Lightlife Crispy Gold’n Chik’n Nuggets Review

My 12-yo vegetarian child has been pretty reluctant to try vegetarian frozen entrees. She’s particularly offended by fake meats.  She’s a vegetarian for ethical reasons, and she doesn’t see the point in eating fake animals.  But she probably was tired of eating pasta, so she gave this entree a try.  She was underwhelmed.  She said the chik’n nuggets tasted mostly of potato, but they lacked flavor altogether. They were edible but not enjoyable. She wouldn’t have them again, but she’d eat them if there was nothing else around.

 

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Jimmy Dean Frozen foods

grilled-steajimmyI’m once again in a funk about cooking, so I’m back at eating frozen meals from time to time.  Grocery Outlet is now carrying the Jimmy Dean Delights brand, which I hadn’t seen before.  It’s pretty much just like every other frozen food brand – forgettable.

I had their pulled pork sandwiches in chipotle bbq sauce. An acceptable snack for $1.50, but with too much bread to meat ratio. The pork is pretty much a paste (not chunks as in the promotional photo), and the sauce tastes like your generic tangy/sweet bbq sauce.

My vegetarian oldest was OK with the three cheese pasta bowl, but she’s not that demanding.  The grilled steak bowl was edible but unmemorable.  The photos on the boxes definitely look better than the real thing tastes.

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Frodo Joe’s Petit Cafe – Fremont – Review

(I started writing this review back in August, 2014, when I visited the restaurant).

It’s hard to believe that this cute, little cafe is located in a strip mall near office parks in Fremont.  You definitely forget about that once you are inside, relaxing in the air conditioning on your stylish banquette.  I went there with my daughter after a visit to Kaiser, across the street, and had a wonderful time.

While Petit Cafe serves sandwiches, the focus of their menu is on crepes and they have a wider variety of them than I have seen anywhere else.  Mika and I decided to split both a savory and a dessert one, a combination I’d suggest for anyone dining with a partner.  The only problem is that we got the dessert crepe before the savory one – and we had to wait for a long time for both.  Don’t come here if you’re already starving.

We had the mozarella, mushroom and avocado crepe, which comes with a side (we chose pasta) and drizzled pesto sauce.  It was excellent.  I had been doubtful about whether mushrooms and avocado would work together, but they did wonderfully – though it was the magnificent pesto sauce which really brought them together.  Mika loved it as well.

We had the La La Lo Lo crepe for dessert. These are actually several mini-crepes, stack together and filled with strawberries, bananas and chocolate sauce, and served with a side of vanilla ice cream.  It was also divine. The chocolate was real chocolate, not nutella (which, in the US, is mostly palm oil) and the flavors combined beautifully.

Most crepes, both sweet and savory, are $8.

We also split a strawberry blitz smoothy ($4.50, I believe), which we both liked.

Service was good, though as I mentioned, slow, though I won’t fault the kitchen for not making the crepes in advance and then reheating them.   In all, I’m looking forward to going bakc to Kaiser just to have an excuse to go back.

Frodo Joe’s Petit Cafe
39286 Paseo Padre Pkwy (b/t Capitol Ave & Walnut Ave)
Fremont, CA
(510) 790-0999
T-Sa 9 AM – 9 PM
Su-M 9 AM – 4 PM

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Grand Cru Fondue

I grew up loving fondue, and I still love it.  It turns out that so do my children, so I make it from time to time.  Not only is it delicious, but it has the advantage of being fairly quick to make.  Sure, the dippers can take time, but on lazy nights like tonight we just default to bread.  Bread and cheese, what can be better?

I no longer make the “classic” fondue recipe because I have little desire to hunt for the right cheeses – plus they are expensive!  Instead I wing it with whatever cheeses I find that I think can combine well.  I like going for two mildish-to-medium cheeses, one slightly sweet, and then a sharper one to elevate the flavor.  But really, I wing it.  To the grated cheeses I add just 1/2 a cup of white wine (hunting after kirsch is too much trouble), and some nutmeg if I remember.

Today’s fondue was phenomenal, much better than the classic fondue.  It had

This serve 4 of us and we had more than enough.

For those who actually need a recipe, what you do is: Shred or chop the cheese (I just put it in my food processor), mix it with a little cornstarch and set aside.  Meanwhile rub the fondue pot with a garlic clove.  Set on medium-high and add the wine.  Wait until it boils and then add the cheese by the handful, mixing well and making sure it all melts.  Bring down the temperature to a simmer, and enjoy!

 

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Ristorante Di Palermo – Hayward – Review

photo borrowed from restaurant's website

photo borrowed from restaurant’s website

Ristorante di Palermo is, as one Palermitan Yelp reviewer made clear, not a Palermitan restaurant.  It’s not even a Sicilian restaurant, though they have a couple of Greek/Mediterranean dishes which I assume may be found in Sicily.  Ristorante di Palermo is your basic Italian restaurant, and as long as you don’t have higher expectations than that, you shouldn’t be terribly disappointed.

We went there for Christmas Eve dinner and we had a rather good meal.  It was nothing extraordinary, but it was solidly executed and I would go again.

We started by sharing the “fungi de portabella” ($12), a grilled portobello mushroom cap in a gorgonzola sauce.  The only thing I can fault this dish is the price – $12 is too high -, but flavor-wise it was a real winner.  The grilled portobello had a meaty, somewhat smoky flavor and it went very well with the sauce.  This isn’t a complicated dish, however, and it’s one I’ll try replicating at home.

For our main dishes, I had the chicken marsala ($16), Mike had the salmon special for the night, and the girls had the gnocchi de la casa (in tomato sauce – $12.25) and in gorgonzola sauce ($12.25).  Both girls liked their gnocchi, though I didn’t taste them so you may want to take that with a grain of salt. The one in tomato sauce seemed to have plenty of cheese, and I assume the other one shared a sauce with the mushrooms.  My chicken marsala had a very nice sauce, it was a little darker than I cook it myself, which I thought was good, and there was some smokiness to it as well.  The chicken breast, however, was pretty dry in the manner of chicken breasts everywhere – I wish they would make it with chicken thighs instead.   Mike’s dish of salmon with shrimp in some dark sauce was probably the least successful of the evening.  He felt the sauce, whose specific flavor he can’t remember, overpowered the seafood.  My main complaint about the entrees is that they were in the small size.  None of us were left hungry – but I had had an appetizer, the girls don’t eat much (but they cleared their plates) and Mike wasn’t hungry when he started.  I think they could increase the portions without hurting their bottom line and make customers’ happier.

For dessert, I got the cannoli ($6?).  It was quite good, though nothing out of this world, pretty much your standard cannoli.  I’d say the same about the tiramisu ($6) that Mika got.  Camila ordered the blood orange sorbet ($5), I didn’t taste it but I suspect it was Ciao Bella.  It’s a great sorbet and Camila didn’t complain.

I had two glasses of the sparkling Barbera ($9 each), which was basically sparkling grape juice with a kick.  I liked it, but it’s extremely sweet.

Service was very good, our waiter was very attentive.  The restaurant is quite nice, but more of a casual place.  It’s very roomy, so it’d be a good place to dine when you don’t want to be overheard.

Ristorante di Palermo

22532 Foothill Blvd (b/t A St & B St)
Hayward, CA
(510) 885-9943
http://www.ristorantedipalermo.com/
Lunch daily: 11 AM – 2:30 PM
Dinner: Su-Th 5-9 PM, F-Sa 5-10 PM

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Tea, lovely tea: Reviews of ESP Emporium flavored teas

I’ve never been much of a fan of flavored teas, I like black tea enough as it is.  I’ll make an exception for Earl Grey, but that’s about it.   I didn’t even begin tasting flavored teas until we started going, more or less regularly, to the Golden Tea Garden in Hayward.  The owner is a huge flavored tea aficionado, and her menu of teas reaches into the dozens, if not hundreds.  Every time she gives you a taste of something new and features special flavors.  I still always order black tea, but the girls and whoever else comes with me freely explore the flavors.

Last week, as I was considering Christmas presents for the kids, I remembered how much Mika loves caramel tea and decided to buy her some. Browsing through Amazon.com, I was amazed to find out just how expensive caramel tea was!  Fortunately, I eventually came about ESP Emporium teas.  ESP Emporium is an online tea specialty store selling all sorts of exotic, flavored and regular teas, as well as tea making/drinking equipment.  Basically, they seem like a competitor to Teavana.  Fortunately, they price the items they sell through Amazon.com much more reasonably.   More importantly, they have some amazing, if very fleeting, sales on items – I’m not sure if they are overstock or lower quality (the photos of what I got do not always match the ones on ESP’s website) -, but the prices are definitely attractive.  I now make it a point to add in whatever ESP Emporium is on sale at a good price whenever I’m making a qualifying Amazon purchase.

ESP Emporium sells teas either in canisters or in bags.  If you buy them at Amazon.com, it’s very clear which you are buying.  It’s much less clear on their website – I assume they all come in bags, but don’t really know.  They both seal very well, but the canisters are difficult to open – so if you have arthritis, you may want to order the bags instead. That said, I prefer them in canisters.

Also, please note the brewing time for each tea on the bag/container.  Rooibos and fruit teas require longer times than regular black teas.

I’ve been using my Keurig machine to brew the tea, as it’s very easy.  You can usually get at least 3 10-oz mugs of brewed tea from each filled canister.  But fill the canister, otherwise you’ll end up with a very weak tea.

Also to note, I only recently realized that Chinese tea comes from China (duh!).  I mean, I knew it, but Chinese tea has been such a commodity for centuries that it did not occur to me that it might suffer from the same problems of soil contamination that every other food from China does.  Unfortunately, studies show that it does.  It contains high level of lead, though fortunately the lead stay with the leaf and doesn’t make it into the tea itself.  Still, I think I’ll be cautious and stop buying Chinese tea in the future. I’m also going to be noting where teas are made, whenever I can find the information.

These are the teas I’ve tried:

Fruit Teas

IMG_20150301_130632

Goldrush Bergamot/Lemon

Goldrush Bergamot Lemon Premium White Green Tea Blend has green & white tea, white rose buds (I didn’t get any in the photo, but they’re there), yogurt granules and natural bergaot and lemon flavors.  This is a pretty weakly flavored tea, not too citrusy, but enjoyable with quite a bit of sugar.

Piña Colada (my photo)

Piña Colada tea

Pina Colada Rooibos Tea Blend is a mixture of Rooibos tea with pineapple cubes, coconut shreds and flavoring.

I also really liked this light, fruity tea.  It didn’t remind me of piña colada as much as it did of candy in general.  But it was light, and easy to drink. Again, I felt it needed sugar and did best without milk.

Sir Stuart tea

Sir Stuart tea

Sir Stuart is a blend of black and green teas with “ginger pieces, fennel, cardamom seed, flavoring, rose petals, cornflower blossoms”.

This is a really nice tea.  It is very balanced, with a grown up orangy flavor, a little bitter and a little bit spicy at time.  I always drink my teas with sugar, and I felt this one really needed it for the full flavor to burst through.   This is often my to-go tea when I don’t know what else to drink.

Chocolate Teas

Chocolate/Cream/ Truffles Black Tea Blend

Chocolate/Cream/ Truffles Black Tea Blend

Chocolate/Cream/ Truffles Black Tea Blend is a mixture of black tea with “broken cocoa bits, coconut shreds, chocolate chips” and “flavoring”.

I got a bag of this one and the smell when you open it is unbelievable.  The chocolate and coconut really come through and work well together, so that the end product is really neither.  It’s very tasty though, but I do thing it needs both milk and sugar for the true flavors to shine – otherwise I found the tea sort of weak.

Chocolate Sun

Chocolate Sun

Chocolate Sun

This is a Sencha green tea from China and includes cocoa peel, orange peel, cocoa pieces and other flavoring.

I made this in my Keurig and I found it to be very weak.  Of course, the Keurig doesn’t give it the 2-3 minutes seeping time this tea needs, but yet it does well with other teas that require longer seeping times.  I will try it again using a tea kettle and report back.

Caramel Teas

Caramel tea (my photo)

Caramel tea

Caramel Black Tea Blend is black tea with caramel pieces and flavoring.  It retails for $11.50 for 100g. I paid $3.

I originally came across ESP Emporium while looking for caramel tea, so I was very disappointed at how weak this tea is, both in terms of caramel flavor and flavor altogether. This was the case both through a regular brew and in the Keurig.

Maple Taffy

 Maple Taffy Black Blend

This black tea has cinnamon pieces, dehydrated maple syrup, cinnamon rods, popcorn, white cornflower blossoms and flavoring.

I have to confess that I just loved that this tea came with popcorn.  I don’t know if it added anything to the flavor, but just how cool is it to make popcorn tea?  The tea, meanwhile was very good.  It had a nice old-fashion caramel flavor and was definitely better than the caramel tea.

Flower Teas

teagarden

Flower Garden Fruit Tea Blend

Flower Garden Fruit Tea Blend is a mixture of pieces of dried sour apples and pears,  pink rosebuds,  freeze-dried strawberry and raspberry pieces, blackberry leaves, cornflower blossoms, marigold blossoms, rose petals, Roman chamomile and flavoring.

This tea is just beautiful, pretty much just a combination of flower bulbs. And it tastes like flowers too. If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s mostly like a rose hip tea.  Definitely needs sugar to bring up the flavors, though.

Rooibos Teas

Also see Piña Colada tea above

Creamsicle Tea

Creamsicle Tea

Creamsicle Rooibos Tea has rooibos tea, flavoring, orange peel and freeze-dried yogurt pieces.  I guess I was expecting this to taste like an orange creamsicle, but it tasted like a very good, very balanced cup of tea with milk.  It was really nice, and definitely something to keep in the pantry for when you want just a classic tea with milk, but have no milk around.

Tiramisu/Mascarpone Rooibos Tea

Tiramisu/Mascarpone Rooibos Tea

Tiramisu/Mascarpone Rooibos Tea adds chocolate chips, brittle pieces, caramel pieces, freeze-dried yogurt pieces, roasted coffee beans, Roman chamomile and flavoring to the rooibos tea.

I’m not sure I can see all those ingredients in the tea, and perhaps that’s why it doesn’t actually taste like either Tiramisu or Mascarpone or a combination of either.  It lacks the sour element of both, other than perhaps as an aftertaste.  While I can’t quite describe the flavor of this tea – beyond being a well balanced rooibos – it is very pleasant, with or without milk.

 Ginger/Pepper/Orange tea

Ginger/Pepper/Orange tea

Ginger/Pepper/Orange Rooibos Tea has almond slivers pistachios, orange peels, coriander, pink peppercorns and flavoring added to the rooibos tea.

This is pretty much a generic rooibos tea.  It’s good if you like rooibos tea, which I do, but I think the added ingredients substract from each other rather than add, and what you are left with is pretty generic.

 

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Best Banana Bread recipe

They weren’t kidding when they said this was the best banana bread recipe. It’s absolutely delicious, specially right out of the oven.  Though I couldn’t tell you how it’d be cold as none of it survived to that stage.

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F

Grease a loaf pan

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together into a medium-size bowl. Set aside

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.  Add the eggs and the bananas and mix well.  Add the sifted flour and mix well.  Add the vanilla extract and mix again until combined.  Pour into the prepared loaf pan and cook for 1 hour. Test with a fork to make sure it’s dry inside.

Adapted from a recipe at Food.com

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Limeade Recipe

This recipe is for “Brazilian lemonade”, but it tastes just like the lemonade I used to drink in Egypt over two decades ago.  It’s delicious and refreshing, but it does require a blender and a strainer.  The original recipe asks for 1/2 cup of sugar, but I felt it was a little too sweet. Next time I’ll make it with 1/3 cup.

 

  • 2 limes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. condensed milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 ice cubes + more for serving

Wash the limes, cut and discard both ends, and then cut them into 8 segments each.  Put limes, sugar, condensed milk, water and 3 ice cubes in a blender.  Blend until the ice has disintegrated.  Strain and serve over ice.

Adapted from Jumala’s recipe at AllRecipes.com

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Fast & Delicious Bread Machine White Bread

This was a very easy and very quick recipe.  The taste is outstanding.  The bread is not as firm as others, but it’s yummy, specially hot.  And it doesn’t require special ingredients!

  • 9 oz hot water
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
 Put all ingredients in the bread machine basket in the order above.  Use the express baking setting.
From Woodsy Girl’s recipe at Just a Pinch recipes

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Gabonese & Greek Menus Up

No, I have not forgotten my international food project, though I always progress much slower than I want to.  I’ve cooked dishes from a 133 cuisines so far, and I’m still only a little into the “G”.  Still, I have now finished two more “G” cuisines.

My Gabonese menu features recipe for fish in peanut sauce, chicken in palmnut sauce and a great recipe for baked bananas.

My Greek entry has recipes for pastitsio, chicken, beef stew and a custard pie.

One of the reasons for my slow advance in the Gs is that even as I go ahead with this project, I discover cuisines I have ignored from earlier in the alphabet.  A few months ago, I bought a great cookbook, Copeland Mark’s Sephardic Cooking, at a library sale and now I have a plethora of cuisines from the Jewish diaspora to explore.  I may skip those that are too close to the host cuisine for notice, but some of these Jewish cuisines do represent the merging of multiple traditions and they merit a real exploration.  I’m currently working on dishes from the Baghdadi Jewish community in Calcutta and the Bene Israel in Bombay.

 

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