The Cheesecake Challenge

Yesterday took me on a new baking adventure: cheesecake. I volunteered to bring dessert for Bible study, and I vowed to try something new. Here enters cheesecake. I needed a treat high school students were sure to eat, so I started brainstorming cheesecake flavors. I ruled out plain early on, considered chocolate, and ended on Reese’s. I am embarrassed to admit, but this is a Pinterest dessert if I’ve ever seen one.

The cheesecake preparation process was simpler than I expected. I’m not sure what I expected exactly, but apparently not that. I followed Taste and Tell’s recipe for the cheesecake and everything worked well. I made the cheesecake the night before and chilled it still in the springform pan with the sides on. Then, about two hours before serving I removed the sides and added chocolate topping from Oh My God Chocolate Desserts. I then put the cheesecake back in the fridge until serving it. I recommend doing this method because everything held together well.

Upon serving, the cheesecake was gone in under five minutes, so I guess it was hit! Many friends also saw the baking process and have requested I make it for them soon. All good signs. It did look pretty delicious. Let’s start with the Oreo crust, move to the chunks of Reese’s in the cheesecake and on top, and end with the dark chocolately topping. So… yum. Now I have cheesecake under my belt, and it’s on to the next challenge.


Fajita Spice Mix

I cook Mexican food in phases. I’ll make salsa and guac a few nights in a row, then Salsa Chicken the next night, and eventually I get around to mojitos (which I learned to make with fake sugar simple syrup and they are AWESOME–way better than they sound). Then I remember how much I enjoy cooking Mexican! It’s easy, healthy, and people generally like it.

I think the spice is best rubbed on chicken right before cooking. Making the spice blend ahead sets you up for a quick and easy dinner.

Fajita Spice

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp salt

Mix together all ingredients.

Non-European Food Blog

It feels official; I’m back in the United States, at least for a while. Although the days of Europe frolicking tales have passed, I hope to keep Brown Eyes and a Smile active as I continue my journey in Chicago, even if it looks a little different. I hope to share some of my favorite recipes and restaurants with you, if you’re up for it. I might have fewer exotic photos to show, but I promise to continue eating well in my American life. I hope you’re up for the journey with me!

A Paris Visit to Café Constant

I promised to post this two days ago. I know, I’m sorry. This week wifi stopped working at home, and my iPhone broke. Don’t worry, everything works now.

On to Café Constant. Christian Constant, a Michelin Start chef, set out to serve sophisticated food at reasonable prices. With three restaurants along Rue Saint-Dominique, or Rue Constant as some locals know it, Constant succeeded.

Visit the Eiffel Tower at dusk, and continue to Constant, two blocks away, for a late (European timed) dinner, 25 to 30 euros for three courses and a glass of wine.

Since Café Constant does not accept reservations, expect to wait. Just don’t let the wait turn you away. Put your name in, go down the street for a glass of wine and come back after your allotted wait time.

Once seated and perusing the menu, the multilingual staff will gladly answer questions. My vegetarian friend and I chose only seafood. We started with the tartare of oysters, seabass and salmon seasoned with ginger and lemon. The modest glaze added flavor without overpowering. Next, the poached cod with vegetables and garlic mayonnaise. Since the fish had pesto, I used the mayonnaise for the veggies.

Cod with vegetables

Cod with vegetables

Chocolate ‘quenelles’ with crème anglaise concluded the evening. For those unfamiliar with ‘quenelles’ (I was!), they are a form of chocolate ganache. I’m a dark chocolate freak, so this was the best dessert I’ve had  in Europe. The chocolate and cream with a few shaved almonds gives a rich taste.

Bliss! (chocolate

Pure bliss (chocolate ‘quenelles’)

Café Constant

139 Rue Saint-Dominique

75007 Paris, France

Weekend (and Midnight) in Paris

I confess, I have never seen Midnight in Paris. However, my traveling companion Alyssa has, and she often referenced the movie, so it kind of seems like I saw it.

I visited Paris, France this weekend. It was a short trip but one packed with many activities. After waking up at 4:45 to catch a taxi at 5:30 Alyssa and I boarded the plane and headed north. After two hours, we landed in Paris!

Friday’s agenda included a hearty English breakfast, admiring the city and a quick nap. We stayed close to the Gare du Nord train station, which is a large and well-connected station in the city. We knew we could get mostly anywhere from there, but the maps are pretty confusing. After the nap, we set off to navigate transportation. When we blankly stared at the map for 15 minutes, I knew we only had one option: ask for directions.  I had heard many times that the French hate Americans, so I tentatively asked a police officer, “Do you speak English?” He smiled, said that he did but that his friend knew more, and before I knew it four French police officers were giving us directions to the Louvre. They even walked us to the train.

We arrived at the Louvre and walked along the river. Which brings me to my first Eiffel Tower sighting! Soon it was time for the Louvre Museum. Like everyone says, the Mona Lisa is small. After spending Thursday evening at the Prado in Madrid and Friday evening at the Louvre, my head is sufficiently saturated with European art. Fortunately, appreciating the masterpieces is no difficult task. We walked through the Tuileries Garden on our way to dinner.

See it way back on the left?

See it way back on the left?

Walking across the Seine, we stopped to admire generations worth of love locks.

Walking across the Seine, we stopped to admire generations worth of love locks.

This week is fashion week in Paris. I expected to see more events, advertising or something, but we did run into one designer. Nina Ademar proudly displayed a “mobile fashion show” in a decorated delivery truck. Even though they turned away the woman in front of us, the guys let us come inside. A few dresses awed me, but I remained indifferent to some others. In other words, not preppy enough for this shopper. I miss you J. Crew!

Inside the truck

Inside the truck

We enjoyed Friday night dinner at Pinxo in the 1st arrondissement. We enjoyed curdle goat cheese with eggplant, steamed shrimps in garden herb broth, prawn tails and a glass of vin rosé in this Alain Dutournier establishment. I enjoyed all, but the prawns, served with coconut rice, emerged as my favorites.

Saturday brought a new set of recreation. When in France, a tourist must eat crepes, hence Saturday morning crepes and coffee. After crepes, off to Champs Elysees. Translation: shop ‘til you drop. After hours of shopping, a few minutes in the Luxembourg Gardens sounded magnificent. That was about the time I had to best crepe I have ever tasted. We met up with Alyssa’s friend who is studying in Paris, and he ordered a crepe from a stand on the street. There was a miscommunication, he got two crepes, and he shared. Tuna, mozzarella and magic seasoning (the man called it magic) for four euros. Anyway, we sat in the park while enjoying the crepe, and it felt surreal. It felt like we were in a movie, maybe Afternoon in Paris.

Bliss in crepe form

Bliss in crepe form

Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Gardens

As soon as it got dark, Alyssa and I headed for the Eiffel Tower. Since it was our first time in Paris, we went all the way to the top.

Obligatory photo

Obligatory photo

We ended the night at Constant, which was so special it gets its own post tomorrow, or maybe later today if I don’t get distracted.

We concluded the weekend with mass at Notre Dame. Even though the service was in French, I felt engaged and happy to be there. The cathedrals in Europe are unlike anything in the United States. If you haven’t been, go.

Outside Notre Dame

Outside Notre Dame

That’s the trip. Although there are many more stories, these were the highlights. Even though my French spans from bonjour to merci, I managed well. Paris holds much more, but we feel good about our trip. When I go back, Disneyland Paris is first on the list!

Paella Pow Wow

You ask, what is a Paella Pow Wow? Paella everywhere you look. This was a competition event, hosted by Mountain View church at a gorgeous home in the suburbs of Madrid. Fourteen chefs brought ingredients and paella pans and made paella in the backyard. After trying all the paellas, I am stuffed. Like, I can’t eat any more food for the rest of the day. Despite my slight discomfort, I loved participating in this paella tasting.

This paella won best flavor.

This paella won best flavor.

One kind chef let us help. Megan is giving the giant paella a good stir.

One kind chef let us help. Megan is giving the giant paella a good stir.


Every paella had a completely different flavor. Yes, I took mental notes and am prepared to make paella for everyone when I got back to the U.S.

In other news, I joined a gym this week, found a great coffee shop and look forward to yoga in Parque del Retiro tomorrow.