Sometimes, it’s hard to decide which snack we liked the most, while other times it’s a contest of which we liked the least. The latter was the case on our latest snack testing.
Eti pizza crackers were a pretty big disappointment. The crackers – similar in size to oyster crackers – were dry and had a very mild flavor. Maybe there was some oregano there, but we definitely could not taste pizza. Most of the pack went uneaten (though granted, we had just had dinner so we were pretty full).
Still, if we went to Turkey, we wouldn’t be buying this.
While this tiny candies were new to me, my kids recall buying little fizzy candies that came in soda can lookalikes when they were little. These Orien Mini Sour candies reminded them of them.
It seems that these are supposed to be effervescent as well, but we couldn’t notice any fizzy effect. Still, they had a non-unpleasant sour flavor.
Update – My last two experiences at El Torito have been less than stellar.
Since I wrote this post the fiesta/party packs – at least at my local El Torito in San Leandro, California – have both increased in price and decreased in quality. The packs now cost $5 more, and the last couple of times we ordered, they were missing some of the sides, we originally got. I’m not sure if this is because the fiesta packs no longer include them or our El Torito was particularly busy now that California has reopened, and the workers were careless with what they packed in our orders.
The Fajita Pack
The fajitas pack is now $45 and our last order included the beef fajitas (and we felt we got less meat than in previous occasions). Still, it was very tasty. In addition to the meat, we got rice and beans, warm tortillas, guacamole and sour cream and chips and salsa. What we didn’t get was the corn pudding we enjoy so much.
The Tacos Pack
We ordered the taco pack once before and in addition to the stuff shown in the photo (meal, rice and beans, tortillas, chip and salsa and corn pudding) it came with sour cream, pico de gallo, shredded cheese and shredded lettuce. This time, the last four listed items were unavailable. That made for very, very boring tacos.
That said, the beef for tacos is very tasty, flavor wise it’s better than the fajitas. The chicken, which we got the previous time, isn’t as flavorful and it’s a bit dry. They also offer carnitas.
El Torito, a California-based chain of Tex-Mex (or Cal-Mex, for that matter) restaurants, is offering a great take out deal during the pandemic. For $30-$40 you can get a tacos, carnitas fajitas or combo (enchiladas, tamales or chile relleno) deals that feed at least four people. Given that an order of steak fajitas for just one person is $21.50, $40 for four times that amount is as good a deal as you are likely to get. Indeed, at $10 per person (or less, depending on how hungry you are), it’s the same or lower cost than the mid-priced meal kits I’ve used so much. For $20 more, you can add a pitcher of margaritas (not my thing).
The fajitas pack comes with large containers of beef strips and onions, Mexican rice, beans (choose between re-fried or de olla), corn pudding, salsa and guacamole, a stack of warm tortillas (your choice of corn or flour) and a huge bag of tortilla chips.
They tell you at what time the food will be ready when you order (or you can specify the time), and it’s very, very quick. El Torito offers delivery (sans alcohol) for something like $3, as well as curbside and in-restaurant pickup. The food is ready when it says it’ll be.
I used to be a huge fan of Chevy’s back in the day. Then it declined, and then the one in San Leandro closed, and then most of them closed. At some point, the remaining ones were bought by the same parent company from El Torito, which carried Chevy’s influence into El Torito’s kitchens.
You can taste this influence in the fajitas pack. The beef marinade now resembles Chevy’s, as does the salsa – while the corn pudding is practically identical to Chevy’s sweet corn tomalito. The chips are still not as thin as Chevy’s, but they’re thinner than other restaurants.
All in all I’ve enjoyed their meals, and I think I will give their other offerings a try later.
Today’s challenge put a white chocolate cookie bar against whistling candies. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize the whistling candies were that, and as just candies they were failures, so the victory went to Turkey
Ulker Alpella 3D White Chocolate is a small pyramidal bar of multiple wafers covered with white chocolate. It was very tasty, though very sweet and pretty one dimensional. Still, it will satisfy your cravings for white chocolate.
According to Wikipedia, “Ülker is a Turkish multinational food and beverage manufacturer based in Istanbul, Turkey. Its products are exported internationally, to 110 countries. Ülker’s core products are biscuits, cookies, crackers, and chocolates, although it has expanded to other categories.” Alpella is one of their chocolate snack brands.
The Coris Whistle Soda Candy consisted of a small package with all Japanese writing and three flat candies with a whole in the middle. Unfortunately, we didn’t look at the packaging carefully or we might have noticed that the singing birds had a candy in their mouths – but even then I’m not sure we would have realized we were supposed to do the same.
Apparently the point of these candies is to put them in your mouth, blow on them and they produce a whistling sound. I’m sure it would have been fun to try that. As it is, we just ate them and they were OK. They’re chalky, with a sour but otherwise hard to identify flavor.
The chocolate part seems to be aerated chocolate balls, similar to Aero chocolate, dipped in a chocolate layer. It has a nice crunch and together with the caramel, it’s absolutely delicious. I finally get why Turkish treats may actually be a “thing”. This is probably the most delicious chocolate bar I’ve eaten, and I’ve been gorging on Ghirardelli caramel chocolate squares since Christmas.
These bars are made by a company called Eti which manufacturers lots of snacks. They seem to sell not only in Turkey, but in the Balkans, Russia and the Middle East and Africa. I’m sure we’ll be encountering more of their snacks in this box.
For Christmas, I got my husband a package of dagashi or Japanese snacks. He went to Japan for work years ago, and fell in love with the place, but has never been able to return. A snack won’t make up for the lights of Tokyo or the majesty of mount Fuji, but it should at least remind him of the place.
The $25 box promised 30 snacks, but it was more like 20 snacks and several one or two bite candies. Still, it should give us at least three weeks of daily treats – and reviews!
My husband then reciprocated by getting me a box of Turkish snacks. My trip to Turkey was right after my year abroad in Egypt, and while I loved the country and the food, I don’t think I ever tried any snacks. I was traveling at a super small budget, and snacks didn’t enter into the question.
I don’t know if Turkish snacks were a big deal back then, but they apparently are now – at least in Amazon. Whether that’s because they’re particularly good and varied or relatively cheap, we’ll have to see.
The $28 box my husband got me is supposed to have over 1 1/2 lbs of snacks or at least 20 full size snacks. It came with a sheet explaining what they all were.
As you can see, this was true. At least from a price point, the Turkish box was a better value than the Japanese box – but Japan is a more expensive country. The question will be what’s the best value in terms of food and experience.
Our plan is to try one of the snacks every day and see which we like best. I’ll blog about them as well. I start with the first couple of days, and will add more blog postings as I go along.
The burger cookies were super cute and very detailed. They would make great play food for dolls. Flavor wise, however, they were a bit lacking. They were a bit dry and they had a soft chocolate flavor, maybe with some hazelnut thrown in. Not something I’d be craving.
We expected weird snacks in the Japanese box, and this one did not disappoint. Umaibo, I learned, are puffed corn snacks (similar to a large cheetos) that come in a variety of flavors and, indeed, there are several of these in the box. This particular one was “corn potage” flavor, which apparently is a popular Japanese soup. At first, the snack was a bit weird, but we soon really got into it and we found it very tasty. I would definitely buy more. And I’m planning to make this actual corn potage.
The Turkish treat were think pretzel sticks. They tasted exactly like think pretzel sticks. I did like how thin they were, but otherwise you will like this as much as you like pretzels.
As far as I can tell, this is a flavor jelly candy made from the konjac plant. It has a consistency a bit more liquidy than jello which I found very pleasant. I couldn’t quite tell what the flavor was before I looked it up (and I did an image search for “Japanese green jelly snack” to find it). In addition to being a popular candy in Japan, it seems that you can buy the powdered konjac gelatin to make your own decorative jellies at home. Beware, however, that is also a known choking hazard.
While I did like this snack, my daughter didn’t like it and my husband wasn’t very excited about it either. Fortunately, though, there is another one in the box because my vegan daughter might like it. Getting vegetable gelatin is hard, so this may be a good substitute.
This online store for Argentinian products really delivers
Argentine products used to be hard to find in the US. For years, we had to make our own dulce de leche by boiling cans of condensed milk or cooking it from scratch. Making empanadas meant making the shells by hand, and if you wanted yerba mate or Argentinian sweets, you had to wait until someone brought them to you from a trip.
Slowly in the 90’s and then quicker in the 00’s, Argentinian products started to make their way into Latin markets in the US. For years, I was able to find them at Casa Lucas in unincorporated San Leandro, but this closed a few years ago. Fortunately, there are several Argentinian stores in the LA area, so I’ve been able to fill my needs when I go to visit my parents. The pandemic, however, has put a stop to this so I went looking for a place to buy Argentine products online. Enter Pampa Direct.
Pampa Direct sells a wide variety of shelf stable Argentine products, from candy and snacks, to all sort of Dulce de Leche products, wines and even mate gourds. Their prices are very reasonable, in line with those of the Argentinian markets in LA, and most amazingly, they ship from Argentina.
I made a HUGE order that included alcohol and it took about 10 days to arrive. Shipping is free in order over $50, and they have a free gift if you order at least $100. They also added some extras to my order, perhaps because it was so big.
Like responsible people throughout the world, we spent the holidays in 2020 at home and alone, just our little nuclear family. It was a somewhat sad Christmas Eve, as my father passed away this year and our family has been feeling the weight of the pandemic. But we were abroad last year, and it was very important for all of us to get some semblance of normality.
Still, I went back and forth between making a full multi-course dinner as I usually do, or just have a main and dessert. I sort of leaned towards the latter option as we haven’t been particularly hungry during the pandemic, so I wasn’t sure we could even go through a full meal, even with small courses.
Ultimately, I compromised and went with something in between, a multi-course dinner but without any real frills. I served:
1 – A macaron
Actually, this came earlier in the afternoon as we were all watching a movie in the living room.
A little bit sweet for a palate cleanser but lovely nonetheless
5 – Standing Rib Roast with Rosemary-Thyme Crust served with roasted shallots and carrots and Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast served with roasted baby potatoes and Brussel sprouts
I used this recipe from epicurious.com for the standing roast. I’m not bothering to copy it because while the roast came out great, I don’t think it was any thanks to the recipe. The mustard & herbs coating burned to the point of pulverization, and I’m not sure how much flavor it imparted on the meat. The roast, more over, was done by the time I took it out to add the shallots and carrots, so I had to keep it warm while these cooked – and then the shallots and carrots turned out too greasy. Still, what really matters is that the meat was great.
I served a Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast for my vegan daughter. She was reasonably content with it, but did not think it was worth the $16 I paid for it. It reminded her a lot of the Field Roast sausages she likes.
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.
This apple pie granita tastes exactly like frozen apple pie, and it’s absolutely delicious. I served it as a palate cleanser for my 2020 Christmas Eve dinner, though it’s probably too sweet for that. It would work just as well as dessert. Everyone enjoyed it nonetheless.
I made it using Martinelli’s apple juice rather than “natural-style apple juice” like the original recipe called for, because that’s what I had at home. If I made it again using regular apple juice, as I did, I’d probably reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup or leave it off altogether.
3 cups apple juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
a dash of allspice
Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Transfer it to an 8″x8″ glass baking dish. Place in the freezer until the sides start to freeze, about 1 to 2 hours. Using a fork, break and mix and put back in the freezer for another 2 hours. Break again with a fork and transfer to small serving glasses. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.