Maille Collections les Jardins Secrets des Chefs

Springtime is upon us here in the northeastern United States, and it’s only natural our thoughts turn to love, flowers and…mustard! I was thrilled to learn of the newest gourmet mustard collection by Maille, a trio of garden inspired varieties:

  • Mustard with White Wine, Beet and a Hint of Honey
  • Mustard with Olives and Herbes de Provence
  • Mustard with Carrot and a Hint of Shallot

Maille was kind enough to send me this newest collection to review, and I was more than happy to oblige. Anyone who knows me knows I have a strange obsessive love very strong enthusiasm for Maille mustard. Visiting their mustard shop in Paris was one of the many unexpected pleasures of my trip, and I hoarded every last bit of their chablis mustard from the pump. Then I ferociously hounded every friend visiting Paris for the next few years, begging them to be my mustard mule to bring back another mustard from the pump. Come on, I said. It’s little. Just maybe triple bag it so it doesn’t break all over your luggage, okay? Every single one of them refused. Hmmph.

When Maille opened their New York City store (185 Columbus Avenue at 68th Street), I was overjoyed. Now I was allowed to order their mustard from the tap (legally!), as well as peruse their online shop for any special edition mustard.

The first thing I noticed is how beautifully the trio of mustard is packaged. If you, like me, have a few slightly challenging people to shop for, I propose this as a lovely little hostess or housewarming gift. Look at this gorgeous box!

Maille Spring Collection 2016 - Set - Pack Shot(1)

They are as delicious as they are beautiful The Maille website has all sorts of creative suggestions which I will share in a moment, but to be perfectly honest, our favorite thing to do with these is to concoct simple vinaigrettes and sauces or to spread directly onto cheese. They each have their own distinct complexity which is interesting  yet not overpowering.

 

Mustard with Carrot and a Hint of Shallot (my personal favorite): Slather on beef before roasting, spread atop of white fish, or swirl into soup. 

Mustard with Olives and Herbes de Provence: A perfect complement to roasted eggplant and cauliflower. Add a spoonful to a refreshing gazpacho, or smear atop grilled lamb chops.

Mustard with White Wine, Beet and a Hint of Honey: For entertaining, serve on crostini with creamy goat cheese and slivered almonds or with whipped ricotta and chopped pistachios. Use as a spread to elevate even a simple turkey sandwich.

If any of these mustards strike your fancy, bear in mind they are available for a limited time only. They can be purchased individually or as a set at the Maille store or ordered at http://www.maille.com until the end of August.

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Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

My real life and blogging friend Barb of Book Club Mom recently asked me to do a guest post book review, and I was honored to do so. I know Barb from years ago as a lacrosse mom, but despite logging in many games together, I never knew she was such an avid reader. If you like to read or are a fellow “book club mom,” you must check out Barb’s blog. She has some great suggestions, current and classic, as well as some wonderful creative writing and essays.

As luck/fate would have it, there is a rather eccentric customer who occasionally comes into the store and likes to offer me book suggestions. I wasn’t working on the day she last came in, but she insisted on writing down this title and passing it on to our security guard to give to me. I always feel compelled to at least read a sample of a book anyone thinks to suggest to me; it just seems like good manners. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is one of the best books I’ve read recently. To be honest, I didn’t have especially high hopes, but I’ve learned that sometimes great suggestions can come from unlikely sources.

You can find my review of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt right here at Book Club Mom. And if you ever have any good book suggestions for me, I’m all ears.

BookParty1

Sign Credit: Book Riot

Review: Sumo Oranges

I am fortunate to shop at Wegmans, a grocery store which makes the chore of shopping a real joy. Wegmans is one of my favorite places in the world, and the words “cult following” seem to describe the store often. I know some of the uninitiated my friends like to mock my passion for Wegmans, but I don’t care. I have hard evidence to back me up: Consumer Reports named it the best grocery store in the country (out of 50) and it has been on the Forbes “Best Places to Work” list every year since 1998. The quality of the food is second to none, the prices are not usually unreasonable, but the real wow factor for me is the selection. I always find something new or different there. Like today, for example.

Have you heard of the Japanese Sumo orange? Until I stepped into Wegmans, I had not. I was immediately intrigued by its giant size, unique shape and weird name. But at $2.50 per orange, I had my reservations. What sane person spends $2.50 for one single orange? Hello.

This truly was the best orange I’ve ever eaten in my life. It has the perfect texture, the perfect sweetness, and the perfect amount of juiciness. It’s easy to peel and not the least bit messy. The Japanese took over thirty years to develop this orange, a seedless tangerine-orange hybrid, and it was worth the wait. They are now grown in California, in the San Joaquin Valley, and available in the US from February until May. If you’re lucky enough to come across one, you should try it. I only wish I bought more!

sumo

Ode to Downton Abbey

downton-abbey

Are you a fan of Downton Abbey? I am a shameless lover of television and all things English. Needless to say, I can hardly contain myself that Downton Abbey Season 3 is starting in just two days, nine hours and thirty-two minutes here in the US (1/6/2013).

Confession: I “know a guy” and managed to watch the first episode of season 3 on my computer back when it first aired in the UK, but I just couldn’t continue watching it after that. A) I’m too much of a Girl Scout and don’t like to break the rules or cheat; B) It’s more fun having the communal experience of watching and discussing it with fellow US fans; C) If any show deserves to be watched on a large television screen, it’s Downton Abbey, and D) I don’t fancy myself one of those tiresome people who glibly reports she’s already viewed the whole entire season when her friends are super excited for the premiere.

If I wasn’t all partied out from November and December, I would throw together a little viewing party. For those of you inclined to do so, I highly recommend checking out Downton Abbey Cooks for authentic suggestions and interesting historical food facts. While I won’t be hosting a party, I am thinking of trying this recipe from BBC for Cock-a-leekie soup to get into the spirit of things. Plus, hello, cock-a-leekie soup! Who can resist chicken and leeks? What?

As I always say, the show is worth watching for the clothing and wallpaper alone. Yes, it is basically Masterpiece Theater’s version of a soap opera — cheesy, sometimes predictable and frequently overwrought, but immensely satisfying nonetheless. It makes my heart happy. And there is simply no one on television better than Dame Maggie Smith. She steals every single scene.

Cheers to my fellow Downton Abbey fans! I have a feeling there are many of you here.

Review: My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss

A lot of people have asked me if blogger Julie Powell of Julie and Julia fame is my blogging inspiration, and the short answer is no (but I did love the movie). My blogging inspiration is Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef. It’s hard for me to talk about Luisa without sounding like a crazy stalker lovesick fan, so I will tell you right off the bat, this review is probably not my most unbiased.

I first discovered Luisa in 2008 when I stumbled upon her post for French chocolate granola, and I was immediately hooked. In addition to posting the most delicious and consistently winning recipes, Luisa is a very lovable person. She is gracious, kind, honest, vulnerable, passionate about food and family, and very wise and insightful without being the least bit showoffy. Truthfully, The Wednesday Chef is one of the few blogs I read with any consistency.

Unlike me, Luisa is the real deal when it comes to cooking. While not a professional chef, she has been cooking most of her life, mentored by a variety of German friends and Italian relatives. This memoir with recipes fills in a lot of the blanks that I wondered about as a blog reader. Luisa is an endearingly shy and reserved person, and while she shared bits and pieces of her life on her blog, I was always left with a lot of questions. I wanted to hear the story of why she gave up her enviable New York City life (complete with sweet and handsome fiance Ben, who is mentioned in much of her blog, and a good job in publishing) to move back to Berlin, the city she lived in as a girl. And I especially wanted to hear about how she met her husband Max.

Much of My Berlin Kitchen revolves around how Luisa got from point A to point B, but she also talks candidly about her childhood, which can best be described as loving but unconventional. After her parents divorced, Luisa moved between her American father in Boston and her Italian mother in Berlin. Food was the one constant in her life, anchoring her to memories of happy times and missed loved ones. I totally get that.

I know German food gets a bad rap, and sometime deservedly so, but don’t let that put you off. There are some wonderful classics as well as unique recipes in this book, German and otherwise. This is mostly a memoir with some special recipes sprinkled in, and the stories behind the recipes are so engrossing that I’m motivated to try most of them (but I may skip the goose). At this very moment, I am simmering Luisa’s Ragu alla Bolognese to put in my lasagne.

The moral of this beautiful story is Be Brave. As a very sensible non-risk taker, this is hard for me. It was very hard for Luisa, too, but in the end, following her gut and her heart got her exactly where she needed to be. The chapter about her wedding day was one of the loveliest things I ever read — truly a fairy tale with a heroine you are rooting for the entire time.

Review: UNREAL “Unjunked” Candy

I hosted book club last night. Like most ladies of a certain age around here, I love my book club. Book clubs are like sororities for middle aged women: they’re not always easy to break into, and it’s important to choose the right one. Or, in my case, be chosen by the right one. Our appreciation for a good book is only exceeded by our appreciation for good gossip, naughty food, and a glass of wine or two three four.

Even though I’ve known many of these ladies for years, I wasn’t invited into the book club until fairly recently, which I completely understand. I, of all people, respect the importance of limiting size, the right kind of chemistry, etc. I think we’ve all had our negative group experiences in the past, and one can’t be too careful about messing around with the balance of a successful group.

When I went to my first meeting at the Mayonnaise Heiress’s house, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Uh oh, I thought, I am in over my head! I’ve been to weddings with far inferior food and wine than this (ahem, none of my friends, of course). I learned that some people go all out and some people really go all out, but a certain standard exists, and I’d better be up for the challenge. If it means tapping into my home equity line of credit to buy the wine, so be it.

Even though I obviously like to cook, I’ve learned not to be a martyr. I try to have a few special homemade items, and then I supplement with some easy packaged or prepared items (chips, things for the candy dish, etc.). I was all set to go with Lindor truffles and an assortment of Hershey products when I found this in BJ’s: UNREAL Unjunked Candy.

Basically, it’s a makeover of all of our favorite candy: M&Ms, Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etc. While it isn’t healthy, it isn’t quite as junky. Below is the explanation from their website:

Adam was so inspired by the mission of changing junk food that he immediately brought together top scientists and chefs all across Europe to recreate America’s biggest selling candies, without the junk. Along the way Nicky and Adam developed UNREAL™’s mantra:  “Unjunk™!”  Corn syrup?  Out.  Partially hydrogenated oils?  Out.  GMOs?  Out.  Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives?  Out. Reduced sugar by over 40% per serving on average?  Check. They also decided key ingredients needed to be responsibly sourced, supporting farming communities and preventing destruction of the rain forests. All ingredients needed to be non GMO.  Dairy needed to come from pasture raised cows with no antibiotics or added hormones.  Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do for people and the planet.

But the real question, of course, is how does it taste? I bought the M&Ms and the peanut butter cups, and both were a big hit with my kids and with my book club friends. It probably goes without saying that the flavor is not exactly the same — not worse, just different. If you are expecting an identical substitute, it will taste “off.” But if you are expecting a yummy, unjunky, chocolatey treat, you won’t be disappointed.

My favorite part is from an aesthetic standpoint. The colors, dyed with beetroot juice, turmeric root extract, and purple cabbage juice, are absolutely stunning. These are high class M&M’s worthy of the most discriminating book clubs.

 

 

Mom Mom Has a New Apron

We all know I love aprons, especially my Mom Mom’s apron, despite looking like a depression-era hausfrau whenever I wear it. Which is many times a week. But I also like other aprons, and I’m fortunate to have a couple of friends who sew.

My friend Ivy sent me this lovely apron recently. I love that it’s pretty but also a busy enough print that I won’t think twice about wiping my saucy, greasy hands on it. That’s the problem with a lot of my aprons — my mom instincts kick in and I don’t want to get them dirty! I have learned that dark or busy prints are very forgiving.

Ivy has some free time this summer and could possibly make you an apron, too. She is an honest woman who does high quality work at a fair price. If you’re interested in commissioning an apron of your very own, you can contact Ivy at Ivychilde@aol.com

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Hello, I am the only 40-something woman in America who doesn’t think this book is impossible to put down. In fact, I’ve had it on my Kindle for a month and stopped reading at about 80%. “What is Fifty Shades of Grey?” you ask. Mom porn. It hurts me to type those words, as they are two words which really should never be used together, ever. Seriously, sorry.

I realize that people aren’t reading this book for its fine literary merit. And while it’s true I am an avid reader, I am also a regular gal, so I won’t pretend I haven’t read my share of smut over the years. What surprises me is why this particular series of smut has taken off to the degree which it has, and I can only conclude that there are a vast amount of women out there who either never knew such naughtiness existed or never picked up a book past high school. And for some reason, this upsets me. It upsets me that women I like and respect are calling this drivel “good” and turning this ding dong author into a millionaire with movie deal. It’s kind of like witnessing people who’ve never eaten ice cream in their life suddenly discover McDonald’s soft serve and they think it’s the best ice cream in the world and all they keep talking about is, “OMG, have you TRIED this amazing ‘ice cream’ from McDonald’s? It is SO GOOD! I can’t believe how amazing this ice cream tastes!” Painful, right? What can you even say to that?

His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something. — Fifty Shades of Grey

When it comes to saucy books, I lean more towards the classics: Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins being the unholy trinity. Or, if you prefer, check out some of the more respected romance writers. Anne Rice writes under the pen name A.N. Roquelaure for her Beauty trilogy, which I haven’t read myself but hear is quite good. At least you get a legitimately interesting story woven in with your sex. Heck, even picking up a Harlequin Romance at an airport newsstand has to be better than this. So, you see, I am trying to establish some street cred here, homies. I sometimes read trash, too. I don’t think I’m better than you are for reading trash. But let’s be clear: my trash is higher brow than Fifty Shades of Grey, which is so trite, one dimensional, sloppy and cliche-ridden it makes the plot of any Lifetime movie seem like Anna Karenina.

It is the justice-seeking part of my brain which is the most offended. I am not a real writer and don’t pretend to be, but I am a real reader. And I know there are some truly talented authors in this genre who have been toiling away for years, and those people deserve your dollars and appreciation. So to see such sloppy, overwrought Twilight fan fiction making my otherwise smart and sensible friends go gaga? Fifty shades of grey matter from my head exploding.

Review: Somersault Snacks

Very exciting news around here! I just discovered a wonderful new snack today, and it is actually good for you, provided you don’t consume the whole bag in one sitting. Oh, is that just me?

As I’ve mentioned, I am a bit weak when it comes to resisting salty, crunchy snacks. I rarely keep them in the house due to my astonishing lack of self control. But sometimes that’s all I want, and nothing but a crunchy snack will do. I was born with a primal urge to crunch stuff.

I spotted a display for Somersaults Snacks today while shopping, and I was immediately intrigued. I chose the salty pepper variety in which one 30g serving contains: 140 calories, 7g fat, 3g fiber, and 6g protein. A serving size is 14 pieces (shown below).

Yes, I do agree it resembles kibble a bit, but don’t let that put you off. They are so satisfying and delicious and salty and crunchy! As it says on the package, seeds are the new nut. I am thinking my friends who pooh poohed Brad’s Kale Chips might want to give these a try. I believe you will thank me.

Review: Zitner’s Butter Krak Eggs

Note: If you came here looking for a recipe, please see the last paragraph for link.

For a couple months a year, it is very, very good to live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. That is when our local gems, Zitner’s chocolate Easter eggs make their brief appearance. Like many Philadelphians, I grew up first seeing these eggs at the checkout counter of a Wawa convenience store, and I was immediately hooked.

There are a number of flavors available, but my favorite one by a mile is Butter Krak. Now I know what you’re thinking: Huh? How can candy with the words, “Zit, Butt, and Crack” — and misspelled, at that — possibly taste any good? Poor, illiterate Philadelphians with no sense of proper marketing language! You’re just going to have to trust me on this one. They are so good. They taste like Easter. They taste like childhood.

In a world of mass produced candy with infinite shelf lives, the centers of these eggs are still placed on wooden trays by hand in limited batches from the same factory in North Philadelphia since 1922. While some automation has occurred over the last 90 years, the recipe has remained the same. I still prefer the earlier versions of Butter Krak eggs which had little pieces of coconut poking through the chocolate (just like someone’s nana would have made in her own kitchen), but the machines they use for coating now provide a thicker layer of chocolate than when done by hand, and those stray pieces of coconut are now covered. Call me crazy, but that little detail makes a difference to me.

I can’t devour the chocolate Easter eggs like I once did, so I try to limit myself to two or three spread throughout the two month season. I love that they’re so little and 140 calories, so while eating one is very satisfying and always feels a wee bit naughty, it’s not doing too much damage. Assuming you stop at one. Which I highly advise.

I love these eggs because they are special to me, but I do wonder if they will hold the same appeal to food-loving folks who didn’t grow up with them. For this reason, I hesitate to yell, “EVERYONE MUST TRY THESE!” Nostalgia is funny that way, and I’m the first to admit it completely robs me of my objectivity. But just in case any of you non-Philadelphians or transplanted Philadelphians are interested, they can be purchased here or through the Zitner’s website.

EDITED: Feb 2013

The following recipe, while not an exact duplicate of Zitner’s Butter Krak eggs, is still quite good, especially if you use higher end chocolate. Give it a try!