Sunday, January 24, 2010

Battle of the Greek Yogurt Titans

When I worked at my first publisher, there was a ritual of eating lunch in the lunchroom with other people from the books for young readers department. I was from marketing, and joined by several from editorial and design. Later, we had one from subrights join our little lunch group. All in all, we were at most, a group of six. Being a frugal group, usually we brought our lunch from home rather than going out and spending $10 on a sandwich.

We usually spent our lunch break talking about food. Things we liked, didn't like, new restaurants opening, bars, etc. However, the one food item that we kept returning to was yogurt. We debated the pros and cons of different brands, styles, fat content, flavors, and even which grocery stores were having sales on our favorites. Yeah, we were really keen on yogurt. Sorta weird, really.

After a while, we realized we were spending so much time talking about a yogurt and it became an inside joke. One particular lunch, the only male in our group and non-yogurt eater, suddenly interrupted yet another yogurt conversation with an, "OMG! Can't we talk about something other than yogurt?!" My boss at the time also claims that ever time she would come in the lunch room to get coffee, her own lunch, etc., that we were ALWAYS talking about yogurt. She would laugh at us.

So in honor of my yogurt loving-friends, and the people we annoyed, I'm talking about yogurt.

I recently found two new yogurts at my local grocery store. Perhaps these aren't new to other people, but they were new finds in the already well-stocked yogurt section. Greek yogurt has been the rage with yogurt aficionados for some time now. As a member of a group of people who kept up with yogurt trends, I have been aware and a fan of Greek yogurt for long before it went mainstream.

Evidence of how trendy Greek yogurt is now can be seen by two new options. Brown Cow, makers of the best full-fat yogurt out there, has released Brown Cow All Natural Greek Yogurt, 0% fat. And Stonyfield, a personal favorite brand, has Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt by Stonyfield Orangic. Also 0% fat.

I bought both brands last week and did a taste test. Unfortunately, I couldn't compare like flavor to like flavor since the flavors at my store were completely different for the two brands. So I picked the basic vanilla in the Brown Cow and Honey from Stonyfield.

First, the Brown Cow. My first thought was, NO WAY this is nonfat! It's unbelievably creamy, sweet, and rich. It does not in anyway resemble the other nonfat yogurts out there. How did they do that??? Despite the rich mouth feel and taste, it actually doesn't taste anything like Greek yogurt. You know that tang and slightly dry mouth feeling you get from Greek yogurt? Yeah, this doesn't have that at all. This is a Greek yogurt for people who don't like Greek yogurt.

Now the Stonyfield. WOW! The honey does not refer to a honey flavored Greek yogurt, but the honey is ON THE BOTTOM just like fruit on the bottom. Lovely! I mixed it all in and tasted. Mmmmm. Not as creamy and rich as the Brown Cow, but quite good and also doesn't really taste like it's a nonfat yogurt. Has more of the Greek yogurt tang and dry feeling, but not overwhelming so.

I next checked out the labels. Ah yes, the Stonyfield container does say, "Honey on the bottom." Nutritionally, the two yogurts are identical. There are teeny differences between the two, but really, they are close enough to be declared the same. Ingredients in the Brown Cow only number three - milk, cane juice, and vanilla. The Stonyfield has five ingredients, two of which are natural stabilizers. Both yogurts have the same five active cultures. Price was also just about the same, and the amount of yogurt in each single-serve cup is the same, 5.3 oz.

So what's my verdict? I say it's a tie. How anti-climactic, right? Really, they are both very good. I love the Brown Cow because it tastes like it has fat in it and you are getting away with something. Eating something you shouldn't be eating. But I also really like the Stonyfield because it kept that Greek yogurt tang I enjoy so much and honey with Greek yogurt is one of my favorite flavors. According to the websites for each brand, there are five flavors available from Stonyfield and only three from Brown Cow so far.

I will happily buy and eat both. And I probably will for variety's sake because neither brand has many flavors available at my store yet. Brown Cow only has three, and I only saw honey for the Stonyfield. I hope both companies roll out more flavors for these yogurts as they are all going to be good. I just know it.

Other products I have tried recently and really enjoyed are Haagen-Dazs coffee frozen yogurt (I know, more yogurt), and Trader Joe's Peach Mango Orange Juice.

Steve and I were coming home from a movie last Friday night (Crazy Heart. We agreed that the story was rather ordinary, but the acting, music, and Jeff Bridges were fantastic), and as we passed the grocery store on the corner after it had closed for the day, I said, "shoot, we're out of milk." I was going to let this go until Saturday and then go get milk when the grocery store was open. But Steve didn't like this as he was looking forward to a bowl of cereal on Saturday morning. He only eats his cereal on the weekends, so I guess it's a treat. There is a little grocery nearby, so we stopped in there for milk. I found that they carry the best kind of organic milk (Organic Valley, yay!), but I also was suddenly struck with the yen for ice cream. Seeing all those little pints lined up just sang to me. It has been so long since we've had ice cream I can't even remember when it was. Steve immediately picked out Haagen-Dazs banana split. Hm. Not one I would pick out. So I chose Haagen-Dazs dulce de leche frozen yogurt. Or at least, I thought I did. We pay, we leave, we go home, and crack into those pints. COFFEE?? Where did this come from?

Somehow, I picked up the one pint of coffee that was sitting right next to the two stacks of dulce de leche. Oh well, I'm not going back out to exchange it, so may as well eat it. Even though my taste buds were primed for the sweet, caramel-y flavor of dulce de leche, I found that they quite enjoyed the coffee as well. Yum, yum, yum. Tasted just like a Frappachino. Lower in fat and calories than a frapp, I imagine. Try it if you haven't already. It's good.

The other new-to-me product comes from Trader Joe's. As you probably know, I adore Trader Joe's and do most of my shopping there. When we were up in Boston a couple weekends ago, the people we stayed with had Trader Joe's Orange Peach Mango juice. I loved it. I didn't expect to, but I did. I'm usually a traditional fresh squeezed orange juice girl in the morning. I don't like anything else but oj. No apple or grape or cranberry for me in the morning. Just oj. Weeeeeeell, now add the OPM as a morning juice option. I also have enjoyed this juice in the afternoon mixed with some plain seltzer for an Orangina-like drink. Very refreshing and tropical.

Anything new you've tried that you love? Yogurt? Anyone?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Diet-Killer Issue of Bon Appetit

Yesterday, I received my February issue of Bon Appetit.

Oh boy. Are we in trouble.

In addition to this scrumptious-looking grilled cheese and short rib sandwich with caramelized onions, other recipes that caught my tastebuds's attention:

Beef Tenderloin Medallions with Potato "Risotto"
Potato Gnocci with Pork and Wild Mushroom Ragu
Bison and Red Wine Shepherd's Pie
Pork Stew with Hard Cider, Pearl Onions, and Potatoes
Ham, Artichoke, and Potato Gratin
Roasted Leg of Lamb with Yukon Gold Potatoes
'Best Ever' popcorn, buffalo wings, chips and other Superbowl snacks
Alaskan Black Cod with Hoisin and Ginger Sauces
Red Bean and Sausage Cakes with Poached Eggs and Cilantro Salsa
Cheddar, Bacon, and Fresh Chive Biscuits
Madeleines with Lavender Honey
Cream Tart with Oranges, Honey, and Toasted-Almond Crust
Rustic Pear-Cranberry Tart
and an entire article using MILK CHOCOLATE! - Devil's Food Cake with Sour Cream Fudge Frosting; Milk Chocolate Mousse with Port Ganache and Whipped Creme Fraiche; Milk Chocolate Souffles with Nougat Whip; Milk Chocolate-Caramel Tart with Hazelnuts and Espresso

Are they kidding me?! Trouble, trouble, trouble is headed this way.

There is also an entire article about tofu. I don't see myself getting much mileage out of that one. But I do appreciate the BA editors's humor of including tofu in an issue that boasts "Meat and Potatoes" as their cover headline. Oh those, foodies. So funny.

Also featured in this issue - where to eat in Austin, Texas. Only a handful of Austin's fantastic restaurants were mentioned, but they all sounded good. In a separate short column on biodynamic wines, one of my favorite wines was one of the six featured: Boony Doon 2008 Ca' del Solo Albarino. If you can find it, I highly recommend picking up a bottle or a case.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eating out

Over the past couple of months, I have had the pleasure of dining out. In December, I met with the other members of the TNTE Club at Becco, a Lydia Bastianich establishment for our annual holiday dinner. If you recall, last year we went to Perilla. Six of us squeezed into our chairs around a tiny round table that should really have been set for no more than four, but the whole dining room was that way - packed to the gills with guests back-to-back. Not sure how the waiters managed to shimmy between everyone. We feasted on several of the menu specials and all-you-can eat daily pastas. Actually, only one person at our table ordered the pastas, but we all had tastes of hers. The Gorgonzola gnocci was fantastic. Noisy, warm, and teetering on chaotic, but very satisfying food in the theater district. One in our party ordered the osso bucco which came with the largest marrow bone we'd ever seen with that dish! The best thing I thought we ate all night though, was on the dessert sampler we ordered. The panna cotta was simply the best I've ever had. It was smooth, light, not at all gelatinous or thick, and tasted of the best vanilla. Divine.

Rewind some more to November. Before we arrived in Miami to board the Crystal Serenity for our Thanksgiving cruise, Steve and I flew to Atlanta to meet up with David & Allison. The four of us drove down from Atlanta to Miami together. But before we started our 13 hour drive at 2AM, we had dinner at Kennesaw pizza joint, Big Pie in the Sky Pizzeria. Perhaps you watch the food-porn and human spectacle on the Travel channel known as Man vs. Food? No? Oh well, you don't know what you're missing. Anyway, MVF's host and stomach-that-is-a-freak-of-nature, Adam Richman, visited Big Pie to take on their Carnivore Challenge - eating an ginormous 11-pound pizza. While the four of us weren't even tempted to try the Carnivore Challenge, the boys did settle for one slice each of a Carnivore. Basically, it's a pizza topped with just about all the standard meat pizza toppings. Allison and I opted for a slice each of the four-cheese. Here are some before and after shots. These are big freakin' slices of pie. And quite tasty, too.

Back home in Brooklyn, last week, Steve and I hosted our friends from Montana. We ate some usual and favorite NYC fare - pizza at Grimaldi's, hot dogs from a vendor, and brunch at Char No. 4. For our post-MoMA lunch, we took them to Ginger Man, a really good beer bar in east midtown that is extremely mellow on Sunday afternoon. The calm, quiet, warm surroundings were just what we needed after the noisy crowds at MoMA and swirling snow flurries and Arctic wind chill outside. We ordered two flights of beer tastes, soup, stew, sausages, sandwiches, and house-made soft pretzels. Hearty stuff to warm the gut. Yum.

We also took them to a place in Brooklyn for their last night in the city that Steve and I hadn't tried yet. I'm glad we got there when we did because Henry Public filled up fast after we snagged a booth. Henry Public is a relatively new place that is dressed up like a speakeasy. And old timey speakeasy. Even the staff wears a uniform that is really more of a costume - band-collar shirts, braces, flannel or non-denim pants, old fashioned shoes. The food menu is limited to burgers, a couple finger foods (house made pickles and roasted almonds were very good), and ice cream for dessert. The cocktail menu is from another era, too. We enjoyed our burgers and drinks, and it might be a place for Steve and I to visit again as long as we get there early enough to get a table.

I saved the best for last. While up in Maine for Christmas, Steve and I decided to treat ourselves to a dinner out at one of Portland's critically acclaimed restaurants. Portland is quite a mecca for chefs who are focused and committed to using local and seasonal ingredients and sources. We chose Fore Street for our dinner out. I'm so glad we did. I loved it. The menu was much larger than I expected for a place that does use local and regional sources for their seasonal ingredients. We ordered four smaller plates and one entree and one dessert. Here is what we had:

Marinated Hon Shimeji and Rocket Salad with roasted red onion, reggiano, apple bacon red wine vinaigrette
Three Selections from the Chilled Meats & Offal section served with cranberry jam, tarragon gherkins, spicy Allagash mustard: Salt Cured Foie Gras, Maine Farm Rabbit Galatine with Serrano and Lemon, Heritage Pork Cotechino
Wood Oven Roasted Maine Mussels with garlic almond butter
Wood Grilled Harlequin Quail with lentils, savory vegetables, smoked Heritage pork belly
Maine Farm Russian Boar Chop with celeriac puree, cranberry relish
Butter Braised Fingerling Potatoes, aged sherry vinegar
Two Citrus Desserts on one plate - lime steamed pudding, citrus cheesecake with pepper-basil sugar sauce and pomegranate seeds

Hello! Doesn't that all sound fabulous? It was. Several of you have asked how I remember what I ate at restaurants. Well, in most cases, I remember what I had and then I can go home and look up the restaurant's menu online for details. In the case of Fore Street, they don't post their menu online since it changes every day, so I asked our waitress if I could have a copy of the menu. She gladly handed over the dinner menu but I didn't get the dessert menu. Here is a scan of the menu. What would you have ordered? (Click on the image for a larger view.)

We loved everything we ate. We ate every little morsel, crumb, drip of sauce from our plates. Except for four fingerling potatoes. We had four potatoes too many.