Monday, February 27, 2012

Fat Tuesday: Paczki for Poland

"Fat Tuesday" is a day that emphasizes one of my sins: gluttony. I mean, I get to partake in eating everything and anything I can before I give something up for Lent. This year, though, I learned of a Polish tradition that I clung to in all of it's sugary, flaky, gluttonous deliciousness. The Paczki. (Pronounced: Poonch-key)

Paczki Day is usually a "Fat Thursday" type of thing in Poland, but has transferred through immigration and love of food to being incorporated into our "Fat Tuesday." This is almost a quite literal thing. In the 1600s in Poland the paczkis were made out of extra lards and meats that were going to be given up for Lent, the Chicago Tribune reported. Now, though, they're much more Americanized, sweetened and not just for the polish.

I'm grateful that I read the entirety of the Chicago Tribune article after I had eaten my paczkis. The explained how the batter is made out of three kinds of fat: butter, margarine and lard. It's a yeast-based dough that is deep fried in vegetable oil until golden brown.

But... it was totally worth it.

I made a trip in my hour between classes to one of my favorite Chicago Bakeries, Dinkel's, to stand in line and get four paczkis to share with my brother later Fat Tuesday Night. It was worth each minute, running to the "L" train only to miss it and walking into my writing course with baked goods.

The doughnut-like pastry is soft, light and has a beautiful sugary texture. It's this softness that makes you feel less guilty while devouring the entirety of a paczki. I mean, I couldn't help myself and ate a whole one with custard filling and chocolate frosting. The custard was smooth, creamy and added a density to the light pastry that holds it. The chocolate was a great touch of flavor and sweetness without overpowering the textures that make up the paczki. This was the same experience in the double chocolate, which has chocolate filling and chocolate frosting. It had a great combination of sweet and the soft pastry to not overwhelm your sweet tooth, but leave you craving more.

I also got a strawberry and a cinnamon-apple that were absolutely delicious. The strawberry had a typical kind of strawberry compote/filling that gooed out with that first bite. It had sugar sprinkled on top to go along with the natural sweetness and bring out the flavors. I gladly had sticky hands after picking at this one. The cinnamon-apple was impressive as well. The filling was almost like an apple pie filling, with a great mix of spices and that syrupy mix along with the actual apple chunks. The light sugar coating on the pastry also made you remember that it was a dessert and perfect for Fat Tuesday.

Dinkel's was one of the easiest places to go, for me, to get the paczkis, but I really want to try some at a real polish bakery. Next year. Or after Easter? Who knows. But Dinkel's did have a great selection of flavors in addition to the four I got. Some of them included: pineapple, cherry, raspberry, lemon, plum, apricot and custard.

If you're looking for paczkis I found the chicagoist's article helpful - my ex-boss sent it to me when she found out about my hunt. And even if you have to wait a whole year to try them, give them a shot. They are worth the calories, sugar intake and possible gluttony.

- Mollie

Monday, February 20, 2012

London Cravings: Bread and Butter Pudding

So maybe for other people bread and butter pudding is a staple or a basic dessert or something their mother made them or something they tried once, but for me it's a London memory. When I get all gooey and miss London, I also think of bread and butter pudding.

I had never, ever tried it until my 22nd birthday. Nicole made a large sheet of it, which I refused to stop eating even though A) it was hot, B) I was drinking rum, and C) I didn't have utensils. Hands in. Eventually they got me away from it, but it was a perfect breakfast the next morning and became the staple for when all our feminine hormones were running wild.

Which, you'll understand, since we start off with this lovely selection of chopped Cadbury chocolate, typically Dairy Milk. A bar or two will work, depending on how chocolatey you want it. Chocolate chips work as well.

The oven should be preheated to around 375 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit depending on your oven (We had it 200 degrees Celsius). You should have a brownie type pan, either a 9x13 or a square one. We had the rectangle one in London with edges that weren't straight up and down, but Nicole said it worked better in her larger square one at home. Make sure this pan is sprayed with something so the chocolate and everything doesn't stick.

Layer the bottom of the pan with around 6 slices of white bread (you can use others, but Nicole suggests white) cut into quarters. Although some of the sides may overlap it will bake fuller if they're in a single layer and will rise more like a cake. If you want more bread and don't care how it looks, feel free to have around a quarter of an inch of each piece on top of the others. Ours was a little more haphazard due to our excitement and need for speed (as you can see on the right).

In a large bowl mix together half a cup of heavy cream, 2 cups of milk, 3 eggs, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Once mixed dump that on top of the pan full of bread and make sure it gets across the entire pan. You'll want to shift it around or press any pieces down to try and get it all to soak up into the bread. Sprinkle chocolate on top and let it sit for around 10 minutes. We were always in a rush to eat it, so we never let it get that way, but it'll cook more evenly if soaked into the bread.

Then dust the top evenly with granulated sugar and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes or until it's nice and golden brown.

You can serve it up in slices or sit with your good friends and eat it straight from the pan with spoons. Just be careful, it's hot! The best parts are the gooey bits where the chocolate has pooled together when it melted. You'll get a rush of sugar there. You can also do a raisin and rum version with cinnamon and nutmeg - just take out the chocolate.

Now go and enjoy a taste of my London experience.

- Mollie

For easier access...

Bread and Butter Pudding Recipe:

- about 6 slices of bread (white preferred, but feel free to experiment with the flavors you love)
- 1/2 cup heavy/double cream
- 2 cups milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 to 2 bars of chocolate or chocolate chips (depending on preference)
- granulated sugar

1) Chop up bars of chocolate (if you did bars). Preheat oven to 375-400 degrees.
2) Coat brownie pan with cooking spray, can be 13x9 or square.
3) Quarter the slices of bread and place in a layer on the pan.
4) Mix together the cream, milk, eggs, and vanilla in large mixing bowl. Once completely mixed pour on top of bread in the pan, coating the bread as evenly as possible.
5) Sprinkle chopped chocolate or chocolate chips evenly across pan. Let this rest for around 10 minutes.
6) Dust a layer of granulated sugar across the top of pan.
7) Bake for 35-40 minutes or until just golden brown.

8) Devour

Friday, February 17, 2012

Nothing Says Love More Than...

 I have always loved Valentine's Day. It didn't matter if I was five years old with paper princess valentine's cards, a teenager with no hopes of a boyfriend, or a girl head-over-heels. Valentine's Day is all about love, of all kinds.

I fell in love the moment I stepped into Anna Shea Chocolates and Lounge last weekend. I could have spent all day there and emptied my bank account. This place is a chocolate lover's dream. For now, though, I'll focus on my first trip to the lounge where I was treated to a hand dipped chocolate covered strawberry and Red Velvet hot chocolate.

The whole place was ready for Valentine's day - since it was the weekend before the celebration of chocolate, reds, pinks, and fluffy love. My jaw practically dropped when we were brought a plate with these two large strawberries dipped in chocolate and decorated with silver and gold hearts and swirls. Not only that, but my red velvet hot chocolate came in this adorable cupcake mug. Being the cupcake fanatic I am, I wanted to walk out of the store with it. (of course I didn't though! I'm not a thief!)

The chocolate covered strawberries were almost too beautiful to bite into. We sat beside the glass window in the lounge where you can watch their chocolatiers creating the chocolates and baked goods as you ate. It was behind that glass, not that long ago, that those strawberries were just being dipped and decorated. It has a very sophisticated feel to it, knowing that as you take that first succulent bite. Oh and it was succulent. The strawberries were still juicy and fresh beneath that thick layer of chocolate coating. The chocolate was solid, making me nervous about breaking into and biting it, but it wasn't too thick to overwhelm the strawberry itself. The nice fact was that it felt fresh and not like it had been hardened, frozen, and kept around for quite a while. The chocolate was solid, but I didn't actually break my teeth biting down on it. It was more like a solid piece of chocolate outside the sweet berry. Not to mention the designs made it practically a work of art.

Let's not forget the real surprise out of this adventure though: the red velvet hot chocolate.
First off, I have never, ever had red velvet hot chocolate. I needed to try it. It was a Valentine's special, since red velvet is always the biggest seller and real heart of the baked goods when it comes to Valentine's day (I mean it combines cake, a bit of cocoa, and that bright festive red color, it's just perfect).

I was surprised how nice the flavors melded together though. It wasn't strange, like some of the reactions I got when I told people about it. It was like drinking hot cocoa, but it had this great rich, velvety flavor that blended alongside the actual chocolate. I couldn't get over the pink whipped cream either - it was a great touch to add to the red velvet touch. At one point while sipping I got a little marshmallow, which I didn't know was in there at first, and thought to myself "A red velvet marshmallow?!" It was blended so well with the hot chocolate and the red velvet flavoring that I was truly impressed. The whipped cream wasn't overwhelming either - like it can be in frappuccino or a milkshake. Instead it was a creamy, smooth texture that cooled the warm drink and created this great combination of flavors on your tongue.

I was in chocolate heaven at Anna Shea's Chocolates and Lounge. I'll write about them again, but be sure to check them out for fun and festive treats such as these. The red velvet hot chocolate may have to wait until next Valentine's, but it was my favorite treat this Valentine's Day. Let me know what your favorite Valentine's or holiday treat is so I can try it out.

- Mollie

Friday, February 10, 2012

From London to Home: Making Crepes

I don't know what sounds more fancy and romantic than crepes. Most people don't know how to pronounce it or pronounce it differently and it can come in all types and flavors. A crepe is the kind of thing you just fantasize about, that is if you're a foodie and especially those of us who love sweet crepes. Sweet crepes are wonderful because you can use all types of fruits, you can have chocolate, you can have Nutella, it will mold and adapt to your ever changing longings and urges. Really, crepes are like a really caring lover. They can be whatever you want them to be.

Perhaps that's an obnoxious comparison, but my friend Nicole showed me in London how versatile crepes can be and taught me the tricks her mother taught her. We started off with a savory crepe for dinner one night. It involved a cheese sauce, bacon, chicken, and mushrooms. All of that wrapped inside a thin crepe like a burrito, with more cheese sauce poured on top, and then baked in the oven. It was savory. It was filling. It was meaty. It was delicious. I was skeptical at first, due to my lack of knowledge in the savory crepe area, but it was wonderful.

But, of course, I still wanted sweet crepes.

After a night of Wicked and magic and tears, they came. Nutella and banana all rolled up inside the thin beautiful crepes. I could barely stop myself from eating them. I had to have the recipe. I promised my family to make them crepes the moment I got home after watching Nicole.

Although I am not, and will never be, the pro crepe flipper that Nicole is... I wanted to make them. I ignored the fact that I would never be able to flip the crepe using just the skillet and a little fancy wrist movement. It was something even Nicole took a while learning. Instead I got the recipe and made them for my family. They were instantly full on one crepe, unlike myself, but loved the combination of chocolate, hazelnut, and banana.

The beauty of the crepe is that you can adjust it, so here I'll post the basis for the actual crepe and you can feel free to fill it with whatever you want, whenever you want.

French Crepes
original recipe from lifestyle food

- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted

1) The recipe calls to sift the flour with a pinch of salt, I was bad and didn't sift, but this might make for a lighter, fluffier crepe if you want to give it a shot. Otherwise just a pinch of salt tossed into the flour was my attempt and it wasn't bad.
2) Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in eggs and milk. Use a whisk to draw together the ingredients slowly and whisk together.
3) Add in melted butter, cover, and set aside. The recipe says to set aside for an hour, but every time we've done it we only let it sit for a few minutes or so. I don't think it hurts it to start earlier, but may lead to a fluffier, lighter version if you give it the time it asks for.
4) Grease a frying pan or crepe pan with butter or some cooking spray.
5) Pour in just enough batter to thinly coat the surface of the pan. Be careful! It's very easy to pour in too much which will make flipping harder and the crepe into more of a heavy pancake (which may be what happened to the ones I made for my family and why they could only eat one). Pour off any excess that you can.
6) Let it cook for about 1 minute until bubbles appear in the batter.
7) Flip the crepe and let the other side cook for another minute or so.
8) Remove crepe from pan, placing on hot plate and continue until all your batter is used up. Stack the crepes on top of each other flat while you are making the others.
9) Have fun mixing up ingredients and rolling them up or folding them into quarters. Try sprinkling some powdered sugar on top or adding a squirt of lemon juice. The flavoring is all up to you. Some of my favorite ingredients I've seen are: bananas, nutella, chocolate, strawberries, ice cream, whipped creme, blueberries, raisins, jams, marshmallows.

I think the real trick to the crepe is not to stress out too much. Although it seems fancy and scary, just have fun and be creative. If it doesn't flip right (I used a spatula and often found myself using other silly tools to help it flip evenly) try something else or start a new one. The batter is easy to make, so you can always do more. They'd make a really fun party food too with a selection of ingredients to put in the center. Just enjoy it and remember, the crepe will do whatever you want it to.

- Mollie