Monday, July 31, 2017

Coolhaus is one of the hippest new craft ice cream companies and as they grow, items that have been maybe in other locations are starting to make their way here. Enter the Coolhaus Ice cream sandwich, which I must say is a pricey summer treat if you can find it. In my area, they are only at Harris Teeter and regular price for a single one is over 5 dollars! Catching it on sale I had to grab one and give it the once over and see what it tastes like.

The Ice cream sandwich is actually a nice size upon further reflection on it. It is packed with more ice cream than a traditional chipwich. The ice cream layer is nice and thick and it is high quality vanilla bean ice cream. The cookie is thin and chewy, which is good. Some of the cookie ice cream sandwiches can be too hard and thick to be useful. However, it's not all good. The cookie is pretty much flavorless as are the chocolate chips which means you don't get anything to enhance, or balance the vanilla ice cream. That leaves me with a treat that is 85% of the way there but missing one thing that would make it really stand out and that's a little bit unfortunate. Truthfully for the price, the cookie needs to be a little bit more special, with some chunks and sea salt to enhance the ice cream.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, July 27, 2017

This is a sort of an odd review. It is a hybrid restaurant review, a little bit, and a taste test of the products at this new entry to the eateries in Owings Mills, Maryland's Foundry Row development. Unlike a lot of the shops over at Foundry Row, this is a smaller business that isn't a huge corporation. I was excited to be able to come in and try these bowls because I have seen them on instagram but never had a place to go and actually try one until now.

Sunset Raw is sparse on the interior but it also seems to fit with the healthy concept. There is a bar seating area for ordering and enjoying as well as a few tables and chairs both inside and outside. They also have a cooler for their prepared juices which you can buy to go and looking at their social media pages, they have been successful with that part of the business for sure. Ordering was quick and painless and I chose to try the sunshine acai bowl while my kids both went with mango smoothies.

My son for some reason had a problem with his drink, I wouldn't put much stock in it however because he still drank it. I think it was the idea that dates are in it and he doesn't know what they actually are. My daughter who is the smoothie expert said the smoothie was filling and good, however she still prefers Tropical smoothie cafe and another local place, The Flying Avocado better. I ordered the sunshine acai bowl which comes with bananas, blueberries, strawberries, coconut flakes and granola. I passed on the coconut but had everything else.

It's always a big question when trying something you have never had when you don't know what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised by this. The acai berry mixture reminds me of a slightly "grape" flavored strawberry concoction. It tastes good, and just very normal. The granola settled in just underneath the layer of fruit and you get some with every spoonful of acai. It's weird, just because this is pretty much a smoothie, but you're using a spoon. The fruit was fresh and blended well with the 'smoothie' mixture. That's the biggest rub for me, it's kind of hard to eat, especially in this large container. I live maybe 5 minutes away and the melt by the time I got home was a little bit much. There is also no way to really save it for later, I have it in the freezer, but I don't want it to completely freeze. This might be a good item to share with another, especially when coupled with the prices which are a bit high for a smoothie concoction. Acai bowls are about $10-$12 and smoothies are close to 9 bucks starting out. It's not a budget friendly item. However, other than that, everything was solid overall.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

I picked this product up just wandering through the aisles of Giant food, however it isn't unique to this chain. There are also variations on this every from Harris Teeter to Safeway. It's a smart move by the stores to get a simple version of popular desserts for those who aren't the most inclined to break out the cookbook and a mixer. Just grab one of these bags, pour and bake and by the time your favorite show goes onto their first commercial break, you have dessert.

Now aside from Salted Caramel Lava cakes, there is a chocolate lava cake option available but I haven't seen it in stock at my local Giant recently. A third variety, your basic chocolate brownie also exists though I haven't ever tried that. As for the chocolate lava cake and the salted caramel variety, they are incredibly simple to use. Preheat your oven, grease your muffin pan and cut open the bag and pour, but only after squeezing it for a little while to make sure the ingredients haven't settled. In ten minutes, you have a nice dessert that might normally take an hour or so to mix and bake altogether. Now I have made chocolate lava cakes before and the chocolate variety from this bag is decent, if not completely as 'fresh' and bright as from scratch is. Also, making them from scratch gives you a slightly more molten core than these do.

As for the salted caramel, they taste just fine if maybe slightly dull. You would expect the salt to pop a little more and the caramel to be a little bit 'lighter' but we are looking at a prepackaged dessert here. I have never made a salted caramel cake, though I have made salted caramel to go on top of cupcakes and for icing so I can't say whether or not the cake itself should have more or less flavor but the filling I feel like could have had more differentiation and taste to it. As it stands these are a nice quick stand in for people who aren't cooks or who want something that is extremely quick. You can't beat ten minutes and one pan getting dirty when it comes to opportunity cost. Pair with some ice cream and you are good to go. If you have some cherries and whipped cream and you have just capped off a great meal with minimal work and that raises the rating on this.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, July 21, 2017

So I heard about this on a food marketing podcast and filed it away to take a look around and taste it if possible. I first tried some of the stores more known for the organic and varied selections like Harris Teeter and Wegmans. I also checked shoppers which surprisingly has a lot of new items almost as soon as they hit the shelves. No luck until i happened to amble down the organic section at my local Giant food and well, score one for the hometown leader. I grabbed the bottle and figured I'll get everyone to try it or just use it around a day at the track.

We didn't get that far. My wife tried a Core watermelon juice or something and didn't like it. It was the Stevia. My son ended up drinking it...because juice. So after that I grabbed the maple water out of the fridge and passed it around for a taste. Now, it is interesting. I mean it's water, so there isn't a lot of flavor to it and there is only one ingredient, pure maple water. You know what you're getting. It does taste fresh tree, with a hint of maple. It's just odd. Now we didn't drink it all, and I still plan to go and try it during a workout and see what it does but just as a beverage....I don't see it. It's just too odd, and maybe thats double for me because I dislike flavored water in general but I could see how when thirsty, the maple in this could be helpful to when trying to recharge the muscles. Otherwise, I couldn't see myself using this in any other context.

Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

If you have any semi-health conscious friends you most likely have heard or seen something about overnight oats somewhere. One of the latest trends in health and nutrition, you will see plenty of options and recipes on pinterest for add-ins and methods. Why not, it's simple, takes little work and on the surface makes a lot of sense. Not content to just sell you regular oatmeal, the Quaker company has decided to make it even easier for you by packaging their oatmeal and some toppings for you. For those of us who are skeptical, this might make some sense, especially if you don't normally keep oatmeal around, so here is a review of Quaker overnight oats, Raisin, Walnut, & Honey Heaven.

These small Quaker cups will be found in the cereal aisle and tied in somewhere around the dairy at a lot of stores. There are four flavor combinations, Orchard Peach Pecan perfection, Blueberry Banana and Vanilla Bliss, Toasted Coconut and Almond Crunch, and the aforementioned Raisin Walnut & Honey Heaven. None of these is too crazy and should fit into the mass market of the health conscious pretty easily. I do wonder what the need is for the adjectives at the end of each flavor set.

At 2.61 ounces, each cup is a single serving of 300 calories (before dairy). Instructions are simple, add your choice of milk or yogurt, let sit overnight, at least 6 hours and enjoy at your leisure. I must admit, cold oats is an odd sensation at first when your mind has you used to warm/hot oatmeal. Now, you can warm this up in the microwave if you want to take some of the chill off but you don't want to 'cook' it by heating it too much. Here is why, after trying these I realize that you get a firmer texture when you haven't cooked the oats and broken them down. It is a very satisfying feeling to chew on and once you get past the temperature it's actually very good. After trying it I get it. Now as for the flavor of this particular brand, maybe I didn't mix it well but it seemed a little bit dull for the most part. The bottom seemed to have more taste to it and the raisins and walnuts bring something to it but are a little bit skimpy. It also isn't going to fill you up at this size.

I never really thought that I would like overnight oats but Quaker has managed to bring me into the folkd with an easy way to give it a try without too much work. While it isn't enough to replace a breakfast, as a meal combination of some sort, or to have a few sitting around as a mid-day snack if you take them to work, these cups aren't a bad idea, even if the value probably isn't the highest. I do wonder how they will taste with maybe yogurt, I don't really do soy or almond milk but they can probably bring something else to the table. I might not fill it up to the line the next time either because it was slightly more watery than I would have liked but that was fine in the end. If you're scared to try overnight oats, maybe give Quaker a try.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, July 14, 2017

Local restaurant Dooby's is a local Korean inspired breakfast place in central Baltimore. Now I haven't been to experience the full menu but there is one thing that they have started that has had me running to their stand at the Farmer's Market on Sundays in downtown Baltimore, their special donuts. They call it "Sunday's bakehouse" and they create sweets that are limited for the restaurant. One trend that I am loving, is these new independent donut makers so I had to make sure I got a chance to try these out.

Overall all of Dooby's donuts start with the same base, a yeast donut with some filling and at times an iced topping. The first variety that I had the pleasure of tasting was French Toast. This was a donut with simple sugar and cinnamon on the top and a sweet pastry cream filling that was excellent. They also had a Dirty Chai tea flavor which my sister and mother both said were excellent.

This past week I was looking forward to trying their oatmeal cream pie variety but they weren't available at the farmer's market (it might behoove me to actually head to the restaurant). However I was able to get the Dunkaroos and Cosmic Brownie varieties as the theme this week was a visit to the childhood of a kid who grew up in the 90's. The dunkaroos donut was pretty good, a cinnamon and sugar donut with cream that was to be just like the frosting from the kid's snack. Now, for me the cream was a little bit off. This was more cream cheese and the dunkaroos I remember was more Duncan and Hines cake frosting taste. It wasn't bad but it was off just slightly. The Cosmic Brownie was good especially if you like chocolate, and I was especially fond of the milk chocolate mousse-like filling. It paired well with the other flavors.

Now I don't want to forget the actual donut itself. The donuts are fluffy and springy. They have a nice bite to them and just a hint of both doughiness and flavor. It's really hard to describe and quantify, but it serves as a good base for whatever flavor they want to throw onto them.

The flavors can vary wildly at times but I think that most of the time there is something for everyone at Dooby's when they decide to make donuts. If you're ever at the Farmer's Market on a Sunday be sure to stop by and pick up a couple and maybe even be better than me and actually head over to Dooby's for a full meal.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, July 13, 2017

There are a lot of smaller local chains that are around these days. Restauranteurs are getting much better with getting a concept up and running and having the process worked out much more quickly in the past. This allows them to try and stay around with economies of scale and to return some of the money to investor much more quickly. Matchbox American kitchen fits into that mold. With not more than a handful of locations, they are prevalent enough to be accessible, yet somewhat special. At least that's the goal.

Matchbox fits right into the mold of too many new restaurants. Exposed steel, reclaimed wood, very hipster chic. I get why, it looks clean and nice, and is less expensive than other designs. However, at this point, it's not a really good way to separate yourself visually from the swaths of other restaurants selling new age 'pub fare' or bar food. This particular location located in Rockville, MD was fine, but it didn't seem too inviting overall. For comparison, I would look to Iron Rooster which is very similar but has more down home colors that bring it some warmth as opposed to the red of Matchbox.

Outside of the decor, the menu is standard fare and my wife started with cream of crab soup. The soup was nice in it's flavor and the amount of crab. No complaints. However it did come out lukewarm, for her that's fine but if I had ordered it I would want it to be actually a hot bowl. I ordered a double pepperoni brick oven pizza. My wife ordered a burger which came with a ridiculous mountain of onion straws. The onions were good though, nice flavor and texture but in my mind the presentation was crazy overdone. I don't need that many onion straws, it seems like it could be very wasteful. They also put a little bit too much arugula on the burger itself. My pizza was somewhat disappointing. The pepperoni was very good. It definitely was the star of the show because the sauce was boring and the crust was bland as well. Regarding the preparation, the crust wasn't as crispy as I would like it to be in the middle.

Matchbox might have had an off day in terms of preparation. That happens. However I don't know if the food itself warrants giving them a second chance. While it wasn't bad, it wasn't groundbreaking either. For my pizza I would prefer to go to Blaze or somewhere like that which is less expensive but tastes better to me. The soup was good, but lukewarm and the burger, while presented nice, and decent flavor, doesn't do enough to warrant a repeated visit. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and other just is. This was one of those times. The one thing that does still interest me, is the opportunity to try their short ribs....I am there for that.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, July 9, 2017

It's been way too long but I'm back and with a good one. The small batch ice cream wars are in full effect. Much like the boom in micro-brews in the beer space, small artisan ice cream manufacturers are around in a great abundance. Using better, more local ingredients, they often have more unique flavors and less of the 'bad' things in them. I mean it is ice cream so it isn't going to be 'healhy' per se, but their size allows them to focus more on each container. Jeni's is a brand from Ohio I have always wanted to order but haven't just because of the logistics and timing of an ice cream delivery. Thus i was incredibly excited when I saw it in my local Wegmans.

Now the flavor selection of course is smaller in Wegmans than if I went directly to the site and ordered it but that's fine. Now the one thing that I might have done is chosen a flavor that seemed to be the hardest one to really rate, Vanilla. See for the most part vanilla is kind of the same everywhere and somewhat plain, however, as a base you can learn a lot about a brand with this one simple flavor. No one dislikes vanilla and some of the other flavors can sometimes lead to decisions based on that set of flavors and  I wanted to get a feel for how Jeni's just tastes on it's own. Also, be clear, this isn't just plain vanilla, this is Ndali Estate Vanilla.

Now, this one pint is a bit expensive at 7.99, but it is a premium brand and needs to be compared as such. To compare, the same size container goes for $12 on Jeni's website, which has an absolute smorgasboard of flavors. So with this I'm comparing Jeni's to Ben and Jerrys and Haagen Daz's for example. This is a good vanilla ice cream. It's not overly "vanilla beaned" where you see beans all over the place. It is strong in the beginning yet it fades nicely and gets really subtle at the end with a hint of nuttiness. It has a nice texture as well. Let me compare to Haagen Daz which can be slightly overwhelming and too sweet and strong. They are overly rich, while Jeni's gives you a nicer balance. Now trust me, I wasn't born knowing the difference, but just tasting Jeni's, some haagen daz recently, and my old mainstream favorite Green's ice cream you start to be able to pick out some things.

For myself, this is one of the better premium ice creams out there. I think it would pair well in a cherry coke float (yeah I don't drink root beer) and some kinds of apple pie. I was impressed at how it didn't coat my tongue over like some other premium brands do with extra richness. There was a good balance of flavors here which leads me to be sure I'm going to try the other flavors that are available locally.

Rating: 4.5/5