Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Week 9 - From a Can

A bit behind on the 52 week cooking challenge recaps (even if I'm up to date on the challenge), but time to get back into it. The Week 9 challenge was from a can, which didn't mean every single ingredient had to come from a can, but the majority or at least the main ingredients should. Back when the theme was first announced, I had just made and posted about a dinner that was made almost entirely with canned and pantry items (the chorizo rice casserole here), so I couldn't make that again for the challenge but would have to come up with something else. We had 2 cans of crab meat in the pantry so I decided to make some crab cakes, and for vegetables, pair it with a cajun corn maque choux that I was originally going to make to celebrate Mardi Gras but didn't because we had too many Chinese New Year leftovers.


I based the crab cakes on this Allrecipes recipe and mostly followed this Southern Living recipe for the cajun corn maque choux, making adaptations along the way. The ingredients that we used were:

For the crab cakes:
- 5 scallions ($0.65)
- 2 small cans of crab meat ($3.98)
- 1 beaten egg ($0.17)
- 1 tbsp mayo ($0.10)
- 1 large spoonful of whole grain mustard ($0.10)
- buttery round crackers, crushed (about a column of crackers) ($0.67)
- about 1/2 tsp cayenne ($0.03)
- about 1 tsp garlic powder ($0.03)
- a few dashes of Old Bay seasoning (free - had some old sample packets from an Orioles game)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- panko bread crumbs to coat the cakes ($1)

For the cajun corn maque choux:
- 1 onion ($0.60)
- 1 green bell pepper ($0.99)
- olive oil for sauteing ($0.15)
- 5 scallions ($0.65)
- about 1 lb of chicken andouille with cheddar cheese ($4.50)
- 2 cans corn ($1.78)
- 2 cans Rotel (or 1 can Rotel, 1 can diced tomatoes) ($1.60)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)

The overall cost for everything was about $17.10 ($6.78 for the crab cakes and $10.32 for the maque choux). Not a cheap dinner compared to our usual costs. The andouille was a big part of the cost (and even more when I made it a second time recently), but the quality is excellent and it's worth it. But the cost also explains why in the future I didn't pair the maque choux with something like crab cakes and we just ate it on its own with some grains.

Baked Crab Cakes

The crab cakes were relatively easy to put together. The steps were basically:

1. Prep - chop green onions, beat egg.

2. Saute green onions very briefly (maybe a minute) in a small saute pan.

3. Combine in a bowl: sauteed green onions, drained crab meat, beaten egg, mayo, mustard, cayenne, garlic powder, Old Bay, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste if needed.

4. Crush the crackers and add to the mixture. (I did this in parts to make sure there wouldn't be too many cracker crumbs compared to everything else.)

5. Form the mixture into patties about 1/2 inch thick. (As you can see, there was a little leftover at the end, but because of step number 6, it wasn't very easy to just combine it with the existing patties to make them bigger.)

6. Coat the patties in panko and place on parchment paper lined baking sheet. (I combined what was left of the crab mixture at the end with what was left of the panko and basically just made a crab panko ball.)

7. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes per side.

Overall, we didn't love the crab cakes. Part of that could be the crab meat itself. We've bought these cans before (see the crab toast here) and thought the crab was okay, but in these crab cakes, the first couple of bites were kind of fishy before our tongues got desensitized to the flavor. There's probably a reason these cans of crab are so much cheaper than the refrigerated canned crab, and we probably won't get them again since we don't like it that much. The crab cakes were just okay, edible but not incredibly flavorful (other than the fishiness) and a little dry (maybe baked them a little too long). Probably won't make these again.

Cajun Corn Maque Choux

We were pretty excited for the maque choux in part because we had been thinking about it for a couple of weeks since the time we were originally going to make it, and in part because I picked up this chicken andouille with cheddar cheese that we had never tried before from our local meat market. The recipe had called for 1/4 pound, I requested 1/3 pound from the guy at the counter, and he ended up giving me almost a pound. It turned out to be for the best since even with almost a pound of sausage, it didn't seem like that much next to all of the vegetables.

The steps for making the maque choux (adapted a bit from the original recipe) were:

1. Prep - chop onion, chop bell pepper, chop scallions, chop andouille.

2. Heat oil in large skillet (the one I used for the challenge was not big enough to make it easy to stir but the second time I made it (yes, I made it again before finishing this post) I used a deeper skillet which was perfect) and saute onion and green pepper until tender.

3. Add the corn and Rotel and mix together.

4. While the vegetables are cooking, saute the andouille in a small skillet until cooked through and a little browned.

5. Add andouille when cooked to everything else, and cook together for about 10-15 minutes. (Depends how much liquid is in the pan. The first time, it cooked for a while, but the second time, there was barely any liquid at this point so it didn't need as much time.)

6. Add green onions, salt and pepper, and cook for another 5-10 minutes or so (again, dependent on how much liquid is in the pan).

We were big fans of the maque choux (not surprising since I've already mentioned we made this again). The andouille sausage had such good flavor - full of spices and creamy melted cheddar cheese - so the dish packed a punch. Outside of the andouille, it was a pretty healthy dish too, full of vegetables. One of the recipes I saw referred to it as a Cajun succotash, which is so true. On top of all the good flavors, it definitely passes the color test.

Overall, dinner was pretty good. The crab cakes tasted a lot better once I started eating bites combined with a little bit of the maque choux, which was the clear winner between the 2 dishes. The crab cakes may not be making it into the regular rotation, but the maque choux definitely will.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pomegranate Yogurt

Seems like March has been yogurt month on the blog. Anyway, here's another one.

Product: Nonfat pomegranate Greek yogurt

Price: $0.99 for 5.3 ounces

Quick review: After having such a good experience with the black raspberry yogurt, I decided to try the pomegranate flavor. While the texture was pretty similar, the flavors of the black raspberry were so much better. When I think of pomegranate, I think of bright and tart flavors with a little bit of sweetness, and this was more sweet than tart. It was made with pomegranate juice concentrate, but nothing about the flavor really said pomegranate other than little hints of sweet flavor here and there. It was just a pale pink colored, mildly sweet yogurt with no real distinctive fruit flavor.

Buy Again? No, not when I have the black raspberry flavor as an option. To be clear, this is a "no" only because there's a better option, not because I think it's horrible like the PB&J.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Maple Water

Last summer we picked up some maple water from Trader Joe's ($2.99 back when we got it). Maple water is basically tree sap from the maple tree (which always makes me think of the Hunger Games), so pretty natural stuff. We had never had maple water before, but considering we like coconut water, we thought it would be good to try. It was also just before the Women's World Cup started in June, so we thought it would be fun to drink it while watching some of the games being played in Canada.

I put the maple water in the fridge back when we got it since the box said it was "best consumed chilled," and promptly forgot about it through the entire Women's World Cup. I noticed it every so often over the next few months but never took it out, so we never drank it until A took it out of the fridge this afternoon. Not sure we were actually saving it for anything, but just never got around to drinking it. Good thing it didn't "expire" until next September. As far as taste, it basically just seemed like slightly sweetened water. I don't know that we would have been able to label the sweetness as maple if we hadn't known it was maple water, but it was nice and light and refreshing.

Buy Again? I don't know that we need to, since we don't buy a lot of water (we use our Brita instead), and we mostly bought it because we were curious about what it would be like. It was fine, but we don't really need it on a regular basis.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Spicier Delaney Chicken

A few weeks ago, Delaney Chicken introduced a new "spicier chicken sandwich" to their kiosk at Urbanspace Vanderbilt. We had tried the original chicken sandwich back in the fall and liked it, and we love spicy chicken sandwiches, so we knew we had to try it. The spicier version cost a little bit more ($10 vs. $8), and added havarti, pickled jalapeños, and spicy mayo to the chicken. We also hadn't tried any of the sides before, so we thought this would be a good time to do that (despite having just eaten a whole bunch of macarons).

Spicier Chicken Sandwich

M's review: I was really, really excited about this sandwich, but in the end, I liked the original sandwich better which surprised me. I don't know if Delaney Chicken changed their bread order or if the spicier sandwich comes on a bigger bun, but there was just so much excess bread compared to the chicken. A lot of that bread came with copious amounts of spicy mayo on it so it was basically just spicy globs of bread until I got to the chicken. As for the chicken itself, I think it was fine, but I didn't really taste much of the chicken itself. I just tasted spicy mayo with little hints of chicken, cheese, and jalapeño peppers. I don't know if it was the amount of the mayo or just how heavily flavored it was, but it was really overpowering. While the individual components seemed fine, when put together I think they needed a little bit more balance.

A's review: Maybe I was exhausted from a combination of being sick and having walked around a lot, but I didn't think this was anything special. I certainly think, based on this experience, that the original chicken sandwich is far superior. The chicken itself seemed blander than before, but of course, my taste buds were slightly muted. The big issue was that it was smothered in spicy mayo. Somehow this spicy mayo even managed to drown out most of the sliced jalapeño flavors. The havarti cheese was creamy and added a nice flavor, but most everything got covered up by the spicy mayo which was disappointing.

Potato Salad

M's review: I really liked the potato salad side that we got, and I spent a good portion of the time when eating it trying to figure out what was in it that made it so good. One thing that I definitely noticed was the presence of caramelized onions, and I thought maybe there was some mustard in it too. Turns out I wasn't too far off since this Square site says it is "Yukon and red bliss potatoes folded into a pickled mustard seed, sage, and caramelized onion dressing." I guess sage was the ingredient I couldn't quite determine at the time. I liked this better than the chicken sandwich other than the price as it was $5 for a pretty small cup. If I wanted a side from Delaney Chicken, I might get this again, but what it has really done is inspire me to see what would happen if I add caramelized onions to my own potato salad at home.

A's review: This was a really tasty potato salad. Along with the massive (though almost too big) pieces of potatoes, they added what tasted like caramelized onions and a ton of cracked pepper. There was also a mild bit of mayo as it had just the right touch of creaminess. There was also a nice, subtle sourness which really balanced all of the flavors out. My only gripe is that the little cup cost $5. I feel like for $5 M and I could make a massive load of potato salad. Now that we have an idea on what to do, maybe we'll just try that...

Monday, March 21, 2016

Chicken Barley

I'm fighting off a cold right now, and when I try to fight off a cold (and also when it's cold) my first thought is always soup. Off to Hale and Hearty I went as usual. I was a little concerned because I didn't see a lot of options I would naturally attribute to cold (sickness) busting soups, but there were plenty of options for cold (temperature) busting options. That being said, the one that I did find on the menu, and the one I ended up getting, was perfect for both. The website describes the Chicken Barley as "A thick and comforting barley soup loaded with white meat chicken, vegetables and fresh herbs."

Aside from odd coloration issues from my phone camera, this soup was everything I could have ever needed on a day like today. The soup is really thick and hearty because of the starch from the barley, and you get an intense chicken broth flavor that was really good for my cold. The soup itself is full of chicken, carrots, celery, and onion along with the extra herbs and spices that are thrown in as well. It was an amazing and perfect soup for how I felt with my illness, and it's perfect for any cold weather we're going to have in NYC.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Macaron Day 2016

Today was the first day of spring which meant it was time for another Macaron Day! We were really excited this year because Macaron Day fell on a Sunday which meant we could both go macaron hunting together for the first time. We planned out our schedule, mostly following the same route through Midtown that M took last year. We figured we wouldn't get 11 like M did last year since it was the weekend and it would likely be more crowded, but we aimed to try for as many as we could.

Stop #1: Woops at Port Authority

The crawl started off at the same spot as last year, the Woops kiosk at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. They just handed out macarons without giving you a flavor choice and we ended up with 2 different ones to try. It wasn't the greatest start to Macaron Day as the person behind the counter somewhat patronizingly corrected our pronounciation of macaron, even though it was pretty clear why we were there as they weren't selling anything else that we could see. (As an aside, we weren't wrong (see here) and to us macaroon means something else (like these).)

M's review: I wasn't sure what flavor macaron they had handed me and it was hard for someone of my height to see inside the macaron case after we got them because it had suddenly gotten crowded, so I spent most of the day thinking it was an oddly colored peanut butter macaron. After tasting it, I think it was actually blueberry. It wasn't my favorite one but it fell within the top half of my ranking. The blueberry flavor was nice, not overly sweet, and the cookie held up relatively well.

A's review: I was handed a pistachio macaron which was fine by me. Being my first free macaron ever it held a special place in my heart. Overall, it was just okay. There wasn't a ton of discernible pistachio flavor, and the cookie portion part had a nice crisp exterior but wasn't extremely chewy in the inside. It was okay, but nothing special. The cream had a nice consistency, though.

Stop #2: Francois Payard Bakery

Francois Payard Bakery is basically the home of Macaron Day, so it's a great place to stop by. Last year, they had quite a few flavors of macarons to choose from but this year they had only 2 - black n' white and strawberries and cream. Since we visited another FP location where we both got the strawberries and cream, we'll leave that one for later and just talk about the black n' white here.

A's review: I opted for the black n' white at our first stop in the hopes that we'd get to the second Francois Payard stop in time for me to get one of the strawberries n' cream from there. The black n' white consists of 3 vanilla bean ganache, vanilla macaron cookies, and a dip in 61% dark chocolate. Because of the chocolate dipping, everything else gets a bit lost. The chocolate shell packs a lot of flavor, and it ends up overpowering the vanilla encased underneath. I couldn't even get much of a feel for the cream inside. It wasn't a bad macaron, but it wasn't the best.

Francois Payard Bakery was also the home of a new macaron hybrid that people have been talking about all week - the macaron donut. These were $5, not part of the free macaron giveaway, but today was the first day they were available (and they would only be around for a limited time). Consisting of a strawberry flavored fried dough bottom, a strawberry cream filling, and a macaron top, and about the size of a small cake donut, this was pretty good. It was definitely sweet but it had nice strawberry flavor and the texture of the "donut" held up pretty well.

Stop #3: Bouchon Bakery

Although we had indulged in the macaron donut at Francois Payard, we hadn't eaten any of our other macarons yet, instead saving them for later. The first one we actually ate was the cookies and cream macaron from Bouchon Bakery at the Time Warner Center.

M's review: This was by far my favorite macaron of the day. I had liked the one I got last year at Bouchon, and Bouchon is one of the few places in the city where I've actually bought macarons, so it was no surprise that I thought this one was fantastic. The cookies had the perfect chewiness, and the cookies and cream flavor was exactly what I was looking for. It was like eating an Oreo cookie but with much better texture. After eating it, I was a little concerned that I might have started the day with the best instead of ending it on a high note, but either way, I'm just glad we were able to get one of them. We tried making it to another Bouchon location later in the day but they had just run out minutes earlier.

A's review: Best macaron of the day by a long shot. It all starts with the cookie, and this one was phenomenal. Perfectly crisp exterior that evolved into an amazingly chewy interior. They also had the perfect amount of cream filling which was equal parts smooth and sticky. Eating this was like eating warm cookies and cream ice cream. It had the perfect consistency, and it made me want to go back and actually buy more of their macarons. I wish we could have saved this for last, but the way in which they construct their macarons makes that difficult. The cream fills the entire cookie interior and is a pretty thick layer so it would squish out far too easily.

Stop #4: FP Patisserie at the Plaza Food Hall

The patisserie had the same options as Francois Payard Bakery, but they had already run out of the black n' white, so we both got the strawberries and cream. That macaron was strawberry puree and white chocolate ganache in a strawberry macaron shell.

M's review: I think it's just a coincidence, but all of the macarons in the top half of my ranking were from the first few stops. This strawberry and cream macaron was good, similar in flavor to the macaron donut. It was a little sweeter than I prefer, but it was still good. The texture of the FP macarons are of course always nice too.

A's review: As previously mentioned, I banked on getting to this second FP location to get the strawberries and cream macaron option. I'm glad I did. You could really taste the strawberry in the cream, and the cookie had a really good texture to it. I don't think it was quite as good as Bouchon, but it was still really good. After eating this cookie I kind of wished I had gotten two of these instead of splitting my choices, but how was I supposed to know which one I would like more?

Stop #5: Macaron Cafe

Last year, Macaron Cafe was one of M's favorites, and we were both pretty excited that they hadn't run out of macarons yet when we got there. (This was technically our sixth stop, but we're skipping listing or numbering the ones that had run out already.) They had let customers choose any macaron from their vast selection in the past, but this year had narrowed the eligible ones down to a "seasonal" list (of about 9, so still quite a few choices). (It seemed to be a trend this year to have less options to choose from, for whatever reason.)

M's review: I debated for a bit between the Earl Grey and the jasmine, with a brief temptation by orange blossom, but in the end, ended up getting the jasmine. I anticipated that it would taste like fragrant jasmine tea, one of our favorites. Unfortunately I have no idea what this flavor was. I didn't taste any jasmine whatsoever, just something kind of bitter and not really easy to discern. I made A try a bite (even after I said it was awful), and he tasted banana. I have no idea what was in there, but it was my least favorite macaron. I have no interest in getting that again, and I was so confused because the ones we got from Macaron Cafe last year were so good!

A's review: I opted for the Earl Grey since I really like drinking that tea. I'm not really sure what flavor this was in the end. It had a bit of a citrus flavor which I assume was meant to account for the bergamot, but after that it was all downhill. The cream had the consistency and the flavor of room temperature butter. I was actually looking forward to this one as M liked Macaron Cafe so much last year, but... this was a complete and utter disappointment.

Stop #6: Woops on 2nd Avenue

After attempting a new pop-up spot in Bloomingdale's that had already run out of free macarons, we found ourselves at another Woops, this time near the Queensboro Bridge. This one had a designated person handing out the free ones from a giant cardboard box. Not sure if there were multiple flavors, but we both got cookies and cream.

M's review: This Woops macaron was okay, but I liked the blueberry better. Texturally it was about the same, but I found the cookies and cream flavor a little too intense (for lack of a better word). Oddly it seemed to have a strong fragrance to it which was a little overwhelming. I definitely preferred the Bouchon cookies and cream.

A's review: They called this cookies and cream, but it didn't taste anything like cookies and cream. In fact, I don't even know what I think this tasted like. It was okay, but it wasn't anything amazing. It had a similar texture to the other Woops macaron I had, but it was nowhere near as good as the Bouchon cookies and cream option.

Stop #7: Eclair Bakery

M remembers Eclair Bakery from last year mostly because it was the place where M realized how many people brought plastic containers to hold their entire macaron haul. This year, they were giving out vanilla macarons.

M's review: This one was okay for me, probably right in the middle of the pack. Texturally I didn't like it as much as Bouchon, but the flavor wasn't bad. The vanilla was a little on the sweet side, but it was fine.

A's review: I didn't like this one very much. Sometimes you can tell when it's artificial vanilla flavoring instead of real vanilla, and that was my thought when eating this one. It just didn't quite taste right, and that was disappointing. The cookie also wasn't nearly as chewy, and since this was the second macaron we ate, following Bouchon, it was a major letdown.

Stop #8: Macaron Cafe

This Macaron Cafe location in the East 40s was M's last stop on her macaron crawl last year, and considering how satisfied we were with Macaron Cafe last year, we were happy to get another one from them here. Once again, we decided to try 2 different ones.

A's review: I got the matcha chestnut macaron because it sounded really interesting. I've had chestnut desserts before, and they had a really nice, subtle sweet and nutty flavor that I thought would pair well with the flavors of the matcha. As you can see, the matcha cream far outweighed the chestnut cream, and that was a huge issue. The matcha was, expectedly, really bitter. Unfortunately there wasn't nearly enough chestnut cream, and this whole cookie was really bitter overall and not very pleasant to eat at all.

M's review: I wasn't sure what cassis was, but the guy working there said it was black currant, so I got that instead of the apricot and chocolate coconut ones I had been considering. This was definitely better than the jasmine one, as it actually had a nice, sweet fruit flavor. That said, it was still very rich, just like the other one, and not as good as I remembered from last year. Pretty disappointing since those were some of my favorites.

Stop #9: La Maison du Chocolat

We had gone to the La Maison du Chocolat location at the Plaza Food Hall earlier in the day, but they were out of macarons and we'd have to wait 30 minutes (which we didn't think was worth doing). Luckily they hadn't run out of all of them yet by the time we got to the Rockefeller Center location, so we still got to try them. They had a bunch left, but all the flavors we initially asked for - raspberry, passion fruit, hazelnut - were gone. Clearly we have similar taste preferences to a lot of other people.

M's review: I ended up getting the Macapuno, which had coconut and lime ganache. I definitely tasted coconut, but no lime. This was probably the sweetest macaron I had all day, too sweet, and even sweeter than the chocolate and praline truffle we got at Godiva immediately after. (It was a very sweet afternoon.) It reminded me a little bit of the macarella cookies we made one year at Thanksgiving (based on this), when we only had sweetened shredded coconut instead of unsweetened, and combined with the additional sugar, it was so ridiculously sweet that only my grandmother was willing to eat them. It was kind of like that, very, very, very sweet. All that said, I still preferred that to the jasmine one from earlier.

A's review: I opted for the Quito when all of our first two or three choices were all gone. It's a chocolate cookie filled with a dark chocolate ganache, and I thought that sounded good. Their website describes the macaron as, "The embodiment of chocolate, as we like it, is expressed in this full-bodied dark chocolate ganache with fresh, fruity and floral notes." I don't know about fresh, fruity and floral notes, but I got one note. SWEET. Yes, there was chocolate mixed in there somewhere, but the overriding flavor profile of this macaron was cloying sweetness. It wasn't horrible, but it definitely wasn't what I was expecting.

Although we still love Macaron Day, and there were some bright spots like Bouchon and Francois Payard, it was a little bit of a disappointing day overall based on how we liked the macarons. If you're looking for the short version, here are each of our rankings in order:

M's rankings:
1. Bouchon Bakery cookies and cream
2. Francois Payard strawberries and cream (x2)
3. Woops blueberry
4. Eclair Bakery vanilla
5. Macaron Cafe cassis
6. Woops cookies and cream
7. La Maison du Chocolat Macapuno
8. Macaron Cafe jasmine

A's rankings:
1. Bouchon Bakery cookies and cream
2. Francois Payard strawberries and cream
3. Francois Payard black n' white
4. Woops pistachio
5. La Maison du Chocolat Quito
6. Woops cookies and cream
7. Eclair Bakery vanilla
8. Macaron Cafe matcha and chestnut
9. Macaron Cafe earl gray

Friday, March 11, 2016

Black Raspberry Greek Yogurt

Another day, another Trader Joe's quick review (I have to think of a better name for these short spotlights).

Product: Nonfat black raspberry Greek yogurt

Price: $0.99 for 5.3 ounces

Quick review: Much better than I was expecting it to be, since I find Greek yogurt hit or miss sometimes with the flavors. (Remember the PB&J one?) The Greek yogurt I eat most often is Chobani, because that's what my parents buy cases of from Costco, and this was so much thicker which I liked better. The black raspberry flavor is also really good and not overly sweet. Tastes really natural and not the least bit artificial.

Buy Again? Yes. Greek yogurt isn't cheap, so I don't expect that I'll be loading up on cases of this, but I can definitely see picking this up every so often. Not only would it make a good breakfast again, but it would also be good for snack or even dessert.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Apricot and Mango Yogurt

Walking around Trader Joe's on recent trips, I keep looking around at how many products we've tried over the years but have never written about, and therefore can't remember what we thought about them. To move things along a little more quickly, and so we don't have to try something 3 times before we finally post about it and remember whether we want to buy it again, I'm thinking that maybe we should do a "quick review" instead for things that don't really need a lengthy post devoted to them, like this yogurt. Hopefully these quick dispatches will make us more productive and timely.

Product: "French Village" (not sure why it's French) apricot and mango yogurt

Price: $0.79 for a 6 ounce container

Quick review: Pretty good yogurt, but not especially strong flavors of apricot and mango. Didn't really taste any different from the peach yogurt we can buy at any other store.

Buy again? Maybe. Peach is one of my favorite yogurt flavors, and since this apricot and mango one was reminiscent of that, I might get it again. Yogurt at the "regular" grocery store on sale is cheaper though, so if I can get peach yogurt there, I would probably do that instead since there isn't a huge difference in taste or quality.