Friday, December 15, 2017

Sorren Snacks, UK

"We're Soreen, and we're full of squidgy energy!"
Uh, yeah.

I think I'm missing some cultural relevance to these snack foods from the UK, but, I did find them interesting.

The best I can tell, Soreen makes "squidgy" loaves of snacking bread?  High energy, good source of fiber, rich in vitamins, not messy or crumbly.  I think all are malt based, but they come in flavors ranging from the classic malt to chocolate & blood orange.

I tried the lunchbox size only, little loaves designed to throw into children's lunch boxes I guess, but I don't think the products are very different based on size.
"Keep the Lunchbox Police happy with these individually wrapped loaves, they meet school lunchbox standards and are low in fat."

They were ... squidgy? 
Lunchbox Malt Loaf.
"There’s nothing like sitting down with a nicely buttered slice and enjoying it with a decent cuppa!"

This was a very strange item.

It looked ... horrible.  Burnt?

The texture was also totally strange, a bit chewy, a bit gummy, dense inside, slightly crispy outside.  I have never experienced anything like it.  Now that I see the "squidgy" marketing, I think this is what it refers to?

The flavor though, and eating experience, was instantly familiar.  It reminded me of Boston Brown Bread ... you know, the stuff from a can?  The texture was different, but, it was a similar concept of a sorta molasses-like bread studded with raisins.

I think it might be good warm? Or toasted? Or slathered with butter?  Kinda like a breakfast bread.  Or ... taken another direction, soaked in caramel and topped with whipped cream.  But I had it plain, unfortunately.
Banana Lunchbox Loaf.
"‘Go Bananas’ for the perfect mid morning snack!"

Next I tried the banana loaf.

It was the same shape, but, a lighter color.

It too was ... fascinating and strange.  The texture was almost like ... mochi?  Again, uh, squidgy?

So odd.  It did have a nice banana flavor to it, and much like the malt version, I think might be good toasted.
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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Top Pot Donuts, Seattle

During my recent trip to the Seattle area for a conference, I was tasked with an important duty: acquiring the donuts for our mid-morning break the first day.  For 80 people.

I had a great list of recommended donut shops (yes, Mighty-O), but alas, none delivered to my office in Kirkland.  Thus we went for Top Pot, still recommended, but not as highly as the others.

I tried a lot of different donuts, none were very remarkable, but all were fine.
Red Box. 
Top Pot donuts do not come in a traditional pink box.  Instead, they come in a red box.  Innovative.
Donuts, Donuts.
Top Pot makes all the expected donuts: cake (plain or chocolate base), raised rings, raised filled donuts, and old fashioned (buttermilk or chocolate), plus bars, fritters, etc.

Since we ordered 80 donuts (!), we had a variety of basically all types of donuts they make.

From this box, I tried several (once others cut them up into chunks, don't worry, I didn't eat this many donuts myself ... although, by the end of the day, I had clearly consumed at like 3 full donuts.  For you, dear readers).

"Apple Fritter: Cubed apples and cinnamon-spice folded into our signature raised dough."

This was a pretty standard fritter.  Large, crispy glaze, bits of apple inside.  Not particularly good nor bad.

"Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Glaze and Oreos: Chocolate versions of our delicious cake doughnuts."

I'm not really one for cake donuts in general, but, this was perhaps the most interesting looking one, and, well, someone else cut it up.  The chocolate cake base was fine, the glaze was sweet, and the Oreos were, uh, Oreos.  Again, not particularly good nor bad.
Assorted Donuts.
The next box had most of the filled donuts, and many glazed sprinkled topped rings (their name for raised donuts).
Raspberry Glazed Cake.
"Plain cake doughnuts with a touch of spice."

I read many rave reviews of the raspberry glaze from Top Pot, available on many styles of donut, so for my second full donut, I grabbed the raspberry glazed cake donut.

The glaze was sweet and fruity, and certainly more unique than standard glaze.  The donut however was still pretty basic, just a generic cake donut, no better nor worse than what comes from your local grocery store.
Maple Glazed Buttermilk, Maple Glazed Bars.
The next box had mostly maple glazed creations (buttermilk old fashioned and unfilled raised bars), but also had a Raspberry Glazed Chocolate Cake donut hiding in it.

Since I thought the chocolate cake base was actually decent in the Oreo donut, and I liked the raspberry glaze, I tried a chunk of this, and I think it was likely the best of the bunch.  Fruity glaze, good enough chocolate cake base.
More Assorted Donuts.
The final box had cinnamon roll donuts, a bunch of chocolate glazed, and many sugar or cinnamon sugar coated (which they call "sandcastle") .

It also had the chocolate old fashioned donuts, "a chocolate version of our classic old fashioned doughnut", something I hadn't really seen before.  I obviously had to try it, and went for the sugar coated one.

I was quite surprised.  I'm not really sure what made it like the regular old fashioned besides the shape, as in, it didn't have buttermilk tang, but this was my third favorite donut overall.  Like the other chocolate cake bases, it had a good chocolate flavor, was dense but not dry, and was crispy outside.  And the sugar coating added some texture.

One donut that I had requested be included in our order was also in this box, from the specialty filled menu (which also contains a standard bavarian creme bismark and lemon filled).
Raspberry Bulls-eye.
The one I requested was the Raspberry Bulls-eye, a raised glazed round one, with a ton of raspberry filling on top, rather than inside.  Again, one people say is great.

It was good, a standard fluffy yeasted raised donut.  Nothing particularly novel about it.  The glaze was very sweet though, and I almost wished it wasn't there.  It was very generously covered in glaze  Maybe I was a bit sick of sweet donuts at this point?

The raspberry goo was good though, thick, fruity, uh, gooey, satisfying.  I liked the twist of doing it bulls-eye style rather than stuffed inside.

It is hard to see in the photo, but there really was a lot of the raspberry topping.  I liked being able to dunk chunks of my donut in it, and create bite after bite of "perfect bites".  Under the raspberry topping did seem a bit undercooked and doughy, but actually, that was my favorite part.

Overall, my second favorite donut.
Top Pot Doughnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Waffling Adventures: Freezer Burned Choco Taco

By now, you know that I throw ... basically everything into my waffle iron, particularly leftovers, when the item has degraded.

While a Choco Taco may not *sound* like a leftover, this one was, for reasons you'll soon read about.
Freezer Burned, Refrozen, Choco Taco Transformation.
You can pull out your skeptics hat now, because I sure had mine on.  I thought this was just going to be for fun, since the product was ruined anyway.

But I was thrilled with the result.

So, Freezer Burned, Refrozen, Choco Taco: Will it Waffle?  Shockingly, yes.

It was more successful than I ever imagined.
Choco Taco.
"Vanilla ice cream with fudgy swirls wrapped in a crunchy sugar cone taco, then drenched in a thick, chocolatey coating and sprinkled with peanuts."
I started with a Klondike Choco Taco.  For the unfamiliar, it is a sugar cone that is made into a taco shell, stuffed with vanilla ice cream with chocolate swirls, dipped in chocolate, and coated in chopped peanuts.

I have fond memories of these from the rare times growing up when we were allowed to get them at Del Taco, after our taco salads.
Freezer Burned, Defrosted & Refrozen, Choco Taco.
I had a box of them in my freezer, excited to pull them out one day.

But, a bit of a disaster struck.  My chest freezer, where I store my non-essentials, broke.  The compressor failed.  Everything inside was still cold, so, food safe, but, things like ice cream were rather ruined.

But I didn't have the heart to throw it all out.  I threw plenty out, don't get me wrong, but I stashed the Choco Tacos back in, with a side thought, "maybe it will waffle".

I tried a bite of the now re-frozen creation.  It was soggy, the shell tasted stale, and the ice cream clearly icy and freezer burned.  What you'd expect.  Trash.

Except it wasn't.
Into the Waffle Iron.
I heated the waffle iron up to the highest setting (450 degrees), thinking that I'd kinda like to sear the taco cone so it got crispy, while maybe keeping the ice cream frozen?

I put it into the waffle iron (yup, there was my bite taken out), pressed down, and walked away for a second.

The sounds coming out of the waffle iron were instant.  Something was, uh, clearly cooking.  It was much more noisy than usual.
30 Seconds In ...
It was so noisy I opened the lid much sooner than I usually do, less than a minute in.

It was ... a bubbling disaster.  The ice cream melted out instantly, all over the waffle plates.  The taco cone shell was still soggy.

I thought all hope was lost, but closed it again.

The sounds continued.  I laughed at myself, and starting thinking about what a pain it would be to clean up.
A few minutes more ...
I let it go a few minutes more, commenting that I really just didn't know what to do.  I didn't think anything positive would come of it at this point.

When I opened the lid again, I could see it was about to start burning.  But the cone did crisp up.

I pulled out a wooden chopstick (my preferred extraction tool), and ran it through the liquid, scooping some up.  I tasted it.

It was ... good.  Piping hot, but, it tasted sorta like dulce de leche, something in that direction.  It was a liquid-like, but had incredible caramelized flavor.  I guess this is what happens to ice cream when it cooks?

I was also very surprised at how easily it came out, so, I extracted the whole thing.
Waffled Choco Taco.
Still, the larger taco didn't look very good.  It did however extract easily, in one piece, leaving no mess behind.  I was shocked.  It solidified within seconds.  Hmmm.  I did have a waffle, after all.

I had to try a bite, right?

I was blown away.

The sugar cone taco shell did indeed get crispy, and, it was now totally caramelized from the ice cream that somehow turned into sweet caramel.  A crispy, sweet wrapper.

A wrapper around what?  The ice cream clearly had all melted out, right?  Yes.  But the chocolate ... it stayed inside.  I was beyond shocked when I bit in, and something came squirting out.  Inside was like a molten chocolate cake.

Basically, I had a crispy shell, molten chocolate, and a prevailing dulce de leche taste.  It was delicious.  Beyond successful, and transformed what was clearly otherwise trash.

I'm so glad I tried this one, and that I have an entire box to play with!
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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Executive Club, Compass Rose, and The Bar, Westin Tokyo

My recent adventures to Tokyo included a stay at the Westin (following my stay at the Prince Gallery).  As part of my stay, I dined at all the venues offering breakfast: Victor's for a formal fancy breakfast, the Terrace for the big buffet (review coming next week), and the Executive Lounge, for a in-between option.  I also visited two of the bars: The Compass Rose and "The Bar".

The Lounge

Classic Westin Decor.
The lounge, like the entire hotel, follows the standard Westin elegant and traditional decor style, with arm chairs, lots of upholstery, wooden and glass tables, etc.

Not modern, but elegant and comfortable.

The lounge is open for breakfast, afternoon snacks, and evening drinks and canapes, like most hotel executive lounges.

Breakfast Buffet

The morning breakfast buffet is more generous than a standard continental, but not particularly exciting, and far less extensive than the Terrace Restaurant downstairs.  The only thing I found interesting is that the selection wasn't a subset of what was offered in the Terrace Restaurant (review coming next), and some items were entirely different.  They must actually use different kitchens.

Still, if you want a more relaxed environment, or wanted to be quick, the lounge is a good choice, and has more than enough to satisfy.
Smoked Salmon, Ham.
The buffet starts with smoked salmon and "assorted ham", the same that are offered in the evening for canapes.
Salad, Dressing, Eggs.
And then salad (again, with the same two types of dressing as evening), and boiled eggs.

In the morning, they also offer croutons and cheese with the ceasar dressing, but not at night.  I found this very strange.
Continental Japanese Items.
Next up are Japanese breakfast staples: natto, Japanese pickles, tofu, dried young sardines and green pepper, omelet.
Chinese Duck's Egg with Tofu.
One morning, this very interesting looking dish showed up, instead of just the regular tofu.

I don't know what compelled me to grab it, as I already had a full breakfast downstairs, and I was just stopping by the lounge for coffee (they allow takeout coffee!).

But I'm glad I tried it.  Because it was both tasty and fascinating.
Chinese Duck's Egg with Tofu: Inside.
So, what was it?

I still don't entirely know.  The base was I guess tofu, but it was more like a custard with texture, if that makes any sense.  Sorta like the texture of cold scrambled eggs?  Yeah, I know know that doesn't sound good, but I can't do any better.  It wasn't a bad thing, really, just, not familiar to me at all.

And then in the mix was little bits of what seemed like jelly, brown.  I think these were the bits of preserved egg.

On top, shreds of something fresh.  They balanced the richness.

I'm doing such a horrible job describing this, but I don't know how to do better.  The textures were fascinating, the flavors intense.  I actually really enjoyed it.
Rice, Miso Soup.
Next was more Asian style sides, not much to say here, just rice and miso soup.
Chinese Porridge with Toppings.
And Chinese porridge with a few toppings (green onions, crispy things).
Breakfast Proteins.
The next station was a bit more interesting.  Slices of ham, bacon, and sausage.  The sausage was in a roll, and scissors were provided to cut your own portion.  Ketchup on the side.

I tried the sausage, and it was quite different from any that I've had before.  It had some savory "breakfast" seasonings, but I still am not sure what kind of sausage it actually was.  Good ... I think?

Totally different offerings from what was downstairs.
Hot Items.
Next, token hot items: potatoes, scrambled eggs, and ... beef strew with tomato?
Duchas of Potatoes.
The potatoes were at least unique, and changed daily.

The "Duchas of potatoes"looked like mashed potatoes in assorted colors, piped into little flowers and baked.  Downstairs only ever had hash browns, so this is another area the lounge had better variety.
Lyonaises Potato.
The potato product seemed to change out daily in the lounge, the next day was "lyonaises potato", which seemed to have caramelized onions.
More Hot Items.
A few more hot items finish off the buffet: "simmered dish" and oatmeal.

Seriously, so many things weren't labelled, and this one didn't exactly offer much in the way of details.
Pastries.
And then, one of the most exciting (and often disappointing) sections of every breakfast buffet: baked goods.

The lounge had same almond croissants from downstairs, danishes, muffins, and gluten-free banana bread.

I tried the final item, one I hadn't seen in the restaurant, which looked like a savory tart of some sort.

It turned out to be filled with mashed potatoes, ham, and cherry tomatoes, in a spongy oily puff pastry shell.  Not particularly good.
Breads, Croissants.
The bread selection also had the same croissants, english muffins, and pretzels as downstairs, but they were laid out nicely in baskets.
Colorful Bagel-Breads.
Above the pretzels were some colorful twisted things, in orange, pink, purple, green.  I thought these looked fun, and likely mango, raspberry, blueberry, and matcha flavored?  These were unique to the lounge, I never saw them downstairs.
Saffron Twisty Bread-Bagel
I was pretty shocked when I actually tried one though.  They were ... bagels?  Twisted, colorful, but tasted like any standard bagel.  I think this one had a slight saffron flavor.

These were really unique, and I didn't see them anywhere else in Japan either.
Bread.
The bread station finished with simple white bread, fruit bread, and a toaster.  Generic packaged jams to spread on top.
Cereal.
 The cereal lineup was completely different from the restaurant downstairs.  Just cornflakes and gluten-free "cereals", plus a few packaged offerings.
Yogurts, Juices.
Little pots of yogurt (apple, berry), individual orange juices, and boxes of soy milk came next.
Fruits, Veggie Pancakes.
This was a strange area.  Yogurt and fruit, muesli, and savory cold pancakes in assorted colors.

Yes, cold savory colorful pancakes.
Vegetable Pancake with Tomato and Carrot Jam.
The top row held colorful pancakes.  "Vegetable pancakes" the sign said, in all sorts of colors.

In front of the pancakes was jam to spread on top .... tomato jam and carrot jam.  Fascinating.

I obviously had to try this.  I opted for a purple one, thinking it might be ... purple potato?

The pancake was actually pretty good.  Yes, a cold savory pancake, but it had a nice flavor (not that I could tell you *what* that flavor was) and a nice texture.

The carrot jam was also pretty good, a bit sweet actually.  The tomato jam tasted just like jarred tomato sauce though, not particularly tasty.

Overall, this was certainly interesting, and if I wasn't eating huge breakfasts in the downstairs buffets every day, I probably would have tried other colors too.
Juicing Station.
The final area was what seemed to be a juicing station, a nice touch, but I didn't use it.

Afternoon Snacks & Evening Canapes

Throughout the afternoon, a small selection of snacks is available, including pastries, savory nibbles, desserts, chocolate, and a soup of the day.

In the evening, canapes are offered from 5:30-7:30, along with drinks.  You may also visit the fancy bar on the top floor (The Compass Rose) or the bar downstairs (The Executive Bar), and choose from limited drink selection.
Evening Line Up.
The evening offerings aren't that extensive, but there are hot items, the requisite cheese/meat/crackers, and some desserts.  And, on my visit, a bonus sushi station.

Drinks

Drink Station.
The alcohol lineup is decent, beer, wine, fruit juices, standard liquor.

Servers circulate the room eager to take your order, or you may help yourself.  Not really sure which they prefer.
Special Drink Offerings.
I think these were special?  Not really sure.  One was sake.
Whiskey Soda.
A server approached me the moment I entered, and asked what I'd like.  I wasn't even able to look at the selections, much less make up my mind that quickly, so I blurted out, "uh, whiskey?"

I was brought ... a whiskey soda. I guess she thought I couldn't handle it straight up? It was fine I guess.

Food

Nothing from the buffet was particularly good.
Buffet.
The food station strangely started with the desserts, and ended with soup.  In between was the rest of the offerings, all self-serve, and quickly replenished.

Only a few items were labelled.
Soup.
I started at the far end, because the order made no sense.
Pumpkin Soup.
The soup had tiny little teacups to serve it into, and spoons beside it that were too large to fit into the cups.

It was rich pumpkin soup, loaded with cream, but nicely flavored.  I drank it, rather than spooned it, because, as I said, the spoons didn't fit.

It also showed up as afternoon snack other days.
Fried ... Chicken?
I think this was fried chicken, although I had a moment of doubt that it might be fish.

It was crispy but oily.  Under it was a spongy mushroom.

No sauce, no dip, not very good.
Breads.
Next came some slices of bread, including a cheesy one that I tried.  It wasn't very good, spongy, oily.  Maybe good to dunk in the soup?
Proteins.
Next, smoked salmon, "assorted ham", and some kind of terrine.

I tried the terrine, it was ok, but no real idea what was in it.  Different types of meats, and some pate.

Behind this was dried fruit in jars, labelled "compote".  None were great.
No Idea.
I have no idea what this was.  I didn't try it.  I couldn't even guess, although it did look a lot like the item they had a breakfast labelled "dried young sardines and green pepper."
Cheese, Edamame.
I tried the smoky cheese, it was decently smoky, but, it tasted like processed American cheese on the finish.

Salad, Nuts, Veggie Chips.
Rather generic veggie chips, mixed nuts that were mostly peanuts, and a basic salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes, with two types of dressing.

I had some salad just to have some veggies, I did like the "Japanese" dressing, soy based, and I think sesame?

The veggie chips were replaced with honey mustard pretzel nuggets another day.  These small snacks are also offered throughout the day.
Desserts, Chips.
The desserts were not labelled.

Potato chips were standard chips.

The fruit salad was actually pretty good, it had some seriously huge grapes in it.  The strawberries were quite tasty, clearly sweetened though.
Pudding.
Next was a pudding of some sort.  I adore pudding, so I eagerly grabbed one.  It looked like it might also be pumpkin flavored (it was fall after all), and I hoped it would be great like the one I had at the Prince Gallery executive lounge the day before.

But ... it wasn't pumpkin.  I'm not really sure what the flavor was, but it was light brown.  I was worried for a moment it might be coffee, but I didn't taste that either.  I didn't taste ... anything really.  It was nicely set I guess?  A dollop of whipped cream was on top.
Sweet Potato Walnut Pudding.
The next day, in the afternoon, were little custards.  Now this one looked like pumpkin pudding, right?

Nope! It was ... sweet potato.  Very savory.  Decent thick custard, but, yeah, not dessert as I like.  On top was chopped walnuts.
Green Tea Panna Cotta with Red Bean.
The next day, another pudding.

This one was as I expected: green tea, red bean on top.

The panna cotta was nicely set, very strong matcha flavor.  I do appreciate how much stronger the matcha flavors are in Japan.  They don't dilute, or sweeten, nearly as much as we do in the US.

The red bean on top was soft and slightly sweet.

Overall, ok, the best of the puddings.
Strawberry Cream Cake.
Not satisfied with the pudding, I went for the cake, even though I don't really like cake.

It was actually pretty good.  Really light moist cake, strawberry cream, whipped cream, sweetened fruit, white chocolate sticking out.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Special Chef Station

I think this isn't normal, but on my visit, there was a sushi chef, making hand rolls to order.
Chef Station.
You could pick salmon, tuna, and a few other seafoods, tomago, pickled roots, and sprouts.
Salmon Hand Roll.
I opted for a salmon hand roll to start.  It came with ginger and soy sauce on the side.  Optional wasabi was added inside.

It was actually quite good.  Crispy seaweed wrapper, nicely flavored rice, decent quality salmon.  The pickled ginger and soy sauce were standard but good.
Tomago and Diakon Sprouts Hand Roll.
For my second roll, I went for tomago, and added in diakon sprouts.

It too was good.  Same crisp wrapper, flavorful rice, decent sweet tomago, fresh sprouts.

I was impressed with the quality of the sushi.

Other Venues

You can opt to get your evening drinks from 5:30-7:30pm at the other bars in the hotel as well, from a limited menu selection.  I took them up on this, opting to try both the top floor bar (The Compass Rose) and the lobby level bar (The Bar).
Complimentary Menu.
The complimentary menu was the same at both venues, and had a decent assortment of offerings, including a cocktail selection.

The Compass Rose

The Compass Rose is the bar on the top floor, adjacent to the fancy restaurant.  It is my preferred venue of choice.
Stunning View.
The bar really was lovely, with a stunning view over the city.

Quite piano music was playing, it was super low key, and really a wonderful place to sit and take in the evening.
Lounge Seating.
The rest of the lounge is made up of high and low tables, all very elegant. Each table even had a fresh rose and a candle.  A very classy place.
Spumoni, Bar Snacks.
I went for the "spumoni", a grapefruit juice, tonic, and campari based drink.  I did enjoy it, fairly refreshing, nicely bitter, easy to drink.

I was also provided with some ridiculously addicting bar snacks, some kind of chips. One variety was peppery, really strong, which I really liked.

Two nights later, I returned, and again loved the bar snacks and spumoni, and the atmosphere.  Clearly where I'd spend my time if I were at the Westin for multiple days.

The Bar

And finally, on the ground floor, an entirely different setting: The Bar.
The Bar Doors.
A bit hard to spot, if you don't know what you are looking for, off the side of the main lounge.
Dark and Swank.
Completely different from the high floor bar, this one has zero windows, is dark, and very swanky.
Bar Snacks, Salty Dog.
Here I went for the Salty Dog, a bit more fun than a margarita, another slightly biter (from grapefruit juice), but refreshing offering.  I loved the salted rim.

And, I was provided with different bar snacks, a rio: olives, thin breadsticks, and spicy things that looked like spaghetti.  I loved the spaghetti ones!
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