Friday, September 06, 2019

Pop! Gourmet Foods

Update Review, September 2019

I got to try more Pop! Gourmet flavors of popcorn, and found more I like.  I really need to get my hands on some of the more crazy flavours though ... Tajin, Huy Fong Sriracha, Black Truffle ... um, Kale Ceasar ...
Almond Roca.
"Artisinal butter toffee popcorn made with Almond Roca Buttercrunch and roasted almonds. Truly a delight and a flavor created exclusively for POP! Gourmet. It's hard to pinpoint why ALMOND ROCA Buttercrunch is so popular. It could be the attractive pink tin, or the fancy gold foil that surrounds each confection. Chances are, though, it's Almond Roca's rich flavor, a combination of ingredients that blend together so well it's like they were made for each other. They start with a buttercrunch center made with real vanilla and butter created especially for Brown & Haley. Since they don't add salt or water to their buttercrunch, the texture is crunchy, but with a soft bite. Next, the center is coated with the rich flavor of chocolate made with cocoa beans from around the world, then topped with fresh almonds - not roasted - for a softer, more delicate flavor. The result A creamy, crunchy confection that almost melts in your mouth!"

Take the most decadent caramel corn you can imagine and then ... make it even more decadent.  That is what steps lead you to this creation, "Almond Roca" popcorn.

Perfectly coated, very rich, very sweet, very buttery, popcorn.  Quite crisp, due to the generous coating.

I really would never have identified this as almond roca though.  Sweet, caramely, buttery, sure, but, almond roca?  Nope.  If they wanted this to be more almond roca obvious, they should include little chunks of the candy?  I certainly didn't detect any of the chocolate.  It did have some bitterness though, perhaps from almond?

It was ok, but crazy intense.  I have a serious sweet tooth, and even I could only handle a few bites at a time of this.  I didn't find myself ever craving it, and of course I tried freezing it too to see if that increased the appeal (it did not).

As you may expect, this is not a light item.  Even I was shocked at its nutrition panel though.  The bag looks like a single serving, not even half full, however, it is listed at ... 3.5 servings!  Of 320 calories each!  Yes, this little bag of popcorn, easily finished in a sitting, clocks in at ~1000 calories. Ooph. Tread lightly.

Cascade Mix.
I've had this one before, and enjoyed it.

And ... I still enjoy it.  I particularly liked the mild white cheddar popcorn, and it seemed to have more powder this time.  My fingers wound up extremely coated in white powder.  I was not upset.

I mostly find myself separating out the popcorn, eating all the white cheddar when I'm in the mood for savory, and then the caramel when I want sweet.  I like this though, just like I like digging through Chex mix for the bits I want at that particular moment.  And yes, sometimes I like a bite of both, but usually ... I really do prefer one or the other.
Hidden Valley Ranch.
"Hidden Valley® Ranch seasoned popcorn by Pop! Gourmet brings the classic blend of buttermilk flavor, garlic, onion, herbs, and spices to this delicious popcorn recipe. Feed the fun on your next outdoor adventure or family gathering. Every bite of this delicious popcorn is seasoned with the Hidden Valley® Ranch flavor you love. Enjoy! Make sure to try Hidden Valley® Ranch Seasoning found in the Dressing aisle!"

I have a strange relationship with ranch.

I liked it at some point in my life, as a dressing, on salad.  And then my little sister got very obsessed with it, and put it on ... everything.  Chicken nuggets, dunked in ranch.  Pizza, dunked in ranch.  Every vegetable ... dunked in ranch.  I ended up hating the mere smell of it as a result.  I can't really explain it, but when I moved out for college, I think I avoided ranch for like 15 years.  

I've since moved on from my trauma, and found that I enjoy some ranch dressings again.  But I still approached this one with apprehension.  

Luckily, it was awesome.  The kernels were well coated, zesty, and actually, kinda tasted ... cheesy?  I wouldn't necessarily call it "ranch" but it was zesty and herby.  The garlic and onion were at least identifiable.  I think the "cheesy" nature came from buttermilk and sour cream?

I liked this one enough at room temperature, that I didn't even find the need to freeze it (gasp!)  I way too quickly devoured the single serving bag ... 240 calories of it, so not the lightest popcorn out there ... gulp.

Original Review, March 2018

I love snacks. I love popcorn.  I love crazy flavors of popcorn.

So, I was excited to discover Pop!, as, well, they make crazy flavors of popcorn (and chips). They love to Sriracha and Tajin all the things.

Sadly, the varieties I tried were a bit more pedestrian.

White Cheddar Jalapeno Fire Corn.
"A fiery mix of popcorn and crispy jalapeno slices tossed with white cheddar cheese."

Um, wow.

"Fire Corn" is actually a fitting name for this product.

I took my first bite as a handful.  I kinda regretted it.  Seriously spicy.

I did like the spice, once I was ready for it, but, it stuck with you, and it burned.  This is a product for serious heat lovers.

The white cheddar coating helped temper it a bit, but only a bit.  The kernels were well coated in the white cheddar powder.

This was also not a light popcorn.  The bag contained only an ounce of popcorn, and it was 200 calories.  For barely more than a handful.
White Cheddar Jalapeno (Update 2018).
I tried it again a year or so later, forgetting that I had tried it before.

It wasn't nearly as spicy this time.  This time, the dominant flavor was the cheddar cheese, and also, seemingly way too much butter?  They just felt heavy, coated in too much stuff.  And not really firey.

Hmm.  Not sure what changed, me, or the batch?
Cascade Mix.
"A delicious blend of tender Northwest white cheddar cheese popcorn and premium caramel corn. A mouthwatering twist on a classic."

The cheese and caramel popcorn combo is still one that I'm learning to appreciate.  Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it totally doesn't.

This one worked, but mostly because the cheddar popcorn was very, very mild.  It was white cheddar, so no scary fake orange color, no cheesy colored fingers after eating it, and subtle cheese flavor.  I liked it, but I did wish for more.

The caramel was very sweet, as expected.  It reminded me more of toffee than caramel, but, I liked it, particularly when frozen.  It got a great crunch to it.  The kernels were well coated.

Overall, a decent popcorn, but another heavy hitter, 200 calories in a very small portion.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Kimuraya, Tokyo

I first discovered melon pan in Tokyo, several visits ago, when someone brought them into our office.  I was totally in love with the sweet soft dough and the crispy cookie-like top.  I was also very jetlagged, and likely easily influenced by ravenous hunger at unpredictable times.

But ever since that visit, I've sought out melon pan, not only in Tokyo (including at the breakfast buffet at the Westin, which did have good chocolate chip melonpan, and Sekai de Niban-me ni Oishii Melonpan for the very famous melonpan stuffed with ice cream and pineapple), but really, anywhere I see it (like, Aki Boulanger in Paris and Fujipan in Sydney).

This visit though, I had struck out on my melonpan at Pompadour (lackluster), and thus did a bit of research on Japanese bakeries.  And thus, I quickly learned about Kimuraya, perhaps the most famous bakery of all.

Kimuraya was established in 1869. They invented the anpan, one of the most common Japanese baked goods.  Now, of course that is the item they are most known for, but I saw good things about the melonpan too.
Melonpan ... with real melon?!
It turns out, that Kimuraya makes two different melonpan.  One, like I was expecting, an item that *looks* like a melon, but contains no melon.  The other ... which does.  The later of which I'd clearly never want, given my melon allergy.

My visit was not to the main store in Ginza, but rather, the stall in the Matsuya Food Hall.  It was about an hour and a half before closing, and the pickings were getting a bit slim, so perhaps I didn't notice that they had two different ones, and I pointed to the wrong one?  Or, more likely, they were sold out of the regular one.

Let's just say ... this experience was not what I expected.
 My item was nicely wrapped up and handed over in a branded bag.
Ginza cream melon.
"We put melon puree in cream and melon skin and dough! You  can enjoy the taste of melon wherever you eat.  The cream also contains melon pulp."

I clearly didn't have this description available when I got the item. This, was not the regular melonpan.  No, this was the Ginza Cream Melon.  Uh-oh.

I opened my item with glee, thrilled to see that the top was crispy as I wanted, and it looked so very well sugar coated.  It was about this time however that I noticed that the top was ... green?  Well, huh, that was different.
Ginza Cream Melon: Side.
The topping, while crisp and sugary as I wanted, tasted ... well, like melon.  I thought it was my brain playing tricks on me, as it was green, and looked like a melon after all.  It couldn't possibly really be melon, right?  These things are never actually melon ...

I still liked the topping, but was a bit unsettled by the melon taste.  The rest of the bread though really let me down.  It wasn't nearly as soft and fluffy as I wanted, and didn't taste very fresh.  Sure, it was 6:30pm, but ... I just expected better.
Ginza Cream Melon: Inside.
As I continued ripping pieces off, I  made another discovery.  Um ... my melonpan had a filling.  A pink filling.  A pink ... melon filling.

This was *very* clearly melon flavored, and a really odd consistency, kinda like a jelly.  Not a cream.  It had little bits of ... candied melon in it?

Once I realized this was melon, I didn't dare take another bite to investigate further, but I was fairly fascinated.

I ... did not like this filling, and found the bun a bit stale, but, maybe if you want real melon, and get it earlier in the day, it is good?

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Mannaken, Tokyo

Waffles.  One of my favorite topics.  Not just foods, topics.  Remember that whole phase of waffling all my leftovers?  Yeah, I love waffles.  Particularly when we are talking crispy liege waffles, like my absolute favorites from b. Street Waffles in San Francisco.  Oh yes.

Waffles will draw me in.  They will cause me to do unexpected things.  Like, ditch my plans to get a dessert 2 blocks away, a carefully researched, deliberately planned, dessert, just because I happened to walk by a waffle shop.

Yes, this is a story of woe, that began with walking by Mannaken, in Tokyo, on my way to get an amazing soft serve strawberry parfait elsewhere.

Mannaken is a Japanese waffle chain, started in 1986.  That is all I know.  I didn't even know that when I stumbled in.
Everything at Mannaken *looked* so very very good.

However, the waffles, which should have been the stars ... lackluster, to say the least.
The curb appeal though was great.  The smell of fresh waffles was basically irresistible to many of us.

Belgian Waffles

Belgian waffles are the main draw, and come in a slew of flavors, ranging from simple plain, maple, or chocolate topped, to trendy matcha, to limited seasonal specials like chestnut, to monthly specials like caramel (September).  Additionally, many stores have exclusives, like the 'Premium Butter Waffle' found in Ikspiari only, or the caramel, honey, and florentine topped version only in Hankyu.
Uji matcha, Maple, Plain, Chocolate.
Here were the basics, plain, one with maple baked in, one topped with chocolate, and the green matcha.

All looked fresh and crisp.
Marron, Double Chocolate.
Next up, some more limited ones, including the seasonal marron and chocolate topped chocolate based double chocolate.
Caramel Pudding.
The special for September only, a caramel pudding version.

Again, these looked great.
Waffle Set.
You could also get pre-packaged boxes of 7 different flavors, or make your own assortment.
Cup Waffle. Marron. 380 yen.
"100% Hokkaido cream, high quality soft cream and freshly baked waffles."

"Tasteful waffles made by kneading Italian chestnut malon paste into the dough, baked with sweet chestnut dice."

As good as waffle is, there is something much better than just a waffle.  A waffle with soft serve ice cream of course!

I am notorious for making waffle sundaes at home, so this was *exactly* what I wanted.  An amazing waffle plus Tokyo soft serve?  I mean, YES!!!!

For my waffle, I picked the seasonal marron (chestnut).  I was so excited that they offered it.  I love chestnut.

I ... kinda expected the waffle to be warm.  I definitely expected it to be crispy.  It was neither.  Room temperature, and ... soft.  I don't understand how a liege style waffle can be as soft as this was.  Particularly given that it *looked* legit.  But alas, it was soft, and not hot.

I did like the bits of chestnut in it, but I was so incredibly let down by the rest of it that I really couldn't find much joy in it.  Had I been home, I would have quickly scraped the ice cream off, saved it, and tried to toast it up at home.  But having no access to a toaster oven, I gave it a few more half-hearted bites, and threw it in the trash.  Defeated.

The soft serve though was good.  Not as amazing as the top soft serve places I was usually seeking out in Tokyo, but, it was creamy, rich, and the signature "milk" flavor you find in Tokyo.  The ice cream was redeeming, but, this was a waffle shop!

Cream Waffles

Cream waffles are the other product line, packaged waffles, filled with fillings. Available in 5 flavors: vanilla, chocolate (with chocolate chips), custard, rare cheese, and a limited edition peach.
Packaged Cream Waffles.
Only two varieties remained when I arrived, but that was fine with me, as the one I wanted, rare cheese, was one of the two.

I quickly added this to my order, not sure when I'd get to it, but, I knew I wanted to try it.
Rare Cheese Cream Waffle. 200 yen.
"A smooth rare cheese cream that uses cream cheese from Tokachi, Hokkaido, with sweet and sour raspberries."

I was asked if I was eating it then or later, and said later, and thus it came packaged up in its own "Cream Waffle" branded bag, with a mini ice pack!  I was really surprised when I found the ice pack, but, pleased, as it was still over 80* out, even though evening, and I had a long walk back to hotel.

The waffles used for the cream waffle were entirely different.  They were ... thin, limp, and spongy.  Note: I said different, I didn't say better!  If anything, it was worse, but the fact that it was filled saved it a tiny bit.
Rare Cheese Cream Waffle: Side Profile.
The filling was tasty, sorta like cheesecake, sorta like the crema toppings you find on bubble teas these days.  Great dairy flavor, cheesy, sweet.  The berries were fine too, although quite sweet.

So the filling of this was nicely done, just like the ice cream, but again, this was supposed to be a waffle shop.  I did gladly salvage the filling though and just eat it by the spoonful, leaving the soggy waffle behind.