reviews

Photo Credit teafromtaiwan.com

Photo Credit teafromtaiwan.com

Oolong Tea (a.k.a Crack Tea)

So, funny story.  I was sitting in front of my computer, with a nice little headache, talking to a friend of mine who is dragging a bit.  We’re both lamenting because he’s tired and I’m trying to think of a topic on which to write.  Anyway, I start telling him that instead of energy drinks, whenever I feel like I need a pick-me-up or when I have a cold, I drink crack tea.  For minutes I go on and on about how this green oolong tea we get from TeaFromTaiwan.com is better than coffee, makes us feel better when we are sick, and is basically what makes us awesome.

I’m not sure he went and bought any, but it did give me a topic.  I’m going to review crack tea!

Wait, Why’s It Called Crack Tea?

Well, for starters the package is written in Chinese characters, so we had to call it something.  More importantly, we called it crack tea because the minute it entered into our office, none of us could stop drinking it.  I would go through 2 bags a day and I started hoarding some in my desk because I wanted to make sure it would be there when I needed a fix.  I even carried some around in my planner because I might need a little at home.

Okay, I have to stop here and say don’t freak out.  While all of that was true, I wasn’t quite the addict I claimed to be.  (Hi Mom!)  It was just I do love my caffeine and I used the stuff to get me off soda, which was pretty cool.

Anyway, crack tea also earned the name crack tea because of the caffeine in it.  We said drinking it was like being on crack, though frankly, I’m not sure any of us actually know what that’s like.  (Daniel?)

Either way, the stuff tastes good (tea purists will roll over in their grave when they hear I sweeten it … with Sweet and Low), it packs a punch, and seriously, if you have a cold, it’s 1,000 times better than DayQuil.  So if you get the chance, try some out.  A pack of 50 bags is only $16, which is a bargain when you think of all the soda and over the counter cold meds you won’t need to buy!

Fair Warning

I don’t know, I feel the need to raise the only concern about crack tea I have.  My concern goes back to the package being written in Chinese characters.  I honestly have no idea what’s in it.  I am pretty sure it’s only tea leaves and maybe a little cassia bark or something for flavor, but if you are really concerned, a little more research or a call to the owners of the website might not be a bad idea.

Honestly, at the end of the day, the stuff is probably made in the US and given crazy packaging so that American consumers think they are getting something mystical.  I’m not too worried about it.  The site appears reputable and I seem to be okay after drinking it for almost a year, so yeah, I say go for it.

Get your own crack…er oolong tea!

Picture taken from teafromtaiwan.com

Wonder ingredient powers activate!  Form of:

Crepini Cafe Crepes with Alouette Cheese

So, a couple times now you may have noticed me talking about Crepini Cafe‘s crepini, which aren’t quite a crepe and not quite a blini, but they’re filled and they taste good.  (You can check out my reviews for Crepini Cafe Greenwich Spinach and Four Cheese and Basil elsewhere on this fine blog.)  Well, I also asked to try just some of their crepes by themselves since I figure I’ll probably never own my own crepe cooking device.

(This is due in no small part to the fact that I am cheap and my wife hates crepes.)

Also, the good folks at Alouette sent me some coupons to try their cheese spread.  Since I was in an experimentin’ mood this weekend, I thought I would blend them and make a Mexican style crepe using Crepini Cafe crepes instead of tortillas.

How Was It?

REALLY good.  Despite the fact the Crepini Cafe crepes have been in my freezer for a while now, when I baked them for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven, they were still pliable and chewy.  They also tasted great and they went very well with the Alouette, which had great flavor and complemented the vegetarian topping very well.

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chickn_good_stuff_295x350Gardein Chick’n Good Stuff

So for this #MeatlessMonday post, I thought I’d review Gardein‘s Chick’n Good Stuff.  The nice folks at Gardein were nice enough to send me some review coupons for their products.

I was really appreciative of them doing so, so much so that I didn’t even think about the fact that you can’t get Gardein in Kansas City (that I know of.)  So, on a trip to St. Louis, Mrs. WellDone was able to land the mother load of frozen Gardein products.  For this post, I will talk about the Chick’n Good Stuff and in future posts, we’ll talk about the “beef” tips and their “chicken” fingers (both of which were really good.

What is Chick ‘n Good Stuff?

Chick ‘n Good Stuff is basically everything you want in a vegan meal.  They take their garden/plant-based chicken and stuff it with marinara and vegan cheese.  The outside is breaded with a flavorful coating.  You bake, you eat, you enjoy.  End of story.

The Good

Of all the Gardein products I’ve tasted from Mrs. WellDone’s mother load, these are probably my favorite for one reason: the marinara.  Sure, everyone at Gardein just winced a little because I didn’t say the chicken, but that’s not a knock against the plant-based chicken at all.  I really did like how moist and tender it was.  But the marinara was like… amazing.  I would have eaten it all by itself.

Don’t get me wrong, Gardein makes a mean vegan chicken.  It has all of the texture and most of the taste of real chicken.  (Gardein chicken has a slight aftertaste that was less than chickeny, but that’s common to all plant-based chicken products.  It’s also a little harsh because I was paying careful attention to any difference between Gardein and real meat for this review since I think it’s important faux meat products get close to what they are emulating.)  So really Chick’n Good Stuff gets high marks in the flavor and the “I’d drive to St. Louis and buy it again even if it means buying less Match Meat category.”  Two thumbs up.

The Less Than Good

I’m not labeling this “the bad” by any means, but there was one part of the Gardein that was less good than the others: the vegan cheese.  Not that Gardein doesn’t get an A for effort, but as a non-vegan, I could tell it wasn’t real cheese.  It just didn’t feel right.

Is that fair of me to judge Gardein on?  Maybe not, but I rate vegan food on two scales:

1) Would I eat this as a vegan?  The answer is everyday.

2)Would I serve this to my non-vegan friends in order to get them to consider veganism?  This is where the Chick’n Good Stuff stumbles.  I probably would not because of the vegan cheese.  If I had non-vegan friends coming over, I’d make the Crispy Tenders instead because those were almost perfect copies of real chicken.

The Verdict

Buy and try them.  Even if you are not vegan, the marinara is good by itself and the whole experience is worth a try.

Picture from gardein.com

The Tasteful Olive

The Tasteful Olive

Gourmet Olive Oils and Vinegars

So, by now, you may have heard me mention The Tasteful Olive and you may have noticed that I have been cooking with a lot of fancy balsamic vinegars and olive oils.  Well, that is because I met some tremendous foodies here in Overland Park, KS who run The Tasteful Olive, a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar store.

Basically, the tasteful olive features rows upon rows of containers, each holding a different flavored oil (mostly olive, but some truffle) or 12-18 year old balsamic vinegar with flavors ranging from lemon to black currant to fig to chocolate to vanilla.  Oh, and did I mention, samples are completely free!

The thing to do is give yourself an hour to just go in and try each one separately.  Then go back and mix and match (my personal favorite is still the Persian lime olive oil with the lemon balsamic, but you come up with your favorite.)  Then buy them and cook with them.  You’ll find recipes on their site and this one!

The Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Unsurprisingly, they are big advocates of consuming olive oil at The Tasteful Olive.  Jeanne and her husband both espouse it’s health benefits on a regular basis.  You can read more about it on Jeanne’s blog.

Baking with Olive Oil

They also want everyone to try baking with olive oil instead of butter because its healthier (and if you use a flavored olive oil, it’s tastier, too.)  As such, they hand out helpful charts to anyone considering baking with olive oil that tell you how much olive you need to replace an amount of butter.  I have typed the chart in below.

They recommend you use a lighter olive oil (*cough* Hojiblanca from Australia *cough*) but use what you have.  Do be careful, though.  I have found that olive oil cakes can dry faster than cakes that use butter.

Butter/Margarine Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon 3/4 Teaspoon
1 Tablespoon 2 1/4 Teaspoon
1/4 Cup 3 Tablespoons
1/3 Cup 1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons
2/3 Cup 1/2 Cup
3/4 Cup 1/2 Cup + 1 Tablespoon
1 Cup 3/4 Cup

By my calculation that means I need 2 1/4 cups of olive oil to make Ina Garten’s pound cake.  God bless that woman!

What Are You Waiting For?

You know where to get good olive oil and balsamic (at least in KC, but look for The Tasteful Olive online), now get to cooking!

Picture taken from http://www.thetastefulolive.com.

Oh, and as I’ve noted before, The Tasteful Olive has given me free and discounted bottles of both their gourmet olive oils and gourmet balsamic vinegars so that I could create recipes.

Farmhouse Scottish EggsThere’s going to be a

New Menu At the Farmhouse

(If you ain’t from around these parts, that’s not just some farm house, but the Farmhouse Restaurant next to the River Market) And you heard about the new menu here first!  (Unless you heard it somewhere else first, I guess.  It’s not exactly hush-hush since it’s on the front page of their web site.)  But I did hear it on good authority…Chef Michael himself!  (That’s gotta count for something.)

Not only did I hear about the new menu, but I got to sample one of the new menu items.  That’s it right over there.  What is it you ask?  It’s the Farmhouse’s take on a Scotch egg. 

What Chef Michael did, by his own explanation, was to soft boil a duck egg (yes, that’s right, a duck egg) and poach it in red wine.  (You can see the egg now has a very pleasant purple color in the image above.)  He then halved it, liberally packed it with homemade ham salad, coated it in panko, and fried it.

It’s then served on a bed of hollandaise sauce.

I don’t know if you have ever had a Scotch egg before.  The Scotch eggs at the Ren Fest are chicken eggs (rather than the much more exotic duck), buried in sausage and sauted or baked.  They’re kind of insipid.

Not so Chef Michael’s.  His take on Scotch eggs were light (for fried food anyway) and delicious, combining the earthy flavors of egg and red wine with the saltiness and sweet from the ham salad.   Then, of course, it was fried in panko.  So it was, by definition, good.

I am really excited about the new menu.  I will certainly miss all those croque madames that I had, but I am sure that somehow Chef Michael will find a few ways to ensure I don’t miss them too much.  Maybe it will be the Scotch eggs, maybe the daily quiche (enter real man joke here), perhaps the crepes.  I don’t know, but I sure am looking forward to finding out.

(Oh, per FTC disclosure rules, I have no idea if I paid for those Scotch eggs or not.  Whether I did or not didn’t affect my opinion that they were marvelous.)

Crepini Cafe

Crepini in a Skillet

Crepini in a Skillet

Lucky for me the folks at Crepini Cafe were nice enough to send me a second round of crepini!  (You can check out my review of the first ones by reading my Crepini From Crepini Cafe post.)

Let me make no mistake about it.  I really like these things, but you may be wondering what, exactly, a crepini is.  As near as I can tell, they’re not quite a crepe and they’re not quite an ini, so they’re sort of a combination of the two.  Okay, that was dumb.  Ini’s not even a word.  I should be ashamed for writing that.
In actuality, my Twitter friend @CrepiniCafe describes them as a cross between a crepe and a blini, which I think works, but we can unpack that a bit more.  From first glance (see over there), they probably look like your average run-of-the-mill filled crepe, but the folks at Crepini Cafe have made something that was anything but ordinary.
CrepiniFor starters, they crepes they use are outstanding.  Despite being frozen (all Crepini Cafe products can be found in the freezer section), then thawed, and reheated in a skillet by a lout like myself, the wrapper (okay, I’ll just call it a crepe for short) is still pliable and light.  That’s a major plus in my book since normally I would assume my crepe would be nice and rubbery after being treated so.  This made be due in some ways to the fact that the Crepini Cafe crepe is a bit thicker and more robust than your average crepe (which is, if I am not mistaken where the blini part comes in.)
The one drawback of having a more robust crepe wrapper is that there is always the danger it can overpower the ingredients it oh-so-gently envelopes.  That is something I had to keep in mind when I cooked with the naked crepes (more on that in another post) and it was obviously something that Crepini Cafe kept in mind when they picked their fillings.
This is how you end up with sweet La Dolce Vita (chocolate…hello!) crepini, earthy portobella parmesan crepini, cheesy four cheese and basil crepini, and gently sour Vishnya a la Russe sour cherry.  These powerful choices deliver big flavor and work with the tastes of the wrapper itself to make a wonderful snack or even a light meal  (Well, light for me anyway.) 
How do they taste?  Good!  It should come as no surprise to anyone that Mrs. WellDone’s favorite was the La Dolce Vita crepini because it had chocolate in it (I thought they were a bit sweet.) 
My personal favorite was the Portobella Parmesan because a) they had mushrooms in them and b) I could taste them.  The filling had a deep earthy mushroom flavor, but was also nice and creamy from the Parm.  It was a classic mushroom/cheese pairing that worked out very well with the savory tastes of the crepe.  As I was eating them, I kept thinking that somehow this flavor combination was just right.  It wasn’t too mushroomy (at least for me), it wasn’t too cheesey, and it just worked.  So, yeah, I want some more.
If you have the slightest inclination to try your own crepini, what are you waiting for?  Here is the Crepini Cafe ordering page where you can your own crepini shipped right to your door and hopefully into a warm skillet you have waiting for just that purpose.
Then all you need is a few minutes per side and it’s go time.  Enjoy!
Thanks to Crepini Cafe for the picture.

Fondue BarFor the first time since my childhood, last Friday night I experienced a sugar high.  A full-on, all-is-right-with-the-world, drunk-like-shots-of-whiskey sugar high.

Thanks Amore Chocolate Pizzas.  The 10 pounds I put on was totally worth it.  And I totally mean that.

Chocolate Fondue Is Awesome

It all started with a fairly innocent email.  Amore was having an exhibit of photographs from a local gallery and then the email urged me to join them for Saturday night fondue.

“You like fondue don’t you, Mrs. WellDone?” I asked Mrs. WellDone.

And that pretty much sealed our fate for what we did last Saturday.  And perhaps for many, many Saturdays (and Fridays) to come.  Why you may ask?  You see that big long long line of things in the picture over there?  That’s two types of cookies, graham crackers, pound cake, angel food cake, black berries, pineapple, strawberries, pretzels, cornflakes, and probably one or two things that have been lost in a sugar induced haze.  Next to all that are four types of chocolate: milk, dark, spicy, and white.  And the price is ridiculous.

Fourth PlateAnd it’s all you can eat.  See that plate over there (the one without fruit?  That’s my fourth plate.)

All I can say is thank God I only put on 10 pounds.  It could have been much, much worse.

Oh, and like I said, all of this can be yours every Friday and Saturday night.  Friday night, apparently, is board game night.  They have lots of games in-house (including Family Guy Monopoly…Giggity! and a very nice wooden chess set.)  Saturday night is live music.  Last Saturday featured a good dulcimer player who managed to do a very serviceable tribute to modern pop.

Or you can do that what we did and cheat.  They have the board games out on Saturdays so you can listen to live music and teach your son how to play chess.  It’s like combining say milk chocolate and white chocolate together, except this is combining two special nights at Amore.  Still with me?

Oh, off to the right is the fruit plate I assembled when I decided I have some vitamins with my sugar.Fruit Plate  Make no mistake about it, there’s still plenty of chocolate to go along with the fruit, but at least I got some nutritional value.

Did I mention that we hadn’t had dinner before we went?

More Than Fondue: More About Amore

Amore is more than just killer fondue on Fridays and Saturdays.  They also sell a variety of chocolate dishes including mochas, hot chocolates, chocolate spoons, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate Samplerpretzels, and everything you see in the sampler platter over there which owner Chris Cook graciously gave me.  (That would be chocolate nachos, gingerbread and chocolate stackers, chocolate pie with coconut crust, and German chocolate cake. 

Yes, that’s right, chocolate nachos.  That would be nacho chips with chocolate sauce, peanut butter, candied fruit, and homemade whipped cream. 

No, I didn’t think I’d like them either.

Yes, I ate them all.)

Still, what Amore is really famous for is their chocolate pizzas which bare absolutely no relationship to the dessert pizzas you get at some pizza buffets (that’s what I thought at first.)  Chocolate pizzas are basically layers of chocolate that have been tempered like a candy bar to form a pizza crust and then the pizza is topped with various gourmet toppings like peanut butter, coconut, marshmallows, toffee, etc.  (See the full list on the Amore product page.)

If you want an idea of what they taste like, take a chocolate bar, throw some marshmallows and chocolate sauce on it and eat it.  That’s a good start, but the stuff at Amore probably is better that that.  They use really good chocolate.  Seriously.

In summary, if you are in the KC area, go to Amore for dessert, fondue, or a chocolate-pick-me-up.  If you are out of town…inquire about shipping!

Have your own sugar high.  Then call your trainer.  You’re going to need him/her very, quickly.

Happy #MeatlessMonday!  Today we’re talking about Cooking with Your Kids and making

Apple, Banana, and Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Yes, this recipe is very simple, but it’s important to know that there are fun, meatless alternatives we can give our kids that aren’t fried or full of sugar.  Sure, some peanut butters are little more than hydrogenated oil and sugar, but this recipe can be healthy if you use the no sugar added peanut butter.

Besides, if you add enough apples, bananas, and perhaps a touch of honey (or agave), they’ll never know the difference!

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Abuelo’s…Did I Talk Bad About You In a Former Life?

You may be wondering what this is all about.   Frankly, I am of two minds about Abuelo’s Mexican Food Restaurant.  (Though, technically, this applies only to the restaurant in Kansas City since it’s the only one at which I’ve ever dined.)

50% of my brain says: I have never had a bad entree or appetizer at Abuelo’s EVER.  And of all my friends who’ve been there, the only complaint I heard was that my wife ordered a quesadilla once that wasn’t what she was expecting and she was hoping for more.  That’s it.

The other 50% of my brain says that Abuelo’s has given me more free food than any restaurant EVER to make up for their mistakes.  The list of grieviances goes on and on, but frankly the first 50% of my brain won’t let me list them in detail.  Suffice it to say, letters have been written and at a time the general manager probably knew my first name.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Abuelo’s?

I went there last night.  Ordered dinner.  Had an issue.  If the manager hadn’t made it right, I told myself that was the LAST TIME I was going to go.  This decision sucked because I ordered the best entree I’ve ever had there: Enchiladas de cozumel (some of their amazing guacamole enchiladas swimming in a white wine sauce with shrimp, scallops, mushrooms, and onions.)  Mouth wateringly good.  Like I want some now.

(Quick digression: the first time I had Enchiladas de cozumel was in Colorado at a placed called Hacienda de Colorado about a year ago.  I counted the days until I could go back to Colorado, which I finally did last week.  As fate would have it, we went back to Hacienda de Colorado and I ordered the enchiladas de cozumel.  They were good.  The ones at Abuelo’s were 100 times better.)

So you see I’m stuck.  I can’t really recommend Abuelo’s to my friends, except the ones who don’t have a lot of money since there’s a good chance they’ll get their meal comped.  But at the same time, I love the food.  Love it.  And it’s not like the service is mean, they’re just slow.

I know that if I were a restaurant critic, I couldn’t give Abuelo’s more than 2 out of 5 stars.  At the same time, when I am in Zona Rosa, I am lobbying the family to go.  I just wish that 1 out of every 2 times I ate there, I could leave  without either having my meal comped or feeling like they should have comped it.

I’m Not Venting

I wouldn’t do that.  I want to know from other people who have eaten at Abuelo’s to see if their experiences match my own.  I plan to write a letter in the near future and I would like to include a link to the post, so if you have anything to say either positive or negative, leave a comment.  I’ve found that Abuelo’s is very responsive when you write to them.  And for that, they are to be commended.

At the same time, Abuelo’s, if you are reading this HELP YOUR KC RESTAURANT.  I would gladly bus people from South KC to North KC to eat at your place if I felt sure they’d leave happy.

Lastly, if to anyone, if you are reading this and I’ve scared you off, I’m not happy that I did that.  Like I said, the food rocks.  The experience needs some work.

Anyway, please comment and let’s see what we can do.

Tribal Moose BBQ SaucesWhen sent a bottle of Tribal Moose Cranberry BBQ Sauce, what can you do but make

BBQ Meatballs

Nothing, right?

Okay, I get it.  If this were Iron Chef, I’d probably not score too high in the inventiveness department, but I wanted BBQ meatballs and I had a great BBQ sauce.  Ergo, Tribal Moose BBQ Meatballs.

First thing’s first, what is Tribal Moose Cranberry BBQ Sauce?  Well, Tribal Moose is a company based out of Stayton, Oregon that specializes in producing cranberry based sauces like Cranberry BBQ sauce, Cranberry ketchup, Cranberry steak sauce, and spicy Cranberry steak sauce. 

They sent me a bottle to try of their Cranberry BBQ sauce and I approached it like everything involving the word cranberry and not also involving the word “cocktail”:  apprehension.  I have found that in the range of cranberry culinary creations, there are basically two extremes: those that are really good and those that are really bad.  Since I am reviewing said product, you can guess where Tribal Moose fell.

Tribal Moose’s Cranberry BBQ didn’t have the sour, sometimes bitter taste, one often associates with non-cranberry-cocktail cranberry dishes.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t have even tasted cranberries if I hadn’t seen it on the label.  The sauce was sweet with a surprising depth, but it wasn’t fruity.  In the world of savory applications (which BBQ often is) that’s a plus in my book.

So on my meatballs the BBQ sauce went.

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