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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Smiley360 Review: Kikkoman Juicy Bird Project

So recently, I was chosen for Smiley360's "Kikkoman Juicy Bird Project". In this we were to brine a chicken or turkey using Kikkoman Soy Sauce. Although I received these items to review for free, this is entirely my own opinion. I also apologize ahead of time for my usually horrible pictures as my cell phone has trouble in low light. I think it's time to start using a proper camera!

"Experience the taste of umami in your meals with Kikkoman Soy Sauce. Try cooking with this dynamic sauce in traditional Asian dishes, mainstream American foods, classic Mediterranean dishes, Caribbean cuisine, or even to brine poultry."

I've never brined poultry before, so I was excited to participate. I received not only 2 coupons for a free bottle of Kikkoman Soy Sauce, but a 5 gallon brining bucket as well.



First, here's the recipe that was recommended:

Kikkoman Chicken Brine Recipe

Ingredients

2 cups Kikkoman Soy Sauce
2 Gallons water
1 1/2 Cups Kosher Salt
8 Cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
4 dried bay leaves
1/4 Cup Worcestershire sauce
3/4 Cup brown sugar

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a large food safe container. Whisk until salt and sugar are totally dissolved. Place meat into brine. Leave in brine about 1 hour per pound of meat. Once done brining, pat meat dry before cooking. Roast the chicken and baste with Kikkoman Soy Sauce.

I decided right off the bat not to alter the recipe like I tend to do, since I normally love adding additional spices. I didn't have any kosher salt or whole black peppercorns, but roughly estimated the equivalent of table salt and powdered black pepper. 
Bye Bye Birdie.

Once we put everything in the bucket (as well as removed a shelf in the fridge to fit it!) we decided to let it brine for almost 24 hours versus the 4 hours that the recipe recommended. We also used our rotisserie to cook the bird instead of roasting it in the oven since we didn't have access to the oven upstairs. We basted it as recommended with Kikkoman Soy Sauce.


Not shown: hubby doing the heavy lifting for weak muscled me.

I have to say that the bird came out perfectly. It looked and smelled AMAZING. It came out incredibly tender and juicy, a bit moreso than usually when it comes to cooking in the rotisserie. The skin was to die for, just packed full of flavor and not salty at all like I expected!

Look at how crispy that skin is!

The one disappointment I had though was the meat itself. With this recipe, although the meat was tender and juicy, it did not have much flavor. Especially not compared to the skin. I would recommend taking some fresh thyme, rosemary and majoram (or sage) and put those inside the bird while cooking, as well as some lemon slices to better infuse flavor into the meat.

All in all though, I was still extremely impressed with brining with Kikkoman. I will definitely be trying this again with some alterations to the recipe! Much thanks to Smiley360 for letting me join this wonderful project!

Click here to enter the Kikkoman Juicy Bird Sweepstakes for a chance to win $10,000!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flower Flame

There's a wonderful program called Apophysis 7x that let's you make some really neat images with fractal flames.

Before I show the pictures, let me explain what a fractal flame is. It's a member of the iterated function system, which is a method of constructing fractals. They are comprised of many possible geometric shapes, commonly called variations in the fractal community. It was created by Scott Davis in 1992. His open-source code was ported into Adobe After Effects software, and then translated into Apophysis fractal flame editor. According to Fractal Architect, they are rooted in pure mathematics, but you don't need to understand that theory to create beautiful images. If you want to learn more about it, you can click here, but a warning: it's quite mathematically intensive.

There are some pretty amazing things that you can make in Apophysis, but it does take a lot of work to get the results. After some help from different communities though, I was finally able to produce some awesome stuff. Here's what I made, and some variations!





They also can take a massive time to render, especially if I zoom in. The last one took over a day to finish because I had to zoom so close!

I'm selling some products with these images on them over at my Illustrative Design store at Zazzle. So far only items with the first design are available, but I will be adding the others over time. Be warned that the first design does run a bit dark!

Please let me know in the comments what you think!

(All images in this post are copyrighted to me. Please do not use without permission!)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

BzzAgent Review: Kashi Hummus Crisps

Another review for the amazing BzzAgent website for Kashi Hummus Crisps. As always, although I was provided this product for free, this is my own opinion.



I was really excited to be able to try this. I am a HUGE hummus fan. I really can't get enough of the stuff. So when BzzAgent sent me an e-mail about the campaign, I jumped at a chance to participate.



As always, some information about the product first. Kashi Hummus Crisps are air-poppped chickpea crisps that are made without partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial anything. They have at least 5g of whole grain, 3g of fiber and 3g of protein. What is even more fantastic is that the serving size is 27 chips! And only 120 calories for that 27! Can you believe it? Compare that to most chips out there (I'm looking at YOU, Doritos!) that only have a serving size of 11 chips for more calories! So it's an all around healthy snack.



The Kashi Hummus Crisps that I got were the Sea Salt & Olive Oil flavor. Right away as I opened the bag and took a whiff, I knew I was going to be in love. They smelled delicious! I popped one into my mouth and I was NOT disappointed. They were puffy, airy and just delicious. You could not just taste the sea salt, but the olive oil as well, which was shocking to me! Even with that, the flavor wasn't overpowering enough that I couldn't also taste the chickpeas. Texture-wise, they weren't quite as crispy as I would have preferred. I figured I wouldn't get the same crunch as with normal chips, but I worry how it would hold up getting wet when used with a dip.



All in all, if I had to give this a rating, I would give it a 4/5, mainly because I wasn't quite a fan of the texture. But mouth feels aside, I absolutely loved it. As a huge fan of salty chips, I couldn't get enough. Between my husband and I, the bag didn't last much of the day. It also comes in two other flavors: Caramelized Onion and Sundried Tomato Basil & Feta. I've heard the former is very reminiscent of Funyuns, and the latter like a margarita pizza. The price is a little on the expensive side, but that is how it seems to be with healthier snacks vs the "naughty" ones. These won't be completely replacing my more unhealthy options, but they will definitely be something I will pick up every now and then.

Check out Kashi today to get more information on their Hummus Crisps as well as their other delicious products:

Kashi.com
Facebook.com/Kashi
Pinterest.com/Kashi

If you've tried Kashi Hummus Crisps, let me know in the comments what you think!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Blog Redesign

I figured that this blog needed a little pick-me-up since I was having trouble with the old design.

I've got quite a few new things to review: Kashi, I Love Nail Polish, Mintvine, Crowdtap, Truvia and Starkist Tuna. So excited to get these out, although I need to wait on two of them as I haven't received the product yet!

I am thinking about moving this blog to Wordpress. I've had a love/hate relationship with both Wordpress and Blogger, but I think that Wordpress may have more of what I'm looking for in terms of plugins. That's if I can get everything transitioned over properly! So I'm reaching out to you other bloggers: Which platform do you prefer and why? Leave me a comment!

Quite a few changes coming, so stay tuned!

Friday, August 30, 2013

BzzAgent Review: Special K Nourish Hot Cereal and Nutrition Bars

Another review for the amazing BzzAgent website for Special K Nourish. As always, although I was provided this product for free, this is my own opinion.


I was actually really excited to be able to try these. Ever since I started losing weight, I've been eating a lot of hot cereal and nutritional bars. I really like Special K's other products, and was hoping that I would be adding something new to my breakfast/lunch routine.

First, let's go over the facts about Special K Nourish. The hot cereal is made with a multi-grain blend of quinoa, oats, barley and wheat. It's packed with protein, fiber, and vitamins A, C and E. It's only 190 calories and comes in Cranberry Almond, Maple Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Raisin Pecan. Each cup comes with a section filled with nuts or fruit to mix in after cooking. The bars are between 160-180 calories and come in Lemon Twist, Cranberry Almond and Dark Chocolate Nut.


So on to the good and bad. The good? I love the idea of the toppings for the hot cereal, and them being counted into the calories. However, that's going to be the only good I say about them.

And on to the bad. First, the toppings on the ones I did receive were stale. The fruit was okay, but the nuts were absolutely horrible. I'm worried how it would be purchasing it from the grocery store, after having sat on the shelf for who knows how long.

The packaging is a bit deceiving. When looking at the bowl itself, you figure that you are going to get a decent sized portion, but it is less than half full when cooked. I'm fine with the portion size, but why use such a huge container? I also found that the amount they wanted for their fill line was not quite enough liquid. The first bowl I had was very sticky and not appetizing. I just fiddled with the amount until I got the consistency I wanted.

The taste was... well it wasn't, actually. I've eaten a lot of types of hot cereal and was expecting something flavorful. This really wasn't. The texture was great and that part was enjoyable, but I felt it was extremely bland. I was really rooting for the Maple Brown Sugar Crunch, as I am a big fan of the maple syrup and brown sugar flavor, but I was really let down. And a bit surprised since most brands I have tried can even pack a bit too much of a punch. In this case, I think I will stick with my Cream of Wheat. It's Maple Brown Sugar has a nice, balanced flavor and is less calories to boot.


I can say that after trying the cereal, I was not looking forward to trying the bars. However I gave them the benefit of the doubt in the event that they tasted different. Unfortunately, they did not. Just as the hot cereal, most of them were lacking in the flavor that I can find in other bars like Nature Valley or even Fiber One. Except for one bar, and that is the Lemon Twist. Now this one was its own special case, it did actually have flavor. But... not a good one. The packaging states naturally flavored, but it tastes far from that. It tasted incredibly artificial. Even a bit worse than some artificially flavored candy I've had. After a few bites, I could not finish it and had to throw it out. Luckily the others didn't have such a terrible flavor. Just the lack of flavor entirely, which after having that Lemon Twist was probably a blessing.

The colors represent how I feel about the flavors.
All in all, Special K's Nourish isn't too bad. It's far from the worst, even the Lemon Twist bar. But there are far more tastier alternatives, like Cream of Wheat, Kashi or Nature Valley.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Beta

I've been testing FFXIV: ARR since April, and with the closed beta now over, I just had to post some screenshots and my opinion on the game so far.


I had beta tested FFXIV 1.0, and let me tell you, there is such a big difference when beta testing ARR/2.0. While I was intrigued by the idea that you could change classes with the switch of a weapon, 1.0 felt really boring. I played for one or two days and abandoned it. With ARR, I couldn't get enough.

First thing is the character creator. It had a bunch of options, face, hair, eyes, lips, colors, heights and widths. You can even choose highlights for your hair, which I loved. They also had a really neat feature where you could see your character in different settings. You could view how you looked in outdoor lighting, indoor lighting, with starting clothes, underclothes or the higher level armor of what class you chose. I liked it since in some games, what you choose as a color in the character creation may not quite be what you expected when in daylight.

Class selection is pretty great as well, with a mix of melee and three magic casting classes (Disciples of War and Disciples of Magic):

  • Gladiator: Standard sword and board tank.
  • Pugilist: Hand to hand combat.
  • Marauder: Another tank, but with a big two handed axe and much different abilities.
  • Lancer: Ranged melee with a polearm, more effective attacking from behind.
  • Archer: Ranged damage with arrows.
  • Thaumaturge: standard FF black mage, but with some interesting twists.
  • Conjurer: standard FF white mage.
  • Arcanist: A pet class that specalizes in Damage over Time spells. (This one will be available for play during Open Beta, so far it has been closed off)
The best part is, you can change your class easily. All you do is level what class you pick to 10, and then after that you just go to the specific guild for the class you want to change to, equip that classes weapon and voila, you are now a different class and can switch between what you've unlocked at will. You can also pick certain abilities from other classes to use with the class you want.

Each class will also have an advanced job that they can switch to after meeting requirements. Those are paladin, Dragoon, Monk, Bard, Warrior, White Mage, Black Mage, Summoner and Scholar. However, you are more limited on cross-class abilities. Paladin, for example requires Gladiator level 30 and Conjurer level 15, but can only use Maurader and Conjurer abilities. (Note: this may change once jobs are accessible in open beta. This is based off of the 1.21 of the original version.)

 It was really difficult for me to decide which class to pick, especially because I would have to hit level 10 in my class quests to switch, and level 15 in the story to get an airship pass to visit other cities and their class guilds. I tried a little bit of everything, and at first settled on Maurader. I felt incredibly powerful with this giant axe on my back, but I did start to struggle as levels went on.


I eventually switched over to Gladiator and then Thaumaturge and had a much better time.

Graphics are just gorgeous. I couldn't get enough of exploring around and taking all of it in. It felt every bit like a Final Fantasy game, with creatures I remember from past games. I am one to take way too many screenshots in any game, and this was no different.


Combat is your standard put skill on hotbar and then press buttons, but it felt very solid. Movement was exceptionally fluid. A lot of skills were to be used in combination with others to make them more powerful. The only thing I didn't like is that I felt that some of the buffs had a bit too long of a timer on them, but other than that, I really enjoyed it.


Thaumaturge had to be the most fun for me due to two spells: Fire and Blizzard. Casting Fire gives you the Astral Fire buff, which pumps up the damage, but also makes each subsequent casting take more MP (to a limit). Casting Blizzard gives you Umbral Ice, which deals less damage, but has a 40% chance to inflict Heavy (makes them move slower), and also vastly increases the regeneration of your MP. And of course, casting one cancels out the other. However, you eventually get a skill called Transpose, which swaps Astral Fire with Umbral Ice. So you can cast Fire until your MP is low, use Transpose to instantly switch your AF to UI and then refill your mana. With the other spells to use in between the cooldown for Transpose, it made combat very fun and engaging.


Want to take a break from questing? You can also pick up Guildleves. Guildleves are daily quests that you can perform to earn experience, gil and items. Battlecraft Leves for Disciples of War and Magic require you to complete a specific combat related objective within a time limit, like kill missions, investigations and escorts. Tradecraft Leves require you to craft a specific item(s) for a client with no time limit. Higher quality version of items earn you greater rewards.

Also, you have Hunting Logs. This gives you tasks that involve the slaying of certain creatures. It lists them based on job level, and hovering over the game will tell you where to find that particular one. This is great for earning XP on the side.


Tired of all that fighting? Take up a crafting (Disciples of Hand) or gathering (Disciples of Land) class!

Crafting classes synthesize new and useful items such as armor, weapon, food and potion from basic materials. Some of the basic materials are collected by gathering classes.
Gathering classes harvest natural resources. These natural resources can be used by crafting classes to synthesize new and useful items.
I tried out both weaver and miner. It was actually enjoyable to play a game that requires interaction with crafting and not just "set this up to queue and then go make a sandwich". I didn't have access to the area with the gathering profession I needed for materials but I found plenty of starter stuff off of NPCs. Gathering was actually a bit more fun since I got to actually leave the city and wander around, although you get very little xp for what you do, and soon it became tedious and boring. However, the devs said that that will be adjusted so I will be looking forward to trying it out again!



I didn't get to party with anyone and try out groups, the Duty Finder, or party Limit Breaks, sadly. I also felt a little mismatched with my armor colors, but you do get a quest to be able to dye your armor later on.

Now that we've gone through all that, let's get to the cons of the game. Truth be told, I didn't find to many. There's the issue with the gathering professions not getting enough experience and that is going to be addressed. The only other thing I can think of are the rates to teleport from one place to another. However, with all the other options for travel, that's really not much of a concern.

All in all, I had a great time with this game. There was never a shortage of things to do, especially since you can change classes at will once they are unlocked. It's nice to play a game where I don't have to create 10 characters just to experience everything. Open beta should be coming soon, so keep an eye out on the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn website. I haven't even covered a quarter of what this game is about, so definitely check it out if you are interested!



Now it's time to ask you. What do you think of the game? Did you play during beta and if you did, what are your thoughts? Also, do you think that A Realm Reborn will do well, or will it struggle like 1.0 did? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!




Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bioshock Infinite GIFS from Post-Modern Fantasy

I thought these GIFS from the game were amazing that I had to share them. Credit to Bryan at Post-Modern Fantasy  for making these! Click here to see the others in the series, and check out his Tumblr for other really awesome GIFS!








Makes me want to start another playthrough. It was definitely a very, very incredible game and I'm happy I was able to play it on the highest graphic setting to fully experience all its beauty. It's one of the few games with an ending that really makes you think and it's neat to see all the little things that tie in even from the start of the game that you wouldn't normally notice!