Snacking on life, living off snacks.

Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

Review: Organic evaporated cane juice sugar (aka rice cooker cake)

In Uncategorized on 10/28/2009 at 4:29 am

I’ve been wanting to make rice cooker cake for awhile. I first learned of it through an email forward with a Taiwan missionary’s recipe. But first, due diligence was necessary. I decided to google “rice cooker cake,” and read about 5 pages worth of webpage results. Gotta make sure it’ll work, since a rice cooker is indispensible!

Instead of the email recipe, I used a regular chocolate cake recipe from the Joy of Cooking. Actually, it’s a vegan recipe with oil instead of butter, but it tastes normal.

Still, I was worried about this cake because the original recipe called for a steam cooker, which is not exactly a rice cooker I’m thinking of. The former involves an outer rim of water, and the latter is just a matter of pressing the little lever down.

And press I did. In the course of 2 hours, I pressed the cook function more than a dozen times. I had a minor freak out when the button refused to be pressed down, but it just meant that I had to wait a few minutes before trying again. The sensor needed the pot to cool down.

The result? A pretty moist chocolate cake, but with a dry outer crust.

Would I recommend it? Yes, if only for the novelty. But only if you have a lot of patience.

The thing about the cake was that it also wasn’t very sweet at all. I’ve baked most of my goods with TJ’s expensive organic cane sugar not because I want to yuppify my brownies or cookies, but because that’s the only sugar they sell. I appreciate the large, pretty crystals, especially for decorative purposes, but I do think they are less sweet than your regular C&H. Baked goods turn out barely sweet. This is good in some senses, but for the harsh and strong American palate, on which sweet and salty are carried to extremes, my cake might have been too ambiguous to be called sweet.

I’m not going to rate the sugar, but let it be said that if you want your baked goods to sparkle without too much sweetness, it’s your cup o’ sugar.

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The Quirtsiness of TJ

In Uncategorized on 10/21/2009 at 3:07 am

And by “quirtsiness,” I mean quirky cutsiness. This weekend was the Head of the Charles, which is a huge crew tournament that happens on the Charles River. My Trader Joe’s, located conveniently next to the river, was all decked out in river theme, with boat cutouts and punny signs. It was really quirtsy.

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The sign on the bottom is in the shape of a boat and it says, “We don’t have sails, we have low prices every day of the week.”

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Review: Beer bread mix

In Uncategorized on 10/16/2009 at 5:13 am

I am a newcomer to beer. After realizing that in order to play beer pong you actually have to *gasp* drink beer, I only recently started bona fide drinking it. Maybe the initial hesitance is because when I was four, my dad gave me a small swig of his Miller Lite at my insistence, and I remember it being really, really gross.  I’m pretty sure I spit it up. (Don’t call the cops on my dad, please.)

But 22 years later, I’ve found out that beer isn’t really that bad–and cheaper than girly drinks and wine, to boot. So when I saw this beer bread mix on the New Items shelf at Trader Joe’s, I was intrigued. Perhaps this would be the final stretch to my Bridge to Beer.

The supposed appeal of this beer bread mix is the many permutations you can make. As it says on the label, you can use pilsners, ales, dark beers, light beers, and ciders to alter the taste. And because the bread base tastes somewhere in between sweet and savory, you can throw in nuts, cheese, dried fruits, whatever. Maybe not chocolate.

For my first try, I used Magic Hat. I also decided to make mini-muffins instead of the full loaf, for time and maximum dissemination’s sake.

For starters, this bread is super easy to make. It is literally just mix + beer. And it’s fun to hear the fizzing when they combine. Then all you got to do is pop it in the oven. A thick, warm beer aroma fills the air. My kitchen smelled like a fraternity house on a Saturday night. Minus the marijuana smoke and cheap perfume.

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After you drizzle the muffins (or bread slices) with melted butter, per the instructions, it’s done. I had about 15 people try out my Magic Hat beer mini-muffins, and the general consensus was that they were dense, yeasty, interesting, and “hoppy.” I don’t know enough beerspeak to understand what “hoppy” means, but to me it definitely tastes like solid beer, with a slight bitter aftertaste. It is dense and chewy, and much yummier when warm right out of the oven. Next time I should serve them in red Solo cups.

The concept of a beer bread is a little cannabilistic, or ontologically perverse– since beer is made out of wheat, it’s like liquid wheat being cooked with refined wheat (flour). Its carb-on-carb action. Like a giant SCREW YOU to Dr. Atkins. Or… it also reminds me of that Biblical directive to not cook a kid (young goat) in its mother’s milk, because there is something wrong with blending two of the same thing together in a destructive manner. It is posthumously cruel.

Along those lines, the mini-muffins I made today were the size of ping pong balls (see photo). So if I played beer pong with them, that’s wheat-on-wheat-on-wheat. Truly heinous, no?

Beer Bread Mix: 3.5/5 pelts.

Review: Bake shop chocolate chip cookies

In Uncategorized on 10/13/2009 at 4:02 am

When I really like a food, I really like it. I will seek it out and keep eating it until it suddenly loses appeal (rarely) or until I feel guilty about it (usually).  (See: challah).  As a child, this inclination manifested itself in multiple bowls of west lake beef soup (a Chinese egg drop soup of which my parents would have to order extra in order to sate me), and untold bowls of white rice (which I could eat on its own. I think my record was 8 bowls.) As an adult, this has meant spur-of-the-moment cravings of graham cracker pie crust (I can put away an entire crust in one sitting) and mochi topping from froyo joints (sometimes I just order mochi sans froyo).

Not really a good thing, come to think of it. My solution for these matters is usually to not buy it at all if I feel there may be the temptation to overly love it, or to find mechanisms to encourage moderation. For example, one time at a retreat, in order to stop myself from eating more than half an ice cream sandwich, I poured water all over the other half, while the rest of my table howled in dissent.

The funny thing is I always think I can rise above it. In a burst of ambition, I will buy something thinking I can eat it like normal people do, and then surprise/disappoint myself when I demolish it. Don’t get me wrong; for 99 percent of food items I eat like normal people. And I’m generally a pretty healthy eater. But Achilles’ heels are Achilles’ heels, okay?

That’s a long intro to my review for these chocolate chip cookies I bought in a moment of weakness at TJ’s. They’re the soft, chewy kind sitting on the bread shelf, made with molasses and real butter. Normally I’m loathe to buy baked goods, since I figure I can bake them myself. I rationalized this time that I would bake my own chocolate chip cookies and compare them. HA! These cookies didn’t stand a chance. It was like free t-shirts at a software convention. Gone. As soon as I tasted the soft, subtle goodness of the dough and the big fat semisweet chocolate chips, it was over. I think I finished them in 2 days.

They were fabulous. Absolutely delicious. 5/5 pelts.

Which is why I’ll never buy them again.

Review: Whole grain hard pretzels

In Uncategorized on 10/08/2009 at 3:21 am

Pretzels are pretzels. There’s the oh-my-freaking-goodness-get-me-one-NOW kind at the mall, where I’m fully convinced they  station scent-amplifying fans next to the ovens to attract as many teenage mallrats as possible.

Then there are the hard, sturdy kind– so serious, so salty, so…. hard. Cover them with mustard (ew) or Nutella (yay!!) and you got yourself a serious snack.

I decided to buy the latter kind at Trader Joe’s, after realizing I should not exclusively snack on sweet things.

It’s tasty enough– you can’t taste the texture of the whole grain really, but it’s hearty and relatively filling for a stick of baked flour.

I had it for a snack today sans peanut butter or Nutella though, and it just came off as really dry. That’s not fair to the pretzel though. I just wish I could dip it in something.

4/5 pelts.

Reviews: Pumpkin pancake mix, soy nuggets, black bean enchiladas

In Uncategorized on 10/05/2009 at 4:55 am

Pumpkin Pancake/Waffle Mix:

I split the mix in half; pancakes were made twice. Thus, this eliminated some of the arbitrariness that might have been assigned to uneven portions of ingredients (here at TJJunkie, it is important to apply scientific rigor).

The first time I overdid it with the milk, leading to slightly limp pancakes that nonetheless “tastes just like pancakes that are supposed to taste like pumpkin pie!”” (said A.W.) About 5 people sampled them and concurred that the pumpkin flavor stood out but the texture was not ideal. The second time I made these, they turned out far fluffier because I stuck to the exact measurements. For me, the pumpkin flavor was pronounced but not overpowering, leading to a yummy carby treat that screams “Autumn!”

Pumpkin pancake/waffle mix: 4/5 pelts. (only accounting for pancakes)

Soy Nuggets

Before you judge me as some PETA- supporting, granola-chugging, hemp-sporting soy freak, I defend myself by saying 1) I was really hungry and wanted non-meat, non-tofu, non-peanut butter protein and 2) someone asked me to review them!

First, a thought on soy protein:

As an Asian person, I like soy milk and I adore tofu. Therefore, there was a natural skepticism that came when the Western world decided to co-opt soy and turn it into all things protein.  Tofu chili, soy crumbles, tofu hot dogs, soy burgers, etc. Over time, however, I admit that I’ve largely bought into the soy movement; mostly because there are days when I just don’t feel like meat and I need something filling. After sucking it up for so long, soy protein doesn’t taste weird to me anymore.

These frozen soy nuggets were crusted with whole wheat crumbs and fried in expeller-pressed oil (whatever that means); they are also low fat. I heated them in the oven and had them nice and toasty. I shared with a friend and we both agreed that it tasted way better than we expected, largely because of the crumbly, crunchy texture on the outside. The soy protein felt like the spongy insides of any nugget (let’s be honest: even chicken doesn’t feel like chicken in nuggets.) I also had them when they were cold and they didn’t taste bad either.

But dip them hot in ketchup and they are actually delicious! Soy nuggets: 4/5 pelts

Black bean enchilada

I’m not a huge fan of cheese and  wanted a Mexican frozen entree without it. Since every Mexican dish is smothered in cheese, I did not expect to find one. Lo and behold I stumble upon the frozen black bean enchilada, filled with zucchini, peppers, corn, and… small cubes of tofu.

My last experience with tofu as a meat in Western food was unpleasant: it was a chili consisting of cut-up cubes of soft tofu and tons of salsa and canned tomatoes. It made me realize that watery salsa and watery tofu, while holding similar liquid properties, are absolutely and completely not meant for each other.

Anyway. So I worried about this enchilada as I felt the tofu on my tongue (there is no indication on the packaging save for the ingredient list that tofu is in there; they probably understood that it would scare people off.). However… it was quite delicious! The smoky enchilada sauce somehow manages to complement the veggies and the tiny cubes of tofu. Maybe it’s because the whole melange of ingredients in between corn tortillas tastes heartily Southwestern.

Either way, I like it enough to have bought it now….10 times? for lunch. Maybe more. I’m only recently getting tired of it.

Frozen Black Bean Enchiladas: 4/5 pelts.

Keep the suggestions coming!

Press my button for service

In Uncategorized on 10/01/2009 at 3:50 am

Beyond the oodles and oodles of goods at Trader Joe’s, one thing I enjoy are the random conversations with the cashiers. There they are, in their Hawaiian shirts, happily ringing up Greek yogurt or pita chips. They always emanate this cheerful-without-being-perky, laid-back-without-being-lazy, almost Californian vibe. Most of the time, they’ll strike up some casual conversation– on any given day I’ll chat with them about whatever I’m buying, about the weather, about food, about their day, etc.

It’s a stark contrast to what seems to be the current trend in customer service: self-service units. You know: self-service stamp kiosks at the post office, self-checkout at the library and the bigger grocery stores, self-check-in at the airport, the good old ATM. You get in, you get out, with only the need to hand-sanitizer-it after touching buttons and screens.

If the objective is to get in and out of there as soon as possible, that makes perfect sense.

However, I can’t help but wonder what societal implications exist in trading human interaction for efficiency. While we all know we’d rather talk to a person on any 1-800 number or customer helpline for efficiency’s sake, the argument for preserving in-person customer service is a bit different. You probably can get things done faster if you get into the self-checkout.

But at what cost? In our iPod-headphones/cell phone world, we’re already decreasing our concentrated face time with strangers. Accessing these self-service units on a regular basis will cut back human interactions during routine transactions. This is disturbing to me. For a quasi-introvert, on some level I know I need to talk to strangers on a semi-regular basis to a) remember there are all sorts of people outside of my own world and b) practice my social skills. Talking to the cashier is just one small way of doing that. There’s also something blessed about the shared humanity you witness during a friendly, warm moment with someone you just met.

So I suppose, if I have the time, I’d rather interact (sometimes forcing myself) with a cashier than gain proficiency in touching screens. At Trader Joe’s recently, a cashier sent me off with a random: “Stay focused.” I asked, “On what?” He said, “Anything you choose.” Food for thought.

And I didn’t have to Purell after, either.

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