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French Toast Sticks

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My alma mater, the Maryland Institute College of Art, had this ingenious institution called the “midnight breakfast.”  It happened just once a semester during finals.  As I’m sure you have gleaned from the name, the midnight breakfast was an event that took place in the cafeteria at midnight.  It was free (which was good because I didn’t have a meal plan after my sophomore year), it was TONS of fun to get there an hour early and stand in line with your friends, and, best of all, they had french toast sticks.

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This may sound minor to you, but at MICA, good food served in the dining hall was a rarity.  The two things they served that were consistently delicious were chicken tenders and french toast sticks.  And, of course, they rarely ever served either of those things.  So, once a semester, you would wait in line (in your pajamas) next to people who had been up for days and were covered in charcoal or oil paint or smelled like fixer, and you would be rewarded with french toast stick heaven.

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The thing about Parkhurst (the company that provides food to starving MICA students via an overpriced meal plan), is that they’re very into making all their food from scratch.  Which I would applaud, if most of the time it didn’t taste like… nothing. Apparently they’re also very against seasoning.  It’s a nice idea though, especially because I am a big advocate of completely homemade cooking.  But these french toast sticks, made from scratch, are mind bogglingly good.  I think that they’ve been breaded and deep fried and coated and mmmmmmm.

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This morning what I was really craving was french toast sticks.  To be frank, I wanted french toast sticks made from the chili cheddar bread we buy at the Farmer’s Market each week.  But, alas, delicious bread we buy Sunday does not usually  make it until the following Saturday.  So, I made french toast sticks with wheat toast, which were completely delicious.  Maybe one day this week we’ll have brinner, so I will be afforded the opportunity to make chili cheese french toast before the loaf disappears.

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French Toast Sticks

4 pieces of bread

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp butter

1 tsp powdered sugar (optional)

6 tbsp maple syrup (optional)

Whisk together eggs,  milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and regular sugar.  Cut your bread into strips.  I like to leave the crust on, you don’t have to.  Melt your butter in a fry pan over medium heat.

Dip your bread sticks in the egg mixture, making sure each side gets totally dunked.  Fry for about two minutes on each side.  I like a nice crispy egg edge on my french toast so I allow some of the mixture to slop on over to the pan with my bread.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and pour maple syrup on top.  Serve.

Serves 2.

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Roasting Garlic

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Since we’re on a bit of a hummus bender, I decided to branch out this weekend and make both roasted garlic hummus and spinach and feta hummus.  I had never roasted garlic before, and I thought it was a good skill to have (think of how many delicious dishes include roasted garlic).  I did some research, and although there seemed to be some technique variations, I followed the trends, and this weekend I roasted my first garlic.

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I decided to roast an entire head of garlic, because with hummus, you need a strong flavor to overtake the garbanzo beans.  I learned that while roasting garlic you can either roast an entire head, or, you can just roast cloves.  Either way, it is very important that the skin (the papery layers that surround the “meat” of the garlic) stay in tact.  The skin functions as a high-temperature barrier for the meat.

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Like roasting other vegetables, when roasting garlic you  need high temperatures and a fatty lubricant, in this case olive oil.  It is also important that you cut off the top of the head, so that some of the garlic is exposed.  I found that cutting off the top, drizzling oil over the head, and then roasting for 30 minutes at 400* worked perfectly.  I also covered the pan in aluminum foil, so that the garlic would also get a nice steam.

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The best thing by far about cooking with roasted garlic is getting the garlic out of the skin.  You know that scene in The Little Mermaid where Ursula picks up one of those plant things and squeezes it to put on her lips as lipstick?  The very visceral quality of the popping coral or anemone or whatever it is has stuck with me my whole life.  And the experience of squeezing roasted garlic out of its skin into my food processor was as close as I am ever going to get to squeezing underwater plants onto my lips.

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Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

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While I usually boycott Valentine’s Day on principle (it’s a materialistic holiday that makes my gender look like a bunch of Vermont Teddy Bear hungry fools), I will go so far as buying Dan a stupid card (this year’s featured a matchbook and the phrase “burning love”) and making a nice dinner.  If nothing else, it’s an excuse for us to make a nice meal and drink champagne.

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This year we made Black Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon with Roasted Red Pepper Salsa, and to follow it, I made chocolate dipped strawberries.  I chose to do strawberries because they are light, romantic, and perfectly complimentary to champagne.  Now maybe its because a large chunk of my romantic insight comes from either the Brat Pack or Julia Roberts, but strawberries and champagne are the ultimate romantic dessert (how many of you are currently imagining Julia lying on the floor, eating strawberries and champagne and watching I Love Lucy?).

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Plus, they’re super easy.  And they’re perfect to make ahead, which means there’s one less thing you have to worry about while you’re preparing dinner/getting dressed/lighting candles/lending your panties to a friend so he can earn 9th grade street cred.  You can make them hours or even a day or two ahead, they refrigerate nicely, and then pull them out when you need them.

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Another reason that I boycott Valentine’s Day is because it’s a holiday that alienates half the population.  Believe me, I have spent many a February 14th single, and on nights when your friends are cooking with their significant others or out to a fancy dinner, being showered by roses and bears with magnetic faces, you want to murder someone.  My advice is to make yourself a nice meal, pop an eighties classic in the DVD player, and remind yourself how awesome you are.  With wine, there should always be wine in self-pampering evenings.  And probably a bubble bath.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

8-12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

1 box of whole strawberries

Coarsely chop your chocolate and melt in a double boiler.  When the chocolate is smooth, remove from heat.  Coat each strawberry 3/4 of the way in chocolate.  Place on wax paper or tin foil and allow to cool, at least thirty minutes.

We recommend you serve these with a glass of dry champagne.

Serves 2-4. (But why would you want it to serve more than 2? ;) )

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