March DegustaBox

March DegustaBox

How is March ALREADY AT ITS END?! How is my visit to see my cousin an event that occurred a little over a month ago, and did I really just run a sub-4:00 hour marathon only this past Sunday

Well, I guess we truly are approaching the end of March, seeing as I’m writing up another DegustaBox review! My box for March came packed with a bunch of goodies!

DegustaBox for March '17
DegustaBox for March ’17

There was a a good balance of sweet snacks and savory staples. Of course, I went for the sweet-flavored stuff first! This time, I went straight for the Loacker biscuits—“Gran Pasticceria Tortina Dark”

tortinadark-noir
A “Hazelnut Tartlet?”

This wafer-based biscuit is described as a “hazelnut tartlet” and has a smooth, creamy dark chocolate shell over a melt-in-your-mouth wafer cookie.

The chocolate is so smooth, you can read the lettering on the shell!
The chocolate is so smooth, you can read the lettering on the shell!

The other cookie-based snack was this bag of Mrs. Thinster’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Thins. Apparently more exotic flavors like Key Lime Pie and Cake Batter are available, but these chocolate chip crispy cookies irresistible.

cookie-thins
Mrs. Thinster’s Chhocolate Chip Cookie Thins

The chocolate in these cookies had a mild, sweet flavor, and a buttery, crisp cookie base.

cookiethins
Mrs. Thinster’s Chhocolate Chip Cookie Thins Close-Up

I was pleasantly surprised to find a full-sized, peanut butter and jelly-filled croissant among this month’s mix of items! The bread itself was sweet and soft, and reminded me of a cake you’d find in an Asian bakery.

7-days
7 Days Croissant Peanut Butter and Jelly

The filling on the inside didn’t look like a lot, but it was just enough.

croissant
A PB&J Croissant?? Which master genius came up with this idea 💡?!

I remember having the Sweet Oat & Flax Good Thins crisps as part of my December DegustaBox, and so I was elated to see that the sweet potato flavored ones were included in this month’s box.

sweet__potato
Nabisco Good Thins The Potato One ~ Sweet Potato

The sweet potato chips were light, crispy, sweet, and extremely light in density.

Boboli Pizza Crust was also included, and at first I was like, what am I going to do with this? Since I share a kitchen with an elderly couple (my landlords), I don’t do much heavy cooking. Plus, I wanted to see if I could utilize this large, dense disc of bread for a meal besides pizza…

boboli_crust
It’s hard to tell but there’s about half of a 12″ Boboli pizza crust at the bottom of this (what seems like) a veggie-dense bowl!

As a result, I added it to my usual veggie-dense crockpot dinner bowl, as well as into some split pea soup that also had tofu cubes thrown in.

soupand veg
Boboli crust in soup and with veggies (topped with mustard)

The crust was soft, chewy, not super cheesy (even though cheese strands were clearly visible), and I even had portions of this 12″ crust on its own when not thrown into the dinners seen above.

One item I didn’t particularly favor was this Lemoncocco drink:

lemoncocco
Lemoncocco

It has Italian origins, but the drink itself has a “milky” appearance. It is essentially coconut water with a hint of lemon, but I thought the citrus flavor was overwhelming and made the drink taste slightly bitter.

Another product I had an adverse reaction to were these Energems. At least I did at a previous time. With this in mind, I decided not to give these a try. I brought and left them in lab, and my co-workers made use of them—I think some of them benefited from the caffeine boost!

energems_
Energems, eh no thanks!

These quinoa bars were a favorite of mine!

barssss
Such pretty packaging colors & font!

They were lightly sweetened, and had a mix of textures, but they were still easy to eat. Not only were they easy to consume, but they were also colorful and the box had the most gorgeous packaging!

quinoabar
This Paul’s Finest Quinoa bar dazzles like a gem. And the fact that it’s sweetened with honey 🍯🍯🍯 ??? Aw man, so good!

The small box of Goya Quinoa Blend that contained black beans, bell peppers, and spices mixed with white quinoa and brown rice held enough grains to make four weekday lunches.

quinoablend
Goya Quinoa Blend

It was very simple to prepare with the microwave. I simply added a serving of the mix into a bowl, filled it to the level of the grains with water, and simply microwaved it from 7-12 minutes. I added a small, sliced Yukon gold potato that was also microwaved ~2 minutes. I cooled off the mix in the fridge in lab, took it out around lunch time, and any excess water that was there right after microwaving had been absorbed by the rice.

quinoa-and-potato
Taking some days off from running has helped me in regards to gaining some free time for meal prep! Vegetarian quinoa by Goya, mixed with a boiled potato has been working as a satisfying lunch 😋 helping me power through the rest of my work day 💪🏽

The potatoes did a good job of absorbing the flavors, and overall made for a nourishing lunch!

The last product in this month’s box I have yet to try is this chickpea pasta:

chickpea-pasta
Tolerant Foods Organic Chickpea Pasta

I plan to soak a serving in water overnight before I plan to use it for lunch, so that it can respond well to a spin in the microwave. I’ll have to add my own spices and toppings, but I think this pasta will be a new favorite of mine since I expect it to have a naturally nutty, rich flavor thanks to those baby chickpeas 🙂 !

Which would you rather try from the following: the quinoa snack bars or the quinoa-rice mix?

Gringo Bandito!

Gringo Bandito!

Disclaimer: I was not provided compensation except for product samples for review by Gringo Bandito, and all opinions are my own.

For the past 2-3 weeks, I’ve been able to spice up the holidays with some wholesome hot sauce!

Gringo Bandito is a hot sauce brand based in So Cal, which has humble origins. The brand was born in 2004, started by Dexter Holland who is a singer for the band The Offspring. It was created as a gift for a friend, but since then, has blossomed into a flavor threesome featuring red, green, and super hot sauces! It’s even ranked in the top 10 hot sauces on Amazon!

sauces
Gringo Bandito Super Hot / Red / Green

The green sauce wasn’t too hot, but it did leave a kick! I added a lot to one of my crockpot bowls one night and had to stop and take a picture because so many colors were popping out at me. Talk about nutrient-dense!

nutrientdense
This bowl SINGS with flavor

I also added some to a supposedly spicy pepper soup with shiritake noodles. Let me just say the soup would not have been spicy if not for the hot sauce that was added in!

i-1
Spicing things up!

I also love the humor in the ingredients list. Of course there is going to be “more peppers”, haha!

green-sauce
“More peppers!”

Of the three sauces, I first tried the Super Hot flavor that had scorpion chili pepper as an ingredient! Make sure you take this sauce seriously and be gentle with the portions!

super-hot
Take me seriously.
scorpion-chili-pepper
Scorpion chili pepper…

When I visited my family over the holidays, I brought all three bottles over to enjoy on home-cooked meals!

About that super hot sauce…I made the mistake of adding a lot to a pot pie crust I had for dinner one night, and my mouth (and stomach!) would not forgive me for it!

i-7
Doesn’t look like a lot but it is!!

It definitely adds a lot of flavor, and a little does certainly go a long way.

i-6
Temperature-hot stew, chemical-hot crust

My sister is one of those people who loves Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but who dislikes spicy food. She tried the “regular” hot sauce though, and thoroughly enjoyed it! She had it on a sandwich my Dad made her.

i-5
Not super aesthetic, but the hot sauce was good according to my sis 🙂

My Dad also treated me to some eye-popping, healthy-licious meals. I gave my stomach a break and tried the regular hot sauce on these:

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Vegetable medley w/ spiced up tofu
i-3
Spicy stuffed pepper!

It harkened the tofu to get up and dance, and my stuffed bell pepper to boogie—in my mouth that is!

Are you a fan of hot sauce?
Two More Days

Two More Days

Even though I had to bid adieu to my sister once the end of her visit rolled around, I was glad I was able to spend some time with my Dad for two more days after the weekend of their visit. Since we were both busy during the day, our only time to meet up was for dinner—so that’s exactly what we did! We decided to head over to Lemonade in Pasadena since neither of us had ever been, and the fresh-take on cafeteria food the local chain specializes in sounded appetizing at the time. 

Lake Ave. in Pasadena is another one of my favorite locales---I love it just as much as the exciting Colorado Ave!
Lake Ave. in Pasadena is another one of my favorite locales—I love it just as much as the exciting Colorado Ave!

We were kind of stumped as to how and what to order when we arrived, but since we didn’t have to worry about crowds on a weeknight, the staff behind the counter were at ease and were patient in guiding us through the process.

We could choose from one to six portions from the Marketplace, where there were many salad-like items and hot pots. There was also a meat section, breads, and luscious-looking cakes. 

salad bar and pots

hotfoodsbreadscakes

We made our way down the counter with a 6-Portion plate, a veg pot, and some bread for the side. The 6-portion plate was quite hefty, and seriously landed with a thud on the tray!

food
Lime soba noodles, beets salad, tomato & farfalle salad, crunchy lentils of some sort, curried cauliflower, spicy corn salad // pumpernickel roll and cranberry nut bread <— YUM! // braised kale, tomato and white bean veg pot

My favorites from the food we ordered included the cranberry nut bread and the beets salad. I loved the soft texture of the bread, as well as the mix of bite-size cranberry pieces and slivers of almond, I believe. The beets salad though…it had a hint of sweetness and crunchiness not from the beets, but from something small, orange, and sticky in consistency. Orange-glazed walnuts? Not too sure, but it made the salad worthwhile for sure! 

Before leaving, my Dad and I decided to split a macaron cookie. We split a generous-sized lemon macaron that was super soft and filled with lots of cream! It almost fell apart in my hands as I was taking the picture and trying to split it into two halves.

macaron

The next day was another busy day for the both of us, especially me! I had a two-hour lecture in the morning, spent a couple busy hours in my rotation lab, and then followed that up with an afternoon lecture for a class that requires me to make the trek to our campus health center for free coffee. Anything to stay awake! My lecture that day that went 20 minutes over schedule, since we were being rushed through a 75-slide power point presentation on one of the most detailed aspects of genetics. My brain was fried, and in dire need of glucose 😛

Since my Dad wanted to stop by Little India in Cerritos for some Indian groceries to take back home, we decided to have dinner at a local spot in the area.

sahara

The Sahara Restaurant was pretty much like any other Indian restaurant you’d find in a city strip mall, but they apparently served a pretty tasty Gobi 65 and Cauliflower Manchurian—I would be the judge of that!

table

We were the only ones in the restaurant, other than a couple of police officers who came in to place a carry-out order. It was comical to watch them transfixed on the Bollywood music videos playing on the TV hanging in the corner of a wall. Our server was a sweetly awkward guy who had a hard time explaining the true difference between Gobi 65 and Cauliflower Manchurian. It was okay though, since he did make the effort and asked the chef for his input 😛

So along with the Gobi 65, we ordered the Baingan Bharta with a side of roti and long-grain rice. For an appetizer, we snacked on papadum and my Dad had a mango lassi.

pappadumlassi

I passed the time by looking up my exam scores for one of my classes (which took forever to do on my phone), and by the time it loaded in full, our food had arrived to the table.

Gobi 65 - Cauliflower deep fried in exotic Indian spices & Baingan Bharta - Smoked eggplants and potatoes cooked in tomatoes, onion sauce and exotic spices.
Gobi 65 – Cauliflower deep fried in exotic Indian spices //  Baingan Bharta – Smoked eggplants and potatoes cooked in tomatoes, onion sauce and exotic spices.
Roti & rice.
Roti & rice.

The Gobi 65 was spicy and full of flavor, but far from having the crispy texture I associate with a well-cooked version. In fact, it was quite chewy and almost seemed soggy from the sauce/spices. The Baingan Bharta was delicious on all fronts though, and I used it to coat my slices of warm, crisp roti.

After dinner and shopping, I was dropped off back at my apartment. My Dad had a long drive that night and so after getting him a cup of coffee from my apartment complex’s coffee machine, we said our good-byes. It was semi-difficult to get back into my regular routine the next day, but I reminded myself that a new weekend was not too far away 😉

Lemonade on Urbanspoon

Sahara Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Smart for Life Product Review

Smart for Life Product Review

Disclaimer: I was not monetarily paid to write this review. This review is based on the products and information I received from Smart for Life.  All opinions are my own.

At the start of the new year, I got a pretty hefty box waiting for me at my doorstep. Upon opening, everything was wrapped up in thick tissue paper and a kind letter was on top:

Smart for Life (2)

Smart for Life is best known for their cookies and protein bars, but since they contain gelatin, they were thoughtful enough to send me their vegetarian items. These included two flavors of their shake bottles, zero calorie creamer, and two flavors of water enhancers. They also sent two soup packets, but unfortunately I couldn’t have those after a second look at the ingredients…

Shake Bottles

The shake bottles jumped out at me first, of course. They come in the flavors below, as well as strawberry.

Smart for Life Shakes in 'Chocolat' and Vanilla.
Smart for Life Shakes in ‘Chocolat’ and Vanilla.

There was a fill line on the inside which gave a guideline as to how much water to add. After filling up the bottles with the appropriate amount of water, it was time to shake things up—literally!

SFL SmoothiesFrom the two, I preferred the vanilla flavor. It had a nice, distinctive vanilla aroma, and even though it had a sharp aftertaste, it wasn’t so sharp as the chocolate flavor.  I wasn’t expecting the such boldness from a shake, but you get used to it after the first couple sips.

Tomato Soup

Smart for Life (4)

I was all set ready to try the soup packets, planning on mixing both packets and adding some cubed tofu, but noticed that unfortunately, one of the ingredients was Chicken Stock Base. I was disappointed, but I knew someone in my lab building could make use of it, so it didn’t really go to waste.

Liquid Samples: Creamer and Water Enhancers

I am not a big fan of creamer, so my opinion on this specific creamer may be biased. I like good old fashioned milk in my coffee (even almond and soy milk I don’t mind), but I did give this Smart Coffee Creamer a try one morning.

Smart Coffee CreamerTaste-wise, the addition of the creamer caused it to have a bitter aftertaste (probably from the coffee since there wasn’t any milk to mask it), but appearance-wise, it looked almost identical to my regular morning cup.  It’s a good fake-out, but unless you are a creamer fan, you may not enjoy the taste (they do have a French Vanilla and Hazelnut flavor, however, and those may taste better).

Smart for Life (1)

To be honest, I was somewhat hesitant to try the water enhancers, the newest in their product line. I’m not a big fan of sugary or sugar-free drinks—including Gatorade. I don’t mind fruit-infused water (cantaloupe-infused water tastes phenomenal!), but overall, I prefer my water as is.

Smart for Life 'Water Enhancers'!

But everything deserves a chance, and even though the Acai Pomegranate flavor looked way too similar to cough syrup, I poured and mixed 3mL (the suggested serving size–approximately 0.6 of a teaspoon) into a glass of water.

Acai pomegranate water enhancerThe verdict? Even though it was powerfully sweet, I actually liked how it tasted. I wouldn’t recommend drinking this before going on a run though. That’s what I did, and my stomach didn’t feel too well as a result.

Peach Mango water enhancerPeach Mango tasted like a toned down/carbonation-free version of Fanta. I have a preference for the Acai Pomegranate from the two.

Even though these products are marketed as ‘diet’ products, they can be supplemented with other foods to make a more substantial meal. I could easily see the water enhancers as a substitute for Gatorade (at least in terms of flavor), and the shake bottles could be paired with an english muffin with PB or a nutritious omelette for a go-getter’s breakfast. It would have been nice if the soup was made with a vegetable base versus chicken, as it could have made for a nice broth for some soft tofu cubes or stock for a vegetable stew!

‘Enhanced’ water or plain water—what’s your preference?

Are you a fan of creamer?

Phở!

Phở!

On a cold Sunday afternoon, a warm bowl of phở is a necessity. Background noise from a busy restaurant, good company, and boba desserts are optional, but they add to the experience as well.

We stopped at Pho Lee Hoa Phat for some warm meals and a new cuisine experience. Even though we have eaten noodle bowls in the past, we never actually ventured into a Vietnamese restaurant to have the “full experience”. Fortunately, we were with our friend–a poor college student and phở expert ;).

Pho Lee Hoa Phat Menu
Pho Lee Hoa Phat Menu

After looking through the menu, my sister and I were limited to the vegetable phở bowl, but my friend picked something I forgot the name of (it had meat though!).

Perusing through the menu.
Perusing through the menu.

Going for the Veg. Option

The waiter had arrived to our table about 5 minutes after we arrived, but my sister was persistent on deciding on a boba milkshake before ordering our meals.

Boba Shake Menu

She offered that we share the shake, and after bouncing back flavor suggestions, we both compromised agreed to try papaya.

We found the waiter again, and told him our requests. We then prepped our sauces. My friend was very comfortable in the technique of mixing the right ratio of siracha/chili/worcestershire sauce. I had her mix mine sans worcestershire.

Siracha and chili, ready to go!
Siracha and chili, ready to go!

We were seated near the window, so it was hard to take a scenic picture of the restaurant showing how busy it was. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it!!

It was really busy on a Sunday!
It was really busy on a Sunday!

Before our noodle bowls came, we were given some sprouts to use as a refreshing topping for our soups. In the meantime, we were dipping the sprouts in our sauces.

Sprouts for topping

Our friend’s bowl came first, followed by an onslaught of vegetable phở bowls. My sister and I got “regular” sizes, and they were perfectly sized for a lunch.

The Veg Pho Bowl.
The Veg Pho Bowl.

Underneath all those veggies (and a singular pineapple slice :P), there was so much vermicelli noodles. With the addition of my siracha chili sauce, my sinuses were on fire, haha!

Good thing we had our papaya boba shake on the side to cool off our tastebuds!

Papaya Boba Shake.
Papaya Boba Shake.

^ I (almost) seriously loved this shake more than my noodle bowl. My sister and I were competing for the last few sips :P.

If you are looking for a hearty, warm lunch, definitely give phở a try—and make sure to order a boba milkshake (or two!) on the side ;).

Have you tried phở?

Pho Lee Hoa Phat on Urbanspoon

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