Category Archives: Review

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Unilever Test Kitchen Event Part 2

Here are the lovely ladies that attended the ICBINB event at Unilever test kitchens in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  The common theme amongst all of our blogs were healthy eating so the folks from ICBINB wanted our input and opinions on their products as well as taste test and make some of their recipes!

Well they didn’t have to ask me twice seeing that eating is what I do best.  I sat next to Mary who runs a wonderful blog about healthy eating for the whole family.  She was an absolute delight to sit next to with her warm personality and infectious smile!

Norma Jean was the head chef of the Unilever kitchens and she made some wonderful recipes for us to try.  At Unilever kitchens, they produce a vast array of recipes using the ICBINB products.  They try to keep all recipes to an 8 ingredient maximum with about a 20 minute prep time — with much research they have found that this is usually what consumers respond to the most.

They made this wonderful Wheat Crusted Pizza with Caramelized Onion and Fig and the recipe can be found here.

The Roasted Vegetable Salsa was also quite tasty and would make a great appetizer for any party.  I personally thought it would’ve gone perfect on top of scrambled eggs in the morning or maybe even on top of a seared chicken breast.

Though I have never used their product before, I was surprised to see that it contained no hydrogenated oils and no trans fat and is naturally cholesterol free.  Anyone out there who’s watching their weight or struggling with cholesterol issues, these recipes would be great options to check out.   

It is amazing how much time and effort goes into each of these recipes.  Not only are these recipes assessed time and time again to ensure perfect results each time, they are vigorously run through a course of tests such as different types of ovens and stove tops (electric vs grill) as well as several microwaves of various models.

You could say these recipes are practically fool proof! 🙂  They invest a lot of hard work into making these recipes easily accessible and user-friendly for anyone that wants to make these recipes in their own kitchen.

Here we have a Honey Glazed Upside-Down Pear Cake – a nice moist and crumbly cake with delicious caramelized pears on top.  The only thing missing?  A big fat scoop of vanilla ice cream…I MEAN..frozen yogurt?

(The Lovely Norma Jean, Head Chef of Unilever Test Kitchens in Englewood Cliffs, NJ)

After the kitchen demonstrations, we met with the product managers of ICBINB where they provided us more information on their products and shared some television ads from the past, including one from the early 90s of FABIO. Aside from the overly dramatic romanticism throughout most of the commercial, the image of Fabio hugging a tub of ICBINB at the end almost made me die of laughter.

We then talked about current food trends (organic, healthy eating, no trans fats) and our concerns about food in general when we are feeding ourselves and our families.  I am a big advocate on eating foods that are free of any kind of additives and preservatives, so it was nice to see that ICBINB was taking the initiative to broaden their perspectives to satisfy growing consumers demands.

(Pictured top left, Rebekah from Queen Mother Blog and head chef of Unilever, Norma Jean)

After meeting with the product managers, yes you’ve guessed it, we were fed MORE FOOD.  They served us a wonderful lunch where they served – Balsamic Asparagus, Carmelized Apple and Onion Salad, Spinach Salad with Parmesan Crusted Chicken and Grilled Salmon with Citrus Salsa.  They also had desserts like the Fudgy Brownie Torte and my favorite — Coconut Banana Cupcakes.

(Pictured Sous Chef of Unilever kitchens and Kendra)

Now, onto my FAVORITE part of the whole event — we got to make our very own COOKIES!!!!! Once all of our bellies were full, in the kitchen they had prepared all the ingredients to make our very own batch of cookies using the ICBINB baking sticks.  They even left additional toppings like white chocolate chips, pecans, heath bars, cranberries, raisins, etc to allow our creativity to create something magical :).

(Pictured top right, Alma from Take Back the Kitchen)

Adorned in our bright yellow ICBINB aprons, we were set free into the kitchen to bake our very own batch of One Bowl Chocolate Chip Cookies. I worked at a station with the lovely Alma from Take Back the Kitchen who writes a blog on overcoming the obstacles of cooking and appreciating the love and satisfaction of cooking a meal at home and Debbie from Savory Adventures, is a chef that runs private luxury culinary vacations (awesoooooomeeee).

I really wanted to go all out and after much deliberation, I opted to make some white chocolate cranberry chocolate chip cookies.  Though butter will always be my first choice in baking, I was plesantly surprised at how soft the cookies were and would recommend it to anyone watching trans fats and saturated fats in their diets.

(Pictured left, Heather from The Penny-Pinching Mama; pictured right, Stephanie from Middleberg Nutrition)

Everyone was hard at work making their cookies, while some went with my favorite, the traditional chocolate chip, others came up with wonderful cominbations like heath bar with pecans and chocolate chip oatmeal.  The best part was we were given take home boxes so I had to take a cookie from everyone :)!

(Pictured above, Sahar from Fat Fighter TV; not pictured, Abby from Eat Drink and Be Aware and Anne-Marie from Mom Central)

I had such a wonderful time at the ICBINB event at Unilever Test Kitchens.  I met such an amazing group of bloggers and gathered inspiration from them as well.  I would also like to thank ICBINB for sponsoring this wonderful trip for me to New York and being able to experience the wonderful kitchen tour in New Jersey.  I am one lucky girl 🙂

**** Those of you looking for the giveaway, please see the most recent post.  I had to move it due to a minor discrepancy.  All previous entries for the giveaway will still be COUNTED, do not fret my pets 🙂

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Trip to the Unilever Test Kitchen

A few months ago, I was contacted by I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter to attend a V.I.P. event at Unilever Test Kitchens  in New Jersey to test products and recipes .  I was truly ecstatic — #1 this would be my first traveling opportunity as a result of the blog and #2 I get to go on a FOOD related adventure, what’s not to love about that? The trip and expenses were all generously provided by ICBITNB (I am one lucky girl!).

They placed me in the swanky Hudson Hotel in New York right by the fabulous Columbus Circle.  It was a very modern-chic upscale hotel with random quirks that give it a little spunk.  The lobby was breathtaking, with the gigantic crystal chandelier and the open-window roof draped with plush green vines, gave the entire room a very cool greenhouse effect.

It was pretty amazing, the patio was converted into a bar at night.  Filled with the beautiful and the fabulous young professionals of New York City — I was pretty awestruck by it all.  Until I got assigned my room number.  I was placed in – “666”.


hotel clerk: yeah don’t pay attention to the number — I know what you’re thinking.

me: Are you sure satan doesnt live under the bed?

hotel clerk: Everyone has the same reaction, trust me it’s not cursed.

me: (*thinking to herself*) yeah easy for you to say because you’ve never slept there.

I accepted my room key wearily — Okay but if anything is funky I am requesting a different room!  Thankfully no evil juju seemed present.  The room was pretty small, especially the bathroom (anyone above 5’4″ would have leg room trouble big time haha) but the bed was very comfy.

I was able to meet up a couple of friends that lived near my hotel, and Patrick suggested Meze Grill — which is a Mediterranean themed eatery with a modern eco-friendly twist.  Owner Marwan Salem,  came up with the concept back in college: he wanted to offer a fast, healthy (extremely delicious) affordable meal with a modern Mediterranean twist.

Not only does Marwan make amazing food but he loves the planet — most of the restaurant is made from recycled materials, my favorite being the wooden walls made from recycled barn wood.  All of their dressings, dips and desserts are all made in house and they use all natural meats with no artificial ingredients.  One can see how Meze Grill was selected by diners as one of Google’s favorite places in New York to eat! (Out of the 28 million businesses, only less than 1% of businesses receive this honor.)

Now let’s move onto the food! You start out by selecting a choice of pita sandwich, rice platter or salad and then inventing your own creation from a vast choice of toppings and meats.  If you need a little help, any of the friendly employees will guide you down the right path 🙂

They make fresh pita chips daily which pairs perfectly with their rich and smokey babaghanoush — a Mediterranean dip made mainly from eggplant and of course the traditional hummus made from FRESHLY soaked chickpeas NOT canned.

I told Marwan to give me his special and he created a  half pilaf half bulgur wheat bowl with a falafel and grilled chicken on top and finished it with lettuce, tomatoes onions and my favorite — pickled turnips.  OKAY folks before you start scrunching your nose, these turnips are out of control.  THEY ARE SO GOOD, crunchy and brined in a magical concoction, I would put these on everything.  One of my favorite dressings would have to be the VEGAN garlic aioli, that’s right, it is not made from eggs — just a simple but perfect combination of garlic, olive oil and salt.  It packs a nice bite to awaken your senses.

I think my only complaint would be to have a bigger stomach, so I could’ve fit all of the delicious food that was given me, the portions are HUGE.  Not only did I find Meze Grill’s food to be inspiring but Marwan’s journey to this place reiterates my belief in life — “It is important to pursue your passions”.  Marwan is an inspiration indeed.

(pictured above: left, Patrick Chang; right, Marwan Salem)

Born into a family of mostly doctors, Marwan received family pressures to puruse the medical field.  But deep inside he knew his true calling was someplace else.  With the encouragement of his favorite college professor, Marwan followed his heart and opened up Meze Grill — a place that shares a piece of where he comes from as well as making it healthy and good for you.

It was really quite a pleasure to meet someone like Marwan — though we met as two strangers, I left the restaurant feeling as if I’ve made a friend.  His warm charismatic personality, instantly makes you feel at home– it is hard to meet people of such genuinity now and days.  I told Marwan – “Dude you gotta open up one of these in Texas, people would go crazy for it.”  His reply?  “One day I will.”  Marwan, I will be patiently waiting for that day :).  Until then you guys can enjoy the hummus recipe I made in honor of Marwan’s delicious food.   For all you lucky New Yorker’s, check Meze Grill out.  I promise you it won’t disappoint!

I hope you guys have a great weekend, please stay tuned for the 2nd part of my New York trip :)!

Part 4 of 5 — Wuxi SuZhou and Chenghuang Miao

The second part of the Wuxi trip we went to Turtle Head Peninsula on Tai Lake.  It is the most beautiful place of Tai Lake and the name comes from  the tip of the peninsula that is shaped like a turtle head!  Inside the park are ten famous scenic spots, which include Chongshan Garden, Jiangnan Orchid Garden, Taihu Fairy Islet, and Guangfu Temple.

We only had about an hour to venture through the park, so Collin and I practically sprinted through the different scenic spots.  Inside the park was filled with lush vegetation of vines, trees, and vibrant flowers, creating a serene and splendid view for the eyes.

The traditional Taoist culture has influenced this island in many ways of becoming a natural wonderland.  The Sanshan Taoist Temple built during the Taibo era (around 3,000 years ago) was actually the only Taoist temple built on an island in China.

Scattered all around the park were these uniquely shaped limestones, I especially liked the checker board carved into a large slab of stone, complete with 4 little stone chairs.  Legend has it that the emperor of the Song dynasty nearly bankrupted the country because of his obsession with finding these uniquely shaped limestone rocks.  What unusual formations they were indeed!

I saw this alluring women adorned in traditional Chinese silk robe playing the Gu Qin – which is a seven stringed zither with no bridge, I call it an old-fashioned Chinese piano.  The notes are strummed by the hand, creating different effects by the skillful techniques of well trained fingers. Confucius was actually a master in this instrument, and said it had powers of enriching the heart and elevating the human spirit.

There were so many different types of flowers, the colors and fragrance permeated throughout the entire park.  I couldn’t help but snap numerous pictures of their magnificent beauty, I find flowers fascinating.  To think that all of their traits were developed soley for evolutionary effects — with their sweet scents, rich colors, various formations — they not only attract humans but so many different types of animals and insects too!

A friend once jokingly said — “Joy you take pictures of food and FLOWERS.  You’re just like my mom, always snapping random pictures of flowers and trees and plants and stuffs.”  Gosh, I honestly have NO idea what she’s talking about! 🙂  It comes down to the basics for me though, the simplicities of life.  The beautiful and pure things that people often overlook throughout the day but never realize their enchanting effects.

9 times out of 10, if I see a beautiful flower I will stop to appreciate it — whether it’s to observe it’s exquisite flawless beauty or it’s intoxicating smells, it never ceases to amaze me what the world is able to create.  Are you diggin the babushka I am sportin on the left?  Also note the lack of enthusiasm on my face, that’s because sprinting through a freaking GIGANTIC park and then getting LOST in between made Zhang very tired.

Our last stop of the day: Su Zhou.  By this time, it was around 7:00 PM, we were all very tired but a wedding dress had to be made people!  Most well known for their silk industry, Su Zhou is also heavily populated with wedding factories (score!).  As we were taking the city bus to the area, Jiu Ma just so happen to sit next to a young man whose family designed wedding gowns. WELL THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT because upon our arrival, there were THOUSANDS of wedding dress boutiques I honestly don’t know where I would’ve started.  It was absolutely overwhelming.

But wait.  The story gets better. The minute I walked into the young man’s boutique I spotted a dress that was almost IDENTICAL to what I wanted.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, I literally thought I would be stuck in SuZhou for hours searching through hundreds of thousands of gowns until I found the perfect one.  Thankfully all the praying I did in the temples brought me good fortune :).  I picked out my dress, made a few modification, took some measurements and BAM I was out in less than an hour.  Oh did I also mention that my custom made gown was a whopping $85?  Verrry niiice!

After dress shopping we had to grab some grub.  We went to the main market center in SuZhou where there were numerous eateries, clothing stores and gift shops.  The streets were full of hip youngsters dressed in colorful and ecclectic fashions, I was surprised as to how up to date the youth seemed to be here.  I also saw this donut shop, probably the weirdest donut shop I’ve ever seen.  I usually go for the usual glazed and maybe on a good day I’ll go for a chocolate glazed with sprinkles.  They had crazy flavors like “Italian-style Bacon” (what the heck does Italian bacon taste like??), “Spicy Fluffy” (wow yeah I dont know about that..) and Burberry ( would that donut cost like $400?).  I did not buy one, I just couldn’t — all these flavors were just too much for me to handle. (Shipley’s will always be #1 in my heart.)

The next night, Jiu Ma (#1!) suggested that we check out one of the most famous market areas in Shanghai — Chenghuang Miao otherwise known as The City God Temple, an area of temples that are reminiscent of old Shanghai.  Back then, every Chinese city had a designated Temple of the Town God which served as a shrine for Daoist worship.  The temple in Shanghai was named “Cheng Huang Miao” which was devoted to the god of commerce.

However, the temple was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but thankfully restored during the early 90s.  It now has been transformed into one of the largest marketplaces in Shanghai filled with gift shops, restaurants, bulk food shops, basically anything you can think of!

I loved the lighting of the shrines at night — the structures looked incredibly magestic.  It is hard to imagine that long ago these were the buildings people prayed in!  The antique Chinese architectural designs really brought you into another dimension of time, especially with the elegantly curved roofs crowning the shrines.

Nestled inside the shrines were individual vendors selling a variety of goods.  This woman sold hundreds of different types of Buddhist bracelets and name stamps carved from stone.  Back then when people wrote letters, instead of signing their signature they would have a name stamp containing the character of their last name.

This man sold Jian Zhi or Chinese Papercutting, an art practiced since the beginning of the Han dynasty in China when paper was first invented.  Back then people who used paper as a means for decoration were considered to be nobels and royalty.  Now they are used commonly in every household for decorative use, many families enjoy placing papercuttings by the front door to bring good fortune.  One must have much patience and a steady hand to master the art form of Jian Zhi!

This man sold miniature figurines and jewelery made from copper that he made with only a scarce set of tools and his hands.  If you look at the bottom left hand corner of the photo on the left, you will notice the miniature little figurines (you can barely see them) but I have blown them up in the picture on the right.  The detailing is pretty incredible, the figurine literally fit on the tip of my index finger.  He told me it took him about 6 hours to mold each of the miniature figurines, I think it’d take me a solid 6 weeks haha 🙂

Now.  Onto the important stuff…THE FOOD.  Oh man, the food possibilities are ENDLESS here.  Many people come to Chenghuang Miao for the infamous Xiao Long Bao — there is a small restaurant here (I do not know the exact address) that serves only Xiao Long Bao.  Don’t worry, you won’t have any trouble finding it once you are here — just look for the long lines that pour out of their doors (the wait could be as long as an hour sometimes!).

We actually went to the main food court for their wide range of options.  They serve hundreds of different types of traditional Shanghainese dishes — think lots of seafood, dim sum, soups, and steamed dumplings.  The woman in the photo above is serving “Tang Yuan”, tiny glutinous rice balls served in a steaming hot broth sweetened by Jiu Nian or fermented rice.  Some tang yuans are filled with traditional fillings like black sesame, red bean, etc.  The weird picture on the top right is Lotus Root stuffed with Glutinous Rice — for those of you who have never had Lotus Root it’s delicious.  It’s the root of the beautiful Lotus flower — with a very slimy but crunchy texture and slightly sweet nature, it is often stuffed with glutinous rice soaked in soy sauce and steamed to a wondrous perfection.

There were so many different types of crab — I honestly had no idea what kind they were.  The common crab we have here in Texas would be the blue crab and other than that I don’t see much else.  Here they had square shaped crabs, trapezoidal (is that a word?)  shaped crabs, tiny round looking crabs — I mean there were a lot of freaking crabs dude!

But don’t panic non seafood eaters, there’s plenty more to choose from.  They also had a variety of fried foods — fried chicken wings, tempura vegetables, fried fish cakes, fried rice cakes as well as various types of chow mein, soup noodles, cold noodles, hot noodles… I think even the pickiest of all picky eaters would be able to find something here.

They also had a HUGE selection of dimsum, some things I recognized other things I hadn’t a clue.  They had Xiao Long Baos, Glutinous Rice wrapped in Bamboo Leaves, various types of Puddings, Steamed Cakes and Desserts, different kinds of steamed dumplings, it was seriously the most intense dim sum spread I’ve ever seen.  Mind boggling.

Unfortunately, the dishes we picked actually weren’t that great.  The weather was really cold that day, and they don’t really use heaters here so all of our food was cold by the time we brought it back to our table 😦 Better luck next time as one would say!

With full tummys and empty pockets, we headed home to enjoy a homecooked meal from Jiu-jiu.  The livin is good in Shanghai!  🙂  My last installment will be more family photos, more food of course and any other random blurbs (they are pretty random…) If you have any questions about the places I’ve been or good places to eat in Shanghai, feel free to contact me!

Sucré Love

You know what girls like more than getting flowers?  — Beautifully crafted, delicious edible treats, I mean you can’t eat flowers…  Once again Sucré has sent me more of their wonderful, artisanal crafted sweets: dark chocolate raspberry ganache and king cake french macaroons.

Sucré (which is French for sugared) is a New Orlean’s based confectionery that is an emporium of “artisan” sweets. Their goods range from hand crafted chocolates, to glorious cakes and breakfast pastries — which are designed with much love and care by the highly talented Tariq Hanna, head pastry chef of Sucré.

I think aside from the obvious exceptional flavors of their products, they are also packaged with extreme care a detail.    I receive Sucré’s goods it honestly feels like Christmas.  The boxes and packaging are always in vibrant colors and designs finished with a perfectly tied bow.  Each piece of art is carefully nestled in its own “cubby hole”, to prevent any damage during the shipping process.

The first box I opened were the King Cake French Macaroons.  Even before I saw the actual macaroons I was overwhelmed by the amazing smell  of these tiny wonders– was I suddenly in Sucre’s kitchen?  Were these macaroons really that magical?  Yes.  They really were that magical.  Perhaps they don’t have transporting powers but I have never tasted anything like this before.

Did I also forget to mention that I’ve attempted to make French Macaroons and successfully failed three times?  Cuz I did.  Who the heck knew THIS was what they were SUPPOSE to taste like?  Now, where do I begin?  After getting over the amazing smells (and burying my nose deep into the box multiple times) I finally unraveled the delicate white tissue and revealed a colorful glittery array of King Cake Macaroons.

Oh man guys, I need to take a second here and collect my thoughts.  The first bite…how do I even describe this.  The first bite.  MY EYES ROLLED TO THE BACK OF MY HEAD AND I ALMOST PASSED OUT FROM SUCH HEAVENLY MACAROON PERFECTION.  I can’t believe this is what a good French Macaroon tasted like!  I have never tasted anything like it, I was hooked!  I watched helplessly as I popped one after another into my mouth, I just couldnt stop.

They were tiny pillows of heaven, when you take them out of their cubby holes you have to be careful to not crush the delicate shell.  The texture is crispy yet chewy, I would compare it to something but I dont think I’ve tasted anything like it.

And then, there was that rich, decadent, silky buttercream.  Oh that buttercream, I blame you for the intoxicating smells.  I am not sure why this buttercream tastes so darn good, probably because of Sucre’s use of high-quality ingredients or it’s magical powers, who knows?  But I could bathe in this buttercream and die a happy (wo)man.  My only complaint is that I wish I had 100 more of these, it honestly was hard to share but I did…and my honey and friends enjoyed them just as much as I did.

Now…onto the dark chocolate raspberry ganache.  I don’t like chocolate.  No, I should rephrase that comment — I don’t like CHEAP chocolate.  It’s overbearingly sweet and it leaves this weird “film” in your mouth.  People look at my crazy when I tell them I am not a fan of chocolate.

But when it comes to Sucré, I am ALL about the chocolate.  Back in December when they sent me their holiday truffles I was having a field day with those bad boys.  Godiva has nothing on these chocolates.  Just the appearance alone is enough to convince me.  They are just absolutely beautiful, almost too beautiful too eat but I get over that pretty quickly.

These heart-shaped chocolates were a rich burgundy color with a nice iridescent shimmer and nestled inside the beautiful shell was a dark raspberry ganache.  People, this ganache is phenomenal.  I don’t know if its the high quality cocoa or the magical fingers of Tariq, but its out of this world fantastic.  The chocolate is not too sweet, which is often my complaint about many chocolates.  It’s rich and comforting, and the strong scent of raspberry resonates in each bite.

As I’m writing this, I am staring longingly at my empty boxes — though I killed the goods right when I got them, the flavors and feelings are still fresh in my mind.  It is refreshing to find a company that really puts love, attention and detail into their products.  All their efforts really shine through, the taste is undeniable — simply perfection.

I’d like to give a huge thanks to Andy and the rest of the Sucre team for sending me these wonderful products to review.  It is always such a delight to review products as beautifully crafted as these, it makes my job much easier 🙂  For my readers, you guys can take a look at their products here and explore their delicious goods.  Have fun and remember, Valentine’s day is just around the corner so for all you guys out there looking for some brownie points?  I’d say ordering artisan sweets is definitely the way to go, remember sweets can be eaten, flowers…cannot. 🙂