Friday, August 28, 2015

I'm Inspired To Go On Picnics

Product review submitted by: Jane Ong
Thermal Insulated Picnic Backpack For Two
My work is scheduling me to return to Toms River New Jersey to work on some projects there again. My problem with Toms River New Jersey is that it is a town that is totally lack of decent restaurants, or the kind of supermarkets I like. (eg. Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's).  But this time, I am going to return prepared.  The area around Toms River New Jersey is very pretty, even though it's very hot and humid most of the time in the summer.  But this time, I am expecting the temperature to be cooling off since it's going to be September.. or am I wrong?  I'm planning on bringing my picnic backpack for my business trip to Toms River this time.  I figure out that instead of having a miserable time dining out at restaurants that serve bland and often horrible food during the weekends, I can assemble much better meals and go on picnics on many scenic sites near Toms River.  

I bought this thermal insulated picnic backpack ($54.97) a while back because I wanted to picnic at a Hollywood Bowl summer concert.  But then my friend and I ended up being too lazy to pack our food, and  we went to a nearby restaurant instead.  I really like this picnic backpack because it includes 2 plates, 2 cups, 2 forks, 2 spoons, 2 knifes, 2 napkins, 2 salt and pepper shakers, 1 cheese cutting board, 1 bread and cheese knife, a multi-function wine opener, and a 45"x 53" picnic blanket.  I also love that the backpack has a collapsable wine holder.

I'm looking forward to finally putting this picnic backpack into good use when I go back to Toms River and enjoy the beautiful landscape there.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Caramel Waffle Cookies And Vietnamese Coffee

Review submitted by: Jane Ong

One of the reasons that I love Whole Foods  Market is because the quality of their baked goods.  I have been so sick and tired of the lousy tasting baked goods in most American grocery stores that are baked with "vegetable shortening" or "hydrogenated palm oil".  I am very happy that Whole Foods Market carry baked goods that taste naturally good and that are baked with high quality ingredients that include butter and cream. In my opinion, any American town that has no Whole Foods Market is not worth living in.  I have realized that any town that has no Whole Food Market, also has no Trader Joe's (another of my favorite store), which somehow only has very lousy restaurants. If I am wrong, please correct and educate me.  This is just based on my travel experience in American towns that don't have a Whole Foods Market.

Besides wholesome and delicious baked goods, Whole Foods Market  also carries a wide variety of decent tasting ethnic foods that show me the taste of the world.  I am delighted to find Vietnamese Iced coffee there and it tastes pretty good.  Shopping at Whole Foods Market is never just a chore to me, it's always an amusing and educational experience.  I can't say I am a very worldly person, but shopping at grocery stores like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's does make me become more appreciative of other cultures.  After all, the world isn't just all about greasy hot dogs and ghastly cakes that are baked and pasted with "hydrogenated vegetable shortening".  

Grocery Store: Whole Foods Market 
Address: 2655 Pacific Coast Hwy Torrance, CA90505
Tel:Phone:(310) 257-8700 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Omakase Dinner At A Japanese Steakhouse

Restaurant reviewed by: Jane Ong

I had been to a lot of American Steakhouses, but this is the first time I visited  a Japanese Steakhouse.  I had the 5-course Omakase (Chef choice) dinner at $50.00.  It was money well spent because everything was delicious.  The first course was a plate of five dainty appetizers, a small piece of grilled filet mignon, melon with prosciutto, miso-marinated cream cheese, seasonal ohitashi (vegetable dish in the middle, crisp cucumbers), caprese heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella. I think this was French cuisine interpreted by Japanese, which was very well done.  It's different from the typical French cuisine, but it tasted just as good but lighter. I love the Japanese's touch of making the food taste light, fresh and tasty.

The second course was soup of the day, which was a cream broccoli cold soup. It was light, creamy and very refreshing.  I don't know how the two properties of  "light" and "creamy" can co-exist at the same time, but this was how I felt about the soup. It was so good!

The third course was a cold soba tapas (fresh made soba noodles topped with the chef's choice of accompaniment). This was another tasty and refreshing dish.  The noodles were well seasoned with super delicious Japanese dipping sauce.  The fish pieces on top were so fresh and so tasty. The tiny crunchy fried roes sprinkles were just addictive.  

There were a few options for the forth course, I chose the grilled miso-marinated cod, served with mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley. Most vegetable medley in American steakhouses tend to taste really bland and boring. But these vegetable medley made by the Japanese chef had a lot of flavor.  I cleaned out my plate and all my veggies. 

There were also options for the 5th course.  I chose the creme brulee which is of course very rich, creamy and delicious.  I licked my pate clean again, I used the strawberry piece to help me soak up the strawberry sauce on the plate. This was one  fantastic dinner that was totally delicious from the start to the finish. I felt really satisfied, yet without any bloating or sickly feeling I normally had with the American steakhouse.  I love the way the food was portioned, and the restaurant's use of fresh and high quality ingredients. I'd rather pay for quality than quantity. 

Restaurant: I-naba Steakhouse
Address: Country Hills Shopping Center, 2933 Rolling Hills Rd, Torrance, CA 90505
Tel: (310) 891-2333 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Chocolate Dipped Double Peanut Butter Ice Cream Bar

Review submitted by: Jane Ong
I bought a box of these ice-cream bars for $5.99 yesterday.  I had just finished my last bar a few minutes ago.  Each of these ice-cream bar has 340 calories, so I definitely need to mop my floor this evening to use up these calories.  I like these ice-cream bars but they aren't the best ice-cream I've had.  To my personal taste, these ice-cream bars can be better if there is more chocolate ice-cream and less peanut butter flavored ice-cream. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Delicious Chinese BBQ Combo Lunch Special

Review submitted by: Jane Ong

Chinese BBQ Combo Lunch

I love BBQ food, and Chinese BBQ never disappoints.  Today I had a $7.95 combo BBQ lunch special (BBQ Duck & Soy Sauce Chicken Over Steamed Rice With A Heap of  Bok Choi). It comes with free hot and sour soup.  I love the boned-in Soy Sauce Chicken but my experience with this famous Cantonese style chicken had been sighting of bones that were quite red.  When I visited Hong Kong, my friends there told me it was how the chicken was supposed to look because the chicken had to be extremely tender and juicy and with the bone also cooked through, the chicken had to be soaked in the boiling soy sauce for way too long, which reduced tenderness.  

I don't mind a little less tenderness and a little less juiciness.  Whenever I order this chicken dish, I always request the chefs to please make sure there is "no red" in the bones.  I love this chicken dish so much. It's really flavorful.  It pairs perfectly with Chinese BBQ Duck or Chinese BBQ Pork.  These meats make the steamed white rice taste so good.  It's a very filling meal and a very popular lunch box meal choice in the Cantonese culture. (The culture of the Quangdong province in China that includes Hong Kong & Macau. The majority of people there are quite slim which may indicate that steamed rice, and moderate amount of flavorful meats can curb the desire to over eat junk food...)

Restaurant: Nice China Cafe
Address: 2543 Pacific Hwy Ste B., Torrance, CA 90505
Tel:(310) 539-0323

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Will You Install A Range Hood Just For Cosmetic Purpose Only?

Content submitted by: Jane Ong

I was house sitting for an elderly relative tonight because she is hospitalized.  I went there to pick up a few things for her and also to fry a couple steaks.  Even though I don't cook much, I do know how to pan fry steaks and I do know that I should turn on the range hood for ventilation during cooking. Yet, the kitchen just got more and more smoky even though I had turned the hood on high.  A few minutes into cooking my steaks, the deafening smoke detector alarm went on. It threw me in a panic mode because I had never experienced this before.  I just didn't know how to turn the freaking smoke alarm off.  I was so afraid that the firemen would show up if I didn't quiet the alarm down soon enough.  A rush of embarrassment also took over me because my elderly relative lives in one of those very tightly packed 55+ communities where row-houses (actually row-condos even though they look like houses) are very close to each other.  I just didn't want to disrupt the peace and quiet of the retirees in the complex.

After painstakingly running around to open up all the windows and setup window fans to air the smoke out; I rushed for a wet towel to duct tape around the smoke detector, I finally got the alarm to shut the hell up.  This is why I don't cook much.  I always feel that cooking just involves too much hassle and much of it can be just too unpredictable....  I much prefer the peace and predictability from just ordering delivery and take-outs.  I can never trigger the deafening and embarrassing smoke alarm by ordering delivery.  The reason that I didn't order delivery tonight is because this 3000+ units complex is out of the range of delivery from the only decent restaurant I found in town. This is a suburb that has only one supermarket, no hospital, and yet many sprawling 55+ communities, and several thousands more 55+ units being built.  The only supermarket in town is always congested and busy.  So when I saw the steaks in the fridge, I instinctively took on the CIY (Cook It Yourself) challenge.

I just hope I didn't damage my hearings because of this alarm.  My ears are still feeling the trauma as I am typing now.  I rarely cook and losing my hearing just because I cooked tonight is so not worth it.  I always feel that this retirement community has bad feng shui ( or Karma). The complex looks like every resident was kidnapped by aliens. May be they are just hospitalized in different towns like my elderly relative.  I guess for those who love peace and quiet, this is the place because the complex looks like an empty ghost town. There isn't much sighting of humans but the regular big jets that fly overhead. May be I am young, I find this lack of life forms very depressing.  This is a quiet place and yet there is the regular noise of the loud jets from above. Then there are all kinds of people targeting the residents of this community to rip them off.  Like this useless range hood that is installed by a contractor who supposedly had installed and serviced many range hoods in this complex.  I remember the time when my elderly relative told me about the total kitchen remodel this contractor sold her...which wasn't cheap. She told me the contractor ran ads in the community's magazine and was highly regarded by the HOA...

I don't know if it's fair for me to blame the hood unit for the weak ventilating capability (Broan QS142WW Under Cabinet Range Hood, QS1 Series, Allure I), or the pure cosmetic installation of the hood by the contractor.  The air suction of the hood is very weak, but then I wonder if it will get better suction and ventilation if only the unit is actually connected to a chimney.  No, my elderly relative's range hood isn't connected to any duct or chimney that runs through the roof.  Her range hood is literally an under-the-cabinet hood that is attached  to the bottom of her cabinet shelf, on which are piles and piles of plates and bowls.  This is why the cooking smoke just accumulated as I cooked even though I had turned the hood fan on high.  All I did was actually blowing the cooking smoke all over to the living room to trigger the smoke alarm.   This is the most ridiculous kitchen gadget I had ever seen.  Just what's the point of having a range hood if it can't ventilate?  I'm appalled to find that a contractor just took advantage of an old lady like this?  How did he have the decency to install the range hood this way?  Literally underneath a sealed cabinet shelf?

I found this out because I was just too curious and shaken by the alarm.  I just didn't understand why the fan was somewhat blowing and yet the smoke just accumulated to a point that it triggered the alarm.  So I opened the doors on the cabinet above the hood and there I saw why.

Many people keep taking about the good old 50s and how great a time it was.  But I personally think people from the 50s are just a lot more naive and not as informed.  My elderly relative just never realized a hood was supposed to be connected to the outside in order to ventilate? The scary part is, my elderly relative was educated by UCLA in the 50s...UCLA is a very competitive college today.  I don't know  how my elderly relative was admitted back then since she seemed to be quite clueless about too many things, like how a range hood ventilation works.  I mean, I am young and I don't cook much but I do understand a little about how ventilation works.  There is no way I will pay anyone to install a range hood this way for me.

I hope the hospital where my relative is staying is giving her the proper treatment, and her hospitalization isn't a cosmetic one like her range hood installation.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Thai Style Green Curry Chicken With Green Tea Infused Brown Rice & Farro

Review submitted by: Jane Ong
Thai Style Green Curry Chicken
Since my return to Los Angeles from Toms River New Jersey, I had discovered that the grocery store Albertsons that I had patronized for years had been replaced by a new grocery store chain called Haggen.  It was there that I discovered a brand of frozen meals that I had never seen before. (Well, I had to admit that I don't do that much grocery shopping to really see everything, since I'm a fan of restaurant deliveries...)

The catch phrase that made me buy this frozen dinner is "NO ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS".  So, that's is one positive change that came with this new grocery store chain.  I had been staying away from frozen meals because of my concern of the possible artificial ingredients and the plastic tray packaging.  I am happy to finally see a brand of frozen meal that is all natural.  I'm not sure if this brand will covert me into a believer of packaged "frozen meals" because I never felt the need to buy them when I am living in a suburb that is populated by many great restaurants that offer great take-outs and delivery menus.  It's not much more expensive to order from restaurants than buying the packaged "frozen meals" in the supermarkets.  These enticing looking frozen meal boxes just never made sense to me.  The industry of "frozen meals" must be the big beneficiary of America's never ending "suburban sprawls", just like the automobile industry.    I can see why these meals are popular in the suburbs that have few restaurants, and that are far from anywhere that have dining and restaurant delivery service.  I had been to suburbs that are in the middle of no where and that have not even one grocery store.  I guess to these remote towns that are lack of access to amenities, packaged frozen meals make perfectly convenient sense.

Now that I had tried this new brand of frozen meal, I realize it actually tastes okay.  However, it's still a huge disappointment from the expectation of presentation. The food inside the box looks nothing like the photo on the box.  The food looks really sad and pathetically gross and mushy.  Just like all packaged frozen meals, the portion is very small, which makes frozen meals more expensive than restaurant take-outs and deliveries.  In this Thai Style Green Chicken Curry, there is only a few tiny bites of chicken meat.  The meal does taste a lot more natural and more pleasant than other brands.  The package also seems to be healthier and more environmentally friendly than other brands because it's packaged in paper bag and not a plastic tray.  I'm always skeptical about heating food in plastics...

I think this is my most favorite brand of frozen meal thus far, despite the lack of appetizing presentation, which is common in all brands.  This brand at least tastes really natural and pretty okay to me.  Besides, it claims to be all natural.  If I have no choice but to consume packaged frozen meals, I will get this brand only.  For the sake of convenience, I bought a few packages of these to prepare for the hunger strikes in the late hours of the night when my favorite restaurants are closed.