Sunday, September 21, 2008

Head's up, McDonald's...

Here’s some cool news out of India.  The first commercial, fast food version of a favorite Indian food, vada pav, is becoming popular in Mumbai.  The vegetarian version of a cheeseburger is essentially just a deep fried potato patty.  This article from the AFP discuss the significance of the vada pav’s commercialization and its potential to rival the success of McDonald’s in India.

McDonald’s has done a great job marketing internationally, infiltrating even resistant markets like France and the Middle East.  But the key to their success has been marketing local foods in a fast food variety.  “Greek Mac” anybody?  Here are some more examples. 

And while McDonald’s in India serves up a vada pav-like sandwich, a new Indian company, Jumbo King, based in Mumbai, sells authentic versions for less, giving McDonald’s a run for its money.  It’ll be interesting to see if McDonald’s can keep its foothold in India with new local chains revving up the competition!  Is this a backlash against globalization (read Americanization) that might actually succeed?  I guess we’ll see.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Brownie sandwich time...

Who knew I liked to bake?  Wait – who said I do?  I just have a lot of time on my hands.

Today: brownies.  The trick?  Buy a ready-made mix.  This time I ignored Betty in favor of Ghirardelli, which offers half the sex appeal, but is twice as gay.  Gay as in HAPPY.  Geeze.  (But really, come on, it’s from San Francisco.)  Anyway, I mixed up the batter with some water, veggie oil, and an egg and prepared to bake them up.

But plain old brownie squares are boring, I thought.  So how to jazz them up?  I took a cue from my Betty Crocker cake in my previous baking post and employed the layer method.  Layered brownies?  Yeah, it’s happening.

So I baked two circular brownie discs and sandwiched some whipped vanilla frosting in between them.  It’s not too rich so it goes well with the OVERLY rich chocolate brownies.  And to top it off, another thin layer of frosting with a peanut butter drizzle.  Refrigerate it to let everything set up, and voila. 

Another good option would have been a cream cheese filling.  Sweeten up some regular old Philadelphia cream cheese with some powdered sugar and vanilla extra, throw in some chocolate chips, and you’ve got a delicious creamy and textured filling for your brownie discs. 

Once the pie/cake/concoction is nice and cold, I’ll slice it up and get it in some Tupperware.  No one likes stale brownies, right?  

Stay tuned, I’m heading to Paris in (cross your fingers) exactly one week!   

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Welcome Fall: Pumpkin Pie Ice!!!

WOW. So for those of you in PA and NJ, head to your local Rita’s Italian Ice and try something amazing: a pumpkin pie gelati. For the rest of you, sorry, it’s an east coast thang.

This summertime treat has always been a perennial favorite in my hometown. Soft Italian ices (we call it “water ice”) layered with soft-serve ice cream makes something called a gelati. Just call it heaven.

But THIS year, Rita’s came out with a limited time flavor that I hope becomes a staple, pumpkin pie cream ice. It’s like creamy water—I mean Italian ice. So, a pumpkin pie gelati with vanilla ice cream is perfect frozen version of the pumpkin pie we all know and love. The cinnamon sweetness and solid pumpkin pie flavor are simply stunning in the iced version. It’s totally a surprise.

If you pass by a Rita’s, stop by and try one of these genius concoctions. What a way to cap the summer while welcoming the fall!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Waiter, what's your soup du jour?

The countdown continues to my (indefinite) departure from America to France. The debilitatingly slow French government needs to approve my visa. Anyway, while packing and goodbyes are all priorities, the voyage itself is also in the front of my mind. Most notably, what will I eat on the plane? It’s the all important question.

While some flights have toyed with the idea of cutting in-flight meals, along with other comforts, I began to get nervous. I, like many people, look forward to the meal procedure. Its distracting, it takes up time, it requires my attention, and, if you’re on Air France, in involves wine. What a no brainer.

The quality of food need not be mentioned.

But as I’m flying Air India, I wonder what we’ll eat. Curry chicken? Will there be naan? One would hope. But it’s curious that usually the food on all airlines is the same basic chicken, beef, or fish dish. Does Aer Lingus serve up boxty or coddle? Will Air Maroc dish up some couscous?

I haven’t flown quite enough to know, but I can say that most every meal I have ever eaten on a plane could have been served up on any carrier I have taken. Is that just me? Air France did have a French spin, serving individual tiny baguettes and wine, something at Continental or American never did on a transatlantic flight.

Why not mix it up a bit? Let the cultural experience begin from take-off! If people don’t like beef goulash and potato pancakes, just serve them up some Jack and Coke, which Air India did for me two years ago. It was the most tranquil flight ever.

I guess we’ll see what Air India has on the burner for me when the flight takes off soon!

Monday, September 8, 2008

A date with Betty C...

Move over Martha. I mean, move over Martha, please. Apparently I can bake! I spent a rainy day inside baking the family (read: me) a delightful peanut butter concoction. It looks AND tastes good. Surprised?

So first of all, I got some help from Betty Louise (I bet that’s her middle name) Crocker. She supplied me with some basic yellow cake mix to start with – not a huge fan, but wait, it gets better. As I mixed in the eggs, butter, and milk, I drizzled in some peanut butter. Not too much, but just enough.

A little Skippy goes a long way.

Then I put the cake in a small circular pan so it would make a nice big round cake that I could slice in two. I always love cakes that have a surprise layer in the middle.

Easy enough, I melted some peanut butter in the microwave (for like 45 seconds or else it burns – ew) and mixed it in with some dark chocolate icing. This acted as the creamy middle between the two cake layers.

Then I frosted the entire cake with more of the same dark chocolate icing. The final touch? Some more PB, obviously. I heated it up in a bowl and drizzled it like crazy on the top and sides of the cake. Talk about classy looking. I popped it in the fridge so that the peanut butter would harden a bit, and then I cut a slice and bit in. Delicious.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Concert of a lifetime -- and currywurst to boot!!!

Oh, and as if Joe Biden wasn’t enough celebrity for one day, Friday culminated with a trip to Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center for the concert of a lifetime. Yes, it was the one and only Celine Dion, the pride and joy of Quebec. She made a quick stop in Philly during her World Tour. To sing and to see the world -- a dream!

A 2007 Christmas gift to the family, the tickets were, dare I say, good seats. Seated on the floor (with mother and Sassypants Suzy), we were reveling in the crooning of one of the world’s greatest voices. You may not like her music, but the girl’s got pipes. And she hasn’t been to Philadelphia in 10 years! What gives?!

But what a show!

Once home (we left reluctantly), Suzy and I tried to continue the magic (an impossible feat), but we came close as we cooked ourselves a late night snack. We browsed the kitchen. Hotdogs, curry powder, paprika – “OH! Let’s make currywurst,” we decided. Inspired by Celine’s world tour, we concocted the Berlin treat, reliving our Germany trip last March.

It was Suzy’s first time since Berlin. Eating currywurst, that is.

First, we fried up some hot dogs. Not quite bratwurst, but nearly identical. Then we smothered it in ketchup, sprinkled a liberal helping of curry powder, and finished it with a dash of paprika. We toasted up rolls (brochen, in German) to soak up the extra sauce. Sounds basic, and it is. But Germans, most notably Berliners, LOVE the stuff.
And of course, you serve it up with a beer. No German beer, but Yuengling is really good!

I wonder if Celine had any during her German leg of the tour???

Political plates, spicy and for the people...

So Friday was a big day. Travels were short, but excitement was high. I was about to hop in the car for a short trip to Langhorne, Pennsylvania, home of, well, not much. Jill Sayre, if that means anything to you. Nah, me neither.

But vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and PA Governor Ed Rendell were in town to speak at the local junior high. To prepare for the event, I made myself an early lunch full of democratic delight and political punch. A zesty jalapeno mayo chicken wrap was on the menu. I was pressed for time, give me a break.

Mayo usually makes me gag looking at it in the jar. I mean, the noises it can make alone are enough to induce vomiting. But it’s funny what a little jalapeno sauce can do. I added enough to make the mayo a light green. Add some salt, pepper, and vinegar for another layer of flavor, and you’re set. It was so flavorful and just spicy enough.
I cooked some pre-made chicken tenders and toasted up a tortilla to go along with the jalapeno mayo. Once it was all ready, I wrapped up the chicken with a healthy dose of the light green ambrosia and took a bite. As the mayo dripped out the bag of the sandwich, I was in heaven. Way better than ketchup. Could have used some bacon, though.

So, what was so political about this meal? Let me tell you. The spice of the jalapeno was like the sharpness of Joe Biden’s speech, packed with the heat of his desire for change. And the chicken was substantial and filling, like his wife Jill’s hopes and ideas. And I served up a side of applesauce alongside the wrap to cool off my mouth just like Biden’s cool and soothing demeanor, but I sprinkled some cinnamon on top because he’s not at all bland or simple.

I mean, obviously, right?

But Biden was impressive and really connected with the crowd. It’s exciting to think that he could be sitting in the White House in a few months. I’m just glad I got a good dose of US politics before the big move!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Expatriation issues: street food...

Since my flight has been faced a mandatory postponement, I’ll grumble and gripe a little bit more about the things I’m looking forward to, and the things I’ll miss in Paris. Most notably, I’m interested in the street food culture shift that I’m facing.

In New York and other urban areas, you can buy a hot dog and eat it in the street. Tacos, falafel, pizza – you name it, Americans walk with it and eat it. We’ve got things to do, people.

In Paris, don’t get me wrong, the falafel (see photo) is way better than Maoz or Mamoun’s, two New York City favorites. And the doner kebabs, if you haven’t been following, are my raisons d’être. But you can’t just grab a sandwich and walk with it. It’s considered distasteful, and quite frankly, I’d prefer not to deal with the looks and judgments of the Parisians.

Maybe they’re just envious of my Lebanese grilled chicken, olive, and hummus sandwich – at least they should be. But walking and eating is a practice I must leave behind. It’s not a bad trade-off though. So I can’t get great pizza or cheesesteaks anymore. I get crepes and doner kebabs with fries. I’ll just have to learn to sit down and enjoy it. What a concept!

Cuisine Expo à Paris...

Um, so I’m totally going to the Cuisinez Expo in Paris this October 24-26. Food samplings? Cooking instructions? People flocking for three days of fun set within the courtyard of the Louvre, the carrousel du Louvre? How dare I resist?

It’s like three days full of demonstrations and open stalls and it is completely interactive. I have no idea which events to attend yet, but I can always decide the day of – sign-ups are 15 minutes before each activity begins. Perfect. I think that means it’s FREE! Works for me.

Hopefully I’ll pick up a tip or two for the kitchen that I can share with you. I was hoping to post a picture with some Food Network star, but sadly they are not sponsors.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Berlin-babs facing price hike...

Uh oh! Potentially sad news for kebab lovers in kebab-capital of Europe, Berlin. The price of the Turkish delight may be heading up due to increases in food prices.

Though the article says prices hover around 2.5 euros in the German capital, I don’t remember paying so little when I was there this past March. But the Berlin-babs were certainly cheaper than in Munich or Hamburg.

Whatever, all German doners are still cheaper than in Paris, where they usually average around 5 euros. But Parisians do add fries – take that Germany!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Safe and green, the way water should be...


While preparing for my move to Paris, I thought about the water in Paris. It’s perfectly potable, if just a bit heavy on minerals. That just means I don’t need to take a vitamin, right?

But I thought it’d be eco-friendly of me to purchase a reusable water bottle so that during my travels in and out of the city, I can slake my thirst without adding to the landfills. Sure, France recycles, but that takes energy, time, and resources. It’s just as easy to refill.

Recyclable plastic bottles could be handy, but, as our friends in New Zealand tell us, it’s best to be super-cautious about reusing them. And after a few uses, they just feel dirty, like I’m drinking out of a used Ziploc bag, ya know? I prefer something tough, durable, and easy to clean.

My choice was a Camelback 1 liter bottle at Whole Foods for only $10. Other options, like Nalgene and Sigg are equally as viable and are BPA-free. Apparently BPA is linked to certain cancers, developmental problems, and obesity, according to some health advocates. The FDA says otherwise. Who knows – but I’m not taking the chance!