Friday, January 19, 2018

Toasted Mallow Gourmet Marshmallows

Gourmet marshmallow cream.  Yup, its a thing.  Remember how I used to say fancy marshmallows were going to be the next cupcake?  Well, this takes it up a notch.

Toasted Mallow is a pioneer in the space, offering up about 35 varieties of fancy marshmallow treats.  Some are "naked" (just gourmet hand cut marshmallows in a slew of flavors), others are stuffed, others are "chocolated" (covered in chocolate and dunked in toppings), etc.  They come in flavors like cookie butter.  Fruity pebbles.  Salted caramel.  #allTheTrends  And then there is the marshmallow whip, also available in trendy flavors like "birthday cake" with rainbow sprinkles galore.  None use corn syrup.  All the base marshmallows are gluten-free.

I mock slightly, but, I'll admit, I do love fancy marshmallows, and the marshmallow cream sounded pretty awesome.   I have certainly been known to eat marshmallow Fluff straight from the jar, by the spoonful (often alternating with spoonfuls of peanut butter, you know, for balance).  A more wholesome version, with mix-ins built in, sounded great.
Cookie Dough Marshmallow Whip.
"Handcrafted edible Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is hand-piped and layered with our popular handcrafted vanilla bean marshmallow whip is perfect to eat it by the spoonful! Made daily, our whipped marshmallow fluff is a favorite amongst our customers who love cookie dough and is a true marshmallow lover."

This sounded amazing.  Even if I don't really like cookies, I do like cookie dough.

Put it together, give it to me in a jar (totally a vice of mine ... things in jars/pints/etc I just tend to get totally addicted to.  Ice cream by the pint, snacks I store in jars, you name it.  I like it 100x more if it comes from a jar rather than a bag.  And yes I know this is crazy, and no I can't explain it), and, well, this sounded amazing.

Sadly, it wasn't.
Marshmallow Whip: Top.
I eagerly opened my jar, spoon in hand.

The top layer was the marshmallow whip.  It was, well, very sweet.  Very, very sweet.  I'm sure it was actually made from better ingredients than Fluff, but, I didn't like it as much.  I didn't find myself wanting to eat more and more by the spoonful.

It took some pushing aside of the marshmallow, and many more bites of it than I really wanted, to reach the promised cookie dough.  The layers were thick.

The cookie dough, unfortunately, didn't make me any happier.  It wasn't soft, it was rather dry, and it wasn't really butery.  Again, I felt no desire to eat more of it.

I tried both layers a few other times, thinking maybe I just wasn't in the right mood, maybe I just needed it alongside a cup of coffee, maybe this, maybe that, but, I never liked it.
Cookie Dough Cookies.
I painstakingly extracted all the marshmallow whip and used it to make rice crispie treats, in place of fluff/marshmallows, which worked fine.

I still had the cookie dough left though, cookie dough that was coated with sticky marshmallow, so I tried just baking it as if it was cookies.

The resulting cookies were actually pretty interesting.  The marshmallow hardened and gave a cool effect, kinda chewy yet soft and fluffy like a macaroon.  The cookies baked fine, I tried different sizes to get different results, some crispier, some softer.  But still, I wasn't that into the cookie themselves.

Overall, a fun product, certainly, but it never ended up being the one for me. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sham Sweets

Sham Sweets is a bakery in India, that claims to be the "the pioneers of Dhoda" (an Indian sweet), in operation since 1951.

I haven't been to India.  While I'm a dessert lover, and enjoy indian food, indian sweets are not something I have that much experience with, and, to be honest, I don't generally care for most indian desserts.

But ... when co-workers bring in treats, I'm always eager to try.  Thus, direct from India, I got to try Sham Sweets.
Dodha Burfi / "Fudge".
"A basic sweet confectionary in India, similar to western world it's made with milk, sugar and flavoured with aromatic spices such as cardamom , saffron and fruit extract. Dodha Barfi, traditionally recipe envolves caramelizing whole milk from scratch, simmering it slowly over stove top for hours."

First up, the dodha burfi.  I liked it, and it was unlike anything I've had before.

It was moist.  It was loaded with nuts.  It was sweet, although a bit bitter in a way I didn't quite like.  Almost like a nut pie, but less gooey, easy to pick up, with a slight savoriness to it from the spices.

Interesting flavors.  Good texture.

Nice just on its own.  Great with a cup of coffee or tea.  I could imagine warming it, or serving with whipped cream or ice cream, but it was fine as a grab-n-go snack too.
Kaju Katli / "Cashew Slice"
This was fascinating, and interesting, but not really for me.

Very sweet, as it is made from sugar syrup, with hints of what I think was cardamom and saffron?  The texture from the ground cashews was interesting too.  The silver top was just for looks, as I didn't taste anything interesting in the silver finish.

Not my thing exactly, but it wasn't bad, and I was glad to try it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Waffling Leftovers: Ravioli in Parmesan Cream Sauce

Today's waffling leftovers adventure was inspired by my past successes with pasta dishes, like lasagna, cheesy pasta, tuna noodle casserole, and of course, mac and cheese.

Unfortunately, this story doesn't end quite as well, mostly (entirely?), my fault.
Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Parmesan Cheese Sauce Transformation.
This "transformation" took some beautiful pasta and yielded a burnt mess.  Oops.

Leftover ravioli in parmesan cream sauce: Will it Waffle?  Noooooo.

Cream sauce does not waffle.  It just burns.  And smokes.  And makes a mess.  The ravioli itself probably would be fine ...
The Original: Wild Mushroom Ravioli in Parmesan Cream Sauce.
The original dish was wild mushroom stuffed ravioli, cooked in an absolutely incredible parmesan cream sauce, loaded with leek, onions, and sage, in addition to the cream and cheese of course.

The pasta was good, and the sauce, just, incredible.  I wanted to coat anything and everything in in, and wished I had a loaf of bread just to dunk in it.
Leftover Parmesan Cream Sauce (with wild mushroom ravioli hiding ...).
I saved all the leftovers, and in particular, all the sauce that somehow others didn't claim.   Who just fishes out the ravioli from that decadence?

I had some of the leftovers just heated up on the stovetop, and it was fine.  I had some cold, because, well, I like cold leftover pasta.  It was better that way than re-heated.  I used a bunch of the extra sauce to make creamed spinach (ok, that was amazing).

But I also had something else in mind ...
Into the Waffle Iron.
I took a single patty, and stuck it into the waffle iron, 350 degrees.  I'm glad I started with only one.

The waffle iron immediately started to smoke, dramatically.  I rarely have that happen.  This didn't bode well.

It was then that I thought about the fact that I had not bothered to scrape off the sauce, and that was likely just running out and burning off.  I knew better.
Waffled Leftover Ravioli Burnt Mess.
When I opened the lid to examine the situation, well, what can I say.  I had a bit of a mess on my hands.  A very burnt mess.

It tasted, well, burnt.
Waffled Leftover Ravioli: Other side.
The top side was better, since the cream sauce ran off into the bottom grill, so I got a sense of what this could be like, but, it would only work with unsauced ravioli to start, and then I think it actually would be great, super crispy.

Next time.  I know better.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cypress Lounge Breakfast Buffet, Westin Bellevue

Another day, another hotel breakfast buffet.

This one?  Highly mediocre, one of the worst I've had this year.  Skip it.


Cypress "lounge" is a very casual restaurant.

There is no host stand, you seat yourself.
Tables are basic wooden tables, salt and pepper, sweetener on the table, cloth napkins, basic silverware.

Food & Drink

I'll sum this one up easily.  This is not a very good buffet.
The menu is a full page, but, looks are deceiving.

The menu has exactly two options: a cold buffet for $17 or a full hot breakfast for $23.  Each includes basic coffee, water, juice, but the rest of the menu is dedicated to "elevating your coffee", but upgrading to espresso beverages, or adding on cocktails.

Cold Creations - $17.

Enjoy a selection of cold items including endless fresh fruit, seasonal berries,charcuterie, savory cheeses, smoked salmon, breakfast breads & pastries. Includes Westin Fresh by the Juicery & coffee or tea.
The cold continental buffet is included with the full buffet, and honestly, was better than the full buffet. 
Coffee is ordered from your server when you sit.

It is Starbucks brand, but really not very good.  Very harsh, very acidic.  I think it had been brewed far in advance. At least I was given a carafe full at my table to refill my cup as I wished, however, I didn't wish for more of this.

Sweeteners are provided on the table.

I opted for a decaf after this, and it was an americano basically, made from a robot machine.  Much, much better.
Fruit, Cereal, Milk.
First up was the least healthy selection of cereal I've seen in a long time, Kellogg's brand individual boxes.  Almost all sugar cereals!  Frosted Flakes, Apple Jacks, Frosted Mini Wheats ... ok, ok, they had Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, and Special K Red Berries as well.

Milk (regular, soy, skim) was on the side, plus whole fruit (apples, bananas), granola bars, and granola.

I skipped this section.

[ No Photo ]
Yogurt, Cheese, Smoked Salmon

Next came some basic individual pots of yogurt, smoked salmon with traditional accompaniments, a couple cheeses, and hard boiled eggs.

I tried the cheese curds, and they were decent.
Fruit & Pastries.
Next up is the "Assorted seasonal fruit": blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cut melons, and pineapple chunks.  The berries really were shockingly good.

On top was some very lackluster baked goods.

Slices of basic white and wheat bread.  Plain bagels only.  Soft looking croissants.  A couple fruit danishes that looked visibly stale.  Little cranberry muffins that looked sticky on top.  Blueberry muffins that were larger but looked no better.

Since I love baked goods, I couldn't resist trying a few at least, although, wow, they looked bad.

And they were basically as they looked.  The blueberry muffin had some nice big berries in it, but it was soggy overall and had no real flavor.

They *did* have a pecan danish that I've seen at other properties before and enjoyed (like at the Element Seaport in Boston), and this was no different.  It certainly wasn't a fresh nice pastry by any means, but, the filling is sorta like a maple-y pecan pie, gooey with bits of nuts, and I enjoyed the flavor of it.  The pastry isn't light, flaky, or buttery, but its a bit crunchy, and ok-ish.
Toasters, Butter, Jams.
To jazz up your bread/bagel were basic toasters, butter (no margarine), assorted Dickinson's jams, Smucker's peanut butter, and maple syrup (for the upcoming pancakes).

Full Breakfast Buffet. $23.

Enjoy our cook-to-order omelet station, eggs prepared your favorite way and endless fresh fruit, seasonal berries, charcuterie, breakfast meats,savory cheeses, smoked salmon, breakfast breads & pastries. Includes Westin Fresh by the Juicery &  coffee or tea.
For  $6 more, you can upgrade to the full hot breakfast buffet.  Save your money, unless you really like eggs.

The hot breakfast includes very basic buffet style hot foods, plus an egg station.
Pancakes, Chicken Sausage.
First up, the single hot carb: pancakes, and chicken sausage.
Buttermilk Pancake.
This was everything you expect from a horrible buffet pancake.

Thin.  Soggy.  Flavorless.

Why did I bother try it?  Well, because I was at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles the week before, and they had shockingly good pancakes in the breakfast buffet. Plus, I thought some real syrup could save it?

It didn't.  It was not good at all.
Pork Sausage, Bacon.
Two more breakfast meat options came next, pork sausage and bacon.
Breakfast Potatoes, Toppings.
The final option is breakfast potatoes, followed by a standard condiment section of ketchup and hot sauces.
Breakfast Potatoes.
I also tried the breakfast potatoes, again because the Westin Bonaventure had shocked me with their insanely good hash browns.

But these were awful.

Cold, soggy, overcooked cubes of potato.  Some seasoning I couldn't identify.  Maple syrup didn't save these either.
The final element was oatmeal, with brown sugar, walnuts, and raisins available to mix in.
Egg Station.
The egg station is the big attraction, although there is not a chef posted there, and you order from your seat from the server.
Egg Order Form.
The egg order form is actually a nice idea, it allows you to specify exactly what you want, survey the options, etc.

But I don't really like eggs.
Custom Veggie & Cheese Soft Scramble.
I still ordered eggs one morning, because, well, there was just nothing else I wanted.

I went for whole eggs, soft scrambled, with swiss cheese, onions, peppers, spinach, basil, mushrooms.

The eggs were pretty basic, I believe not really whole eggs, but rather, that scrambled egg/omelet mix places use.  The mushrooms were slimy canned variety.  Everything else was standard.

The only thing I really liked was the flavorful swiss cheese, which I was able to extract because it didn't really melt in.  A feature for me, but, not likely what they were going for.

This lacked all seasoning, but salt and pepper were available at my table.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Desserts from The Cheesecake Factory

I probably don't need to write an intro the The Cheesecake Factory.

The quick background though, it is not, in fact, just a cheesecake producer.  It is a restaurant chain, started in 1978, with several hundred locations.  And they do everything ... big.

No matter what your thoughts are on The Cheesecake Factory, there are some things about it that do impress me.   In some ways, I feel like it is the perfect place to send visitors to the US to, as it matches just about every stereotype imaginable.  Its also a good place to go with a group that has just way too many preferences, as they serve any type of cuisine you could possibly want.

The menu has 250 items on it.  That is ... insane.   There are small plates, appetizers, flatbreads, pizza, burgers, sandwiches, chicken entrees, meatloaf, tacos, burritos, pasta, seafood entrees, steaks, chops, sides, and of course, desserts.  Seriously, everything.  And they run the gamut of every cuisine imaginable, from Italian, to Thai, to Chinese, to Mexican.  They serve brunch, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  There are some healthy options (kale salad!) and many ridiculously unhealthy, and, um, I'm not just talking about the cheesecake.  The Cheesecake Factory regularly "wins" for most extreme calorific content in dishes.  More than 100 menu items are over 1500 calories.  Some go over 2000.  Yes, in a single portion.   Even the chicken caesar salad has 1,450 calories!  (yes, you read that correctly).

And, well, the place is really popular.  On the rare occasions when I peek into a Cheesecake Factory, there is always a wait.  And the restaurants tend to be huge themselves.  Something about the place appeals to people.

And I kinda understand it.  I remember the first time I went to a Cheesecake Factory very vividly.  I was a teenager.  It was in Boston, the first city I ever visited.  My cousin from California was visiting us, and she wanted to go there.  It was a big deal to be in Boston in the first place, and, no one else in my family had heard of the Cheesecake Factory.  We were also entirely unfamiliar with so many of the cuisines served.  We didn't know what many items were.  But my cousin educated us, and helped us order.

We got the Thai lettuce wraps on that visit, an appetizer (that could easily be a meal, for multiple people).  I remember it because it was so different from anything I had ever had before.  A DIY-style dish, where you were provided with leaves of lettuce, bean sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, strips of chicken, curry noodles, and 3 dipping sauces.  The sauces were Thai-style, one peanut, one sweet red chili, and one other.  She showed us how to make our wraps, and eat with our hands.  I thought it was fun, but, the most vivid part of the memory is the sauces.  There was so much flavor!  Peanut sauce!  Sweet chili sauce!  Where had these been my entire life!

Since then, I've returned a few times over the years, usually for big group birthday parties, or, while at a mall.  I've gotten the wraps, and enjoyed them.  I remember trying a few other dishes, chicken, pasta, and more, and thinking it really was fine.  But, the last time I had food at the Cheesecake Factory was at least 10 years ago.

Until this past year, when I started exploring just the desserts.

Restaurant Delivery

Every Cheesecake Factory also has a very large area devoted to takeout desserts, with all 30 or so cheesecakes on display, plus the other cakes and whatnot.  I think most people can't ever actually order dessert after such ridiculous portion sizes for meals, but feel they "need" to get the cheesecake since they are there, and thus, you get it to go.

Or, you just go to pick up cheesecake, which I've had friends do several times.  I never took any photos or notes during these times though, when they showed up at parties with Cheesecake Factory cheesecake.  I do remember always being excited, the slices look incredible (also, huge), the flavors are ridiculous, but, I don't think I was ever impressed.

So, why would I get cheesecake from there?  Well, they were doing a free delivery promotion, and you know how much I like to use freebies as a good excuse to try something I wouldn't normally do.
Red Velvet.
"Moist layers of Red Velvet Cake and our Original Cheesecake covered with our special Cheesecake Factory cream cheese frosting."

I ordered the amazing sounding carrot cake.  I got red velvet instead.  It was warm.  Warm cheesecake is not appealing.  It clearly suffered getting to me via the delivery service.

But I still tried it.

It was ... well, kinda rich cheesecake and fairly generic red velvet cake, thick layers of each, topped with mushy cream cheese frosting.  Generic whipped cream on the side.

Any single layer of this was a full dessert on its own, combined sky high like this, it was just a massive undertaking.

It is hard to evaluate though as the warmth and resulting texture were just too off putting.

So I put it in the fridge overnight and tried it the next day.  Now, it was at least the proper serving temperature.

But it still was just nothing special.  The cheesecake was mediocre.  Creamy, smooth, but not particularly flavorful.  The cake wasn't too dry, but it also didn't have much going on.  The best parts were the cream cheese icing (a delightfully thick layer) and the white chocolate shavings on the back.

Maybe other flavors are better, but, this about matches my memories.

Wholesale - The Cheesecake Factory Bakery

A lesser known fact is that the Cheesecake Factory also operates a wholesale bakery, The Cheesecake Factory Bakery.  They sell cheesecakes, but, also layer cakes and cupcakes.

Shockingly good cupcakes.  This inspires me to try some of the non-cheesecake desserts at the restaurants.
Blackout Cupcake.
"The ultimate chocolate experience in a cupcake! Decadent chocolate pudding cake with a hint of chocolate liqueur, topped with sinful layers of chocolate frosting and dark chocolate curls."

This was a shockingly good cupcake.

The cake was crazy moist, crazy rich, some of the best chocolate cake I've ever had.  The frosting was light and fluffy, sweet, and totally delicious.  I loved the dark chocolate curls on top.

This was just a winner, all around.  Incredible for a frozen product.
Blackout Cake Bite.
"Dark chocolate cake topped with chocolate cream cheese icing."

They also make cupcakes in mini size, known as "Cake Bites".

The look was slightly different from the full size Blackout, the frosting darker.  But it was equally delicious.

The chocolate cake was moist, great chocolate flavor.  The frosting, a thicker style, was rich and fudge-y, with the fascinating cream cheese undertone.  I loved the dark chocolate curls.

Again, another shockingly good cupcake.
Vanilla Bean Cake Bite.
"Moist vanilla cake topped with vanilla bean cream cheese icing."

Much like the chocolate version, the vanilla bean one doesn't just have vanilla frosting on top, but rather, vanilla bean cream cheese icing.  Infusing the whole cheesecake thing into the cupcakes even.

The frosting was sweet, fluffy, and did have vanilla bean flavor to it.  The cake was decently moist, and had a lovely buttery sweet flavor to it.

Overall, a solid little cupcake.
Red Velvet Cake Bite.

"Moist traditional red velvet cake topped with rich cream cheese icing."

This was my least favorite of the cupcakes, although I know red velvet is often a crowd pleaser.

The cake was moist and fine, but, boring red velvet cake.  The frosting, also fine, thick, rich, cream cheesy, but, fairly boring.

This was a fine cupcake, but, compared to the extra special touches of the Blackout and the vanilla bean (e.g. crazy good chocolate frosting, surprising vanilla bean cream cheese frosting), this one was just a bit pedestrian.

The full size red velvet cupcake comes garnished with dark chocolate curls, but the mini goes for white chocolate curls instead, I'm not sure why.