.  They seemed like they came from a can.  I had seen photos of this salad from others, and they did have chickpea noodles.

Since I actually hate chickpeas, I tried one, recognized that it was watery, slimy, and like from a can, and threw these out.  Chickpea noodles would have been nice.

The lentil chips were tasty though.  While I don't like lentils, I do like lentil chips (and likely would have liked chickpea noodles!)  I really liked the crunchy element, and the promise of the crunchy things is what made me order this in the first place.

I added a bunch of the lentil chips, but it looked like there was a bunch of rubble left in the bottom of the cup.  It was only later that I realized this is where the spices were added.  Doh.  I missed out on a lot of spice and flavor by missing this.  Not their fault though.
Tamarind and Mint Sauces.
The dressing for the salad is a mix of standard tamarind and mint sauces, like you use to dip samosa.  It was pretty strange putting these onto my salad as if they were dressing, but, actually, the result was good.  Obviously, normally it comes dressed for you, which seems less ideal, as you can't get the right balance of flavor that way.  I liked that I could add different amounts of each to create my preferred flavor (heavier on the herby mint, less of the sweet tamarind).

Both sauces were pretty standard, though I doubt housemade.  They didn't have that kind of freshness about them.  Still, it was nice to have some left to dip my naan in.
Cafe Chaat Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato