Vanilla Activia Greek Yogurt

My life is breaking into small, but manageable pieces. Ihave a host of tiny, infinitesimally asinine issues that somehow, my psyche has been interpreting as huge and life-changing, like the fact that not one, but two pairs of leather pants I’ve purchased on eBay don’t fit correctly in the ankles, or that the candle I bought smells like cheap aftershave and makes my eyes water. The hot water tank in my complex is broken and will be fixed by tomorrow, so I have to own my rank, delicious scents and languish another day without using honey-oatmeal soap, or, horror of horrors, go to the health club to work out and use their shower.

My point is, things are awful. I have too many apartments to choose from in too many beautiful buildings before I start at my first choice of law schools, my Birkenstocks don’t perfectly match my Coach Beekman, and switching from Firefox to Chrome is taking hours with my slow internet. My mother keeps posting passive-aggressive comments on my Facebook statuses! Pandora skips! It keeps playing ‘My Girl!” I look too damned good in men’s tank tops!

At least I’m regular.
And I’m not talking regular like, middle of the adult normalcy spectrum. That ship sailed ages ago, approximately when I outed my interest in CATS the Musical. (‘Sup, Skimbleshanks!?!) No, I’m in a league with celebrities, with cinematic royalty – I’m regular, just like Jamie Lee Curtis.
This, of course, is all thanks to Activia, who may or may not be silently monitoring my credit card expenditures and trips to the grocery store, because they definitely now know how crazy I am about Icelandic and Greek yogurt. They’ve come out with a new variety of Greek Activia in four flavors and sent me a few packs to try. I decided to review vanilla, to get a sense of the changes they’ve made from their regular formula to make it more like the Greek varieties lately.
It’s certainly a tasty yogurt – and its flavor is versatile, with a rich vanilla bean creaminess. I ate it plain. I dumped fresh mango and rosemary sea salt atop it, and that only served to enhance the flavor. I’m planning on trying it in a cheesecake. I found that the texture was far preferable to regular Activia and had less of a cloying, sugary flavor, which I’ve found is all too common in other commercial yogurts. While it’s not up to the finely-crafted level of my beloved Noosa and Siggi’s, it’s definitely the best larger brand yogurt I’ve had so far. I like that the flavors are simplistic – it allows the flavors of the milk and cultures to shine through. 
Also, can we talk about the ad spot? Ms. Freaky Friday is caught cheating on her first digestive regulation lover with an anonymous Greek equivalent, then takes back Lover #1 because he (she?) changes their lineage completely. It’s a classic lesson about romantic intentions- if you love something, let it go, and then change your entire genealogical background to win them back. Your ancestors will understand. 

Cherrywood Kitchen, New York, NY

Cherrywood, in Soho, was a breath of fresh air, both from the overwhelming crowds of Mercer Street and the stifling afternoon heat last Wednesday. A new addition to a quieter part of town, Cherrywood offers a gilded interpretation of classic Asian and American flavors.

The décor is understated, almost a little generic with its blood-red curtains and eponymous wood accents strewn about the restaurant, high-ceilinged and classic like a more minimal boudoir. It is sprawling in all aspects and ends up feeling a little less intimate than the name Cherrywood Kitchen would suggest, but Cherrywood Study or Cherrywood Living Room ends up making more of a mouthful than the food. The upper catwalk of the main room had bookshelves and oddities along the shelves, which I craved more of than the small peek I received in gazing around.

The drink menu offers six cocktails, perfect for two to sample throughout an evening, and a reliable, if basic wine selection. The cocktails were what piqued my curiosity, utilizing an array of fresh fruits and ingredients, from the simple, but vibrant Botanical Gimlet, with Hendrick’s, tonic, lime, and cucumber, to the clever in the Cherrywood margarita, whose flavors were reminiscent of a craft cherry limeade. The vodka cider was my personal favorite – simple, clean flavors that perfectly complemented the ribs, with a punch of Cointreau to withstand the strong flavors of the meat. 

The Bedfellow was partial to her Manhattan, made with smoked orange peel. A serviceable sangria and delicate blood orange prosecco finished out the meal, before coffee and dessert wine. (Clockwise: Cherrywood margarita, vodka cider, blood orange prosecco, Manhattan, and Taylor Fladgate)

Our meal began with a selection of small appetizers and bread, the latter of which put other bread baskets to shame. Freshly baked ciabatta with whipped bleu cheese butter was en point, crispy and ethereally light on the inside, with a tender, flaky crunch. Tearing into it with our hands increased the satisfaction. Smeared with the earthy, equally light butter, we unabashedly ate two loaves in the blink of an eye.
We shared three small plates in lieu of larger appetizers – the miniature lobster ‘tacos’ with Old Bay hollandaise, short rib spring rolls, and housemade pickles. Syntactically, my eyes always gravitate toward interpretive dishes that riff off other dishes, it appeals to my meta aesthetics and inability to let go of my childhood whimsy. Luckily, this trend is rampant in modern cuisine, and even luckier, the lobster ‘tacos’ actually were tacos, served in petite hard taco shells made of spring roll dough, brimming with large, tender chunks of lobster. The egginess of the hollandaise disappeared amidst the bolder spices, the Old Bay reigned supreme. Three was an unwieldy number, and a contentious battle followed between the Bedfellow and I for the last bite.
The bite-sized spring rolls were devils in disguise, the crispy outer shells yielding to savory, succulent pieces of short rib, but they were elevated to a new level of appetizer elation with the au jus on the side, silky and deep with a slow-roasted flavor that we dipped the rolls, bread, tacos, and sneakily, our fingers in before we’d had enough.
Our final plate, the housemade pickles, were surprisingly varied in color and variety. I was expecting something of the bread and butter variety and received a Crayola-colored selection of snackable vegetables with a pungent, sweet set of flavors. Paired with crisp butter-roasted peanuts, it brought to mind a deconstructed Pad Thai.
The entrée selection sways from tastefully flashy to wriggling, almost uncomfortable levels of excitement – the tuna belly, caviar, heirloom tomato, and foie gras stuffed ribeye had an air of attention-seeking decadence whose description alone could have filled and killed us. It is easier to find satisfaction on the quirkier side of Cherrywood’s menu – the freshly killed, smoked chicken stuffed with eel, though technically apprehensive at times (tougher pieces of fat left on the bone and spines left in some parts of the eel) was robust both in portion and flavor.
We found greater harmony in the cherrywood-smoked ribs, intertwining Asian and American flavors with a deft, tender hand. The ribs had been cooked to perfection, nary a piece of fat or gristle left atop them, and carried a courageous, bold flavor balanced with soy, fish sauce and ginger to counteract the richer barbecue notes – ribs that have traveled, but do not forget their roots in Americana. Alongside a cool apple slaw (made with ‘local’ apples whose lineage I’m a hair inclined to dispute, as the Big Apple is more likely to outsource its apples to upstate rather than grow them in the metropolitan area itself), they were minimally garnished and correct in preparation.
After a brief repose to finish the last of our cocktails and gather our minds and stomachs for dessert, we studied the dessert menu, whose Franco-American-Asian pastries carried even more of a globe trot rather than a layover. Chef Cheung proves his hand in sweet as well as savory, especially with the cookies and cream, banana macaron, and coconut ice cream dessert, where caramelized bananas and milk chocolate mousse are nestled in light macaron shells in lieu of buttercream, alongside a pleasant, if somewhat redundant cookie crumble on the bottom, which, if nothing else, made for a decent textural diversion. The macaron shells are better sized to an American palate, far larger than their French descendants, but no less delicate and finely made.
The sesame fritters, recommended by our server, were baffling with an unexpected beauty. I was expecting a dessert dripping with honey, something similar to a Moroccan halwa chebakia, but was pleased to be presented with compact, dense balls covered in sesame with an unidentifiable, but glutinous, doughy interior similar to mochi, a stud of bittersweet chocolate in the center.The Taylor Fladgate 20, a classically sweet conclusion, mirrored the nutty, chocolatey flavors of the dessert.

Cherrywood is an approachably luxurious repose in the heat of the summer, and makes for a great dinner if you’re in the area and need a break from shopping or running around. They’ve been open for around six weeks and are already creating fascinating, innovative dishes that left us hungry for more from this Soho smoker. (Thanks to the team for having us by!)

Oreo’s Wonderfilled Campaign

Oreo’s latest ad campaign, Wonderfilled, features a song by a man who literally goes by the name Owl City! That’s the most absurd thing I’ve found out all week, outside of the realization that I am going to have to obtain internet via exposure therapy. Seriously, Starbucks is my ninth level of hell. I hope that’s how he’s billed at Jiffy Lube and how the servers shout his order at Five Guys. Owl City. On the plus side, the hipster swooning that elicits must be insane. In any case, I received the press package for the campaign this week, which contained an Oreo book, and a set of three things to play, learn, and share: an iPod loaded up with the new Owl City song, an Oreo-shaped thumbdrive, and Oreos. I sense a theme!

Having already forced my latest bedfellow (henceforth known as Bedfellow) to read the book with me, which made for an entirely awkward evening, I decided to focus on the song bright and early in the morning, while my ears were at their keenest. The campaign is pretty cute and centers around aggressively tying the abstract concept of ‘wonder’ to America’s favorite cookie. “Wonder can be twisted, licked, dunked, stacked, rolled, crunched, nibbled, and savored,” which makes me wonder (see what I did there?) if I ought to change my name to Wonder. Wonder Watsky has a swell ring to it.

I’m a food critic, but I decided, then and there, that I could also be a music critic. The song is obviously called ‘Wonderfilled,’ not to be confused with ‘Wonderwall,’ or ‘Wonderful’ from Wicked, and starts off ominously, as the only file on the iPod is called ‘OREO WONDERFILLED ANTHEM’ which makes me wonder if I’ve stumbled onto a top-secret plot to take over the world with Oreo cookies. If so, it would totally work. Bitches love Oreos.
But not with this song. Oreo City lays down a thick beat that I immediately want to snort a line of cookie crumbs to, then quickly transitions into some straight-up autotuned jams. There is a story, and the ending leads to roads paved of cookies and cream and triangle-accented syllables. It’s precious. Too precious. I mean, it’s literally the most twee thing I’ve ever set eyes to, and I willingly read Kristin Chenoweth’s entire memoir. I’m not sure that Oreo should have something more saccharine than its cookies advertising them.
Owl Cookie puts a friendly flair on some dour dope fairy tales. I was definitely not aware of the fact that the three little pigs were killed in any non-Oreo related versions of the story, but now that I do, I’m damned glad I have some Oreos to eat away the post-traumatic stress with. Wonderfill my belly! Vampires turn vegetarian, sharks share things and ‘cuddle up with giant squids for a friendly meal’ that apparently consists of nothing but cookies, and I end up dying from diabetic shock from the sheer campiness of the song alone. It’s cute, catchy, and dreadfully unsubstantial.

Now that I’ve wholly established that I’m not going to be the next Ben Brantley, let’s move to an Oreo product I picked up at the grocery store, Oreo Cookies ‘n’ Cream Jell-O Pudding! Full FCC/blogger disclosure: I ate this out of a Tupperware container and I have no regrets, because it’s one of the best Oreo-flavored products on the market.

So many of these lose that iconic flavor, even, in some cases, the Oreos themselves when they’re flavored with berries or sorbet, so it was a real pleasure to dig into this and find that the flavor of the cookies was as bold as ever. The pudding is extremely thick, at least it was when I made it, and features huge chunks of cookies that vary in size, so some are soft and cake-like when you eat the pudding, and others are still crispy.
The flavor is great- the pudding itself doesn’t overshadow the salty, sweet cookies with too much sugar or flavor, despite the huge imbalance in between the ‘crème’ and the cookie component. What I liked best was that it appeared that Kraft only used the wafer part instead of crushing up Oreos with crème inside, which would have certainly upset the balanced flavor.

A great treat, and a fun one for stuffing inside Oreos and mouths.

McDonald’s Southwest McDouble, Bacon Buffalo McChicken, and Dijon Swiss McDouble

The ever-loveble, scrappy up-and-comer in the food industry, underground craft burger favorite, McDonald’s, has rolled out some new burgers as a part of the ‘Dollar Menu and More’ line, which I aptly noticed while huffing and puffing away at the gym, the treadmill still spinning as I leapt off and headed for the golden arches. Take that, cholesterol!

The new line splits the section into two parts – ‘Dollar Menu’ featuring items for a dollar or less, and ‘More,’ with selections for slightly over a dollar. Don’t tell me you didn’t see that coming. McDonald’s is burger heavy this quarter, not only releasing three new Quarter Pounders (tantalizingly hidden behind a ‘new product coming soon!’ graphic on the menu) but adding three riffs off the McDouble and McChicken to the ‘More’ section. Pricing-wise, the premium McDoubles will cost you $1.79, while the originals are still only a buck. The Southwest McDouble, Swiss and Dijon McDouble, and Bacon Buffalo McChicken were the ones we tried last night, at midnight, along with an unspecified number of McDoubles as palate cleansers. I told The Bedfellow I wouldn’t divulge this information, but we ate no less than five burgers after we’d eaten dinner. No shame.
We started with the Bacon Buffalo McChicken, which was immediately decreed as “so dangerous,” as it offers the flavor and heat of a buffalo chicken wrap for only a dollar, if you forego the bacon. It’s your standard McChicken patty, but is downright lubricated with ranch and buffalo sauce. And…no bacon. Originally, I thought this was supposed to be a cost-cutting measure and that the ‘bacon’ would be in the ranch sauce as a flavoring, but it seems it was omitted. I can vouch that the flavor of the buffalo sauce is no different than that of the sauce for the premium Chicken Selects or McNuggets, but is tasty on a sandwich, too. That being said, it’s extremely messy and the chicken loses its crisp quickly. Would it be improved with bacon? Doubtedly, as the McChicken is pretty rich on its own.
The Swiss and Dijon McDouble was arguably the best of the new releases, but still needs improvement. It has a decent balance of acidic elements to counter the richness of the cheeseburger, but only contained a single pickle. A pity, as the bites with pickle were the tastiest. The mustard, while strong for an American palate, does put shame to the fine Dijon mustard of France, and is not up to snuff. Spicy brown mustard has more of a kick than this does. However, as a mustard sauce, it’s recognizable and simplistic in flavor, unmuddled by the other elements of the sandwich. Onions would be a good addition here.
The final burger was a trainwreck and tasted like something I’d have come with in the sixth grade before either of my parents got home from work. McDonald’s has taken a page from last year’s Taco Bell crib notes and has incorporated Doritos shards into their burger. These taste nearly identical to those found in the Beefy Crunch Burrito, perhaps a little spicier, and are combined with white cheddar cheese and a Southwestern sauce atop two burger patties. The flavor is pretty awful. Monolithic, greasy, and devoid of any heat or spice. While I applaud the idea of a Southwestern burger- McDonald’s has always been a little late to the game as far as spiciness is concerned, these elements would be better off in a larger burger with lettuce and tomato, or even salsa. Here, they felt haphazard and cheap.
The new Dollar Menu is novel and expands the variety a simple buck can buy you, but when all else fails, there’s nothing like a classic. As much as we enjoyed working our way through the burgers in the middle of the night, the McDouble still reigned supreme in our souls and arteries.

Wendy’s Moonlight Meal Deal

Heads up, it’s been 39 minutes tonight that the new Moonlight Meal Deal from Wendy’s is available!

Your Abraham Lincoln gets you an awesome combo, starting at 10PM. So far, the option is limited to a Double Stack and a small chili cheese fries, made with their delicious sea salted French fries, but will hopefully expand as the year goes on. Personally, for my $5, I’d love to see a Jr. Spicy Chicken sandwich or a new, smaller version of Wendy’s larger burgers– bring back the dipped chicken!

We tried the combo, minus the soft drink, at the Wendy’s blogger experience back in March. Nothing to complain about here, except that it was just too much food!

Betty Crocker Cotton Candy Cookies

I’m back! I have approximately 200 words and 2 billion citations (CMS, natch) in between me and a shiny, special undergraduate degree, and I can guarantee you those 200 words will literally be the death of me. I am going to die with my hands frozen in the position of typing the word ‘gendered’ as a result of this paper. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more that I love in God’s beautiful world than writing about feminism, food, gender ambiguity, and psychology, but a girl needs to eat and see the light of day every so often.

A recent adventure to Target yielded this gem of a product, the likes of which can be found in no other place on the internet, including the venerable Ms. Crocker’s website. The package tells me these, along with their frosting, are a Target exclusive. They’re easy to prepare- one stick of butter and an egg and they’re set. Unfortunately, I now know the psychological implications of these additions as a result of reading way too much Freudian psychology comingled with Crocker history. The egg is supposed to satisfy my need to have many, many babies. Thanks, Ernst Dichter!
The mix is classic unicorn cocaine plus sprinkles. There is the option to add frosting, if you want to undergo death by dental assistant.

I like these, but I can’t quite tell why. I think the sweet, vague resemblance to other sweet things- maple syrup, raspberry donut filling, and bubble gum, with the lemony undertones, make them enjoyable cookies, but they don’t distinguish themselves in the same way other aggressively flavored, sweet confections, like Thin Mints or cotton candy itself do. Their texture is almost perfect- grainy, obviously sugar-heavy, and incorporates the unusual addition of corn cereal which gives the cookies a layered, flaky heft, but they crumble so easily in both cooked and uncooked form that they’re difficult to eat.

They’re fun cookies, but on my current fun scale of my life, with ‘finals and uncomfortable family gatherings’ at one end of the spectrum and ‘spontaneous fauxhawks’ at the other end, these rank somewhere in the middle, lumped alongside walking to school and talking to professors. Do I enjoy these activities? I suppose. Would I willingly do them? Rarely. These cookies are just good enough to give to my neighbors- the ones who didn’t egg my front door.

Yancey’s Fancy Tandoori Gouda Cheesesteaks

A few weeks ago, I retrieved a shipment of cheese from Yancey’s Fancy (retrieved as UPS and their terrible shipping policies held my cheese random) and received a selection of delicious flavors, one of which was this amazing-looking tandoori gouda.

I knew I wanted to cook something special with it, but I wasn’t sure what would do the flavor justice. Making normal Indian food didn’t seem to fit the bill, and fusing too many flavors together would overwhelm the delicate gouda’s flavor.

A beautifully serendipitous sale on brisket gave me a great idea, though- why not make tandoori brisket cheesesteaks? The cheese is the biggest player, and I’d realized I was overdue for a good sandwich. Realizing I lack the capacity to eat an entire loaf of bread is sobering, but the bliss found at being able to make an enormous sub with baguette and eat it for dinner outside, with Red, was incomparable.

I made the brisket in the slow cooker. I want to eventually do one in the oven, but the oven in this apartment is erratic and tends to dry meat out unless I check it religiously. As I started the brisket at 4AM, I figured I ought to prioritize sleep over meat-checking, so I just popped it in the cooker and took it out at 5PM the next day. The brisket had a dry rub and a wet rub, the former a mixture of tandoori spices, curry powder, salt, pepper, garlic, and chili powder, and the latter, whole-grain honey mustard, honey, and brown sugar. This was all accompanied by a few shakes of hot sauce to balance out the sweeter flavors.

When it was done, I shredded it. It was my original objective to slice it, but it was just too tender! I popped the pan in the oven to get a bit of a crispy crust on it before assembling the sandwiches. After sauteeing some peppers and onions with a little olive oil, I was ready. Tandoori mayo, meat, veggies, and cheese went atop the bread, and the whole thing went into the oven for about 20 minutes at 350 to melt the cheese. Once finished, I drizzled the sandwiches with some of the sauce leftover from cooking and we ate them.

And of course, nothing is better than a tandoori cheesesteak, except a tandoori cheesesteak omelet in the morning. It was a really fun way to get creative with my sandwiches! I have a few more cheeses from Yancey’s to try — strawberry chardonnay and maple bacon are two that I’m itching to cook with. What should I make?