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Chain Restaurant Reviews: Taco Bell

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Taco Bell, like sister companies Habit Burger, KFC and Pizza Hut are on the boycot list, as their parent company, Yum brands, invests in Israel. Please help stop apartheid and genocide by Israel by not doing business with companies that financial benefit from the killing, torture, maiming and oppression of Palestinians and who de facto support crimes against humanity.

More information as to why you should boycott Taco Bell.

Meal Kit Review: HelloFresh Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Avocado Crema and Cilantro

Rating: 5/10

My oldest daughter is a vegan and I always find it challenging to know what to cook for her – or even to want to cook for her at all (fortunately, she’s learned her way around a wok).  So I was very curious to see how these meal kits would work for her.  Alas, while HelloFresh – the meal kit subscription I’m currently trying – seems to offer three vegetarian meals a week, they don’t really do vegan food.  No matter, some of the recipes can be easily made without the diary.  This recipe for  Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Avocado Crema and Cilantro, for example, only uses diary in the crema – a blend of avocado and sour cream with lime zest and juice -, and it was easily enough to just omit the sour cream altogether and turn the crema into  a simple guacamole.

As this kit did not contain any meat, all the items came inside a paper bag.  My first week with HelloFresh, I just put these paper bags in the fridge without bothering to open them.  But after reading about wilted and missing items in HelloFresh kits, I decided to check whether all the items were there and in the right condition.

That was a good idea, as I found out that part of the cilantro was wilted and that the avocado wasn’t ripe.  I was thus able to discard the spoiled cilantro, keeping the leaves that weren’t yet gone.   It turned out that the only item in the kit that needed to be refrigerated was the small sachet of sour cream (which I wasn’t planning to use anyway),  so  I was able to just keep the kit inside its paper bag in the pantry, which allowed the avocado to ripen quicker than it would have otherwise.

All in all this kit was “OK,” but not one that I would buy again

The overall flavor of the food was underwhelming.  My daughter liked it well enough, but wouldn’t be eager to have it again.  Note that as a vegan, she is not particularly picky.

There was too little food.  The kit has six tortilla, but enough filling for just 4 tacos – and this despite the fact that I used the whole box of black beans, and not just half as the instructions called for.  Two vegetarian tacos (and these are a little larger than those at your average taqueria) are just not enough food for dinner, without rice or something else to accompany them.  Fortunately, I had made the whole kit for my daughter thinking she’d have leftovers for the next day, so she was able to eat a third taco and not go hungry.  But had she had to share this whole meal with someone else, she would have been.

The avocado wasn’t ripe when the kit arrived.  Had I wanted to make this meal kit that day, I’d have had to go buy another avocado.  Fortunately, by the time I decided to make it, two days later, it had ripened enough to use it.

The avocado was too small. Really, it reminded me of the tiny avocados you can get in the California cost for 5-for-$1.  There just wasn’t enough to cover 4 tacos.

There wasn’t enough cilantro and part of it came wilted.  I threw those parts away, but it left very little left.  Fortunately, this was the only non-fresh item I’ve gotten from HelloFresh.

The meal is greatly overpriced, not just in comparison with what it would cost to make this meal at home, but in comparison to the cost of tacos at taquerias (not that sweet potato tacos are that common).  And those generally come with free chips & salsa.

In all, because I bought this kit with a discount (and you can find an ever greater one by following my referral link) and only paid $7.50 for it, I wasn’t too disappointed.  It was cheaper than what I’d spend at a taqueria.  However, I’d be horrified if I’d bought it at the regular price ($22-24).  For that amount of money, you can have something much better at a top gourmet Mexican restaurant.

 

Meal Kit Review: HelloFresh Sweet ‘N’ Smoky Pork Chops with Apple Carrot Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and Cherry Sauce Review

Sweet 'N' Smoky Pork Chops

Photo borrowed from Hello Fresh

Rating: 8/10

We are not pork eaters, both because commercial farming of pigs – fairly intelligent animals – is just brutal and because we don’t find pork particularly flavorful meat, but there weren’t many exciting menu choices in the week I chose to try Hello Fresh,  so we went for this meal kit.  We were pleasantly surprised.  While I was a bit disappointed on how small the boneless pork chops were – specially after I cut off the strip of fat on one side -, the cinnamon-paprika spice mix gave them a very nice flavor, in particular when topped with the cherry sauce.  I don’t like cherry, but loved this sauce and would think it’d go well with turkey as well.    The mashed potatoes could have been better – the kit included small potatoes that couldn’t really be peeled, and I prefer peeled potatoes in my mash.  The slaw was pretty good, but not earth shattering.

The meal was also fairly easy to make, the carrots come pre-shredded, which saves a lot of time.  The apple was fresh and delicious.  All the ingredients seemed to be high quality and the recipe was easy to make.

In all, this was a good dish.

I’m more likely to pay $12 for it than for the tacos I had before.

If you’d like to try Hello Fresh, you can use this link for $40 off your first box (it will also give me $30 towards a future delivery).

Cherry Sauce Recipe

enough for 2 chops

  • 1/8 tsp hot paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 Tbsp. cherry jam
  • 1/2 tsp water
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • salt & pepper to taste

Combine in a microwave safe bowl the paprika, cinnamon, jam, water and vinegar.  Microwave on high for 45 seconds.  Stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper.

Rougette Grill Meister Grilling Cheese – Product Review

GRILLMEISTER-PACKAGE I found this packaged cheese at Grocery Outlet yesterday, and I went back today to pick up four more packages. My haste was due to the fact that at 50-cents a package (regular retails is $5!), they will disappear soon, plus they expired on Dec. 16th – two days ago.  I don’t know for how much longer it’ll stay good, but surely a few more days.

This soft cheese is made in Germany, and is specifically made to be heated before serving.  It doesn’t have a crust, per se, though the outer layer becomes harder, while protecting a semi-melted middle.  It’s very good.  While officially a camembert, it reminded me more of a brie, though it’s milder and less bitter than most of those. It had a slightly nutty flavor, which I liked.

It was also very easy to prepare. You can either put it on the grill or on a lightly oiled pan on the stove. Cook for six minutes, flipping from time to time.  That’s it.  The 3.2 oz portion is definitely dainty, and I wouldn’t buy it at its regular $25-lb price, but for $5-lb, it’s well worth it, even if I have to hurry and eat it all this week 🙂

A Muah to Mua (Restaurant Review, Oakland, California)

It’s been a couple of years since our friend Eddie moved away from our dear San Leandro in search of hotter pastures. And in the meantime our monthly mom’s night out dinners sort of stopped – mostly because of logistics. But Eddie was in town for a visit, so we /had to/ get together for another special dinner. This time Natasha had the great idea of going to Mua, a newish, trendy restaurant in downtown Oakland (now called “uptown”). Natasha had been there three times, and couldn’t stop saying good things about the place. No wonder. In terms of food alone, this is probably the best restaurant I ever visited in the Bay Area. All the dishes we had ranged from very good to spectacular – and the majority fell in the latter category. All I can say is “Wow”.

Mua occupies an industrial-style space, with eclectic decorations which range from the cozy (an out of place cupboard) to the post-modern (pseudo graffiti decorated panels). I’m not very good at describing, so you might as well take a look at the picture at the bottom of this review (which I reproduce from their website). The results are quite interesting and surprisingly inviting – though clearly the place is geared towards an audience younger and hipper than 40+ year-old moms. The only real issue for us was that this is a very noisy place, in particular because of the loud music piped into the dining room. The noise made it impossible for the six of us to converse when seated at a regular 6-person table, but they kindly moved us to a smaller table that allowed us to talk to each other without too much trouble.

Service, as you can surmise, was quite efficient and good. Our waitress forgot one of our dishes, but given how much we ordered that did not prove to be a problem. Water was refilled, dishes brought and removed at appropriate times (basically, our 13 dishes were brought in two stages, which worked very well).
Mua doesn’t only serve great food (which I’ll describe below), but it’s well known for its cocktails (all $9). It has quite a variety of unusual mixes, and we found all of them delicious. Aamani had the Pepper Basil Caipirinha (leblon cachaça, black peppercorns, basil and lime), and she was very pleased. It had a small kick but it wasn’t very spicy. Natasha and Eddie both ordered the Min Mojito (oronoco rum, mint, lime, ginger puree and ginger beer), and even though Eddie ordered it with little ginger, she found it too gingery for her taste. Both Natasha and I thought it was perfectly blended, but tastes differ. Parker’s Cucumber Crush (leblon cachaça, cucumber, elderflower liqueur and lime) was incredibly refreshing, definitely a summer drink. It was very popular at our table. My Strawberry Ginger Lemonade (stoli citrus vodka, strawberry, ginger puree and lemon) might have needed just a tad more sugar and didn’t really have much of a ginger flavor, but still was very yummy – quite reminiscent of a strawberry daiquiri. The real winner of the evening, however, was Dolores’ Chamomile Whiskey Sour (chamomile whiskey, lemon, lime and egg white). I, personally, hate whiskey – it’s too strong for me – but this drink was so well balanced, with just the right amount of sweetness and a caramelish creaminess, that I loved it. So did everyone else. I’d definitely recommend you try it (or really, anything else in their cocktail menu).

But as good as the drinks were, it was the food that shined here. If you go, try to do so with a large group so that you can taste more dishes. And really, skip the main entrees, I’m sure they are very good (we only tried the burgers) but you’ll want to have the room for the small dishes.

The first dish I tasted were the Shiitake Mushrooms ($9). The perfectly sauteed mushrooms came on a crostini topped by bright green (I assumed herbed) goat cheese. The combination of the refreshing cheese and the savory mushrooms worked surprisingly well and I was lucky enough to manage to eat a whole slice (I think the dish came with three). The “mac & cheese” ($7) is made with butternut squash pasta and a light cream sauce (I presume) that has no cheese. I was surprised at just how delicious this dish was – if I could find the recipe I could say goodbye to Kraft forever. I hope they publish a cookbook very, very soon.

I didn’t taste the crispy tofu ($7) – it never made it to my side of the table, indeed I’d say that Natasha pretty much monopolized it 🙂 – but I hear it was also a star. Less interesting was the beet salad ($8). It was very nice, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t have the superlative flavors that other dishes showed. It was just a very good salad.
The dish that really won me over to vegetables (in case you are new to my reviews, I’m a complete meaterian, I won’t touch veggies with a 6-foot-pole) was the collard greens. They don’t appear on their menu online, so I don’t know what they were made with, but the sauce they came with was pretty thin and must have had something like bacon. It was very savory and perfectly balanced, and the dish itself was my favorite. I could eat that forever. I’m really going to write and beg them to publish a cookbook.

I’m not fond of carpaccio ($8) so I wasn’t overly impressed with this dish, though Parker, who had ordered it, was quite happy. I did like the arugula salad that came with it.

I’m also not a fan of slimy food, so I didn’t try the mussels ($13). The roasted tomato broth that accompanied, however, was also out of this world – nicely acidic and with only a subtle seafood flavor. Everyone was enchanted. I never saw the string beans ($8) which Aamani ordered, though I’m sure they made it to the table, but I don’t recall anyone commenting on them (then again, there was so much food that I may have missed some specific dish discussions).

Eddie ordered the lamb cheeks ($10), which I never would have ordered myself, but given how good everything else was, I had to try them – and I was very happy I did. The lamb was very tender and perfectly cooked, and the wine sauce very tasty. I can’t help but think that it needed just a tad of more seasoning, however. Perhaps the wine should have been reduced more. In any case, I liked it.

I didn’t taste the asparagus, in the “Warm Asparagus-Marble Potato” dish, but did have several of the potatoes. They come with bacon and a mustard sauce and were also amazing.

The vegetarian Burger ($11) that Aamani ordered is made from chickpeas, bulgur, quinoa and walnut and comes with an aioli sauce. The burger was very nice but the sauce really transported it into the “delicious” level. Yum, yum, yum.

Along with the beet salad, the dish that least impressed me was the regular hamburger which I ordered with cheddar, bacon and avocado ($15). Don’t get me wrong, it was very good – but ultimately just a burger and I’ve had others just as good, it not better, elsewhere. I found it just a little dry and just a little salty. At 1/2 lb it was also very big. This is probably the dish I’d skip next time.

The fries which came with the burgers and the mussels also failed to impress. They were thin, unevenly salted and just OK.

We were quite full after that meal, but we still wanted to try the desserts ($7?, I’m not sure). They all seemed quite prosaic – nothing seemed very original or provocative. We decided to split the creme brule and the brownie with caramel ice cream and fudge. They were both good but not great. I liked that the creme brulee was warm and not too sweet – the the brownie went very well with the ice cream, but I found the brownie a bit too dry. This is definitely a place to come for the food, not the desserts.
In all, we had an amazing time, both eating and talking (about our kids, of course) and I will definitely have to come here again (hopefully with another group so we can sample all the dishes we skipped this time). The bill came to $42.50 per person after tax and 18% tip, which was incredibly reasonable given the amount and quality of the food and cocktails.

So take my advise and go to Mua. Make sure to make reservations, however, as the place was full even on a Wednesday night.

Mua
2442a Webster St
Oakland, CA
(510) 238-1100
http://www.muaoakland.com/
Su – Th 4:30 PM – 12 AM
F – Sa 4:30 PM – 2 AM

Marga’s Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

Mua Oakland

Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

This week Mike and I took a mini-vacation to the northern California wine country. We spent three days wine tasting, in Napa, the Russian River Valley and Mendocino. Of necessity, we visited only a few wineries, but you can read my notes from them. Alas, I’m in no way a wine connoisseur and I’m completely unable to taste any of the dozens of flavors experts can discern in wine. Berries? mango? licorish? I can’t find them. So don’t take my reviews too seriously. In reality all I can say is what I liked and what I didn’t like, which may be very different from what you like. I tend to like full-bodied wines, neither light or heavy in tanins and with a well defined oakiness (which I didn’t find at all in this trip).
Anyway here is my report from Napa. Reports from the Russian River Valley and Mendocino will follow.

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