Starbucks Via: So 20th century!

I will admit it.  I’m an instant coffee drinker.  I know I’m not the only one in America, but I’m one of the few who will admit to it.  I drink instant coffee because it’s easy to make, but also because I like my coffee fairly mild.  I do have a strong preference for Taster’s Choice and Nescafé – so I do have some standards of sorts, but clearly they are not very high.

I first heard of Starbucks VIA last May when I won a raffle for a Starbucks gift card and the card came with a 3 individual samples of French Roast instant coffee.  I tried them and they were great.  The coffee has a rich flavor, stronger and more developed than any instant coffee I drink, but without the bitterness of the real thing.  As far as instant coffees go, it’s by far my favorite.

But… it’s expensive.  Ridiculously expensive, about 83-cents per cup, though if you buy it bulk you can get it down to 60-cents a cup.   A cup of Taster’s Choice costs less than 10-cents by comparison.  So needless to say, I haven’t been buying it.

Soon after I received my sample pack, I saw VIA at Safeway, and not too long after that, at Grocery Outlet.  But even at Grocery Outlet it was too expensive, though I don’t remember exactly what the price was.  Today I noticed that the 3-cup packages are down to 99-cents (though they expired in June).  33-cents a cup is not too bad, so I bought a few packages to have it as the occasional treat.  Lately, I’m drinking tea anyway.

The biggest problem with VIA, besides the price, is all the needless packaging.  I guess they need it to make you think you are getting more from your money than you really are.  It’s unlikely that anyone seeing a $40 7-oz jar of VIA placed next to a $10 jar of Taster Choice would reach towards the former.  But all of this means a lot of wasted materials which come at a significant environmental cost.

I’m sure that Starbucks did a lot of market research before introducing this product, but I just don’t see who it would appeal to.


Raymundo’s Caramel Flan – Product Review

I got this at Grocery Outlet last week.  The 21 oz package was on sale for about $2, I think.  Its first ingredients were milk and sugar so I thought it was worth trying.  It wasn’t bad but I wouldn’t but it again.

I found the flan both a bit insipid and too smooth for my taste.  I prefer flans that are a bit rougher, with air bubbles throughout.  I assume this is because this flan is made with whole eggs, but I imagine the fillers don’t help either.

 


Immaculate Baking Co. Ready-to-Bake Pie Crusts – Review

I found these at Grocery Outlet (in San Leandro) for $1.50, and I figured they were worth a try.  I don’t think I’d buy them again.

The crusts are refrigerated, rather than frozen, but you still need to bring them to room temperature before unrolling – which takes about half an hour.  Otherwise, they’ll easily break.  Even fully room-temperature crusts don’t stay together that well. As they come rolled in, there is no pan included – so make sure you have your own.

My real problem with them, however, was the flavor.  Even though they are “all natural” they have this very unpleasant bitter taste that you feel at the back of your mouth.  It lingers. Not pleasant.


Whiting Fish: the Best bargain around?

I came across this fish yesterday at Grocery Outlet.  I was a bit reluctant to buy it because it was only $4 for a 2lb bag – at least one third the cost of most fish I buy.  But it was the only fish I could find at that store that didn’t come from China or Vietnam (instead, it was wild caught in the US), so I figured it was worth the risk.  I think it was.

Pacific whiting, also known as Pacific hake, is a relative of the merluza I grew up eating in Argentina.  It’s a medium-sized fish, with relatively fragile flesh and a distinctive, somewhat sweet, flavor.  It has a greater oil concentration than other species, so it tastes fishier than most of the white fish I usually eat (catfish, cod, sole, tilapia, etc.).  This flavor was too strong for my daughter, and didn’t particularly thrill my husband either.  I liked it, but probably because it took me back to childhood.

That said, if I was cooking just for the adults I would definitely buy it again, specially at $2lb!


La Lechera Dulce de Leche @ Grocery Outlet – Review

As an Argentinian I grew up eating dulce de leche every day.  We ate it on sliced bread and toast and in pastries and cakes of all types.  We use it as a topping for flan and, of course, in panqueques (crepes).  And as an Argentinian I still LOVE dulce de leche.  For years, I made the fake kind by boiling cans of condensed milk.  Then a bit over a decade ago importation of Argentian products took off and I started being able to get the *real thing*, all the way from Argentina.

Alas, in recent years the Argentinian economy has been doing relatively well, and the American economy has not, so the peso is relatively strong now against the dollar.  This means that authentic Argentine dulce de leche is pretty expensive,  about $10 for a 1.5lb jar at Los Angeles Latino supermarkets (where I usually get it, as it’s cheaper over there).  Needless to say, I don’t get it much.

For that reason I was thrilled to find La Lachera Dulce De Leche at only $2lb (at the San Leandro Grocery Outlet).  I compared the ingredients with those in regular dulce de leche and they’re pretty close (milk and sugar) – though La Lechera’s doesn’t contain vanilla but includes salt as well as sodium and disodium phosphates, in addition to a preservative. I’ve no idea why.

As for the taste? La Lechera’s dulce de leche is pretty good.  It’s thinner than dulce de leche I’m used to, but then again it comes in a bottle with a picture of pancakes, so clearly it’s marketed as a topping not a spread.  The taste is pretty close, though perhaps a bit more intense.  It may be left to caramelize for longer than regular dulce de leche (though I’m not sure why it’d be thinner, then).  In all, at $2lb it’s a great alternative to the real thing.  These bottles retail normally for about $3.50 to $5.  The ones at the San Leandro Grocery Outlet expire in May 2012, but they should last longer than that.

 


Rougette Bavarian Red cheese @ Grocery Outlet – review

I just found some Rougette Bavarian Red triple cream cheese at Grocery Outlet, and I had to try it.  I *love* it.  The cheese is super creamy and tastes pretty much like any good brie, though it’s not as bitter as most.  It also has a thinner rind.  It retails for about $20 a lb, but it was just $7lb at the San Leandro Grocery Outlet.  The catch? It expired yesterday (March 1st).  Unopened brie should be good for a whole week after its expiration date, but that still means you need to eat it by next Wednesday.   Still, if you are around town before then, it’s definitely worth it.

I ate it on Sensible Portions Pita Bites, and they went amazingly well together.


Johnsonville Smoked Brat in a soft baked roll – Product review

This is yet another frozen product that no business tasting as good as it does.  I’m not the biggest fan of hotdogs in the first place, but these smoked bratwursts are quite good.  The smoked flavor really comes through, and the bun is soft and tasty. And they’re cheap (85c. each at Grocery Outlet) and microwaveable – ready in 90-seconds.

Now, for the bad part.  The brats-in-the-bun are actually quite small, each sausage only weighs 2.67 oz (5 oz when you include the bun).  And they are *very* fattening and salty.  Each sandwich has 420 calories and 23! grams of fat.  Moreover, each sandwich has 41% of your daily allowance of sodium.

In all, these are a tasty snack to have once in a while, but too dangerous to keep at home.


Contessa frozen “On the Stove” meals – Product Review

For the last month or so, Grocery Outlet has been carrying three of Contessa’s frozen “On the Stove” meals ($4), out of the 20 or so that Contessa makes: Orange Beef, Crispy Pork with Tangerine Sauce and Crispy Chicken with General Tsao Sauce.  I’ve finally tried them all and while I really like the Orange Beef, the other two are not nearly as good.

These meals consist of a package with four different components: a bag of  white rice, a small bag of meat, another bag of sauce, and frozen vegetables .   To prepare, you stir fry the meat  for 5 minutes or so, add the veggies for another 3-4 minutes and then the sauce for 30 seconds.  You microwave the rice for 3 minutes, put it all altogether and you are done.  Note that there is too much rice for the amount of meat/vegetables/sauce included – I ended up discarding about 1/3 of it.

One package is supposed to have two and a half 1-cup servings.  Now, if you are a child or on your deathbed maybe 1 cup of food (mostly rice) may satisfy your hunger.  Personally, I’d say it serves one adult – maybe you could share it with a younger child, but not more.

Now, as for the food itself.  The meats were generally good, tasty and tender, and they brown nicely.  The rice is as what you could expect from something that comes from a bag.  The sauces were generally good; I particularly liked the orange sauce that came with the beef, it was dark and intense and not overly sweet.  The General Tsao sauce was a bit too spicy for me, but it was still pretty good.

Where the problems come are with the vegetables.  The orange beef came with onions, leeks and red peppers and these were all very nice, they kept their flavor and went well with the sauce.  The tangerine pork, OTOH, came with onions, water chestnuts, carrots and scallions and these were less than tasty.  I actually disliked the bell peppers, carrots and water chestnuts that came with the chicken, they had such an “off” taste that I couldn’t make myself eat them.

In all, I’d say that the orange beef is restaurant quality (well, Chinese restaurant quality) and I would definitely buy it again (and have).  I wouldn’t say the same about the other two meals.  If GO offered other flavors, I would probably try them as well.

I hadn’t been able to figure out how much these meals sell in regular supermarkets – perhaps they don’t have much distribution yet -, but I definitely wouldn’t pay more than $4.

 


Bellafoglia and California Pizza Kitchen Frozen Pizzas – yuuum

Tuesdays are a hard dinner day for me.  The kids have classes until late, so we don’t get home until 5:30, and then Mike has to go and rush to make it to his School Board meetings.  While I love cooking, I don’t like cooking when I’m rushed and I don’t particularly want to cook just for the kids and I (if I make what they want, I won’t be happy, if I make what I want, they won’t be).  So often times, if we have no leftovers, we rely on take out or frozen food.  Last night was one of those nights, so I headed to Grocery Outlet for some frozen pizza.

Generally, Grocery Outlet has tons of choices, but this time they were more limited.  The kids only like cheese pizza, so I went for this California Pizza Kitchen version.  I’d had the CPK frozen pizzas before, and I’d liked them.  Well, so did the kids.  While they still prefer take out pizza, they were perfectly happy to eat this one.  We got the version that comes with the flat bread appetizer, and the kids pronounced the bread the “best bread ever”.  It’s pretty good, and it tasted garlicky to me, but I didn’t tell them that :-).  I didn’t try the spinach artichoke dip as that’s not my thing.  This pizza was available at GO for $4. It’s think crust, so it pretty much only fed my two hungry kids.

For me, I got a Bellafoglia pizza with a bunch of toppings ($4).  I’d never heard of the brand, but I’m glad I gave it a try.  This was by far the best frozen pizza I’ve ever had.  The cornmeal crust had a lot to do with it, it was just crunchy enough, just salty enough and just very good.  The cheese and toppings were good quality and were well balanced.  I did some research when I came home, and found out that Bellafoglia is a product of Hayward’s Pacific Cheese Co. a cheese supplier.  Sizewise, this pizza may be enough for two adults, but probably if they eat a salad or something else as well.  I ate half of one, and was hungry later in the evening.

In all, I think I’ll keep a few of these pizzas in my freezer for nights just like last’s.

 


Sister Schubert’s Cinnamon Rolls – Review

I really wanted to get a treat today, but Grocery Outlet didn’t have much to choose from.  I’d seen Sister Schubert’s Cinnamon Rolls before, but for some reason they hadn’t really drawn me.  Still, with no other real choices I got them. Lord, I’m glad I did.

I don’t tend to like refrigerated cinnamon rolls (at least the Pillsbury kind) because they have a weird metallic flavor (I imagine it’s the preservatives). They are just not that good.  These rolls, however, were delicious.  They were moist, not too sweet, with lots of cinnamon flavor and came covered with sugar frosting.  They may not be as good as homemade cinnamon rolls or the rolls you get at Cinnabon, but for being a frozen product they are very good.

You can cook the cinnamon rolls directly from the freezer, it takes 25 to 30 minutes in a preheated oven, or thaw them first and cook them for 15 minutes or so.  I did the former.

I think they sell in regular stores for $3.50 or so (but I don’t know who carries them), but they’re current on sale at the San Leandro Grocery Outlet for $2. Tomorrow I’m going to go and get a few packages – they are frozen, so I can keep them in the freezer until I need them.