Tuesday, April 3, 2012

First Ever Free Cone Day! - Ben & Jerry's

April 3, 2012
Ben & Jerry's, Philadelphia PA
Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt
Sweet Cream & Cookies Ice Cream

Before today, I was aware that Ben & Jerry's is quite a popular ice cream brand. I just never had the chance to try it since I'm not the kind to buy one scoop of ice cream at an ice cream shop. So I got really excited last week as I walked by Ben & Jerry's on campus and saw the poster for Free Cone Day. Finally, I get to try all their exotic flavours!

I decided since it was only one scoop at a time, I could go twice. It was such a nice, sunny day today - the perfect weather for ice cream in April. I was planning on getting their Mango Sorbet but they did not have that in the store on campus. Therefore, during lunch break, I got the new Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt. I was not disappointed - at all.

I have always been a fan of frozen yogurt but I need the yogurt to have a creaminess to it as well as be sweet enough to taste more like ice cream rather than acidic yogurt. This cup of purple and white blend with that sprinkle of brown was so good! The blueberry gave it a nice, fresh taste. It was light yet creamy and smooth. The sweetness was just right, not at all overwhelming. The graham cracker swirls provided a nice contrast to the yogurt. The texture was lovely. This was definitely one of the best frozen yogurts I have had. One cup was just not enough.

In the evening, I went back for a cone. This time, the line was much longer, which may be why the scoops were so large. The employees were definitely rushing but no one complained about the size, that's for sure! I decided to go with the Sweet Cream & Cookies Ice Cream this time. I chose this over Banana Peanut Butter Greek Frozen Yogurt because the ice cream was a 'scoop shop only' flavour and I was feeling up to something extra creamy with a touch of chocolate.

For a cookies and cream ice cream, it was decent. In general, this is one of my favourite ice cream flavours. However, I do not think Ben & Jerry's ice cream is distinct in any way. The best I have had of this flavour is still Häagen-Dazs' cookies and cream. The cookies were quite good. I prefer the slightly larger chunks so the texture becomes more distinct. I like that soft, slightly moist chocolate sandwich cookie. The sweet cream ice cream was more of a disappointment for me. It is still a good ice cream, just nothing special.

It was great to have a chance to sample some ice cream shop flavours. I think the fact that it was an international event is extremely cool. I wonder if there are any Ben & Jerry's back home? However, I am tempted to go to Cold Stone Creamery and Häagen-Dazs or other ice cream shops back home this summer and try the exotic offerings they may have. Maybe I'll start with Timothy's. I cannot wait for summer and froyos, that's for certain!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Back to Christmas Time - Starbucks

April 1, 2012
Starbucks, Philadelphia PA
Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop
Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte

I was so excited two days ago to find that the second Starbucks on campus was carrying the Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop. I first tried that stick of deliciousness before Christmas break and it was love at first taste. I was never a fan of peppermint candy cane but I have to say, the blend of candy cane, sugar, white chocolate, and decadent chocolate brownie is very scrumptious. I made sure to eat this and take a photo this week because since it is Christmas-y and a seasonal offering, Starbucks might discontinue it anytime.

The second trying this dessert did not disappoint. The shell was sweet with that nice peppermint twist. The white chocolate is somewhat hidden behind the peppermint flavour, not overwhelming at all. I almost wish there is more of a white chocolate creaminess to the flavour. The shell was not hard either so it did not break into pieces too easily, making it easy to eat. The inside was just perfect. The brownie was moist, not overly sweet, and very soft and chewy. The texture is just right, and so is the sweetness level. In no way is this overly sweet. I would say it is one of the less overwhelming Starbucks desserts. Although it is small, I could have eaten a bigger one, or even a second cake pop, no problem.

Having worked (well, volunteered) at Starbucks over a year ago, I know that the handcrafted beverages' quality really depends on the barista. Each drink can be drastically different. It all depends on the amount of syrup and more importantly, the way the milk is steamed. My first ever cup of Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte was good, but then I got a very un-sweet cup the second time. That stopped me from getting it again. Today, however, I was feeling up to giving it another shot. I am glad I did.

I asked for no foam so the whole cup had more milk and creamy richness to it. The amount of syrup in this particular cup was just right. The nice and light sweet flavour was great and a perfect blend with the milk. The cinnamon on top added a nice hint of spice. This cup of coffee has definitely reawakened my taste buds, making me want to go back for more espresso beverages. I will make sure I do that sometime next week. Steamed milk, when done right, is always a nice drink.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Oreo's 100th Anniversary! - McDonald's

March 6, 2012
McDonald's, Richmond BC
Cookies 'N Cream Pie
Baked Apple Pie

Since January, Canadian McDonald's restaurants have been offering the new Cookies 'N Cream Pie made with Oreos in celebration of Oreo's 100th anniversary. Mom waited for me to return home for spring break to try it. We loved the old S'mores Pie and we hoped this would be just as good. I mean, chocolate pies are the best - what's not to love?

I always think it is ridiculous that the price in Canada is $1.19 for one pie or $1.39 for two. Twenty cents for that extra dessert is always very tempting so we always get two. As we walked in though, I realized there was only one red pie box left. We were kind of disappointed but we wanted to try it so badly. Instead, we got one of each flavour. (These photos were taken later when Mom ate it with Dad at home so credits go to her. I was clearly too excited to eat the first time that I forgot about photos.)

The Cookies 'N Cream Pie tasted great to me. Mom is not the biggest fan of vanilla flavours. I loved the semi-sweet black crust though. It tastes as good as it looks. The filling was not overly sweet either. It was more smooth and had a lovely texture, taking away from the focus on taste. I appreciated it for not being too sweet though, definitely not as overwhelming as Oreos. The centre was almost sticky which is just the way I prefer it. However, I do agree with Mom that the S'mores one was better just because the chocolate and marshmallow filling with whole wheat crust had a richer taste to the pie.

Their Baked Apple Pie has always been one of my favourite casual snacks. The mix of cinnamon and apple is just about perfect, as it should since this has been around for as long as I can remember. The flaky pie crust is not necessarily my favourite but apples and cinnamon will always do the trick for me. I love the warm, moist, and chewy apple slices with the perfect amount of spice and sweetness. Who cares if it is junk food? It tastes better than a lot of store sold apple pies and more convenient, too!

I really like it when McDonald's introduce new flavours for their desserts and new, interesting products. I am always especially excited for new flavours of their pies. It would be great if they can bring back their S'mores pies, but I have a feeling that won't happen. In the meantime, let's hope the Cookies 'N Cream will be around long enough so I can have another one when I go home.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Red and Sweet - Red Velvet Whoopie Pie

March 23, 2012
Starbucks, Philadelphia PA
Red Velvet Whoopie Pie

It was a beautiful day today so Casey and I finally got to go for our little coffee chat. Before we got to Starbucks however, we got our own iced coffees and chips and dips at the dining hall. Then at Starbucks, I managed to persuade her to get the Red Velvet Whoopie Pie too. After all, it is no longer on the official Starbucks Petites menu online, although it does say it is still available after Googling it. For some reason, the Starbucks beside our dining hall still had this little red treat that I have wanted to try since forever.

I was not disappointed when I finally finished taking pictures and we dug in into each of our treats. The icing was soft, the cake moist, the icing perfectly sweet with just the right buttercream icing texture. It was a VERY delicious treat. I could have eaten another one no problem. Cake and icing is just the perfect pair for me.

Honestly though, Starbucks almost never disappoints. Perhaps once every now and then there will be that cup of poorly crafted beverage because a barista is not stepping up his or her game. The food though, since it's not made then and there, is always good. I know they make sure it is fresh, only allowing it to be kept for a certain number of days. I should know since I have worked there, even if I did not get paid.

Anyways, the fact that their prices are so high compared to, say, McDonald's, ensures their brand name will retain that quality. Their stores are always so nice and relaxing, feeling like those indie coffee shops. Most stores have that quaint coffee shop feel to it where one can just sit, relax, and enjoy a cup of aromatic coffee and a sweet, delicious treat. Even if it is the largest international coffee chain, it does not have that cheap, commercial feel. That's what I love about Starbucks. A nice chat over coffee and a little bit of ruby deliciousness - a wonderful way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Asian Baked Freshness - 大统华面包坊-T&T Bakery

March 9, 2012
大统华面包坊 - T&T Bakery, Richmond BC
豆沙饱 (Black Bean Bun)
台式菠萝包 (Pineapple Bun (TW))
蛋糕堡 (椰丝) (Cake With Coconut)
三宝包 (Taro Custard & Red Bean Bun)
蛋皮肉松卷 (Dried Pork Omelet Bun)

T&T is definitely not cheap, but Mom and I think that for the quality of their buns, they definitely do not overprice their items. The bread is always freshly baked each morning, which means they are sold at discounted prices every night. That's when we normally go to buy them. They get to around 50% off and it is not like we would buy it and eat it right away anyways. They make great breakfasts for the next two or three days. Only, when they are discounted like this, they come in packs of seven randomly selected buns depending on the availability each night.

Picking out a bag with as many of your own favourites as possible without any labels of what each bun is is a definite art. Mom, my aunt, and I each have our way of figuring out what we have in our bag, whether that is by paying attention to the person packaging them up or to the different things on the outer layer such as sesame seeds or almond slices. After dinner with Chris, I decided to go and get some. Here is some of the ones I returned with (he took some and some were squished and thus the photos turned out horrible but I'll get around to those sometime).

First off is the 豆沙饱. Though this is one of the cheaper ones originally in the bag, I wanted to eat it. I love the simplicity of bread filled with red bean paste (or is it black bean?). The most traditional but still one of the best when the bread is soft, moist, and chewy and the red bean paste sweet but not overwhelming. The flower shape added that sense of quality to it. These buns really ought not to be refrigerated, just so the bread will remain moist and chewy - just the way I like it. Dry bread is flavourless with a bad texture - the light sweetness somehow is not as pronounced once it dries up.

This was my first time trying their 台式菠萝包. I have always had filled pineapple buns and not the plain kind. The last time I had a plain one was probably years ago from Maxim's Bakery. The pineapple topping was nice and sweet and again, the bread is good when it is moist and chewy. This was a little dry when I tried it the next day. That is probably just because I left it too long. However, with no filling, the bun is bland, even with the hint of sweetness in the dough. I find that it is too big of a bun to be without filling as the topping does not provide enough flavour compared to the volume. Ahhh, that lovely surface area to volume ratio!

Next came the 蛋糕堡 (椰丝). It is by far my favourite Chinese sponge cake ever, minus the shredded coconut on top. The red bean cream is better than regular cream, not as overwhelming and with a nice red bean aroma. It can get a bit too much sometimes, though, so I generally leave the filling parts for Mom. Instead, I much prefer just the cake part. It could be a bit sweeter, but the lighter taste is definitely more refreshing. Often, I eat this too fast and start choking on the cake. That is usually uncomfortable, but the cake is clearly just too good to resist.

I brought the 三宝包 to school with me. This is only the second time I have had this bun. I have to say that although the concept is quite simple, if you break up the three little buns, each is just a simple mini bun with filling: taro, red bean, and custard. However, each of these pastes is one of my favourite bun fillings. T&T makes the sweetness level just right and there is a decent amount in each bun. I could definitely do with a lot more filling but it is better than some bakeries. The three stuck together is not the most creative either but there is just something about simplicity. It definitely adds to the cuteness factor for this bun. The bread for this manages to remain moist and chewy, even once I got back to Philly. I squish it a bit before eating the dough to bring out the sweetness and chewy-ness but it is definitely one of my new favourites.

Finally, my absolute favourite Asian bun of all time (at the moment at least and for the past year): 蛋皮肉松卷. I brought this with me to school as well, and ate the last half of it on the morning of my math midterm. I had left it in the fridge but because of the egg and Asian mayo, the bread remained generally moist and chewy. A bit more moist than usual, actually, which made it even better! The mayo (or maybe egg white sauce of some sort?) remains a mystery to me. I know it is used in Asian sandwiches but I have never managed to find it on any shelves available for purchase. Maybe T&T makes it themselves. In that case, I'm out of luck. The pork fluff with the mayo and egg is just so good. I cannot even begin to describe how nice a mix of savoury and sweet it is, together with the different textures and levels of chewy-ness. Absolutely gorgeous and a definite must-try!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mon Premier Macaron - Saint Germain Bakery

March 4, 2012
Saint Germain Bakery, Richmond BC
Coffee French Macaroon
Hazelnut French Macaroon
Pistachio French Macaroon
Chocolate French Macaroon
Strawberry French Macaroon
Lemon French Macaroon

This post only came out today because it is Macaron Day! Too bad I am not home and thus cannot go get some free macarons around town.

When I first saw pictures of French macaroons, or macarons I guess, it was on Facebook and I had no idea what they were. However, what I did know was that I wanted to try some of those incredibly colourful and delicious-looking sandwich things. I am always attracted to rainbow colours so it is not surprising I have a soft spot for at least the visual appeal of these little confection goodies.

I asked Mom (once I found out what they were called) whether she knew about them and whether she had ever tried one. To the first question, she answered yes, which made me wonder why she never told me about them, being a food fanatic herself. To the second however, she said no. That is probably why I have never heard of macaroons before.

Before returning home for spring break, I found out online that Saint Germain Bakery in Aberdeen Centre sold macaroons. Mom said she saw them before, except they were mini ones. That suits me just fine though! So I made it my business to go there and get macaroons - my first ever. They were cheaper by the dozen and since I had no flavour preferences, having never tried any before, we got a dozen with two of each flavour.

My favourites so far are coffee, chocolate, and pistachio. They had full flavours. The different creams on the inside were also great with a rich and dense flavour. The strawberry, lemon, and hazelnut were okay. I did not quite like the strawberry jam as it is nothing new. I could not figure out exactly what the lemon filling was but lemon to me should be light and refreshing. This was just a bit too heavy for me. The hazelnut did not have a very distinct flavour. It is hazelnut after all. It was good but nothing special.

Though these are the only macaroons I have ever tasted, I know from my online searches that they should have a hard shell with a soft, moist centre. I do not know whether it is because these were not freshly made everyday but the inside was definitely not moist, not even the coffee one which was never put in the refrigerator. I do hope to go to some other bakeries around town this summer and try out other macaroons. Mom did not particularly like the texture but perhaps she will like the ones with moist centres.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Cheesylicious Farewell - The Cheesecake Factory

March 11, 2012
The Cheesecake Factory, Seattle WA
[Whole Wheat Bread]
Bang - Bang Chicken and Shrimp
Luau Salad
Pineapple Upside-Down Cheesecake

After a week back home, it was time to leave for college again and again, I flew through Seattle. Mom and I were so excited for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory in downtown Seattle. Last time at Bellevue was a slight disappointment but I managed to convince her the restaurants in bigger cities and downtowns would be better. I was right.

I remembered to ask for only Whole Wheat Bread for their complimentary dinner bread. It is just so soft and chewy on the inside, with a distinctive but not overwhelming sweet aroma. The harder outside was chewy and good. It literally is one of my favourite breads ever. Mom's too, hands down.

Mom did not get enough of the Luau Salad from last time in Vegas. This time, the first plate they brought up had stale won ton wrappers. The oil was definitely bad. Clearly, the ones they gave us were not newly fried. That was annoying. They took it back and gave us another one. The second one had no stale oil taste. We were somewhat annoyed that a big chain like The Cheesecake Factory would serve leftover food to minimize costs. At least they gave us another one though. Mom still thinks they overdress the salad but I think the flavour is good. The mango salsa and the crispy won tons really make the dish brilliant - when made right that is.

I ordered the Fresh Vegetable Salad but did not bother with photos. It is just the same as always. Nothing really changes when it comes to greens and white cheddar. It was refreshing though so I got what I wanted. 

I suggested for Dad to order the Thai-style Bang - Bang Chicken and Shrimp. All of us loved this dish. The curry had a hint of sweetness and spice. It was very flavourful. The (baked?) coconut bits on top were sweet and really good. My favourite coconut yet - and that is saying something because as a general rule, I do not eat shredded coconut. The shrimp was a little over done, I thought. The brown rice was okay but my favourite part is still the sauce mixed with some of the sauteed vegetables. I was surprised to find cucumber in there but it was still good. I like the dish with only a little rice though. The sauce was not salty enough to call for all the rice on that dish. The sauce was just splendid though.

Finally, as decided last time in Vegas, we tried the Pineapple Upside-Down Cheesecake. It was scrumptious. Mom said it was better than the Chocolate Raspberry Truffle one we had in Vegas and I was all "I told you we should have picked the pineapple in Vegas!" It's nice knowing for once, I made a better decision about food than she did. It usually is the other way around but this whole night, I was right about the food. Like dead on. That pleased me a lot.

The cake was so good. The two layers of pineapple upside-down cake was nice and sweet with that hint of brown sugar and lots of pineapple bits which were so refreshing. The pineapple cheesecake in the middle was perfectly creamy and not overly sweet - just about... perfect! Mom ate the cherry on top, even though she did not know why this time they gave us a cherry until I reminded her pineapple upside-down cakes usually had pineapples AND cherries. We devoured the cheesecake like never before. Mostly, I think it was because it was not overwhelmingly cheesy and so lighter than other cheesecakes, allowing us to eat more without getting that 'heavy' feel you sometimes experience with a large slice of chocolate cheesecake.

Overall, the food was great, besides that little mishap. We will definitely be going to Cheesecake Factories every chance we get. There are still so many flavours left to try! Peanut butter next!