30 March 2011

Penn "Chocolate" Festival

"Next semester, I will be more involved in social groups at school."
That's what I said last semester when I realised that I was pretty much in two clubs.
Then I realised that if I joined another two, I'd have no time to do my homework, study, go to the lab, run, and eat food.
This is in addition to the fact that I'm already managing my time better than I was last semester.

So, I didn't join any extra clubs, but I do get emails from the Penn Gastronomy Club (which I should officially join, actually). Recently, I got an email about the Penn Chocolate Festival, and there were going to be "some of the city's best chocolatiers" and free samples present!
At the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall, the Penn Chocolate Festival took flight. Breezy. Short. Among the tumbleweed. It was too timid to be anything like other food events (e.g. Campus "Free" For All), which was good because it meant that each member of the audience had extremely personalised attention from the vendors, which included just two chocolatiers (Really).
Despite obtaining a lot of information from the vendors, I didn't get many samples, which was a bit of a let-down considering the blatant advertising in the email. Then again, the email claimed that there were going to be many chocolate vendors, which wasn't the case.
The sweet, thick and creamy tea (which didn't taste much like tea) with mini tapioca balls in the above image came from Boba Brothers. I loved the fact that the tapioca balls are tiny! (~2mm in diameter; it makes them drinkable via a standard straw, and it is quite a twist). Actually, I wonder how bubble tea would be like with various sized tapioca balls in the tea...
Although the liquid was super sweet, clean/not artificially-flavoured-ish, there was no "chocolate" in it at all.
My second stop was John&Kira's chocolate. The fact that they use local ingredients and have beautiful packaging and are a home business (I talked to Kira) means that their prices are jacked up, of course. For $6.50, I can get Chipotle, instead of a bar of chocolate. However, John&Kira's also have everything that Chipotle, and Godiva, and Lindt don't have; they own the company, they can allow me to make my own flavour, and they use ingredients from around here. The mint in the mint chocolate came from University City's Urban Garden! I have no idea where that is, but it's within a 3 mile radius, probably. According to the brochure, the honey comes from Millerton PA, while the berries come from Meadow Gap PA. I'm not sure why they're advertising that the coffee whiskey comes from Mexico or that the bergamot comes from Sri-Lanka, because those aren't "local", but perhaps the overall message is that these ingredients come from known sources, and we're supposed associate that with fair labour or something.
My first impression was that the ladybugs and the bees were super shiny. They were as shiny as marbles, although more pearlescent. Apparently, there is a really high cocoa butter content in them, since the're some sort of caramel (bees) or ganache (ladybug).
Kira gave me a pretty big sample of dark mint chocolate to taste. The mint was definitely true mint; it isn't the sweet stuff that I'm accustomed to in commercial mint ice cream or mint chocolate; it was legitimate mint-right-off-the-plant. Although I do like the peppermint/conventional mint better, this one was light and delicious too. The chocolate part was... normal, I would say.

I then went to the table promoting Sazon restaurant. The guy who was at the table was a real businessman; he talked non-stop about how his chocolate was real, untempered, pure, made straight from crushed beans from Venezuela (the "original/pure/clean/unadulterated" location of cacao, apparently). He explaining his experimentation with making truffles in his kitchen, and he talked about testing all his truffles on his friends. At one point, he gave someone in the audience a whole truffle. He didn't give any truffles to me though, even though I talked to him for a good 10 minutes about his truffles and cocoa. He walked me through the truffles; coconut ones, jalapeno ones, rum infused ones, berry-filled - "I don't care about rule of 3 flavours - you know, of chocolate, and two others. I just dump them all in together and you can taste them all!", he proclaimed. He pointed out that the ones in the middle compartment were vegan, and the coconut covered ones on the right were raw and made with a ton of coconut butter. "Nothing goes above 105 degrees. I just use a blender and a thermometer; my raw vegan friend is really anal about this," he boasts. Then, he listed the ingredients in these vegan truffles, and I kinda blanked out until him mentioned the word honey.
Honey. From bees.
I'm not vegan, but vegans do not eat honey.
Naturally, I responded, "Hey wait! Vegans don't eat honey!"
The guy (I'm sorry I do not know his name but on the website, he's the Chocolate Alchemist) looked at me in this really exasperated way (and perhaps with a hint of scorn - he's not a vegetarian or vegan), and said "Well, it's just some honey; we don't know if agave is a good idea because it might have corn syrup or other things added, and honey is pure. And, our honey is local. Besides, you know that there are different definitions of vegan and a lot of vegans eat honey."

He didn't say those exact words, but that was his position on the issue. Call me biased, amnesiatic, or downright silly, but if there is honey in those truffles, those truffles are NOT vegan. His (sorta pompous) attitude, coupled with the fact that he selectively gave out truffles for sampling, meant that I didn't have a good impression of his business. I know he's allowed to boast about his truffles and his super-awesome hot chocolate since they do taste delicious (the hot chocolates did, at least), but I felt like he was stepping the line by sticking honey in a "vegan" treat.

So, the hot chocolates were amazing. I tried the Clasico and the Cuaimia. The Clasico was thick hot chocolate that had no watery taste at all; it was literally like drinking flavourful, textured, melted chocolate. The Cuaimia had a hint of chili (although not too much; I think I would prefer more) and was less chocolatey. Neither had sugar, yet they were so flavourful that sugar wasn't needed to counteract the bitter taste of the ground cocoa (not that it tasted that bitter, in comparison to cocoa powder).
Another local vendor was the Kitchen at Penn. They gave out banana pudding, brownie, and and a plastic cup. No spoon. The food tasted ordinary, but I suppose that's the point, because the Kitchen at Penn is supposed to emulate homemade food for college students missing home.
Although the next few pictures depict vacuous, gilded and bland cupcakes, I'm still posting them because they are indeed prettily decorated. Buttercream Cupcakes (a cupcake truck, not to be confused with Call Me Cupcake, another cupcake truck) offers sundry cupcakes, including the best-seller, red velvet.
I tried 1/4 of a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter icing and purple sugar. The peanut butter icing tasted legitimately like peanut butter smothered in cream and sugar. The cake was kinda dry actually.

So wait a minute, two legit chocolatiers out of 5, at a "chocolate" festival?

29 March 2011

Kiwi Froyo

Previously called "Sprinkles". The most popular flavours in Philly include vanilla, chocolate, original tart, and cookies and cream. Seasonal flavors turn up every few months.
Owned by Ryan and Matt Mealy, Kiwi is a frozen yoghurt (okay, for this post I will spell it "yogurt") store located on 36th and Chestnut, and I signed up for a Preceptorial lead by them. A preceptorial is basically a 2+ hour class that isn't going to be graded, and I suppose Penn gives them out because it's a way for students to learn things that aren't part of their majors/requirements. For instance, I signed up for a Thought Experiments Preceptorial, which is... well, philosophy, right? There was also one called Wine Tasting, and I got accepted into it but I'm not 21 yet so I can't actually go, legally.

I thought that this Kiwi Preceptorial would be interesting because it would open my eyes up more to the commercial/production aspect of food companies. I also hoped that there'd be a tour of the actual store, including what ingredients are used and how flavours are created. This wasn't the case though; the Preceptorial focused mainly on business. Ryan and Matt are businesspeople. They love food, sure, and they love frozen yogurt, but they are fully focused on the -open-more-stores- & -promote-Kiwi- & -sell-more-. They grew up in a family-business household, they have business degrees, and they decided to open up a frozen yogurt store because frozen yogurt was a business-grabber, with it being touted as "healthy" and all. If, for some reason, the frozen yogurt business dies down (although I highly doubt it, with more and more people believing that frozen yogurt is healthier than ice cream), they claimed that they are ready to pursue a different fad, including non-food ventures.

See, if I was going to open a bakery/patisserie, it'd be because I like food and I love baking and I want to cut out the stigma that pepper, vinegar, and chili "are too weird to put into sweet cookies/cake". So, this Preceptorial showed me why businesses expand and why Aramack and Campbell (and all the other places I applied to for internships) want Management and Marketing degrees. Thanks. Biology (and Chemistry, even though I really don't want to admit that) gets thrown out of the window. Actually, I take that back. I did ask Ryan whether they created their own froyo from scratch, and she said that they currently didn't. "However," she said with a grin, "my husband, who is a scientist, will be working on it at some point, although he doesn't know it yet."

Which goes to show that I should marry a Whartonite. Haha. I think that I prefer Engineers.
The Kiwi story, as I said, starts off from a family business; Ryan and Matt had a bunch of experience helping out in the family furniture company. They claim that each company needs to offer something "new", and to stay within that niche, in order to get recognition. The "new" thing for their furniture company had been that they offered same-day delivery, and the "new" thing for Kiwi is that the frozen yogurt is self-serve. I had never gone to Kiwi before, so, yes, I agree that this is indeed new. Unlike Flurt or any ice cream stores, Kiwi gives you a container and 14 flavours from 14(?) machines to choose from (16 in other Kiwi stores; only Philly has 14 flavours. I think that this is due to the fact that there is not enough wall space to stick in more machines here). For 49c / ounce, you can fill out however much of frozen yogurt you want; you just pull down the lever and let the frozen yogurt flow. Then, you can add toppings/fruit, and you weigh the bowl and its contents, and pay. I suppose this is great because it
1. Offers customers customizable sizes.
2. Offers customers every single flavour in one sitting.
3. Offers customers the ability to have 90% toppings and 10% froyo, if they really wanted to.
4. Means that employees don't have to be trained to make the perfectly pretty froyo. When I was at Carvel, I had to make sure that the ice cream on the cone looked pretty. If it looked wonky, customers would appear a bit upset, and I'd look unprofessional.
5. Means that only 1 container needs to be ordered. There's no such thing as a "small", a "medium", a "large", an "extra large", or a "kiddie cup".
6. Is "new".
Initially, Ryan and Matt were going to Franchise, but they decided that they should just open their own store, and they were going to call it "Wondercream", which has various connotations, one of them being inappropriate and another of them meaning "fat" (if you think about the word "cream", you will instantly think of "fat". Yes, you will, because the Media said so). Technically, they're still registered under the name Wondercream, although the name Kiwi is "fresher" seems to make customers like it more.

Back to the story. Ryan and Matt opened a store in June 2009 in Cherry Hill, NJ, and it was a really tough time up to that point because literally no realtors wanted to rent to a new company. Apparently, that's how it is in the business world; you're of zero value until you stick a dent in your market. (This is where I think the story got confusing, because Ryan said that they had started searching for location, equipment, interior design etc. in "December 2008" and that "after 16-17 months, we finally opened", which would imply that they started in December 2007. Nevertheless, the point is that they took a while to plan everything.) They ended up signing four leases before even opening the first store, and because nearly no-one turned up on their opening day, they had this huge "Grand Opening" and gave out unlimited free ice cream to everyone at their Cherry Hill Mall place. Both these events demonstrate how confident they are; apparently, they gave away 15000 oz of frozen yogurt to ~2000 people. Matt laughed about how it was a huge business risk, but that summer, they averaged 700-800 people per day.

This was a different story in Philly though; when Kiwi opened here in September 2009, the unlimited free froyo idea made people line up and just TAKE AND TAKE and be CRAZY! It's pretty interesting to see both Ryan and Matt laugh at all these events, which one could consider to be "failures" or "setbacks"; again, they're really confident people. They "want to dominate", they say.

So, here is the advertising component of Kiwi from Ryan and Matt. I'm typing it down because it's true, although I'm not sure how much more likely I am to buy froyo from them when I would rather buy bread since I like bread more:
1. Customers are greeted every. Single. Time. //I guess I'm indifferent to this part, unless I get discounts or something if I become a loyal member.
2. 30 toppings. //Thanks for the choices, but I'm not paying 49c for an ounce of marshmallows or an ounce of sprinkles. I'm paying 49c for an ounce of frozen yogurt.
3. Clean. //Whoot!
4. Fruit delivery 3 days a week! Fruit is also freshly cut!//See comment 2
5. Short shelf life of everything; no HFCS, no preservatives. //Whoot!
6. Good place to go for lunch. //But is there a nutrition label somewhere? See, I would pick a sandwich over this because I know that I will get enough protein and iron from eating whole wheat bread. For froyo, how much sugar did you add?

After the preceptorial, we all went to Kiwi to get some froyo. Everyone got 25% off, and I got $5 off because I was one of the lucky 25 people out of the 40 or so people who signed up at the right time. $5 gives ~10 oz of yogurt, and since I actually didn't bring any money with me (hey, with a prepaid meal plan, what else would I be using money for?), it was really useful having a few sets of scales sitting there so I could measure my yogurt content. I ended up with 8.7 oz of various flavours, but not all of them. The restaurant environment was pretty cheerful, but that may have been because of the swarm of people in there from the Preceptorial.
I tried original tart, peanut butter, green tea, chocolate, strawberry, mint, cheesecake, mango, and I want to say pomegranate but I'm not even sure that flavour exists. I just know there's another flavour buried underneath the ones in the pictures. The peanut butter flavour actually tasted like peanut butter, which is a change from "peanut butter flavoured" items such as Clif bars or cookies etc. The green tea flavour was light and poofy, as was the original tart flavour. Actually, all the flavours tasted very light (but NOT BLAND) and watery/icy. Another word I would use to describe Kiwi froyo is "fragile" because it melts mad fast.

Yes, I'll go again next semester, when I don't have a meal plan. I'll do a proper flavour review because I was too preoccupied talking to someone new (who I guess I will never see again, unfortunately) who I had met at the Preceptorial.

22 March 2011

Almond Nut-Thins

These remind me of the rice cracker things that I used to eat when I was in HK, so it's not such a novel concept. The ones in HK were cheaper and did not advertise so blatantly. I'm still very irked by the "Wheat and Gluten Free" label, as though not eating gluten is somehow "healthier" than eating gluten for 99% of the population (a.k.a. the non-celiacs).

Also, "Irresistible Snacking!" = "Smart Eating" ??? DOES NOT COMPILE. How can snacking 24/7, which is what I do (unfortunately), equate smart eating?

Also, I know this happens for every single packaged good, but Blue Diamond really should make the box smaller. The crackers take up half the space of the box. Okay, fine, 60%.

After my fragmented paragraphs above (I'm running on 4 hours of sleep right now and I just did not-alright on an exam)... I will now talk about the Nut-Thins themselves.

They are very pretty.
They do NOT taste like almond, but the "rice" texture is basically similar to the crunchy puffed rice texture of those soy-rice thingys in the snack mixes with the wasabi peas and peanuts (you know what I'm talking about).

There was some form of "smoky" flavour, with a bit of umami, but the majority of the cracker tasted salty. Not potato-chip salty - not even bottom-of-the-bag-potato-chip salty. It was literally smothered in salt crystals. Initially, I was fine with it, because the smoky flavour was initially pretty prevalent (not barbecue smoky though). After a while, though, all I could taste was salt. For some reason, a lot of the gluten-free food that I buy ends up being super salty. I'll blog about these tortilla chips that are also just really salty, later, but so far, that's how it's been.

This may be because the foods that generally have the "Gluten Free" label also have a bunch of labels touting "All Natural"/other stuff that relates to not using "synthetic" ingredients (although isn't everything, in some way, synthetic/processed?). This means that they refrain from using umami flavouring, colouring, and other flavouring that is GRAS (perhaps). In this aspect, there are limited additives that the company can add to the product to make it taste great and remain fresh/not stale. So, by adding salt, a "flavouring" is added.

20 March 2011

Harrison's Masquerade with Maggiano's

Last night, Harrison had a semiformal event with a dinner catered by Maggiano's, an Italian restaurant about 26 streets away. The main part of the semiformal wasn't the food, of course (it was the dancing! And laughing!...even though there were only about 40 of us there...), but I've decided to blog about it anyway. The sad part is that 2/3 of the time, the lights were off, so I had to use flash and it bleached my photo. In any case, the food wasn't that photogenic, and because there was a whole group of us, we evidently got to Harrison kind of late. So, half the food was gone (no linguine left!!).

The food that I did eat included angel hair pasta with very unevenly distributed tomato sauce (with real large chunks of tomato! and nothing much else...), two oily asparagus spears, some broccoli, and some salad. The salad was basically lettuce with feta cheese and onion, and midway through, I noticed something crunchy. Upon dissecting my salad, I noticed a few rectangles of some dark pink crispy stuff, which I am assuming is bacon. :(
You think that's sad (for a vegetarian)? Well, I tell you, that bacon wasn't even good! It was dry and didn't taste like bacon! It was tasteless!

The dessert was tiramisu, which was different from the tiramisu I usually consume (not that I consume tiramisu much...I've only had it about 4 times in my life, perhaps?). This tiramisu was literally 90% mascarpone, 0.005% cocoa powder, 3% coffee, and 7% ladyfinger biscuits. The mascarpone was super overwhelming. It's good, but I prefer a more 1:1 ratio of ladyfinger biscuits : mascarpone. The top half of the tiramisu was literally fatty, sweet, mascarpone. The cliche pictures of tiramisu have cocoa powder dusted on top. This one didn't, so no one could recognise it as tiramisu. Either way, the dessert was better than the meal itself.

There was frozen pomegranate juice, which was really nice.

In all honesty, I wouldn't've cared if the food was barbecue flesh; for $5, I got to party with my friends, scream, dance to The Lonely Island and Ce Lo Green (you guys know the songs...I just don't want to write them out because it's not really PG), and have fun for 3 hours.

19 March 2011

Fruit-Filled Pastries

I think that my favourite dining hall has to be the one at Kings Court. They frequently have vegetarian foods, occasionally have individual bottles of soymilk, and generally always have amazing dips and cereal. Generally, on Mondays and Tuesdays, there are vegan desserts. These desserts are much different from the typical desserts that Penn Dining chugs out; there are apricot bars, cranberry scones, raisin pinwheel cookies, and even these pastry thingys which are apparently called "Beggar's Purses". I personally really dislike that name (just a preference...) so I'm just going to call them fruit-filled pastries.

I do love pastry. I love savoury pastry for vegetable pies or spanakopita, and I love flaky pastry coating sweet pies. I love chocolate/glazed croissants. However, I seriously dislike plain pastry. I can't have a pastry made solely out of fat and flour. The pastry crust used here was extremely bland. There was a sprinkle of sugar only on the four corners, and each layer, although flaky, offered no taste whatsoever. Okay, I think that fat is a "taste", but it's definitely not enough to elicit a response for me to want to eat more pastry.

The fruit part was basically stewed fruits such as cooked frozen blueberries, apples, and other stuff... It was quite mushy, and its sweetness at least enhanced some of the pastry's blandness.

I disliked this pastry, although it looked extraordinary. Actually, the best things from the vegan desserts section are
1. Corn sandies cookies - the best. thing. ever.
2. Chocolate (or was it carob?) brownies
3. Apricot bars

18 March 2011

Miracle Berry!

The Biological Basis of Behavior [BBB] Society is a club at Penn. During New Student Orientation, I signed up for literally over 20 clubs, and I've been ignoring most of the club emails, since I actually only go to 3-4 on a regular basis. I recently got an email about a miracle berry tasting event with lecture from the BBB Society, and now that I've gone, I've realised that I really DO want to do taste research in the future (taste research or thyroid research?! I like both...). It was actually really helpful, too, because now I feel more obligated to learn about G-protein coupled receptors, which will be on my exam on Thursday (and... I should be studying for that).

Dr. Kaplan gave us the lecture on the miracle berry (Synsepalum dulcificum), and he teaches BBB 109 here. I'm actually considering taking the course, since it seems very interesting and he appears to remember all his students. So, miracle berry is a fruit from a tropical area, and contains a protein called miraculin (what a coincidence!). Miraculin is a protein that can bind to the taste receptor for sweetness on our tongue, but it doesn't actually bind to the "receptor" part of the receptor when you eat the berry. Only when there is an intake of acidic foods does the protein change its conformation and bind to the taste receptor. So, when you eat miracle berries, all you're doing is sticking miraculin onto your taste receptors for sweetness. Then, with the introduction of acid (protons!!!), the miraculin changes conformation and you get the sensation of sweetness without actually eating anything sweet.

This is a recurring theme, because last night I watched The Matrix for the first time in my life, and this morning I was reading about the "brain in a vat" idea, and now...I get the perception of sweetness but I'm actually just ingesting lemon juice. What is real, then? Everything is just a electric/chemical/mechanic reaction, right?
So, I know I was supposed to eat half of the food on the plate right before eating the miracle berry, but I decided to just eat the berry, since I knew "what all that stuff tastes like already" (but I was wrong. I think I was confused in some instances).
I will now go through a list of the foods I ate, and my perception of them.

1. Miracle berry: This small berry smelled like an olive. I think this may be because there were 2 olives sitting on the plate in front of me, but that was my first impression. The skin was thick and the pulp was scant and stuck readily to the pip. Texture-wise, it was like eating a cherry that didn't have much pulp, and it wasn't as juicy. The skin had the texture of grape skin or tomato skin, and the flesh was sticky, and not juicy like grape flesh. The flesh itself was tasteless, although I think it was a bit sweet due to the placebo effect. We were instructed to keep the berry in our mouth for about a minute. I kept the seed and I hope that I can maybe grow my own miracle berry tree, although I don't have any soil.

2. Lemon: HUGE confusion in my brain. The first drops of lemon juice in my mouth were typical; they were sour. SUDDENLY, they started to taste sweet. I'm not kidding. There was this prickling feeling, followed by sweetness and I gasped in surprise!! (I started blabbing to the 3 other people at my table, who are strangers with whom I made some small-talk before the lecture, about how the lemon tasted sweet and they thought I was kidding.) What I was consuming tasted exactly like Lemonheads candy. EXACTLY like Lemonheads candy = an initial sour note, followed by sweetness, then sour and sweet mingled in lemon-y harmony. This was the most efficacious food from the plate that was transformed by miraculin. I finished one lemon segment, and it tasted purely like Lemonheads candy. The sourness was present, but so was the sweetness. After I tried all the other foods, I tried the second segment of lemon just to see how much of the miraculin I had swallowed down already (because, for some reason, miraculin has a higher affinity for taste buds than do other taste proteins. I mean, after we swallow some candy, after a short while, the sweet taste in our mouth disappears. This differs from bitter foods, like coffee, where after swallowing coffee, one can taste bitterness for at least another minute). This time, it took longer for the sweetness to kick in, and the sweetness wasn't as pronounced as it had been earlier.

3. Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips: This tasted like a salt and vinegar potato chip. It's funny what packaging does to people; the person next to me commented that she had no idea what the flavour was. I wonder: if we switched the packaging for different flavours of potato chips, would people be able to tell? Do we base flavours of things on the taste, or on what the package CLAIMS the flavour is? Anyway, I do not think that the vinegar (acid) tasted any sweeter, and if it did, it may be just my amylase breaking down the starch in the potato. In other words, miraculin doesn't seem to work well for chips.

4. Pickle: The pickle tasted like a pickle. It did not taste sweet. It did not taste that sour. It tasted like a pickle. Perhaps (for me?), miraculin only works for plainly-super-sour food items. Pickles are sour, but their sourness is weak. Diluted with water.

5. Chocolate chips and grapefruit: Miraculin doesn't actually enhance the sweetness of foods that are already sweet. I suppose the point of having sweet foods was to demonstrate this to us. Actually, I think that the grapefruit was there as a "sour" product (like the lemon), but, like most commercially-produced grapefruits, this one was sweet to begin with. So, it and the chocolate chips tasted rather normal to me, and they were the source of Calories to keep me energised before my Bio review session and frisbee later on in my day.

6. Olives: I don't like olives so I didn't eat these. Olives aren't sour though. They're just saturated with salt and have that olive flavour that I dislike.

7. V8 (the red liquid): Now, the last time I had tried V8 was 4 years ago, when my parents thought that buying a bulk pack from Costco was a good idea. Actually, my dad likes to drink V8 in the summer, so we keep buying it every year. I personally am indifferent to it; it's a bit too sour for my liking and I would much rather eat the actual vegetables (more time spent chewing and tasting food = happier me!). With miraculin, I really couldn't taste anything sour about the juice. It just tasted like...sweet tomato juice. I don't think that I like this sweetened version of V8 though, because I'm not really used to eating sweet tomatoes (I've tried sliced tomatoes sprinkled with sugar, before, as a salad-ish platter, and it was an interesting experience but I didn't fall in love with it).

8. Not-Super-Strong Coffee: No difference in taste was detected, although a person next to me claimed that the coffee tasted creamier. I did drink all the coffee though, because it's kept me awake for the past 7 hours. Remember; miraculin is supposed to work in the presence of protons. Technically, then, it should have made the coffee taste a bit sweet because coffee is acidic.

So there we are: instead of going to Monell's tasting event for the Philly Science Fair (I had a chem exam today that coincided with it, unfortunately), I got to taste a miracle berry and consume a bunch of pseudo-Lemonheads for about 0 Calories, and eat other foods with my tongue saturated with miraculin.

13 March 2011

Coconut milk?

This kind of irks me.
Sure, the company cuts out all the legality/truth issues by saying "It is theorized that...", but the mere fact that the statement "coconut provides all of the required natural properties for survival" is blatantly printed on there makes me wonder whether companies sell food for our health or for our money.
Actually, scratch that; every single company probably sells stuff to get our money. Even those ones that boast organic-ness, and wholesome-ness, and we're-gonna-make-you-live-longer (so we can sell more of our stuff to you!)-ness. I realised this a few days ago when I was looking at various food companies' websites (Campbell, Pepsico, Aramack, some local candy company...etc) for internships over the summer. They want managers and marketers. They want people who are going to get degree in management or marketing. MANAGEMENT. Not biology, not chemistry, not food science, or culinary arts. No. They want Whartonites.

Now I'm wondering if I should transfer to Wharton.

They want teams of people who can market their product. Who can persuade the public. Who probably don't know what's in the food and how those ingredients/chemicals affect the body, but it's alright; as long as they market that food out and prevent the company from bankrupting, everyone wins!

So this brings me to the marketing style of this coconut milk yoghurt.
First, with regards to macronutrients, coconuts are a poor source of protein, and contains a lot of fat. This makes sense, since they're seeds, and seeds need a ton of endosperm for energy to grow after germinating. Coconuts also do not have chlorophyll (they are seeds. Seeds don't have chloryphyll. They don't need chlorophyll, since all their energy is derived from the endosperm, which came from the mother plant, the palm...). This means that various antioxidants, vitamins, and micronutrients are missing too. There definitely is not any beta carotene, which is a source of vitamin A. (Does coconut flesh look yellowy/orange to you?) Without vitamin A, humans have issues with eyesight (specifically, hardening of the retinas, and poor night vision).
Also, I don't think that there is enough zinc, molybdenum, selenium, and other trace metals because...of the environment and the growing soil... Also, where is the calcium!?
Without doing more research and citing my sources (so, just knowledge from nutrition class that I actually remember right now...), the advertisement claim is debunked. Okay, my weakness here is that I didn't cite any sources.

No one can sue them, though, because of the first three words. However, this is something I will think of every time I look at this company. This, and the ads they put on Pandora.com. These two things irk me, and although I LOVE the soy ice cream they make (The mint chocolate one. Is. Simply. The. Best. Ice. Cream. Ever.), I don't feel much loyalty to them anymore.

12 March 2011


It's nearly that time of year again! Okay, so it's Purim next week, but AK and her family decided to have the yearly make-a-lot-of-hamantashen party today, since two of us are going back to college [why are college spring breaks so badly timed?!] This year, there were a ton of little kids, and I taught two of them how to make hamantashen dough, which was really fun actually. One of the kids said she likes cooking, which makes me feel all happy inside.
We made hamantashen with apricot, raspberry, and strawberry jam, and we also had some with chocolate chips. I think that next year I want to make some peanut butter hamantashen, just to try it out (and perhaps make a hamantashen within a hamantashen within a hamantashen... just because today someone made a chocolate chip haman).
I'm not sure how many we made, but we started around 1pm and all the baking was done around 3:30pm.
This is (at least) half of what we ended up with.
I'm not sure that I should write out the recipe because it's AK's family recipe, and not mine, but I have to say that there is a LOT of sugar, oil, and butter in a batch of hamantashen. There is also a secret ingredient, which, after baking, is barely detectable. However, it adds a really fresh, zingy dimension to the cookie, so it doesn't taste purely buttery.

One thing is for certain: SHOPRITE HAMANTASHEN PALE IN COMPARISON!!! The meagre jam in those are too sticky, the dough is crumbly and tasteless, and they're also not as cooly shaped as these ones. Today, I personally prefer hamantashen a bit toasted/brownish, but the normal-baked ones are great too. I'm not Jewish but I'm really glad I get to have the chance to make different cultural desserts!!

11 March 2011

Soy "Steak" Style Strips

This is another review on something called "Steak Style Strips". In the package, they remind me of cooked liver, which my mum used to make with peppers (and it used to taste pretty good. Actually, animal livers are a great source of vitamin A, iron [yes!!], vitamin D, vitamin B12, and protein. Oh, and cholesterol, but I think that the other nutrients outweigh the cholesterol content). I'm not sure why I'm advertising the consumption of livers since I don't eat them myself, but these soy strips neither taste like liver nor have the nutrients that liver has.

I cooked them two ways.
1. In the pan with some spices and some ketchup. This tasted rather bland and had a seriously gluteny texture. It was a bit peppery, but it definitely did not taste like steak. The only reasons I was thinking "Hmmm, rather steaky" were that these pieces of soy actually looked like sliced steak, and they were labelled as "steak" flavoured. In other words, appearance is vital in tricking the mind into assuming things...especially when these strips are a small component of a larger meal. In my case, they weren't, but I'd imagine if they were chopped up and used in instant noodles, you couldn't tell the difference! My food tech teacher told me in year 8 that a lot of TVP is actually used in instant noodles instead of using actual chunks of cow or pig; instead, they just add a ton of flavouring to the TVP so that it tastes like animal flesh, but lasts much longer (won't expire that soon!)! Anyway, the pan version was a bit bland.

2. Microwave, with the same spices and some ketchup. These definitely tasted more salty, and since I put them in the microwave for 2:00 mins, some of the strips were pretty crispy/crunchy in that inside-out way that the microwave likes to irradiate food. In this aspect, the microwave provided more textured and flavoured [primarily salty] soy strips. The best part about the microwaved version is that the texture, although still a bit gluteny, resembles animal flesh pretty well [way better than the Smart Cutlets did].

When they say "seasoned", I believe they mean "mixed with a ton of salt and a bit of pepper".

Also, the bread was from Costco and it was the multigrain bread that comes in one loaf rather than two when you buy them. The bread is dry, rather sweet, and kind of stale. I do not have a favourable impression of it. For sliced bread, I seriously prefer the organic whole wheat bread that comes in a two-pack from Costco.

09 March 2011

NYC Trip No 2

I suppose it will become a tradition for me, KC and DS to go to NYC once/year just to chill out and eat food. Last time, we hung out after AP exams in May.

We got to Chinatown at 10:30 am, but nothing much was open until over 11 am. Actually, some bakeries were, so we browsed them (because I was looking for strawberry egg tarts for my sister. We actually got to a store that sold green tea, papaya, almond, Portuguese, and normal egg tarts, but did NOT sell strawberry ones! Upsetting!). There were also other bubble tea places, but DS wanted to go to TenRen. This time, I got the coconut bubble tea since I think I prefer the milk-based teas over the water-based ones. This makes sense, of course, because the fat in the milk is highly loved by taste buds. Actually, is "fat" a taste? Is it a flavour like sweet or umami? If not, then why is fat-free milk so much less palatable than whole-fat milk? There perhaps are some sort of receptors that respond to fat content in foods. The coconut bubble tea was actually just sweet milk bubble tea [I think they used sweetened condensed milk at some point) with dried shredded coconut in it. I wish they had used coconut milk or coconut water, since the coconut flavour wasn't too defined. Also, all the tapioca was glued together into a great clump, so I ended up chugging 17 or so tapioca balls at once. Overall though, the bubble tea was awesome.
For lunch, we went to Shanghai Asian Manor, which was interesting because the shop side had a giant depiction of a bun in a bamboo steamer. Evidently, it's disproportional; honestly, do you expect a bun the size of a bamboo steamer? The silliness, for some reason, made me want to go to the store. Actually, any restaurants that have food sculptures on the store front beckon me in.
A meal in Chinatown is pretty well priced and pretty amazing too. We got 24 steamed buns, which was a lot, actually. The ones above are some grilled pig-mince buns (pork buns). Since DS and KC couldn't finish the last three, they ate the animal parts and I ate the bun parts. The grilled part was pretty amazing, and I wish that the whole bun was crispy and grilled instead of just the bottom of the bun.
These are the crab and pig-mince xiao[3] long[2] bao[1] with the soup that leaks out when you bite into it. Apparently, the crab taste is really not prominent, and the soup was too watery and unauthentic. I can't vouch for that since I didn't actually eat any, but I remember this time I was in Wuhan MANY years ago, and my relatives and I ate a zillion mini xiao[3] long[2] bao[1], and it was DELICIOUSLY ADDICTIVE.
For some reason, the vegetable buns were wrapped in dumpling wrappers. I do not consider these buns. Sure, they're steamed, but where are the yeast-and-white-flour-and-salt-and-oil infusions [aka, the dough for the steamed BUNS!?]!
These were delicious, and filled with vegetables that complemented each other, and the dumplings [oh, I'm calling them dumplings now because they don't taste like buns!] went really well with the soy sauce mixed with with Chinese celery and sesame oil. They were also really pretty. They remind me of triskelions [that compose clathrin-coated pits].
For dinner, we were going to go to Red Lobster but KC and DS were being really considerate because they realised that I don't eat animals. I suppose I would've liked to go to Red Lobster, just to check it out, but Olive Garde was fine too [yes, Olive Garde. The neon light for "n" in "Garden" was broken]. Since it's NYC Times Square, the prices were really jacked up. Also, since it's NYC, the Calories of each dish was posted, which made me feel terrible and super conscious of myself. We had a nice view, though.
I was debating whether I wanted eggplant parm or mushroom ravioli, but I actually didn't really want either... I wasn't really hungry, to say the truth. It's been 4 hours since then, and I'm still not hungry. Emotionally, perhaps, but physically not. So, at Olive Garde(n), I got a chocolate mousse with cookie crumbs, because I don't think that my local Olive Garden has chocolate mousse.
The mousse was really good, but that's a really generic statement because chocolate mousse is always really good. The cookie crumb base was basically crushed Oreos. I should try to make mousse myself one day. Once, in HK, I made peach mousse and it was only alright. After we kept it in the freezer for weeks, my mum started using chunks of it as ice (not in drinks or food or anything, but as ice, to keep non-foodstuffs cold). Another time, I was trying to make chocolate pie and I overbeat the cream, and it turned out sort of like mousse, but much more airy and ugly.

08 March 2011

Lightlife Smart Cutlets

To use up more dining $s, I decided to buy some Smart Cutlets and stick them on a pan and have one for dinner with veggies. I grilled one plain, and it was completely bland, so I decided to grill the second one with garlic, pepper, and pesto seasoning.

The texture was supposed to resemble chicken, I suppose, but it definitely tasted a bit gluteny and too uniform. I like the fact that there was no super-salty flavour, but there was basically no inherent "flavour", unless I added seasonings. Although the 17 g of protein is a perk, this doesn't taste as delicious as tofu, or tempeh, which have their own textures and flavours. This grilled cutlet is homogeneous to the point that I really don't know what I'm eating, even though I know it's soy and gluten.

My mum also decided to stir fry peppers and celery with apple. And goji berries. This was a sweet change. Yes. Sweet. (Oh my eardrums are tearing!!)

06 March 2011

CAFFEINE Coffee Cookies!!!

My brother, JM, and a few other high school people are currently competing in an... M3(?) competition that started this morning at 6am and ends at 9pm. Basically, they are presented with a problem, and have to make some sort of model and proposal for fixing the problem. This year's problem has something to do with a drought in a lake in Colorado, I think. Anyway, I just went to visit them and they had a lot of untouched food just sitting there because they're so busy. It looks pretty hectic. My brother told me last night to make them coffee-infused finger foods because they would need the caffeine. So, I made coffee cookies.
I found a recipe online but I changed it a lot because for some reason, I feel confident in my cooking/altering everything. So, here is my version of ridiculously humongous soft, moist coffee flavoured cookies.

Ingredients for 26 ridiculously large [size-of-your-palm], flat, and moist cookies:
1. 1/2 cup oil
2. 1 cup white sugar
3. 2 eggs
4. vanilla
5. coffee [I'll explain this in the Method]
6. 2 cups self-raising flour
7. 1/2 tsp baking soda

1. At the crack of dawn, get half a cup of boiling water and spoon in 3-4 heaping tbsp of ground coffee. Add a few tbsp of instant coffee just for the caffeine kick. Add more tbsp of instant coffee to your liking! Actually, I'm not even sure I saturated the water that much; I'm sure I could've added MUCH more instant coffee. The end result was a cookie that tasted like coffee, but was not tremendously bitter. This, I would say, is the amount of coffee needed to make "normal" tasting coffee cookies.
2. Mix all wet ingredients in a giant bowl. Add in the coffee mixture with the granules, although if you don't like the spotty appearance, you can filter out the granules. The batter should be dark brown.
3. Add in dry ingredients. I used self-raising flour, which already had some baking powder and salt in it, for simplicity. [a.k.a I didn't have non-self-raising bleached flour]
4. The mixture should be quite gooey, a bit stickier than cake batter, and look like the very first image above.
5. Spoon onto cookie sheets and bake at 380 degrees F in a unpreheated oven on the bottom rack for 9 minutes.
6. Let them sit in oven for 10 minutes at least, or longer if you want. Alternatively, let them bake for another 1-2 minutes.
7. Let them cool on cooling racks, and they should harden a bit but still be moist, flat, and a bit cakey.

Note: They puff up to 2 times their original size.