Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My singlefier

If you took note of my pathetic kitchen cabinet you would have noticed packages upon packages of Wakabato Aji Zukushi. They are my favorite chip/rice cracker. Hands down. Addicted. Might be the reason why I am single. Might be the reason why I am alone. But I don't care, this to me is a guilty sin - and is more dependable, more enjoyable and tastier than any man could ever be. Some people drink, some people smoke, I Aji Zukushi.

Aji Zukushi is the UN of snacks - where you can get the cross-mingling of normally unique items- a mix bag of flavors, textures, shapes and colors. Salty meets sweet. Plain meets neon. Fish meet flowers.

First the negatives - the whole bag is greasy. Be forewarned. It's also not healthy, one bag has more sodium and fat than is needed to kill an ox. Good thing I only eat about 8 each weekend…mmmm...grease....

Similar to the Hadson Co.'s Aji Yose, this combination comes in a large purple bag marked 300 yen and is sold at either $2.99 at either $2.69 depending on which shop you go to. Fair warning, cut off my supply and I will not be a happy person.

The chips vary from package to package but there are a few staples.

The green, white and pink very thin almost puffed chips. These are quite salty and fragile. They are most often the "dust" left at the bottom of the bag. I tend to eat these first. They don't have much flavor aside from salt and it's fun to try and pick them out.

The white discs - Hard circular discs with traces of nori in each. Absolutely no flavor. I tend to pick out.

The curly screw chip - Very hard, very salty. No flavor other than salt but in a good way. These are eaten third.

Wasabi curls - green smaller curly screw chips. Only in certain packages. Extreme Wasabi flavor. Eat at your own risk.

Small speckled hexagon shaped brown discs. Taste like ketchup, well ketchup that has sat out in the sun for three weeks. Not the most pleasant flavor, but there are only occassionally a few in the package and by that point, the gluttony has set in and they end up scoffed anyway.

Brown large discs - Now the element of sweet is introduced. Not overly sweet with a light hint of soy sauce flavor. Crunchy and very good. My favorite of the lot. I put these right in the middle of the eating process because they are a nice transition.

Orange fishees - Fish shaped chips that glisten with greese. Unlike the smaller goldfish style crackers, these are very sweet. Often times in the packages the cracker breaks and you are left with a head searching for a tail and vice versa. Fun to try and reassemble.

Flowers - White, Pink, Green and Yellow. Sweet. Probably the sweetest of the lot. A nice way to shock your body into sugar mode from all the salt.

J speckled pieces - very sweet and crispy. A nice piece to save for last as they are slightly less sweet than the flowers yet still pack that sugar punch.

I know this probably doesn't sound appealing in the slightest, artificial flavors with overly salted and overly sweet crackers. But it works. I don't know what it is but the ratio of salty to sweet is just perfectly balanced in each bag. Perhaps it's the draw of the grease or the magic colors, but it is magic bag. 10/10 Potential to get you a date 0/10

Needing an intervention

I eat healthy...really I do...Aji Zukushi, Glenisoy brownies, cookies and popcorn. What more could a girl want?
Screams single girl in the city doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Battle of the Bakeries - Bread Alone vs. Whole Foods

Obviously I spent Memorial Day alone. I love weekends alone and try to forrage into various shops and locations. I somehow got the great idea to binge and begin product testing an old faithful vs. an intriguing new comer to my baked good knowledge.

Normally at the Green Market I tend to stick to the produce - what's in season and what looks tasty. Although sadly my apple supply has been drying up, strawberries, rhubarb and the summer fruits have picked up. However this weekend I was on a mission -not to buy the produce, but to try out some of the bakeries and compare them to the same or similar products from Whole Foods - my usual go to place when I want a cookie and my Italian Bakery doesn't carry it. The most obvious choice: Bread Alone

So, it was a head to head battle this weekend with a few additions from both sides. Bread Alone vs. Whole Foods. In order to assure quality I bought two of each item tested from both locations to assure consistancy and in effect to add pounds to my waistline. Let's not talk about it. It was all in the name of science.

*Please note this is the point where my camera decided to fail and as such I have to go off of words rather than images. Let's hope I can get this fixed soon and upload a few.**

First up, Bread Alone. Bread Alone is easily recognizable at the Green Market by their wooden glass fronted case that always features a divine display of organic bread. They use only organic flour and ingredients in their product. However, the lovely selection of breads is also complimented by a few selections of pastries that have always tempted me.

Whole Foods has their own in house bakery per each store and each store can independently order any additional product range.

Head to head cookie battle:
Round 1- The chocolate cookie:

Bread Alone - Triple Chocolate Cookie

As a Levain devotee, I was surprised by my feelings of sheer bliss upon eating this cookie. This absolutely black cookie was utterly crumbly and sweet without the overbearingness of being too sweet. It was not cakey or gooey, but had the perfect consistancy where the chips melded with the chocolate to create crumbly goodness that absolutely dissolved in my mouth. Feeling that I needed to try and recreate the semi-homeade quality with this cookie, I put in the toaster oven where it melted and became even more crumbly. The chocolate hit on multiple notes. There was the chocolate in the cookie itself added a bittersweet note to the sweet aspects of the cookie. The only improvement that could be made to this cookie would be to make it bigger - perhaps one giant cookie the size of Union Square itself. Not puffy, like the Levain cookies just massive and huge. I want my world to be made out of Bread Alone Triple Chocolate Cookies. A very surprising 10/10.

Whole Foods Double Chocolate Cookie

Unlike the Bread Alone cookie, although dark, it was not the pure black of the triple chocolate cookie. It was about the same size as the Bread Alone but was a bit chewier and firmer. The consistency was the same as a pre-bought Chips Ahoy chewy cookie, pleasant but lacking that homebaked feel. Upon tasting, the cookie was a bit of a disappointment, lacking in chocolate flavor. The chocolate was slightly enhanced by placing the cookie in a warm toaster oven allowing the chips to melt, but I felt as if vanilla flavoring wasn't in the regular WF chocolate chip cookie, the two could easily be mistaken as the same product. 6/10

Round 2: The Peanut Butter Cookie

Bread Alone
Again great flavor and a very crumbly consistency. The peanut flavor was obvious and the cookie felt homemade. However, it's downfall for me was the phenomenom of a plethora of peanuts. A bit too many peanuts for my liking - it was impossible to sample the actual cookie without sampling the peanuts. Some people may like a high peanut to cookie ratio in peanut butter cookies but I prefer to actually have a bit of cookie to taste accented with peanuts rather than have peanuts accented with cookie. 6/10

Whole Foods - Again, the cookie was perfectly formed, a bit thicker than Bread Alone. Unlike their Double Chocolate cookie, the peanutbutter was less chewy and a bit more crumbly. Peanuts were strewn on top but the ratio of peanut to cookie was substantially less than Bread Alone letting the cookie take center stage. However, as with the double chocolate, the overall flavor was lacking. There was a slight hint of peanut butter but it was a bit too subtle for my liking. 6/10

Round 3: The Almond Croissant
The Almond Croissant is a sacred pastry in my book. When I lived in Paris, I lived right above a bakery. When I would come home late and the bakery was kicking in to production for the morning rush, I could give a bit of a peer in and be slipped the croissant d'almandes that had not managed to hold together. As a result my impression of an almond croissant is one of pure butter and tons of almond crème - moist, buttery and absoultely sinful.

Bread Alone Almond Croissant
This was a disappointment. At first look it appeared promising, a few almond slivers on the outside of a perfectly formed croissant, but I should have noted the extremely dark color externally. The ends were a bit hard and the skin peeled away from the croissant to reveal a Sahara of almond paste in the center- absolutely no moisture or paste only three or four almond slivers. Trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, I tested a bit from the center and was very disappointed at the lack of true almond flavor. The skin on the outside of the croissant slightly charred and interferred with even the buttery flavor of a normal croissant. Unfortunately there wasn't even a grease stain on my napkin - healthy or just over cooked? I was hoping it was a one off event, but ripping apart the second one, the lack of moisture was still apparent. Bad batch? 2/10

Whole Foods Almond Croissant
This was more my style. The croissant was a bit firmer but lighter than the Bread Alone version. Ripping off the ends, the almond paste oozed out into a very sweet, but definitively almondy taste. It was moist and the paste was evenly distributed throughout the croissant. Although the butter flavor was subtle, the grease stain on the napkin was apparent. The almond slivers were only on the top of the croissant but the almond flavor was strong and delicious. I scoffed the second in one bite. 8/10

Round 4 Additional Products:

Bread Alone

Corn muffin- Being a fan of corn bread and corn muffins I eschewed the other muffins in favor of the corn. Not a logical choice I know given the whole grain nature of the other muffins and the quality of the ingredients the bakery uses. However, I love a good corn muffin. Unfortunately this was nothing special. It was dry, perfectly formed but lacking in any type of flavor what so ever. It was not overly sweet as most corn muffins have the danger of being, but it did not have even the subtle hint of corn. Bland. 2/10

Parisian Apple Tart - This was a delight. I'm not normally a fan of fruit pastries but the shape of this product attracted me immediately. It had a crystalized top that was delicately folded over the apples leaving the apple visible but creating almost a pastry bow on top of the apples. Unlike the almond croissant, this pastry was buttery and perfect with a sweetness enhanced by the crystalized sugar on top. The apples were sweet and moist without touching on the normal canned apple sickly sweet flavor. The apples were soft and melted as soon as you bit into them. Extremely pleasant. 7/10.

Brownie - or perhaps it should be renamed The Massive Brownie. Again, like the triple chocolate cookie it was dark and very crumbly. Not overly sweet but with a rich deep chocolate flavor. It was cakier than the cookie but still fell apart and dissolved instantly when bitten into. Although the texture would could not be described as a pure "end" piece of brownie since it was soft, utter velvet, if you are a fan of the outside portions, you will like this one. It wasn't moist, but pure velvet. Again can I say massively sized? The portion is the size of one fourth of a brownie pan. I ate two…on my own. 9/10

Whole Foods

Chocolate Chip - Although bigger than a Chips Ahoy cookie, the texture and look is oddly similar. However, the taste is much more reminicsent of the nestle's chocolate chip recipe with many more chocolate chips added into the batter. It's the additional chocolate chips that make this cookie a winner. The cookie itself is a bit sweet, but not being able to take even the smallest nibble without hitting a chocolate chip, enhanced by the massive hunk of chocolate in the center makes the cookie pleasant. 7/10

Sugar free almond - The almond tempted me, but I was extremely dissapointed. Small, very small for the $1.29 price. The cookie itself was very hard, not crispy just hard. Trying to even rip off or bite into it was virtually impossible, it was chewy to an extreme. The one bite I did manage to get down was just of substance, there was no flavor whatsoever. 0/10

Sugar free chocoloate chip- As with the almond it was very small, very hard and chewy again. Had some flavor but the consistency was so unbearable that I couldn't finish one. 2/10

Leige Waffle - Confession, this one was not from the fresh baked section of the bakery but a part of the prepackaged, individually wrapped goods. As a fan of liege waffles I was very excited about this one. I put it in the toaster oven just to warm it up a bit, but although buttery, it lacked a bit of sweetness that other (Even prepackated) waffles have. There was no caramalization on the sugar front. Pleasant. 5/10

It was at this point I felt that either I was going to go all Sigourney Weaver and an alien was going to jump out of my stomach or like a pregnant woman, overdue and very uncomfortable. However, in the nature of the battle, I must declare a winner (NB: obviously not my waistline)

Battle Winner - Bread Alone

Although Whole Foods had a larger variety of pastries and cookies, the quality of most of Bread Alone was fantastic. Although both places had highs and lows, the high flavors were outstanding in most products. Slightly more expensive than Whole Foods this is definitely a treat to save up for and splurge on when you have the opportunity. The cost is worth the flavor. At Whole Foods, I doubt the cost for any of their goods except the almond croissant is warranted.