Sunday, April 27, 2008

My April DB challenge- Cheesecake Brulee Bites

I love love love mini, bite-sized treats! Which is why I was so elated to find out this month's DB challenge are bite-sized cheesecake treats! There's just something about diminutive, individually-portioned bites that is appealing to me. I think part of the reason is portion control so I won't overeat, but I can promise you that's a hard feat because these cheesecake treats are so very yummy! And the challenge comes in good time too as I have been hankering for creamy, rich cheesecake lately.

The lovely Deborah and Elle were the kind hostesses this month and chose the recipe from a cookbook that simply the most scrumptious title ever: Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. Seriously, how can you not love it?

The recipe itself was very simple and straightforward. However, I had a slight problem with the cheesecake not setting beautifully. All I did to solve the issue was to freeze the cheesecake balls with the popsicle sticks for about half an hour. I just had a pretty decadent weekend and wanted something lighter. My daring adjustments include using Neufchatel cheese that supposedly has 1/3 less fat than normal cream cheese, and coating the cheese balls with sugar and bruleeing them instead of super rich chocolate.

The cheesecake balls didn't freeze completely but was solid enough to withstand a super hot torch. Unfortunately, they weren't as perfectly spherical as I wanted them to be and the not-so-perfect-ly-spherical shape was more detectable without a nice chocolate coat. Overall, the cheese pops were delish and just the right-sized "light" treat I wanted. Like the book its recipe came out of, these sure were sticky, chewy, messy and gooey, just the kind of dessert I like *winks*

If you want to salivate over more of these cheesecake balls, check out my friends' creations here and be prepared to be blown away!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Where on Earth is the Foodiva?

It has been a crazy month or so to say the least. Let's recount what has been going on during the past month or so:

1) A hop across the Atlantic for a whirlwind weekend Parisian trip with my dearest sis. I don't think I ever regained my normal footing after that; it's been insane since then. And I still have one more post on this trip!

2) Two different sets of college friends visiting over two different weekends. This was a total treat for me and I tried my best to minimize my work time during the weekends they were here. But that left me quite guilt-ridden for not working enough!

3) A departmental retreat at Wisconsin; just another excuse for grad students to party/get drunk/bond on the university's wallet. Another fun, boisterous weekend with no work getting done.

4) The incorporation of my business idea. My partner was actually the one who did most of the paperwork for our business and I'm so so so excited about this!!! I will definitely show off the website to you guys once it's up and running. Also, on this thread, I'm finally certified by the federal government and the Illinois state to handle food for sale! Yippee! The food sanitation class basically took two whole Saturdays of my life and I'm just so thankful it's done!

5) Training for the Soldier Field 10-mile. As if there's not enough on my plate, I have to be crazy enough to sign up for a 10-mile race with my friend. Actually, I'm kind of glad I did because now I have to get my butt of the couch and exercise!

6) Regular work. There's nothing regular about what I fondly refer to as "work" because even though my official title of grad student sounds all distringuished and noble and intellectual, nothing could be further from the truth. We're really just lab slaves in disguise. Paying us a meagre stipend that we have to pay taxes on (!), we easily spend 60 hours per week in lab. And then, when we get home, we'll be all guilt-ridden if we didn't spend some more time actually reading up and keeping up on the current research.

It's been crazy busy, but you know what? It's been fun too :)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Paris in Spring 3 - restaurants

While frolicking arouund the arrondisements of Paris, my sister and I rarely ever sat down for full meals. We probably only did that about 2-3 times; but we did splurge on chillaxing with cups of strong coffee and wonderful pastries. The few times we did go to restaurants, we had a pleasant time.

We had lunch at Le Castiglione while we were strolling around the chic shopping area. A friend of mine works in this district and recommended it for lunch. Their menu offering is mostly classic bistro fare. The dining room was a rich velvety red; the furniture is mostly wood and the lighting was "flattering". As with all restaurants in France, every meal starts with bread and pure butter, which was one of the indulgences I love about France.

Starting with a delicious glass of red wine (yes, I had wine with lunch! As they say, in Rome, do as the Romans do), I had their "special" of the day, which was a pot roast with mashed potatoes. The roast was cooked very nicely, i.e. medium rare (more rare than medium, the way I like it). The mushroom sauce was yummers too. Although I'm not a big fan of potatoes, the mash was quite tasty and very well-seasoned.

My sister had their salmon cooked (fried, really) on one side with a bed of baby greens and potatoes. The fish was on the salty side but the greens were super fresh! (BAD PHOTO ALERT!)

The other restaurant we went to was Thoumieux. I wanted to go here after reading about their cassoulet (which I had) on David Lebovitz's blog. A classic French restaurant, Thoumieux's menu is nothing but French. The dining room is quaint, with mirrors lining the walls and small tiles lining the floor. It reminds me very much of Balthazar. in New York. Actually, Balthazar probably tries their best to emulate this classically comfortable French restaurant decor. Besides a restaurant, Thoumieux also has a cafe and a hotel in the same building. With a jar of pungent mustard on every table, how much more French can you get? *winks*

We started our dinner with an appetizer of stinky and melty but so deliciously creamy chunks of cheese on toasted bread on a bed of greens. That's not its official name, but I can't remember what it is!

I had the cassoulet, which was basically a slow-cooked bean stew containing different kinds of meat. The one at Thoumieux a piece of fatty pork belly, a sausage and some chicken. Talk about meat overload! But anyway, is that a beautiful cassoulet or is that a beautiful cassoulet?


My sister had their fried fish, which was too oily and overly salted; but with the fresh greens, it wasn't too bad.

We ended with a profiterole drizzled with dark chocolate sauce. I was too excited by the prospect of French profiteroles to even take a picture. Silly me! But anyway, the ice cream and the chocolate were superb. This might sound mighty snooty of me to say but I've made better puffs at home. The puffs were a tad dry but were acceptable partners to the ice cream. The highlight of the evening was the sight that greeted us outside the restaurant. With the cool spring air bathing our faces the sight of this, how can you not be satisfied with life?

Le Castiglione
235, rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris

79, rue Saint Dominique 75007 Paris

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Paris in Spring 2- "street" food

My sister and I were pleasantly surprised by the nice-ness of the Parisians we encountered (with one exception, which I'll describe in a later post). I mean, we didn't think they would be nasty or anything, but we keep hearing about how the French despise the English, the Americans and English-speaking people. I found them quite friendly and accomodating, though not as warm as the neighboring Italians. My sis and I joked that maybe they're so nice to us because they keep mistaking us for being rich Japanese tourists, who visit France in droves.

My sister and I visited Paris at a good time; the city wasn't choc full of tourists unlike in summer and all the shops are open. So, in a way, we got to experience Paris fully. I think it helped that the small hotel we stayed at is located in a residential neighborhood (the 9th arrondisement). Paris is a truly beautiful city. Each day, my sister and I would marvel at the intricate, old apartments that line the streets of Paris. The older buildings are prettier. I have to say that French modern architecture that we saw in the outskirts of Paris were rather ghastly!

Paris is also a true blue food heaven. The streets are littered with patissiers, boulangers, boucheries, fromageries, fishmongers, cafes and restaurants. It seems that Parisians still shop for food every day to ensure freshness. Small mom-and-pop shops that specialize in different food items still flourish (thank goodness!), although we also saw many modern convenient supermarket chains around town.

My favorite food neighborhood in Paris is Montmartre. Known better as Amélie's neighborhood and a nightclub district in the 18th arrondisement, it is a quaint Parisian area rife with narrow streets that are littered with various specialty grocers in the daytime. We walked down Rue Abbesses, only to be welcomed with the sights, sounds and scents of fresh fruit stands, baked breads and pastries, wonderful cheeses, and cafes. It looks like a residential area except for the droves of tourists coming to see Amélie's neighborhood, the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur or the Moulin Rouge just a few steps away. It's one of those neighbourhoods where you'll see people walking around holding a partially-eaten baguette, wrapped with only a small square of baker's paper.

Besides the adorable little cafes lining Rue Abbesses, I loved the little shops selling various goodies. We saw a long line outside of a bakery and decided to get in it. The lines are a pretty good gauge of how good a place is, no? I mean, it's got to be pretty good if there are so many people clamoring for it! The bakery is Le Grenier à Pain and like many others, my sister and I were attracted by the heady scent of freshly-baked breads. We didn't get their baguette (silly us!); instead, I went for a delicious pistachio madeleine and my sis had some mini pigs-in-a-blanket (I'm sure there's a more elegant name for it in French though I don't know what it is) and a chocolate chip-studded mini bread that looks like a cheese stick. The breads were very yummy and the perfect snack for our stroll through Montmartre.

Walking down Rue Abbesses, we saw many people holding a pretty pink cake box tied up with a flourish of red ribbons. Our curiosity piqued, we tried sussing out the source of this mystery, only to find a quaint little tart shop, Les Petits Mitrons. Best known for their tarts (both sweet and savory), they also sell pizzas and little pastries and chocolates. After our little feast from Le Grenier à Pain, I can only thank God that Les Petits sells their tarts in slices too, so we can have a taste! My sis got a classic apple tart (that we consumed before we could snap a pic) and it was yummy. We found it a little too sweet and unlike tarts we've had in the US, Les Petits' doesn't have a layer of custard between the crust and the fruit. We particularly enjoyed the glaze on the fruit and can understand why so family French families in the neighborhood decided to make it a part of their Sunday ritual.

Another pretty friggin' awesome place we went to was this legendary ice cream place, Berthillon. After hearing that it's the best ice cream in Paris, how can I, an ice cream addict resist? The ice creamerie also has a cafe with an outdoor section for customers to people-watch (how French!).

They have a little freezer in front for orders to go and this was the offering of the day.

With the exception of cannelle and noix, we pretty much deduced what the ice cream flavors were. My sister got a scoop of caramel and I foolishly tried cannelle, only to realize after the first lick that it's cinnamon. I don't hate cinnamon or anything like that, just that it's not my favoritest spice ever. Still, the ice cream was pleasantly creamy, smoothly gliding over my tongue as it melts. It was also not excessively sweet, which was surprising because believe me, the French love love love sweet. Maybe it's because it was cinnamon flavor; my sister's caramel was decidedly more sugary.

Another famous French food is the crepe. I've made some at home before, but due to the limitation of my small non-stick pan, I was never convinced it was really French. My home-made crepes were also too thick, I thought; nothing like a paper-thin French crepe. So when we saw a line in front of this man's creperie-on-wheels in the St. Germain area, we just had to have one! I mean, check out his expertise! He has two crepe irons going at the same time to get in the groove!

Fortunately, we didn't get a crepe near Notre Dame, where the crepes were already pre-made and stacked for uber tourist-trap convenience. I mean, how good can it be if you didn't know when it was made. Maybe an hour ago? Or yesterday? So if you're in Paris and wants a crepe, stay away from the touristy areas. Crepe fillings include the savory four cheeses and mushrooms to sweet classics such as butter and sugar, Nutella and fruit jams. Nutella and jam seemed to be the most popular one, and who can resist Nutella anyway? I mean, check out this guy skilfully filling and folding the crepes!

As I expected, the crepe was much larger and thinner than my homemade ones (duh!). Filled with melty Nutella and soft bananas, it was a party in my mouth. I can only imagine going back to that crepe stand every day if I lived in the area.

Another "streety" food that we enjoyed immensely was the falafel. You wouldn't expect it but apparently, Paris has many fantastic Middle Eastern/North African cuisine offerings, thanks to immigrants from these countries. We tried the falafel that supposedly had Lenny Kravitz's stamp of approval, because of course, we trust Lenny Kravitz!

Besides that, my Parisian friend had recommended L'As du Falafel. I mean, if the New York Times had reviewed and recommended the place, how bad can it be, right? So my sis and I trekked to the beighborhood of Marais, got lost a couple of times, and finally found the holy grail leading to this falafelerie. It's rather funny that right across from L'As du Fafafel was anotther famous, fancier-looking falafelerie, Mi-Va-Mi. Could it be that they're owned by the same person? Who knows? Anyway, one big mistake we made is we didn't order the original falafel sammich, but instead decided to go for the meatier schwarma because we felt like meat, dammit! How can you not want meat once you see this huuuge chunk of meat displayed shamelessly, teasing your eyes and nose and taste buds?

And boy, was the schwarma good! Check out those chunks of chicken bursting from the pita! And the cabbage! And the sauce! This thing is so big that you need a fork to eat it, unless you don't mind (or want!) the sauce schmeared all over your face, that is, haha, which might not be so bad *winks* We were quite glad we only got one sammich after seeing just how humongous this thing is! At 7 euros a pop, it had better be humongous! It was very delicious; the chicken chunks were nice and juicy and tender, the veggies crisp and fresh, the sauce was tangy and slightly spicy at the same time. I would definitely go back to L'As du Falafel again but I wouldn't mind trying out their competitor either.

I thoroughly enjoyed Paris' street food scene more than its fine dining, at least, what we got to experience of the "fine" dining anyway (which wasn't that much). I love that there are so many delicious options for eating on-the-go, whether it's the classic Nutella crepe, a bite of falafel, or a perfect cup of cappucino.

Le Grenier à Pain
38, rue des Abesses, 75018 Paris

Les Petits Mitrons
26, Rue Lepic, 75018 Paris

29-31 rue saint Louis en l'ile, 75004 Paris

St. Germain Crepe stand
Near the St. Germain metro stop, right across from a Starbucks

L'As du Falafel
34, rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris

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