Sunday, May 30, 2010

Taste of China





I've decided that it's time for me to write a (long overdue) review of one of my favorite restaurants-- Taste of China. Located in Clinton, CT, Taste of China has always impressed me with its delicious, authentic Chinese cuisine.
I had the opportunity to visit the restaurant fairly recently. My mom and I went there for Mother's Day, and got to try a number of tasty dishes.

For an appetizer, we started off with TOC's famed Cheng Du dumplings. I have to say, I adore these. Every time I go to Taste of China, I have to order them.  These delicate pork-filled dumplings, served alongside a wonderfully complex garlic sauce, are simply mouthwatering.


                                Taste of China's signature Cheng Du Dumplings


Since I was out on the town, I thought I'd order a cocktail with my food. There were many appealing drinks on the menu, so it took a while for me to decide. In the end, I settled upon the Espresso Martini-- a mix of "Vincent Van Gogh Espresso Vodka, Illy Espresso Liqueur with a splash of Godiva White Chocolate and a twist." Yes, it was as tasty as it sounds. In the future, though, I would probably order it as an after dinner drink, as it was pretty sweet.


                                                 TOC's Espresso Martini


Moving on to the main course ... We ordered two dishes: the Sizzling Shrimp and Scallops, and the Shredded Duck with Szechuan Flavor. Though the first entree was good, I must admit that it isn't my favorite Taste of China dish.




Sizzling Shrimp and Scallops

I did like several things about this dish. The vegetables were quite good, the shrimp and scallops fresh and delicious. The only problem I had was with the sauce; it seemed a bit on the bland side. In general, I prefer sauces with bold (often spicy) flavors. But in any case, everything worked out well in the end. I enjoyed the seafood and vegetables, and the mildness of the dish provided a nice counterbalance to our second entree.

The Shredded Duck with Szechuan Flavor was excellent. Smoked shredded duck in a spicy sauce served with flour pancakes-- owm!!! I like to add hoisin sauce to my pancake, but that's entirely up to you.






Shredded Duck with Szechuan Flavor


In general, I would recommend any of TOC's duck dishes.  The tea smoked duck and the shredded duck with scallions and ginger (also a pancake dish) are phenomenal.

It's rare that I come across something at this restaurant that I don't like. Other dishes at TOC I would highly recommend include: the Mongolian Beef, Hot and Sour soup, Shredded Beef and Baby Bok Choy, Pork with Jingling Bells, Pork Blossoms, Green Jade Delight, and the Tangy Eggplant Medallions.

I hope I get to go back soon!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cookie Splash Photo Shoot

Inspired by LyddieGal's photo, I decided to try a few cookie splash shots of my own. While challenging (timing the splash was not easy!) the shoot proved to be a lot of fun. And, as an added bonus, I got to eat quite a few coffee-flavored cookies.

It was nice out today, so I decided to take my shoot outside. The lighting was preferable to that of my gloomy kitchen; besides, this way I wouldn't have to clean up any spills.

For my first few photos, I used black coffee. Honey and maple syrup stroopwafels (broken in quarters) were to be the agents of the great splash.
Unfortunately, I found that the black coffee shots didn't come out too well. The mug always managed to give off a glare of sorts; also, none of the splashes were quite dramatic enough.

This is the best black coffee shot I captured:

Black coffee, in Bodum Mug

While not the best cookie splash shot, there are elements I enjoy here. I like how the coffee reminds me of a crashing tidal wave. And I like how the droplets spill out onto the handle and into the foreground of the picture.

After my first few shots, I poured myself a new cup of java, this time with half-n-half. I also used a different cookie: shortbread rounds (kindly donated by my father). At first, I was concerned that the shortbread wouldn't hold up in the hot coffee. What if it disintegrated, and was rendered inedible? I didn't want to waste quality shortbread. However, my fears were assuaged after the first cookie splash. The shortbread didn't fall apart; in fact, it was quite tasty with the coffee.


Here are a few of my favorites from the coffee and cream shots:


                                                          The Classic




                                                       
                                                    The Sideways Splash





                                                          The Mini Splash

                                             Little droplets, flying everywhere...



                                                      Niagara Falls






                                                            Coffee Man

My dad says he sees a superhero emerging from the mug. His name is Coffee Man. Do you see him?


All in all, the cookie splash was an interesting and entertaining photographic subject. I'd love to try it again, and improve my shots next time. I'd like to thank LyddieGal for the idea of the cookie splash, and my dad, for his NBA-like cookie throwing skills.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Taste of Holland

Last summer, I visited Amsterdam with a close friend of mine. We only stayed for a week, but it was a great trip. I'd love to go back to Holland again, and revisit all those amazing sights-- the beautiful canals,  Oude Kerk, the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House... I'd like, also, to go back to many of the restaurants we visited. I could definitely go for some of those delicious Dutch pancakes right about now. Owm!

Until I can book that Expedia flight, though, I've found a few imported foods that give me a small taste of Holland.

Beemster Lite Cheese:

Beemster Lite Cheese
         
Love the taste of Gouda and other fine Dutch cheeses? Beemster Lite is an excellent choice. I know it's available at my local A&P Food Mart (AKA "The Fresh"). I'm not sure where else it's stocked, though. While I don't usually like lower fat foods, I do recommend this one. It's rich, super sharp, and, most importantly, has that Gouda taste I crave.

How to eat it: Try it plain, or with some Triscuit crackers. Or, if you'd like to jazz up your burger, opt for Beemster instead of cheddar.
            

Stroopwafels:

These classic Dutch treats consist of  waffle-like cookies with a sweet caramel filling.

 Stroopwafel cookie

Ever since I tried them in Amsterdam, I've been looking for a way to enjoy them at home. I finally found some. I ordered the Stroopie Stroopwafels in Delft Netherlands Blue Tin, via Amazon. While not quite of the same caliber as the ones I tried in Holland, they are still pretty tasty. And, as an added bonus, they come with this cute Delft tin:

Stroopie Stroopwafels in Delft Netherlands Blue Tin

The only negative thing I can say about this product has to do with quantity. Inside the Delft tin, there  are only eight siropwafels! I really would have liked a few more. Next time, I'm going to try out 
these:Stroopwafels - 20 Dutch Caramel Syrup Waffle Cookies. Hopefully, they'll be as good as the Stroopie Stroopwafels. 

How to eat them: Stroopwafels are good plain, but I prefer to dunk them in hot coffee.  


Sometimes when I'm in my kitchen eating a stroopwafel, I almost feel like I'm back in Amsterdam. I'm in a small Dutch bakery, enjoying a hot coffee with my stroopwafel. Naturally, a bakery kitten is by my side.

Though, of course, nothing beats the real thing:


Friday, March 26, 2010

Guilty Pleasure



Recently, I've become more invested in eating healthy, 'all-natural' food. The reason for my new-found inspiration comes, at least in part, from reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.* In his book, Pollan discusses the numerous health problems attributed to a Western-based diet. He talks about the need to eat 'real food.' We should eat unprocessed food, food that actually comes from, well, nature. This point really hit home for me. He's right; products that contain chemical ingredients are not 'food.' Chemicals belong in a lab, not in what we eat.
I've been making an effort to eat organic, healthy foods. I've started eating more vegetables, and have been avoiding items that contain harmful chemicals and preservatives.

I'll be the first to admit, though, that I often fall short of the ideal when it comes to Pollan's philosophy. There are a number of super 'bad for you' products that I crave, and that, if given the chance, I will probably devour. Here are a few of my guilty pleasures:


Smucker's Magic Shell


Smucker's Magic Shell Ice Cream Topping, Chocolate Flavor, 7.25-Ounce Bottles (Pack of 12)
 











Definitely not what Pollan had in mind. In Elementary school, I tried Magic Shell at a friend's birthday party; it's been a guilty pleasure ever since. I love vanilla ice cream surrounded by a hard chocolate coating. Also, I've always thought that the product's gimmick was fun.


Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins:

I secretly love Munchkins. I know they have every imaginable bad chemical in them, but I can't help it. In spite of this guilty pleasure, I haven't been to Dunkin' Donuts in years. The last time I went was in high school. Back then, my friends and I would sneak out of school during lunch for DDT (Dunkin' Donuts Thursday).
Even though I haven't been to DD recently, I have had the opportunity to indulge this guilty pleasure. At work the other day, munchkins were offered at our staff meeting. Saying no would have been rude.


Nachos:

Though not the worst item one could consume, nachos certainly aren't a healthy choice. They have virtually no nutritional value. I had some at Jalapeno Heaven last week, but I prefer the ones I make at home. I make mine with Tostitos chips (processed, but preservative free) and lots of cheddar cheese. I serve them with a handsome portion of sour cream and Tabasco.

Assorted candies:


Raisinets Milk Chocolate, 3.5-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 18)M&M's Peanut Candy, 42-Ounce Packages (Pack of 2)Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, 1.5-Ounce Packages (Pack of 36)

Here are just a few unhealthy candies I enjoy. Processed sugar is bad for you in general, but these products also contain artificial flavors and dyes. Pictured above are peanut M&M's, Raisinets, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (perhaps my favorite).

How about you? Do you have any foods you love to eat, but know you probably shouldn't?


* If you're interested in learning more about the food you eat, I'd also recommend the documentary Food Inc. While the content may be disturbing, it, like Pollan's books, will change the way you look at food.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Glory of Pudding

Nothing is better than a good pudding. It's warm, sweet, and oh so comforting-- never a disappointment. In fact, I'd say I generally prefer this dessert over ice cream or candy.

I frequently indulge my constant craving for this comfort food. Several times a week I have it for dessert. When there are leftovers, I just store them in the refrigerator for the following morning. Who says you can't have pudding for breakfast?

I love all varieties of this lovely dessert. I love blancmange, sticky toffee, crème brûlée, crema catalana,* your standard chocolate or vanilla. The pudding that I eat most often, though, is tapioca. Some people don't care for the texture of tapioca. I think that the pearls add an interesting new dimension to the dish.

I make tapioca pudding frequently at home, with the help of  Minute Tapioca.

Kraft Minute Tapioca


I normally don't recommend Kraft products, but I'll make an exception here. The Minute mix is super easy to prepare, and, most importantly, it yields some pretty tasty tapioca.



Recipe for Minute Tapioca:

In a medium saucepan, mix 1/3 cup sugar, 3 Tbsp. Minute Tapioca, 2-3/4 cups milk, and 1 well-beaten egg. Let stand 5 minutes.

Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to full boil.



Next,  let pudding cool for 20 minutes; stir. Serve warm or chilled.  Makes  6 (1/2 cup) servings.


A few cooking tips:

I've found that constant whisking really does improve the consistency of this pudding. It makes for a much fluffier tapioca.
Also, feel free to use less or more sugar, depending on your sweetness preference. Just don't forget to add some sugar! Once I mistakenly left out this ingredient, and the result was none too pleasing.

All this talk of pudding has made me hungry. I could really go for some tapioca now...


* The Catalan version of crème brûlée. Yum!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Art of the Latte

My espresso machine is, without a doubt, one of the best gifts I've ever received. My mom bought it for me a little over a year ago, and I've been using it religiously ever since.

My espresso machine is the Breville Cafe Roma:
                              
Breville ESP8XL Cafe Roma Stainless Espresso Maker
                                    

I love this machine. In addition to its sleek appearance, it makes a mean latte. I'm constantly using it. I use it  to make hot chocolate,  steamed vanilla-flavored milk (it's delicious, I swear), apple cider, and, of course, assorted espresso drinks. My favorite espresso beverage to make is actually the latte macchiato- an upside-down latte of sorts.


                                                      Latte Macchiato


In contrast to the traditional latte (in which milk is added on top of the espresso), here the espresso is poured last, on top of the foam.* I like to add a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon to complete this taste sensation.

I've actually been pretty disappointed, because it seems that most coffee establishments do not carry this illustrious beverage. Even Starbucks won't make me my beloved latte macchiato! When I attempted to order it, they instead gave me a cafe macchiato. In contrast to the latte version, a cafe macchiato is just a shot of espresso with a dollop of foam. Not exactly what I had in mind.

Fortunately, with my Cafe Roma I can make this scrumptious beverage at home. I just need some milk (or, if I'm in the mood for something really rich, half and half), and some espresso. I usually go for the Illy Dark Roast; it seems to be the best. See illy Espresso Fine Grind Dark Roast.



*'Macchiato' is Italian for 'marked.' It refers to the espresso 'marking' the foam.



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Quick Tip: Beyond Beverages



If you have an espresso machine, you should definitely try your hand at this simple (yet delicious) dessert. It's ice cream affogato (italian for 'drowned'). To make, just pour a shot (or less, depending on your preference) of hot espresso onto a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The espresso caramelizes ever so slightly, giving the dessert an exquisite flavor. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Store Brand

The term 'store brand' carries with it certain negative connotations. For many, it brings to mind a cheap, inferior product. And while at times this perception may be true (Walmart's Great Value brand comes to mind, for one) this is not always the case. Some excellent products just happen to be store brands.
For instance, Stop and Shop,* carries three phenomenal store brands:


                                  
                   Just a few of Stop and Shop's many fine products

Nature's Promise

Nature's Promise is a great choice for anyone interested in healthy, all-natural food. This organic line boasts over 500 products! While I have not sampled all of Nature's Promise's offerings, I am thoroughly impressed with those I have tried. The quality of all their products is just excellent. Some of their products I purchase regularly include: Nature's Promise half and half, milk, pre-packaged lettuce mix, tuna, apple sauce, and ice cream. When I ate meat more frequently, I also often bought Nature's Promise chicken, hamburger meat, and sausages.

Simply Enjoy

Another wonderful Stop and Shop brand. One of the Simply Enjoy items I often buy is the tomato sauce;  I'll usually get the fra diavlo or the vodka (both very flavorful). Every once in a while, I'll go for the classic marinara.
I love to pair these with Stop and Shop brand ravioli for a quick, tasty meal:


                                                      Mangia!

Stop and Shop Brand

Last but not least, there's the simple, no frills Stop and Shop Brand. This line also carries some great products. One standout, for me, is the pasta. Stop and Shop brand is actually my favorite pasta to buy at the supermarket; it has this fantastic rich, almost 'eggy' flavor. Just cook al dente and serve with some pesto or butter, salt, and pepper. Owm!

                  

How about you? Do you generally go for store brand or name brand items? Have any store brand products you'd recommend?




* Has over 325 store locations in New England, New York, and New Jersey. See Stop and Shop's Store Locator.