Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular— Freddy’s Fish Sandwich

San Diego recently became the home of another beloved Midwest fast-food chain: Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. That name is a mouthful, and since I’d rather have a mouthful of their fish sandwich, from here on I’ll refer to them as Freddy’s.


Freddy’s has two San Diego County locations at this writing— San Marcos and National City. I was recently in National City for another food-related pilgrimage (rhymes with “Blunkin’ Blonuts”) and spotted their seasonal, participation-may-vary window dressing for their fish & chips basket or sandwich. It’s my solemn duty and privilege to report on fish sandwiches for my better half, so $5.50 later I had me a new sandwich to try.


Their sandwich is a bit of an odd duck. Rather than the usual solitary breaded-and-deep-fried quadrangle slab of Alaskan cod, it’s actually two triangles (think elementary school lunch) with a melty slice of American cheese and some “Freddy’s Sauce” in a toasted bun. It comes with a couple of packets of Heinz tartar sauce, which I think is pretty low on the scale of tasty tartar sauces.

Overall it was OK, not really a standout either way. I didn’t mind the fish planks; they flaked apart easily so they weren’t over-fried or dry. I can’t determine what made the sandwich so sweet, though. Might have been the tartar sauce, or the Freddy’s sauce… maybe a combination of the two.


I wish I could give you a round-up of calories, sodium and fat grams, but Freddy’s doesn’t have any nutritional information for this sandwich or their basket on their website (the basket comes with shoestring fries).

Read other Friday fast food fishtacular posts here.

Frothy, Cold Brew Upgrade — At Home!


Frothy coffee

I’ve been making cold brew coffee at home lately. Aside from cleaning up the filter and waiting a day until it’s ready, cold brew at home is relatively easy and cost efficient as well.

If you haven’t noticed, cold brew is making waves all over the country — even Starbucks is selling their own version. There are posts all over the internet showing how to do it at home without a special carafe but I opted to buy Hario Water Brew Pot from Amazon. (It came free when I applied for the credit card.) Aside from the pot, all I need were some beans and water.

Coffee Setup

Depending on taste, you can use whatever beans you want and how long to brew. I have some really nice (read: expensive) beans at home but didn’t want to waste them. Instead, I used basic Trader Joe’s beans. Don’t buy the pre-ground stuff; you’ll want to freshly coarse grind yourself. The beans are then soaked at room temperature for 18 hours. Remove the grounds and you’re good to go.

Cold brew

Here’s where I make it special and has me convinced NEVER to buy cold brew again: I shake up the cold brew with vanilla cubes. I basically follow a modified version of this recipe for vanilla cubes — pour some coffee in a mason jar with simple syrup, shake and drink out of the damn jar like a hipster.

Shaking Cubes

The drinking is frothy and the shaking helps melt the vanilla cubes. And since making the vanilla cubes, I’ve discovered that there other uses… like cocktails!

Note: since the cubes use half-and-half, I recommend a special ice cube tray for easy retrieval. Or you can be like me and wait a few minutes until they’re soft and retrieve them using a butter knife.

Coffee Cube Closeup

Super Creamy Vanilla Cubes

1 quart half-and-half
1/3 cup sugar (add more if you don’t want to use simple syrup)
1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Add milk and sugar in a medium sauce pan and heat over medium.

While milk is heating, split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds and add both to the pan. Heat until boiling and reduce to low. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring constantly and remove from heat.

Strain liquid into a bowl. Add vanilla extract and cool completely in refrigerator.

Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

Aldi is NOTHING Like Trader Joe’s

Aldi exterior

Grocery stores are a way of life for me. I like visiting unknown chains when I’m in a new city to see what’s cool and interesting. Since the closing of Fresh & Easy and many area Albertsons, I’ve been looking forward to new grocery stores to replace the empty space. News of one of them caught my attention: Aldi.

If you haven’t heard, Aldi is a sibling store to Trader Joe’s and I mean literal sibling. As the story goes, brothers Karl and Theo Albrech both founded Aldi in 1946, a supermarket chain based out of Germany. The siblings had a disagreement in the early 1960s and split the company in two: Aldi Sud and Aldi Nord. The latter eventually became the Trader Joe’s we know today selling private brand goods.

That bit of info piqued my interest. How cool that sibling grocery store is opening up their first shop in San Diego? Of course, I had to check it out. So with some free time to kill one weekday afternoon, I did the long drive to Vista.

Aldi shopping carts

Aldi deposit

Aldi is found right off State Route 78 in what appears to be a new shopping center. I guess I must have missed reports because there are absolutely no shopping baskets available at the store. Instead, there’s a lineup of carts outside locked together. To retrieve one for shopping costs a quarter. Don’t even attempt to use two dimes and a nickel or whatever you change you have, you must have a quarter. I must have made an audible fuss over it because the one of the employees gave me a quarter.

Aldi inside

Aldi cookies

Aldi candy

The first thing inside is the selection of cookies and candies — all right-priced at less than $2 but with brands I’ve never seen or even heard of. Brenton’s Cookies? Candy from Choceur? Since I’m a look-first type of shopper, I passed on these until I could get a ground plan for my purchases.

Aldi cheese

Aldi soda

Aldi Red Bull

Aldi frozen foods

Aldi luncheon meat

Aldi ice cream

The off brand trend continues throughout the store to include luncheon meat, hummus, frozen foods, etc. It was especially jarring to see Red Bull and Coke alongside off brands, toilet paper and other non-grocery items like lawn chairs and outdoor umbrellas.

Aside from the off brands, the most glaring difference between Aldi and Trader Joe’s is the availability of fresh produce and ready-to-eat meals. If Trader Joe’s devotes a quarter of the space to produce like green beans, broccoli, peas, etc. then Aldi only devotes an eighth or less, only sticking to shelf-stable items like tomatoes, onions, garlic and avocados. And if you go in hungry, you won’t find prepacked sandwiches or ready-to-heat chicken tikka masala. And here’s another thing to point out: while Trader Joe’s carries interesting products from around the world, Aldi seems firmly rooted in typical Americana cuisine.

At first pass, my cart was still empty. Between the 45-minute drive home and a quarter for the cart, I didn’t want to leave empty handed. I should also note that my objective was to leave Vista by 3:30 PM at the very latest to avoid the dreaded after-work traffic. I quickly picked up things I had my eye on earlier: a bar of chocolate found at the entrance, sardines, cherry lime soda, vanilla cookies and chips. With the exception of the pimento cheese and salami, nothing else was perishable.

Aldi checkout

Aldi paying at register

Checking out was an entirely memorable experience. I loaded up my meager groceries on the conveyor belt and was told to park my cart right by the cashier trapping her in. Reason was so she could immediately ring up the groceries and put them back in the cart. Bagging all my items happened outside where I transferred all the stuff from the cart into my reusable bag into my car.

Aldi plans to open more stores in San Diego County (I counted about eight in Los Angeles) but I’m sticking with my local Trader Joe’s for the long run.

1750 University Dr.
Vista, CA 92083

Cutting Corners and Making My Own Caffeine Drinks

Coffee and tea

Here’s a revelation for you folks reading this: I pay for my own food. In my last three plus years of doing the professional food writing gig, I’ve spoken to a few dozen people who do the same thing as I do and discovered that whatever they eat out for work, it comes out of their own pocket. Shocker, right?

In doing filing taxes this year, my total food costs in relation to my job was approximately one month of pay. Don’t even get me started on tips — a item that is also tax deductible — I like to tip well and often. No need to make someone else suffer.

This has nothing to do with a “boo hoo is me” theme. It’s quite the opposite. I’m not going hungry and thankfully have a spouse who is able to pick up part of the mortgage. And while I would like to eventually upgrade both our cars or just get my radiator replaced so I can drive without fear of breaking down, we live modestly in our townhome with our sole dog child.

On the other hand, we try to cut corners whenever possible. Vacations usually revolve around business (again, so we can write it off) and I don’t eat at extravagant restaurants unless I can write about it. The biggest money drain is drinks— specifically coffee. There’s no denying I love my cold brew but it adds up quick. But I’ve found few ways to still get my caffeine fix without handing over a few dollars for every serving.

My favorite is Vietnamese coffee — a super-charge caffeine jolt that moves me from “nap time” to “you better get your ass moving so you can churn out stories” mode. Usually priced around $4-5, it’s waaaaay cheaper to buy a filter and make it at home.

Buy some Cafe Du Mode (usually around $4) and condensed milk and you’re set for more than a dozen servings. Now that’s a fantastic deal!

Matcha Green Tea

Another favorite is green tea matcha. In doing last year’s taxes, I spent nearly $200 on coffee at 85º Bakery on their salted mountain green tea. Yikes! If you spend a little time at Trader Joe’s, look for their Matcha Green Tea Latte. It runs about $3 per a container and makes about 8 servings. Meant to be hot, the tea can easily be transformed into a refreshing iced beverage.

That’s my rant. Now who wants to meet me for coffee?

Can’t Beat the Sweet Cravings: Orange-Yogurt Cake

Orange Yogurt Cake done

So wow. I haven’t been baking in a while. In an effort to cut down in sweets, I also cut down in baking. But in a conjunction with a story I did on cookies, I was left with an aching sweet tooth a week later.

Orange Yogurt Cake Slice

Here’s the wonderful thing about Google. If you’re hankering to cook something, do a search for the ingredients you have in hand and the search engine will spit out a recipe. I always keep eggs on hand and happened to also have a few oranges and cup of Greek yogurt. A Google based on those ingredients led me to this Marta Stewart recipe. I sat on it for two days until my sweet cravings were unsurmountable. It whipped up so fast and I was able to get a warm slice of cake in my belly within an hour. the hardest thing in the recipe was segmenting the  oranges while the cake was baking.

This recipe requires two segmented oranges but I only had the patience to do one. Here’s my adaption for lazy cooks – oh and remember to butter the pan really well or you’ll get an unslightly broken off piece on the cake.

Orange Yogurt Cake

Orange-Yogurt Cake

Adapted from Martha Stewart

  • Butter to grease pan
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Orange zest from two oranges, divided use
  • Segments from 1 orange
  • 1 Tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar, optional
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter an 8-inch round cake pan.

Stir flour, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, salt, yogurt, oil, orange zest from one orange and juice, egg, and vanilla in a bowl. Pour into pan.

Transfer to over and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack.

Place remaining zest in a small bowl. Stir in segments and remaining tablespoon sugar.

Garnish cake with some segments.

Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

How-To: Super Chunky Vanilla Almond Granola


It’s been kind of quiet over here, I know. The easy answer is that I’ve been busy but in reality I’ve been really busy with life, documenting food stuffs and whatnot has played second fiddle to being in the moment. I have friends to see and places to eat!

Last December, I made promise to keep this up more as an exercise. But honestly, I wrote this in 2015 and only now am I taking out of the draft stage and publishing it. Also in December, I went back to cooking more and wanted to conquer granola.

See, I love yogurt but texture-wise it can be very boring. So I mix it up with chunks of granola. But not just any granola, I like the super chunky stuff that sits at the top of the container waiting to be eaten right away. (I save the crumbled stuff to fold into my yogurt.) So in true Darlene fashion, I set out to conquer this project and make it myself.


When you break it down, how hard can granola be to make?

Doing research on the process, I discovered it’s really not so difficult. The most basic kind takes steel cut oats, a sweetener and oil. For the kind with the really big chunks, only a few adjustments are needed but you can’t rush the process. There’s a lot of mixing and then waiting for the big chunking effect to happen. But don’t worry, that waiting happens after the oven has been turned off, transforming the oats into golden, lightly toasted chunks.


As for flavoring, I prefer to use vanilla with a little bit of almond extract. The addition of silvered almonds add texture. And if I have it, I also add a some sweetened coconut to play off the coconut oil. You may prefer to add raisins instead of coconut. In that case, please do not send me your granola thankyouverymuch.

Vanilla Almond Granola

  • 2 and 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg white, whipped until frothy
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes, sweetened or unsweetened (optional)

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Toss the oats, almonds, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the maple syrup, coconut oil, almond and vanilla extracts together until combined.

Pour over the oats and toss to coat. Fold egg white into the oats. Make sure all of the oats are moistened. Mix in coconut flakes if desired.

Spread onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Turn off oven and leave granola in oven for 4 hours or overnight.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks or freeze up to three months.


Got Milk? Isabel’s Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding


Last week for Zagat, I wrote about the Mexican chocolate bread pudding at Isabel’s Cantina in Pacific Beach. It’s a decadent chocolate infused dessert that pairs well with milk. The dessert was created in conjunction with the Got Milk? campaign where restaurants were contacted to create a food that pairs well with milk. Select restaurants including Isabel’s Cantina created specials and it wasn’t just sweet offerings. Savory items like Korean fried chicken in San Francisco were also included. But if you’re anything like me, sweet is the way to go and I loved this dessert because of the subtle spicy kick from the chipotle chocolate ganache on the side.

Since the restaurant will only be serving it for a limited time, here’s a copy of the recipe to make at home. When it was served at the restaurant, a glass of whole milk was served alongside. Since moving to adulthood and ever conscious of the calories I put into my body, the whole milk was like drinking an unsweetened milkshake. It was thick but helped douse ease the spice from the ganache. I recommend if you make this cake to go ahead and also pair it with a glass of whole milk.


Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding

Created by chef Isabel Cruz

Bread pudding
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 croissants enough to fit a 9-inch pie plate, split lengthwise
1 cup almond slivers

Mexican Chocolate
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar

Chipotle Chocolate Ganache
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup half and half
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce

For Mexican chocolate:
Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until semi-fine ground. Set a side.

For Chipotle chocolate ganache:
In a medium saucepan, add the chocolate chips, half and half and adobo sauce.

Cook over low heat until chocolate chips being to melt. Stir with a fork until sauce forms. Remove from heat and set aside.

For bread pudding:
Preheat the oven to 350º degrees F. Butter a 9-inch pie plate and set aside.

Combine the eggs, half-and-half and brown sugar in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Press the croissants into the egg mixture to soak, turning over twice.

Fit the bottom half of each croissant into the butter pie plate, sliced side down. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the Mexican chocolate over the croissants followed by 1/2 of the almonds.

Layer the remaining croissants sliced down side on top and sprinkle with remaining chocolate and almonds.

Bake the bread pudding until puffy and dry on the top but still moist inside.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before cutting and serving. Can be served at room temperature or chilled. Top with a spoonful of ganache before serving with glass of milk.

Guess Who’s Running Again? Hint: It’s a Fit Foodie Ambassador


I get a ton of emails. A ton. Restaurant openings. Invitations. Long-lost relatives from Namibia who want to send me money. Funny recipes. And people calling me a retard. You name it. Last month, I received an invite to become the Fit Foodie Ambassador for Cooking Light & Health’s 5K Race weekend and I applied not thinking they wouldn’t pick me. But big surprise— they did and now I’m training for it.

A little history: I was a big runner about 15+ years ago. Living in Bankers Hill, I would drive from my 2nd Avenue studio apartment and run at Balboa Park by myself racking up miles. But I gave up out of boredom. So getting back on the wagon is important for me and I’m giving myself month to prep for the race.

Given my job, working out is a requirement. I’m not as fit as I would like to be but I’m in the realm. I walk Doctor 4+ times a week for almost three miles, hit the gym to use the elliptical when I have time and do pilates. It’s a balance that works with the theme of this year’s race “Calories Burned. Calories Earned.” And man, do I have a lot of calories to burn every time I eat for work. The Fit Foodie 5K Race is taking place on November 7 and here’s my goal: I don’t want to suck.

5K is the equivalent of 3.1 miles and frankly not a big stretch. In a month I’m looking to increase my lung capacity and endurance, and ramp up from walking to running nonstop. The first time I hit the treadmill, it was hard and took just as long to do a run/walk as I do on most days. I’m still sore but I appreciate the deadline. IMG_6067

Will I accomplish my goal? We’ll see. If you’re looking to join me, you can sign up at Use the code BURNINGKITCHEN and you get 50% off registration fees. Deadline to register is November 4.

Fast Food Taste Testing: Burger King’s HA1loween Whopper

Halloween Whopper Wrapper

Note from Darlene: I’ve been busy so I wrangled Paul into eating this burger and writing a post for me. If there’s one lesson to be learned, lunch is never free with me.


Not in a “Happy Halloween” way, but in an opposite of “yay!” way. Halloween Whopper Closeup

Burger King unveiled its HA1loween Whopper locally this week, and for those keep tabs on international fast food offerings, it seems to be a far cry from its Japanese model from 2014. Here’s my breakdown from the American version vs. its overseas counterpart.

Aside from the nifty packaging that resembles a mummy, the first and most obvious deviation from a regular Whopper is the light–diffusing, black bun. Advertisements claim it’s infused with A-1 steak sauce. Other than its color, it seemed to be the same regular-issue sesame seed variety that comes standard with any Whopper (I didn’t notice any pronounced A-1 flavor). The Japanese version didn’t have sesame seeds, so it had a much more pronounced blackness. (If I’d ordered mine without lettuce, tomato or onion, it would’ve been much less colorful.)

Halloween Whopper in Hand

The next deviation from its Japanese predecessor was the presence of A-1 steak sauce in place of ketchup. Apparently this was to echo the darkness of the bun (?) but it didn’t make the burger taste any better. I’m not sure if A-1 and mayo make good bedfellows. (Darlene reports when she ordered it, the fine young man behind the counter warned her that there was no ketchup and if she wanted steak sauce or ketchup. Customers had been complaining they didn’t like A-1 in their burger.)

The final deviation was the slice of American cheese. It was the standard yellow-orange you’ve always had, opposed to the Japanese version’s black cheese. Perhaps American focus groups just couldn’t handle that. I think seeing the words “squid ink” on a Burger King menu in Oklahoma or Indiana would incite panic, mass confusion and rioting. Burger King Menu

All in all, the burger tasted the same as any other Whopper, but for the A-1/ketchup swap. This is a good thing; I’m not sure if a radical departure in flavor would be a good idea for those curious in trying this novelty. The price was $4.99, which is the going rate as a regular Whopper a la carte or $7.39 for the combo meal.

Since it’s for Halloween, I would imagine this is one of those “only for a limited time at select Burger King locations” sort of deals, so if you need to get one, act sooner rather than later.

The Jury’s Out: Spam Snacks

Spam Jerky

Since returning from Spam Jam in Hawaii this spring, I’ve had in my hands a hot little product from Hormel: Spam Snacks! And I wasn’t able to write about it until now.

During the opening events, simply labeled packets were handed out while I was tasting the various Spam dishes. As other attendees were ripping open the packets to chow down with the food (overkill if you ask me), I reserved mine until I was in San Diego and shared it with Paul.

There are no surprises here: it tastes like Spam but we both agreed that eating it alone without plain white rice didn’t put the product in the best light. The whole joy of eating Spam for me is usually comes with a big pile of carbs and eggs.

Spam Jerky closeup

Unless you like eating Spam as-is and much drier, I don’t think it will appeal to a lot of people. A lot of people at the event were calling it “Spam jerky” because it has a lot of similarities to beef jerky with a bit of chew. I can foresee keeping it on hand if you’re on a meat-centric diet or if you’re looking to keep it in your emergency food stash, but isn’t that what a regular can of Spam is supposed to do?

Huffington Post calls it “weird.” While I won’t go as far as calling it that, I think sticking to different flavored cans Spam is the best course of action for Hormel.

Three flavors will be available on shelves soon: bacon, teriyaki and classic.


While I was in Hawaii, I also managed to pick up several cans of garlic Spam as well as a disappointing can of teriyaki-flavored Spam which you can find on the mainland.