Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 289

Thai Banana: In addition to some great packaged foods from various cuisines, I also managed to find some great new produce to take home from the Buford Highway Farmers Market. I hadn't been finding much there over the past few visits, but with the seasons changing, they luckily had some new inventory for me to check out. As I've mentioned before, I love using produce for this blog, since it's a great way for me to find small amounts of food for a super-inexpensive price.
I've tried several types of banana during the course of this blog, but when I saw this Thai variety yesterday, I knew I had to take one home. They were considerably smaller than the standard yellow ones found in most grocery stores, and the skin wasn't nearly as brightly colored.
I figured it would be a good food to pair with breakfast, so I gave it a try this morning. When I peeled the skin, it looked like any other banana on the inside. However, I definitely noticed some differences once I took a bite. The flavor was a bit brighter and tangier than I expected, almost like an under-ripe yellow banana, and the texture was noticeably mushier. Not like a over-ripe one - it still had some firmness. Really tasty, and I quickly devoured the whole thing in 2 or 3 bites. If you like bananas at all (or don't always want the bigger size), give these a shot if you see them.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 288

Vanilla Pastille "Lyanezh": I was in dire need of new foods today, so I headed down to the Buford Highway Farmers Market for a bit of shopping. I wanted to go there to search for squash blossoms (me and the GF were going to attempt a recipe), but I quickly struck out on those. I obviously couldn't leave without doing some more shopping, so I made the rounds and went through all my favorite sections.

I've had plenty of good luck in the Eastern European aisles, and they always have a sale section going with some great buys. Luckily, there was a small sample of something there called "lyanezh," and from what I could tell, it looked like some sort of candy. As with most Eastern European foods, there wasn't a lot of English written on the packaging, but the label on the back described it as "vanilla pastille with pieces of candy." It was made from sugar, syrup, water, apple puree, egg powder, agar, and various fruit flavors.
I love it when I can sample something for free and not have to buy, so I gave this one a shot. It reminded me of firmer, grittier cake icing, with chunks of jellybean-like gummi candy mixed throughout. It had an overall fruity taste, and based on the ingredients, I wasn't surprised by it's syrupy sweetness. Not something I'd want to eat a lot of, but I've never tasted anything before that I'd compare it to directly.
I managed to also find a lot of other great foods that I had to actually pay for. Too bad you can't sample everything in the store.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 287

Swad Brand Patra: Today's new food is the last of my haul from Patel Brothers in Decatur, and to be honest, I wasn't exactly looking forward to it tonight. I neglected doing my daily post until tonight (after dinner away from home), and opening up a can of new food when I wasn't at all hungry didn't sound exciting at all. However, the blog must go on, so I came home and gave this "patra" a try. The can described the contents as "curried vegetable rolls." and as with most Indian foods, the results are never exactly what I expect.
The main ingredient for this one was something called "colocasia leaves." That was something I'd never heard of, so I did a bit of research. Apparently, colocasia is an herbaceous plant that's also sometimes called "elephant's ear" due to its large leaves. The root is used to make poi (the Hawaiian dish), but this dish only used the leaves. It also included gram flour (another Indian staple), palm sugar, chili, salt, ginger, coconut, and several other spices.
As instructed by the can, I emptied the contents, then cut off a thin slice to lightly pan-fry in a bit of oil. I gave it a couple minutes of heat on each side, then plated. Based on the appearance, I wasn't really sure what this would be like, but it was actually really tasty. The gram flour portion almost had the texture of firm polenta, and the pre-cooked colocasia leaves provided a nice contrast to the starch. As with many Indian dishes, this one definitely had some heat and sweetness, but I can't wait to eat the rest of this as a side with my next dinner - it was great. If only I'd been hungrier tonight!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 286

Swad Brand Khaman Dhokla: I desperately needed a appetizer to hold me over until dinner was ready tonight, so I got this "Khaman Dhokla" frozen dish out of the freezer. I had purchased this one during my trip to Patel Brothers a few days ago, and judging by the amount of these in stock at the time, it was a popular dish. I've enjoyed discovering Indian/Pakistani dishes, even in pre-prepared versions. They usually offer a lot of flavor, despite the absence of meat. This one almost looked like a dessert, but the packaging promised it to be an "all-time favorite savory of Gujarat, made with chickpea flour."
The contents were packaged in a plastic microwavable tray, but since I didn't want to cook the whole thing at once, I popped the frozen square out of the tray and cut off a small piece to microwave. The ingredients consisted of water, chickpea flour, palm oil, and quite a few herbs/spices (cilantro, coconut, green chili, mustard seed, curry leaves, chili powder, turmeric). Based on the appearance, I really had no idea what this one was going to taste like.
After about a minute, it was ready. Much to my surprise, it looked just like yellow cake after it was heated. The texture was strangely just like sponge cake, with a hint of sweetness that was almost dessert-like. It melted in my mouth after a few chews, but I was left with a spicy, peppery aftertaste that I wasn't expecting. I should expect heat with Indian cuisine by now, but the texture of this one made me think I might encounter something else. Even though it was a surprise on several levels, I definitely enjoyed it. I'm glad I did, since I ended up taking home 2 of them (they were buy one, get one free).
I might end up using the rest of this as a side for dinner this week, but for now, I'll probably eat the rest on its own. Good stuff.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 285

"Hippo" Baked Snack: As my readers probably know by now, I can't resist trying imported snack foods. Aside from usually being affordable, they tend to offer an easy glimpse into how other countries view snacking options. With that in mind, I managed to find quite a few great new snacks at Patel Brothers earlier this week. I've already tried some interesting stuff from there, and I was equally curious about these "Hippo" snacks I found. The "Chinese Manchurian" flavor was what really got me - what was that about?
I decided to try these as a pre-dinner snack tonight. I wasn't sure what the "Chinese Manchurian" seasoning was, but the ingredients had a list of chemicals and preservatives a mile long. Oh well, at least they were baked. So much for healthy eating this week.
I opened the bag and took a look. Each piece looked like a cross between a puffed-up crouton and potato chip. After trying, the flavor reminded me more of spicier sour cream and onion potato chips than anything Chinese (or Manchurian). Despite being a product of India, I didn't detect any of the typical Indian spices. Nothing too ground-breaking, but I managed to eat about half the bag in one sitting. I was obviously hungry.

The bag also included a statement from the "hippo": "Hippo love Chinese Manchurian. Hippo think Bruce Lee foolish. But Hippo smart to make Hippo Brand Chinese Manchurian munchies. They little tangy and have Chinese spices. Look, Hippo have both munch and punch." Umm...ok.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 284

Swad Brand Bhel Puri: Even after eating almost 300 days in a row of new food, I still get a thrill when something surprises me, and that was definitely the case with today's entry. I'd never seen anything quite like this bhel puri snack cup thing (another purchase from Patel Brothers in Decatur), and I was eager to give it a try today. From what I could tell, it involved mixing dry and wet ingredients in the cup to create an on-the-go snack option, but this was much different from the canned tuna/mayo/crackers option most of us are used to.
Once I opened the lid, I found 2 sealed plastic bags. One contained the "bhel mix" dry ingredients (puffed rice, gram flour, bengal gram lentil, and some spices), while the other contained the "3 in 1 chutney" (water, sugar, dates, and a ton of Indian spices). There was also a plastic spoon/napkin included, but I opted for a real spoon.
As instructed on the package, I poured the dry contents into the cup, then mixed that with the chutney. I have to admit that the concoction didn't smell good at first - kind of a sulfur-y, hard boiled egg odor that wasn't at all appetizing. It didn't look appealing either, but that's often the case with a lot of things I've tried. I never let things like that stop me, so I dove in.
Fortunately, it tasted much better than it smelled/looked. The puffed rice crackled just like Rice Krispies, and the sweet, spicy chutney actually tasted pretty good mixed with the crunchy elements. In addition to the puffed rice and dried lentils, I also spotted some circular discs that looked like Town House crackers. I should add that this stuff had some significant heat, and I had to grab some water to cool down after only a couple bites. Overall, I liked it, and I can see why this would be a popular portable snack.

More of my finds from Patel Brothers to come over the next few days - hope you guys like Indian!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 283

"Kurkure" Snack: Today's new food is another find from yesterday's visit to Patel Brothers Market in Decatur. I managed to find several great items there that I'd never seen anywhere else, and the only thing that kept me from buying more was the high price of some of the imported goods. I've noticed that while some imported foods are affordable (Japan, China, Eastern Europe), others can be fairly exorbitant (Britain, India, Jamaica). Luckily, I managed to keep my costs low at Patel Brothers, and these interesting "Kurkure" snacks were a great example of that.
I've found that every culture has their own version of the ubiquitous corn-based snack chip. Some are fairly unusual compared to their American counterparts, so when I saw these Kurkure chips (strangely, made by PepsiCo of India), described as "green chutney rajasthani style," I knew I had to try them. There were several other flavors available, but these sounded the most interesting to me.

When I opened the bag today, I was immediately reminded again of Cheetos - not the puffed ones, but the skinny regular variety. That's where the comparisons ended, though. According to the ingredients, they were flavored with chili, garlic, and onion powders, as well as coriander, ginger, and tamarind. The texture was crunchy and Cheeto-y, but I was immediately hit with a decent dose of heat that made me sweat a little. There was also a lemony tang that I couldn't identify. Overall, I really enjoyed these. If you'd like your corn chip snack to have a serious kick, check these out.
The back of the bag also suggested recipes that could be made using these, which all reminded me of something a stoned college student might create. In the mood for an elaborate "ice cream cone" featuring boiled potatoes, coriander, chili powder, chaat masala, and these chips? Kurkure has you covered.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 282

Mango Hot Pickle: As this blog winds down into the last quarter, it's been really difficult for me to find new places to shop, even in a town as culturally diverse as Atlanta. I've found myself hitting the same markets over and over again, and even though they always yield something, some of them just aren't as exciting as they used to be. I knew that could be one downside of doing this, but unfortunately, there isn't much I can do about it.

While brainstorming for a new place to shop today, I remembered a place that my uncle who lives near Decatur told me about. I wasn't sure of the name or exact location, but he described it as an Indo-Pak grocery store right off Highway 78 near Lawrenceville Highway. I figured it couldn't hurt to go look, so I jumped in the car and found it pretty easily: it was Patel Brothers Market.

I managed to find a lot of great new foods (more of those to come over the next few days), but I noticed something interesting right near the entrance: a self-serve pickle bar. These definitely weren't your standard kosher dills or bread and butters, and if you've never had Indian-style pickled foods, they're much different that their American counterparts. The bar featured several different styles, but I opted for a bit of the hot mango pickle.
Since each item didn't have ingredients listed, I chose to dive straight into these tonight with no research. I could smell the heat from these as soon as I took the lid off, and the pieces of mango (with skin on) were cut into thin strips. Speaking of the smell, it also had the same sweet undertone of the eggplant relish I tried a few months back. My first bite tasted much different than I expected - the mango pieces were more bitter than sweet, and I detected a few of the traditional Indian spices (turmeric, fenugreek seeds, chili powder, etc.). The heat factor wasn't too bad, but the combination of sweet/hot/bitter wasn't at all what I was expecting. Not bad, but I suspect this may taste better as a condiment.

Despite these not being what I'm used to when referencing pickles, I enjoyed these. Stay tuned over the next few days for more new foods from Patel Brothers...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 281

Deutsche Kuche Peanut Puffs: One thing I've tried to do during the course of this blog is listen to suggestions from friends and readers, and I'm always happy when someone else leads me to an interesting new food. As great as suggestions are, it's even better when someone actually supplies me with food, and that's exactly what happened this past weekend. One of my readers recently contacted me and said that she had a couple of items set aside for me to try. I couldn't say no to that, so I made arrangements to pick them up and was pleasantly surprised with the results.

In addition to some vegan jerky (which I've unfortunately already tried and written about), there was also a bag of something called "peanut puffs." They were described as a "crunchy corn snack with freshly ground peanuts," and the picture on the bag made each piece kind of resemble an actual peanut. Based on that information, I expected these to be filled with some sort of peanut substance, but I was wrong.
After opening the bag today, I noticed that these looked a lot like Cheetos, but more brown instead of orange. I have to admit that they were really good - imagine a peanut flavored Cheeto, and you have a pretty good idea of what these are about. They weren't sweet at all, but they were still super addictive. I managed to knock out several handfuls before putting them away. Oh, and they also tasted pretty awesome dipped in Nutella.
Thanks so much to Terry for introducing these to me, and if I ever see them again (apparently Aldi distributes them), I'm definitely buying more.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 280

Cheese "Saganaki": Today's new food comes courtesy of Kyma, the Greek restaurant that's part of the Buckhead Life Group. I've always had pretty good food from their locations, and a couple days ago, me and the GF discovered that Kyma does a special $7 appetizer menu on Sundays. We'd eaten there about a year ago and enjoyed it, so we decided to head back tonight. I hadn't had any new foods planned for today, so I hoped they had something that would count.

Once we were seated, I perused the menu and found something I'd definitely never tried: cheese "saganaki." The GF said that it was basically pan-fried Greek cheese, and Kyma's version was made with kefalograviera (a hard sheep's milk cheese) as well as barbayanni ouzo (a Greek liqueur). Apparently, the dish is sometimes ignited tableside to burn off the ouzo, but this one was served sans flames. I figured it was going to be tasty - how could fried cheese ever be bad?
Once the dish was served, I cut off a small wedge and tried. The whole piece was fairly thin, and despite being piping hot, it was wasn't as gooey as I expected it to be. The liquid in the bottom seemed to be a mix of ouzo, lemon juice, and olive oil, so I placed my wedge of cheese on a piece of pita, then soaked up some of the liquid. It was really good - the cheese retained a good bit of firmness and crunch after the pan-frying, and the lemony, oily mix in the bottom of the dish added a lot of flavor. We finished it quickly, and luckily it wasn't too heavy to keep us from enjoying the rest of our meal.

If you love fried cheese with a Greek spin, make sure to try this dish.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 279

General Tso's Mock Chicken: While doing some errands yesterday, I decided to swing by the Whole Foods on Ponce again since I was in the neighborhood. I really haven't been feeling like shopping lately, and even though WF has been fairly useless for me lately, I figured it couldn't hurt to try. I've given up on their regular inventory, but I can sometimes find a surprise in the hot bar or produce sections.

My first stop was the hot bar, and I instantly spied something that filled me with skepticism. Before I go any further, let me say that General Tso's chicken is one of my all time favorite dishes. Some foodies may laugh and dismiss it as a guilty pleasure, but there's no guilt on my end about loving it. I order it every time I get Chinese takeout, and it would undoubtedly be on my "death row" meal short list.

Anyway, that brings me to my discovery at WF. The hot bar was serving something called "General Tso's Mock Chicken." Hmm, ok. How did this obviously vegetarian version compare to the classic I love? The "chicken," which was made from a mix of soy protein and something called "soy fiber," consisted of square cubes that resembled tofu. I also spotted some peppers and onions swimming in the sauce, which looked nothing like any General Tso's dish I've had. Even though I knew it couldn't be as good, I got a sample cup and took some home.
I knew this stuff would probably taste worse the longer it sat, so I heated the sample up with my lunch this afternoon. I tried the "chicken" first, and it had the texture/flavor of extremely firm tofu. Unfortunately, it wasn't fried, and in my opinion, they shouldn't be calling it General Tso's unless it's fried. The sauce resembled sweet and sour instead of General Tso's, and the sauteed peppers/onions seemed out of place and unnecessary. If you hadn't told me that this was a riff on General Tso's, I would have never known. Definitely one of the more disappointing new foods I've tried.

From now on, I'll stick to the real thing. General Tso, I'm sorry I betrayed you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 278

Scotch Egg: Even though I was out of new food today, I just wasn't in the mood to do any shopping. The pressure to shop for new food is one element of this blog that I definitely will not miss once it's over. Anyway, with that in mind, me and the GF decided to hit H. Harper Station on Memorial Drive for dinner. We'd been before and really enjoyed it, and based on their online sample menu, I knew they'd probably have something that would be new to me.

Once we got there, I was glad to see that tonight's menu featured something that was mentioned on the sample: the scotch egg. I'd heard of this delicacy before, but I wasn't even sure if it actually involved egg as an ingredient. When the GF informed me that it was basically a hard-boiled egg surrounded by a ground sausage shell, I was in. Oh, did I mention it was also deep-fried?
H. Harper Station's version featured house-ground sausage covering the egg, with grilled asparagus and remoulade on the side. The "egg" was a bit bigger than a tennis ball, and it resembled a large croquette or arancini. Once we cut it in half, the real magic happened. The center of the egg was still runny, which my readers probably know is one of my favorite things in the world. Almost anything can be made better with a runny egg, so I was super excited about trying this one.
Honestly, this was one of the best dishes I've tried in awhile. The fried ground sausage exterior had a salty crunch that was irresistible, and combined with the soft egg interior, it was an awesome flavor/texture combination. The slightly spicy remoulade was the perfect condiment for the sausage and egg, and I eagerly devoured my portion quickly. Really good stuff.

I'm glad I finally got the chance to try a scotch egg - now I have a new favorite dish. The rest of our meal was great as well, so if you haven't been to H. Harper Station, check it out.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 277

Black Mission Fig: Today's new food was a surprise find from my visit to the Whole Foods in Buckhead last night. I had a gig to play a few blocks away, so despite not finding much at the Ponce location yesterday afternoon, I decided to check out the Buckhead location in hopes that they might have something different. While much of the stock was the same (even though the store is much larger), I did manage to find something new in the bulk dried fruits/nuts/grains section: black mission figs. I've had figs as an ingredient, but usually as a paste or puree, never whole. I like them in general, so I was curious to find out what these tasted like.
These figs had obviously been dried, and they looked similar to dates or large raisins. After biting into one this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised. The flavor was fairly sweet, much like a raisin, and the interior was slightly mushy, but filled with tiny little seeds that provided a nice crunch. If you like raisins, these black mission figs could be a great new snack option, but definitely more decadent at $5.99/lb. Luckily, WF let me take a few of these as a free sample. 

In case you were wondering where these originated, Wikipedia states that they were introduced to the US when Franciscan missionaries planted them in what is now San Diego back in 1768. It's now the main commercial variety planted throughout California. Wow, these things have some history...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 276

Whole Grain Barley: Now that things are sort of winding down with the blog (only 3 months to go!), I'm finding that it's getting even more difficult to find new foods. Places like the Buford Highway Farmers Market used to leave me in amazement; now, they just aren't that exciting anymore. I really hoped that when I started, searching for and eating new foods wouldn't become a chore. However, when you're doing something every single day, it's inevitably going to be a chore sometimes.

That brings me to today's new food. I stopped by the Whole Foods on Ponce this afternoon to see if I could scrounge up something new, but didn't have very good luck. As nice as some of their selections are, I've found that they basically just sell expensive versions of foods normal grocery stores sell. I've had the best luck with their hot bar (and its free samples), but the rest of the store doesn't really offer me much of anything. At this point, I've eaten all the new hot bar foods, but today I saw something that I'd never tried on its own: whole grain barley. It didn't look that appetizing, but I was desperate. I grabbed a sample cup, then made a hasty retreat.
I'd never eaten whole grain barley in it's pure form, and WF's version appeared to be pre-cooked then served warm on the hot bar. It reminded me of some of the other grains I'd tried (quinoa, wheatberry, etc), and each nugget had a brownish color. After getting the sample home, I reheated it for a few seconds, then gave it a try. It really had no flavor at all, and I can't understand why WF would push this as a "side" since it tasted like, well, nothing. The texture was slightly chewy and nutty, and while I'm sure this is a healthy ingredient, I can't see eating it alone. Maybe it's better mixed into something else, but I wouldn't choose it as a hot bar option when there's mac and cheese right next to it.

I'll stick to consuming my barley mixed with hops, yeast and water for now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 275

Mixed Congee with Black Glutinous Rice and Job's Tears: Today brings me to my final find from last week's trip to the Fiesta Farmers Market on Buford Highway. I managed to locate some interesting new foods there, but honestly, none of them really blew me away. That wasn't the market's (or the food's) fault - I just happened to pick some things that I didn't really know what to do with.

I know my faithful readers will probably remember my experience with congee from the first couple weeks of the blog. However, this one I found at the market looked to be extremely different from the version I tasted in Las Vegas. When I saw this canned congee made with black glutinous rice, I knew I had to try it. It also contained something called "Job's Tears," which left me completely mystified. I had no clue what those were, but it's my job to discover these things.
I cracked open the pull-top can tonight before dinner, and the dark, gelatinous-looking contents reminded me of runny instant oatmeal. Not so good. The congee (served hot) that I tried in Vegas looked more like rice pudding, so I was curious to find out how this one compared. There were no instructions on the can regarding heating, so I gave it a go at room temperature.
How was it? Well, the results weren't what I expected. The flavor and texture reminded me of slightly sweet, runny oatmeal, just like the appearance. While the congee I tried in Vegas was more savory, this one seemed more suited to breakfast than lunch or dinner. Other than the black glutinous rice, it also contained oats, cereals, peanuts, and lentils. Oh, and the "Job's Tears?" According to Wikipedia, they're a grain from a tropical plant from the grass family that's reminiscent of cereal or barley.

Not sure I'd try this one again, but I'm definitely glad I got the chance to compare two styles of congee. I'm not even sure if I was supposed to eat this one hot or cold, so if anyone knows, please tell me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 274

D'Gari "Sherry" Gelatin Dessert: When I saw this package of dessert mix at the Fiesta Farmers Market a few days ago, I wasn't sure what to think. I knew this would probably be like any other gelatin or Jell-O I've tried, but one thing was definitely different: the "sherry" flavor description. The box that the individual packages of powder came in prominently featured a glass of wine on the front - was this really wine-flavored gelatin? There was only one way to find out.
I decided to try this one for dessert tonight, and preparation for this supposedly booze-flavored gelatin was easy. I mixed the powder with boiling water, then simmered for a couple minutes until dissolved. After a couple hours of refrigeration, it was ready to eat.
The final product looked like, well, Jell-O, and the color was deep red. I spooned a sampling out of the bowl and took a bite, and I was really hoping for something new and different. No such luck - the flavor was kind of a strawberry/cherry/grape blend that didn't taste like sherry at all. I let the GF try it, and she thought it tasted more like grape than anything else. I don't really know what I was expecting with this, but standard fruit flavor wasn't it. Oh well, now I need to buy some Reddi-Wip to finish the rest of with.

As I finished writing this entry, I realized that I tried two jelly/gelatin products in a row. However, I can definitely say that today's jelly was much better than yesterday's grass version.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 273

Grass Jelly: Today's new food find is another selection from my trip to the Fiesta Farmers Market on Buford Highway. While their inventory wasn't nearly as extensive as the Buford Highway Farmers Market's, I did manage to find a few interesting things that I'd never seen before. While browsing their Asian canned foods, I saw this can of "grass jelly." I can't say that it looked very appetizing, but it seemed to be a popular product, and the market also sold several other items (mostly drinks) that featured it as an ingredient. I have a hard time saying no to things I can't identify at all, so I grabbed one of the cans to take home.
When I decided to give it a try tonight, I really had no idea where to start. Was this supposed to be served as a side? A dessert? Rather than research it first, I opted to open the can and try it by itself. Once I got the lid off, I was confronted with a dark (almost black), gelatinous substance that was hard to imagine eating. I turned the can upside down and dumped the contents into a bowl, and the can-shaped mold reminded me of the ubiquitous cranberry sauce that a lot of families use at Thanksgiving. I can't say I was excited about trying this, but I grabbed a spoon and dove in.
My first bite was, well, underwhelming but interesting. It really didn't taste like anything at all, to be honest. The texture was just like Jell-O, but the only flavor was a faint grassy, plastic-like aftertaste that kept me from wanting any more. I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to eat this stuff by itself, and after doing some research, I discovered that no one really does. Oops.

According to Wikipedia, grass jelly is used as an ingredient in many Asian desserts. It's made from boiling the stalks and leaves of mesona chinensis (a relative of the mint plant) with starch, then cooling the liquid into a gelatin. A common practice is to mix the jelly with syrup or sugar to produce a sweet drink, so maybe I'll try that with the rest of what I have. I don't recommend trying this one on its own.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 272

Kimbo Rice Ball with Peanuts: One of the hardest things about keeping this blog going is finding new places to shop. Due to time and financial constraints, I tend to hit a lot of the same places repeatedly, so that's why I was glad to recently discover a new market: the Fiesta Farmers Market, located in the Plaza Fiesta on Buford Highway. Some of you may remember its previous incarnation as the Atlanta Farmers Market, but it's been re-opened with plenty of interesting stuff on the shelves.
While I was browsing the frozen section yesterday, I noticed these unusual Kimbo "rice balls" filled with various ingredients. They definitely looked interesting enough for me to try, so I opted for the "peanut" version, whatever that meant. The preparation sounded simple enough: boil for 3 minutes, then eat. Done.
I gave these a try today as an afternoon snack, and the results were pretty surprising. Ingredient-wise, there really wasn't much to these, just glutinous rice flour, water, sugar, palm oil, peanuts, and sesame. I dropped a couple of them in boiling water for a few minutes, then plated and cut one open. The gelatinous, mushy exterior gave way to a runny center that looked like melted chunky peanut butter. The "rice ball" casing didn't have much flavor, but the filling tasted just like peanut butter. Pretty good! I don't know if these are meant to be eaten as a dessert, but I'm thinking of adding some sort of dessert-type sauce to them next time around. Maybe chocolate syrup or something fruity?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day 271

Banh Tam (Steamed Yuca Cake): Thankfully, Blogger is back up and running again today, so hopefully there won't be any more delays in my postings. Anyway, since I was in need of some new foods today, I ventured down to Buford Highway in search of some new markets. I did find one new place to shop (more on that tomorrow), but I managed to hit at Lee's Bakery beforehand. I've been to Lee's several times now, and I couldn't resist their killer banh mi sandwich for lunch today. However, my new food for the day concerns a different kind of banh.
In addition to some great Vietnamese eats made in-house, Lee's also has a pre-packaged counter that features several goods from different vendors. I've had good luck with their selections from the Viet My Bakery, and I happened to find something else from them today that interested me. It was called banh tam, and from a distance, it looked like little colorful straws. The label described it as steamed yuca (cassava) cake, and based on the ingredients (water, tapioca starch, yuca, sugar, coconut powder, etc.), I knew it was going to be a bit sweet.
After I got home today, I gave them a try. The texture was like a much softer, gelatinous gummi worm, but not at all sour. There was a slight hint of sesame and coconut, and the whole package was lightly sprinkled with sesame seeds. Not bad as a light snack or dessert, and I ate a few of them before giving up. Incidentally, I let the GF try these, and she didn't care for them at all - she wasn't a fan of the texture. She assumed they'd taste like something else, which I can understand. That's often the case with Vietnamese desserts, but I actually liked these.

Day 270

Gits Vermicelli Kheer: First of all, let me preface this post by stating that I did NOT forget to eat and post my new food yesterday. The Blogger site was down for most of the day (and past midnight); therefore, I couldn't post. I never thought that technology would trip me up with this project, but hey, there's nothing I could do. Here's what I ate and wrote about yesterday:

After finding some really good instant Indian food mixes at the Buford Highway Farmers Market during my last visit, I was excited to try the last one I had left. Apparently dessert options are quite popular with Indian cuisine, and as I've mentioned before, they're usually much less sweet than what we're used to in the States. This "kheer," made by the Gits company, looked like it was going to be interesting. It seemed to be some sort of dessert soup, and the preparation simply consisted of pouring the powdered mix into a couple cups of milk, then simmering for 15 minutes. Easy enough.
I knew I had dinner plans tonight away from home, so I decided to go ahead and make this kheer mix for later enjoyment. In addition to the cardamom and saffron that are ever-present in Indian sweets, the mix also contained sugar, vermicelli, raisins, milk solids, starch, almonds, and pistachios. The package advised eating it hot or cold, but since I already made one cold Indian dessert this week, I opted for the hot version. Once mixed in with milk, all it took was a few minutes of simmering to be ready.
I spooned a bit of the kheer into my bowl, then gave it a try. Honestly, I liked this much better than the halwa dessert I tried earlier this week. The creamy texture was much lighter than any pudding or oatmeal, and the mix of cardamom, saffron and sugar offered a nice contrast to the raisins and almonds. The tiny bits of vermicelli added some weight to the dish, and despite its sweetness, I could have easily eaten more. Maybe I'll try eating it cold tomorrow to see how that compares.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 269

"Roll" Coconut Pandan Flavour Cake: Based on the name alone, today's new food selection didn't excite me too much. How good could something be that was just called "Roll?" This one was given to me by my dad, who got it from a co-worker from China. I'm always excited when other people give me food to try, but this one didn't look like it was going to offer much. The label described it as a "coconut pandan flavour cake," and the picture reminded me of a rolled-up Twinkie.
I figured this one wouldn't hurt as an afternoon snack for today, so I gave it a shot. After unwrapping, the "roll" looked exactly like the picture on the bag. From what I could tell, it was just yellow sponge cake rolled up around some sort of creamy (maybe coconut-flavored?) center. My first bite confirmed those predictions, but I noticed one difference: the creamy center tasted like strawberry, not coconut. There was actually no coconut taste whatsoever, which goes to prove that you can't always trust labels. It was tasty, but no different than any Little Debbie cake I've had.
Perhaps the most memorable part of this experience was the label's claim that the product was "bird flu/avian influenza FREE." Good to know!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 268

Palak Paneer (Indian Cottage Cheese w/Spinach): Today's new food is another find from the Buford Highway Farmers Market's Indian aisle. I was lucky enough to find several great pre-prepared dishes there, and even though they may or may not be super-authentic, they've at least allowed me to try some new foods without investing in a full-on restaurant meal. I'm going to do that sometime soon (I promise), but for now, these will work.

This selection from Kohinoor was called palak paneer, or cottage cheese with spinach. I've really enjoyed all the Indian food I've tried so far, despite all of what I've tried being vegetarian. I'm usually not too big of a fan of vegetarian cuisine, but Indian dishes make up for the lack of meat with a lot of flavor and spice. Oh, and the ghee (clarified butter) doesn't hurt, either. The package suggested serving it with rice or naan, so I opted for a piece of the Trader Joe's tandoori naan I had stashed in the freezer.
When I opened the package, it didn't look appetizing at all. It reminded me more of the gunk I pull out of my shower drain than something I would eat, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. I've eaten crickets, lamb heart, and durian, so how bad could this be?
After heating, I served the mixture in a bowl with my naan as a dipping implement, then went to work. The flavor was reminiscent of pureed creamed spinach, but much more flavorful. A lot of the traditional Indian spices were present (garam masala, coriander, fenugreek, cumin), but it wasn't nearly as spicy as some of the other Indian dishes I've tried. The cottage cheese cubes were a dead ringer for soft tofu - in a blind taste test, I wouldn't have known the difference.

Pretty good, but not quite as tasty as some of the curries and masala dishes I've tried. Oh, and this whole package allegedly contained 3 servings, but I scarfed down most of it in one sitting. Given the calorie count, it wasn't exactly healthy eating. Oh well.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Day 267

Gits Bombay Halwa Mix: Remember how I recently talked about how difficult it was becoming for me to find new foods, even in places as diverse as the Buford Highway Farmers Market? Well, luckily, I found a new place to look in the BHFM that has supplied me with a whole new resource. I tend to pull from the Asian sections there since I like the food so much, but on my last visit, I stumbled on the Indian aisle and was extremely surprised. Despite having tried a few Indian dishes here and there, I know very little about Indian cuisine.

In addition to lots of snacks, sauces, and spices, the aisle also had a section featuring some inexpensive powdered mixes made by the Gits company. A lot of these were desserts (which I always love), so I picked out a couple and took them home. I've found that Indian desserts are much less sweet than what I'm used to, so I was curious to find out how this one compared. I wasn't sure what "halwa" was, but the picture on the box reminded me of Jell-O.
According to the label, this "famous souffle" had a "satiating characteristic that makes it a favorite for weight-watchers." The only ingredients were sugar, agar-agar (a gelatin thickening agent), skim milk powder, almonds, pista, cardamom and saffron. Preparation was easy (mix w/milk, boil, then pour in dish to set), so I decided to give it a try this afternoon as a snack.
Once the mixture set, I cut a piece from the pan to try. It definitely had a Jell-O like texture, but I knew it wouldn't taste like the stuff I grew up eating in my grandmother's Jell-O salads. The taste was interesting - kind of like a creamy gelatin, but with a tasty dose of cardamom and saffron. Not bad, and I can see how this would be a great dessert for "weight watchers," as the package states. Other than milk and a bit of sugar, there isn't much else to it.
Look for more new Indian treats to come in the next few days. I'm really looking forward to trying them after discovering this one.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 266

Wo Kee Loong Thai Fish Snack: Today's new food is my last selection from the stash of food that my friend's parents brought me from their extensive overseas travels. I've had a great time figuring out all the items they bought for me, and some have definitely been better than others. I still don't know what I ate on day 250! Anyway, I've been wondering what these Thai fish snacks were all about from the moment I saw them. From what I could tell, they were little chunks of dried fish filets coated in some sort of sauce. Considering that they came from the same company that made day 250's unidentifiable food, I was kind of nervous about trying them.

According to the bag's label, the only ingredients were "fish, sugar, sesame, salt, palm oil, chili, seasoning." I get a bit apprehensive when any food's ingredients don't specify exactly what kind of protein I'm eating. "Fish," huh? Thanks for narrowing it down, I appreciate it.
After opening the bag and taking a bite, my first impressions were good. The pieces of dried "fish" were super crunchy, with a slightly syrupy sweet/sesame taste that was almost candy-like. Well, fish-flavored candy, that is. I'm not sure if I could eat many servings of these at once due to their fishiness, but I did enjoy them. And hey, at least I could feasibly identify them, despite the vague "fish" description.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 265

Baked Fish Cakes: One thing I've noticed during my last several trips to the BHFM is the amount of frozen "fish cakes" for sale in the Asian departments. Apparently they're insanely popular, given all the different variations found there. I've been trying to give in and buy things that I've passed by on more than one occasion, and these fish cakes definitely fit that category this week. The ones I bought were fairly inexpensive compared to others, and their odd cigar-shaped design intrigued me.
I decided to give these a shot for lunch today, and according to the packaging, they were made from a mix of threadfin bream fish, modified tapioca starch, egg white, salt, sugar, and a few preservatives. The label said they could be eaten plain (or added to prepared soups/salads), so I pulled one out and gave it a try. I can't say it was the most appetizing thing I've eaten - the exterior looked like soggy paper.
The first thing that came to mind after taking a bite was imitation crab (or "krab," as I prefer). It had the same sweet/seafood-y flavor that "krab" has, but the texture was a bit more porous and springy. The center was inexplicably hollow, and it would have resembled calamari if I had cut it into ringlets. The taste wasn't too bad, but it didn't really have enough flavor to be eaten alone. Maybe I'll work the rest into another dish or stir-fry it with some sauce, but I can't foresee eating it solo.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day 264

Mixed "Panfried": Today's new food is another find from yesterday's trip to the BHFM, and it was definitely a tasty one. One of my favorite sections of the market is their prepared hot/cold Asian section in the back left corner. If you're looking for some authentic Korean/Japanese fare to take home, that's the place to hit first. In addition to some awesome-looking sushi and sashimi, the counter also features a hot section with all sorts of good stuff. I've noticed these plastic trays of "panfried" meats and vegetables on numerous occasions, but for some reason, I've never gotten around to buying them. From what I could tell, they were prepared much like an omelet, but with various meats/fish/vegetables mixed in.

Rather than pass them by again, I grabbed one of the "mixed" platters and put it in my basket. The market sold them with a choice of imitation crab meat, beef, or pollock fillet, but I wanted to try them all. I hoped it would keep until lunch today, but considering how fried foods taste after being reheated, I wasn't that optimistic.
When I opened the wrapper this afternoon, the first thing I noticed was the fishy smell. Not a problem for me, but I know that's a turnoff for some. After reheating, I tried a piece of the beef patty first. Really tasty, but it reminded me more of a well-seasoned hamburger patty than anything else. Next up was the pollock - also good, and it had much more of the scrambled egg omelet component than the beef patty did. The thin pollock filet provided a nice smoky, oily flavor, and I devoured it quickly. The combo also included some pieces of grilled green pepper that were stuffed with some of the ground beef mixture, then sealed with scrambled egg on the bottom. Those were my actually my favorite, and would make a great starter/appetizer for almost any meal. Sadly, this combo didn't include any of the crab meat, so maybe I'll try those next time.

Even though I really enjoyed all these, I don't know what the actual name for them is. I have a feeling they aren't just called "panfried," despite what the label says. The BHFM is usually good about including the real name on the label and not just a translation, so if anyone knows what these are called, please let me know.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 263

Samsa: I decided to do some impromptu shopping this afternoon since I loathe hitting the farmer's markets on weekends. I needed some staples for dinner tonight, so I opted for a trip to the Buford Highway Farmers Market. I can't even count how many new foods I've found for the blog there, but fortunately, it never disappoints. I'm not gonna lie - shopping there has become much less interesting than it was 263 days ago, but I still manage to leave with a few great finds.
As usual, I made a stop through the Eastern European section, which is one of my faves in the market. I love their selection of homemade pastries, so when I saw one I hadn't noticed before, I was excited. It was called a samsa (not samosa), and they were selling them filled with either lamb or beef. It looked more like an empanada than something of Eastern European descent, but I knew it had to be tasty. I had the counter attendant wrap me up the lamb version, and away I went.
I eagerly unwrapped it when I arrived home, and after reheating and cutting into it, the appearance was similar to a lot of other savory pastries I've had. The flaky dough was much thinner than that of a piroshki or empanada, and the filling was comprised of a mix of shredded lamb, peppers and onions. I knew there was no way this could be bad, and I was right. The flaky pastry gave way to the slightly peppery mix of lamb and spices, but it wasn't quite as greasy as other savory pastries can be. Really good, and I could have easily eaten another with no problem. Highly recommend.