Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Toscano Cheese with Black Pepper

We may have mentioned before that we're terrible at describing cheese. If you've ever perused the adjectives used on a menu at a cheese-focused shop or restaurant, that's just not something we're able to do (and may never be able to do). So we're going to change our cheese "reviews" here a little bit to just give some quick thoughts on each cheese, and then rate them from 1 to 10 (10 being the best) for how much we liked them and decide whether we would get them again.

Granted, these ratings don't mean much to anyone else unless you have similar cheese tastes, so here's the quick snapshot of where we fall on the cheese spectrum. M is not really into most cheeses that are super soft or super stinky or blue, preferring some of the milder ones, cheeses with herbs and other flavors mixed in, and chèvre. A likes these soft cheeses, though he's never had a real, stinky blue cheese. One day he hopes to try stilton or the US equivalent.

First up in our new cheese "reviews" is the Toscano cheese with black pepper, which Trader Joe's describes as having elements of parmesan and cheddar (two of our likes, which probably explains why we liked it). The cheese wheels are hand-rubbed with cracked black pepper, which you can still see on the cheese that you buy. We aren't sure if this one is new, but we never noticed it until a recent visit.

M's quick review: Mild cheese. Nice texture on the firmer side. Pepper flavor definitely present but not too strong or overpowering.
M's rating: 8/10
Buy again: Yes

A's quick review: Mild peppery flavor even from the rind pieces that are caked in it. Very pleasant addition to the firm cheese. The cheese itself doesn't have a ton of flavor so the mild peppery flavor is more noticeable. This was a very enjoyable cheese.
A's rating: 8/10
Buy again: Yes

Monday, February 27, 2017

Raising the Bar

Product name: Trader Joe's Raises the Bar Chewy Granola Bar

Price: $2.79 for box of 5 bars

M's quick review: I was excited to try this because of all the good stuff in it - oats, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat - and hopeful that it would be a good replacement for the regular granola and cereal bars you find at the store. It was okay. I liked the texture - it reminded me of the chewiness of a rice krispie treat - but something about the taste, I didn't love. I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was, but I thought it was just okay as far as flavor.
Buy again? Probably not for me.

A's quick review: I didn't mind this bar. I figured it wouldn't taste exactly like all of the other granola bars, and it didn't. There was a hint of seed/nut flavor to the mix from the other ingredients, and that gave it a bit more of an earthy flavor. One annoying thing was that the chocolate chunks kept falling off. I don't know why that happened, but at least 3 of them just popped off as if they weren't really mixed in to form the bars. They aren't my favorite granola-ish bar, though, and I'd prefer getting the ones I like more.
Buy again? Not necessary for me.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

February Cronut

Continuing our exploration of the Dominique Ansel Bakery Cronuts thanks to the convenience of pre-ordering, the February Cronut flavor was lychee rose jam with pistachio ganache. Since Cronuts are a treat, now that we've gotten them for a couple of months, we've decided that we should probably only pre-order for the months where we are really intrigued by the flavor. The February flavor was an absolute yes for both of us, so we happily put in the order.

M's review: I was really excited for this Cronut. I love lychee, I love rose, and in recent years, I've had greater appreciation for pistachio. My first thought biting into this Cronut was that the rose flavor was really nice, very floral, but from then on, the subtle flavor of the rose just got overpowered by the cream. The filling in the Cronuts is really rich and creamy, another reason I probably shouldn't get them that often. For some reason, I missed the fact that there was pistachio ganache and thought it was only the pistachios on top and thought the inside would be all lychee and rose jam without cream. I guess I was kind of confused about the flavor, but it probably also shows how little pistachio flavor there was. I did like the lychee part of this a lot, especially since it seemed like there was actual lychee jelly in it, sort of like the ones you would get in snack-sized containers in the big tubs at the Chinese grocery store once upon a time.
M's Cronut rankings: 1) blueberry elderflower, 2) lychee rose jam, 3) golden honey vanilla

A's review: Unfortunately since the day we got them was so cold, by the time M got up to my office for us to eat this month's flavor it was cold and sort of tough from starting to freeze. That being said, the flavors were still great, and the Cronut itself was still good despite being slightly firmer and tougher. The rose flavor in the cream was very pronounced and offered a wonderful, floral flavor. The lychee jelly tasted heavily of lychee, and I think I found bits of actual lychee in there as well. The pistachio I didn't get as much flavor on. Yes, there were actual pistachios on top, but I didn't really detect a ton of pistachio anywhere else. This was really tasty, and I think it cemented the fact that we definitely prefer the fruit-centric cronuts better.
A's Cronut rankings: 1) blueberry elderflower, 2) lychee rose jam, 3) golden honey vanilla.

Cronuts We've Tried
February 2017: lychee rose jam with pistachio ganache

Friday, February 24, 2017

Nectar and Ambrosia

We had high hopes for Santorini, since so many people described it as an absolute dream destination, but adjusting to the island, even in the spring when it wasn't as busy, was tough after our wonderful time in Naxos. It was much more crowded, there were so many more people, and we could feel the frenzy in the air that just wasn't there in Naxos. Add in a motion sickness-inducing taxi ride from the ferry, sudden cold and windy weather, and parades of ants everywhere, including right outside our cave studio, and we weren't the happiest people on the island.

We tried to make the best of it, and spent our first afternoon exploring the village of Oia in Santorini. Our hotel was in Oia, and it was supposed to be the most picturesque part of the island. It was definitely nice wandering the narrow streets, and the landscape of Santorini, especially the caldera, was breathtaking, even under the thick clouds. We had wanted to watch the sunset but considering the clouds and then the rain that started to fall, we just gave up for the day and decided to grab dinner. We picked Nectar and Ambrosia, a place we had on our list (I don't remember where we heard about it - maybe Chowhound?), which has apparently closed sometime between our 2011 visit and now. We didn't make advanced reservations, but since we were eating relatively early on Greek time and most of the tourists were trying to catch whatever sunset there was going to be, it was pretty empty.

We started off with some wine, choosing a local white wine made from grapes grown in the Cyclades. The winery was called Atlantis, and we got a blend of Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Aidani. Assyrtiko is a grape that is indigenous to Santorini, Athiri is indigenous to Rhodes, and Aidani is another grape indigenous to Santorini. The wine itself was similar to the retsinas we had in Athens as Athiri grapes are used a lot in those, but aside from that we don't remember a lot about it.

We started off with the Santorini Island Fava, which was a fava puree with caramelized onions, local capers, and pita triangles. When we had done our research in advance, one of the things everyone said you had to try in Santorini, as far as spreads, was the fava, as it was a local specialty. For our first dinner in Santorini, we knew we had to try it, and we were not disappointed. Fava spread is thicker than hummus but it has such a deep and unique flavor. It was a great start to our meal.

For a starter, we also ordered the Santorini Salad. If it's not already obvious, our plan was pretty much to order anything that sounded local, whether it was a specific dish unique to Santorini or, more likely, ingredients that were locally grown. This salad had small island tomatoes, cucumber, olives, capers and caper leaves, and green peppers on a bed of green leaves with Santorini Chloro soft cheese, balsamic vinegar, and Greek olive oil. (Thank goodness for photos of the menu when you don't have notes.) Everything was extremely fresh, and similar to when we were at Lefteris on Naxos, you could just taste the difference when the ingredients were local. We don't remember a lot about the cheese, but we do remember that everything in this salad felt and tasted so clean and fresh. You can really tell when food didn't have to travel far before being prepared.

For the main course, A got Nectar's Oven Lamb, which was lamb stuffed with manouri cheese and Florina peppers with herbed potato puree and rosemary sauce on the side. The sauce was very rich as it was made from stock (most likely lamb), and it paired very nicely with the roasted lamb. The lamb itself was cooked very well and was very tender. A doesn't remember much about the cheese, but he does remember that the potato puree in the rich sauce was quite delicious and the perfect complement to the lamb.

M's choice for her main course was the Santorini Moussaka, described as "white Santorini aubergine/eggplant layered with country lamb, beef, and pork, topped with a yogurt creme and red paprika accent." Moussaka is basically comfort food, and this was a very good version of it, even if it was a little bit fancier than your normal moussaka. It was rich and heavy, but that was to be expected.

The meal ended with a digestif that neither of us really remembers. This seemed like a fairly common practice in the Greek Islands though, as we got the same treatment (digestif) while in Naxos as well. All in all, we had a nice dinner at Nectar and Ambrosia. We had a little bit of sticker shock though, having just come from much more affordable Naxos. Here our entrees were around €18-19 with our appetizers coming in around €8-9 (and this was the pricing 5-6 years ago), while in Naxos our dishes were more around this appetizer price. The cost of being in a tourist haven, and also at what seemed like one of the nicer restaurants in the area! We did enjoy our dinner though, and strolled around Oia some more afterwards, as much as we could take since it had gotten pretty cold. After that, it was back to the hotel for a stressful night with the ants that we had realized were also all over our room, so invasive that we considered changing hotels if we couldn't get another room that was ant-free. At least we had a nice, filling dinner before having to deal with that.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Maple and Ancient Grains

I was supposed to write this post days ago but got a little bit distracted that night by the release of a new generation of Pokemon in Pokemon Go. Oops. That distraction is a big part of why we haven't posted over the weekend, not any type of holiday traveling. Anyway, back to it with a yogurt review.

I previously mentioned interesting Fage Crossovers yogurt combinations when I reviewed the carrot-pistachio one. When we were at the store that time, I picked up two different types, and the second was this maple syrup blended Greek yogurt with ancient grain granola. As I looked back over my purchases from that weekend, I realized that I'm a complete sucker for anything that has "ancient grains" in it. I'm kind of obsessed with ancient grains since they're good for you, so getting this one was a no-brainer. As far as which ancient grains were in it, there was amaranth, millet, quinoa, and chia seeds.

I tried the maple syrup yogurt part first on its own and found it really, really sweet, too sweet for my tastes (which quite honestly has me worried about other maple-flavored yogurts in the fridge). However, with the ancient grains mixed in, it was much better. Although it was still a little on the sweeter side, it was much more bearable. I liked the addition of the grains which were hearty and had a nice crunch to them. They would be a good topping to any yogurt flavor and were definitely my favorite part.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Week 5 - Tex-Mex

I had lots of ideas for the Tex-Mex challenge, but what I ended up doing was mostly driven by the fact that I was buying a Costco-sized bag of sweet potatoes (which should sound familiar after the last two challenge posts). Since I knew I was getting the sweet potatoes, I just googled sweet potatoes and Tex-Mex which led me to a recipe for a Tex-Mex style sweet potato skillet which I used as a starting point for the challenge.

The ingredients we used were:

- 2 large sweet potatoes, cubed ($1.50)
- coconut oil for cooking ($0.15)
- 1 large onion, chopped ($0.50)
- a few garlic cloves, chopped ($0.08)
- 2 large red bell peppers, chopped ($1.98)
- can of black beans ($0.75)
- can of corn ($0.75)
- can of diced tomatoes with juices ($0.75)
- a tbsp of cumin ($0.10)
- a couple tbsp of taco seasoning ($0.15)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- juice of one lime ($0.29)
- shredded Mexican cheese ($1.75)
- sour cream ($0.72)
- 2 avocados, sliced or cubed ($2.33)
- scallions for garnish ($0.65)

The total for dinner was about $12.50 and it made enough to have some leftovers. Not that cheap considering it had no meat in it, but bell peppers and cheese aren't cheap these days. We also bought our avocado bag right before the prices started dropping. Within a week, the Costco price had dropped $2 for the same size bag, so unfortunately that raised the price here a little bit.

I was icing my knee because I was a klutz while walking out of Costco that evening, so A actually did most of the work for this challenge meal. Basically you heat coconut oil in a large skillet, and then add the sweet potatoes, cumin, and salt to cook for a bit. Next was the onion, red peppers, and garlic, and then a few minutes later, the black beans and corn. After that, it was time for the diced tomatoes (with the can liquid), cumin, salt and pepper, taco seasoning. Once the mixture was boiling (even though not much liquid in it), you put it over low heat, covered, until the potatoes are cooked through (which was at least 15 minutes but probably more like 20-25). We added the lime juice to finish it once the potatoes were done.

On top of the sweet potato mixture, we put avocado slices or cubes, scallions, sour cream, and the shredded cheese. Although the original recipe directed you to broil it to melt the cheese on top (and we're sure that would have been tasty), we still haven't figured out our broiler situation and the cheese melted just fine thrown onto the mixture on the plate while hot.

This skillet meal was really good and pretty simple to make, other than having a bit of prep work. Not having had that much real Tex-Mex food, it's hard for us to say whether it was authentic as far as Tex-Mex goes, but whether it was or not, it was tasty and we'd make this again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Week 4 - Chowder

My original plan when the Week 4 challenge was announced was clam chowder. Since I didn't want to use heavy cream and didn't really feel like making a Manhattan clam chowder, I figured I'd go with the Boston/Rhode Island variety which is my favorite anyway. Then, as the meal plan evolved as our shopping date got closer, I realized it would make a lot more sense to make a sweet potato-based chowder so I could buy a giant bag of sweet potatoes from Costco. So that's what I did instead, taking inspiration from a recipe for a vegan sweet potato chowder from The Kitchn.

The ingredients for our adapted version of the chowder were:

- olive oil ($0.15)
- 1 large onion, chopped ($0.50)
- 3 stalks of celery, chopped ($0.30)
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped ($0.05)
- 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped ($3)
- ground coriander, about 1 tbsp ($0.30)
- paprika, about 1 tbsp ($0.10)
- sage, a few tsp ($0.10)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- 2 large spoonfuls of vegetable bouillon ($0.50)
- 7 cups of water ($0)

Since we ate the chowder on its own for dinner, it was relatively inexpensive, coming in at approximately $5.05. Not bad for a whole meal, plus another nice-sized bowl of soup on the side for lunch.

The steps for making the chowder were:

1. Prep - chop onions, celery, garlic. Peel and chop sweet potatoes. (The sweet potatoes are the part that always seems to take me forever.)

2. Heat olive oil in large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and celery and cook until softened.

3. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so (until fragrant).

4. Add sweet potatoes, coriander, paprika, sage, salt, and pepper and mix everything together well.

5. Add 7 cups of water along with the vegetable bouillon. (The recipe called for less water, but the amount of water they said didn't cover all of the sweet potatoes, probably because I used an extra one and they were huge. 7 cups of water was what it took for ours to be covered.)

6. Bring to boil and then reduce heat to medium low. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Adjust flavors to taste.

7. Smash sweet potatoes on the side of the pot to thicken up the soup. Let cook for another 5-10 minutes after that. (This does take a while and can be kind of tedious, but we were watching a boring episode of the Walking Dead, so it was fine. The recipe instead scoops out cups of soup and purees them in a blender, but (a) I like texture in soup, (b) I didn't want to waste the blender (and didn't have the space) just for that and we don't have an immersion blender, and (c) it seemed in my head like the result would be similar but it didn't quite get as smooth even after smashing them.)

The soup was pretty good. Would it have been different and maybe a little more like chowder if I pureed it? Probably, but I was fine with it the way it was. It was relatively thick and creamy, and it was starchy, so that was chowder enough for me for the challenge without creating extra messy dishes. As far as flavor, it was pretty good. It tasted really healthy (no surprise, since it was) and the simple seasonings were nice and complementary to the sweet potatoes. We don't generally buy a ton of sweet potatoes from Costco, but if we did another time, this would be a great way to use some up.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Week 3 - Made Healthy

Figuring out what to make for the Week 3 challenge was tough, mostly because the philosophy I already employ for home cooking is to try to make it healthy. I rarely cook red meat, I don't deep fry, and we try to leave the more unhealthy stuff for eating at restaurants instead of at home. The challenge introduction gave examples like substituting lean meat for fattier ones (already do that), using whole grains instead of white (almost all our grains already are), avoiding heavy cream and using low fat substitutes (already do that whenever possible), baking instead of frying (have you seen all the baked substitute disasters?), and lots of vegetables (already our philosophy). What could I make that was new that was also making something healthier? The only things I could come up with were substituting zucchini for starches, until I found a sweet potato shepherd's pie recipe on Skinnytaste. That would work - substituting sweet potato for regular potato and turkey for less healthy meat.

There were a lot of ingredients for the pie and I mostly stuck to the recipe, although I increased a lot of the vegetable amounts. (Healthier!) The ingredients, as adapted, were:

potato topping:
- 3 large sweet potatoes ($2.25)
- 3 cloves garlic ($0.08)
- 1/2 cup milk ($0.20)
- 1/2 cup chicken broth ($0.20)
- 2 tbsp light sour cream ($0.45)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)

meat filling:
- 1 lb ground turkey ($4.34)
- olive oil ($0.10)
- 1 large onion ($0.50)
- 3 celery stalks ($0.30)
- 2 parsnips ($0.72)
- 3 cloves garlic ($0.08)
- a few handfuls of white mushrooms ($1.95)
- frozen mixed vegetables (didn't measure exactly but just did what looked like a good amount) ($1)
- 2 tbsp flour ($0.10)
- 1 cup chicken broth ($0.40)
- 2 tsp tomato paste ($0.20)
- Worcestershire sauce, a couple tsp ($0.10)
- dried rosemary, a tsp or so ($0.10)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- paprika ($0.05)

The ingredient list was not short, so probably not surprising that the total wasn't low either at $13.22. But it made enough shepherds pie that we were able to save at least 40%, if not 50%, of it for another day. I guess we'll see at a later date how well it reheats after being frozen, but being able to make this for two meals definitely made it pretty affordable.

The process for making the dish was:

1. Peel and chop sweet potatoes. Begin heating a large pot of salted water to a boil, and drop in sweet potatoes whenever done chopping. Add chopped garlic cloves to pot. Cook until sweet potatoes are very soft.

2. While sweet potatoes are cooking, cook ground turkey, seasoned with salt and pepper, in large skillet. (Thankful A was able to help by doing this, so I could prep other things.)

3. Also while sweet potatoes are cooking, prep other ingredients. Chop onion, garlic, celery, mushrooms. Peel and chop parsnips.

4. When turkey is cooked, remove to separate plate. In the same skillet, cook the onions. Add the celery and parsnips with salt and pepper and then cook until softened.

5. Add garlic and mushrooms to skillet, and after the mushrooms have released most of their water, add the flour, frozen vegetables, chicken broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, cooked turkey. Cook until vegetables are no longer frozen and most of the liquid has evaporated from pan.

6. While meat mixture is cooking, make the mashed sweet potato topping. Add the chicken broth, milk, sour cream, and salt and pepper, and mash and stir potatoes until smooth.

7. Grease a large baking pan and add meat mixture, evening out the layer. Add the sweet potatoes on top and cover the entire pan with the sweet potatoes.

8. Use a fork to create ridges in the sweet potatoes and top with paprika.

9. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and then let stand a few minutes before eating.

When the shepherd's pie came out of the oven, there seemed to be liquid pooled on top of the sweet potatoes in certain parts, and when we started scooping out the pie, it seemed a little watery. I guess I didn't let enough of the liquid evaporate before loading the filling into the baking pan. (It was getting late.) The dish sat longer as we ate, and by the time we got to the end, it wasn't quite as watery which was good. I think if I make this again, I'll just let the filling cook until all the liquid is gone.

As far as flavor, the dish was really good. Of course, it wasn't a traditional shepherd's pie since it was made with turkey and sweet potatoes, but it tasted healthy and had lots of flavor. It reminded me of when we would stir fry turkey with vegetables and eat it over rice, but here it was with sweet potatoes. While we liked this, it wouldn't really be a shepherd's pie replacement for us since the heavy comfort food aspect of that, with all of its luxurious and fattening items, is part of what makes "real" shepherd's pie so good (and also why I don't make it at home). A also noted that the sweetness of the sweet potatoes was too noticeable for it to be a true replacement in his mind. This was good for what it was, and something I might make again at home, but just not sure it would hit the spot if we were looking for the real thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Blue Star Paros

Our trip from Naxos to Santorini was on the Blue Star Paros, another large ferry with lots of amenities (unlike the small ferry we took to get to Naxos). We paid for business class again to get some space to comfortably relax on our afternoon journey, and it was totally worth it. About an hour into our trip, we decided to get some lunch, and we were happy to see that there was another Goody's restaurant on the boat so we could get more from the Greek fast food chain. Unfortunately, since it's now almost six years later, we don't really remember that much about all of the stuff we ordered (really wish we took notes back then so we didn't lose all these memories; at least we've learned our lesson now), but here's what we got.

Onion rings fried in olive oil, which were like the soft onion rings with mashed up onion inside:

I love onion rings like that, but I have no idea where to get them regularly at home. Sometimes the AYCE Chinese buffets have them but it's very hit or miss.

Fries, just like the ones we got last time, fairly standard and just lightly salted:

"Chicken Fillet Goody's," breaded chicken breast fillets (basically chicken nuggets) served with mustard sauce and salad with vinaigrette sauce:

It was nice to get some salad with chicken nuggets, and I wish that was common here too.

Western barbecue burger, which added barbecue sauce, cheese, bacon, and onion rings to the burger:

After eating, we just rested and watched the seas and islands pass by from our window. The boat stopped briefly at Ios, where it was raining, and then finally we were in Santorini, the last Greek island on our adventure!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Goodbye Nissaki Beach

Our last morning in Naxos was bittersweet. While we looked forward to new adventures, we loved our time in Naxos, had made so many good memories, and were so sad to leave. Leaving also meant we had gone past the midway point of our honeymoon and were that much closer to the end of our vacation. We tried not to think about it and attempted to extend the morning as much as possible before our ferry departure, even wading out into the shallow water at the beach one last time.

Before we left, we had one last breakfast at the hotel, which would also be our last meal in Naxos. We indulged in pasta salad, feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, and Greek pies. Not only did they have spinach pie this time, but also a hot dog pie. The breakfast spread at Nissaki Beach continued to be incredible day after day, and we were so happy we had chosen to stay there.

We also got our usual fresh squeezed orange juice, yogurt, and fruit. We certainly ate better breakfasts at the hotel than we ever do at home.

After breakfast and beach time, we bid farewell to the Nissaki Beach Hotel, and walked down the waterfront to the pier where we would catch our ferry to Santorini. (No need for a taxi this time since we knew where we were going and how close it was to the hotel.) Although we had high hopes for Santorini, we knew it was a lot more crowded there and would be a lot more touristy, so we were a little sad to leave quiet, peaceful, relaxed Naxos. We hope we'll be able to return someday. Until then, farewell Naxos and goodbye Nissaki Beach, and thank you for such an amazing time!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Goodbye Milkato

After our last dinner in Naxos, we decided to make another trip to Milkato to say goodbye and grab some more gelato. We had gone previously and gotten two flavors that were really tasty. We opted to try a couple different flavors this night, and from what we remember, they were stracciatella and cookies.

Stracciatella is vanilla gelato striped with chocolate and also flaked with chocolate within. It was incredibly creamy, and at the end of the day chocolate and vanilla are a great combination. The chocolate stripes on top were interesting because since it was striped melted chocolate it "froze" and became like a hard shell. The flakes within were softer and much more like regular chocolate chips you'd find in chocolate chip ice cream.

Cookies was, as we expected, just like cookies and cream ice cream. It was vanilla gelato studded with broken up cookies similar to Oreos. For all we knew it could actually have been Oreos. Cookies and cream is one of our favorite flavors overall, and this was definitely a good one.

We really enjoyed our trips to Milkato, and we hope that they're still around. Their Facebook page hasn't had a new post or picture in a little bit, and that worries us. If it is still there, we highly recommend that you sample the gelato they have to offer. We know we certainly will!

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Over the past few months, one of the more interesting developments in Midtown lunching has been the opening of Eatsa, a San Francisco-based chain selling $6.95 quinoa salad bowls, currently with two locations in Midtown East. Eatsa is unique in part because of its reliance on technology and automation. You order at a kiosk (or on your phone), and then when the food is ready, it lets you know which cubby to pick it up in, just like an automat. The second location of Eatsa opened up last week and we both stopped by to finally try them out. (In the interests of full disclosure, we signed up early online to get codes for free bowls, but we both agreed that our opinions of the bowls and the experience would have been the same even if we had paid.) In the time it has taken us to finish up this post, M already returned a second time to Eatsa to try out a different bowl. We considered waiting until we tried them all before posting, but figured then it might take us forever to write this.

M's review:

On my first visit, I got the Smokehouse bowl (toasted red quinoa, mixed greens, BBQ ranch dressing, cucumber, tomato, grilled corn, pickled onions, white cheddar, crispy onion strings, BBQ portobello), and from the extra free garnishes, added green onions and cilantro. (The other free add-ons were parsley and sesame seeds, but I didn't think they made sense here.) I went at an off time, so it was not very crowded while there, and therefore, I didn't feel that bad about taking my time at the kiosk checking out all the ordering options.

This bowl was so tasty. At first, I thought maybe they forgot the extra garnishes because I couldn't see them, but they were there, hiding in the greens below the quinoa. The order was 100% accurate. Everything mixed together was really good, very fresh, very healthy-tasting, and a good combination. I liked it so much that I thought it would be difficult to pick a different bowl the next time, because I might keep getting drawn back to this one. Compared to the other salad chains, there were a lot more ingredients in the bowl and for a lower price, so I think Eatsa is going to provide some good competition, at least for my lunch spending. I liked everything about the experience - easy electronic ordering from a kiosk (especially after a horrific customer service experience on the phone with someone else earlier that afternoon), nice staff members, good healthy food, and prompt customer service in the form of instant surveys and follow-up emails. Overall, I left very impressed with plans to return.

On my second visit, I got the Aloha bowl (sesame seeds, edamame, orange miso dressing, portobello poke, macaroni salad, taro root chips, cucumber, island style quinoa, lomi lomi tomato, wakame, pickled ginger, and napa cabbage), to which I once again added green onions and cilantro. Although I prefer the Smokehouse if I had to choose between the two, this bowl was really good. Very healthy, very light, so many different ingredients, and very filling. I'm not usually a fan of pickled ginger, but this one was pretty mild and didn't make me wince, so that was good. The whole bowl just worked well together other than the mac salad, which wasn't bad as part of it and tasted fine on its own, but whose flavor got a little lost when mixed together. Overall, it tasted more like an Asian salad bowl to me than a Hawaiian bowl, but I was pretty happy with it. Can't wait to try more bowls!

A's review:

For my free bowl I opted to get the Bento bowl (stir fried quinoa with egg, edamame, crispy wonton strips, teriyaki sauce, miso portabello, apple-cabbage slaw). I didn't know you could add free items so I left it as is. It was a little on the crowded side when I went since it was right in the middle of the lunch rush, but I didn't have to wait that long. It's a neat system where you order on iPads and then wait to pick up your food in a little drawer/kiosk on the wall. It's a cool POS, and I can't wait to go back to play around with it.

The bowl tasted really great. The majority of the flavor came from the portabello mushrooms and teriyaki sauce, but every component definitely had its place and was well thought out. I'm usually not a fan of food with wonton strips, but these were so light and crisp and didn't feel oily or heavy at all. The egg, unfortunately, was something of an afterthought. That little white rectangle near the edamame was the majority of the egg that was in the bowl. The apple-cabbage slaw was interesting but far less sweet than I was expecting. Overall this was a delicious bowl, but it's also the least caloric bowl they offer. I was hungry about an hour and a half later, but it was at least delicious. I'm definitely looking forward to going back.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Italian Bigonda Cheese

We picked up and tried the Italian bigonda cheese with herbs for the first time last fall. It sounded like our type of cheese because of the herbs, and it was only supposed to be around for a limited time, so we were glad we got to try it. It seems to have reappeared on the shelves recently, so maybe it has made it into the permanent rotation?

We're not cheese experts, so when the package noted that it was a caciotta style cheese, we didn't really have any idea what that meant. According to Trader Joe's, the style is a semi-soft Italian farmstead cheese and theirs comes from the Dolomite mountain region. The cheese was a creamy white cheese, but the texture definitely seemed more semi-soft, and we liked that a lot. The flavor of the herbs, which included laurel, thyme, parsley, chives, fennel, and caraway seeds, was pretty prominent in the cheese, which we were happy about since that was everything we hoped it would be.

Buy again? Yes! This has been one of our more well-liked cheeses from Trader Joe's. The combination of flavors from the cheese and the herbs made this a delicious snack.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Carrot Ginger Yogurt

Another trip to Target, another yogurt sale. I love finding new and interesting ones to try, like this Fage Crossover. Carrot ginger Greek yogurt with roasted pistachios? That's not exactly common in the yogurt aisle. I'm also a sucker for all the yogurts where you can flip toppings on to the yogurt, like the Chobani Flips (which reminds me that I really need to finish my post about those).

The thing I found most interesting about this yogurt was that it at least sounded like savory yogurt. It wasn't my first time having vegetable-flavored yogurt (the tasty but very pricey Blue Hill ones come to mind), but probably the first time I had ever seen one on shelves outside of Whole Foods. I was pleased to find that this wasn't some sort of super sweet carrot cake-flavored yogurt, but it actually just tasted like carrots and there were bits of carrots mixed in to the yogurt which gave it texture. The roasted pistachios on the side were exactly what they sounded like, although I had expected them to be chopped up or something instead of whole pistachios.

Overall, I thought this yogurt was okay. The creaminess of the yogurt muted the flavor of the carrot a little bit, but you could still tell that it was vegetable yogurt, so I liked that part. The pistachios were fine, but I found them harder to eat with the yogurt whole and think they would have been better chopped. I also wasn't really a fan of them together with the yogurt and preferred the two parts separately. I probably wouldn't get this again as there are so many other yogurts I like better (and so many other flavors to try), but I applaud Fage for putting something different out there. It was good, but just not my favorite flavor combination. I see on their website that they have a couple of savory yogurts with almonds - tomato basil and olive thyme - and I am very interested in trying those someday.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Root and Bone

We've wanted to go to Root & Bone in the East Village for the longest time since we knew they were supposed to have good fried chicken, but every time we had passed by, they were pretty crowded (and we're not big line waiters if there are other good options around). When A saw something on Blackboard Eats recently offering a discount, we jumped at the chance to go and made a reservation for the end of January. It was Restaurant Week and their Restaurant Week menu sounded good (including a free drink), but we decided to order a la carte instead. (Couldn't use the discount on RW anyway, but we really wanted the bucket of fried chicken which wasn't a RW option.)

To start off, we got an order of Grandma Daisy's Angel Biscuits with honey roasted chicken jus, benne seeds, thyme, and sea salt. We had pictured Southern biscuits sort of like the ones you would get at Bojangles, but what arrived looked more like dinner rolls. The insides were soft and the outsides a little bit crumbly with a little sweetness, and they were pretty dense. They weren't exceptionally large but they were really, really filling. We thought that the chicken jus on the side would have a little bit more chicken flavor than it did, but it was still a good dipping sauce.

There were 8 pieces of fried chicken (2 pieces each of breast meat, wings, thighs, and drumsticks) in the main event, the Crispy Fried Bucket of Bird, which was described on the menu as "free range organic chicken, sweet tea brined, lemon dusted, with spiked tabasco honey" for hot sauce on the side. Our perceptions of the chicken were a little bit different since M only ate white meat and A had both.

From M: The flavor of the fried chicken seemed good, but the breast pieces were pretty dry. It was good that we had the honey tabasco hot sauce on the side, because I definitely needed to use it. Overall, I felt like the chicken was fine, but not great, just because the white meat was so dry. That said, I did have the majority of the second breast piece as cold fried chicken the next day (with more hot sauce, which they were nice enough to pack up with the chicken without even asking for it). It was a little less dry as cold fried chicken, and I actually think I liked it better as cold fried chicken than freshly fried. I didn't really get any of the citrus flavor from the lemon dusting until eating it as cold fried chicken, and it really came out there in a good way.

From A: This was a little disappointing for how much hype there was from the reviews. The skin and breading had a salty and sweet flavor to it, but the chicken itself seemed a little bland. The white meat was also on the drier side, and that's always a disappointment. The dark meat was nice and juicy, but suffered from the same overall mild lack of flavor. I don't know how it happened, but after the descriptions of their chicken preparation, I was expecting so much more and ended up disappointed. I ended up using a lot of the honey tabasco, and that was really tasty.

We got two sides with our bucket of bird, the first being the macaroni and cheese, "big pasta" with crunchy cheese and a biscuit thyme crust. Compared to some other tables nearby, we definitely lucked out in getting tons of the crust, and we love the crust on mac and cheese. This was really, really good. The pasta had a nice chewiness to it, the cheese was rich, it was nicely seasoned all around, and the crispy crust on top livened up the texture. At first, we thought the side order looked a little on the small side, but after eating it, it was just right. We were big fans of the mac and cheese here.

The other side dish was the brussels sprouts which were crispy fried sprouts with pickled serrano, bacon croutons, and bourbon sorghum. We didn't expect it from the description, but putting aside the serrano, eating these brussels sprouts instantly transported us back to Kin Shop. Crazy that they reminded us most of Thai-inspired brussels sprouts, but there was something about the seasoning and the sauce that was just so similar, and the texture of the crispy fried sprouts was pretty much exactly the same. Since we loved those brussels sprouts, we obviously liked these too, and it was nice getting that flavor again. A found (unfortunately by accidentally biting into one) star anise, and that helped shed a little light on why the flavoring of the sprouts was so similar as that's more of an Asian seasoning.

We had a good dinner at Root and Bone. The vibe was fun, we had a good time with our neighbors, and the food was good. Although we liked the fried chicken, we wouldn't call it the best in NYC and there are definitely other places we prefer for fried chicken, even in the same neighborhood. But we enjoyed our experience there, which is really all we could ask for. If we ever do make it back, we'd look to try some of their other menu items, and definitely more of their sides.