Thursday, April 13, 2017

Overnight Oats: Will if Waffle?

I waffle all my leftovers.  Ok, not quite all, but, most.  As you can see from my master post.  I'm skipping all the waffling background here, since I've covered it many times by now.  But if this idea is novel to you, go start with my earlier posts.
A crazy experiment.
This may be one of the more ridiculous attempts at waffling that I have made.  The base was overnight oats (aka, mushy cold oatmeal), with, uh, rainbow sprinkles added.  More on that soon.  I was experimenting, and I knew it.

It worked better than I expected, although, I wouldn't do this again.
The Original: Overnight Oats.
The original was overnight oats, made with almond milk, strawberry, and lemon zest.  I liked the oats the first day I had them, but by day two, they were a bit too soggy, and, honestly, boring.

So I added rainbow sprinkles for fun, sweetness, and texture.  But, the result still just wasn't great.  I ate most of the bowl, but, I reached a point of just not wanting any more.

I was about to simply throw them out, but the anti-food-waster in me got the better of me.  When in doubt ... waffle it?

My expectation was that any of three things could happen: 1) it wouldn't bind together, it would be a horrible mess, and I'd just throw it out, 2) it would make a hearty, oatmeal-y waffle, and that might be different at least, 3) it would turn more into an oatmeal cookie, which is something I had been wanting to try for a while anyway.  I had no idea which it would be.
Cooking Up Nicely!
So, into the waffle iron the "batter" went.  It actually was more waffle-batter like than most things I waffle, thick, and spread in easily.  I set the waffle iron to 350°, walked away to make more coffee, and laughed at myself.

When I returned to check on it, I was a bit surprised.  It was holding together perfectly.  It, uh, looked like a waffle?  Huh.
Waffled Oats!
It crisped up perfectly on the outside.  It extracted from the waffle iron with no problems.  Huh.  This was going better than I expected.

The inside however was still basically mush.  So, warm oatmeal mush inside a crispy exterior.  Kinda interesting, but, not particularly good.  I added butter and syrup, and ate it like a traditional waffle, and if it was certainly better than just the cold soggy leftover oats, but I didn't exactly like it.

I left a tiny chunk to cool, thinking of it more like a "cookie".  When I returned to it later, I was pleasantly surprised.  It wasn't a cookie exactly, but, it was much better cold, as the oatmeal inside got more solid, and formed more of a soft cookie than warm mushy oatmeal.  Again, not great, but better than expected.

So did it waffle?  Yes, but, I see no reason to actually do this.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Macarons from Tout Sweet Pâtisserie

Update Review April 2017

I've reviewed Tout Sweet, a local patisserie, many times before.  I've found some good desserts, and a really good cookie, but was never impressed with the baked goods or the macarons.  Not that I like macarons in general, but, I really never liked these ones.

So, why the update review?  I was at an event, they had macarons from Tout Sweet, so, I gave them another try.  And discovered one that wasn't so bad ...
Tahitian Vanilla Bean.
"We make this popular macaron by using six different vanilla beans to create the perfect chewy filling. "

The first one I grabbed was the plain white vanilla.  Vanilla filling, vanilla cookie.

I didn't like it at all.  The cookie was too chewy, not light and airy.  The filling was a thick ganache, kinda waxy, and although vanilla flavored, it sorta tasted like white chocolate, if you know what I mean.  Did not like.
Peanut Butter & Jelly.
"We had some die hard fans of this macaron who rioted when we took it out of rotation so we have now made it a staple at Tout Sweet! We roast our own Valencia Peanut Butter and fold it into a sweet Italian butter cream with a hint of sea salt. In the center is a surprise of sweet raspberry confit. Crunchy on the outside, it’s a favorite for sure!"

On my way out, I grabbed another, just to try ...

It fared much better.  I also had no idea what kind it was until I bit in, but once I did, it was very clear. PB & J.  Oh yes.  

The filling was peanuty.  So clearly peanuty.  I'm a sucker for peanut butter, so, I was sold, instantly.  The cookie had a bit of berry flavor, although that element wasn't nearly as strong.  The cookie was kinda crispy, not what I'd expect from a macaron, but, I liked it more than the chewy cookie in the vanilla one.  Still a macaron, but, for a macaron, it was one I liked.

Original Reviews, September 2012

The local food media has been abuzz lately, leading up to the opening of Tout Sweet.  It is the Pâtisserie by Yigit Pura, located inside of Macy's near Union Square.  He was the winner of Top Chef Just Desserts, and even though I didn't watch the show, I'm a dessert lover, and everyone seemed so excited about this, that I had to check it out.

I went to the grand opening, and Yigit was there to greet everyone.  He took the time to meet every single person, ask their name, and if they wanted, have their photo taken with him.  He was clearly on the top of the world, as he's been working on this project for a while.  As I wasn't familiar with him,  I wasn't swooning over him like most of the other people at the event, but he was pretty adorable, and his enthusiasm and excitement were infectious.

The shop had tons of amazing looking pastries and cakes, along with pantry items like flavored marshmallows (the next cupcake, I'm telling you!) and sauces.  The space is beautiful, sleek and modern, overlooking Union Square, with what seemed like not nearly enough seating.

I only tried the macarons, and ... I really wasn't impressed.  They weren't bad, but certainly were not better than average.  I hope to go back sometime and try some of the other treats, as I assume they must be good!
Frankie (?), Chloe, Melissa, Rebecca (clockwise, from back). $1.85 each.
  • Frankie: Bing cherry and bourbon buttercream: I didn't really taste any cherry, nor bourbon.  The buttercream was very ... buttercreamy, and there was a lot of it.  I've never have so much buttercream inside a macaron before, making it seem like a strange cross between a cupcake and a macaron.  I love buttercream frosting, but it really just overtook the delicate balance of the macaron.  The cookie part was a good consistency.  But overall, I was not a big fan, as I still couldn't tell what flavor it was.  Least favorite.
  • Chloe: Pasila chili infused dark chocolate ganache:  I didn't really get much spice in this, but I did like the chocolate ganache inside, it was very smooth and had a nice deep chocolate flavor.  It worked much better than the overwhelming buttercream.  Second favorite.
  • Melissa: French lavender buttercream: Unlike the first purplish macaron, there was no problem determining what this one was!  Intensely lavender flavored, beautifully floral, yet somehow, it did not seem like I was eating soap.  Very sweet, and would have gone great with a cup of tea.  There was again a lot more of the buttercream filling than I'd expect, but since that is where the amazing flavor was, it worked better in this one.  The buttercream was very fluffy and light.  Really a nice macaron, my favorite of the bunch.
  • Rebecca: Salted Caramel: And then ... back to another one with a fairly indistinguishable flavor.  I was excited for this one, since salted caramel, although such a fad, can be so good.  The cookie was just sweet, and the filling had a slight caramel flavor, but I didn't get any salt, and the caramel certainly wasn't very pronounced.  Second to last pick.
Jack-O-Lantern Macaron.  $1.85.
On another visit, I decided to try out the seasonal special, the Jack-O-Lantern, filled with caramel apple buttercream.  Like the others, the cookie part didn't really impress me.  The filling indeed tasted like a caramel apple, it was very sweet.
Plain Macaron.  $1.85.
Plain Macaron.  $1.85.
Both of these macarons had a beautiful shimmer to them.  It is hard to see in the photos however, but they were really shiny, I have no idea how they created that effect!

The macarons didn't really live up to their gorgeous exteriors.  The filling was plain, very sweet, buttercream, and like their other macarons I have tried with this filling, it just seemed out of place, and more belonging on a cupcake.  There was again seemingly too much of it as well.  It was really fluffy and good buttercream though!

The cookie part of each was again a disappointment.  They just didn't have the distinctive awesome texture that a macaron should have.  And no real flavor.  Meh, meh, meh.
El Unicorn Macarons!
For pride weekend, Tout Sweet gave out free macaroons, a special new flavor, the "El Unicorn" :)  It had a pearl jasmine white chocolate ganache filling.  Like all of their macarons, I just didn't like it.  The cookie was too dense, and the filling didn't taste like white chocolate at all.  It did have a really lovely subtle jasmine flavor however.  But, I give up on the macaroons.
Assorted Macarons: Salted Caramel, Tahitian Vanilla Bean, Sicilian Pisachio, Chocolate, Lemon-Yuz, Sour Cherry & Bourbon.
At an event I recently attended, they had a tray of Tout Sweet macarons.  Even though I haven't been a huge fan of the macarons from Tout Sweet, or really, of macarons in general, I still had to give a few a try.  I selected the green and pink ones, not knowing the flavors.

I assumed the green was pistachio, but it didn't taste pistachio at all to me.  It seemed to have sesame seeds on the outside?  Ojan thought it tasted floral.  Still, looking online at the guide, it seems it must have been pistachio, I'm really not sure why neither of us could figure it out.

The pink one surprised me.  Since I wasn't expecting sour cherry, the tartness of the filling was a real shock.  I thought it would be something light like rose!  The filling was quite intensely flavored, and it wasn't a cream filling, rather, it was more like a gel or jam.  I didn't care for the flavor, but I think that if you like sour cherry, this was really a unique one.  I'm sure Ojan's dad would love this.  I did however really like the cookie part!  It was crispy and light, and sprinkled with sugar which added an extra crunch.  I probably liked this cookie part more than any other Tout Sweet macaron!
Tout Sweet Patisserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Main Cabin Dining on Virgin America

Update Review, January 2017

Another day, another flight on Virgin America.  Start with my many previous reviews (below) of Main Cabin or First Class for more background.

I was flying Main Cabin Select, which meant I had "free" food and drinks.  Unfortunately, I honestly do not like a single snack they have on-board.  I love snack foods, so this is surprising, but really, they just have nothing I ever want.

The meals used to fare much better, and I still fondly remember the salads I had the first few times I flew with Virgin America in Main Cabin Select.  But I haven't seen a salad on the on-board menu in years, despite them always being listed on the website.
Mediterranean Veggie Wrap with Cannellini Bean Salad.
"Salad of lemon pesto bulgur wheat, hummus, grilled eggplant, caramelized onions, Persian cucumber, baby spinach, feta cheese, and roasted tomatoes, all wrapped in a sundried tomato tortilla. Served with a marinated cannellini bean, red onion, and oregano salad. "

My choices, besides the cheese platter and snack boxes, were a turkey sandwich or a veggie wrap.  I half-heatedly selected the veggie wrap, hoping I could at least dissect it and get a few tasty bites.  I did not expect to like it in any way, since I don't like sandwiches or wraps, I don't like hummus, I don't really like cucumbers, feta, or roasted tomatoes, and that just left bulgur, grilled eggplant, spinach, and caramelized onions.  Oh, and a side salad of beans?  Yeah right, I never like beans.

But, I liked this.  I don't understand it.  I mean, I didn't *love* it, but I enjoyed it far more than I thought possible.

The wrap wasn't mushy or soggy.  Nor was it dried out.  I liked the sundried tomato flavor.  Well, huh.

The filling was also far better than I expected.  I did push aside the cucumbers, feta, and roasted tomatoes after a first bite, but, the bulgar with lemon pesto, the hummus, and the slices of roasted eggplant were really quite tasty.  The spinach was fresh and crispy and the caramelized onions had a good flavor.  There were even plump, juicy, golden raisins in the mix, a strange ingredient, but, I really liked the sweetness.  There really was a lot of flavor and good textures in the wrap, and it was far more fresh tasting than I thought possible.

The only problem with this wrap was the fact that it included avocado cubes, not listed in the menu description.  I'm allergic to avocado.  I'm curious why they didn't include this ingredient in the description, since it seems like it would draw in more people?

Update Review, Summer 2016

Another day, another flight on Virgin America from Boston to San Francisco (or, vice versa).  This is the route I always take to visit my family.  As a Silver member, I got upgraded to Main Cabin Select, so I was able to sample some food for free.

Normally I'm not particularly excited about domestic airline food, as it is all sandwiches and salads, but, I've had some really good salads on Virgin America flights in the past.  Sadly, this was not one of those times.
Ginger Chicken Soba Noodles. $8.50.
"Grilled sliced chicken breast, soba noodles, julienne red bell peppers, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, sliced scallions, edamame soy beans, sliced English cucumbers, cilantro sprig, and ponzu ginger sesame vinaigrette."

Since I didn't want any of the sandwiches, and had good luck with salads in the past, I went for the salad, even though it contained chicken, an ingredient I loathe.

The garnish on it was amusing, a very substantial sprig, er, branch, of parsley extending the entire length of the tray.  Seriously, wat?

The chicken portion was 3 slices of rather scary looking chicken.  Scary in how ... fake it looked.  All white meat, with perfect grill marks that looked painted on.  Really ... fascinating.  I didn't try it.

The soba noodles were really mushy and all stuck together.  And kinda dry.  The veggies were all unremarkable. Shredded carrot, slices of red pepper, chunks of cucumber and mushroom, too much green onion, more parsley.  None of it was very good.

The dressing on the side was a solid mass, thick and gloopy.  It seemed to be oil and lemon?

I really didn't like anything about this salad.  The woman next to me also ordered it, took a few bites of hers, and said, "Wow, this is kinda awful, isn't it?"

Clearly not a winner.  Neither of us really made a dent in our salads, and our flight attendant didn't seem surprised when she came to collect trash and we both tossed them.  I didn't even bother try to get Ojan to try it.  I can't imagine anyone would find this appealing.

Update Review, Summer 2015

I've reviewed the food served on Virgin America several times, so, I'll skip all general intro this time around.  Please go read my other reviews of the Main Cabin dining from December 2013 and December 2012 below if you are interested, or, about my First Class experiences, and then return here for the latest updates.

The following are my reviews from several flights over the summer of 2015, don't worry, I didn't eat all of these on one single domestic flight :)


Veggie Wrap
"Lemon cilantro tortilla with black rice, farro, edamame bean salad dressed with soy yuzu vinaigrette, roasted slivered almonds, edamame hummus, roasted red peppers, sliced cucumbers, arugula lettuce, and cilantro leaves."

I know, I don't like sandwiches.  I don't like rice.  I don't like edamame.  I don't like hummus.  But ... there really was nothing on the menu I wanted.  They got rid of the salads, which I really did enjoy.

Plus, the description said "soy yuzu vinaigrette", which did sound promising.

I didn't know the wrap would come with a mini fruit cup on the side, but that was the highlight.  A single grape, some fresh enough pineapple, bits of mango, and a single strawberry.  Awesome fruit? Nah, but it was fine, and I particularly appreciated the mango.
Veggie Wrap: Inside!
The wrap however, had nothing redeeming in it for me.  I never tasted any soy, nor yuzu, which was the only part I was looking forward to.

The whole thing was really quite dry.  The tortilla wasn't dried out at least, but the fillings were all just sooo drying.  No creamy sauce, just hummus.  And all the grains.  Dry, dry, dry.

I never should have ordered this, as it clearly wasn't going to be something I liked.  I'll say the good parts: the cucumbers were crispy, the roasted red peppers quite flavorful.  But ugh, not my thing.  I wish they would bring back my salads!  At least it was only half a wrap?
Roast Beef and Cheddar Sandwich
Ojan ordered the roast beef sandwich on his flight a few days prior, and told me he didn't like it (I wasn't with him to steal a bite!), but, alas, I was still hungry after the lackluster wrap.  So, I didn't heed his advice, and ordered it anyway.

I was surprised when it arrived, as it was a full size sandwich, two halves.  I thought that it would be like the veggie wrap and just half a sandwich.  Whoops.  I wasn't THAT hungry.

It didn't come with fruit salad on the side like the wrap, but instead included a small Dean and Deluca chocolate. Even better!
Roast Beef: Inside.
"Ciabatta bread, mesclun mix lettuce, sliced roast beef, mild cheddar cheese, sliced Roma tomato, sauteed pepper medley, balsamic glaze, and lowfat mayonnaise."

Ojan warned me that the sandwich was horrible.  He said the bread was soggy, the meat bad.  I didn't quite agree.

Ok, so the bread wasn't good.  It wasn't soggy exactly, but it surely wasn't good.  "Ciabatta"?  I dunno, it wasn't what I think of as ciabatta.  It certainly didn't taste fresh.

The top piece of bread contained a little bit of the balsamic glaze. It soaked into the bread, so was otherwise lost.  The bottom contained the mayo, a very thin layer, but, I do love mayo.  I mostly discarded the bread, and just scraped the mayo off.

The mesclun mix was fine, the sauteed pepper medley I really didn't like though, but mostly because I don't really like peppers. The roma tomato was rather mealy.

But, the core components, the roast beef and cheddar ... weren't bad.  Sure, the cheddar was just slices of pretty generic yellow cheese.  It didn't exactly have much flavor, so yes, "mild" it was.  But the roast beef was decent enough.  Not fatty, not chewy, just fine.

I did enjoy the roast beef, plus cheese, plus mayo.  Obviously I wouldn't highly recommend this due to the lackluster bread, but the parts that mattered were high enough quality, and if you like peppers, you probably would have found the peppers nice as well.
PB & J Sandwich.
"Sliced wheat bread topped with creamy peanut butter and strawberry jam served with Tasty Brand Fruit Snacks."

The pb & j is likely intended for kids but ... when all the other options don't sound great, what's an adult to do?  Plus, seriously, who doesn't like a pb & j from time to time?

The serving is only a half sandwich, like the veggie wrap.

The bread was very thickly sliced wheat bread.  It was highly unremarkable, except in its thickness.  While there was plenty of both peanut butter and jelly inside, it was really hard for anything to stand up to this quantity of bread.  It was slightly dried out, as you'd expect, but at least it wasn't soggy (although, sometimes, I really do like the soggy nature of a pb&j ...)

The peanut butter was smooth, creamy style, with a good peanut flavor.  Basic peanut butter, but certainly good enough.

The jelly was strawberry jam, not a smooth jelly, but also without any distinct berry bits.  Sweet.  Again, basic, good enough.

The most notable thing about the fillings is that they use two layers of peanut butter, one on each slice of bread, with the jam in the middle.  This helps prevent the bread from getting soggy, and really amps up the pb flavor.  Smart move, Virgin.

Overall, a decent, basic sandwich.  When all else fails, it works.
Chicken Mozzarella with Pesto Sandwich.
"Ciabatta bread, arugula lettuce, basil leaves, sliced fresh mozzarella slices, sliced chicken breast, sliced Roma tomatoes, lemon pesto, and balsamic glaze."

Now, I obviously don't like chicken, but the other components of this sandwich sounded great, so I figured I could just remove the chicken.  A tomato and fresh mozzarella sando with pesto sounded fantastic to me!
Chicken Mozzarella with Pesto Sandwich: Inside.
I was curious how the sandwich was composed, so I opened it up.

The bread was the same ciabatta we saw with the roast beef sandwich.  A bit stale, a bit dry, but also a bit soggy.  Not great.

The top side of the bread had the balsamic glaze soaked in, so, in order to taste balsamic, you had to go for the bread.

The bottom slice had the lemon pesto, really quite flavorful and delicious, and the winning element of the sandwich.  On top of that was the lettuce, basic lettuce, and the sliced roma tomatoes.  The tomatoes were fine, but really there wasn't much tomato.  Since I was intending to remove the chicken, this left a more meager sandwich than I was expecting.  More tomato please!

Speaking of the chicken, it came next, and was slices of deli chicken, rather than a piece of grilled breast like I expected for some reason.  There was tons of it.  Doh.  But at least they were generous with their protein?

Next came the slices of fresh mozzarella.  Decent enough, soft, but not particularly remarkable.  On top was a basil leaf.

Overall, the bread was clearly the worst aspect, and the other fillings good enough.  I really liked the pesto, but I'm really never a sandwich girl.


Protein Box.
"This protein-packed meal combines Bumble Bee lemon pepper tuna, La panzanella rosemary crackers, Heritage roasted red pepper hummus, Crunchmaster multi seed crackers, Emerald's natural walnuts & almonds, and Happytimes veggie pals chews."

One one flight, I went for one of the snack boxes, rather than trying more sandwiches.  None of them were REALLY what I wanted, like a couple with boring cheeses (munster? who eats munster?) or featuring hard boiled eggs or sliced turkey.  I went for the "protein box" because I vaguely remembered liking at least the crackers before.
Crunchmaster Multi-Seed Crackers.
The multi-seed crackers were again decent.  Salty, crispy, flavorful.  But I wanted something to dunk them in.  I know that is likely what I was supposed to use the hummus for, but, I don't like hummus and didn't want it.

I could have topped them with tuna, and actually would do that next time, except that I'd bring mayo.  Tuna without mayo just seems ... wrong.

I also really love the La Panzanella rosemary crackers.  A bit of a strange thing for me to like so much because I don't generally get excited about crackers, and I often find rosemary too strong, but, these are strangely addicting, and quite fine on their own (although I'm sure they'd be better with cheese).  The rosemary flavor is not overwhelming, and the crackers are thin and crispy.  I'd gladly eat more of these!

Update Review, December 2013

As I mentioned last Tuesday, I recently did some traveling, and I'll be devoting Tuesdays for the next few weeks to Travelin' Tuesdays!  And what is a big part of travel for me?  The culinary experience (uh, I mean, seeing my friends and family of course!).

Last week, I started the review of my journeys with snacks in the Admiral's Club.  Not extraordinary.  I was eager to get aboard my Virgin America flight.  I was flying Main Cabin Select, which is always such a treat.  Not only do you have the normal Virgin America perks of in-flight wifi, tv, movies, and food ordering at your seat, you get unlimited food and drinks.  And, completely unlike any other domestic airline, this is food you actually would like to eat!  I normally pack myself meals for flights since I know what I bring with me will be far better than anything they have on the plane, but the last time I flew on Virgin America I was so impressed with the tuna niçoise salad that I risked it this time, and decided to go for the airplane food.  I'm so glad I did!

I was again blown away by the freshness and quality of their food.  It makes me wish I could fly Main Cabin Select every time :)  I'll be back on Virgin America for the Christmas holidays, but holiday pricing led me to stick with regular Main Cabin.  As I write this up, I'm slightly regretting that choice!  I again really enjoyed the food, and continue to be very impressed.  Virgin America really sets the standard here.
Udi’s Granola with Fruit and Yogurt.
"Fresh fruit salad of pineapple, mango, and red seedless grapes, served with Udi’s gluten-free granola and fruit yogurt. "

Since my flight left in the morning, I started with the only breakfast selection: the granola, fruit, and yogurt.

The yogurt was Upstate Farms brand, strawberry flavor, nonfat.  It really had no flavor at all.  I would have never known it was supposed to be strawberry.  Not that I like flavored yogurts anyway.  It was basically just generic, runny, sorta sweet yogurt.  The type I stopped eating years ago.  I had a little of this, tried mixing in the fruit and granola, but really didn't care for it.

I was more hopeful for the fruit, since I've had some very good fruit on Virgin America flights in the past.  The first time I ever flew on Virgin America, I ordered the cheese plate, and it came with assorted fresh fruit.  I was blown away by the quality of both the fruit and the cheese then (I've had it again more recently, and I've been less impressed, the cheese selection more mundane, the fruit dried instead of fresh).  But anyway.

The fruit was indeed good.  My bowl contained four chunks of mango, sweet, and ripe.  Really quite good for mango in the United State, and impressive for something pre-cut and served on a plane.  There were also four red grapes, standard.  The majority of the dish was pineapple, which was slightly overripe, but not bad.  It was very juicy.  Overall, I was impressed with my fruit, and quickly gobbled up the whole bowl.

The granola however was my favorite part of the assortment.  I had heard of Udi's before, but I hadn't ever had their granola.  I've been missing out!  It was really flavorful, and contained fun ingredients like banana chips.  Since I didn't like the yogurt, I ended up just munching on the granola alongside my coffee, and I was a happy camper.  I've tried, and reviewed, many granolas over the years, and this was some of the best I've encountered.  I'd gladly seek it out again.

Overall, this was a nice breakfast for the plane, and I'd get it again  I just wish they'd swap out the yogurt.
Arugula and Roasted Pear Salad.
"Crisp romaine and baby arugula salad tossed with red seedless grapes and toasted slivered almonds, topped with pears roasted in fig mustard, and served with olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, and diced brie cheese on the side."

A few hours later, it was time for lunch.  I looked at the Virgin America website prior to my flight, and had a few meals picked out that I wanted to try.  There was a Vegetable and Plantain Salad that I was really eager to try, as I love plantains.  And there was a Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich, with sundried tomato and basil pesto on a cornbread baguette!  Or, an interesting set of "Flight Bites", a collection of salads and chocolate mousse!  I wanted them all.  I was a bit torn between what to pick.  But alas, I never had to solve that problem, as none were available.  I even double checked with the flight attendant to make sure all the meals were indeed loading into the system.  He had never heard of either of these choices before, and thought perhaps they were an upcoming menu that hasn't rolled out yet.  Sadness.

Instead, my meal choices were the standard snack boxes (hearty meal, protein meal, jet set kid's pack), the standard unappealing sandwiches (pb&j, veggie wrap, chicken sandwich), or this salad.  Since I was really pleasantly surprised by my tuna salad last time, and I really just didn't want any of the others, at all, I went for the salad.

Like the tuna salad, it far exceeded my expectations.

The greens were a mix of romaine and baby arugula.  As always, Virgin America impressed me with the freshness of the product in their meals.  Both types of lettuce were incredibly crispy and fresh.  The romaine was juicy and succulent.  The arugula even a bit spicy.

There were a few slivered almonds, which added some additional crunch and flavor when I got some, but there weren't many in the salad at all.  The grapes were same as in the granola/yogurt dish, standard red grapes, juicy and fresh.  These all added up to be a decent base for a salad.

The pears were the part I was excited for, since I do like roasted pears, and fig mustard sounded flavorful and tasty.  But they were the only aspect of the salad that wasn’t good at all.  The flavor was just … bad.  I didn’t taste mustard.  Or fig.  And the pears were mushy.  Just old tasting, completely unlike anything else Virgin America served.  Just not good.  But, there were only 4 slices.  Had I liked them, this would have made me sad, but as it was, it wasn’t a problem.

The brie was in tiny chunks, in a separate container.  It was standard brie, not particularly good nor bad.  Probably the same as on their cheese platter?  The chunks did all stick together and required some work to separate, but it was nice that they weren’t on the salad originally.

But the best part was the dressing.  I really can’t say what it was, but I got addicted.  At first I thought it was too thick, but once I used it more as a dipping sauce rather than a dressing, I couldn’t stop.  It was tangy, it was sweet, and well, it was great.  It was sweeter than I’d normally want for an entree salad though.  Usually, I finish a meal and immediately want dessert.  After this, I had no desire for more sweets.  So, good for them in taming my sweet tooth?  I did enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but I think the sweetness maybe needed some taming.

Overall, another impressive salad from Virgin America.  Is it the selection I wanted? No.  Was I still a bit sad that the more interesting choices weren't available? Yes.  But, I was satisfied and finished everything but the nasty pears, so, it was a winner.  If I was flying with the same menu again, I'd get it, but I hope they change up the selections before I fly again!
35° South Chardonnay Reserva 2012.
I wanted something to pair with my salad, and thought that the red wine would be too over-powering, so I went for the white.  I forgot that I'd had it last time.  It wasn't great. I like a buttery chardonnay, and this was just a bit too harsh.  Given no other option, it is ok, it did go well with my salad, and I did indeed finish it, but I'd pick the red next time, regardless of the pairing.

Original Review, December 2012

For the holidays, I travelled home to New Hampshire.  I had the pleasure of flying on Virgin America, always my favorite domestic airline.  I know I shouldn't be impressed with it at this point, but wifi on the plane still sorta blows my mind.  The time just flies by (yes, pun intended).

The first time I flew on Virgin America, I remember saying that it was like being on the couch at home, but better.  Comfortable recliners, internet, satellite tv (I don't even have cable at home!), movies on demand, and food and drink brought to me with the press of a button?  Yes, please!

My recent trip was just as I remembered, and really quite enjoyable.  I sat in Main Cabin Select, which gave me an unlimited supply of food and drinks, which I of course indulged in.  I was honestly quite pleasantly surprised by the quality of the fresh prepared food.
Tuna Niçoise Salad.  Romaine and mesclun topped with green beans, albacore tuna, potatoes, tomatoes, hardboiled eggs, and kalamata olives, exclusively by Gilt Taste.  Served with balsamic and olive oil dressing.
This was an honest surprise.  I did not expect a salad on an airplane to be remotely decent.  I had even less high hopes for seafood.  But I'm a brave girl, it was free, and as much as I love snack food, I wanted something else too.

The base of the salad was mixed greens, a nice assortment, all crisp.  The tomato came in tiny cubes, and was the most surprising part, as it is winter, and tomato is so often watery, flavorless, and not even red, and this stuff was decent.  Not a fresh ripe heirloom tomato obviously, but so much better than I ever expected.  The green beans were my least favorite element, more cooked than I liked.  They weren't bad, but I would have liked them more al dente, with a bit of snap to them.  The signature niçoise olives and hard boiled egg were unremarkable, decent, but nothing notable.  The tuna, as I hinted at above, was a surprise.  There was a generous amount of it, and it was all pretty good.  Not fishy, no dark meat, just decent.  There were also some chunks of cooked potato, that I originally thought were jicama.  Jicama made no sense to me in this salad, but that is what they looked like.  It took a while for me to identify them as potato.  They weren't very good.  The dressing was provided on the side, so as to not make it soggy.  It was good, flavorful, and complimented all of the greens.

Overall, I was just really impressed with it.  Not Michelin star restaurant quality, but honestly, on par with what you'd get at any decent restaurant in the wintertime.  And on an airplane.

[ Not Pictured ]
Protein Meal, $7.

I also tried out the "protein" meal, although this was mostly for Ojan, I just tried a bite of everything.  It was an interesting assortment, but a disappointment compared to the salad.  It was just a bunch of packaged foods:
  • Bumble Bee Lemon Pepper Tuna: I didn't try this, but I think it was just a can of generic tuna.  Ojan wasn't a fan, as he didn't like the lemon pepper flavor.
  • Emerald's Natural Almond: I also didn't try these, but they were just generic almonds.
  • Wild Garden Sundried Tomato Hummus: This came in a strange tube.  I didn't taste any sundried tomato, just lots of hummus flavor.  I don't really like hummus.
  • Multi-seed crackers: These were my favorite item.  A nice mix of seeds, crispy, and well salted.  I thought they were tasty just on their own, but also ate them with some cheese.
  • Partner's Traditional Crackers: Plain crackers, not remarkable.
  • Happy Times Veggie Pals, Carrot Orange Apple Chews: These were super strange.  They had carrot juice and some fruit juices.  They were chewy, but otherwise, not very good.

35º South Chardonnay Reserva, 2012.
This was better than I expected.  It wasn't good, but it wasn't offensive.  Not bad for generic white wine, and it paired well with my salad.
35º South Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, 2012.
Again, better than expected.  Not all that complex, but pretty drinkable and enjoyable for airplane wine.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dunkin' Donuts - The Drinks

Update Review December 2016

A crazy thing happened to me on my holiday visit to the east coast in December.  I decided, perhaps long overdue, that I don't really like Dunkin Donuts.  At least, not the coffee.  It just isn't very good.  I'm sorry, I know I'm upsetting a lot of people right now.  And really, for what it is, it is expensive.  I had my years of loving the place, but I think I was into it in my younger years because of all the cream and sugar, and, well, I didn't really appreciate coffee itself.

During that visit, I still went a few times, got coffee, and didn't really care for it.  On my last day, I realized that I had a birthday freebie reward about to expire.  I didn't want another mediocre coffee.  I knew that way back in the day I loved Coolattas, except, I didn't want caffeine (although, it turns out, Coffee Coolattas have *very* little caffeine content, barely more than decaf!)  I thought I could perhaps try a fruity Coolatta for the first time, assuming it was basically just a slushie drink, but then I saw just how much sugar was in it (88 grams!), and thought better of it.  Instead I opted to go totally off menu, and make up my own icy beverage, somewhat inspired by exploring off-menu Frappuccinos at Starbucks.  Did you know you can do that at Dunkin' Donuts?  I didn't, until I tried.
Vanilla Bean Coolatta + Blueberry + Whip (Large).
"Rich and creamy, our Vanilla Bean Coolatta® is a refreshingly divine treat at any time of day."

I don't think Dunkin' Donuts is known for custom, off-menu drinks.  But I wanted an icy beverage, that wasn't caffeinated, and wasn't just sugar.  This left me with exactly one option: a Vanilla Bean Coolatta.  But I've had it before, and remembered that it was basically just sweet, and I didn't like it either.  So, I decided to try adding in a flavor shot, normally for the coffee obviously, but, I figured they could add it to a Coolatta too, and come up with a custom, sorta fruity, creamy, blended beverage.

The person taking my order clearly hadn't ever had someone order like this, but was really into it.  I think he was more excited than I was, particularly when he saw it was my birthday creation.  I think he wished me a happy birthday about 10 times.

Flavor shots are available in french vanilla, hazelnut, toasted almond, coconut, blueberry, and raspberry.  I opted for blueberry, but I think coconut or raspberry would be delicious too.

It sorta worked.  I did like the creamy blueberry flavor, and with just one shot in the large drink, it wasn't too much.  But the drink wasn't really as icy as I hoped, it was very thin and liquidy for the most part.  I wanted it to be thicker, more like a milkshake.  I think this is me just not really liking Coolattas, not a failing of my creation.

The man who prepared my beverage also went a bit crazy with the whipped cream, which I didn't mind at all, but, as you can see above, it looked rather insane.  So much whipped cream, but honestly, that *was* the best part.

This thing was perhaps the worst thing, nutritionally, that I possibly could have ordered, which is saying something given that I was surrounded by donuts.  Not counting the whipped cream, it turned out to be even worse sugar-wise than the fruity Coolattas, which I didn't realize until far too late.  174 grams of sugar (!!!).  How is that even possible?  A whopping 850 calories too, again, not including the very, very generous amount of whipped cream.  "Neutral Base", with its cream and every form of sugar imaginable, really did add up!

I can't say I'd get this again, as even I can't justify that much sugar, but, I'd consider a kid's size one, and try coconut next time ...

Original Reviews, 2013 - 2015

I've shared my thoughts on the west coast coffee chain darling, Peet's, and the nationwide Starbucks, so it seems only appropriate to post about the place I grew up with: Dunkin' Donuts.  Or Dunks, as I knew it.

Dunks is where I learned to drink coffee.  Now, granted, what I thought was coffee then and what I think is coffee now are two very different things.  But it still holds a very special place in my heart.

As a kid, no birthday party was complete without a giant box of munchkins.  Once I could drive, no road trip was complete without several stops at Dunks to get a hot coffee and a muffin.  And no summer day was complete without a refreshing Coolatta or an iced coffee.  They seemed to have a product to fit whatever stage of life I was in.

But then I moved to the west coast, where there are no Dunkin' Donuts.  And I started drinking my coffee black, and then even just drinking espressos, and started caring which single origin coffee I was drinking, and what extraction method was used to prepare it. My days of Dunks were behind me.

On my last few visits to the east coast however, I've tried it out again.  While still satisfying in the nostalgic sense, it actually isn't very good.  I claim it has changed.  For example, my coffee of choice, the french vanilla, used to be actual french vanilla coffee, and now it is just the regular coffee, with a squirt of flavored syrup in it.  They only brew basic regular and decaf now, and just use syrups for the rest.  The donuts and muffins are no longer baked fresh daily on site, but rather in big distribution centers and shipped in.  And ... they sell bagels?  And breakfast burritos?  And ... tuna salad sandwiches?  And my precious Coffee Coolatta is now called "Frozen Coffee Drink".  Whaaat?

Anyway.  I've tried out a bunch of their products again, and my notes on the drinks are below (to read about the baked goods, and donuts, visit that review).  The only thing that I used to love that I haven't tried recently is the muffins, particularly, the corn muffins.  They had a big sign on them boasting "new recipe!" so I shied away.  I'll let them stay in my memory as the amazing thing they once were.

Notes below include both standard, and seasonal special, offerings, compiled over the course of 2013 - 2015.

Hot Coffee

I found a lot of variety in the hot coffee.  I think the biggest difference was likely how fresh the coffee is, particularly the decaf.  Unlike Peet's, they don't have any policies regarding freshness.  Several times I asked how fresh the decaf was, and the worker told me it was from that morning (when it was late in the afternoon).  Yikes!

Back in the day, when you ordered a coffee at Dunks, it came with cream and sugar, by default.  If you didn't specify anything, that is what you got.  And not just a little bit of each, they'd load it up with a giant scoop of sugar and a generous glug of cream.  Not half and half, cream.  It was sweet, it was creamy, and I guess there was coffee in there somewhere.

Times have changed a little.  Now, if you just order a coffee, they ask, "cream and sugar?"  And if you say yes, you still get the massive amounts of it.  I tried some black a few times, and must say, it wasn't very good at all.  But load it up with cream and sugar, and it is still pretty much what I remember.

Standard Flavors

Other things that have changed?  How the flavor is added.  I used to always love the french vanilla and hazelnut coffees.  Back in the good old days, these were actually flavored coffees.  Now all flavors are added as syrups.  Most are just sweetened syrup with some flavors, although the "flavor swirls" also include sweetened condensed milk, so you have to be careful if you get one of those and also ask for cream and sugar ... it gets crazy sweet and creamy fast!

For the shots that are just flavor, options are blueberry, raspberry, coconut, mocha, and toasted almond, plus  caramel, hazelnut, french vanilla.  The later options are also available as the aforementioned "swirls", with sweetend condensed milk already added in.
Small Hot Coffee, Hazelnut.
Hazelnut is my current favorite.  I used to love the old brewed French Vanilla flavor, but the new syrup I do not like as much.  Hazelnut adds a nice aroma and flavor, although the standard number of pumps of syrup tends to be too sweet for me.  I prefer one fewer pump than standard.

Other Flavors:
  • Blueberry: I tried this really just out of curiosity.  Blueberry coffee?  Wat? Well, it was exactly what it said it was.  Blueberry flavored coffee.  No reason to get this again, but it was decent blueberry flavor.  
  • Caramel: The aroma on this was lovely, but the taste ... awful.  I'm not sure if it was the caramel, or the stale, rancid old coffee it was added to, but, it was undrinkable, and I haven't been brave enough to try it again since!
  • Cinnamon: Not bad, but obviously just cinnamon flavor syrup.
  • French Vanilla: A tiny bit sweet, a tiny bit vanilla-y, and a bit "fake" tasting.  I still like having the flavor, but its not what it used to be.
  • Toasted Almond: A bit burnt tasting perhaps, not good.

Seasonal Specials

Throughout the year, Dunkin' Donuts introduces seasonal specials, usually inspired by holidays, or recent partnerships (like when they merged with Baskin' Robbins, and started offering all sorts of ice cream inspired flavors).  These flavors come for a few months, and then go, although sometimes they repeat again the next year.

  • Peppermint Mocha (Seasonal, Winter 2014): Slightly pepperminty, but not very strong.  Didn't taste any chocolate or "mocha"ness.  Least sweet of all the flavor swirls.
  • Pumpkin Swirl: Very pumpkiny, spiced, and insanely sweet.  This is one of the "swirl" flavors, so it has sweetened condensed milk, very sweet, very creamy. 
  • Red Velvet Swirl: Another "swirl" flavor, very sweet and creamy, actually kinda tasty!  [ Very sweet, very creamy, enjoyable. ] [ A single pump isn't enough for a medium to really give it the richer red velvet flavor.  But standard order (2 pumps?) is a bit too much for me, the cream left a nasty mouthfeel and coated my throat. ]
  • Sugar Cookie (Seasonal, Winter 2014): This was a flavor swirl, so, again loaded with sweetened condensed milk and sugar.  I got a small, and I think the amount of syrup added would have been sufficient for a large.  Way, way too sweet. I'm not sure what I was expecting from "sugar cookie" flavor, but all this tasted like was sweetness.  Would not get again.

Other Hot Drinks

Dunkin' Donuts sells a number of other hot drinks, including tea, chai, hot chocolate, lattes, cappuccinos, and the "Dunkaccino®".  I can't imagine ordering these beverages, but, some people must.

[ No Photo ]

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.

"Now you can enjoy the doubly tasty sensation of sweet and salted caramel in your cup of hot chocolate."

My sister ordered a hot chocolate since she doesn't like coffee.  And ... I stole a sip.  It was crazy sweet.  Like way, way too sweet.  And not very chocolately at all.  It did have a nice froth on top, but I think it came from a machine, not a skilled barista.  Certainly not my thing.

Iced Coffee

My old standard summer drink was always iced coffee.  Like the hot coffee, the flavors now come as a flavor syrup, rather than brewed flavored coffee.  And like the hot coffee, once loaded up with Dunk's signature amounts of cream and sugar, it was pretty much exactly as I remembered.  Sweet, creamy, refreshing, exactly what I wanted on a hot summer day.

Standard Flavors

The standard flavors available for iced coffee are the same as for hot coffee.
Medium Hazelnut Decaf Iced Coffee, Splash of Milk. $2.59.

This is my classic summer drink.  Warm weather and iced coffee just go hand in hand.  My favorite flavor for iced coffee at Dunks is hazelnut.

I never like my iced coffee black, so I always sweeten it, and add milk rather than cream.  I'm not cream-adverse, but for some reason in iced coffee it always tastes cloying to me, and coats my mouth in an uncomfortable way.  So, milk it is.

I loved this, on a hot day, it was oh-so-satisfying.
Dark Roast Iced Coffee, Splash of Milk, Hazelnut (3 pumps).

For National Coffee Day, Dunkin' Donuts gave out free medium sized coffee (hot or iced) of their relatively new Dark Roast only.  I'm usually a decaf drinker, and don't actually like dark roasts, but, I can't resist a freebee.

I added milk and hazelnut as I always do.  And ... it tasted exactly like the decaf I had the day before.  It certainly didn't seem particularly dark.  And I guess that means that the decaf doesn't taste particularly funky?  I really enjoyed it, and the associated caffeine high that came from sucking it down in all of 3 minutes flat.  Whoops.

Other Flavors:
  • French Vanilla: Not much flavor, meh. Somehow "fake" tasting.
  • Coconut Caramel Swirl: Crazy sweet since it is a "swirl" flavor with sweetened condensed milk already in it, so don't get sweetener with this flavor.  Coconuty, caramely, and quite tasty!
  • French Vanilla + Coconut + 1 Cream, small: Decent, but still too much cream for me, and I wanted to add sweetener anyway.

Seasonal Specials

Just like with hot coffee, Dunkin' Donuts offers seasonal and special flavors that can be mixed into iced coffee (or really, any drink you want, if you go for lattes, cappuccinos, or even hot chocolate).
Medium Decaf Cookie Dough Iced Coffee.  $2.39.

It turns out, that in the years since I've left the east coast, the classic Dunkin' Donuts order of cream and sugar is no longer sufficient: the new flavor "swirls" available already have dairy and sweetener mixed in!  The flavor shot includes sweetened condensed milk, cream, light cream, and milk, plus high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and brown sugar.  Seriously?  ALL THE CREAMS AND SUGARS!  Were people starting to get healthy and order skim milk and splenda instead of cream and sugar, so they had to up the ante and hide the crazy?  Anyway, this was crazy sweet.  It did taste kinda like cookie dough though, and I liked it more than I expected too.

Other flavors:
  • Mint Chocolate Chip: Not nearly as creamy, nor as sweet, as the cookie dough, although it still obviously had both dairy and sweetener in it.  I wish I'd taken a photo, because it looked so different, and it makes no sense to me, given that the Dunkin' Donuts website has the same nutritional and ingredient information for the two varieties.  Given that the first one seemed way too creamy sweet, perhaps they added the correct amount to this one?  (Although, I'd expect the number of squirts they do must be standard, so I'm not sure why there is so much variance).  Like the cookie dough flavor, it did taste remarkably like mint chocolate chip.  Which, it turns out ... is not what I want from my coffee.  I wouldn't get this again.
  • Butter Pecan: Again sweet and creamy, but I didn't care for the flavor.  It tasted a bit burnt.

Frozen Beverages

Ah, Coolattas.  For the times where you want to splurge.  Or for when you are younger, and have no clue how horrible these things are.

Coolattas are frozen, slushy, iced concoctions, sorta like Starbucks Frappuccinos, except made from a mix, not freshly brewed coffee to order.  Back in the day, I'm pretty sure they were all coffee based, but now there are fruity options as well.  All are loaded up with tons of sugar and random chemicals.  They are not available with decaf coffee, since the base is "Frozen Coffee Base", which already includes "Frozen Coffee Concentrate", made with coffee extract, not even real espresso.  The Vanilla Bean flavor uses "Frozen Neutral Base", a terrifying mix of chemicals, sugars, and cream, yielding a 850 calorie treat, complete with a whopping 174 grams of sugar.  The fruit flavors are marketed more at kids, and, as you can imagine, are just sugar bombs.

They also generally come topped with whipped cream.

I did used to love these, perfect for a hot summer day, for an indulgent treat.  I've tried them again as an adult, but, alas, the magic has been lost.
Oreo Vanilla Bean Coolatta, Child Size, Whip.
Oreo was a featured flavor of the month, not one that I had before.  It looked delicious in the picture displayed all over the store.  I couldn't resist, but I opted for the off-menu child size, to keep my sugar intake in check.

It was very sweet, like a liquid Oreo.  It had tons of Oreo crumbles in it.  It was nicely icy, well blended,  and actually, quite enjoyable.  Basically a milkshake.  The whipped cream on top really helped balance it out.  This size was perfect though, anything more would have been way, way too much.

Previous notes: The first time I tried it, I just had a small sample, and it was too sweet and not well blended.  The whipped cream on top was necessary to help balance it out.
Coffee Coolatta, Coconut, Medium, Whip.
I decided to try a new flavor.  I've been on a bit of a coconut kick lately, so I went for coconut.  It was ... ok.  I did like having some coconuty goodness in it.

The base had some slight coffee flavor, but not much.  It was blended decently, although it quickly separated, leaving a watery layer at the bottom and a icy layer on top.  Overall, it was also very sweet.

Standard whipped cream on top, Garelick Farms brand, from a can.

I didn't love this; the flavor just wasn't intense, it was kinda icy and separated ... meh.

[ Not Pictured ]
Vanilla Coffee Coolatta.

This was my old standby, during the summer, when I wanted a treat.

It was very, very sweet, with a slight vanilla flavor, and a slight coffee flavor.  I remember why I liked these, but ZOMG serious sweet.

Update:  I had another, the next summer  It had that classic Dunkin' Donuts french vanilla flavor that I recalled from my youth.  It was nicely blended, with no icy chunks.  The whipped cream on top was good.  It was definitely too sweet for my general taste these days, but really was fun to try again because it really was exactly what I remember!

Update: And the next year? Way too sweet.  I didn't want more than a few sips of this.

[ Not Pictured ]
Vanilla Bean Coolatta.

This was an ordering mistake.  I thought I was getting my Vanilla Coffee Coolatta, but instead I seemed to have ordered a Vanilla Bean Coolatta.  Oops.

This was just sweet overload.  It did not have a good vanilla flavor.  It was not very slushy.  It was just sweet, sweet, sweet.  But the whipped cream was awesome.  Did I mention it was sweet?  ZOMG.  Not including the whip, this thing had ... 130 grams of sugar in it!  The perfect thing to pair with a donut, right?