Friday, April 12, 2013

Love Grown Foods

As you may have noticed, I've been on what is turning into an endless quest to find a granola I really like.  I enjoy granola in many different applications - big clusters to snack on, as a topping on greek yogurt with some fruit, or even with milk as a cereal.  But, I haven't found a brand that I want to keep going back to.

I heard about Love Grown Foods years ago from another food blogger.  Like many others that I have tried, they try to be a little more healthy and do not use refined sugars or artificial sweeteners, using agave and honey instead, and even infuse their cranberries with apple juice.  They believe in only including ingredients you can pronounce :)
Sweet Cranberry Pecan Granola.
I tried the "Sweet Cranberry Pecan", made with "tart cranberries and toasted clusters of pecans and whole grain rolled oats."

This was fairly classic granola, composed mostly of toasted oats.  It did have some subtle sweetness and a few small chunks of pecan, although not nearly as many as I'd like.  It also had a bitterness from the flaxseed, that I somewhat liked, but found a little too strong.  Since I can't stand hard little chunks of dried fruit in my granola, like usual, I picked out the cranberries.

One thing I appreciated was the cluster size.  There were many clusters large enough to eat for a snack as finger food, and I enjoyed some that way.  I hate it when granola is mostly all broken up.  However, the granola wasn't quite flavorful enough of its own to really just munch on dry.

I liked it best when added to some soy milk and topped it with fresh berries, as the sweetness of the soy milk helped add some missing flavor.

Overall, this was decent granola, better than most I've tried recently and clearly high quality, but I will continue my granola quest ...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Luxemburgerli from Confiserie Sprüngli

The Luxemburgerli from Confiserie Sprüngli in Zürich are perhaps the most famous macarons in the world.  They are tiny little things, according to Wikipedia, "the Luxemburgerli is lighter than a macaron and is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter."  The company has been making them since 1836.

Some business visitors came from Zürich recently, and of course, you know what they brought.  Maybe it was because they weren't super fresh (only a day old though), but I wasn't impressed.  The macarons from Sugarie are still my favorites.
Assorted Luxemburgerli.
Clockwise, from top left:
  • Champagne Gold: This was super boozy tasting!  No doubt what flavor it was.  Brushed on top with gold coating.  It went really well with tea.  My second favorite.
  • Caramel Fleur de Sel:  Thick caramel filling, little bit of salt on top.  I wanted to like this one more than I did.  The filling was just too thick and strange feeling, but obviously it couldn't be runny or it would run all over the place.  I think a caramel flavored cream might be more successful, or perhaps a cream and then thin caramel filling like some of the jelly filled ones.
  • Pistacchio.  The cream even had bits of pistacchio in it.  I'm not a huge fan of pistacchio flavor though, so I didn't care for this one.
  • Deluxe Cassis: "Extra-fruity cassis centre, embedded in a delicate champagne/cassis crème, enrobed in finest grand cru chocolate."  This was certainly the most unique macaron I've ever seen.  It looked a bit like a mushroom, with the chocolate coating only on the bottom.  There was only one cookie, on top.  Under that was intensely fruity cream (champagne and cassis), then a layer of cassis jelly, then another layer of the cream.  So the bottom half was only cream/jam dipped in chocolate.  It was intensely fruit flavored due to the jelly-like filling.  The dark chocolate was quality.
  • Raspberry: The filling contained both a jam and a cream.  I loved the flavor of the jam, and the mix of cream and jam was far more interesting than just a cream.  My favorite! 
  • ?.  I have no idea what flavor this was.  The inside filling was a creamy chocolate ganache, but I'm still uncertain as to what the cookie was.  The filling was more fudgy than cream based.
  • Chocolate.  I think this had the same filling as the previous one, again, a fudgy chocolate filling rather than cream based.  I thought I detected coconut, but that might have been my imagination.
  • Hazelnut.  Like the other nut based one, the cream filling had little bits of hazelnut in it.  Strong hazelnut flavor.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dinner at Frances

[ Originally posted else Jan 17, 2012 ]

I returned to Frances tonight after 1.5 years.  Many of the aspects of the restaurant were exactly the same, notably:
  • I appreciate the casual, laid back setting. Being able to wear jeans to a Michelin starred restaurant and not be slightly underdressed is great.
  • The house wine is totally decent, and only $1 per ounce, and you only pay for what you drink. Since I can only handle small amounts of wine right now, this is awesome, because I do get to enjoy the pairing of wine with food (normally I have to skip this since I can't have a full glass of wine).
  • Prices were totally reasonable, particularly for the quality of ingredients.
  • Tables are super close together, you can't help but listen to neighbor's conversations. I think we were closer to our neighbors tonight than we were at the communal table at Camino last night!
  • House filtered still or sparkling water, free!
My overall impression this time around ... meh. Nothing was bad, but nothing was particularly good nor memorable. It has the feel of a lovely neighborhood restaurant, and if it really was convenient and in my neighborhood I'd go back, but I certainly don't understand the 3 month wait for a table. Some of my opinion certainly comes from the fact that I'm spoiled and eat a lot of good food on a regular basis. And some of it probably comes from ordering the wrong things - we didn't get the top 4 items that people rave about: the chickpea fritters with aoili, the bacon beignets with creme fraiche, the lumberjack cake, or the chocolate clafoutis.
Warm spiced almonds.
To start, you are given complimentary warm nuts when you are seated. A nice change from standard bread, although it reminded me of being on American Airlines (this isn't a bad thing, the warm nuts are always great!) The spices weren't all that distinguishable, but the nuts being warm was nice.
Grilled calamari with pickled currants, fennel, arugula, kabocha squash in lemon vinaigrette.
The calamari was grilled and had a nice smokey/charred flavor. It wasn't rubbery at all. I love squash and the chunks of kabocha squash were a nice consistency, not too mushy, not too firm. The fennel was crispy and added a nice crunchy fresh texture. But, the dish didn't really come together all that well and it was way overdressed with a very salty and lemony dressing. The greens were completely overpowered by the dressing, I couldn't finish them.
Baked cherrystone clams with winter greens, fennel, scallops, and bacon cream, topped with breadcrumbs and bacon crumbles.
The clams were chopped up and baked in the creamy sauce. The prevailing taste here was bacon (which is a good taste of course), but I didn't really taste clam at all. Nor did I detect any scallop whatsoever. And the breadcrumb layer was too thick, making entire spoonfuls mostly just taste like breadcrumbs. Meh.
Carnaroli risotto with crab, salsify, and meyer lemon.
After the previous night's amazing roasted crab dinner at Camino, I saw crab on the menu and got excited. Unfortunately, the crab was pretty lost in the creamy risotto. It was there for sure, but I couldn't really taste it, as the buttery/creamy sauce was overpowering. The rice was slightly al dente, which was certainly nicer than being mushy. Meh.
Wheat flour crepe crispelles with robiola nostrana, ricotta, parmesan, braised winter greens, wild mushrooms.
This was an interesting dish. A crepe stuffed with a blend of three cheeses and braised winter greens, rolled up and fried, and served with assorted wild mushrooms. Not what I had in mind when I ordered it.

Reading the description, I expected something more like a cannelloni. Somehow I thought I was ordering a pasta dish that would be bursting with a creamy brie-like cheese and delicious winter greens and mushrooms. Since I love brie, greens, and mushrooms, this sounded fantastic. Instead, this was more like spanokapita. The crepe being fried made it much more like a crisp filo dough and the filling was very ricotta-based and heavy on the finely chopped greens. The mushrooms were only on the outside, and I didn't really taste the robiola at all.

I did really enjoy the mushrooms though, well cooked, great flavors. Would not order again.
Pink Lady Apple Gallette with rum raisin ice cream (and caramelized banana and candied peanuts).
I love warm pie and ice cream, so this sounded perfect.

It was indeed served warm. I'm often disappointed with warm dessert and ice cream dishes as the pie is rarely warm enough, but this gallette was a nice temperature. But, the pastry dough was just kinda there, lacking any defining characteristics, not buttery, not flaky, just kinda mushy. Frozen Pillsbury dough is probably better. The apple filling wasn't spiced particularly well. The apples were cooked consistently, not too mushy nor firm. Well executed in some ways, but not very good.

The ice cream was Humphrey Slocombe Rum Raisin. Very boozy. Served at the correct temperature/consistency, not too hard, not too melty. But, I didn't really care for it.

Underneath the ice cream was caramelized bananas and candied peanuts. Those do not usually come with this dessert (normally served with chocolate clafoutis, alongside caramel sauce and salted caramel ice cream), but I was really torn between the two desserts and caramelized bananas sounded soooo good, so I asked to have them included in my dessert, and they humored me. The caramelized banana was everything I wanted it to be, with a lovely caramel layer on top. I probably would have loved the other dessert ...

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Michael Mischer Chocolates

Another local chocolatier, whom I discovered when he did a guest appearance at my local chocolate shop.  He makes bars and filled truffles, although I've only tried the truffles, his signature item.  All are made with single origin cocoa.
Irish Whiskey Truffle.
  • Irish Whiskey Truffe: "Dark chocolate shell filled with an Irish Whiskey ganache".  Special St. Patrick's Day offering only. Tasting notes: I didn't read the box, so I didn't know it was an irish whiskey filling.  I thought it was just a dark chocolate shell with dark chocolate ganache inside.  The dark chocolate shell was smooth and shiny, with a nice snap, and the filling was creamy, but I did not taste any whiskey.  When I had a second one, after reading the box, I knew what I was in for, but I still did not tasty any whiskey.  Decent dark chocolate, but not that remarkable.
  • Coconut Truffle: "Dark chocolate shell filled with white chocolate ganache made with shredded coconut and coconut oil."  Tasting notes: Really fantastic.  High quality, flavorful dark chocolate, smooth, with an awesome snap when you bite into it.  Filling is creamy and has great coconut flavor and texture from shredded coconut.  Dark chocolate and coconut go together so well!  Everything you always wanted a Mounds to be, but it wasn’t :)