Thursday, October 11, 2012

McFlurry International - Reese's® Peanut Butter Cups in the United States

2012-09-27 McFlurry Reese's® Peanut Butter CupsMcDonald's at SouthCoast Plaza has two additional flavors along with its standard Oreo and M&Ms: Snickers and Reese's® Peanut Butter Cups.

The Reese's® Peanut Butter Cups McFlurry is still $1.99 at a fun size. The flavoring mix is made up of ground up peanut butter cups. The server put a couple big spoonfuls of the peanut butter cup mix in the soft serve before whirling it through the McFlurry machine.

Most of the Reese's® mix is pulverized so there were not a lot of big chunks of chocolate or the peanut butter center, probably to ensure that it will be distributed evenly throughout the soft serve after mixing. When you look closely, it seems that most of the mix was its peanut butter center instead of the chocolate shell. Otherwise it may have tasted more like chocolate than peanut butter. I was slightly relieved they did not add chocolate syrup, which would then definitely overwhelm the peanut butter flavor. There were a few larger pieces of Reese's® Peanut Butter Cups in the McFlurry giving the overall result a varied texture.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kale Mango Banana Smoothie

IMG_1139, Kale Mango Banana Smoothie with soy milkA morning or mid-afternoon smoothie is one of my go-to healthy treats. It is pretty easy to dump a bunch of fruit in the blender with a splash of juice or soy milk and give it a whirl.

Banana is my favorite smoothie base because it gives the smoothie a creamy and luscious texture so you can almost fool yourself into thinking that it is in fact ice cream-based. Frozen fruits are also great since you do not have to cool your smoothie with ice, which also waters it down. It is also cheaper to buy than fresh fruits and is of high quality since the fruit is frozen at its peak.

I wanted to switch up my traditional smoothie combinations for further healthy goodness. Removing milk and sugar upped the good-for-you factors. Starting with one ripe banana and unsweetened soy milk (to aid with the blending), I added the equivalent of one large mango cheek and a big handful of kale. Why not? You can ingest raw greens without having to eat it in a salad. By relying on the natural sweetness of the ripe banana and mango, no additional sugar is necessary. However, make yours to taste and feel free to add a squeeze of honey or your favorite natural sweetener.

After a good whirl, the smoothie turns a vibrant green color with a nice and thick texture. You can taste the slight tartness of the mango, sweetness from the banana, and a hint of bitterness from the kale. It was pleasingly very yummy.

Kale Mango Banana Smoothie
1 ripe banana
1 large mango cheek or about 1/3 cup frozen chunks*
1 big handful of washed kale or about a cup and a half
Cold unsweetened soy milk

Put ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into big glass and enjoy.

*To be honest, I do not really take exact measurements and usually eyeball it

Monday, July 9, 2012

Crayfish Boil at The Public [Shanghai]

2012-05-30 The Public, Crayfish boil at the PublicOn Shouning Road in Shanghai, mountains of shells litter the streets as people come out in flocks during warm weather to enjoy the crayfish or 小龙虾 xiǎolóngxiā by the kilo. It is one delicious mess that even disposable plastic gloves cannot stop.

The Public is jumping on this warm weather treat by offering Wednesday night crayfish boils. 180RMB gets you 2kg of crayfish and the equivalent of one corn on the cob (cut into 4 pieces), 1-2 sausages cut into medallions, and a sprinkling of new potatoes. Butcher paper is laid out and it all comes out together on one big platter along with lemon water and wipes for cleaning. The source of the crayfish is unknown and very, very small. The corn was not the freshest with its deflated kernels and the sausage was so dry and chewy. The potatoes seemed to be the only item in this boil that was cooked properly. It was not overly impressive and not worth the trip for 180RMB since the boil did not include any other sides or beverages. It just makes you nostalgic for the trips to Shouning Lu with the beer you brought, fresh corn on the cob, and other barbecued vegetables. The crayfish boil at the Public is a bad deal, especially considering there are other establishments in Shanghai that specialize in xiǎolóngxiā for at least half the price. Well, unless you like to dish out for modern atmosphere.

Stick to the Public's fried chicken offered on Sunday and Monday nights. A half-chicken, 2 biscuits, a dollop of mashed potatoes, and a dollop of slaw is only 125RMB.

The Public. Sinan Mansions Bldg 2, 4/F, Lane 507 Fuxing Zhong Lu (复兴中路507弄思南公馆2号楼4楼)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

McFlurry International - China 2 Part II

2012-03-26 Black Currant McFlurry sign Shanghai, China 2012-03-26 Black Currant McFlurry Shanghai, China
Yes! The "blackberry jam flavor" McDonald's McFlurry sampled in Harbin is back on the McDonald's China menu in Shanghai. My Chinese character recognition improved significantly at this point. Please allow me to correct that entry in that this 麦旋风 (mài xuànfēng) is in fact 黑加仑 (hēijiālún) or black currant. The price has gone up from 10RMB to 11RMB since last year.

The servers pulled down the lever and filled the cup with soft-serve and topped it with what looked like black currant puree or syrup and crushed Oreo cookies. All this went in the special McFlurry machine and mixed with the McFlurry spoon. The server must be well-trained because the ice cream was completely mixed with the fruit sauce, as shown by a fairly even color. The resulting mix filled at most 2/3 of the cup, but it was still more like halfway full, which is a tease considering it is obvious how full the cup could be. The Oreo provided nice texture, though it would be nice if there were some larger chunks in it. The black currant flavor also was good and refreshing, though reminiscent of the really good berry or grape candies you would get as a child (not grape Bubbleicious).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Praline Patisserie's Lavender Caramel Sauce

2012-01-26 Praline Patisserie, Lavender caramel sauceMy one impulse buy at the Little Italy Farmer's Market was a ten ounce jar of Praline Patisserie's Lavender Caramel Sauce for a whopping (for me) US$8.00. The vendor at the stand was waving caramel samples in my face and I am a big sucker for caramel. The lavender was fragrant and floral in my mouth so I had to have it. She said that the caramel sauce has a shelf-life of about 3 months unopened before it starts to separate.

I forgot about my guilty pleasure after sticking it in the back of my pantry to save for a good time. More than 3 months had passed and the caramel already started to separate. It was time to break it out. After opening, a good mix with a chopstick brought the suspension of pure cane sugar, cream, glucose, butter, dried organic lavender, and sea salt back together.

The jar states, "Each batch of our artisan caramel is watched closely as it develops the rich amber color & complex flavors we are known for. The perfect care for an aching sweet tooth, it is great on anything from apples to ice cream and you'll probably want to eat it straight from the jar!"

Opening the jar, the silky, sticky, gooey caramel was bursting with the aroma of lavender mingling with the sweet caramel. It tasted even more decadent and indulgent than it smelled. The texture was smooth and thick. The caramel flavors hit first and are equally balanced by the lavender, which lingers on your tongue. The lavender caramel was great with apples, but it was even better to eat out of the jar. Just pluge your finger in the soft goodness and roll it around your tongue making sure the flavors spread to every taste bud dotting your tongue. I think most of the jar disappeared this way. Oh yes, pour that sugar in me. That lavender caramel is so divine you cannot resist a lick of it.

Praline Patisserie. Find them at one of San Diego's farmer's markets.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Now Open: CaliBurger ie "The Fake In N Out"

2012-01-28 CaliBurger in Shanghai interiorCaliBurger finally opened its doors near the end of Chinese New Year holidays in late January. All is right in the CaliBurger world post-settlement with In N Out with new signage, menu names, and revamped interior.

I am not sure who picked that brown color scheme for the dining area, but the original mockup on the CaliBurger website had shown a black and white scheme. It is now this unappetizing light brown reminiscent of a chocolate shake. The rendering is now updated on the CaliBurger website. The art in the wall alludes to the vibrancy of California. The speakers blared current hits, a welcomed change from Celine Dion.

The number of staff running the place is considerable. They are everywhere. One opens the door for you; one escorts you to the counter; a couple people take your order; and a kitchen team whips it up in viewing distance. The menu is still basic and kept to a minimum, which is characteristic of the In N Out menu. "Off-menu" requests are also granted like a mustard patty, whole grilled onions, and extra-crispy fries.

2012-01-28 CaliBurger, Staff 2012-01-28 CaliBurger, Menu
Staff ready and awaiting command to serve / Menu display

Not only is CaliBurger a fast-food restaurant, they also do table service. Instead of waiting by the counter for your order, you are given a number and a team member will deliver your cardboard box of food. Better yet, they tout table service for wine. The wine is imported from California and sells at 44RMB for a glass or 132RMB for a bottle. The label looks like Clint Eastwood, but Roy Newman claims it is an image of himself. To be honest, I did not see the resemblance (see for yourself). Edward, one of the CaliBurger team members, came over to the table with a white cloth napkin draped on his arm to uncork the wine and pour it into real wine glasses. He was very polite offering a tasting immediately after the uncorking before serving the rest of our table. This is fancy. You are at a fast-food joint and wine is being poured at your table with a white cloth napkin to clean up spills and breakable glasses. It makes me wonder a takeaway glass of wine is packaged. Loving this perk.

2012-01-28 CaliBurger, Roy Newman Wine 2012-01-28 CaliBurger, Table service for wine
Roy Newman California Red Wine / Table service for wine by Edward

2012-01-28 CaliBurger, Wild Style FriesThe "Wild Style" fries (38RMB) had melted American cheese, chopped grilled onions, and special sauce on top. Others who were better versed on the original "Animal Style" fries said that these were pretty good. CaliBurger does claim that their fries are always fresh, but we were informed that they were currently using a "high-quality" frozen fry. "Frozen" does not necessarily translate to "fresh," though "freshly frozen" or "frozen fresh" may ensure some bit of quality. In any case, the textures did not impart any qualities that freshly cut potatoes do. The sourcing team is waiting until spring for this year's crop of potatoes to see if they will match standards. So in the meantime, if you are thinking you are getting a freshly cut fry, do not be fooled. On top of that, Australian beef is still being used.

Set meals will soon be added to the menu as follows: Meal A = Hamburger + French Fries + Soda = 35RMB (a savings of 23RMB); Meal B = Cheeseburger + French Fries + Soda = 40RMB; Meal C = CaliDouble + French Fries + Soda = 55RMB. Now that is 5RMB extra for a bit of cheese or 15RMB for an extra burger patty with cheese. But Wild Style fries are 38RMB, so that may tack on another 20RMB to your meal set. Check out the set menu here.

There are still people skeptical if CaliBurger could even live up to the fraction of the greatness that is In N Out, which it is attempting to pay homage to. The only true test is the taste test, which is already subjective, but even then comparisons to those using California-grown produce would be difficult to make.

CaliBurger. 98 Yanping Lu (near Xinzha Lu), 新闸路98号(近新闸路), Shanghai, China. Caliburger.Asia

Monday, December 12, 2011

First Look: CaliBurger ie "The Fake In N Out"

CaliBuerger CaliDoubleGasps of amazement and horror rippled through Shanghai amongst those familiar with the California burger joint, In N Out. CaliBurger is opening a 山寨 shānzhài (refers to Chinese imitation and pirated brands and goods) store in front of the cheap compound popular amongst expats, SanHe HuaYuan 三和花园. It was set to open on Friday, December 9, 2011, as reported on various Shanghai lifestyle websites. CaliBurger apparently had a media night on the eve of its opening as well as to introduce the three finalists of the CaliBurger Girl Contest. Passerbys that the couple weeks up to this date reported that the burners were on and vigorous testing was being done as the kitchen ventilators emptied out street-side.

I am there at 12:30 on Friday, December 9, 2011. I wanted to see what they were about and how CaliBurger was at its attempt to ape the beloved In N Out. The CaliBurger sign does not hang outside, aside from the wires that will be used to power it. There are two people standing at the door to greet me as I walk in. Roy Newman, self-proclaimed wine distributor first and investor second, and Jon, the Californian beach-blonde guy doing business development, basically stared at me when I entered. The place was void of customers not to mention a menu.
"Hi, how can we help you?" Inquisitive stares. Awkward silence.
"Online it says you are supposed to be open today."
"We are not open." More staring.
"Then why does it say online that you are supposed to be open today? I have friends already on their way."
"A lot of friends? Um...what can we do?" They look at each other.
"Are you from California?"
"Would you like a sample?"
"Yes." Free food!
I take a seat in the booth behind me and wait for my friends. Roy Newman takes the time to sit and talk. He is excited that an actual Californian in Shanghai would visit CaliBurger. We know that CaliBurger had bought the rights to use signature trademarks of In N Out in China, Russia, Hong Kong, and Australia, among other places as In N Out had failed to secure this previously. There were some legal issues with In N Out that even went so far as to provoke an In N Out popup for the purposes of "soft market research." I am informed that CaliBurger has come to an amicable agreement with In N Out only the day before that basically "gives [CaliBurger] well-wishes on the international venture." Since this agreement, the menu items known as "Double Double," "Animal Style," and "Protein Style" are now referred to as "CaliDouble," "Wild Style," and "Garden Style," respectively. CaliBurger did not want to copy In N Out, but merely pay homage and spread its greatness abroad.

The menu was limited that day as only burgers were available and they have not yet found a suitable supplier for potatoes. We ordered from our table a cheeseburger with whole grilled onions and no pickles and a couple CaliDoubles Wile Style. We did not have to go to the counter to pick up our order since CaliBurger decided that diners will have the option to order from their table.

Cheeseburger with whole grilled onions Midway through cheeseburger
CaliBurger Cheeseburger and midway through its consumption

Now on to the actual burgers. They arrived in a box and wrapped in a branded hamburger sleeve. They did not go so far as to copy the hidden Bible verses on select In N Out packaging. The cheeseburger arrived with whole grilled onions and pickles "Wild Style," which was a fail since the girl who took the order was clearly fluent in English. Not wanting to make a fuss, the pickles were picked out. The CaliDouble looked really good and it smelled great. The burger was pretty solid for that price point (28RMB for a burger, 33RMB for a cheeseburger, 48RMB for a CaliDouble). It was of appropriate size and had great texture: crunch from the lettuce, softness of the bun, girth of savory meat, sweet grilled onion, juicy tomato, gooey cheese and soft zing from the sauce. Breaking the burger down to its individual components was a slightly different story. The buns are made locally and were toasted on the inside so the bun never got soggy, but I swear the In N Out buns were lighter and spongier. Few produce can compare to what you can get in California. The lettuce may not be as green, but it was crisp the whole way through and not browning. You cannot expect to get a decent tomato in Shanghai, especially asking a winter tomato in Shanghai to meet Californian standards. The American cheese melted the way through and did not have that over-processed gag-inducing flavor that is commonly found in Chinese-made American sandwich singles. The burger patty was dry. There was not indication if the patty was pressed whilst cooking (Roy was not aware of the cooking methods used). Luckily, the cheese and sauce were able to cover that fact up. CaliBurger was thinking of importing beef from the States, which is illegal, but sourced Australian beef instead. They claimed that Chinese beef is not up to their standards. However, this does not take into consideration the CaliBurger motto of "Always Fresh." Putting together different cuts to create a great burger is a bit of an art, so perhaps they should consider further testing of different combinations of Chinese beef cuts.

CaliBurger Vanilla bourbon milkshake Ron Newman and CaliBurger branded Californian wine
Vanilla Spiked Shake and CaliBurger branded wine

Newman claimed to be a wine guy first and an investor second. He brings out and offers us a bottle of CaliBurger-branded Californian red wine that they will be offering. The wine was chosen to compliment the burgers and is not very heavy. Then we are offered a cup of their spiked shakes (28RMB), which is the standard milkshake spiked with bourbon. The vanilla Spiked Shake was pretty tasty and the bourbon flavor was clear. The milkshake could have been thicker. There is still discussion on what the final bourbon source will be, but Jim Beam was mentioned. After the wine and the Spiked Shake as well as the convenience store beer we brought since drinks were not available, this lunch chat was getting tipsy. You can call it either a way to win us over or to blur newly made memories. Still thinking about that vanilla Spiked Shake...

Let's say the visit was during its "soft-opening" (they had planned the real opening for 9th December after the media tasting the night before) so CaliBurger still has time to work out the kinks for its January 2012 opening. Though, this is not a particularly opportune time with the Christmas holiday season just ending and Chinese New Year being the last week in January. Roy Newman and his team were eager to listen to criticisms and suggestions for improvement, so here is to CaliBurger being able to produce a solid product and maintain oversight to ensure standards after turning it over to a local team. Or so you would hope.

CaliBurger. 98 Yanping Lu (by Xinzha Lu), Shanghai, China. 中国上海市静安区延平路98号 (近新闸路). CaliBurger.Asia

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Salute Shanghai front entranceIf you are of the persuasion that a great neighborhood includes a cozy, homey wine bar with cheap bottles and nibbles, Salute is your Italian spot in Shanghai. House wines (imported) start at 130-160RMB per bottle.

Salute has a small retail store and display case for cured meats, cheeses, and other antipasti. You can buy bottles and meats, cheeses, and other cold items cut to order to have at home or enjoy it right there. The dining menu is written on a small chalkboard featuring simple Italian fare. For seating options, there is the outdoor patio, covered patio, or the few small tables in the store. All the furniture are dark, rustic wood pieces. There are even blankets available if you feel chilled from sitting outside. A couple air-conditioner / heater units are fixed where there is space, but there were also a couple portable heating units that could be rolled adjacent to the table.

The service seems a bit short-staffed or still in training. After being seated and asking for glasses of water, the water jug never came until the server was asked again. The wine bottles came, but without wine glasses. The server went to help another table first, leaving a bottle of wine sitting in front of anxious patrons. However, the food came out quickly after it was ordered and the plates were distributed evenly between the diners.

Salute Shanghai caprese salad Salute Shanghai tomato and cucumber salad

The salad plates were generous. The caprese (58RMB) had large, thick tomato slices accompanied with generous medallions of fresh mozzarella. The cucumber and tomato salad (35RMB) was also large. However, a sprinkling of dried basil was used in both instances as if hoping to impart the essence of basil. No one is really sure what could be accomplished with dried basil, except for a few mao. There was also a green salad, the bulk of which was an artfully arranged bed of lettuce leaves and tomatoes, but it was nothing more than that.

Salute Shanghai pickled preserved antipasti platter Salute Shanghai panini Salute Shanghai charcuterie Salute Shanghai cheese platter

The antipasti special platter had preserved ham in oil, green olives stuffed with anchovies, black olives, cauliflower in vinegar, and cold aubergine. The vegetables provided a sharp, acidic tang to the salty meats. The charcuterie plate (68RMB or 98RMB for large) had several slices of cured ham, salami, and mortadella. The prosciutto is cut on-site, though the slices were not as thin as the ones cut at City'Super. The cheese plate (58RMB or 88RMB for large) had four cheeses: parmesan, cheddar, bleu cheese, and emmental. The blue cheese was soft and moist, looking like it was cut from a round. Its color was mostly creamy beige with some darkened areas from the mold. Out of the four, the aged parmesan and bleu cheese were the clear winners for quality. The emmental or the cow-milk cheese that it was most similar to was flavorless against the other three it came with. The bright orange cheddar cheese sticks tasted and looked cut straight from the Land O'Lakes block. The bread did not come out until after everything was served, so the meats, cheeses, and antipasti did not get to see the bit of bread it was asking for. The panini was made with prosciutto and salami and pressed in a proper panini grill that left wonderful grill marks and a lightly caramelized exterior from being brushed with olive oil. It was an even balance of bread, meat, and gooey cheese and worth throwing 50RMB down for.

Salute Shanghai cheesecake Salute Shanghai tiramisu

It is already a bad sign when the strawberry sauce accompanying the cheesecake tastes like cheap store-bought, watered-down jam. The cheesecake was bland and lacked the rich and cheesy quality known of cream cheese. The tiramisu was was made up of layers of thin, spongy cake and flavorless cream constructed in a square of perfection. Not a single ladyfinger broke up the monotony of the precise lines. Salute exudes a cozy, comfortable, at-home ambiance, but these desserts do not reflect that in the least.

For 11 people on a Sunday night, 1340RMB covered 2 bottles of house red, 2 caprese salads, 2 salads of tomato and cucumber, 2 green salads, 1 platter of special preserved items, 3 charcuterie plates, 2 cheese plates, 3 panini, 2 tiramisu, and 1 cheesecake.

Salute, at the moment, is better suited for drinking wine at than for a meal, unless too much wine requires some bit of food to absorb the alcohol. The ambiance is comfortable and would make a place to spend a lazy night. So yes, Salute could be your neighborhood wine bar.

Salute Shanghai patio

Salute. 59 Fuxing Xi Lu, by Yongfu Lu (复兴西路59号,近永福路), Shanghai, China. Tel: 3461 9828

Monday, November 14, 2011

French Onion Soup Grilled Cheese Sandwich

French onion soup grilled cheese sandwichA bowl of French onion soup emitting a fragrant aroma with hints of dry white wine (and perhaps cognac), big crouton, melting Gruyère and maybe (I say maybe for the 'purists') thyme and bay leaf is screaming grilled cheese sandwich. All the components are there (bread and cheese, clearly) and a French onion twist with its slow-cooked onions caramelized to a golden brown sweetness.

Grilled cheese is a simple American classic. But to make it taste outstanding, quality components are necessary. In addition to good cheese and bread, the texture must also be considered. A golden, buttery, crisp bread surface with soft interior and cheese melted through until gooey. Lackluster grilling and un-melted cheese are already signs of grilled cheese gone wrong. Personally, I prefer to butter toast the inside of the sandwich bread as well so the interior is not soggy, mushy, nor saggy.

This French onion soup grilled cheese sandwich was my first experiment. I took some freshly baked French baguette already at room temperature and cut it in half lengthwise. From a vat of French onion soup, I ladled a healthy helping of the soup onions onto the bread. Rich soup the onions carried soaked into the bread to add flavor, but the thick crust would protect the exterior from getting soggy. A layer of Gruyère was placed atop the onions. In a cast-iron pan over medium-low heat, a nob of butter was melted and the sandwich placed on top and weighted with another heavy pan until one side browned. The process was repeated for the other side so it the sandwich would be evenly crisped. Toasting the sandwich in the oven would also be effective.

The resulting grilled cheese sandwich was actually pretty good. The flavors of each aspect in the assemblage of a classic French onion soup were present: onion soup, crouton, and Gruyère. The bread was buttery and crisp on the outside and the Gruyère was completely melted. However, the bread on the inside was soggy from the soup. The interior sides would be best dry-toasted to counter this. It is also important to use a good French onion soup. The one used at this instance did not have as deep of a color as one would like and the onion flavor was less intense. Time and patience are necessary to draw out the sugars from the onions, which creates that lovely dark brown color.

Yeah, I am definitely going to make this again.

Top view of French onion soup grilled cheese sandwich French onion soup used for grilled cheese sandwich

McFlurry International - China 5

Tiramisu McFlurry, Shanghai, ChinaIn China, you can call 4008-517517 and get your fix of McDonald's delivered to your door, someone else's door, or a street corner at 04:00am. Even better, avoid talking to anyone and order online in Chinese and English at with only a 7RMB delivery charge.

Màidāngláo (麦当劳) has a new McFlurry (麦旋风, mài xuànfēng) flavor and it is the Tiramisu McFlurry (提拉米苏麦旋风 Tílāmǐsū MàiXuànfēng) for only 10RMB. Crumbled Oreo cookies are mixed in the classic vanilla soft-serve with a thick coffee syrup swirl. At the standing McDonald's locations, you would be lucky if your McFlurry cup is filled to the halfway point, but when ordering for home delivery, the cup is almost full. The actual flavor did not fulfill its potential and could have benefited from using a vanilla cookie instead of a chocolate-based one to better capture the essence of tiramisu. This flavor combination would have been better suited for a "mocha" concept.

Here is a fun fact about the McDonald's hotline. The phone number uses a phonetic homonym. In Chinese, "517" or 五一七 (wǔ yāo qī) sounds close to 我要吃 (wǒ yào chī) or "I want to eat." "Yāo" is used instead of "yī" in oral conversation to clarify the number in a sequence of digits. So when you repeat the McDonald's phone number in Chinese, it sounds like you are saying "Wǒ yào chī, wǒ yào chī," or "I want to eat, I want to eat."