Friday, February 25, 2011

Build-Your-Own Chocolate and Banana Crêpes

The Charles Bridge wasn't built in a day. But this crêpe was.
Remember how I mentioned that Czechs used egg yolks to build the Charles Bridge in my crepes in Prague post? Well, I figured if I was going to make something with eggs, a crêpe would be easier than a bridge. Call me lazy.

And while I constructed this chocolate and banana crêpe without an engineering degree, I did take a French bistro cooking class. I bought the class on a whim one morning. Bleary-eyed, I opened my email inbox, and in between all those Viagra spams was a Groupon that said 50% Off Cooking Class. A pushover for a good deal (and a good meal), I perused the school's offerings and thought, A little coq au vin and crêpe training for the price of a dinner out. Oooh la la. Not fully caffeinated yet, I hastily hit the Buy Now button. Was that wrong? A girl's gotta go by her Groupon intuition, and mine said, How could building crêpes and chocolate sauce from scratch be wrong?

So in the class, for dessert, crêpe construction began. After mixing the batter and frying the crêpes, then heating the chocolate and adding the cream, we laid out the mise en place. From the crêpes, chocolate sauce, sliced bananas, shredded coconut and Grand Marnier whipped cream, we each assembled our own edible edifice. Maybe I should have referred to my Nutella crêpe photo for proper crêpe assemblage since the pillowy whipped cream seemed to take this one over. Oh well. C'est la vie. There's always a next time. In the meantime, if anyone has a bridge to sell me, I'm biting.

Chocolate and Banana Crêpes Recipe (from Chefs, Inc.)

Makes approximately 16 crepes

Crêpe Batter

2 cups flour

1 ½ cups whole milk

4 eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for frying

Pinch salt

½ vanilla bean or few drops vanilla extract (optional)


8 ounces semi-sweet or dark baking chocolate (we used bittersweet Ghirardelli chips)

1 cup heavy cream or crème fraiche

3-4 bananas

1/3 cup shredded coconut

Ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well and pour in eggs. Mix well. Slowly pour in milk while continuing to stir. Keep stirring the batter until small bubbles form on the surface. Stir in the butter and mix well. Melt a dot of butter in a non-stick crepe pan and wipe the pan evenly. Keep the paper towel at hand while preparing crepes in case you want to give it another wipe. Pour in about 3 tablespoons of batter and quickly move pan around so that batter spreads evenly, covering the whole surface with a thin layer. Let cook for about 1 minute. Flip with a spatula and cook other side for about 30 seconds. Continue until all the batter is used. Stack between sheets of wax paper and set aside.

Break chocolate into small pieces. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Add the cream, stir well and remove from heat. Place the crepes on individual plates. Line one half of each crepe with chocolate and then banana slices. Fold the empty half over. Pour more chocolate on top and sprinkle with coconut and a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Cook’s Note: The batter does not need to stand before using it. However, if you do let it stand, you will probably need to add 1 tablespoon of water before using it. General rule of thumb: if it seems thicker than cream, add a little more water, and/or a little more milk.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Travel Bite: Crêpes (Palačinkas), Prague

When I visited the Czech Republic a few years ago, I was enchanted with Prague's old-world charm, most notably the landmark Charles Bridge. Commissioned by Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1357, this romantic bridge is the heart of the city, connecting the Old Town with Malá Strana, a historic district on the west bank of the Vltava River. Legend has it that egg yolks were mixed in the mortar used to bind the stone blocks to strengthen the bridge. Maybe all that good cholesterol is why the Charles has survived so many floods, including one in 2002—the worst in 500 years. Coincidentally, their crepes, also made with eggs, are still going strong too.

I had always associated crepes with France or the large Dutch pancakes I had in Holland, but it turns out that crepes are eaten all over Europe, Turkey, Russia, even in Argentina. While the word Creperie in this sign may have been geared toward a more international audience, a Czech crepe is traditionally called a palačinka.

Savory galettes like this are made with buckwheat flour, while sweet crepes use wheat flour. This huge chicken and mushroom-filled square was finally some geometry I could wrap my head and lips around. My mouth loved the new math!

I remember my first time. It was 1989. I met him in a little Paris bistro and it was true love. What a fella, that Nutella. Meeting my chocolate and hazelnut guy again in Prague brought it all back. He was still rich, dark and handsome (albeit a little more coiffed).

And then there was someone else after my heart—the organ grinder on the Charles Bridge. Granted, he was no Nutella, but he and his monkey were a couple of good eggs who had no doubt weathered a few storms.

When you stand on the bridge, you can see spectacular views of a city that celebrates its past while tastefully catering to tourism. It's a hard balance to strike, but Prague has maintained a steady footing. It must be the eggs.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Therapy Session with Dr. Sigmund Food

Lately I’ve been having “issues” for lunch. Since my job moved next door to a big tech company that has a cafeteria with a salad bar and grill, I’ve become extremely conflicted over my food choices. At first I was thrilled to have access to it, but now I am questioning my sanity. So I made a visit to a respected Viennese doctor so he could help analyze my predicament. (Please note that Dr. Sigmund Food pronounces the letter “w” as a “v.”)

The Transcript:
Dr. Food: Vhat brings you to my couch today?
Lentil Breakdown: The salad bar. I know for the price, the ingredients probably aren’t organic, and it has opened up a can of worms.
Dr. Food: Vhat vurms?
Lentil Breakdown: Pesticides, genetically modified crops, growth hormones and antibiotics, for starters.
Dr. Food: Ah, fear of za unknown. Vhere does zees anxiety stem from? Between za vurms and za stems, it sounds organic!
Lentil Breakdown: Well, everything in the salad bar looks good to the naked eye, but I see the celery, bell peppers and spinach and think about how those three are on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list for the highest pesticide count. And I wonder where the large batches of lettuce and spinach are from. Could they have e coli? Were they sitting in some Con Agra warehouse before traveling 1500 miles on a Sysco truck? If so, how much fuel did it use to get here? Are there any items from Chile which consumes even more fuel or from China or Mexico with lax environmental regulations?
Dr. Food: I detect a leetle overactivity in za brain. Vhy must you assume za vurst? Ver your parents vorry varts?
Lentil Breakdown: Yes, my parents were worry warts, but not about this. I am creating my own legacy. And Dr. Food, I am not assuming the worst. I am voicing legitimate concerns based on facts. When I see the edamame beans and tofu and corn, I'm thinking that since they aren’t organic, they are from Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds. Only organic soy and corn are guaranteed to be GMO-free (Genetically Modified Organisms). Did you know that 91% of soy, 85% of corn, 88% of canola and 71% of cotton is genetically modified in the U.S. and we don’t even know it since labeling is not required?
Dr. Food: So? Vhat’s za vurst that could happen to us from zees seeds?
Lentil Breakdown: Haven’t you heard that this Frankenstein farming may be dangerous? According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, there are serious health risks associated with genetically modified foods, such as allergies, infertility, immune problems, faulty insulin regulation and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. And the FDA is not even looking out for us! They just approved another one of Monsanto's GMO crops the other day—alfalfa! Doctor Food, it really bothers me when we buy GMO products because as consumers, we're the ones creating the demand for it. It’s kind of like in that Field of Dreams movie, “If you build it, they will come.” Only it’s “If we buy it, they will make it.” Except this field stars soybeans and corn, not Kevin Costner. But I’ve seen his acting. He may be genetically modified too.
Dr. Food: Who is zees Kevin Costner and vhy does he dance vith volves?
Lentil Breakdown: Never mind the wolves! It’s the other animals I’m worried about (although according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the gray wolf is endangered, so I’m worried about him too). But if meat is not organic, chances are it's from some big-agro industrial farm that uses rBGH growth hormones. According to the Center for Food Safety, 80% of cattle raised in the U.S. have been pumped full of hormones to increase body mass, and these hormones are not considered safe for humans or the environment. Some researchers think that hormones are creating early puberty in girls and an increased risk in breast and prostate cancers. And antibiotics are given to the majority of farm animals because they're sitting all cooped up in their own filth! And Jesus, the cheeses! The dairy and eggs are full of them too! These antibiotics create antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans, which means when we’re sick and really need antibiotics, they won’t work anymore!
Dr. Food: Vell, how about a leetle tuna fish? That never hurt nobody.
Lentil Breakdown: Wow, Dr. Food, you are so last century! According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, most canned tuna is on the “Avoid” list. For the price, the cafeteria's tuna probably isn't a "Best Choice." Not to mention it's full of mercury, so if you do eat it, you should limit your intake, according to EWG's Tuna Calculator.
Dr. Food: Vell, then eat some beans and call it a day.
Lentil Breakdown: I usually do eat some legumes like garbanzo or kidney beans, but I know they’re canned. Did the can's plastic lining contain Bisphenol A? Did you know that BPA is an endocrine disruptor and has been declared toxic to human health and the environment?
Dr. Food: Geez! Isn’t zees still better than eating at Mickey D's?
Lentil Breakdown: Yeah, if you skip the salad dressings with the hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup. I make my own from the cruets of olive oil and balsamic vinegar they have. That way I’m in control.
Dr. Food: Maybe it's time to throw caution to za vind and order something from za grill.
Lentil Breakdown: I've had the veggie burger that they put on the grill, and it's very tasty. Its meaty flavor is reminiscent of the flame-broiled Whopper. But I can tell it’s made out of soy, and for the price, it’s probably not organic, so it's a GM...oh...boy. Here we are. Right back where we started. It’s not easy being me!
Dr. Food: I see you have many issues!
Lentil Breakdown: And we haven’t even gotten to fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate or what farm-raised salmon is doing to the ecosystem! Did you know that the government is on the verge of passing legislation for allowing the first genetically modified salmon? Oh, and did I mention the plastic containers you put the salad in? How come everyone isn't thinking these thoughts? Where is the outrage? This is our planet and our food supply! I thought we were the change we'd been waiting for, but I'm still waiting! Doc, I'm exhausted. Would I be better off with my head in the sand? I try to be a conscious person, but all these choices are making me crazy!!
Dr. Food: I thought everything vee do is unconscious. You mean vee have choices? Now you tell me!
Lentil Breakdown: Of course we have choices. We can carry with us the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Pocket Guide. We can eat less meat and buy dairy and eggs without rBGH growth hormones and antibiotics. We can think of ways to save plastic. We can read labels and web sites and try to know the origins and implications of what we buy. Yet all this makes me a buzzkill to be around, according to my former friends. How come I'm the enemy? I'm not even a PETA member!
Dr. Food: Vell, I see vee have years of verk ahead of us.
Lentil Breakdown: Is your couch made from organic cotton?
Dr. Food: For za price, probably not. I got it at IKEA.
Lentil Breakdown: Doctor, I’m afraid our time is up.

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