Friday, March 18, 2016

Raley's Muesli Crunch

A while ago, you may recall that I randomly reviewed soup from Raley's, a local-ish grocery store.  Why?  Because they have this amazing "Try-It" program where you get to try things, for free.  In exchange, you provide feedback.  Given how much I love freebies, trying new things, and giving opinions, this obviously very much appeals!  Sometimes they add coupons to your account so you can pick up the items yourself (like the soup), other times they send you the items directly, and often, they include something special in the box as well, like the adorable soup bowl and soup spoon I received with the soup trial, that I still use to this day.

I failed to photo and write about it, but the most memorable program so far was the Raley's Salad Dressings, of all things.  They sent us a bottle of Raspberry Vinaigrette that was honestly the tastiest salad dressing I've ever had.  Ojan and I both dramatically increased our salad consumption for as long as the bottle lasted.  We even split the bottle in half and brought half to our office to use there at lunchtime.  It was amazing.  Other program's I've done include a "Movie Night" program consisting of assorted microwave popcorns, "Italian Dinner" with sauce and parmesan cheese, an awesome selection of teas, a hazelnut spread ... the list goes on and on.  Sadly, I didn't photo or review any of those.

More recently, I was invited to try the "Muesli Crunch".  I eagerly accepted.  When I first spent time in Australia and discovered muesli, I was smitten.  Of course, that was bircher muesli, which is pretty different from other forms of muesli.  But the Raley's muesli is imported from Switzerland, so I had hope, although the "crunch" in the title had me slightly concerned.  Muesli shouldn't be THAT crunchy, right?  Doesn't that make it ... granola?  It is available in five flavors: Apple and Coconut Crunch, Honey and Wheat Crunch, Almond Crunch, Red Berry Crunch and Chocolate Curl Crunch.
Almond Crunch.
I was sent a box of the Almond Crunch flavor.  I probably would have picked the Red Berry or Chocolate Curl, but I wasn't upset with this selection.

I quickly poured out a little sample.  I was rather surprised by what was inside the box.  I expected something softer, for sure.  Then again, it is called crunch.  The muesli was hard clusters ... it looked like regular granola?  Undeterred, I dug in.
Almond Crunch: Close Up.
The aforementioned clusters are made from rolled oats, roasted whole almonds, wheat flakes, and "cereal crispies", plus sugar, raw sugar, honey, and coconut flakes.  If I was going into this expecting granola, I would have been pretty happy with the cluster size and crunch.  Expectations changed, I moved on.

The box suggested many ways for me to enjoy my muesli.  With cold or warm milk.  With yogurt.  Right out of the box.  On top of my ice cream.

I started simple, right out of the box.  It was crunchy, the name is apt.  But, it just didn't taste like much.  Sweetened, sure, but, there wasn't any other spicing or complexity.  There were a generous amount of whole almonds, adding even more serious crunch.  But still, not much flavor.  As something to just much on, it didn't satisfy.

I added milk, and then soy milk, hoping to transform it, but, alas, that didn't really help either.  I quickly gave away the rest of the box.
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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Crumble & Whisk Pâtisserie

Artisan cheesecake.

Those were the only words I needed to see.   I like cheesecake.  I like fancy cheesecake.  So when I learned about Crumble & Whisk Pâtisserie, an artisan cheesecake maker, I couldn't wait to try the goods.

Crumble & Whisk was started in 2013, I believe mostly as just a catering business.  For a while the cheesecakes were sold on Good Eggs, which is where I saw them.  I think I recall seeing them at the farmer's market once or twice as well.  But, for the most part, the business is catering.

Cheesecakes are available in several sizes, generally round (individual 3", full size 7", or large 9"), but they also are available as 2" squares for catering only.

Crumble & Whisk breaks the cheesecake menu up into 3 categories: "classic", "exotic", and "holiday".  The classics include:

  • "I love New York", Madagascar bourbon vanilla and sour cream
  • "Strawberry Fields", strawberries swirled inside and on top
  • "Puckered Up!", lemon curd and candied citrus
  • "Triple Chocolate Threat", with a chocolate crust and chocolate ganache
The exotic lineup does get a bit more interesting, including:

  • "The Dirty South", with sweet potatoes, brown sugar, and bourbon
  • "Beet & Berry", with yes, beets and blueberries,
  • "Madagascar Vanilla-Bourbon", with mmm, bourbon glaze
  • "Banana Spice", caramelized banana and caramel
  • "Spicy Mexican Chocolate" with cayenne and chili powder
  • "Vegan Delight", made with tofu instead of cream cheese
It was the holiday menu that sounded the best though:

  • "Pecan Crumble", with pecans, maple, and streusel topping.  (OMG, I love all of those things!)
  • "Winter White Chocolate", with cranberry and orange
  • "Apple Spice", with apples and brandy
  • "Pumpkin Spice with Bourbon", pumpkin, bourbon, and caramel drizzle
By now, you may have noticed how many have bourbon.  I did, and I approve.

I always planned to order Crumble & Whisk cheesecakes the next time I made a Good Eggs order, but, alas, they were removed from Good Eggs before I ever did.  A few weeks later, I attended an event, and it had amazing cheesecake.  I eventually tracked down the caterer to learn where the cheesecake came from.  The answer?  Crumble & Whisk!  I was so glad I finally got to try the cheesecake I had been eying, but also so sad that I never took advantage of it when it was on Good Eggs.

Anyway, wonderful cheesecake, and I'd really, really love to try some of the other varieties.
Pumpkin Spice with Bourbon. Catering size.  $3.50.
"Organic fresh roasted pumpkin, with spiced pepita (pumpkin seeds) with bourbon caramel drizzle."

My encounter with Crumble & Whisk was at a catering event, so I had a 2" square piece, rather than a signature round item.

I took one bite and I was sold.  Wow, this was great cheesecake.

The texture was perfect, creamy, but well set.  There was clearly plenty of pumpkin puree in it, as it tasted almost like a regular pumpkin pie, just one that was a bit richer than usual.  So, so creamy.  It was also nicely spiced with cinnamon, ginger, all spice, nutmeg, and clove, standard "pumpkin spice" seasonings, but very balanced, none overwhelming.  I am always disappointed when "pumpkin spice" means an overdose of nutmeg or cinnamon.

So the cheesecake itself was great, but so was the bourbon caramel drizzle over the top.  It wasn't necessary, the cheesecake stood up fine on its own, but I'll never turn down a little extra sweet drizzle.

Oh, and the crust.  Sugary, buttery, crumbly, delicious.  A nice thick layer.

Put it all together, and you get a fantastic bite.  I wanted more than a 2" square!
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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Waffling Leftovers: Tuna Noodle Casserole

What do you do when you have leftover tuna noodle casserole?  By now, you can probably guess what I do.  Yup, I waffle it.  If this concept is new to you, start back at my master post on the glory that is waffling leftovers.  I promise, it will transform your life.

As you've read about the past few weeks, I've discovered that pasta waffles quite well, like lasagna and mac and cheese, so I figured tuna noodle casserole would be the same.  I'd get all the delicious crispy bits, and, since the cream sauce would break a little if I just reheated it traditionally, it would likely even come out better this way.

So, will it waffle?  Duh, yes!
The Original: Truffled Tuna Noodle Casserole.
The original was pure comfort food, tuna noodle casserole, albeit a fancy one.  The base was egg noodles in a cream sauce, with peas, mushrooms, truffles, and plenty of dill, plus chunks of wild albacore tuna.  It was crusted with panko, and embellished with truffle oil.  Like I said ... fancy tuna noodle casserole!

It was comforting, creamy, and quite fantastic.  I still drool thinking back on it.
The Leftovers: Truffled Tuna Noodle Casserole.
The leftovers, while perhaps not visually appealing, were still delicious, and reheated fine in the toaster oven, (and even better if I put it under the broiler at the very end to crisp up the top!).  Yes, I love crispy bits, a big appeal of the waffle iron for me.  Which of course got me thinking ... if I love crispy bits on this, why not ... waffle it?
Waffled Tuna Noodle Casserole!
It worked just about as expected.  Super crispy.  Fun to eat.  But definitely not creamy.  I quite enjoyed it, as I love crunchy texture.  The only part that didn't quite work was the tuna.  The casserole wasn't made with canned tuna, rather, large chunks of grilled albacore.  The chunks that were inside the waffle were fine, they stayed moist and tender, but the pieces that touched the grilled got very dried out, almost jerky-like.  Not bad exactly, but I think it would have been best to craft my waffle a little better, with the tuna inside, and the noodles outside.  The peas also got crazy crispy in a fun way, like bar snacks.

Overall, success!
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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Qantas Business Class Lounge, LAX

Update Review, January 2016

Much like last week's update review of the Qantas First Class lounge at LAX, this week is another update review, this time of the business class side of things, which of course I went and cruised through on my recent journey through LAX.  As always, feel free to start with my original review of the business class lounge, and then return here for the update.

Business Class Lounge 

After eating dinner in the First Class lounge, I took a quick trip over to the business class lounge, just to see if much had changed since my visit a couple years ago.

The lounge is buffet-style, with a salad bar, a juicing bar, a hot foods area, and dessert.  Yes, there is a juicing station, and I totally forgot to get a photo of it, but there is raw fruits and veggies, and a juicer, to do your own creations.  I didn't go anywhere near it however, as there was watermelon, and I'm deathly allergic.
Salad Bar.
I did try a few items from the salad bar.  On offer was a bunch of pre-made salads: 
  • Cherry tomato salad with spiced salsa
  • Roasted vegetables with pearl barley
  • Escarole salad with grapefruit and crispy fried quinoa
  • Wedge salad with ranch dressing
  • Potato salad with herb mustard mayonnaise
  • Kale caesar salad
  • Raw root vegetable salad with tahini and chickpeas
I love caesar, and in particular kale caesar, but this was incredibly underdressed, so there was no flavor at all.

The wedge with ranch was a classic, and brought out some of my old cravings, but, it also wasn't very flavorful.

The roasted veggies were ok, not too mushy, but not particularly exciting.

The potato salad however was tasty.  Small potatoes, just sliced in half, large chunks.  The potatoes were nicely cooked, not mushy, not too al dente, just the right amount of bite to them.  And, unlike the caesar, this was nicely dressed, plenty of the creamy, mayo-y goodness.  I enjoyed this, perhaps more than anything from the First Class lounge, and, as always, I appreciated being able to just take a little bit of this or that from the buffet.

The hot food was all in covered dishes, so hard to take a photo.  The lineup was:
  • Butter Chicken
  • Steamed jasmine rice
  • Roast potatoes
  • Potato and leek soup
  • Egg noodle stir fry
  • Roast eggplant with fetta and olive dressing
I tried a bite of the egg noodle stir fry, but it was mushy.
Desserts.
Of course, you know me, I'm generally there for one thing: the sweets.  My heart sank when I saw the choices though, just a raspberry lemon cake and a chocolate brownie with macamamia nuts.

I tried a small sliver of the cake, mostly out of desperation.  I don't really like cake, I don't like lemon desserts, and there was no frosting or whipped cream to help this out.  It was ... well, a cake.  Dense, sweet, lemon-y.  I didn't hate it, but, I definitely didn't like it.

And with that, back to the First Class lounge I went.

Original Review, March 2015

On my recent trip to Sydney, I had the "joy" of connecting in LAX, on both my outgoing and return flights.  Of course, I took full advantage of this time by exploring the lounges.  And I'll be honest, I was actually a bit excited to check out the brand new Qantas First Class Lounge, which I reviewed last week.

But after dining in the restaurant in the First Class lounge, I wasn't entirely satisfied.  Also, curiosity got the better of me.  Thus, I had to lounge hop, over to the Business class lounge next door.  And of course, on my return trip, I also had to visit again, just to see what was different ... I do it for you, my dear readers!

The business area is about the same physical size as the First Class area, but in the evening, it somehow had even more people in it than the First Class area.  Yet somehow it seemed calmer, and was considerably more quiet.  On many levels, the atmosphere was far nicer.  On our return daytime visit, just like the First lounge, it was mostly vacant.

It is a more casual lounge though.  Instead of a sit down restaurant, there is a buffet for food.  I appreciate the buffet, because I do like to try bits of everything, and often when in transit, I don't want a heavy meal.  However, the food wasn't very good, and there weren't any snack stations.

The First Class lounge was certainly nicer, and maybe we just happened to be there on a day with a lot of loud people, but that space obviously wasn't designed with noise isolation in mind, and it really effected the experience.  If you want a nice meal, certainly go there, but if you like salad bars and grazing, the Business Class lounge really is fine.

Seating

Bistro-style seating.


Like the First Class lounge, there are a variety of different seating options, including high bistro tables and chairs.  Even when it was packed, no one seemed to pick these, as they didn't seem comfortable at all.
Lounge-style seating.
The lounge style seating was most popular, and this area was quite crowded.
Slightly more comfortable.
There were also slightly more comfortable arm chairs.  These were occupied during my evening visit, but blissfully empty during the day.
Fire pit!
There is also a big round fire pit, with round seating around it.  Very nice esthetically, but perhaps not the best use of the space.
Less crowded wing.
The far wing was far less crowded, even at night, I'm not sure why.  Perhaps the layout just wasn't good for groups?

Food and Beverage

Bar with Espresso Machine.
There is a staffed bar for hard alcohol and espresso drinks.  I never saw much of a line there.  The only snack here was the same mixed nuts they had in the First Class lounge.
Self-serve wine.
The lack of lines was likely due to the fact that the wine was self-serve over on one side of the bar, and there did seem to be a constant line there.
Self-Serve Drinks.
There was also a self-serve station on the other side of the lounge for soft drinks, water, coffee, and tea.
More Self-Serve Drinks.
There was also a second drink station behind the food buffet, which made it fairly cramped as people were bumping into each other constantly, which didn't make much sense.
Cold Salad Menu.
The food was all in a buffet, with menu cards placed throughout ... at least, on my first visit.  The second time I visited, there were no cards.  Since many of the vegetarian looking salads contained meat, this would be unfortunate for vegetarians! The cold salad section contained:
  • Red and white quinoa with feta and spinach
  • Penne pasta with pesto with pinenuts
  • Cauliflower, hazelnuts & chickpeas (v)
  • Broccoli, raisins, & almond with yogurt (v)
  • Spring greens (gf, v)
  • Kale & parmesan caesar salad
  • Wedge with prosciutto, ranch, and parmesan (gf)
  • German potato with bacon
  • Raw root salad (v)
Why the first two were not listed as (v), which I'm assuming is vegetarian, I have no idea.  They looked it, and the menu didn't list any non-vegetarian ingredients.  I momentarily thought that perhaps (v) meant vegan, but that also made no sense, since a dish with yogurt was marked (v).  Anyway.
Salad Buffet.
The layout didn't exactly match the listed menu, and there were items here that I never saw descriptions for.

I started with the "broccoli, raisins, & almond with yogurt".  The broccoli (actually, I think it was broccolini), was crispy and the inclusion of nuts and fruit was nice, but the dressing was way too yogurty for me.  When I had it the second time around, I again liked the crispy broccolini, particularly the stems, and I wasn't bothered by the yogurt.  Perhaps the batches were different?

I also tried the German potato salad.  It was creamy, the potatoes were decently cooked, and of course it had bits of bacon.  I wasn't into the potatoes or the dressing, but I really liked the bacon.  Mmm, bacon and mayo.  Simple pleasures.  Overall, not remarkable, but not bad.

I couldn't resist trying the kale caesar.  The kale was crunchy and fresh, and there were large shreds of parmesan, plus croutons.  The first time, I didn't really taste any dressing.  The second time, it was crazy overdressed.  It made me want it to be the kale ceasar from the Las Vegas Centurian Lounge!  I still think that was one of the best kale based salads I've ever had.  Guess I gotta go back to Vegas!

I also tried the classic iceburg wedge, but the lettuce itself was limp and even turning brown.  The creamy dressing was good, and of course I liked the prosciutto.

So overall, these are all rather heavy "salads", with lots of dressing, mayo, bacon, etc, but I do like that sort of thing, so I was happy enough to eat them, particularly on my return journey, when I wasn't ready for a full meal in the First Class lounge.

I skipped the rest of the salad offerings, and moved on.
More Cold Dishes, Evening.
Next were a few more cold salads, not labeled, and I'm not sure why they were presented on the table top rather than in the cold well like the others.
More Cold Dishes, Afternoon.
On my return visit, there was a slightly different selection of cold dishes, again not labeled.  They didn't look very good, so I didn't try any, on either visit.
Sweetcorn Chowder.
The soup both times was sweetcorn chowder.  Ojan got it, and I tried a bite.  I didn't really taste much corn, and the big cubes of potato were mushy.  I didn't like it.
Hot Buffet.
And finally, hot items.  I didn't think I'd even try something from here, as I'd had decent food in the First Lounge, and had a plate full of assorted salads already, but then I saw cheese lasagna.  I'm not sure why, but it turns out, I was really craving lasagna.

It was decent.  Sure, not fancy lasagna of course.  Just basic pasta, red sauce, ricotta, and some melted mozzarella.  But I enjoyed it, and even went back for seconds.  I liked it even more than any of the food in the First Class restaurant.  Yes, lasagna trumped raw fish and fried squid.  Sometimes, it is the simple classics that work best!

I was hoping for the lasagna to be there on my return visit, but alas, it was not, although the sign was.  It was 1pm exactly when I was there, so it would have made sense to have lasagna out for lunch.  Perhaps an evening only item?  Sadness.

They also had chicken with water chestnuts, eggplant, and black fungi, with jasmine rice on the side, which I obviously avoided.
Dessert Menu.
And finally, dessert.  The menu listed only two items, blueberry cheesecake and key lime tart, yet there were four on display.  While I appreciated the menus, it was a bit funny how they rarely matched up.  Of course, on my second visit, they didn't even bother with a menu.
Desserts, Evening.
On the far right was a burnt, dried out looking dish that I think was bread pudding.  It looked awful, but I love bread pudding, so I had to try it.  It was as bad as it looked, so dry.  Utterly flavorless.  And loaded with coconut, which made it seem even drier.  This was really not good at all.  Ojan made fun of me for even trying it, as it was pretty obvious that it was going to be awful.

I didn't try the key lime tart, since I really dislike lime, nor did I have the fruit salad, since it had watermelon, and I'm allergic.

I did have a slice of the blueberry cheesecake.  It was very basic cheesecake, not creamy, not decadent, not even really cream cheesy.  Yes, I know those are all the things a cheesecake should be, and it makes it hard to describe what this actually was, but it was basically just the absence of the components you'd expect.  It had a basic graham cracker crust and a few blueberries inside.  It wasn't awful exactly, but it certainly was not good.

While we were dining, another dessert was brought out, so I tried it too.  Again, unlabeled, and it turned out to be tiramisu, which I'd passed up in the First Class lounge since it was so late at night and I don't ever have coffee or even chocolate at night, but ... I was so unsatisfied that I tried it anyway.  Like everything else, it was lackluster.  The ladyfingers were super soggy, the cream not very rich.  Meh.
Dessert, Afternoon.
On our return visit, there was no menu, and fewer options.  I skipped the melon-containing fruit salad and the tart again, and only went for the cheesecake.

The cheesecake was slightly better this time, topped with red goo instead of blueberry.  The cheesecake itself still wasn't very good, and it was warm, which that just kills the texture of cheesecake, but I did like the buttery crumbly crust.

[ No Photo ]
Food Carts

I'm not sure where my photo went, but there are also food carts in the evening, serving hot dogs and tacos.  We didn't try these.  I was hoping they would be there when we returned, but alas, they were not.
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