Jonboy caramels

A Whole Foods employee saw me eyeing up Jonboy caramels wistfully with my cart already full of chocolate, and he convinced me to try them out. Having seen them in farmer’s markets around town when I was off milk, I couldn’t resist (especially when they were offered as a treat!)

Inside the cute box is more nice packaging…

         

The old-fashioned wax paper unwraps to reveal a dainty log of caramel with tiny flecks of salt on the top. There’s the first delicate taste of caramel as it hits your tongue but when you bite into it, its like an explosion of creamy sugary goodness and a sharp salty counterpoint. I’ve never liked salt on sweets but these have convinced me otherwise.

At $8 a box, I consider them surprisingly worth it because you get plenty of them and just one will satisfy your sweet tooth for the day. Over the weeks I got to be an expert, sometimes putting them in salt first, other times deftly avoiding it till the end.

Oh the indignities I suffer to taste test all this for my blog…

Dishing Up New Jersey cookbook

I love the beautiful little map of New Jersey in the front of the book. This delicious cookbook isn’t just a cookbook, it’s an exploration into the so-called “armpit” of the US, revealing a little guessed cultural landmark.

jersey

The Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich, a roll layered with a special Jersey made ham, cheese and egg, sounds amazing. The dishes range from French baguette style French toast to homemade chocolate cashew milk.

I look forward to making Radish Bread, a tasty and simple dish that would be at home at an afternoon tea, as well as the bold flavor explosion of 7 Fish Caesar Salad! Desserts like Honey-Thyme Caramels, Apple Cake and Grand Marnier Truffles all sound divine.

This cookbook focuses on simple and startling combinations. It’s an impressive collection of recipes that surprises and delights (and I’ve seen a lot of cookbooks!)

Copy from NetGalley.

Lille Belle Farms pistachio toffee in milk chocolate

Pistachio – my favorite nut. Milk chocolate – my favorite chocolate. Toffee – delicious. All 3 together – where have you been all my life?! I was thrilled to find this chocolate bar and couldn’t wait to dig in.

 

The bar has big pieces of pistachio, none of that faux pistachio flavoring. The chocolate is sweet and only a tad milky, and pretty good for American chocolate. I highly recommend it for a sweet and unusual treat.

 

Delightful English tea weekend in Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, BC is a lovely little island of Canada that is picturesque and well known for Butchart Gardens. But if you don’t know, it’s also a delightful place to pass the time away with fun little bookstores, tea shops and walks along the harbor.

It’s also the location of a tea festival every year, and so every year a friend and I drive up there to enjoy a weekend of bliss.

            

Gorging ourselves at Murchie’s – though the lines are some times long, many of the cakes are worth the wait. I am sorry to admit that instead of a healthy lunch, I opted for a sandwich and two entire desserts just for me. The cheesecake was tasty and the fruit tart delicious. I do not regret this decision.

Tea display at the Victoria Tea Festival – usually  full of vendors and providing an enjoyable afternoon with displays, samples, souvenirs, talks and classes. If you like tea I definitely recommend it.

           

          

High tea at the Fairmont Empress – a very posh affair with a fresh fruit cup, sweet treats like chessboard cake, Key Lime chocolate cake and nut shortbread, delightful little sandwiches with traditional egg salad or fancy crab, and a scone with tiny jam jars and fresh cream. You have to dress up a little and it is a fun time.

Wine and cheese plate at the Magnolia Hotel – a nice hotel that is central, with excellent service (better than the Fairmont Empress in my opinion). Everyone was extremely friendly and their Girls Getaway package features money to spend at their spa or restaurant, and a cheese and wine plate. They were so nice about providing goat and sheep’s milk cheeses only, all fantastic (I regret not asking for the names) and a bottle of very good red wine. The spa was a relaxing way to start our morning, I highly recommend it.

             

A French inspired lunch at Bon Rouge – right next door to the hotel is a French bistro that is packed at night and reasonably quiet on Sunday afternoons. The duck prosciutto with toast and the pistachio-crusted pate were both delicious, as were the main courses. Service was nice and we sat in plush chairs that were practically couches for one.

If you go visiting Victoria, BC you can get there by a seaplane, the Clipper ferry or by driving up and taking the car ferry across. I’ve done all three and I recommend the seaplane for the views or the Clipper ferry for the speed, but we go by car due to my getting seasick. If you get seasick too I warn you that there’s a strait on the way that you will not enjoy. I have a special and irrational dislike of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

There are many other great sights even aside from the world famous Butchart Gardens that I still have not seen. Great tea shops, restaurants, bookstores and clothing stores, surprising for such a small island. One year the Royal BC Museum had an Egyptian exhibit on loan from the British Museum that was superb. It even had real mummies, something I haven’t seen since. Even after 3 weekend trips I can’t seem to fit it all in.

Bon voyage!

Secret Garden tea room in Sumner

Some time ago a friend and I decided on a delicious quest – to eat our way through local tea rooms in search of the perfect High Tea. After a longish pause due to food intolerances, I’m happy to be back on this quest once again.

While the Secret Garden tea room in Sumner, WA might not be perfect, it is one of the best I’ve had and easily the best in the Northwest. One Friday afternoon I had some unexpected free time and we wandered down to Sumner. We were lucky enough to find a spot available in a few hours and after wandering local antique stores, we came back.

Located in a beautiful old mansion, the tea room was large and bustling with people. We took a peek at their gift shop, where we found charming items like a small set of mussy tussies, little fabric bags for holding a bouquet or sachet.

The menu has a good selection of options, I got the Hollyhock for ~$27 that includes a cup of soup, a small salad, unlimited scones and tea (!!), a plate of sweets, a plate of fruit and a plate of savory sandwiches.

First up was the unlimited scones and tea. It was wonderful, the tea was excellent and very hot. This is one of the most common and infuriating failings in a tea room, so high points on the tea. The cup was not heated (you can see my attempt to warm it), which would’ve been nice, but wasn’t a big deal.

I was a little dubious of the pumpkin with coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass but I was really hungry so I ordered it. What a pleasant surprise, a warming and fragrant soup served in a tea cup.

The scones came with as much Devonshire cream, lemon curd and strawberry jam we could stuff done. The scone was light and fluffy and not too heavy. The lemon curd was good but a bit sweet, more like Americans seem to love, so I piled mine high with the amazing cream and jam. Mmm!

Next up was a palate cleanser of mango sorbet, served in a pewter egg cup, which I really must do at home. The mango flavor was nice and strong.

And finally the main courses. So much food. For sweets there was pumpkin mousse, apple cake, truffles, hazelnut shortbread and chocolate-center cookies. Then fresh fruit alongside bacon bruschetta (yes bacon!), Gruyere pastry puffs and olive quiche. Lastly the sandwiches, cucumber on fresh butter, creamy chicken salad with nuts and cranberries, and a divine dill egg salad.

The bread was soft and firm, not at all mushy, and everything was incredibly fresh. It obviously was made mostly to order, and best of all we had a leisurely hour and a half to consume all these delectables over multiple courses.

Highly recommended!

Tipsy Brit cheddar and Branston Pickle

Nothing says British like strong cheddar with a side of pickle. The Tipsy Brit with mustard and ale from Ford Farms is a West Country Cheddar, meaning it is produced from local milk within 4 counties of South West England. Apparently this designation is protected and enforced.

By pickle I mean something like Branston Pickle, a brand that is basically crunchy vegetable bits like carrot soaked in vinegar. It is slightly sweet and sour, and a perfect partner for cheese, cold meat pies, etc.

I sometimes wonder if pickle was invented to hide ‘footy’ cheese (you know, when it smells like feet), but in this case there’s really no need. The cheddar is surprisingly smooth and creamy tasting, with a tang of ale and tiny sharp bites of mustard seed. No crackers required.

Chocolate review! Maison Bouche and Coconut Nectar

 

If you and I have anything in common, then I think it might be my love of wandering through grocery stores. And when it comes to gourmet chocolates, I always wonder if they are as delicious behind their beautiful wrappings? Please, I think each time, let this be amazing.

Maison Bouche is a very lovely looking chocolate, clearly French inspired, that comes in gold foil and fancy paper. It comes at a steep price of $8 a bar in stores like Whole Foods. Is it worth it?

It was not my favorite chocolate, being rather sweet, which is not something most Americans mind. It tasted very sweet and slightly silky, with tiny pieces of crunchy toffee. It is milky but not as much as Cadbury’s from the UK (not the fake Cadbury’s here in the US). It would make a great gift for a sweet tooth, being so pretty.

Next up we go to the opposite end of the spectrum, a vegan chocolate made with coconut milk. Does it taste like chocolate or more ‘earthy’? It is a mere $3.25 by comparison and comes in a slim container with lovely dark green foil.

I’m happy to report that this was a bit more to my liking, with a complex dark flavor and bright flakes of coconut. It is not too sweet and would probably not satisfy a typical chocolate lover, but would be great for vegetarians, vegans or people who like more complex desserts.