Category Archives: Food Items

Safeway’s Signature Cafe Tomato Bisque is not Vegetarian

In the “battle” between Safeway’s and Panera’s Tomato Bisque, Panera is the clear winner.

I have never been a fan of soup – ramen excluded -, but I became fond of Panera’s creamy tomato soup during the pandemic. It’s warm, creamy and hearty – and most importantly, not too acidic – and feels just like a hug. In retrospect, it’s not a surprise that I would like it. It’s really just a thinner version of pasta sauce, and we all know that pasta is just a vehicle for sauce.

During the pandemic, when I still had kids at home (insert empty nest tears here), we usually got the soup as part of a family feast – my vegetarian daughter didn’t really like the sandwiches, but she did enjoy the soup. Later, I found out that they also sell the soup at the supermarket, it’s almost as good, and at $12 for 32 oz, it’s considerably cheaper than at the store (unless you are ordering a family feast). The store-bought soup is also vegetarian and, as I mentioned, quite tasty. Here are the ingredients: Tomatoes, Water, Heavy Cream, Onions, Contains 2% or Less of: Butter (Cream, Salt), Sugar, Salt, Spices, Corn Starch, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Nisin Preparation and Garlic.

This week, Panera tomato soup wasn’t available at Safeway, so I decided to get their Signature Cafe Tomato Basil Bisque instead. It looks very much like Panera’s and, truth be told, it doesn’t taste that differently. It’s a bit spicier – something I don’t really like -, and seems to have less umami than Panera’s, but it’s also very comforting and good. What it is not is vegetarian. The soup contains chicken base and chicken broth.

Safeway’s soup also uses tomato paste instead of tomatoes, as well as a variety of other ingredients to, I presume, enhance the flavor. That, I imagine, is the purpose of the chicken base and broth. It’s thus interesting that it’s not as tasty as Panera’s far simpler one. For just $2 less for a 32 oz container, it makes little sense to buy the Safeway Signature Cafe brand, unless the Panera brand is out of stock, or they change it.

Here are the ingredients for the Signature Cafe tomato soup:

Water, Heavy Cream, Tomato Paste, Contains 2% or Less of: Butternut Squash, Onions, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch Tomato Concentrate, Butter (Cream, Salt), Chicken Base (Chicken, Salt, Rendered Chicken Fat, Dextrose, Sugar, Natural Flavor, Safflower Oil, Chicken Broth, Turmeric), Organic Canola Oil, Cultured Dextrose, Garlic, Organic Roasted Tomato Flavor (Organic Tomato Puree [Organic Tomato Paste, Water], Sea Salt, Organic Molasses, Organic Soy Sauce [Water, Organic Soybeans, Salt], Organic Onion Powder, Natural Flavor, Yeast Extract, Organic Garlic Powder, Organic Natural Flavor, Organic Canola Oil, Organic Spice), Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Whey Protein Concentrate, Yeast Extract, Sea Salt, Basil, Beta-Carotene (for Color), Alpha-Tocopherols (Antioxidants, Citric Acid and Spice.

Filippo Berio Tomato & Ricotta Pesto – Review

I came across this product soon after having some complimentary bread with a creamy tomato sauce at some restaurant, probably Buon Appetito in Hayward. My daughter and I really liked it, so when I saw it, I figured I’d give it a try.

I hadn’t tried it until now but it tastes exactly as you would expect from the title/description. It basically taste like pesto, which has been mixed with some ricotta cheese and tomato sauce. The strongest flavor in the mix is the Grana Padano cheese, a cheap cousin to Parmesan, followed by the basil, which stands in the background. The tomato adds quite a bit of intense acidity to the mixture, while the Ricotta somewhat softens it, but can mostly be felt in the soft yet slightly chalky texture.

All in all, I enjoyed it quite a bit on French bread, but the acidity is such that you can’t eat too much of it. Still, it works well as a dip, and you could make interesting canapes with it. The producers also suggest as recommended uses: “Roasting or Basting Proteins and Vegetables, Baked into Bread, Layered with Pasta as Lasagna, Base for Creamy Soup”. I’d note that due to its intense flavor, less is likely to be more on any dinner dish.

Filippo Berio is a brand named after the namesake of the olive oil company he started. In addition to olive oils, they produce and sell balsamic vinegars, pestos and glazes. They seem to be base din Lucca, Italy and the pesto is made in Italy. It sells at my local Safeway supermarket for $6.60 (I bought it on sale 2 months ago for $2.50 and it’s currently on sale for $4).

Morning Star Vegan Meats: Are they Diabolic?

My vegan-cum-vegetarian daughter is very fond of Morning Star products, particularly the buffalo cik’n. But did you know that “Morning Star” is another term for “Lucifer“, aka “the Devil”?

I’d never had realized that if I hadn’t started watching both “The Sandman” and “Devil in Ohio*. Of course, I had to go to Wikipedia, where I found a not-very clearly written article on Lucifer. For what I can make up from it, it would appear that the planet Venus is known as the “morning star.” Venus is the closest planet to the earth and therefore the brightest “star” in the sky – but it’s particularly visible when it’s low in the horizon. As both the Earth and Venus orbit the sun, their relatively position changes, and approximately every 18 months Venus goes from appearing brightest right before dawn to appearing brightest right after sunset. It was thus known in ancient times both as the “morning star” and the “evening star.” I’m not clear if the ancients realized it was the same star.

In any case, the Latin name for Venus as the morning star was “Luciferus,” or “bringer of light”, from where we get the name “Lucifer”. As many astral bodies, Luciferus became personalized and given a family and vague mythology.

Meanwhile, there is a passage in Isaiah, in the Old Testament, where they refer to the King of Babylon by a Hebrew term that translates as “the shining one”, also understood to be Venus, aka “the morning star”. In the Vulgata and King James versions, they translated that word as “Lucifer,” while modern English versions use the term “morning star” or even “day star“. The passage describes the King of Babylon’s fall from grace – which you can compare to Venus, as the morning star, being seen low in the horizon before dawn. I guess the fall from grace motif caused “Lucifer” to become a name for the devil.

So, is eating Morning Star products a form of devil-worshipping? I mentioned it to my daughter and she laughed. More seriously, though, Morning Star is a product line that belongs to Kellogg’s, a company that has a history of exploiting/mistreating employees, false advertisement/lying to consumers, andincluding toxic ingredients in its cereals. That seems like quite evil/devilish behavior. So perhaps, by giving money to Kellogg’s and increasing its promising, we are rewarding evil and worshiping the devil in the only real way to do so.

* My daughter tells me that this is a also a well known fact to people who watch the show “Lucifer“, as the main character, the Devil, is called “Lucifer MorningStar,” but I never watched it.

Primal Kitchen Beef & Mushroom Bowl – Review

I found these frozen bowls at Grocery Outlet, I think for $4. I was impressed by the simple ingredients and “grass fed” beef so I figured I’d give them a try. It was fine, about the quality you expect from frozen food. The beef consists of “patty crumbles”, the mushrooms are limp and the sauce is basic a tomato sauce, a little bit spicy and a little bit undersalted. The dish is in need of a starch, some bread, rice or cornbread would probably compliment it nicely. Of course, they are sold to cater to the “paleo” market, thus their lack of carbs.

I did like that it came in what seems to be a compostable bowl and is covered with wax paper – but I have curve side composting. And the portion was large enough for a light lunch. I just wasn’t sold on the flavor.

Primal Kitchen, which started as a small company but was later acquired by Kraft, sells 3 frozen bowls – the other two are panang curry and chicken pesto. It’s not clear to me if the bowls are in the process of being discontinued, however. The only place I can find that sells them, other than Grocery Outlet, is Thrive Market, where they retail for $9. They used to be $8 at Safeway, but they’re no longer available.

Pasquier Macarons – Ooh La la

I’ve finally found a brand of macarons worth the hype

My oldest daughter loves macarons – which really the only reason I ever buy them, or eat them. I’ve tried a few here and there: frozen and fresh ones from the supermarket or specialty stores, gourmet ones from French bakeries, both in the US and in Paris, and I’ve even made them myself – but I never have really gotten the point of them. They usually consist of a too-dry-cookie with an underwhelming filling. I’ve never been impressed, until now.

I’m pleased to say that Pasquier makes the best macarons that I’ve ever had and that they are easily available and not too expensive (as far as macarons go, these are very expensive pastries to begin with). The cookies are moist while still having a bit of crunch, and the flavors of both the cookie and the filling are explosive. They are just delicious.

The macarons come in six flavors: vanilla, pistachio, caramel, raspberry, lemon and chocolate, and I can’t say I have a favorite (OK, maybe pistachio, but maybe lemon). They all hit the right spot, albeit with a tiny bit too much sweetness. They are tiny, I’d say the size of a silver dollar if I remembered just how big those were. But if you can resist not emptying the box, you do get a lot of flavor for your buck. They are made in France, they are refrigerated and you must consume them within 2 days of opening the box. I don’t think you’ll have trouble.


I found them at Grocery Outlet for $5 for a box of 12 (5.6 oz total), but they also seem to be available at Sprouts and Good Eggs for $7-8 and at Target for $11.

Safeway Sub Sandwich Review

It’s a great deal when it’s on sale

The Safeway sub, with a bread knife and fork for size comparison.

Every Friday, Safeway supermarket has a bunch of items on sale for $5. Usually this includes a couple of items from their deli, and more often than not, it includes their “Signature Cafe All American Sub,” which is normally $10. This 14″+, 2lb sandwich includes ham, cured turkey, white American cheese and romaine lettuce. The ingredient list says it also has beef, mayo and mustard, but these never seem to make an appearance in my sandwiches. Adding the latter two improves the experience. The sandwich could probably also used more cheese, there really isn’t enough to cover all the meat.

Despite these shortcomings, it’s a damn good sandwich. For $5, it’s an excellent sandwich. It provides enough food for easily 3-4 meals and it actually keeps fairly well in the fridge for 2-3 days.

The bread is usually on the hard side, but the sub I got today was in a soft roll, which I prefer.

All in all, this is one of the best deals at Safeway. Look for it on Fridays.

Kirkland Signature Chicken Street Tacos Review

Surprisingly tasty dinner is not the best deal in town

In the last couple of years, I’ve tried a few of Costco’s ready-to-heat meals and I have generally been pleased enough with them. I don’t remember exactly what tempted me to get this particular kit, but it got fairly good reviews online, it wasn’t as carb-heavy as Costco’s pastas and I probably had no other plans for dinner that night. In all, I was fairly happy with it but I found it to be overpriced at the $19 instacart price, so unless I’m actually at Costco and it’s significantly cheaper, I don’t think I’d get it again.

The kit consists of moderately spiced cooked chicken, shredded cabbage, shredded Mexican cheese, a quartered lime, pots of salsa and cilantro lime crema and 12 small flour tortillas. The chicken had a pretty good flavor and it was fairly moist. To warm it up I simply heated up some oil on a skillet and cooked it, stirring often, for a few minutes. It didn’t dry out but it did acquire a nice charred flavor on some parts. The salsa was pretty standard and also a tad spicy – I would have preferred pico de gallo myself, but then again, I often do. The cilantro lime crema was OK, but I also would have preferred plain old sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro. Now, I understand the difficulty of including cilantro in a kit like this, but the crema was really not a good substitute. Finally, I did miss the kit not including guacamole.

Altogether, the ingredients put together on a tortilla made very tasty tacos. Perhaps not as good as those from my corner’s Mexican restaurant, but still tastier than I had expected.

The main problem with the kit is that it’s just not very large. I’d say it feed 2 hungry people or 3 if you use up all the cabbage and tortillas. Now, that’s not bad for $19, but not great either, in particular when compared to the just-cooked and ready-to-eat fiesta packs from El Torito – which cost twice as much but give you more than twice the food, plus which you don’t need to heat up.

Finca Helechal Ibérico Sampler: Review

Expensive but Delicious

I wouldn’t have paid $20 for 4 oz of Ibérico cold cuts if it wasn’t my birthday. But it was, so when I saw this tapas sampler at Cost Plus I threw caution to the wind and put it in my cart. I’m glad I did. While ridiculously expensive (but, Ibérico ham is ridiculously expensive in Spain too – though a sampler like this would cost about half to a third as much), it was absolutely delicious. As good as any pork product I’ve had in Spain, at stores or restaurants. Even as good as the Ibérico ham my friend’s mother – a butcher – would send from Extremadura to her house in Madrid.

The sampler comes with one ounce (28g) each of jamón ibérico, ibérico pork loin, ibérico salchichón and ibérico chorizo. I had meant to eat these with bread or crackers, but I ended up eating them all on their own. The paper thin slices of each were so good that I couldn’t bear to add other flavors to it. I really can’t say which was my favorite,

“Finca Helechal” is a brand of Ibérico pork products producer “Embutidos Fermín“, a small family company based on La Alberca, Salamanca. They have different levels of products, the top ones made from pigs fed acorns. These ones are made from grain-fed free range pigs that are only 50% Iberian. Unless you are tasting the two products side by side, I don’t think you’ll notice.

I’ll definitely buy this again. And maybe next time, I’ll share it.

Brianna’s Blue Cheese Salad Dressing Rocks!

Briannas Blue Cheese Dressing, 12 oz - Walmart.com

For years, as parents of children and then teens, the only salad dressing we had at home was ranch. There was the occasional diversion into Italian, Thousand Islands or, more recently, Caesar’s, but blue cheese was well out of the question. Now, the kids are grown and family meals are the exception rather than the rule. The silver lining to that is that I can finally cook and buy what I want to eat.

So I went google searching for the best Blue Cheese dressing and Brianna’s came at the top of several lists – I bought it, since I found it at Sprouts, and it exceeded all my expectations. It’s absolutely delicious. It has a very, very strong flavor however, and it’s incredibly rich, so less is definitely more with this salad dressing. That, of course, is not a bad thing.

For some reason, Brianna’s decided to use a picture of a red onion on the packaging, so they had to specify that the salad dressing doesn’t actually contain red onions. They claim, instead, that it’s delicious on fresh red onions, and if you want to eat it that way, be my guest. I’ve both used it to dress onionless salads and as a general dip for whatever item I felt like dipping (the last thing were shawarma slices from Costco). It was $4.29 through Instacart, but given how little you need to use of it, it’s actually cheaper than brands like Kraft.

All About Calamansi fruit

Yesterday I was introduced to a completely new ingredient to me: calamansi fruit. These tiny citrus fruits are also known as kalamansi, calamondin and Philippines limes or lemons. They are extremely sour, and their juice is used instead of lemon or lime juice in Filipino and other southeast Asian cuisines. They do have a more orangy taste profile than lime, and a common substitute for their juice is a mixture of equal ratios of orange juice and lemon or lime juice (though I imagine the result will be less sour). Calamansi start out green, and turn orange when they are ripe. I don’t know that their taste changes much, however, the ones I got were mostly orange (see picture) but they were extremely sour.

Sun Tropics Chilled Calamansi Lime Nectar - 64 Fl. Oz. - Safeway

I came across them in a recipe for Ambonese fish, which called for their juice. I was excited to see that calamansi juice was available at my local big-chain supermarket, but disappointed when I got my order and found out that what they sell is actually calamansi nectar, a drink whose first and second ingredients are water and sugar. Basically, it’s a lemonade made with calamansi fruit instead. As a drink, it’s rather good. I liked it much better than lemonade though les than limeade. It did feel the particular brand I bought was rather watery, but perhaps in my old age I just need more intense flavors (I don’t have a problem with commercial limeade, however).

As much as I enjoyed the drink, I still needed to find calamansi which, fortunately, was an easy task in California. Not only do we have a large Filipino population which consume these fruits, but it seems that we have a good climate for growing them. I found several ads on Facebook Marketplace for people who had trees in their backyards and sold them for $4/lb.

However, I ended up buying these at a local Asian supermarket with a large Filipino selection. A 1/2 lb bag was $2.25 and it produced 1/3 cup of juice. So it is definitely more expensive than lime/lemon/orange juice. I think there might be commercial brands selling calamansi juice, but I didn’t think it was worth my time seeking them out at the local Asian markets.

Juicing the calamansi turned out to be very easy if a bit time consuming. You basically cut off the side with the stem and then squeeze them by hand into a strainer – they are full of seeds. Alternatively you could just squeeze them into a bowl and then strain the whole thing, I imagine. At least when they are ripe, they are very soft and very easy to squeeze.

I’m actually looking forward to find another dish that calls for these little fruit, they are that cute and fun to cook with. Meanwhile, I’ll just drink the calamansi-ade.