Bon Voyage Brownies

I turned 21 in Europe, which was somewhat anti-climactic. After years of anxiety about “being carded,” my passage into American adulthood felt no different from the four previous months I had spent legally buying alcohol in France. I had a small celebration on the beach, where friends drank wine and champagne and we all headed home before 2AM. A few people made jokes, asking me with mock sincerity what alcohol tasted like, but otherwise, life went on as usual. It was only after returning to the US that I began to notice some differences. For one thing, no one thinks my ID is real; I chalk it up to being short and being way more tan than I was when my ID photo was taken, in February 2007.

And then there are the little things, like Connecticut liquor laws, which haven’t changed much since the days of the Puritans.

My brother, Alex, left about a week ago to chaperone little kiddles at a camp in California, and I wanted to make him some brownies to take on the plane. The original recipe was for bourbon and brown butter brownies, so I put “bourbon” on my grocery list and didn’t think anything of it.

First I stopped at Trader Joe’s. Nothing. Then I tried Whole Foods, where I found lots of local organic micro-brews, but still no bourbon. I assumed that these two stores were too classy or something to sell hard liquor, but figured that they must sell whiskey at Stop & Shop, which stocks practically everything. Still no luck. When I came home, I mentioned to my mom that I couldn’t find bourbon at any of the grocery stores in our area. She looked at me like I was crazy, then reminded me that in the US, hard alcohol isn’t sold in grocery stores, only in liquor stores (in France, hard alcohol is sold behind the cash register at most, if not all supermarkets). But she graciously offered to stop at a liquor store to pick some up…only to discover that liquor stores here close at 8:00 PM. Thanks for nothing, Governor Theophilius Eaton.

So I had to improvise. I was wary of substituting scotch or Canadian whiskey for bourbon, as the taste is much stronger and might make the brownies taste bitter or sour. But, we did have an old bottle of my grandpa’s Kahlua (which has a really cool label), so I used that instead for more coffee-flavored Kahlua brownies. Needless to say, from scraping the bottom of the pan, I can report that they came out deliciously.

As for my inexperience with buying booze stateside, stay tuned for further episodes, like the first time I see the price of wine here (in France, wine is heavily subsidized, and you can buy a bottle of cheap wine for less than a bottle of juice).

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Video: Twisted Bread

I love this video, but I wish it actually came with a recipe. Artfully pouring milk into a bowl of unidentifiable sugars and flours in a translucent chemise at dawn is great and all, but measurements might be more useful. Oh well. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected otherwise from an $18 magazine whose main objective seems to be turning mundane daily rituals into sublime aesthetic experiences. [Disclaimer: I’ve never read Kinfolk cover-to-cover. I’ve tried, but it’s hard to pay attention after so much continuous eye-rolling]

Anyway, hipster-hating aside, this recipe reminds me of the sugar-covered Transylvanian funnel cakes I had in Prague and Budapest. I’d love to try making something like them.

Video: Another Recipe for Ful

I found this video when I was looking up information for a new play, Food and Fadwa, which unfortunately just closed last Friday. Oh well, hopefully it’ll be back. In any case, I found another ful recipe to add to my collection — I’m really gonna have to pick up some fava beans next time I go food shopping. Also on my to-do list: check out Tanoreen for some real Middle Eastern cooking. Their menu looks incredible, and becoming more acquainted with how Middle Eastern food is supposed to be prepared will help me with my own cooking experiments. So really, I have to go for research purposes…

Mexican-Style Tofu Scramble

This quick, easy, and healthy recipe was inspired by a Tumblr post. There are pretty comprehensive instructions on the original recipe, but basically you just mash a block of tofu, sauté it in a bit of olive oil, add salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, and a can of black beans, and then continue to cook until all the ingredients are spiced and heated through. Then just top it off with some chopped tomatoes, salsa, and fresh oregano (if you have it on hand — I used dried oregano, and you’re good to go!

To be honest, what really made the dish a hit was this guy:

Oh, Trader Joe’s. How I missed your haven of deliciousness. This salsa is the bomb.

I also heated up some of the leftover scramble in a burrito with some cheddar cheese for dinner. It was yummy. By the way, this is what the tofu scramble part looks like. The tofu was a little more yellow in real life, because of the turmeric.

Ceci N’est Pas Une Diabetic-Friendly Cheesecake

Father’s Day was the first time my extended family, small as it may be, gathered together after my return home. When we get together like this, especially on birthdays or holidays, it’s become a hallowed tradition that I make something special for dessert (lest anyone forget the birthday fiasco of 2011, when I waited a while after dinner to surprise my mom with a cake and was subsequently berated for ruining the celebration). I was all set to prepare a sugar-free clafoutis (basically like a dessert omelet with fruit), as both my grandpa and dad have diabetes, when Dad made a special request for cheesecake, made with Splenda sugar substitute to make it “diabetic friendly.”

Here’s the thing about cheesecake — even if you use a sugar substitute, it’s never going to be diabetic friendly. Sorry, Dad. It’s cheesecake. The main ingredients are cream cheese and butter. Embrace the nature of the beast.

Also, because there are so few ingredients in cheesecake, it’s hard to make a lot of diet-friendly substitutions without compromising heavily on taste. It didn’t escape me that Dad picked up full-fat cream cheese and very high quality butter, which were honestly a big part of what made this raspberry chocolate cheesecake a success — I’m a firm believer that the key to good any good meal is good ingredients.

Or at least, that’s a nice excuse for the occasional indulgence.

Very loosely adapted from Annie’s Eats recipe for Raspberry Swirl Cupcakes.

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New food blogs to follow: Food of Egypt, Buttered Up, and MidEATS

I found Food of Egypt when I was rereading my post about koshary and trying to cross-check the recipe. Though I didn’t have the chance to make it to Egypt when I was abroad, I had the chance to try kofta and of course koshary when I was in Menton, and would love to learn to make more Egyptian food myself. The first thing that caught my eye on Food of Egypt was their recipe for ful — highly praised by every Egyptian I’ve met. That piqued my interest, and I began my hunt for other Egyptian recipes.

Unfortunately, Food of Egypt doesn’t seem to be updated very frequently, so I searched around a bit more and found Buttered Up, which is said to be one of the most popular food blogs from Egypt. However, while all of the recipes on the site look extremely delicious and creative (date-filled croissants or pistachio brownies, anyone?), Buttered Up does not seem to specialize in the more traditional Egyptian food I was looking for (though it’s still there – there are posts on karkadeh, sha’reyya, and lots of updated classics like mehalabia brûlée).

So I kept looking, and finally found MidEATS. Though it’s written by two Egyptian-Americans, MidEATS is not a specifically Egyptian blog – I eyeballed some Lebanese food on their homepage. Still, the blog seems to have all the recipes I was looking for, (and a ton I’d never heard of or thought to make myself) including another take on ful. Hopefully, you’ll be seeing more MidEATS recipes on my own blog soon!

Needless to say, I will probably start following all three of these blogs, even Food of Egypt, and suggest you take a look if you’re interested in Egyptian cuisine.


Quick and easy brunch: Egg-Filled Crêpes with Creamy Swiss, Kale, and Rosemary

To me, brunch is a meal that was invented to serve the multitudes of perfectly sane people who are too sleepy or hungover to wake up early on weekends. So it’s baffling that said perfectly sane people (mostly, in my experience, New Yorkers) have made it into such a fancy-pants institution. I hear about people waiting in line for hours to eat at egg or shelling out megabucks at Norma’s or fighting over reservations at Prune and I ask myself…why? Brunch is supposed to be a relaxing meal for lazy people. My advice? Chill out, go back to bed for another hour, don’t worry about canceling your plans with that person who you haven’t seen for months because you keep sleeping through your brunch dates, and if you still want a fancy-pants meal when you wake up, just make this crêpe yourself.

This “recipe” involves: Defrosting the crêpes your brother made last week and then stuck in the freezer (crêpe recipe can be found here – just leave out the orange flower water). Frying two eggs. Putting the fried eggs on top of the defrosted crêpe. Spreading some Laughing Cow Swiss Cheese on top of the warm crêpe and eggs until the cheese gets melty. Sautéing kale in olive oil until it shrinks down, then adding a healthy splash of lemon juice, then piling the kale on top of the eggs and cheese. Sprinkling everything with rosemary. And then, once you’ve nourished your body, fueled yourself with coffee, taken an Advil and drank a glass of water, you can begin to contemplate how to spend the remainder of your weekend, what you did the night before that put you into such a state, and the best possible way to apologize to your friend.

Moroccan-Spiced Meatballs with Couscous

This was the first meal I cooked after I got home. I wanted comfort food, I wanted to make something slightly impressive and fancy for my family, and I wanted a recipe that would be a little more of a challenge compared to the rice-and-lentils dinners I would throw together in Menton. I found this recipe on Crepes of Wrath, and though I usually like to add my own modifications to recipes, I kept this one pretty much as it was.

The recipe also gave me the opportunity to cook with some of the spices I brought home. When I was in Morocco, I picked up a few traditional spice blends – ras al hanout, harissa, and cinque épices. Though I suspect the ras al hanout I bought in the shuk in Marrakesh is slightly less flavorful than it should be, it still added a distinctive North African kick to the meat (plus, I don’t think my family could taste a difference). It also made me think a bit about buying spices, oils, and teas as souvenirs – they last a bit longer than other foods, and every time you cook with them it reminds you of the meals and experiences you had abroad.

I’m still feeling a bit displaced – somewhere halfway between being home and being far away — so maybe it’s fitting that my first meal in the US has its roots overseas.

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Peach and Plum Galette for the End of Year Gala

In true Menton fashion, our end of year dinner and gala ran into a few last-minute speedbumps. The dinner was planned to be held at the Villa Serena, up in the mountains by the Italian border, about 45 minutes-to-an-hour east of where most of the students live. On its own, this would have been fine – on a beautiful Mediterranean summer evening, it’s no problem to walk a while by the marina on your way to and from dinner. The real issue arose when the location of the gala itself was announced – the party was to be held in Roquebrune, two towns to the west of Menton, and another hour’s walk from the center of town. Meaning that those who went to the dinner beforehand would have to walk two hours to get from the dinner to the party, and would arrive around 1:00 AM. Of course, all of this came to light in the middle of finals, two days before the gala, when no one had the time or energy to figure out alternatives. The last train between Italy and Roquebrune left well before the dinner would be over, there were only three people on campus with cars, and there were nowhere near enough taxis in Menton to shuttle 160 students in any sort of timely manner. So a few friends and I decided to skip the official dinner and have our own quiet meal (pot luck, of course) at the house of one of the students who lives in Carnoles, a short walk away from the Roquebrune city limits.

Of course, I volunteered to bring dessert. I wanted to work with the delicious summer fruit that was just starting to hit the markets, and so decided on a light, fruity galette. The preparation for this dessert is really quick and simple – my recipe is based on Crepes of Wrath’s Whisky Peach and Plum Galette (I think whisky would have been a great addition, but I didn’t have any on hand), though I used store-bought pastry dough instead of making my own – it saves A LOT on time.

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