Friday, November 02, 2018

3 Korochki, Russian snacks

My co-workers have been signing up for monthly snack food subscription boxes, some of which come with treats from around the world.  This is a unique way to try treats from places we don't normally visit.  It has opened up a world (heh, literally) of possibilities to me of new snack foods to try.  Which, for me is a great thing, as I love snacks.

And thus, we found ourselves with products from 3 Korochki, a snack company from Russia.
"Freshly baked bread is used for "3 Crusts" croutons."
3 Korochki, or "3 Crusts", makes three different product lines, all types of snack croutons, either "with sauce", wheat, or rye based.  To say the flavors are interesting is an understatement.  Bacon & Heinz ketchup, or perhaps Chicken Teriyaki, are the most tame.  I wished we were sent options like "quick pickled cucumbers flavour + tartar sauce", because those sounded pretty ridiculous, but we did not pick our flavors.

They were ... fascinating, at least.  Very ... unique.
Salmon & Cheese Packaging.
"Rye croutons with salmon and cheese flavour."

First up, salmon & cheese croutons, from the rye product line.  This variety also comes in the "with sauce" line, a salmon and cheese flavour with tartar sauce baked in.

From the packaging, I was already a bit confused.  I saw smoked salmon, cubes of holey swiss cheese, and sticks.  Uh, what?
Salmon & Cheese Croutons.
Inside the bag though ... that really is what they were.

"Croutons", or, rye rusks, with, yes, salmon and cheese flavor.  The rusks were crunchy, like baked croutons.  Good heartiness from the rye.  I don't really want rye croutons, but, you could taste the rye, and they were pleasantly crispy.

The flavor though ... salmon and cheese don't really go together in my head.  A bit worse to imagine is salmon and fake snack food cheese.  And even worse?  Powdered salmon and powdered cheese flavor.  Yet that is what these were.

Hearty rye croutons covered in strange fishy cheesy powder?  Uh ...  uh ... fascinating, but not really something I want.  They left my stomach feeling a bit confused.
Aspic and Horseradish Packaging.
If you think the salmon and cheese were adventurous, um, next was even more crazy.

Aspic, as in, yes, meat jelly.  With horseradish.  Even the image on the package was a bit scary here.

I had no idea what to expect.
Aspic and Horseradish Croutons.
"Rye croutons with aspic and horseradish flavour."

These looked much like the salmon and cheese variety.  Crunchy, hard, rye croutons.  Ok, sure.

But the flavor.  OMG the flavor.  This is not a good OMG.

These were fairly awful.  Such a strong flavor.  A ... zesty one.  A very, very strong zesty flavor, with strangeness to it that wasn't identifiable.  My immediate reaction was to spit this out.

I did not spit it out, I forced myself to taste it more, to try to understand it, but, wow, it was not a good experience.  I did not eat another.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

7 Days Soft Croissant

Packaged, shelf-stable, baked goods?  You know how I roll.  I'll try anything.

Like, "7 Days Soft Croissant".
"No1 CROISSANT IN THE WORLD! A wonderful combination of soft croissant pastry with a rich creamy filling that gives you energy to get your day going in the most delicious way."
Their marketing sounds great, right?  The No 1 croissant in the world?  Now that's a claim.  A claim that makes no sense, really.  Do they *really* think they are better than a fresh french patisserie? And I wasn't quite sure about creamy fillings, I mean, I love creamy fillings, but in croissants?

And what's with the name, 7 Days, anyway?  Do they last 7 days? (nope, they are frighteningly shelf stable for much longer).  Take 7 days to make? (ha, no, they are mass produced in a factory).  The answer: they are meant to be enjoyed 7 days a week.  You know, if you want to have a diet that consists of highly processed, high fat, high calorie, croissants *every* day.

Fortunately, 7 Days also makes a mini croissant "coffee's best friend" that might be a more practical daily snack.  They also randomly make bagel chips, and "pizzeti", bread chips baked with spices and cheese, basically, kinda like pizza flavors, just, snackable.  These too are supposed to be something you enjoy 7 days a week.

I tried only the full size soft croissants.  And ... they weren't bad.   Really.
Packaged Croissant.
"The classic choice for every day.  7DAYS Croissant, made with dough and rich filling, satisfies your hunger in the most delicious way."

Everything about this, from the outside, just made me laugh.  How good would this packaged, shelf stable for months, croissant possibly be?  And the fillings ... not exactly normal croissant fillings.  My choices were vanilla, chocolate cream, peanut butter crème & chocolate, peanut butter crème & jelly, strawberry vanilla, and caramel.

I selected the most interesting flavor from the lineup - peanut butter crème & chocolate, mostly because I was curious what this "crème" was.
Peanut Butter Crème & Chocolate: Exterior.
I opened the package to reveal my not-so fresh baked good.  However, I was drawn in pretty immediately.  Not by the look (kinda smooshed, obviously not flaky), but by the aroma.  It smelt buttery and delicious, and somehow, freshly baked.

To the touch though, this thing was very oily.  My fingers were left with a sheen to them just from touching it for a moment.  Soooo much butter.
Peanut Butter Crème & Chocolate: Interior.
I sliced off the end so I could see inside.

Here I could see a light brown center, and a darker brown around it.  Peanut butter crème and chocolate.  Ok.

Time to try it.  By now my fingers were slippery.

The pastry was better than I expected.  It did not taste stale.  It did not taste like plastic.  It was more bread-like than a real croissant, not flaky laminated layers, but, it was soft, sweet, and quite buttery.  Well, huh.  Not so bad.

The filling too was better than I expected.  The peanut butter crème squirted out when I squeezed it, so I tasted it alone first.  It was ... delicious peanut butter flavored crème.  I really liked it.  Tons of peanut butter flavor, but in a pastry cream.  The chocolate was thicker, richer, but not solid.  It took was like a pudding, just, a thick one.  Rich chocolate flavor.

I was pretty shocked at this point. Sure, not a flaky fresh croissant, but I liked the soft buttery bread, and I adored the filling.

But I had an idea.  It said clearly on it "DO NOT MICROWAVE", but it didn't say I couldn't warm it up another way.
Into my toaster oven it went, just for a few minutes, rotated halfway through.

This did magic.  The exterior really truly did get flaky, not just crispy from being toasted.  I couldn't believe it.  The pastry was now not only "not bad", but it was actually quite good.  And yes, still very, very buttery.  My fingers were quite moisturized at this point.
And the insides?  OMG.  The flavors and consistency were good at room temperature, but once heated, the chocolate got all melty, and this was truly fantastic.

I adored this thing, and now I'm really curious to try more of their products.  Any flavor.  You know, as my daily snack, 7 days a week ...

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

AS 307, First Class, SFO-SEA

Flight Details:
  • Departure: 1:25pm (scheduled), 1:55 (actual)
  • Seat: 1C
  • Meal: Snack
My first time flying Alaska Airlines First Class, but it was just a short 2 hour flight from San Francisco to Seattle.

It was ... fine?  Flight attendants were friendly and efficient.  The "meal" was better than I expected.
Red Wine & Warm Nuts.

Once underway, hot towels were offered and our drink orders were delivered (pre-ordered while on the ground).

I opted for the red wine, I'm not sure what it was, there was a choice only of red or white, no details given.  It was ... drinkable.  A table wine, not offensive, not too tannic at least.

I appreciated that the nuts were served slightly warm, and that the mix was well distributed between cashews, almonds, and pecans, nicely salted.  Fine nuts.
Turkey Sandwich.
The meal served was "snack", I was expecting just a snack basket, so I ate in advance.  This wasn't really a "snack" ...

I had a choice ... protein plate or turkey sandwich.  Neither actually sounded good.  The protein plate was sliced chicken, hard boiled egg, hummus, pita, apple slices, and grapes.  No cheese.  The turkey sandwich came with no sides, usually the only thing I like about the sandwich option on a flight.  Hmm.  Neither of these appealed, but the FA said the turkey sandwich was good, so, hey, I went for it.

It was a generous sandwich, two halves, both quite large.  And, shockingly, served warm.  I wasn't expecting that at all.  It actually warmed up really well, the bread slightly crispy and toasty, the fillings pleasantly warm, the cheese melted.  Huh.

The bread was fine, not stale, and the toasting worked wonders on it.  The inside of both the top and bottom was soggy, but in a way that I sometimes like, uh, yes, I like scraping out mushy bread.

On the side was a delicious herbed mayo that made me want things to dip into it, and some mediocre grapes.
Turkey Sandwich: Warmed.
The inside also was better than expected.

Decent amount of roast turkey slices.  I tried a bite of turkey, and yes, it was turkey.  Not my thing, but nice and warm.  The tomatoes weren't that bad, not mealy.  The dill was a nice surprise and added a ton of flavor.

And then, cheese ... sorta.  It was melted, not very generous, and mostly soaked into the bread.

So, overall, this was actually a decent quality item.  Not really my thing at all, but I found that I enjoyed the mushy bread I scraped out, with melty cheese, tomatoes, dill, tasty tasty herb mayo, and my own salad and snacks I brought.

If you actually like sandwiches, or turkey, this really might be a good one.

Monday, October 29, 2018

California Pizza Kitchen

Update Review, October 2018

I don't often go to California Pizza Kitchen, since I'm not really that into pizza, but last year, when I had a birthday freebie to redeem, I discovered a dessert there that I loved: salted caramel pudding.  It was fabulous, as you read about them.

On this visit, I was inspired to get that pudding again, but almost went off course and opted for another dessert, as my research tells me the butter cake really is a thing of wonder.  Next time ... 

I ordered through the app for the first time, which was quite easy, placing my pickup order when I was a few blocks away.  It was being finished right as I arrived.  Perfect!
My visit was to the San Francisco location.

The restaurant is quite large, with bar seating, a huge inside seating area, and large patio.  And at 12:30pm on a Sunday, the restaurant was nearly vacant.  Two guys sat at the bar, and two tables were occupied.  I am not sure if this is normal, but if so, how can they afford the rent in SF?!

I was getting takeout though, as was one person ahead of me with a large catering order.  The open kitchen allowed me to see the action, and they did seem to be making plenty of pizzas, all just getting boxed up.  Maybe everyone just does takeout from here these days?
Salted Caramel Pudding. $6.29.
"Rich caramel pudding, black cocoa cookie crumbs, housemade whipped cream, caramel sauce and natural flaked Maldon sea salt." 

My treat was handed over in the same kind of takeout cup as last time.  However, um, it looked quite a bit different.
Left: 2017. Right: 2018.
The ratios were all off.  Last year, the primary component was the pudding, this year, far less pudding, with an equal amount of whipped cream.  The cup wasn't full.  And where was the caramel sauce on top?

I asked the person handing it over, "isn't it supposed to have caramel sauce on top?"  He confirmed it was, and took it back.  I worried it also didn't have the Maldon sea salt on top, but that was harder to see visually.  I hoped they would fix both.
Salted Caramel Pudding: Fixed?
It came back ... with caramel, yes.  A big glob right in the center.  Clearly, whoever added it was annoyed that I sent it back.  But come on, its supposed to have caramel!

It certainly did not have the salt either, which was sad, as this is a very very sweet dessert without it.

Like last time, I found it extremely frustrating to eat.  The first spoonful, all whipped cream (and caramel glob).  I could work to dig for the pudding, but getting the crumble too, at least while eating the first *half* of the cup, was nearly impossible.  And this is a dessert that really does need all components to work.

But that was all true last time, and I still loved it.  This time however ... my experience was just not as positive.

The whipped cream deflated almost instantly.  It seemed like very light whipped cream from a can, not "housemade" and not able to hold up for even 5 minutes as I ate it.  It was necessary though, to balance the caramel pudding.

The caramel pudding was sweet.  Too sweet.  I noted that last time too, but when it combined with the cookie crumbs and whip it worked last time, although, yes, still quite sweet.  This time I just found it cloying, and one note, certainly not salted, and with just some deflated whipped cream and extra glob of sweet caramel it wasn't enjoyable.

I dug desperately for the cookie crumbs, knowing they were essential and would make a difference.  And they did.  But ... cookie crumbs tasted stale this time, all clumped together, and even almost freezer burned tasting.  Not very good.  But again, necessary, both for the texture, but also the contrast to the too sweet pudding.

Overall, this just made me very sad.  It wasn't good, and it wasn't anything like my memory of only a year ago.  Once I mixed everything together, it was certainly better, like a very sweet version of a "dirt cake" I had growing up, but really nothing like last year.

I'm not sure if I'd try it again, or venture out to try the crazy butter cake, or red velvet cake, or just give up on desserts at CPK entirely ...

August 2017 Review

My last visit to California  Pizza Kitchen was in 2013, when they had a promo for a free appetizer.  I didn't like it.  I said I had no reason to return.

But this year, while arranging my birthday freebie crawl, I saw that I could get a dessert for free.  Well, I'm a dessert girl, no matter the quality, so I quickly added it to my itinerary.

I visited the San Francisco location, and opted to get it to go, since I was coming straight from another birthday freebie, and planned to bring it home to have later.  Ordering was simple, they have a dedicated take out ordering/pickup/waiting area to the side of the bar (with its own entrance actually).

The staff were very friendly, multiple people said happy birthday, no one seemed at all offended that I was coming just to get my free dessert, not ordering anything else, and taking it to go.  They talked me to about how good the pudding was.  It was ready within just a few minutes, and handed over with a spoon and napkin.

The entire experience was incredibly pleasant, and the item I selected?  Delicious.  I'll be back. 
Dessert Menu.
The dessert menu had an assortment of tempting options.  Crowd pleasers for sure, but, turns out, that works for me.

First, "Butter cake".  What is butter cake?  I'm not entirely sure, but, it sounded possibly awesome.  Yes, the menu actually just says "Trust us ... just try it!" as the description.  If I was dining in, I probably would have gone with that option, but since it was served warm (with whipped cream or ice cream), it didn't seem like a good choice to take out.  Also, gulp, 1380 calories!

The seasonal special, not listed on this menu, was strawberry shortcake, also tempting.  I love a good strawberry shortcake, but, to be honest, I kinda doubted how fresh the berries really would be.  Even the red velvet cake sorta called out, though I'm not a cake girl.  At least I was able to easily look past the key lime pie (I'm not one for citrus desserts) and the warm chocolate souffle cake (clearly needs to be eaten there).

Which lead me to the salted caramel pudding.  As if it was really a contest, given both my absolute love of pudding, and the fact that I was not able to find a single bad review of it.  People love it.
Salted Caramel Pudding. $6.29.
"Rich caramel pudding, black cocoa cookie crumbs, housemade whipped cream, caramel sauce and natural flaked Maldon sea salt."

When you dine in, it comes in a cute little canning jar.  For takeout, they used a plastic beverage cup.  I didn't mind, as my portion easily looked twice as large as the little canning jar photos I had seen.

It was a layered creation, with the cookie crumbs at the base, the pudding in the middle, and topped with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce.

I didn't wait more than two steps out the door to at least try a bite, even though I was intending to save it for later.

My first bite was indicative of the difficulty eating it I would have.  The bite was entirely whipped cream (and caramel sauce).  It tasted like generic canned whipped cream, which is fine, but they do say it is housemade.  The caramel tasted like the standard stuff you get on an ice cream sundae, or at Starbucks.  That caramel on top didn't seem salted, and I didn't see any flakes of Maldon on top.

I dug deeper, trying to get to the pudding.  I succeeded, and came out with a bite of pudding and whip.  And ... I was impressed.  That was very, very good pudding.  It was a thinner consistency than I'd expect, almost runny, but the flavor was so good I didn't mind.  Sweet, rich, deep flavor.  I worked hard to get a spoonful of just the pudding.  The result?  Well, it was too sweet, actually.  The pudding alone was cloyingly sweet.  Even though I wasn't excited about the generic whipped cream, it did help cut the sweetness.

But the real magic came when you managed to get a bite of all the layers, including the cookie crumble, hiding at the very, very bottom.  It was extremely hard to do this, and you really just had to mix the entire thing up and not be able to get "perfect bites" with the ratio you wanted, but it barely mattered.  If you got it all, or, really, just the pudding and cookie crumble, it was really, really good.
"Black cocoa cookie crumbs."
The cookie crumble, described as "black cocoa cookie crumbs" was ... basically Oreo crumbs.  The woman taking my order even said, "Oh, do you like Oreo?  If you do, the base is all Oreo, and its amazing".   When she said that, my heart sank a little, actually.  I don't really like Oreo.  If that is why people loved the pudding, then, it probably wasn't for me.  I nearly changed my order.  But I'm glad I didn't.

Yes, it was basically Oreo crumbs.  But it clumped together in ways that it formed either loose soil or little crumbly chunks, all of which were intensely chocolately, almost like a very loose brownie.  I loved the play of the textures against the pudding.  I loved how the very dark cocoa provided the balance needed against the crazy sweet pudding.  It just worked.

This was a creation that was much more than the sum of its parts.  Seemingly generic whipped cream and caramel, pudding that was both too runny and too sweet, and crumbled cookies I don't really like, combined into something totally delicious.

I loved it.  I devoured it.  I had told Ojan I was going to share with him, but, uh, I didn't.  I'd gladly get it again for a birthday freebie, but now I am even more curious about that butter cake ...

Original Review, March 2013

I went to CPK once, when I first moved to California, because I thought it was a thing ... it was "California" after all!  The only thing I remember is that it was the first time I ever had bbq chicken pizza, and I liked the idea of bbq sauce on pizza.  I don't recall if I actually liked the pizza, or anything else.

The other day, CPK was running a promo for a free item off their small plates menu.  I was walking by, was slightly hungry, and couldn't resist a freebie!

I could select any item off that section of the menu, including small salads (meh, they weren't going to have quality produce right?), quesadillas (chicken, ugh), chips and guacamole (allergic), crispy mac 'n' cheese with cheese sauce (tempting!), or focaccia.  I picked the focaccia, as it was most like their speciality, pizza, so I figured if they were going to do any of these items right, it would be the focaccia. It was by far the cheapest of the small plates, but I wasn't really trying to maximize my freebie.

Ordering online was easy, I specified my pickup time, and then it asked if I wanted complimentary bread and utensils, and if so, for how many people.  I set the time, said yes to the extras, and went to get it.

I arrived 10 minutes early to pick it up, and it was already ready ... I guess not freshly made!  But it was kept in a warming area, so at least it was hot.  I also did not receive the bread or the utensils.  I didn't really care, but it was interesting that they have you specify that, and then leave it out.

Long rambling story short ... I have no reason to go back there.
Mediterranean Focaccia.  $2.75.
Described as: "Herb cheese focaccia baked in our pizza oven and served with Mediterranean olive oil and Parmesan."

The focaccia was sliced up, like breadsticks.  It had some type of cheese on it that I couldn't really identify, and only the middle pieces really had much on them.  It also had some herbs coating it, but there wasn't much flavor.  It was pretty unremarkable.  I love the buttery oilyness that can make focaccia delicious, and it wasn't present in this.  It was oily, but not in a nice way.  If you had handed me the plate, I would have told you it was just standard breadsticks, not focaccia.

On the side was the dipping sauce: oil and parmesan.  I liked the parmesan in it, but the oil itself was completely flavorless.  I use higher quality oil just for cooking!  I guess I shouldn't have expected more, but as a dipping oil, I definitely wanted oil with some flavor.  The focaccia would have been better with a marinara sauce or something else to dip into, but then I guess it would be too much like pizza?

Anyway, this wasn't good.  I guess the $2.75 price tag matched the quality however?