Earl Grey French Toast

Autumn in Paris: Not exactly like those old Bunuel films you watched as a child. That’s my running tagline and I’m sticking to it. Parisian Seasonal Tourist Board, here I come! Imagine a classic, smoky New England autumn. Now, remove 75% of the leaves, replace the woodfire smoke permeating the air with cigarette smoke (admittedly comforting in its own right) and make it rain, baby. Literally. Luckily, I have plenty to occupy my time with, including, but not limited to, perusing museum exhibits solely devoted to the sex lives of wild animals, creating playlists about said museum exhibit, and making weird French toast with my guiltiest French pleasure, Harry’s white bread. 

Seriously, Harry’s is like a food diaper. It may be part polymer. It soaks up sauces, liquids, butter, you name it- and never loses its shape or wilts underneath the pressure of the many condiments I subject it to. It is perfect for French toast, and pretty much everything else. Lacking the ingredients to make anything else, I turned my sights toward French toast- as well as the leftover bag of Earl Grey I had after getting sick last week. I made this as a lazy Tuesday breakfast after eating dinner with my fellow exchange friend, Optimus Prime, and will go to bed with dreams of brown butter, infused with the smell of spices throughout my apartment.
Earl Grey French Toast
Ingredients (serves 4)
12 slices of thick, squishy white bread
6 eggs
1 cup of whole milk
The zest of one lemon
3 bags of Earl Grey tea
1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

1. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and sea salt. Set aside and prepare your milk, setting it up to boil in a saucepan on the stove. Once the milk is boiled, put the lemon zest and tea bags in. Let it steep for 15-30 minutes.

2. Once the milk is cool, beat with the egg mixture. Pour over bread and let soak until completely absorbed. In a large pan on the stove, melt two tablespoons of butter until sizzling.

3. Fry the bread until brown on both sides and custardy on the inside. Serve with sea salt and syrup if desired.

I don’t think this will make it to the morning.

Foodette in Gay Paris: Foodette Meets Kouignette

Bretagne is best known for three things: sweets, cream, and butter. When these combine, the result is magnificent. One of the most classic treats of Bretagne is the Kouign-amann, the love child of a croissant and French toast. When made well, it has a crispy, crackly outer layer, shredding into thin pieces of sugar and dough as it hits the teeth, with a custardy, flaky inner core, sweet and buttery.

Even better than the Kouign-amann is the Kouignettes, the miniature version of the pie-sized platters below. After all, it’s not every day that you can house an entire pie’s worth of buttersugarbread in one sitting, so the miniature (often flavored) ones combine the versatility of a cinnamon roll and the moderation of your cardiologist (not). I prefer these for their variation and petite size. While on a trip to Bretagne this weekend, I picked a few up at a well-known bakery and chocolate shop to taste back home. There were five- but I asked them to leave one out of the bag for research purposes. Just to be sure they were good.

I picked up praline, salted caramel, almond and chocolate, pistachio, and orange cointreau. For the most part, the store had classic flavors mixed with more regionally-inspired ones, like the cointreau and caramel (another Breton specialty) but I really wished they’d incorporated Calvados or caramelized apples into one of the cakes. Regardless, they were all very tasty, with chewy, crispy outer edges, slightly waxy, and soft middles. My favorite was actually the pistachio. I’m a sucker for those crumbly, nut-butter-esque fillings like marzipan, and this was nutty and brilliantly green to boot.

The orange cointreau ended up being a hit back home, with a much more restrained sweetness and huge chunks of candied orange rind. This was the Kouignette that brought out the best of the salted butter, giving the pastry a natural creaminess. The chocolate and caramel-based flavors fared less successfully, to my surprise. There lacked a balance in them that the pistachio and orange pastries had, a dulled acidity that overwhelmed the pastry, resulting in a sugar-heavy, somewhat boring flavor.
The almond and chocolate was so chewy that I found it difficult to tear apart with my teeth. These might have been better warm, but lacking the microwave to do so (#parisproblems) I ate them cold. Their sticky, thick texture was indulgent, but ultimately lacking the balance that would have made them more satisfying. However, the idea of sticking different flavors into these sweet pastries entices my curiosity. I’ll have to try making these when I get back to the States!

Foodette in Gay Paree: Picard Roundup

People love posts about grocery runs to Trader Joe’s. They like to read about peoples’ foreign shopping sprees. Hell, they even tolerate watching asinine haul videos that look as if they were scripted by a bored Uwe Boll during a scene phase. So, in that vein, I thought it would be fun to showcase food from one of the most amazing discount grocery stores the world has ever seen. No pressure, Picard, no pressure. Yes, Picard, no relation to the Jean-Luc franchise, is a store that specializes in one thing and one thing only: frozen food. And they have freaking everything. Frozen cubes of ready-made sauces. Defrostable cakes. Frozen toothpaste. Whole roast chickens. Premade galettes that are definitely better than mine.
And the crazy thing is that all of it is delicious. Miss Love and I went on a grocery run to Picard when we arrived to stock up on staples like meat and appetizers, and we were impressed with almost everything we tried. One of our first meals when she arrived was simple- tikka masala-seasoned chicken and a mashed potato and artichoke heart dish. It was almost too easy- baking the chicken and mashing the incredibly awesome individual potato canelles in a saucepan, whose poppable shape definitely conjured up thoughts of deep-frying. The result? One of the heartiest and tastiest meals we ate, and it took basically no preparation at all. It ended up costing us around 8 Euro for four servings, so it was economical as well as delicious.

We also needed a snack beforehand, so we noshed on these tasty little “steamer-ready!” shu mai with pork and shrimp. We didn’t have a steamer, which I imagine would have been the most optimal form of preparation, nor did we have the hindsight of putting them in the freezer for 24 hours (Picard has a funny habit of giving you defrosting instructions 24 to 48 hours in advance) so we microwaved them with a wet paper towel on top, and they were tasty and tender, especially with the zesty sauce of indeterminate origin.

Because it was Miss Love’s first night cooking at home with me again, we decided to have two desserts. Our first was very, very special, not something you’d expect to see at a grocery store. A frozen pomme d’amour, the French take on the classic candy apple treat, but instead of an apple center, it featured a green apple mousse surrounding an apple gelee, cheesecake center, and speculoos base. All the flavors came together remarkably well, and the visual presentation was breathtaking, especially with the little vanilla pod stem!

We also shared some ice cream that looked delicious and promising- caramel bergamot with pieces of caramel and shortbread. Unfortunately, the bergamot flavor dulled after the first few bites, leaving only sticky sweet caramel, with little salt to balance out all the sugar. The shortbread pieces were also nonexistent.

This is a pizza that we ate the next day for lunch. The ingredient list described it as having 48.9% dough and 51.1% toppings, and I believe that to a T. Seriously, this thing was packed with fresh, tasty vegetable and meat toppings, as well as balls of fresh mozzarella. And speck! Crispy, salty speck ham. The only issue was that it was unwieldy in size- not small enough for one person to eat in one sitting, but not easy for two people to share. If I made one of these again, I might serve it with a salad or something on the side.

Another tasty appetizer, translucent buns stuffed with whole shrimp and a careful dot of green onion. 

This technically wasn’t from Picard, it was from the Monoprix down the street, but we really enjoyed it. This is a flammekuche, a traditional Alsatian ham and onion tart. 
These salmon tartare cylinders came in packaging almost as difficult to unwrap as a CD package. Luckily, the results were worth the effort, especially when eaten in this bitter orange jam and Dijon mustard salmon sandwich with duck bacon. 

Finally, for our last meal, we enjoyed our favorite tikka chicken again, atop a pile of mixed vegetable quinoa. I normally am not partial to quinoa, but this was a fantastic exception. Three minutes in the microwave and it was hot, fluffy, and stuffed with tender veggies. Leaps and bounds above Green Giant! It was delightful and so easy. Picard is definitely somewhere that I’ll go again, and I can’t wait to see how I can use their other ingredients and dishes.

Birthday treats in Paris (Pierre Hermé and Sadaharu Aoki)

It’s official. I’ve turned 22 in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I’ve spent the day exactly as I would have liked- walking around Paris, enjoying some incredible pastries, and surreptitiously photographing the dogs of strangers. #aspergianthug #clickthelink It’s been a fantastic day so far, and the best is yet to come. For now, I’ll give you a glimpse of what I’ve been eating today. True fact: I haven’t eaten a single pastry since I arrived. I wanted this to be my glorious coming-out party, and rather than scoff down sweets at an average boulangerie, I was saving myself for the big guns.

I started out the morning by hitting up two of the patisseries on my bucket list, Sadaharu Aoki and Pierre Hermé. I’d been to Hermé before, but never with a disposable income and a lack of parental guidance. Needless to say, I highly recommend surging into the vast selection of Pierre Hermé with completely unbridled lust. It’s varied, meticulous, and delicious.
I restrained myself and left with a macaron and one of their seasonal pastries, the Ivoire, although items from their Infinitivement Citron line tempted me with their sunny colors. I ultimately chose this pastry for its slightly bizarre ingredients- its mascarpone and balsamic vinegar with candied fruits kept me from splurging on the $160 tomato and olive buttercream cake.

While a textural  and visual masterpiece with the perfect balance of crunch and fluffy cream to soften the sharper edges, I thought the flavor execution could have been dialed up to 11, so to speak. The acidity of the lemon in the mascarpone and vinegar was present, but overshadowed by the thick circles of white chocolate and caramelized mille-feuille pastry. I would have liked to see a sharper salinity to counteract the sweetness of the candy and fruit compote. 

And of course, I had to get a macaron. The Bonaparte boutique had plenty of flavors, but ultimately, one of their seasonal cookies won me over. The Jardin Sauvage, with dark chocolate and lime zest, had a razor-sharp balance that I’d desired in the Ivoire. Salty, sweet, and sour, it was like eating a piece of tamarind candy and fine dark chocolate.
I ate these in le Jardin du Luxembourg, just as the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds.

At Aoki, I bought two pastries that I knew would pair impeccably with the birthday tea I splurged on yesterday, some fine Lapsang Souchong. Its smoky, meaty flavors really enhanced the first pastry, Aoki’s acclaimed salted caramel tart.

This is everything that I want my caramel to be. It’s aggressively salty, sweet, smoky, and viscous, suspended somewhere between liquid, solid, and utter goo. It held up remarkably to the 45 minute schlep and crowded, hot Metro ride home, and its thick biscuit base and chocolate piping encapsulated the caramel with no leakage. That’s what I call fine construction. When I bit into it, all hell broke loose. Needless to say, there’s no way I can eat a normal Twix or Snickers bar again. This is pastry gone wild. Don’t let its compact size deceive you- one is very filling and even a little overwhelming.
And finally, I knew I needed something to jam a candle in as an obligatory Happy Birthday prop.That something was making me salivate since I read about it in Yelp reviews of Aoki- the black sesame éclair. This was my favorite of today’s bounty, and I felt as if I could eat at least three of them. It’s literally perfect- it’s well-balanced and skimps in no part of its composition. Often, with these whacky flavors, you’re sacrificing quality for shock value. Not here. The choux dough is as expertly baked as any Genin or Stohrer example, and the pastry cream is smooth and creamy, coating every tastebud as the nutty, intense flavor of black sesame and black sugar sets in. I could see myself getting at least one of these a week. These will definitely haunt my dreams long after I leave Paris, and are an easy reason (one of many!) to come back often.

It was a wonderful birthday, and there’s plenty more to come. Thanks for joining me!

28-Year Old Corn Pops

I am not a hoarder. I repeat- I am not a hoarder. I had a normal day, did normal grocery shopping, had a normal session with my regular dominatrix, and finished off my night with a box of Corn Pops. From 1984. But that doesn’t make me a hoarder, I swear! I feel like the Tran Pak of food blogging- “oh my god, it was one time!” In fact, in 1984 I was a mere regret in my father’s eye and a ticking time-bomb in my mother’s womb. So, I digress. Not a hoarder. However, that does make the person I bought them from a hoarder. How does it feel, teenybeanybabysluvrrrr1962!?

1984 was an illustrious year for cereal, especially Corn Pops, a coveted item after the Additional Sweetener Ban of 1982 (SGR 1213). Folks were using all kinds of sweeteners in their cereal to spice up the flavors, not limited to the molasses and coconut oil found in these Corn Pops, soon to be replaced by corn syrup. Rated a prestigious grade of 9.5 Cheerios out of 10 by prestigious Pulitzer-prize winning cereal aficionado Tony Panthera (d. 2005, diabetes), these had an impressive breakfast window from 8AM to 10PM, and were described as “nearly effervescent, with a complex, lingering sweetness on the tongue.” They flew off the shelves and were never seen again. Until now.

When the opportunity came to review these and ruin my credit, all I had to do was make a few phone calls to Discover, put my apartment on the market and bam, I was the proud owner of a single-serving box of 1984 Corn Pops and not one, but ten high-interest private loans! I’m also now homeless.
Looking at the pristine box art, I was a little disturbed to see that some of the golden, sweet cereal pieces falling into the bowl of milk were discolored and bore a strong resemblance to rat turds, as though foreshadowing the box’s present contents. Nevertheless, I forged on, ready to meet my maker in the most hyperspecific way I knew: accidental vintage overdose.

These Corn Pops are fortified with essential vitamins, 15% of your daily recommended intake of B12, that patented “ready-sweetened” touch, and they taste like canned ass. They have a meaty texture with a distinct outer and inner layer, the crusty outer shell revealing a pasty, bubblegum chewy core. Despite the ominous grey spots on the outside of some of the puffs, they were thankfully flavorless when dry, but when doused with milk, tasted like they’d spent the last two decades crammed in the moth-ball stuffed pocket of someone who also had a habit of carrying cat litter around. “I taste no molasses, I taste no coconut. Only the lingering aftertaste of shame.” That’s a little Sartre for you. I want to stare into the hateful, pixelated contours of the logo and ask it why, why has this unworthy example survived the test of time when God has killed legends like Kurt Cobain and Mister Rogers? And why is it violating my taste buds?

Just for fun, and by fun, I mean self-loathing, I let these infuse their flavor into an innocent cup of milk to see what would happen. Three hours later, the puffs are still chewy and foamy and the milk is somehow thicker. And brown, presumably due to being infused with mold and K-Mart sweater essence. So, yes, these are truly putrid and bring back no nostalgic feelings other than the nostalgia for taste and dignity. This is my Midnight in Paris, except instead of Owen Wilson ennui-induced escapism I have Corn Pops from 1984, and instead of Zelda Fitzgerald I have…Corn Pops from 1984.

Whatever, in comparison, I still feel like I’ve come out on top. 

La Fermiere Creme Gourmande au Chocolat et Piment

I could talk about the differences in food and eating habits between France and America for hours. I could bore you all to tears and it wouldn’t make a dent in the new discoveries I make each day, the slight changes to my habit that I note and watch before my eyes and lips. One of the most critical, one of the things I thought would never change about me that was almost instantaneous, is the attention and care the French pay to yoghurt. And the quality is evident in the product. I’m not a yoghurt person. I’m not even really a mousse guy. It’s different here, the flavors are adventurous and the product finer. It delivers on its promises with more variety than the American brands, of that I’m sure. My school cafeteria served candy apple (pomme d’amour!) yoghurt the other day and lo and behold, it tasted like a candy apple with chunks of fruit and a hint of burnt sugar. 
So with the combined entrancement of the bizarre as well as a desire to eat healthfully and cheaply, I’ve taken up a yoghurt habit. Yup. Never thought I’d see the day. It’s my favorite form of entertainment. And with every wholesome yoghurt flavor, there exists a dark side. Yes, lumped right alongside the Danone and yaourt Grecque is crème gourmand, a cruel, delicious partner. Very easy to confuse it for its low-calorie counterpart, in its svelte pots and attractive packaging, but it’s richer, more luxurious, and obviously more caloric. Being next to a breakfast item, it takes almost no convincing to assume that its proximity to an early-morning treat makes it suitable for the wee hours as well. So I bought one for breakfast. An experimental breakfast, for the site of course.
This particular crème caught my eye because of its bewitching combination of flavors—dark chocolate and chili pepper, not unusual in solid form, but highly coveted in creamy dessert. I was curious to see how the added cream and change in texture would affect the spice, as lactose products are notorious for soothing the burn of spicy foods. This was one of the most attractive products I’ve ever purchased. 
I didn’t buy this at a specialty food store, nor pay specialty food prices—this was about $3 and change for two substantial pots. I fell in love with how utterly naturalistic they looked, both in and out of the package. They resemble clay paint pots filled with pure, chocolate, brown paint and are wonderfully solid and easy to reuse. Both fortunately and unfortunately, I intend to reuse them to make a better crème piment.
 It turns out that my initial assumption was correct. The spice, though present in enhancing the flavor of the woodsy, dark chocolate base with a cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice perk, was completely devoid of heat, smokiness, and the clean bite of pepper and paprika that I sought this out for in the first place. Nevertheless, it’s a flavor that begs for experimentation, and if the initial product didn’t succeed, I’m confident that my version will certainly do the trick. Until then, I’m content to explore the rest of the crème section.

Foodette in Gay Paris: Exploring McDo and Franprix

Here I am in France! Not only will this be useful for communicating my status as an alive person in a foreign country, but it will also serve as awesome entertainment for my friends and readers across the sea. As I’ve alluded to before, I’ll be here for five months, and will be documenting my travels and consumption as I can. Right now, I am in a hotel (read: youth hostel!) in the 10th arrondissement of Paris for one night. Tomorrow, I go to my apartment, where I will be cooking and spending the remainder of my days. That is, when I’m not off doing amazing things!

Let’s get a few things out of the way. For starters, I’ve been in transit for the last ten hours. It’s noon here and I have the moral fiber and energy of an impaired zombie. That being said, I’ve adjusted swimmingly to the quintessential French diet of cigarettes, Cachou Lajaunie tablets, and juice in the last three hours. For another, I’m going to be formatting my reviews differently here. As much as I’d like to buy every single strange and bizarre thing that I come across, some of the grocery items here are priced strangely, so I’m going to have to be selective about what I review. For instance, basic sandwiches at McDonald’s can range from $2.50 to $8.50 before you add a drink. I’m going to have to be very careful about what I try solely for the lulz. However, this means that you’ll be seeing many a grocery selection post, like this one.

Today, I spent my first morning in Paris as a young, vibrant adult in a McDonald’s and a grocery store, nursing a sore neck and extreme disorientation. I know, I’m a blast and a half. But here’s an interesting fact: an interesting McDonald’s? In my planet? In France, it’s more common than you think. Take all of the quiet, brooding hipsters from Starbucks in the US. Put them in a McDonald’s. That’s the audience of McDo, and it’s pretty cool. The restaurant is modeled less like a 70’s-era cafeteria and more like a hip bistro where the youth languidly lounge. Desperately in need of coffee, I went for an espresso and a mandine, chosen because I secretly wanted a burger at 9AM and that was the first p’tit dejeuner item I saw. The mandine is like a muffin bottom on steroids. It’s extremely dense, crumbly, and heavy, filled with chocolate chips and chocolate blobs on top, and injected with a Nutella-esque paste, but with more chocolate flavor and salt. Me likey, but a croissant it was not. Tomorrow will bring tastier treats. It was tolerable along with the espresso, surprisingly strong and flavorful given its origin. McDo knows how to coffee here, that’s for sure.

After my breakfast, I wandered over to a branch of Franprix, a local grocery chain in Paris. They have a crazy selection of food. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed, especially in the yogurt/pudding/chilled dessert/specialty goo section. There were at least sixty types of semi-solid sweet food in the refrigerator case, in fascinating flavors like kiwi passionfruit, cheesecake, hazelnut, and almond. Lacking a refrigerator, I held off, but you can expect to see some of these pop up soon. My personal favorites in passing were Jockey yogurt, because I liked the name, and I was pleased to discover that Bonne Maman has a line of desserts using their delicious jam. Also pictured: something called Gü Puds that I want to take home and cuddle or display on the credenza, and Nestle EXTRÊME ice cream cones in an assortment of flavors. 

For a small grocery store, the selection is quite extensive. There were many flavors of cereal I hadn’t seen before, including Crunch bar cereal, and even some of their more mundane items were spiced up with interesting flavors. Mexican wings? Okay, then! There’s one thing I know I’ll be able to get cheaply, though: wine! This entire wall was filled with wines from small Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhone producers for well under $7 a bottle. I’m really looking forward to sampling many of them and giving my thoughts on Nobly Rotten.  Plenty of interesting candies to be found, too, ranging from Haribo gummies of all shapes and sizes to more traditional, nostalgic candies, likely from many peoples’ childhoods. 

I also bought this drink. I thought it was unsweetened coconut water, but it tasted like Hi-C and Fruit 2 O had babies and didn’t taste like coconut at all, despite the label. Maybe the parrot’s name is Coco? I’m not sure. I drank it, but it was pretty basic and heavy on the sugar.

And that’s what I’ve been up to so far! For now, I’ll leave you with this pithy bit of wisdom found on a brochure in the hotel: “The champagne helps wonder.” Huzzuh! I’ll be back with a review tonight, and also, remember- next week starts sauce week! Just to spice things up, though, I thought it would be fun to pair French hot sauces and condiments with American jerky, so you’ll be seeing many a review from some of my favorite jerky companies as well. Stay tuned!

Thomas’ Banana Bread Bagels

Thomas’ has meta food down pat. A breakfast food flavored like another breakfast food in breakfast food form. With food like this, who needs enemies? Take note, ye Pop Tarts and Toaster Strudels of the world, now might be the time to cash in on that unlikely partnership with Ruffles or Jif. This is meta-food at its best…and worst.

So this is the Thomas’ Banana Bread Bagels, made of neither banana bread nor bagels. Instead, it’s classic supermarket bagel-bread taking the form of bagel only to provide a scantily flavored vehicle for cream cheese, butter, et al. And it smells. That’s the first thing you’ll notice. The second thing is that it’s impossible to photograph these correctly without looking like you’re intentionally trying to create a moody, trash-laden urbane piece for a high school photography show with the theme “hope.” Thomas’, I need these in a box next time. The good thing is they went apeshit (you thought I was going to say bananas!) with the fruity clip art, throwing bananas all over the place and even on the logo. I wholeheartedly approve of this and refuse to buy another product that doesn’t smack me in the face with its protruding flavors and additives.

That being said, they weren’t abhorrent. Granted, I see absolutely no situation where this would be sufficient grounds to settle between wanting a bagel or banana bread. It lacks the crumbly, moist vivacity of the latter and doesn’t bring the same flavorful contrast to the toppings as either bread does. Instead, it falls somewhere in the middle. It is more scented than sweet, with a sugar and cinnamon bread base and small chunks of walnut and banana fondant sporadically scattered throughout, like a streusel. 

Thankfully, the flavor is not too artificial. It’s decent for a sweeter bagel as it’s nowhere near as indulgent as a sugar-topped or cinnamon swirl bagel, but it still has a restrained base flavor that disappears with cream cheese or yogurt toppings. Even honey comes across as cloying and overpowering on this. Its shock value flavors fall flat when it is called upon to perform. It’s the Gael Greene of bagels. It’s best with a little salted butter, as the savory flavors bring out the spices in the bread, but ultimately, it doesn’t stand well on its own and is, at best, a banal novelty item.

Betty Crocker Reese’s Puffs Muffin Mix

Meta meta meta meta. Oh, god, it was only a matter of time before corporations started running out of ideas and just started mashing their already-successful, already-existing ones together. Which is totally freaking sweet. In the great wide world of Famous Things People Love, like Reese’s and muffins, foods are haphazardly combined in what we now call “breakfast,” but can really mean “any food you decide to cram into your sleep-riddled, slack-jawed maw before 11AM or whenever mom bangs on the door.” Joyous day! So yeah, these exist for me to write about. I’m like a less shocking Triumph, y’see?

These just beg to be judged. From the enthusiastically branded box packaging to the shoddily tacked-on “don’t eat raw muffin batter” on the back of the package, these are a fat kid’s wet dream. The batter is shockingly close to an actual Reese’s, albeit with a gloopier texture and oilier aftertaste. It has an aggressive salty bite and heavy nut-based flavor, with the milkiness of chocolate taking a backseat.

The wheaty, glutenous flavor even rendered it one rung on the incestuous General Mills family tree closer to its namesake, Reese’s Puffs. It was impressive and heightened the anticipation of the end product. The streusel topping, initially chemical in flavor, had a strangely synthetic crunch to it, in a “Fun with Dental Surgery” kind of way. After (illegally?) tasting the batter, we were excited for the end product.

Apparently, this went through some Krazy Khemical Khanges while baking in the oven. Odors of microwaved popcorn, cardboard, and butter wafted through the kitchen, but not a single hint of muffin was to be smelled. Visually, they were stunning out of the oven, emerging nearly identical to their Photoshop enhanced counterparts. Unfortunately, they tasted worse than Reese’s knock-offs– bland, pasty, and inexplicably tough. All the flavor from the batter was gone. Without the strudel’s molasses-tinged magic, it was a cardboard-infused weak chocolate flavor with an inexplicable glutenous texture.
These were improvable, but only with the luxurious lubrication of butter and Nutella, essentially turning them back into the candy they’d sought to leave behind. Okay, whatever, so give me an instance where turning your breakfast into a snack cake doesn’t improve it. (ed. note: see Grits v. Timmy, 2007) These clearly weren’t meant for ingestion. Try using them as instant implants. Or wheels. Or perhaps you haven’t been out of the house since 1952 and want to try that new-fangled greasy legume-paste cakes the kids are yapping about. Just don’t get them to eat.

Todd English’s Tuscany at Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT

What do you get when you have three friends, four hours of sleep, one shower, two beds, and three massive hangovers? The answer is brunch at Todd English’s Tuscany at Mohegan Sun. The restaurant beckoned to us from beneath the waterfall and the glowing Chihuly sculpture and after a night of Krispy Kreme, we couldn’t say no to their hearty breakfast specials.

The restaurant has an inside and an inside-outside part to it, with a balcony by the waterfall. We sat out by the water and perused the menu. Three things stuck out like sore thumbs (and by that, I mean that I bullied my two guests into ordering them so I could sample everything), the castagnaccio pancakes, Tuscan smoked pork, and breakfast risotto.

Miss Love ordered the castagnaccios, pancakes made with chestnuts and pine nuts, a rosemary honey mascarpone and pecan-fig jam topping, and chestnut syrup. The pancakes were very fluffy and not too dense with the nuts mixed in, diner-style pancakes with a chewy crust sweet flavor. With the toppings, the powdered sugar seemed superfluous, but the flavors were able to shine through in each element. The mascarpone sauce was our favorite, but the pecan notes got lost in the jammy fig flavors. 

None of us knew what to expect from Dillinger’s dish, the Tuscan smoked pork and apple pierogies. I thought it would be more of a shredded, Mexican-style pork with Italian flavors, and Miss Love expected a thinly sliced charcuterie meat. Imagine our surprise to see the huge slabs of roasted pork shoulder, smoky and tender. There had to be at least a pound of meat there. Needless to say, it was tough to finish! The crispy pork, flavored with rosemary and a sweet smokiness, came with a side of apple pierogies, another fascinating menu item. The pierogies were hearty, but tasted a little like fried apple pies with a sweet filling. It would have been nice to see the Italian flavors transcend to this side as well, perhaps  with an apple, sage and fontina filling? It was still a very clever dish.

However, it was my breakfast risotto that visually stole the show and baffled us all. The moment I saw it on the menu, I knew I wanted it. And oddly enough, the most unusual dish seemed to be the most healthy of them all. After all, it’s not every day that you get to order maple-glazed lobster, steel cut oats, and cranberries. Atkins meets Bellagio? It was a quirky dish, to say the least. To its credit, everything was cooked perfectly, despite the risotto not being…well, risotto. And I love lobster, and I love oatmeal. I’m just not sure that I love them together. The sweet, buttery flavors of the lobster clashed with the underseasoned oats, creamy on their own but seasoned with little more than a dusting of scallions and the cranberries were nowhere to be found. I wanted to like this dish, but it just didn’t come together as I thought it would. I would have liked to see more zest, more seasoning- a maple, sage, and brown sugar Arborio risotto with soy and sugar-glazed lobster and scallions with toasted pine nuts. It had the potential to be exciting, but came off as over the top without exceeding expectations.
I definitely want to try Tuscany again- I’m a huge fan of Todd English’s other restaurants and am pleased to see him set up in Connecticut. And I think that this brunch menu has massive potential but needs some tightening up. Perhaps they do a better savory spread. In any case, it was a hearty breakfast to start the day with, and we appreciated the extra flair and class in the design.