Friday, December 18, 2009

Feeling Saucy Thanks to Maison Le Grand

I don't know about anybody else, but sauces, toppings and gravies have always been a challenge for me, even after many, many years of amateur gourmet-dom. In fact, when my gravy for this year's Thanksgiving turkey turned out to not just be edible but was downright delicious it may have been my proudest culinary moment of the day.

While I'd hardly say I'm ready to claim the title of Gravy Master, I must admit that sauces continue to perplex and confound me. When they're done right they can make a dish absolutely unforgettable. For example, I haven't lived in Doylestown, PA for almost eight years but I can still remember the night I had an absolutely perfect dish of Chilean Sea Bass served in a beurre blanc sauce. I don't recall who I was with or anything else about the meal, but I remember the velvety smooth sauce surrounding the firm white fish. (I also remember the crushing disappointment that accompanied the offering being pulled from the menu a couple weeks later.)

Despite the simplicity of the sauce (white wine vinegar, lemon juice, shallots, salt, pepper, butter) my attempts at recreating it in my humble apartment kitchen were a total failure... one was burnt, another too salty, the last attempt chunky. I finally gave up and topped my fish with the one sauce I can consistently crank out... Mayo + Relish = Tartar Sauce.

It's why I keep envelopes of dried Hollandaise in my pantry. I'm secure in the knowledge that even I can't screw up mixing the powder with water and butter.

So I'm not above admitting – and accepting – a little help every now and then. Even better if the ingredients are, shall we say, a step above an envelope filled with egg solids, maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast extract and the ever popular "natural flavors". In other words, I was absolutely tickled when the makers of Maison Le Grand offered to send me a box of their fresh pestos, tapenades and – yes – sauces to try.

Made fresh each week at a renovated redbrick schoolhouse in the Quebec countryside, Maison Le Grand's offerings are the creation of Bernard Le Grand and his wife Tatiana Bossy. Inspired by their own necessity, Bernard and Tatiana created their 4 Nuts and Cheese Pesto to fill a void back when they owned a Quebec sandwich shop in the mid-90s. Other pesto flavors like Garden Pesto and Sun Dried Tomato Pesto followed along with Spicy and Mild Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenades.

While the Garden Pesto made me look like a kitchen wizard thanks to its bold and fresh but light flavors, I was most intrigued to put the Lemon Confit and Pumpkin Seed Aromatic Sauce to the test. If it could punch up one of my dishes without much effort I was totally sold.

Inspired by one of the recipes that accompanied the box of samples, I sauteed shrimp in butter and garlic while linguine cooked elsewhere on the stove. After adding a splash of white wine to the shrimp I added sour cream and a few tablespoons of the Lemon Confit Sauce as well as some parmesan cheese, then served everything over the drained pasta.

Packed with the flavor of organic lemons that have been cured for two months, the Maison Le Grand sauce infused my simple meal with a refreshing flavor that really opened my eyes and left both of us wanting more. Best of all, the sauce only required a few tablespoons to bring out the best in the dish, leaving plenty more for experimentation.

As for the tapenades, this past weekend's winter storm kept me housebound and provided ample opportunity to play with the blends, which – like all the products – are packed fresh and refrigerated in resealable pouches. In a neat packaging touch the colorful, squeezable packets have a clear bottom so you can see the product inside.

A hearty breakfast sandwich featuring pancetta, a fried egg, cheese and the Spicy Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade fought through the wintry haze and immediately brought me to life as the snow and wind howled outside. Meanwhile, the mild version – mixed with some mayo – made for a flavorful topping on a turkey cheeseburger that warmed me after a night of snow blower repair and driveway cleaning. I even used some of the leftover olive & tomato mayo as a dipping sauce for some frozen buffalo wings. Tres gourmet!

For those readers who are curious, the products contain no preservatives or added sugar and are vegetarian and gluten-free. In fact, the Garden Pesto and Lemon Confit & Pumpkin Seed Sauce are both vegan.

Now available nationwide at Whole Foods and The Fresh Market, all the Maison Le Grand products retail for around $6.99. Do yourself a favor and skip the dried envelopes of gravies and sauces and stock your fridge with a few products from Maison Le Grand. Used fresh from the package or mixed with other ingredients to come up with your own sauces and toppings, they'll add a burst of fresh flavor to all your dishes!

Be sure to check out the Maison Le Grand website/blog which features recipes for sandwiches, pizza, pasta, appetizers and much more.

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