21 Oct 2009, 11:39pm
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Ginger & Hibiscus Cider

ginger hibiscus

One of the best things about grocery shopping is of course, nibbling on free samples. XD A few weeks ago, on my almost-weekly trip out to the local Whole Foods, I happened upon a drink stand, where they were giving out cider. Five Star Foodies, as they call themselves, had two different ciders to sample that day: hibiscus and ginger.

The ginger is definitely not for the faint of heart, as it has a spicy flavor that might not be to everyone’ liking. I of course, love ginger, so this was my kind of drink! Though I think even I could only take a small portion at a time. Made from just the basic ingredients of apple, ginger and lime juice, it tastes simple and lovely.

Their hibiscus “cider with a twist” includes apples, hibiscus, water, herbs, and orange extract. It actually tasted like a mild non-alcoholic fruit punch, not too sweet.

Loved them both, but alas, I couldn’t find them again when I went back to the store the following week. (;___;)

19 Oct 2009, 6:43am
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Almond Pocky

almond pocky

Almond is one of my favorite flavorings in the dessert world, so imagine my surprise when I spotted this almond pocky at the shop this weekend! I’ve only seen almond encrusted Pocky before, never one where the icing itself was made from almond paste.

According to the box, almond Pocky was first introduced in 1971, the second flavor that came right after chocolate. How surprising! I had always figured that chocolate and strawberry were the two original flavors. It turns out that many fans of the original almond begged for them to make it once more, so they’ve revived it in this “limited edition” version. Ah…nostalgia in a box. ♥ (Er, not that I was around in ’71 during the first wave of almond Pocky…)

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18 Oct 2009, 11:02am
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Milk Coffee Pocky

milk coffee pocky

Like the “Milk” Pocky, this Milk Coffee Pocky also features the same anthropomorphic cartoon cow and similarly claims to have “calcium”! Might as well protect your bones while snacking on good eats, I guess?

I was a little wary to try coffee flavored sticks after my disastrous encounter with the cappuccino Lucky Stick, but I had great faith that Pocky could get it right.

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Horn Chocolate

horn chocolate

Underneath the flap of this box is a quirky little command (in English): “Enjoy milk-flavored chocolate & cookies.” I wonder what “milk-flavored” chocolate is supposed to taste like. It’s not something I can discover in this box, despite these puzzling words, because obviously they meant to say milk chocolate, not milk-flavored. X)

This chocolate flavored “langue de chat” cookie is wrapped around a whipped white chocolate filling, creating an interesting shaped thing that resembles a slim lighter. The box describes this cookie as combining both bitter and sweet for a very “mature” flavor. It’s a strange idea that milk chocolate can be bitter, as I’ve never really heard it described as such. However, it did have a much more subtle sweetness compared to American chocolate, which contrasted nicely with the sweeter white chocolate.

Upclose:

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13 Oct 2009, 6:48am
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Green Tea Marshmallows

ocha hime

This cute little package is actually called “Ocha Hime”, which translates to “Princess Tea.” Lol. These are green tea flavored marshmallows filled with sweet bean paste. Matcha green tea and sweet bean is of course, the classic ‘wagashi‘ combination (usually done with rice cake), but I’ve never seen it come together like this before. Genius! It’s like East meets West in the confectionery world. The package claims that they use green tea from Kyoto and red beans from Hokkaido for a lovely harmony of flavor.

A close up view:

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Chocoliere

chocoliere

Mmm…more Bourbon cookies. I’ve already covered my top two favorites from this brand, and here is the third. There’s actually nothing particularly remarkable about these “Chocoliere” cookies, aside from their fun dippable shape (though I’ve never actually dunked it in coffee before). I find the cookie part a bit dry, and I’m always hoping that the chocolate part would be a little creamier. The flavor is pretty good though, not too sweet and not too bland.

I’d post a close-up picture of the cookie, but it came out a little fuzzy… m(_ _)m

12 Oct 2009, 8:05pm
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The Next Iron Chef

Yikes, my last post was in September, and here we are almost mid-way through October! Sorry for the lack of updates! Looks like I hit a bit of a dry spell. Hopefully things will pick up a little bit as the days get cooler. Not that that has anything in particular to do with food, but it does give one the feeling of the holidays, and as we all well know, holidays and food go hand-in-hand.

Meanwhile, I’ve been spending this chilly weekend indoors, and I actually caught a few episodes of the new Food Network show, The Next Iron Chef. It’s another Top Chef knockoff, but unlike Chopped, I’m actually interested this time. The set-up is quite similar to Top Chef, with two rounds in each show and one person being eliminated at the end of the second. What’s interesting about this competition is that they don’t show you footage of the cheftestants outside of the kitchen. No shots of them living together or interacting in any way outside of the cooking arena. In some ways, that makes it more intriguing because you don’t get any unnecessary drama. (That’s not to say that there isn’t any scheming and strategizing in the kitchen! There’s plenty of shenanigans going on in that front).

I like that they show a lot more of the cooking, which I have to say is not Top Chef’s forte.

The judging is pretty intense, and they take the time to critique each dish and talk to every contestant about them, so it gives the viewer a good idea of how the food is really like.

In the end though, I’m not quite sure if anyone is really up to Iron Chef level cooking. All of them seem to struggle quite a bit to finish just one plate within an hour (or 45 minutes). How are they going to conceptualize and execute FIVE dishes that would be required of them in the hour allotted for each Iron Chef episode? Though I do wonder how much of that process really is done within an hour. The chefs always start right away on the dishes without even consulting with their sous chefs. (Do they really only find out the secret ingredient moments before the cooking begins? How much are they allowed to prep beforehand?) I definitely think the final challenge should be a test run of a “real” Iron Chef battle.

…I’m also hoping Iron Chef Morimoto will make a guest appearance somewhere along the way. ♥

Alton’s doing a pretty decent job as the commentator, though I think he’s a little out of his element. His commentating on Iron Chef America is much more robust and engaged, I think. The Chairman is over the top and hilarious, as expected. XD

22 Sep 2009, 7:00am
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Red Velvet Cupcakery

red velvet

For my birthday earlier this month, my dear friend bought be a dozen cupcakes from Red Velvet Cupcakery! \(^O^)/ Red Velvet is a cupcake shop located dangerously close to my office in downtown D.C. Actually, it’s not exactly an easy distance for a quick break, so I don’t find myself in there too often. This is a good thing, because it’s much too tempting, otherwise!

Their Penn Quarter shop has been open for a while now, and they recently opened a new one in Dupont Circle as well. (Whoa, rivalry with the other Dupont cupcakery, Hello Cupcake!) These cupcake shops seem to be springing up everywhere. Is there room enough in this town for them all!? Georgetown Cupcake may have the best in the city, but Red Velvet has an edge over Hello for the Dupont shops in my opinion. Hello may have better flavor selections and slightly cheaper prices, but I think Red Velvet cupcakes have better icing, and moister cakes that stay fresh longer.

But here’s something rather vexing about them: I can’t look up the exact cupcake flavors because Red Velvet has mysteriously changed their website! It’s now a very ugly and unhelpful single page (no links to flavors or anything), which looks neither appetizing nor inviting. They used to have such a pretty website. What happened?

Anyway, enough with the rant and on to the cupcakes:

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17 Sep 2009, 11:58pm
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Top Chef 6.05: "Camping"

I’ll admit it: One of the things I was looking forward to the most from last night’s Top Chef episode was seeing whose food Tom Colicchio was going to spit out, and whether the guilty party who’d prepared the dish would survive elimination (they didn’t).

The first several episodes are usually these “throw-away” eps, just biding time as we impatiently watch the group pare down to a workable size. There are always a good number of chefs that are in over their heads, and make you wonder how they qualified to begin with. The Las Vegas season has had quite a few chefs who fall into this category, despite the fact that the judges rave about how fabulous this cast is compared to past seasons (but then, they always say that). Then again, the underdog has climbed up to the top before, so maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised before the end. (^__^)

As for this episode (spoilers under the cut):

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15 Sep 2009, 10:16pm
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Food in Children's Books

elevenses

The most vivid memories I have of the books I read as a child usually center around the food. Maybe I was a foodie-in-training from a young age? But actually, even if I weren’t a foodie, I would still remember the food well, because good eats seem to feature quite prominently in a lot of children’s literature.

For instance: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Here was a story where a greedy little boy almost actually betrayed his family to the dark side in exchange for a heaping dish of sweets called Turkish delight. Of course, little girl me was dying to try this stuff, which was supposedly so heavenly that it was worth sacrificing everyone you loved. I had no idea what this Turkish delight was, but I wanted it! Had to have it! Then I grew up and discovered Turkish delight and was very disappointed to learn that it tasted like gooey, sticky soap. So much for the magic.

The Paddington Bear series was another great favorite of mine, and practically every other chapter featured food in some way or another. Even if it didn’t, Paddington always carried around a marmalade sandwich under his hat “for emergencies.” XD I was never a fan of marmalade, but his love for it was quite amusing to me, and I enjoyed all his escapades involving the stuff. My favorite episode was when he had the audacity to order a marmalade sandwich at the fanciest restaurant in town! I suppose it’s sort of akin to ordering a PB&J sandwich at Citronelle or French Laundry, lol.

Paddington had a standing date with his good friend Mr. Gruber for “elevenses” every day, when they’d share a hot cup of cocoa accompanied by what he’d call “buns.” I’m actually not sure what “buns” are in the British sense. (Breakfast rolls? English muffins?) Nevertheless, I always found it to be a charming tradition, and I remember wanting to have “elevenses” right there with them in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop. (^__^)

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15 Sep 2009, 6:58am
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Penn Quarter Farmer's Market

PQ market tomatoes

First off, apologies about the previous post on Cafe Atlantico. I was messing around with the edit function on WordPress’s iPhone app and managed to delete the majority of the post! It’s been fixed (in other words, rewritten from scratch), so if you were wondering where the rest of the post was, it’s back. (^___^)b

So, Penn Quarter holds a farmer’s market every Thursday from 3~7pm between the months of April and December. They’re relatively small in comparison to markets I’ve seen elsewhere, but it’s quite accessible at least. It’s located on 8th Street near E, close to the Gallery Place Chinatown Metro station.

I popped over there a few weeks ago and picked up some nectarines. They were incredibly flavorful and juicy! But I suppose it’s never a guarantee from week to week, and I found that the nectarines I picked up the following week weren’t as juicy.

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10 Sep 2009, 11:24pm
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Lucky Stick

luckystick

I was browsing the snack shelf at the Japanese grocery store when I spotted this Pocky Imposter! Sitting right next to the real deal, even. The ever Engrishy “Lucky Stick” biscuits came in two flavors that day – strawberry or cappuccino cream. Strawberry’s kind of standard and boring, so I opted for the cappuccino.

First off, when I opened the box, I was hit with that sickeningly sweet instant flavored coffee smell (very similar to those “International Coffee” mixes by General Foods). Visually, I could tell that there was only a very thin layer of cream. Perhaps I’m just accustomed to getting more generously coated icing, like they have on the thicker dessert Pockys.

As for the final assessment after taking a bite: the artificial coffee flavor was not very good at all, and left an unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth.

I guess they were trying to emulate the Pocky but totally missed the mark. Not even close, Lucky Stick. Not even close.

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7 Sep 2009, 12:00pm
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Cottage Pie

cottage pie done

Shepherd’s Pie (or cottage pie) is my ultimate comfort food. It’s got so many of my favorite things piled one on top of the other, and best of all – it’s so easy even *I* can make it. \(^O^)/ And I make a damn good cottage pie, if I can say so myself. Actually, all of it is thanks to Alton Brown and his fabulously simple but delicious recipe for shepherd’s pie. I just substitute ground beef for ground lamb to convert it into cottage pie. Though someday, I would like to make a true shepherd’s pie with lamb.

My friend Jen is my big enabler. She has cottage pie once a week, much to my extreme jealousy. Every time she mentions having cottage pie for dinner, it makes me crave the stuff. Unfortunately for me, oven usage is kind of a big deal in my household, since Japanese people just don’t bake. My oven is used as a storage device, not a cooking mechanism.

Last week, after hearing my friend mention cottage pie yet again, I was determined to make this stuff, oven or no! I decided to utilize my toaster oven to make a couple ‘mini’ pies stuffed into small meat loaf pans. I was apprehensive about putting the tiny oven to work like this, but I had to give it a try. And what do you know? SUCCESS!

See below the cut for the making-of. X)

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Raisin Sand

raisin sand

I know what you’re thinking: What in the world is raisin sand?? It’s a raisin sandwich, which might or might not be an improvement from your first impression. Ah, we crazy Japanese with our weird word shorteners and even weirder food combinations… Actually, I love shortening words. It’s a nice succinct way to refer to something that would otherwise be a mouthful. Sandwich = sand. Department store = depart. Kentucky Fried Chicken = kenta. Brad Pitt = burapi. (My favorite is “Shuwa-chan” (lil’ Shuwa) for Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Wait, was this about food?

Back to “raisin sand.” This is one of the Bourbon line of cookies I’ve been blogging about. Unfortunately, it’s a low point. It’s not utterly inedible, but not particularly flavorful either. I think it could work if it was a little sweeter perhaps, or more raisin-y. I thought it was surprisingly moist, though.

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26 Aug 2009, 6:03am
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Milk Pocky

milk pocky

I was pretty curious about this Milk Pocky when I saw it on the shelf. Milk flavor?? What IS that? Had to see for myself.

Tasting: It didn’t taste very vanilla or white chocolate, like I half expected. It’s actually kind of reminiscent of…milk. Sweetened milk, like condensed, but more subtle. What an odd flavor.

Verdict: Not sure I like it. But I’d get it again just for my own weird fascination. This must be a flavor geared for kids, judging from the anthropomorphic cow on the cover.

Close up photo:

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