Archive for November, 2011

I held off on writing this review because I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it.  First of all, in our October Tasting Box, we received two little bottles of maple syrup:  one Grade A Medium Amber and one Grade B.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write two separate reviews for the syrup, or if I wanted to do one comprehensive review that included a taste comparison between Grade A and Grade B. 

Once I decided to write one comprehensive review (this review), I then contemplated how to approach the taste test.  I didn’t want to test it out on pancakes or something, because, quite honestly, while making pancakes is a simple process, it is a lot of preparation for a taste test.  I ultimately decided to do the taste test on toasted 8-grain bread and also to add just a little syrup to a sampling of Grand Tea’s Premium White Peony Tea (which I was reviewing separately, but was interested to find out how maple syrup tasted with it). 

Anyway… here goes!

Where to Buy:  Ben’s Sugar Shack on Foodzie

Price:  $19.99 for a 16-ounce jug of Syrup (your choice:  Grade A or Grade B)

About Ben’s Sugar Shack:

My passion for making maple syrup started when I was 5 years old. The first year I made less than a gallon of syrup. Ten years later, at age 15, I won the Maple Producers Carlisle Trophy for the best syrup in New Hampshire. Now, at age 21, I have two sugar houses, a variety of maple products, and am still expanding my business. I hope you enjoy my maple syrup!

What I Think:

So, by now, you may be wondering, just what is the difference between Grade A and Grade B.  Well, it really doesn’t have anything to do with purity or one being “better” than the other.  They do taste different, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but the real difference between the two grades is the time of year that it is harvested.  Grade A maple syrup is harvested earlier in the year than Grade B.

But after opening each of these cute little bottles that I received in the October Tasting Box, I noticed a couple of other differences.  First of all, there is a slight difference in color.  The Grade B is very slightly darker.  It is very slight, though, and something that you might not notice unless you held it up to the light.  Second, the Grade A had more crystallized sugar formed at the rim of the bottle.  I don’t know why that is.

But what really counts is how they taste, right?

Both syrups are obviously sweet and maple-y.  The Grade A had more of a sugary kind of taste to it, perhaps because of the slight crystallization?  I don’t know, but I noticed that as I was eating the toast topped with the Grade A Maple Syrup, it had a more distinct sugar-like quality to it.  It certainly offers a fair representation of maple flavor, although I must admit that it is milder than I expected.

But then, when it comes to the maple syrup that I buy, I generally choose Grade B.  Why?  Because Alton Brown does, or so he said in one of his episodes.  And Alton Brown is all about “Good Eats” so when he makes a suggestion concerning food choices, I generally listen.

And in the case of this taste test, the Grade B did have a stronger maple-y flavor.  It tasted less like “sugar” and more like maple.  I found this to be the case not only with the toast test, but also the tea test.  I like the Grade B better (although both were delightful and I certainly wouldn’t turn away from a bottle of Grade A if offered at the breakfast table).

Now then, in terms of branding … I don’t know that this Maple Syrup from Ben’s Sugar Shack is any better than another brand of Maple Syrup.  You see, the only maple syrup I have on hand at the moment are these little bottles I received in the tasting box, mostly because I’ve been making my own syrup (Chai Syrup, inspired by my trip to Bumblekiss Cafe) and it is considerably more economical than the average price of a bottle of pure maple syrup.  I will say that the price of Ben’s Sugar Shack Maple Syrup seems to be comparable to those that I’ve found in the grocery, and that’s refreshing, especially after reading a bit of Ben’s Story.

My Final Thoughts:

I really enjoyed this taste test, and am very glad that I had this opportunity to compare for myself the difference between Grade A and Grade B Maple syrups.  When I am in need of maple syrup (I guess when I get tired of making my own chai syrup?) I will definitely consider shopping with Ben’s, if for no other reason than I appreciate his passion for Maple Syrup, and it reminds me a bit of my own passion for tea.

In keeping with what seems to be a trend here on Hungry In Portland, I’m about to write a review on a restaurant that seems to have closed since I visited.  The Agave Grill:  another LivingSocial discovery.  The Agave Grill is located in Bridgeport Village (or was?  I can’t seem to find it in the Bridgeport Village directory, which is what lead me to think that maybe this restaurant has now closed, an inability to complete a telephone call to the establishment seemed to cement those suspicions) 

Order:  I ordered the chilaquiles, while my husband ordered a chicken enchilada.  Bowls of chips and salsa were brought to the table with our drinks.

What I Think:

Let’s start with what every Mexican restaurant seems to start with, the chips and salsa.  What I like best about most other Mexican restaurant’s chips and salsa offerings is that its a free alternative to the appetizer.  But I have to say that the chips and salsa at Agave Grill was quite spectacular.  The chips were seasoned with what tasted like powdered chili spice, giving it a subtle kick.  The salsa was very fresh – the vegetables tasted as though they were picked from the garden that very morning.  The flavor was spicy (of course) but had just the right amount of sweetness too.  A very nice contrast.

Enchilada

My husband shared a bite of his enchilada with me, and the thing that stood out for me was that the chicken was incredibly tender.  It was a tasty enchilada, although I can’t actually say it was the best that I’ve ever had (although, I am not sure which enchilada was the best I’ve ever had), it tasted pretty much like an ordinary enchilada.  Nothing extraordinary.

I really enjoyed my Chilaquiles though.  If you’ve never tried chilaquiles before, think comfort food.  It reminds me of a casserole (or perhaps a Mexican stir-fry), of sorts.  There were options to order the chilaquiles with meat (chicken, beef or pork, if I remember correctly), but I chose to go with the vegetarian chilaquiles.

Chilaquiles

The word that came to mind (and that I wrote in my journal) to describe the chilaquiles is “harvest.”  It has a very autumnal appeal to it, with lots of roasted squash and other vegetables.  The tortilla strips were drenched in a delicious pumpkin seed sauce and I think it was the sauce that really drove that dish home for me.  The sauce was incredibly flavorful and really tied the whole “harvest” idea together.

On the side, there were rice and beans.  In keeping with my vegetarian chilaquiles, I chose for the vegetarian beans, which were very tasty.  The rice was kind of bland and wasn’t my favorite side dish I ever tasted.

My Final Thoughts:

While I’m sad that another business has closed, I can’t honestly say that I’m going to miss this restaurant.  For the most part, the food was quite delicious, but, given it’s location and my husband’s reaction to selecting a restaurant in Tigard … I don’t think I would have returned to Agave Grill anyway.

Agave Grill on Urbanspoon

How’s this for being a bit behind?  This is one of the items in the AUGUST Foodzie Tasting Box!   Fortunately, though, it is the last of the August items that I need to review … and I do have an excuse.  My blender broke down earlier this year, and I hadn’t yet replaced it until September… even so, it still took me a couple of months to get around to actually breaking out the blender and whipping up this delightful confectionery beverage.

Where to Buy:  Serendipity 3 on Foodzie

Price:  $35.70 for a 6-pack of 6-oz pouches

Product Description:

From the famous NYC Landmark restaurant, Serendipity 3, Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. A blend of 14 exotic cocoas mixed in a blender with milk and ice to create a devilishly delectable drink!

What I Think:

I guess it is fair to say that I like it.  I am, after all, a chocoholic.  These 6 ounce packages make enough to share with others … or to make an incredibly indulgent treat for one.  I shared mine with my youngest daughter, my husband and my brother-in-law, mostly because they were around while I was making it, and I would have felt incredibly selfish to not share it.

My daughter says it tastes like a frosty (from Wendy’s) and… I’d agree with that, except that this has more depth of flavor.  I can taste more chocolate in it.  While I would describe the frosty as a pretty one-dimensional treat, this has many layers of chocolate-y flavor.  This is the “frosty” for chocolate connoisseurs.

The chocolate is incredibly rich and creamy, with profound notes of savory bitterness and sweet chocolatey goodness.  This puts every chocolate shake that I’ve ever tasted to shame.  Even the ones I’ve made.

This is SOOOOO good.

Now, for the bad news.  It’s quite pricy.  At $5.95 per 6-ounce package, I can’t really justify the price.  Especially considering that I could make more ice cream shakes using a high-end ice cream than I could with one package of this mix … and still end up spending less than I would with just one package of the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate Mix.  Of course, the ice cream shakes would not taste as delightful as this decadent treat, but… I fear that much of the complexity in the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate is lost with my young daughter (who compared it to a frosty) and my husband (who would be just as happy, I think, with a store brand fudge bar).  And since I am more of a tea drinker than a chocolate ice drink consumer, I just can’t find a justification for purchasing this.  I am REALLY glad that I had the opportunity to try it though… because it was AMAZING!

My Final Thoughts:

Very good.  I can’t help but wonder how delicious it would be if I had dropped a banana in the blender and made a Frrrozen Banana Hot Chocolate.   Hmm… maybe I will have to buy just one box… if for not other reason than to try it with the banana!

Where to Buy:  AvenueSweets on Foodzie

Price:  $10.75 for an 8-oz. box

Product Description:

It’s like Pumpkin Pie in a caramel! Rich, delicious and filled with all of the yummy pumpkin flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger – these are wonderful caramels to enjoy year round. Created in small batches, AvenueSweets confections are handcrafted using only the freshest ingredients. There are no additives or preservatives ensuring fresh, rich flavors that are delectable.

What I Think:

This may just prove to be the most difficult review I’ve ever written.

Why?

Because these are incredible.  So incredible, in fact, that while I am chewing on one, it is hard to come up with words to describe just how delicious they are, except to resort to a childhood response of “Mmmmm” whilst chewing, and after I’m finished with a bite, all I can think about is “I want another one.”  I am having difficulty getting beyond that.  Words fail me.

These are quite possibly the best caramels I’ve ever eaten.  And I’ve eaten quite a bit of caramel, as it is probably my favorite confection after chocolate.  These Pumpkin Spice Caramels are soft that my teeth sink into them … I’m not really even biting, my teeth just sink right into the candy.  And of course, they are chewy (ever have caramel that isn’t chewy?)  But what makes these SO different from all the rest is that they are remarkably creamy and smooth.  No grit or sugary texture.  Just silky smooth creaminess – as if it were just made.  I can taste the fresh cream and butter in these.  But at the same time, I don’t feel like they’re coated in butter, the way so many other caramels taste, especially some of those “handcrafted” caramels that you might find at a local farmer’s market.

Others that have tried these claim to taste “pumpkin” in these, but I do not.  I do taste the spices that you would put into a pumpkin pie:  cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, and my favorite, nutmeg.  So I get while these are called “Pumpkin Spice,” but in the opinion of this tea lover, they could just as easily be called “Chai Spice.”  Or even “Autumn Spice.”

But to be honest, it doesn’t really matter what they are called.  These are OUTSTANDING caramel candies.

My Final Thoughts:

I opened this review by stating it would be difficult to come up with words to describe these, and now that I’ve finished them, the only words that I can come up with are:  I want more.