Archive | September, 2011

Front Porch Pops – Traditional Home Made Ice Cream Pops with a Foodie’s Flare and Free Popsicle Contest

12 Sep

This post has been moved to http://tomsfoodieblog.com/front-porch-pops-traditional-home-made-ice-cream-pops-with-a-foodies-flare-and-free-popsicle-contest/  Please change your bookmarks

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New Product Spotlight and Contest: “B. Toffee”, Seriously Good Toffee!

6 Sep
 

I was roaming down the aisles of Promelis Market in Newport Beach and something caught my eye! It was a clear paint can style container with the label, “B.toffee.” Inside the container was a bag of chocolate covered toffee that sung out, “Eat me!” Before I knew it, my shopping cart was veering towards the aisles like a sailor answering the call of the sirens into the rocks, except I found myself with a can of toffee in my hand.

B.toffee uses an elegant packaging, perfect for impressing someone important or just pampering yourself

The product I picked up, B.toffee, is a relatively new product on the gourmet food aisles, but has managed to develop among a rabid group of loyal consumers. I was curious as to why this product had been flying off of the shelves, so I decided to eat a can of B.toffee, purely for research purposes of course 😉

When I looked at the product it was pleasing to the eye with its use of a clear paint can style outer packaging and emblazoned with a clean “B.tofee” label. On the inside of the container, a bag of stacked chocolate covered toffee rested on chocolate-brown confetti. The look of the product was quite elegant and something I would bring to a classy dinner party or as a gift to someone I want to impress. Just a hint to the guys reading this article, bring this toffee to a date and she will be impressed; pair this toffee with a bottle of wine and magic will happen ( I do not guarantee results).

B.toffee is handcrafted using premium ingredients

I opened the container and the bag which was labeled, “Handmade in Newport Beach, California”. The toffee looked hand crafted, with its artistically imperfect application of toffee to chocolate. I will often pay more for a gourmet food product if I know it is hand-crafted, as these products use higher quality ingredients and have better quality and a higher quality product. When I opened the bag, the aroma of buttery toffee wafted out, it was obvious that this confectionary was hand crafted with love. The chunk of toffee I selected felt substantial in weight and had a nice appearance. The color of the toffee was a vibrant golden brown; the layered milk chocolate had a creamy appearance and was coated with small chunks of fresh pecans.

My previous experiences with toffee have not been pleasant; either the toffee was so hard, it resulted in a visit to the dentist for a cracked tooth or so sticky that I was trying to pick out an enamel of sugar from the crevices of my teeth. When I bit into B.toffee, I was pleasantly surprised that I had a completely different experience. On the first bite, the toffee was firm, but easily crunched under my bite and crumbled when I chomped down. When the B.toffee hit my tongue, the chocolate and toffee began to slowly dissolve. Additionally, the toffee chunk was still soft enough to give it a slight creamy and chewy texture. This texture profile was no small feat and I think it could be attributed to the cooking process and superior ingredients. The flavor of the toffee was buttery sweet and when it mixed with the creamy milk chocolate, it created a pleasant flavor balance.

The use of pecans also added some flavor differentiation and complexity to the toffee.Typical toffee utilizes walnuts, which have an oily and slightly bitter flavor; although, B.toffee uses pecans which are sweet and slightly dry. By using pecans, the toffee was able to maintain its sweet flavor while using the dryness of the pecan to accentuate the cream, butter and cocoa flavors. The proteins in the pecans also balanced the sugar, allowing the toffee to be enjoyed without getting a sugar rush.

B.toffee uses Texas pecans from the Thagard Estate

Did you know that Pecans are actually good for you? As part of a healthy diet, they are good at lowering blood pressure, improving heart health, controlling weight, and have cancer preventative qualities. I only mention this in case you need some extra justification to eat another piece of this toffee.

I also picked up their dark chocolate toffee which was very similar to the milk chocolate version, except it had a sharper flavor which provided a greater contrast to the toffee. This flavor contrast was subtle, but enough to change the entire flavor profile of the toffee. For example, the dark chocolate accentuated the very slight bitterness in the pecans. Also the bitterness in the dark chocolate made the sweet butter flavor of the toffee pop out in the palate versus being complimentary, as in the case of the milk chocolate. Although I ate both the milk and dark chocolate with a nice 2007 Zaca Mesa Syrah, the dark chocolate was the soul mate for this wine. I could see myself eating this toffee while sipping on a nice glass of red wine in front of the fireplace. I know what I will be doing tonight.

The creative force and toffee entrepreneur behind B.toffee, Betsy Thagard

I had the pleasure to interview the owner and creative force behind B.toffee, Betsy Thagard. Betsy had a genuine aura as she welcomed us into her Newport Beach office and appeared excited to be featured in my foodie blog. I asked Betsy about what makes her toffee different? She stated, “I only use the highest quality ingredients from the butter to the domestic sugar.” For the chocolate topping she uses premium Guittard and Callebaut chocolates. Guittard Chocolates are a very high-end chocolate supplier from the San Francisco area that are actively involved in ensuring ecological sustainability and fair treatment of cocoa workers. Callebbaut is a premium Belgium Chocolate that is world-renowned for roasting and grinding cocoa themselves and selects only the rarest and exclusive varieties. The result is a superior chocolate with complex and deep flavors. Betsy also explained that she uses Texas Pecans from the Thagard Family Estate Farms, which according to family lore, are distant relatives. The recipe for toffee is incredibly simple, but the right ingredients and cooking method makes the difference.

B.toffee also offers custom gift boxes of toffee. Perfect for weddings

I asked Betsy, what motivated her to become a toffee entrepreneur and she said, “I gave my friends bowls of my home made toffee, but they would come back with an empty bowl asking for refills.” Betsy continued to explain that she, “received encouragement from her family and friends to start marketing her toffee.” The game changing moment happened when Promelis Market, in Newport Beach, picked up B.toffee, Betsy said, “T hey have been carrying it ever since and I have been fortunate to have good word of mouth.” Since her initial foray into retail, Betsy has expanded her business into a wider retail market, from San Diego to Northern California. One of the exciting areas of her continued expansion is the personalized gift wing of her business. The toffee is packaged into elegant containers that are artfully decorated and personalized with the client’s logo or message. My wife recognized that there is a strong market for these types of gifts and began to inquire to Betsy about the variety of different color and font options that she offered for personalized weddings, baby showers, graduations, etc. Come to find, Betsy offered a wide selection of gorgeous designs and colors to display her delectable toffees.

My Final Thoughts

B.toffee is now an award winning toffee, as it took the Blue Ribbon at the 2011 OC Fair for the Culinary Arts category. The Blue Ribbon she acquired was an affirmation of the positive comments from her happy customers who have told her that B.toffee is some of the best toffee they have ever tasted. Look at your friendly food blogger as an example, I am not a toffee fan, but polished off the entire can without leaving any for my wife. I am giving B.toffee 4.5 out of 5.0, a very rare score that is well deserved. I predict that B.toffee will soon one day go into national distribution and Betsy Thagard might just become a Food Network personality. Foodies, keep an eye on this brand, it is a rising star in the foodie world.

Contest to My Foodie Fans!

I have contacted Betsy and she has generously agreed to give away a 1-pound can of toffee to one of my very lucky fans (I’m jealous, I want to win a pound of this toffee). How do you win? The contest is easy, you must press “like” on B.toffee Facebook Page and “Like” Tom’s Foodie Blog (be sure to do both to qualify for this contest…it’s quick and easy). I will be picking a winner on September 20th. If you are the winner, Betsy will directly ship you a one pound can of milk or dark chocolate toffee. This is really a great contest and an opportunity to sample this fast rising foodie star’s toffee before she goes national. Good Luck, Tell your friends!

Visit B.toffee’s Website: http://www.btoffee.com/index.html

B.toffee’s Facebook Page: B.Toffee Facebook Page

Where Can I find B.toffee? Below is a list of retailers who carry B.toffee (check for availability before you make a special trip due to the high demand)

  • A Market
  • Promelis Westcliff Market
  • Promelis Seaside Market
  • Hi Time Wine Cellars
  • Where’s The Party
  • The Meat House
  • The Cellar
  • Irvine Ranch Market

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Review of “The Bungalow” in Corona Del Mar – Does this revered restaurant still live up to it’s name?

2 Sep

Our group buying adventure led us to The Bungalow restaurant in Corona Del Mar, a revered South OC establishment.  The Bungalow is known for aged prime steaks and a quaint setting on PCH. The entrance of the Bungalow is a dimly lit bar area which is decorated with dark wood and leather. The bar area was obviously the local watering hole, as I noticed many sophisticated ladies giving me the lioness eye as I walked in the door. This front bar area is relatively noisy, as it is packed full of people mingling and socializing over one of the Bungalow’s signature martinis. I did not have the opportunity to order one of their Martini’s, although the word on the street is that they are really amazing in flavor and kick.

The restaurant has both a main dining room and a covered patio space. The patio featured an elegant patio cover, fireplace and candles, as well as a cozy outdoor setting.  Once we were settled in, the waitress greeted us and guided us through the menu offerings. This restaurant employs a professional wait staff that is well versed on the menu and a variety of cooking techniques. Our drinks and appetizer came out promptly and our water glasses were always full.  We were never looking for the waitress, she somehow had E.S.P.  and knew when we needed something. We ordered a bottle of wine, a cheese plate,  the chef’s special, which consisted of a 22 ounce porterhouse, a 10 ounce filet and the double pork chop.

The Cheese Plate – The Cheese plate featured five types of cheeses and five condiments. The cheeses included a cheddar, manchego, brie, camembert, and Humboldt Fog. The sides were pretty amazing in their own right and consisted of unleavened fig bread, oozing honeycomb, dried cranberries, and toasted bread points. All the cheeses were amazing, especially when paired with the sides. The cheese plate was actually one of the high points of the meal and nicely complimented the wine we ordered.

The Porterhouse – This was a 22-oz behemoth of a steak that came with baby asparagus  and  garlic mashed potatoes. The steak was a little intimidating in size when it arrived at my seat and the waitress joked around that this was the Fred Flintstone Cut and it was suitable for sharing.  A porterhouse steak is a composite steak with two different cuts of meat (tenderloin and  New York) separated by a T-bone. In fact, the porterhouse is the over-sized brother of the T-Bone, just thicker and has a much larger section of tenderloin. The steak had very nice grill lines across the steak and had a nice color from the char. I started on the tenderloin side of the steak (smaller side) and easily cut my knife through the flesh to reveal that the steak was pink throughout and full of juices, cooked medium per my order. The tenderloin side of the steak was extremely juicy and full of natural prime steak flavors from cooking on the bone, which was an amazing experience. Although, as I cut into the New York side of the porterhouse, the results were disappointing and my plate became the tale of two cities. The New York side was tough to cut with the steak knife and the knife actually became snagged several times as I cut through. I inspected the steak for evidence of being overcooked, but the flesh was nearly pink throughout, but not juicy. As I bit into the steak, I noticed that the meat was stringy and I had to chew through excessive connective tissue. The New York side of the steak was also a lot tougher than similar cuts that I have previously eaten.  I wanted to ensure that I was not spoiled and overly critical after eating the tenderloin sides, so I had the other members of my party try the steak. Their reactions to the steak were identical, with reactions like “that’s a little stringy” or “it is a bit tough for a loin cut, there must be something wrong there.” I am not sure if the steak was a bad cut of meat or potentially overcooked, but it was not up to the standards of a restaurant who claims to specialize in aged prime steaks. In addition at a $55 price tag, I was expecting a steak that was tender on both sides of the T-Bone. Based on the composite quality of both sides, I would expect to have paid much less for this porterhouse, perhaps $30-$35. Based on both sides of the steak and the price point, this dish got a 2.5. If I had not eaten the entire tenderloin side first, I would have sent it back to the kitchen.

The Filet Mignon – The 10 ounce filet was served with a garlic mashed potatoes and broccolini. The steak had a nice appearance with even char lines and glistening brown color. When the steak was cut open it was pink throughout and slightly runny with juices, and was very nicely cooked a medium rare. This steak had a good natural beef flavor and was for the most part tender and juicy.  Daniele indicated that it was a very good steak, although not one of the best filet mignon she had ever tasted. Daniele noted that for the price point, this dish received 4 out of 5.

The Double Pork Chop– The double pork chop was served on the bone and served with parsnip mashed potatoes , grilled pineapple and broccolini.  Due to the size of the double pork chop, the plating of this dish was impressive. The pork chop had a nice char and caramelization from the sugars used in the marinade.  The pork chop rested on a thick cut of grilled pineapple, which added even more sweetness to the pork chop.  On the side was a gently cooked serving of broccolini which retained its crunch and bright green color. The pork chop was cooked nicely and was extremely juicy when cut open. Peggy’s main issue with this dish was that the pork chop was too sweet. She indicated that the sweet flavor infused into the pork chop had overpowered  her palate, thereby reducing her ability to taste the natural flavors of the pork. This was a shame, especially since pork already has a sweet and savory flavor that should be enjoyed naturally. Peggy gave this dish 3.5 out of 5 because the sweetness was a distraction. This dish should have been 4 out of 5 if it were prepared differently.

My Final Thoughts

The Bungalow has it’s share of extremely positive ratings on a variety of websites, such as yelp.com and urbanspoon.com, although my investigation was confirmed by some of the negative reviews read from less than fully satisfied customers. The main issue I have with the Bungalow is their high price point for imperfect dishes. For example, I would not expect to pay $55 for a stringy steak.   In addition, the wine we selected from the menu was sold out and we had to pick a wine at a higher price point than we were originally willing to spend.  Phenomenal service would have provided us another bottle of wine at the same price point as the one we originally requested. Also the wine list lacked middle tier priced wines. I am usually willing to spend $25-45 on a bottle of wine, although the Bungalow had very few wines within this price range. They only carried $40 wines and above and the $40 bottles were what most restaurants would call their house wines. The Bungalow did many things right including impeccable service, great ambiance, an extensive menu, a great execution of the filet mignon and the cheese plate.  Based on our mixed feelings of the overall experience, I  am giving The Bungalow an overall score of 3 out of 5. This is not a bad score, although for this caliber of a restaurant a 3 is lackluster and indicates opportunities for improvement. At the price point, I would more likely go to Banderas or Five Crowns just down the street to ensure a quality meal. I am willing to give this restaurant another chance, as it is possible we encountered a series of uncharacteristic issues. I will be posting an addendum to this review when I return.

Bungalow on Urbanspoon

Link to The Bungalow Website: http://www.thebungalowrestaurant.com/
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