Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Product Wednesdays: The Best Thing Since Sliced Cheese: Trader Joe's Slicing Brie Cheese

Happy New Product Wednesday, LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers!

Hopefully you are a regular reader who knows that on select Wednesdays, I post "New Product Wednesdays" product reviews on items that are new or at least new to me.

Today's New Product Wednesday is another Trader Joe's review, in honor of the new South Tampa Trader Joe's that opened in March 2014.

When I was a kid, I went to Europe with my high school French class.  For one week, we lived with a family in Aix-en-Provence.  It is amazing how close you can get to a host family in a week.  I was very sad to leave them, as were my classmates with their host families.  

(Side note:  If you're a normal, awesome American family - please volunteer to host Exchange students.  It means the world to kids!  I still, 8 billion years later, have fond memories of my one week with a host family.)  

Our next leg would be a long train ride that seemed like it took days to get to Geneva, Switzerland.  Unfortunately after the train journey, they put us directly on a two hour tour bus.  God forbid we stretch our legs!  We were only staying overnight in Switzerland and then flying back to the States the next day.  

After spending 902 hours on a train, a two hour "trapped in a bus" tour was not what any of us wanted.  Our tour guide knew we were leaving the next day, so with every monument she pointed out she said "If you ever get back here, you'll have to check this out."  It was six years before I returned to Geneva.  No tour buses for me for that trip!

After the long train ride and the tour bus ride, we were next deposited at some chateau-like place with basically every school group in the world.  We stood in line for what felt like seven months.  At the end of the line we were given one half-melty piece of cheese, 3 small boiled potatoes and a gherkin pickle (actually a cornichon but I was 13 years old and had no idea what a cornichon was!)  

After 30,247 hours trapped on mass transit, my schoolmates and I could not believe our dinner was a piece of cheese, 3 tiny potatoes and the tiniest pickle.

This, ladies and gentlemen, was my introduction to the Swiss traditional meal of raclette.

For those not already familiar, raclette is basically melty cheese.  Its origins supposedly came from some Swiss guy who left his big wheel of cheese too close to the fire.  He cut off the melty bits and ate it with meats, boiled potatoes and bread.  Voila - a food tradition was born.  Usually raclette is always served with boiled potatoes, cornichons and pickled baby onions.

Raclette differs from fondue in that you have melty slices of cheese versus a big pot of molten cheese. 

If you go on YouTube, there are several videos of happy Swiss and French students having raclette parties in their meager apartments.  I swear Europeans can make any simple meal look like the best party ever!

My family later lived in Zurich and had their own favorite raclette restaurant.  It was very good and each person received their own insulated mini sack of boiled potatoes for their raclette.  I personally cannot get enough of Swiss rosti (Swiss Hash Browns).  I don't think I ever met a potato I didn't love at first sight!   

Because I am addicted to buying kitchen gadgets that I then almost never use (I'm looking at you Hong Kong "Egg Waffle" Maker!), I purchased the Swissmar Swivel 8 Person Raclette Maker.  I have wanted a raclette maker for quite sometime now.

Could I put a frying pan on low and achieve the same melty cheese result?  Well yeah, probably.  But click here to see my beautiful raclette maker!  It has a cooking stone, a grill plate and eight raclette cheese trays for melting!  AND IT SWIVELS!  

Can you tell I am enamored by gadgets?  I needed a raclette maker so I could be the Tampa Bay raclette queen!  However now I needed some cheese!

Traditional "raclette cheese" is a semi-firm cow's milk cheese, that reminds me of a mild, soft Emmentaler.  You can order it online and many of the larger cheese shops carry it.  However Trader Joe's has a nifty raclette pack of pre-sliced raclette cheese that fits my raclette cheese melting trays perfectly.  No hassle, no fuss, simply easy!  I love Trader Joe's!

But for my dinner party, I knew not all of my guests would enjoy the flavor of the raclette cheese so I wanted to have a variety of cheeses they could melt.  After all this is Florida, not Switzerland - we're allowed to break some traditional raclette rules.  (Don't tell the Swiss that we melted an aged habanero cheddar - AND IT WAS TERRIFIC!  We also had boiled purple Peruvian potatoes - we're breaking all the rules here!)   

When I went to Trader Joe's to pick up the raclette - I noticed a rectangle of brie in the cheese section.  SQUARE BRIE?  What the heck?  Did I fall into bizarro world?  Brie is ROUND not in a rectangular block.  But then I realized square brie would fit my raclette melting trays … a-ha!  Perhaps there was genius in this odd shape, after all!

The brie was creamy, rich and mild and two rectangle slices fit perfectly in each of my raclette cheese melting trays.  It melted deliciously with the "skin" of the cheese helping it hold its shape.  I would definitely buy this brie again - both for eating regularly with fruit and crackers, as well as in my raclette maker. 

My dinner party was a HUGE success.  My friends had never heard of raclette and were eager to try "as long as it isn't something like haggis" they warned.

I will be having another raclette dinner party this summer so that I can say "see, I needed this expensive raclette maker - I have used it twice!"

(Confession:  To be even more ridiculous, not only did I buy the swivel-tastic raclette maker for 8, I bought the mini raclette maker for two for when I am just making raclette for myself or myself and a friend and I don't want to bust out the big raclette maker.  I am considering using the mini raclette maker as a seduction tool.  "Hey there, tall dark and handsome - do you want to come back to my place for some melty cheese?"  I'll be the talk of the town!)

To sum up - Trader Joe's Slicing Brie Cheese is delicious and in a versatile shape.  And I need to keep my credit card away from kitchen gadget stores.

What is your favorite cheese from Trader Joe's?  Mine is their Unexpected Cheddar.  Tell me your favorite in the comments section below.    

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Smoky Deliciousness: Cantina Laredo (Wiregrass Mall, Wesley Chapel, FL)

Happy Tuesday, LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

This is my 24th consecutive daily blog post and 345th blog post on LilyOnTheLam.  Posting twenty-four days in a row has to be a personal best, because I am not the most punctual blogger.  

For whatever reason I have been on a writing frenzy.  So far my episode recaps that I have been writing for AllAboutTheTea.Com have not had a negative impact on my own personal blog writing time.  

I do anticipate that some changes at work in the next few weeks will dramatically increase my business hours and hence have a dramatic decrease on my free time going forward for many months to come, so I guess I am trying to write while I can!  Only time will tell.

Two weekends ago, I assisted at the Wiregrass Mall Fresh Market's Kids Market.  What a bleary-eyed, cussing like a sailor fool like me was doing selling products at a kids market is beyond me.  However I managed to "pull it together" to be respectable.  

After a day of trying to make sure I never left the shade of the vendor tent in the 84 degree weather, my friend (and CEO/creator/inventor/developer of an organic personal care line) and I needed air conditioning, fluids and food!  

I am a fan of Primebar at Wiregrass, but I have been hearing consistently great things about Cantina Laredo Mexican Restaurant - so we decided we needed to go south of the border for lunch.

For me, dehydration and alcohol are not a good combination. I went with a virgin tamarind margarita.  According to Cephas Gilbert (a.k.a. The Guru of My Colon), tamarind is supposed to be good for detoxifying the liver.  So an alcohol-based tamarind margarita would do what?  Null itself out?  The virgin version was delicious.

Tamarind Margarita on the Rocks

My friend Ms. CEO ordered a passionfruit margarita.  We also ordered the mini ahi tacos to start since we were STARVING!  Talking to parents and patrons about organic personal care products in the hot sun takes the energy right out of me!  Sustenance, please!

The mini ahí tunas were fantastic and I could have eaten several platters of them.  The tuna was fresh and flavorful.  The tacos sat next to a healthy sized scoop of savory guacamole.  Each table is also given a small bowl of tortilla chips with two salsas.  The hotter of the two salsas had this incredible smoky deliciousness.  I could have drank it by the glass, it was so yummy.  I would come back to Cantina Laredo just for the tortilla chips and the smoky salsa!

My friend does not eat dairy, so she ordered the avocado enchiladas with no dairy products.  She had them also add chicken to the enchiladas for an additional $3.  They came with a jicama slaw.  My friend raved over the freshness, the savoriness and the over all great taste of her entree.

If you read my blog post "I Am Not An Urban Drug Lord" and its sequel "I Am Not An Urban Drug Lord, Part Two", you will know that the aforementioned Guru of My Colon recommends avoiding shrimp, pork, tuna, shellfish … and basically any other food I love.  While I stayed away from alcohol in this meal, I couldn't stay away from PORK.

I ordered the pork carnitas tacos and they were SO DELICIOUS.  Savory, spicy, kick of heat, tender … if you're going to break the Guru's rules, you better do it with something incredibly tasty.  These tacos fit the bill!

I really enjoyed the food at Cantina Laredo.  Our waiter was very cordial, very attentive and overall provided great service. I am pretty sure he refilled my water glass 8734 times.  Did I mention I was a little dehydrated from the sun?

I wish Wiregrass Mall was closer to me - but then again if it was, I'd probably be eating at Cantina Laredo every night and my waistline can't handle daily tortilla chips!

I will definitely be headed back to Cantina Laredo!

Cantina Laredo on Urbanspoon
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