Archive for the 'Food Network' Category

17
Aug
13

Blame Max Brenner for all those sugar-buzzed kids in Bethesda

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Max Brenner Chocolate Bar opened up earlier this month right next to Jaleo in downtown Bethesda. The only reason I knew is that my friend The Chicken sent me some photos of the s’mores pizza and crepes she’d shared with her kids. Their verdict? Pretty good but stomach-ache inducing. I decided to check it out, with bottle of Pepto at the ready.
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This part of Bethesda’s generally overrun with harried parents chasing small children, strolling small children, and wrangling small children. Not surprisingly, many of those families are taking their kids here. At one point during my last visit, I got worried about the safety of their fondue grills. Open flames and kids amped up on sugar/caffeine–hmmm. Here’s to hoping that the tables aren’t wobbly.
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Despite the high prices, small portions, and long lines, this place will likely succeed in this location. Here’s why:
  • It’s family-friendly, although some kids may be asking their parents what a “chocolate syringe” is. See photo #2 above.
  • Although you can eat-in, you’re not paying for a waiter. You order at the counter, then they bring your goodies to you.
  • There was a gap in the market for a dessert bar in Bethesda. Sure, there’s Georgetown Cupcake, Tout de Sweet, Fancy Cakes by Leslie, and various froyo options. But none of them offer a proper sit-down experience. No wonder Washingtonians (Bethesdans?) are lining up for $15 crepes and $8 milkshakes.
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Although I did manage to avoid a gastrointestinal fail on both visits, I can’t see myself returning here often. There’s a big novelty factor that wears off fast. The first time I went was to check it out. The second time was to take an out-of-town guest. Everything that I ordered was good (lava cake combo the first visit; milk chocolate fondue the second). Nothing that I ordered was to-die-for. But if you’re a kid, it’s probably heaven.
27
Apr
13

Suspend your disbelief: this prune cake’s actually really good

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A steaming bowl of mashed prunes isn’t exactly an auspicious start to a cake. In fact, it can do the opposite of whetting the appetite.

Yet this prune cake with buttermilk icing from the Pioneer Woman’s really, really good. Like a mild spice cake without the annoying cloyingness you can get from too much molasses and/or brown sugar. The buttermilk icing gives the entire thing a caramelly finish.

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I suppose if she called it dried plum cake, it wouldn’t sound that much better. Seriously, though, no matter your feelings for prunes, this is a cake worth trying if you’ve got some extra buttermilk in the fridge.

You can cut back on the sugar without hurting the taste (I cut back to 3/4 cup for the cake and 3/4 cup for the icing. I didn’t end up using all of the icing.). Provided you don’t over-mix the batter, you get a super fluffy, moist cake that will having you re-evaluating your preconceived notions of prunes.

25
Feb
13

Blackberry-mango cobbler, barely salvaged from flatness

Last weekend, I made a rookie baking mistake.

Pioneer Women's blackberry cobbler. I added a mango, too.

On a recent episode of Pioneer Woman, Ree made this blackberry cobbler. There are only 5 basic ingredients, all of which I had in the house (or so I thought)—how could I screw it up?

  1. butter
  2. milk
  3. sugar
  4. flour
  5. fruit (blackberries, plus I added 1 chopped mango)

Here’s how: The recipe calls for self-rising flour, which I don’t normally use. Not that I noticed while I was mixing the ingredients.

The blackberry-mango cobbler, right before it went into the oven.

It was pretty before it went into the oven. Too bad I forgot the leavening agent.

After the cobbler had been baking for 10 minutes, I realized I’d added no leavening agent (no yeast, eggs, baking powder, or baking soda: the ingredient you need to make the cake-y part of the cobbler). *starts tearing hair out at potential wastage of fruit*

Luckily, at this point it was early enough to take the cobbler from the oven and mix in 1 teaspoon of baking powder plus a pinch of salt. This made the cobbler a whole lot less presentable, but saved it from turning into shortbread.

The result wasn't as pretty as it could've been, given the last-minute first aid. But it was devoured in 2 days anyway.

The result wasn’t as pretty as it could’ve been, given the last-minute first aid. That, and the fact that we attacked it.

A few other notes:

  • Add 1 stick of butter, not 1/2 stick. Reviewing a few of the user comments made me realize the Food Network recipe was off.
  • A 3-quart dish is a little large for this recipe, unless you’re ok with your slices being brownie-height. Otherwise, use a smaller dish and keep an eye on the baking time.

The final cobbler was still pretty awesome because the sugar topping creates a crunchy, chewy crust. (Try using a larger-grain sugar, like sugar in the raw). Plus, you can really add almost any fruit you want—don’t limit yourself to berries. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking it’s healthy, given how much sugar and butter goes into this.

25
Jan
13

A respectable shortcut for apple dumplings

This is my first time out trying a recipe from Trisha Yearwood’s Food Network show. The country music star focuses on rib-stickin’ Southern home cooking. In the opening credits she says that everything’s home-cooked, but her recipes actually tend toward semi-homemade. Example: these apple dumplings, which use store-bought buttermilk biscuit dough for the pastry. Although I’m not opposed to store-bought shortcuts, I felt a little misled.

One reason I tend to stay away from using Pillsbury-type doughs (with the exception of the pie crusts) is that they’re best eaten straight from the oven. Wait an hour or so and they’ve usually already hardened, amplifying their fake buttery taste. That, and I wince when the can pops.

Trisha Yearwood's apple dumplings

Before these semi-homemade apple dumplings went into the oven, they were languishing in a buttery bath.

I decided to try this recipe anyway, swayed by the overwhelmingly positive reader reviews. But a few questions plagued me. Would the pastry soaking in the butter fluids actually cook, or remain factory-made pastry mush? Would the fake-butter taste from the pastry overwhelm the finished product?

I’m relieved to report that these turned out quite tasty, despite the slightly repulsive butter bath they baked in (I just about halved the recipe for 8 dumplings). The Granny Smith apple softens inside, a nice contrast to the crunchy cinnamon-dusted tops. The leftovers even held up the next day (stored without the butter sauce).

Trisha Yearwood's apple dumplings, from the oven.

After baking. The bottoms do bake through, thankfully.

PS: Turns out Tricia’s in good company when it comes to semi-homemade apple dumplings. Pioneer Woman makes a variation on these using Crescent Roll dough and Mountain Dew (recipe here), if you like your apple dumplings with a caffeine kick.

12
Jan
13

Pioneer Woman’s strawberry oatmeal bars, a decidely unhealthy treat

Sifting through the user ratings on this strawberry oatmeal bar recipe, you might be misled into thinking that these are good for you. But take a closer look at the ingredients. Nearly 2 sticks of butter and a cup of sugar—that doesn’t even include the sugar in the preserves. While I clearly embrace sugar in my diet (a lot more than I should), these bars turned out too sweet even for me.

Pioneer Woman's strawberry-oatmeal bars

Tasty but not likely to be good for you, apart from the oats.

While it’s not a healthy recipe as-is, there are easy modifications that could make it more like a granola bar and less like a dessert: swapping out the white flour for whole-wheat pastry flour, maybe. Adding flaxseeds or nuts could also up the health ante. But this was my first time making them so I tried none of the above. I did, however, add a handful of toasted coconut flakes. I also substituted raspberry-apricot preserves, since I didn’t have any strawberry in the house.

Pioneer Woman’s show is compulsive viewing: partly because of her laid-back sense of humor, and partly because her family’s ranching lifestyle gives us a glimpse into a completely different world. But bear in mind that her recipes tend to be rich (and portioned for a small army) because (1) she’s got 4 kids, and (2) her family can afford to eat like that. They’re doing hard labor on a regular basis around the ranch. Meanwhile, many of us sit at a desk for at least 40 hours a week, and the likelihood we’re going to burn down a barn or round up cattle anytime soon is low. So I’ve made a mental note to bear that in mind when attempting her recipes, and adjust accordingly.

02
Jan
13

Lemony delights, homemade and store-bought

Happy 2013! As the holidays come to a close and the dreary weather settles in, I’ve found myself gravitating toward citrus desserts lately–particularly lemon. Weird and fascinating fact: even though lemons are acidic, your body metabolizes them as alkaline. So you could argue that these desserts are compatible with your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze from Giada De Laurentiis

My New Year’s resolution: learn to hold the camera straight.

First off are these lemon-lime ricotta cookies, a slight modification of a Giada DL recipe. I added lime zest to the icing rather than just lemon zest. Simple enough to make, these don’t require any fancy equipment beyond a mixer. These eat like tart little cakes, nice with tea or coffee. As you mix the icing, feel free to add more lemon juice and zest than the recipe prescribes, but make sure to taste as you go. Also, stick with juicing your own lemons. The stuff from the bottle has a bite to it (probably from oxidation) that fresh lemon juice doesn’t.

Trader Joe's lemon bars

Rarely are commercially made lemon bars tart enough, but lemon juice is the first ingredient in these bite-sized ones from Trader Joe’s.

I don’t see a need to ever make lemon bars again after trying these little gems from Trader Joe’s. They’re not that high in sugar (5 grams each), wonderfully tart (making me wonder if TJ’s cheated by adding citric acid–nope, just lemon juice), and all you do is defrost them from the freezer. If you’re serving them to guests, you may want to re-dust them with powdered sugar right beforehand. That part didn’t survive the defrosting totally intact.

Trader Joe's lemon & triple gingersnap ice cream

Judging from the font on the carton, this lemon and triple ginger snap ice cream is Asian-inspired.

Lastly, Trader Joe’s lemon and triple ginger snap ice cream is the frozen treat equivalent of lemon-ginger tea. And it doesn’t shy away from that ginger bite. Spooning into a cluster of gingersnaps makes me feel like I’m hitting paydirt. While ice cream doesn’t rank as high up there for me as cakes, pies, or cookies, this stuff makes a worthy sugar fix. Especially if you toss the random chocolate chip cookie in there as a garnish.

15
Nov
12

A sweet-tart fix for the holidays, Barefoot Contessa’s apple-cranberry cake

Barefoot Contessa's easy apple-cranberry cake

I rarely buy cookbooks, because there are usually only a few recipes from each that I want to try, much less make over and over again. Instead, I print recipes from the web and organize them in binders with clear sheet protectors (= easy to wipe when schmutz gets on them during cooking). Only a select few kitchen-tested recipes make it into the binder—the ones I know I’ll come back to.

This apple-cranberry cake (Is it a cake? Is it a crumble? The user comments are abuzz debating this point.) is one I plan on revisiting. It’s got lots of fruit like a pie but the vanilla cake is a nice foil, soaking in some of the juices. Also, this cake is mouth-puckeringly tart, fragrant with the orange and cinnamon flavors of the holidays. The simplicity of the recipe, coupled with the delicious result, is why so many of us wish we were one of the Contessa’s frequent dinner guests.

I doubled the recipe to make 2 (didn't want to waste the rest of my container of sour cream).

After sifting through the comments section, I decided to go with 2 Granny Smiths* and ½ bag cranberries, rather than the recommended 1 apple/1 bag cranberries. The cake was plenty tart using this alternative fruit combo. I also took a lighter hand with the orange, using the zest from just 1 orange (didn’t want it to overpower the other fruit flavors). There was just one instruction the Contessa overlooked: place a cookie sheet under your cake as it bakes. As the fruits begin to bubble, my cake pan runneth’ed over, causing a right mess on the bottom of the oven.

BTW, fresh cranberries are seasonal so if you plan on making this after the holidays, stock up while they’re on sale. They freeze beautifully.

*Great apple pie that tip the Contessa mentioned during this episode: if you want your filling to be less runny, use Granny Smiths. They have lots of pectin that prevents that watery consistency.

03
Sep
12

Cherry-pistachio tea cakes

Cherry pistachio tea cakes

This recipe comes from Food Network. I need to be more wary of recipes on that site that don’t have a critical mass of user reviews. These came out somewhat short on flavor. Maybe they need some lemon zest, or pistachio extract. Also, if I were to make these again, I’d cut back on the butter. If you were actually having these with tea, you’d expect to see that film of grease on top of your tea after taking a bite.

Draining dark morello cherries from Trader Joe's.

I used Trader Joe’s morello cherries from the jar to avoid any pitting issues.

The recipe calls for fresh cherries, but I used cherries from a jar. These morellos from Trader Joe’s come in a huge jar for less than $3. I’ve found them to be good for creating cherry toppings for cheesecake, like this Paula Deen recipe–especially if you want to avoid that fluorescent-red cherry pie filling you get from a can.

19
Aug
12

Desserts that bid adieu to summer

As August draws to a close, time’s running out to make desserts using summer fruits. So for the past few weekends, I experimented with a couple of recipes that were summer-fruit-centric.

Mixing the strawberries and rhubarb for Barefoot Contessa's strawberry rhubarb crisp.

The orange zest (plus a dash of Grand Marnier that I added at the last minute) added a strong citrus flavor.

The first was this strawberry-rhubarb crisp from the Barefoot Contessa. Fresh rhubarb isn’t available year-round, and winter strawberries are about as flavorful as winter tomatoes. So it seemed like a good recipe to try before the season’s out.

However, I didn’t want to make the full 11″x8″ pan, so I modified it for a square 8″x8″ pan, going easy with the sugar. The fruit came out pretty tart. (I’d forgotten how mouth-puckering rhubarb is.) The crumble topping was awesome, though, and I laid it on thick. Fruit crisps are like pies —I can never get enough crust/crumbled topping, because otherwise it feels like I’m scooping mouthfuls of jam into my mouth.

Besides the simplicity of this recipe, there’s another benefit: you can trick yourself into thinking this is health food, thanks to the rolled oats in the topping, and fresh fruit underneath.

Barefoot Contessa's strawberry rhubarb crisp

This blueberry coffee cake muffin recipe also comes by way of the Contessa and was highly rated. Not sure why they’re called “coffee cake” muffins–that makes it sound like they have a crumb topping.

Anyway, these were perfect straight from the oven: light, fluffy, and moist with blueberries (I did take the liberty of adding at least 1 cup more fruit than the recipe calls for and extending the baking time). After a couple days stored in the fridge, though, the grease from the sour cream and butter gets more pronounced. The lesson here is that you want to plan on eating these right away.

Barefoot Contessa's blueberry coffee cake muffins, straight from the oven.

24
Jun
12

A cake for pie fans, and vice-versa

First there was the cherpumple. Now there’s the (not as over-the-top) strawberry pie cake, offering something to please everyone, no matter what side they’re on.

The strawberry pie cake

It’s a pie! It’s a cake!

The recipe looks relatively easy–you use store-bought cake mix and pie dough. I haven’t attempted this yet, but it would be good for a party with some fresh whipped cream and maybe a layer of strawberry jam between the cake and berries.





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