I’m not the biggest fan of Chipotle – mostly because it’s boring and expensive. I understand why people might seek it in places that don’t have a great taqueria (or taco truck) in every corner, but I fail to understand its appeal in California. Still, my daughter likes it, so we ordered it for lunch a few days ago.
This time I decided to try the quesadilla, which is basically a deconstructed burrito grilled enough to melt the cheese. It’s served with 3 “sides” which really mean the ingredients you’d otherwise have inside the burrito, things like rice, beans, salsas, etc. Burrito extras, like guacamole, are still extra for quesadillas.
The steak quesadilla was tasty, but it felt smaller than a burrito (probably just my imagination), and having the salsa/sour cream/guacamole (it came in a different container) outside the burrito only made it more difficult to eat. The shape of the quesadilla, and the fact that it’s cut in two diagonally made it even more impractical – the filling kept filling out as I tried to dip it.
At $11.40 (prices vary by location), it was a pretty poor value – though I’m sure no worse than anything else at Chipotle.
On the plus side, the ingredients were fresh and the beef has less gristle/fat than that at some local taquerias. Also on the plus side, Chipotle is very vegan friendly. Not only do they offer sofritas, a plant based protein, as a vegan alternative to meats, but their rice, beans, tortillas and chips are all vegan. Often times, Mexican restaurants use chicken broth for their rice, or lard for their beans and/or tortillas.
I have never been to a Sprouts in person, but I’ve become quite fond of the supermarket since I subscribed to Instacart during the pandemic. Still, I hadn’t ordered from there in long enough that I’d forgotten what things they had that I liked and disliked. Thus this post – to remind me of what to get again, and what to avoid. I’ll be adding items to this review as we consume them. Note that the prices are Instacart prices.
Sprouts Pastrami on Multigrain Bread Grab & Go Sandwich ($5 for an 8 oz sandwich)
I got this for my husband to replace a chicken salad croissant sandwich that wasn’t available. He thought it was “ehh,” the sort of pre-packaged sandwich he’d expect to get at a convenience store. He felt it was dry, probably as it doesn’t seem to come with condiments. He wouldn’t order it again.
Black Garlic Chicken And Mushroom Saute ($6/lb, tray was 1 3/4lb)
I bought this thinking it was a ready-to-heat meal, as others I’ve gotten at Sprouts. Instead, it’s a ready-to-saute meal which requires you to dump the ingredients on a saute pan and cook for about 10-15 minutes. The chicken is raw, so don’t be tempted to use your microwave.
While it was very simple, it was surprisingly tasty and served two people adequately. I’d get it again.
Chocolate Custard Twists ($4 for 6 small twists)
This has to be my favorite item from Sprouts. When we spent a month in Paris, a lifetime ago, my husband would go to the bakery every morning and get us a very similar pastry. These are just as delicious – which is amazing, giving how badly even the best American bakeries do at imitating French pastries. At 70-cents each for the pretty small pastries, this is not a cheap treat, but mostly because it’s just impossible to eat just one. Still, they are great so get them!
Lakewood Organic Pure Orange Fresh-Pressed Juice Not From Concentrate ($6.5 for a 32 oz bottle, on sale for $5)
I’m always in the quest for the best commercial orange juice – something that tastes as close as possible to fresh squeezed but that I can buy already squeezed. Unfortunately, fresh squeezed OJ is not available at any of my local supermarkets, though they do have it at the Saturday’s farmer market. Alas, we don’t always make it.
So far, my favorite commercial orange juice is Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Orange Juice. However, the last two times I’ve gotten it, it tasted like it was already going bad – I’m sure you know what rotten oranges taste like, and this was half way there. So I’ve been looking for an alternative – I’ll give Kirkland another try in winter, but it’s obvious the OJ can’t handle the summer heat.
Unfortunately, Lakewood Organic Pure Orange Juice suffers from the exact same problem. The lid may say the juice doesn’t expire until 2023, but it already has the tell-telling bitterness of OJ going bad. It is also extremely sweet. I don’t know if this is a consequence of it being almost rotten, or if it’s made this way to hide the rotting flavor. Either way, it’s initial taste is disgustingly sweet, and its finish rottenly bitter. I would not buy it again and I have half a mind of writing to Lakewood and asking for a refund.
Clara’s Kitchen Chile Verde Breakfast Burrito ($5 for 10 oz burrito)
I had ordered the Clara’s Kitchen Cheese & Bean burrito but this is what Instacart brought me instead. My husband ended up eating it and he was quite disappointed. He felt it had very little flavor. He wouldn’t have it again.
Reds Organic Cheese Quesadilla Burrito ($3.3 for 5 oz burrito, on sale for $2.5)
I got this and other Reds burritos for my cheese-and-bean-burrito loving teen daughter and it was a bust. She liked the tortilla well enough, but didn’t like the filling, it just tasted wrong for her. Won’t get it again.
Sprouts Cheese Puffs and Cheese Curls ($2.3 for 6 oz package, on sale for $1 each)
Sprouts versions of cheetos are not bad. They seem to have less of an intense flavor than the brand name, and less annoying orange powder to get all over your hands, but they are tasty enough. The puffs are, IMHO, better than the curls. I’d order the puffs again, particularly at the sale price.
Roast Beef ($13/lb)
This was pretty generic deli roast beef, which means it was perfectly acceptable without being remarkable good. I’d buy it again.
As advertised, this pastrami comes in very thin, irregular pieces. It has a subtle flavor, with only a limited chemical pungency and tones of sweetness. Unfortunately, I can’t say how well it holds up to the rye bread as I opened up to taste it, and ended up eating half the bag on its own (and the next day, the other half). As half a bag ended up being my dinner, I’d say that the package ($11 at Safeway) should produce two generous sandwiches.
I was in the mood for BBQ sauce last week, and decided to give a new BBQ sauce a try. I’m a fan of sweet sauces, but dislike anything that tastes like Kraft BBQ sauce. My favorite bottled sauce is Everette & Jones, but I’m fine with Kinder’s and even Sweet Baby Ray’s.
Blakey’s Original was on sale at Safeway, so I figured I’d give it a try. All in all, I was pretty pleased. It basically tastes like a generic BBQ sauce, but it has a bitter/smokey flavor that makes it unique. The flavor does come from liquid smoke or something similar, but it’s not as blunt as liquid smoke usually is. Given that all the profits go to the California firefighters, I felt it was appropriate.
I used the sauce for meatloaves and it worked pretty well. The 18 oz bottle is regularly $6 at Safeway, but was on sale for $4. I wouldn’t buy it for $6, but it’s fine for $4.
In all, this corned beef tasted exactly as what it is: pre-packaged deli meat. It could have been corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, turkey for that matter – it just tasted like generic commercial deli meat. And flavor wise, the 6 ounces of this corned beef were overwhelmed by the two slices of rye bread in the sandwich.
I have been juicing oranges for decades, but I usually juice them a few at a time, and had never actually done a whole bag. Still, I got an 8 lb from Safeway not too long ago, and figured I’d juice all of it and see what I got. The answer: 4 cups of orange juice, a quart.
Navel oranges are selling at Safeway now for $6/7 for the 8 lb bag.
I’m lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, where I have access to lots of stores with lots of international ingredients. And these ingredients have become far easier to find in recent years. Still, finding them can still be a hassle, and often times I forget where I actually found a particular ingredient when I need to buy it again. I’m hoping to use this blog post to remind myself.
Black Truffles I found them at the Berkeley Bowl during truffle season, but I wasn’t too impressed with the flavor.
Candlenuts These large nuts are used as thickeners and flavor enhancers in southeastasian cuisine. I have yet to find them in the East Bay, so I’ve substituted with their cousin, macadamia nuts. The latter are sold in bulk at Sprouts at a reasonable price.
Galangal root (also spelled galanga) adds a special flavor to Thai/Indonesian/Malay dishes. I usually find it at the 88 Manor Markets in San Leandro, but it’s often available at the Berkeley Bowl as well. It freezes fairly well.
Indonesian Bay Leaves aka salam leaves. They are different than Indian or western bay leaves, and I haven’t been able to find them locally yet.
Kaffir Lime leaves are an indispensable element for many southeast Asian dishes. I’d seen them at the 88 Manor Markets in the past, but I couldn’t find them last time I needed them, so I bought them off someone on Facebook marketplace who had her own tree. Since then I’ve found that my friends J. & G. have their own tree. The leaves can be frozen, and they seem to retain their flavor well.
Light Soy Sauce is the default soy sauce in Chinese cuisine, lighter in color and a bit less salty than the standard Japanese soy sauce. It’s not the same as Kikkoman lite soy sauce. It’s widely available and I found it at the 88 Manor Markets. You can substitute with regular or tamari soy sauce.
Palm oil. The small 88 Manor Market in San Leandro carries several brands of African red palm oil.
Palm nut sauce. An ingredient in west African recipes can be found at the small 88 Manor Market in San Leandro.
Palm sugar. Found it at the small 88 Manor Market in San Leandro, but not at the large new one.
Pandan leaves These leaves are used as wrappers and to flavor food. They are listed as available fresh at the Berkeley Bowl and I found them frozen at the small 88 Manor Market in San Leandro (couldn’t find them at the new, larger one nearby).
Rock Sugar Chinese rock sugar consists of large yellow sugar crystals and is used to give shine to glaces as well as a sweetener. It’s easily available at Asian supermarkets and I found it at the 88 Manor Markets in San Leandro. White rock sugar is available at Santos Spices in San Leandro.
Turmeric root. Fresh turmeric root is an ingredient in many Thai and Indonesian dishes. I’ve found it at Raley’s, but it’s also available at supermarkets like Sprouts and the Berkeley Bowl. It freezes well, but don’t defrost it before you peel/use it because it turns to mush. Just peel it frozen.
I found this at Grocery Outlet and it sounded great. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The cream cheese didn’t have much flavor at all, and couldn’t stand to the most insipid cracker. There was some sweetness from the blueberries, but the cashews didn’t add much. And the whole cheese just had no flavor. I wouldn’t buy again.
This year, I made a standing rib roast for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The 2-rib Thanksgiving roast was bought at a local butcher. It was expensive, so much so that my husband hid the total price from me to not give me a heart attack. Still, we had had a similar roast from that butcher 16 years before and he had dreamt about it every since, the Pandemic Thanksgiving seemed like a good time to revisit it. We all loved it. My husband rated it a solid 8.5-9 in a 10 point scale.
When time came for making our Christmas menu, both of them requested a prime rib roast again. I wasn’t thrilled about cooking the same thing, and there was no way I was going to revisit that expense – but when I saw that Raley’s had the equivalent cut for $6/lb I decided to give it a go.
I will admit that I was apprehensive. These days you a chuck or eye of roast costs about that much. But Raley’s advertised the meat as being choice grade, so I figured why not? I was pleasantly surprised.
Even though I kept the meat in the fridge until its “sell by” date, the roast was very good, tasty and tender. Not as much as our uber-expensive Thanksgiving roast, but much more than it had any right to be for the price. My husband gave it a 7/10. I would not hesitate to serve it to guests.
And I just might, because it seems Raley’s has sales on prime rib every year around the holidays.
Finally, Raley’s advertised its roast as “Beef Ribeye Roast, Bone In” which confused me for a while. I knew that butchers call a prime rib roast devoid of bones “ribeye roast”, but I thought that if it had the bones it was called “prime rib” or “standing rib roast”. So I spent a fair amount of time researching this. You can do the same, but for all extents and purposes, if what you want to make is prime rib or a standing rib roast, this is the same thing by another name. Do remember that “prime” can refer both to this cut, but also to the grade of meat. Prime grade beef has greater fat marbling than choice grade meat, which has itself more marbling than “select”, a grade that seems to have disappeared from supermarkets in the last few years.
Plus what I learned about truffles & are the truffles sold at the Berkeley Bowl any good?
During a very brief stay in Barcelona, my daughter fell in love with a dish of truffle ravioli in a parmesan and truffle oil cream sauce at one of the Sensi tapas restaurants. So when she asked that I include a pasta dish for our Christmas dinner, I immediately thought of that dish – and started researching recipes and truffles.
Truffles, I knew, were very expensive and rare fungi that grows naturally in Italy and France and is only available at exorbitant prices for a few months of the year. What I didn’t know is that it’s extremely hard to preserve them – because it’s their aroma which actually gives dishes the ethereal earthy flavor that we so like. Infusing them in oil doesn’t really work, but food scientists were able to isolate its most prevalent odorant – a compound called 2,4-Dithiapentane – and replicate it. This is what is mixed with olive oil, butters or salt and sold as “truffle” whatever. That is to say, this is what most of us know as truffle flavor. The little pieces of truffle we see in commercial products are apparently there mostly for show.
There seems to be a revolt against truffle oil among some top chefs, who belief its fake flavor confuses diners and stops them from being able to appreciate the subtleties of real truffles. Thinking back to the truffle dishes I’ve had, I think this is likely to be the case. I still dream of Aquerello‘s ridged pasta with foie gras, scented with black truffles, which I believe is topped with real truffle, but most other truffle dishes I recall did seem to be rather one-dimentional. Years ago, my husband gave me expensive botles of black and white truffle oil for Christmas, so I know those flavors quite well. While I didn’t care much for the white truffle oil, the black truffle oil does impart a rather tasty flavor.
I found many recipes online for pasta in a truffle sauce, and at first my decision was on whether to use truffle oil or butter. While researching what was easily available to me, I found that the Berkeley Bowl was actually carrying fresh black truffles for about $160/lb (via instacart). Given that the page offered no information about these truffles, and that French black truffles are currently selling for $95/oz (a regular truffle weighs an ounce or less), I was quite doubtful of these – but I did learn that truffles are also grown in the West Coast – indeed, as close as Napa Valley – so I imagined they were domestic. My daughter suggests, however, that they might just be expired truffles – not fresh enough to retain much of their flavor. She might have been right.
Ultimately, I decided to give them a try – and so far I’ve had mixed results. I first used them the night I got them by shaving them on a dish of plain pasta served with vegan butter. The truffle shavings completely failed to impart any flavor on the dish. It was a total failure.
For my Christmas Eve dish I decided to do something different. I took part of a truffle and chopped it very finely and infused it in good quality melted butter early in the day – so that it was solid by the time I actually made the sauce for this dish. This, by itself, didn’t give the sauce much truffle flavor, but I think it helped it build, so by the time all the ingredients were combined – the truffle ravioli, the sauce and the shaved truffle on top – the results were delicious. The dish had a very earthy flavor, truffly but not as strong as truffle oil.
I was lucky enough that I was able to follow this recipe closely, as I was able to find the called-for taleggio cheese at the Berkeley Bowl as well. The recipe writer suggests that you can substitute this cheese with Fontina, Robiola or Brie, though to me its flavor was closer to camembert. Indeed, I added a couple of ounces of camembert, as I hadn’t gotten as much taleggio as the recipe called for. I’d probably had done better using less cheese, as the sauce was a tad too salty – I’m making this recommended adjustment in the recipe below.
I wanted to make ravioli in the first place, and was happy to find porcini & truffle ravioli from the Pasta Shop at the Berkeley Bowl. These are made with “truffle essence”, that is to say, the artificial aromatic compound. They were tasty by themselves, but they were really elevated by the sauce and the shaved truffle.
To store truffles before using them, dry the surface with a paper towel and then place in a bowl filled with uncooked rice (to help draw moisture away). Store in the fridge or a cool place in your house.
Ravioli in Truffle Sauce Recipe
12 oz fresh or frozen mushroom ravioli
2-3 Tbsp truffle butter
8 oz taleggio cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes
3/4 cup heavy cream
Parmesan cheese to taste
Cook the ravioli according to package instructions, drain.
Meanwhile, melt the truffle butter, cheese and cream over medium heat – stirring frequently. Transfer the ravioli to the sauce and coat all over. Transfer to a serving dish or individual plates.