28 August 2013

Review: Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster

I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for Red Lobster. I received a gift card to facilitate my review promotional item as a thank-you for participating.

When I lived in Texas, my grandmother would take me to Red Lobster for my birthday. I really loved shrimp (such a refined palate for a young child!) and what better way to indulge my craving than a seafood restaurant? Now, I'm more likely to cook a shrimp dish myself, or eat at a local restaurant. But when Mom Central Consulting gave me the opportunity to experience the 12th anniversary of Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster on their behalf, I took it.

My diner and I headed over to the Red Lobster in Paramus, NJ. We both know that RL isn't a four-star fine dining restaurant, so we weren't going in comparing it to that standard. Since it was for reviewing purposes, my goal was to try all four varieties of shrimp offered in the endless shrimp promotion.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
Our meal started with a basket of cheddar biscuits, which, from what I've heard, sound more popular than anything else from Red Lobster. Were these always a part of their menu, or did I just not remember them from so long ago? The biscuits were very light and tender, and also incredibly greasy. I almost ate two before I was warned to stop.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
Next up was a complimentary salad. For whatever reason, I decided to have it doused in blue cheese dressing instead of a lighter option. There was too much dressing. The salad was what I expected for the type of restaurant - iceberg lettuce and boxed croutons, but the additional vegetables were decent and the lettuce was crisp.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
My diner ordered the Wood-Grilled Lobster, Shrimp, and Scallops. He said it was pretty good based on what he expected. His order came with wild rice pilaf and a side of vegetables.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
Since I was there to try the Endless Shrimp, that is exactly what I ordered. On my first plate was the new Spicy Soy-Wasabi Grilled Shrimp and Hand-Breaded Shrimp along with wild rice pilaf and a side of fries.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
Okay. To be honest, the spicy shrimp was sweeter than it was spicy, and I couldn't even taste the soy or wasabi, though Alex said he could taste a hint of wasabi (foodie fail). If this shrimp were in a blind taste test, I might have said it was a balsamic glaze, and would have been yelled at by Chef Ramsay.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
Still, it was much better than the hand-breaded shrimp that wasn't particularly bad or good, just average, and like most fried foods at Red Lobster, greasy. I'd forgo it in the future.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
I ate most of the shrimp (Alex took a few of each).

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
Next up is my personal favorite, Shrimp Scampi. My mom made this as my birthday dinner for many years. If you can recall the Endless Shrimp from Red Lobster commercials, the scampi is shown served in a white dish, filled to the top. My portion was significantly less than what was shown in those commercials, and I wonder if it would have been bigger had I ordered it first. However, I was happy with the appetizer-sized portion since I still had one dish left to taste.

This ended up being my favorite. The sauce was light and not too salty, though obviously greasy since butter is a main ingredient in scampi. The garlic was not very prominent. Not much to complain about here.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
It was easy to finish the entirety of this dish.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
Finally, the dish I was looking forward to the least, Shrimp Linguini Alfredo. Maybe I should have started off with the heaviest dish, but I didn't think about that. This portion was much bigger than I expected, as it appeared to be a little less than a full entree. I wondered out loud to Alex whether the sauce came from Olive Garden, and was impressed to see shavings of parmesan:

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
The pasta was topped with around 15 baby shrimp. The sauce itself was obviously on the heavy side and I could have done with less of it. It wasn't remarkable, but it wasn't bad. There was just too much pasta for me to take on, even though I managed to eat all of the shrimp.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
Too.Much.Pasta. I didn't feel bad about wasting it because a) I wasn't expecting a large portion, especially after the size of the scampi, and b) pasta is the cheapest item and the biggest moneymaker for restaurants.

Now, I will rank the dishes from best to worst:

1. Shrimp Scampi. Can't go wrong with a classic (well, that's a lie, but it was my favorite from Red Lobster)
2. Spicy Soy-Wasabi Shrimp, even though it was sweet and not at all spicy, and didn't really taste like wasabi or soy to me.
4. Hand-Breaded Shrimp and Shrimp Linguini Alfredo. I'd skip both of these.

For $15.99, endless shrimp might be a deal for you, especially if you stick to your favorite dishes (primarily, #1 and #2), but for someone like me I would be better off ordering an entree-sized portion of a shrimp dish I know I would enjoy.

Now for some facts about Red Lobster that I was asked to highlight, such as Red Lobster being the world's largest casual dining seafood restaurant. It makes sense if you think about how busy it always is (yes, I know you can get better seafood elsewhere, but dispense your haughtiness for now). Red Lobster is a division of Darden Restaurants, Inc., which we looked up prior to going (so is Olive Garden, hence why I wondered if they shared the alfredo sauce), as well as finer dining establishments. For three consecutive years, Darden was listed in the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list, and is the only-full service restaurant to be listed. (I was confused if this meant Red Lobster specifically, as I saw this sticker on the door, or if it was about Darden restaurants in general.) Finally, Red Lobster supports the local community by donating more than 60 million pounds of food across the country through the Darden Harvest Program. It may be a chain restaurant, but it's nice to see that they help out.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
We ended our meal with carrot cake. It was alright, but there wasn't enough frosting. Cream cheese frosting is rather dense, and on an already full stomach (especially after that alfredo sauce), I only managed a few bites.

Red Lobster Endless Shrimp Review
Our total ended up being just over $50. Yes, we tipped.

22 August 2013

Blackened Chicken with Goya

Blackened Chicken with Goya
This is one of those "none-recipes" I put together one day for dinner. Chicken is an excellent source of protein and it's simple to cook (and overcook, but let's try not to do that, okay?). I believe I started cooking chicken this way when I prepared pre-marathon carbo load dinners for Alex. I usually poach chicken breast since I hate-hate-hate overcooked chicken.

Blackened chicken before is basically chicken coated in some variety of seasoning mix, usually paprika or another red spice. It is then seared over a somewhat high heat, which creates the "blackening" of the spice coating. What it isn't supposed to be is burned. Don't literally blacken the chicken!

Blackened Chicken with Goya
To start, you'll need two chicken breasts of equal size (or as close as possible). I don't have a scale so I don't know the weight of these, though smaller chicken breasts are better for even cooking in under 10 minutes. Make sure you pat them dry with a paper towel.

Blackened Chicken with Goya
Blackened Chicken with Goya
For my blackened spice mixture, I used two Goya packets (whichever kind you like), garlic powder, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, cumin (not pictured), and kosher salt.

Blackened Chicken with Goya
Starting with the bottom of the chicken breast, coat both sides evenly with the spice mixture. At this point, I set them aside while the pan heats up or I need to prep the vegetable dish, around 5-10 minutes.

Blackened Chicken with Goya
When the pan is ready (it should start to smoke), the chicken breast is added top side down (aka, the presentation side). I adjust the heat at this point if it's starting to smoke too much or feels hotter than intended. Since these were small, it only takes around 8-9 minutes to fully cook.

Do you guys watch Master Chef? Remember that episode where they had to cook chicken breasts, three ways? Some of the cooks either undercooked their chicken or severely overcooked it. Both are a fear of mine each time I cook chicken breasts. In fact, I undercooked it the other night when I made fried chicken, which that was totally my fault because I should have compensated for the fact that I didn't use enough oil to completely submerge the chicken. TRYING AGAIN FOR REDEMPTION TONIGHT.

Moral of the story is, it's probably better to overcook the chicken by a minute than undercooking it, even though I absolutely hate dried chicken. Bad memories.

Blackened Chicken with Goya
That's about it! What's great about a "none-recipe" like this is that you can easily substitute the spices with whatever is in your cabinet. If you like more of a certain spice, add more of it!

Print this recipe

Blackened Chicken with Goya
Recipe by Christina Provo

Ingredients -

2 small chicken breasts (no more than 8 ounces apiece)
2 packets Goya seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon oil

Directions -
  1. Pat chicken breasts dry with a paper towel and place on a plate bottom side up.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together all the spices with the salt. Sprinkle evenly over both sides of the chicken breasts; let rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until the pan starts to smoke. Reduce heat slightly. Add chicken breasts, top side down. Cook, without disturbing, for 4 1/2 minutes. Flip over and cook for an additional 4 1/2 minutes. Remove chicken from skillet and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

13 August 2013

1-Hour Cinnamon Rolls

1 Hour Cinnamon Rolls
See that tape measure in the background? I used that to measure the buns.
A weekend breakfast around here tends to be waffles, omelettes, or some combination of eggs+bacon+hash browns. This past Saturday, though, all I could think about were cinnamon rolls, especially after seeing a recipe for 1-hour cinnamon rolls Tiffany had posted. How can you go wrong with a recipe that takes around an hour to make? I'm sure it took me a little longer since I dawdle.

1 Hour Cinnamon Rolls
I wasn't even going to blog about these until I decided they were worth sharing. You know, so you can make them. Since I'm me, I made a few changes that aren't really significant but made my life a little easier. Those were:

- Kneading the dough with the dough hooks on my hand mixer (thanks, Mom!). I didn't feel like getting my hands dirty and I don't have a stand mixer. At first, I didn't really trust that it would actually do a good job, but after 10 minutes on high the dough was smooth and just barely tacky. I'm not sure I'd use the mixer to knead larger batches of dough, though I'm glad I have the option.

- Used around 1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour since I ran out of all-purpose, which makes these unintentionally healthier than the original. They were still incredibly tender (more on that later).

1 Hour Cinnamon Rolls
- Rolled out the dough longer than the recipe said to. I do this so that I get more turns, which make the finished rolls look prettier.

- Used half the called for cinnamon, not on purpose but because that's all I had. Unless you have really strong cinnamon (some varieties are stronger than others), use the full amount, as these tasted a little more sweet and less cinnamony because of it. The filling (consisting of white sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon) is supposed to be sprinkled on the butter, but I mixed it in with the butter and spread the cinnamon-sugar butter on the dough. It made rolling the dough up easier.

- Since the butter for the icing was already softened, I made the icing buttercream style (by beating the confectioner's sugar into the flour before thinning with milk). This was just to avoid the step of melting the butter, not because I thought it made a better icing. Since I spread the icing on top of the rolls while they were still warm, it melted and made a thin glaze rather than retaining its shape in nice drizzles. But it tastes the same.

1 Hour Cinnamon Rolls
The dough was surprisingly supple and easy to work. Both risings take a mere 35 minutes total, meaning it'll still be breakfast by the time they're finished baking (in 15 minutes). I cut the dough into thicker slices for the first batch; the remaining dough was portioned into thinner slices, placed in a prepared pan, covered, and stuck in the freezer for this weekend. Because of that, I got 16 slices total, though the two end pieces don't count since the filling wasn't spread out to the ends. Oops. (In the future, spread the filling all the way to the edges, width-wise.)

1 Hour Cinnamon Rolls
These are the rolls just 25 minutes after rising. You can see how the texture of the dough is very light and spongy.

1 Hour Cinnamon Rolls
This is after baking. The rolls are just golden brown and baked up nicely. A bit of the filling oozed out on the bottom. Fortunately, the centers still retained the majority of the filling, which is good because sometimes the outer edges can get bland.

Most cinnamon rolls I made tend to be chewy, bready, or in the case of the croissant-like pumpkin cinnamon rolls I made a while ago, flaky. These rolls, however, were so incredibly tender that I was reminded of the Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that come in the tube. No, that's not a bad thing. I've always liked those cinnamon rolls even though they tasted a little fake. Seriously, these were so tender, they almost seemed like biscuit rolls but with more heft. Okay, no, they weren't at all like biscuit rolls. They were a little on the sweet side, which I think would have been offset if I had used the correct amount of cinnamon. The centers were glorious and, of course, my favorite part. I'm definitely making these again, no doubt about it.

1 Hour Cinnamon Rolls

07 August 2013

Review: Green Giant Veggie Chips

Green Giant Veggie Chips
Did you know Green Giant has a line of veggie chips? I didn't. But I love chips, so this campaign called out to me. I received two flavors to review, and evident by the crinkly, opened bags that are obviously not full, I did just that. I should be ashamed that I ate the equivalent of a bag's worth of chips over the course of 3 days, yet I don't because they were tasty. As always, I have my thoughts about them, since this is a review and my objective wasn't just to satisfy my penchant for savory snacks.

Green Giant Veggie Chips
Let's start with my favorite. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the barbecue flavored sweet potato chips as much as I did. At first, the barbecue flavor was stronger in scent than taste, but I eventually noticed a spicy after note after munching on 2-3 servings of chips. The spicy, savory flavoring contrasted against the sweetness of sweet potato, though honestly I'm not sure if that sweetness came from the flavoring or from the sweet potato powder. Texture-wise, I was reminded of a certain potato chip that begins with a 'P' and ends with an 'gles'. I liked them the most because they were more what I expected these chips to be.

Green Giant Veggie Chips
Ranch. No, Garden Ranch. I fully expected these to be my favorite, as I love ranch dressing (did you know there are people who hate it? Yeah, weirdos.), though the chip is more of a corn chip with additional vegetable powders than a veggie chip, if you know what I mean. Yes, they are called "tortilla chips". Clearly I didn't realize that - oversight on my part. Anyway, the ranchy flavor was still good, despite not detecting any hints of "garden", and enjoyable, just not outstanding when compared to the sweet potato barbecue chips.

The difference between these chips, besides the obvious, is that the Garden Ranch is a roasted veggie tortilla chip while Barbecue is a multigrain sweet potato chip. Whole grain corn/corn flour is the first ingredient in both, with the tortilla chips containing red and green bell peppers, buckwheat, sorghum flour, millet, quinoa, and various dried vegetable powders, and the sweet potato chips containing sweet potato powder, brown and white flours, and buckwheat flours. Also, various barbecue flavorings and seasonings.

What these aren't, are "natural"; there are a few ingredients that push it away from that category. Nonetheless, they are tasty and if I found them on sale, I'd pick up another bag. Additional pros are that a serving contains between 14-18 grams of whole grains per serving and are both relatively lower in fat than other chips. Alongside a burger, dipped in hummus, or straight from the bag, they make for a delicious snack. If you'd like to try them, you can find them at various grocery stores, retailing at $3 a bag. You can get a coupon by clicking at the link at the very top of the page.

Green Giant Veggie Chips Key Visual 1

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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Chronicling my adventures from the kitchen to the road, and back again.

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