Archive for December, 2010


Why fancy desserts can leave you high and dry

• They’re usually more of a feast for the eyes than the mouth
• The portions are “fun size”
• They always seem to come with a scoop of ice cream flavored with curry, 5 spice, or some other Iron-Chef-type flavor that’s more interesting in concept than execution

These desserts hail from CityZen, DC. Mr. X-sXe and I were big fans of the Sicilian pistachio mousse, presented cannoli-style. The cranberry sauce wasn’t something you’d think would go with pistachio, but it worked. We could’ve each put away another plate of these.

This pistachio mousse looked like Christmas on a plate.

I didn’t care as much for the chocolate tart with olive oil ice cream (it came with the tasting menu–probably not the dessert I would’ve picked, given a choice). The chocolate was too subtle; the olive-oil ice cream brought nothing to the party. I noticed the couple next to us barely touched theirs, so I’m not the only one who was underwhelmed by this dessert.

The small treats plate is to fancy joints what orange wedges/fortune cookies are to Chinese restaurants: that extra something that makes for a nice finish to a meal. Here, a chewy macaroon is flanked by a fruit jelly and Earl Grey chocolate. I’d take these over a fortune cookie any day.


What was Duncan Hines thinking? The offending cupcakes ad

Duncan Hines recently pulled their “hip hop cupcakes” ad after accusations of racism. Are they just innocent rapping cupcakes, or is there something more sinister at play?

This comment from the Ad Age article offers some insight:

TommyDeVito | Los Angeles, CA:

OK, I don’t mean to pour gasoline on this fire, but visit Filmaka – the enterprise behind the Duncan Hines video – and search for director Josh Binder’s collection of work. It includes a video featuring “Samurai” bread loaves, pushing Asian stereotypes, as well as examples of rednecks, more Asian stereotypes and blatant sexism (check out “Booty Call”). Additionally, in a few instances of credits, Binder identifies himself as White and Cracker Mix. Don’t wanna draw too many conclusions about Binder, but his overboard comedy certainly pushes the edge. If he did view his concept as “Hip Hop Cupcakes,” it could definitely be a case of a very culturally clueless White guy with a track record of broad humor bordering on insensitivity.

Personally, I’m outraged that Duncan Hines created a microwaveable frosting product that looks as nasty as Hershey’s “chocolate” syrup. If you’re too lazy to stick a butter knife into a canister of store-bought frosting, don’t make the darn cupcakes.


Reality TV meets holiday treats

As a kid, getting a gingerbread house for the holidays was a real score. They offered more than one kind of candy, big portions, and everlasting freshness (so I thought).

These days I like looking at the things more than eating them. This custom job was made by Heidi Montag’s mom. I came across it on her blog the same week that Heidi’s on the cover of Life & Style lamenting her plastic surgery scars. Apparently, mother and daughter aren’t on speaking terms because Heidi feels used. C’mon, Heidi. If my mom custom made and hand-delivered a gingerbread house to me, she could do all the famewhoring she wanted.


Hot chocolate avec Trader Joe’s Minty Mallows

This kind of weather calls for nursing a mug of hot chocolate in front of a fire. If you happen to have a couple Minty Mallows from Trader Joe’s to top it off with (they seem to be sold out everywhere except the Foggy Bottom store–I saw a few boxes left today), all the better. These well-traveled marshmallows are made in France, so they’re a bit beaten up in the boxes. But tasty, all the same.

I made the mistake of making my hot chocolate with cocoa powder, the baking kind, earlier this week. It turned out a bit bland. After consulting some online recipes, I learned the secret: use chocolate chips. Get the milk or soy milk simmering but not boiling, take it off of the stove, then whisk the chips in quickly. A dash of vanilla, maybe a cinnamon stick, and you’re done. I used semisweet Ghiradelli chips. Didn’t even have to chop them up or add sugar.


Happy Belated National Cupcake Day!

Frankly, what kind of pie/cake blog are we that we can’t even get National Cupcake Day right? (It was December 15th.)

*Hang head in shame.*

Anyway, HuffPo put together this slideshow of LA cupcake places. Cupcakes AND good weather? Wish I were there.

PS: Sprinkles, you promised to open your DC Georgetown branch this fall. Now it’s been pushed back to 2011. C’mon, we’re sick of staring longingly into your empty storefront.


Eccles cake, aka British currant turnovers

Faux Grant brought back this cookbook from England (cheers, Faux!), which encourages you to make a proper meal out of afternoon tea. Aside: if we Americans paused for afternoon tea, I bet we’d have a lot less road rage. Anyway, the book is split into savory dishes (potted meats, sandwiches, spreads/pastes) and traditional British desserts, which I’m a big fan of–even the ones with sketchy names like spotted dick.

On my first outing I tried the Eccles cake, which dates back to the 18th century. A coworker had mentioned enjoying this pastry on a trip to England, which was the first time I’d heard of it. The recipe in Mrs. Simkins calls for pre-made puff pastry filled with a mixture of brown sugar, butter, lemon zest, and currants. Basically, a turnover with a mincemeat-type filling (less the meat).

Currants are the raisins of the UK but way less sweet, and smaller. You’ll find them dotting baked goods such as scones and buns, and there’s a ubiquitous drink called Ribena that’s blackcurrant flavored.

The nice thing about this recipe, besides its simplicity, is that you can fine-tune the filling. Citrus peel give you the fruitcake heebee jeebees? Leave it out. Want to spice it up? Add some cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Here’s the variation I used, but you can take creative license with it. Just remember to keep tasting the filling as you’re cooking it.

Recipe: Eccles cakes

Adapted from Tea With Mrs. Simkins

8 tbsp currants (avail. from the bulk bins at Whole Foods)

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp brown sugar (or more, to taste)

1 tbsp water

Finely grated lemon zest of 1/2 lemon

1 sheet of ready-made puff pastry (I got mine from the freezer case of Trader Joe’s, a 9″x9″ sheet)

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

1 tbsp sugar in the raw to sprinkle on top (optional. Use any large-grain sugar you have on hand.)


Cook the currants, sugar, butter, water, lemon zest, and nutmeg in a small pan, stirring constantly until the sugar has lost its graininess and the currants are plumping up nicely (about 5 minutes). Taste the mixture before you turn off the heat to see if it could use additional sugar, spices, etc. Let mixture cool.

Defrost the puff pastry (less than 10 min. at room temp, or defrost in the fridge during the warmer months). Cut the sheet into four 3″x3″ squares with a non-serrated knife. Put a couple spoonfuls of the cooled currant mixture into each square. Brush 2 adjacent edges with the beaten egg, then fold over the edges diagonally to make a triangle shape. Press the edges together to seal. Brush the top of each triangle with the egg wash, and sprinkle with the sugar in the raw.

Bake at 375 degrees on a greased baking sheet (or use parchment paper) until the tops are nice and brown Since ovens vary, start checking them around the 12-minute mark. I ended up baking mine about 20 minutes.

Makes 4 eccles “cakes.”


Can you trust a skinny baker? Rachel Zoe’s chocolate dream brownies, road-tested

If you know who stylist-to-the-stars Rachel Zoe is, you probably have a hard time picturing her in the kitchen. Besides her feud with Nicole Richie (they’ve since patched things up, *whew*), she’s infamous for being the size of a lamppost. In all fairness, after watching her Bravo show it seems her emaciation has a lot to do with the fact that she’s always in hyperactive go-go-go mode. She’s put on weight recently during her pregnancy, but considering her lack of quality time with food in the past, you can understand why I was skeptical about her brownie recipe. And this clip doesn’t inspire confidence in her abilities in the kitchen.

This is how she dresses while preparing a turkey.

Were my concerns well-founded? Yes and no. The recipe could have used more details that would have helped in the execution. For example:

  • Can I cream the sugar and butter together in the mixer, or does everything need to be hand-stirred?
  • How much additional sugar do I add if I don’t have sweetened cocoa powder? (I added ¼ cup extra sugar, which turned out to be unnecessary, and stuck with ¾ cup cocoa powder, Dutch process.)
  • How do I get the batter smooth as directed in the recipe, without over-stirring?

Because it’s been freezing cold here in DC, the “room-temperature” butter had to undergo some zapping in the microwave, yet it still wasn’t soft enough. So I ended up throwing the egg-sugar concoction into the mixer on low to help smooth it out, then slowly incorporated the cocoa powder-flour part. At this point I was seriously doubting my decision, as the batter had turned into concrete. After all, DO NOT OVER STIR, warns the recipe.

When I spread the batter in the pan–no simple task, given its uncooperativeness–there were still small lumps throughout (I did sift the dry ingredients per the instructions, so it was probably the butter). At this point, my frustration level was such that I wanted to tell RZ to take her QVC faux-fur vests and shove it.

Sure, Rachel Zoe knows fashion. But can she bake?

To add to my dismay, after the max recommended baking time, the brownies looked almost unchanged from their batter state. However, a poke with a fork showed that they had cake-ified.

All was not lost. Despite a few small lumps here and there, the brownies were delicious. And rich as all heck. Amazingly they did NOT turn out rock hard, despite the goopiness of the batter. Straight from the oven, these had a great crunch on the edges and top, giving way to a gooey texture underneath.

If you’ve got the time, patience, and elbow grease, try these. But if you’re in a pinch, I find that Ghiradelli brownie batter (<$3 at Target) is a pretty close second flavor-wise, with much easier cleanup.

Having had mixed success with this recipe, I’m going to have to pass on trying her shortening-based (?!) ba-na-na bread. No matter how ba-na-nas it is.


K&W: There’s something reassuring about a place where you can get pie for a buck

Technically it’s $1.35+ a slice, but still. K&W Cafeterias, which we try to hit it when I’m visiting my folks in NC, holds a special place in my heart because you can get a tray full of food for about $10. It’s targeted to the dine-at-5PM-crowd, a cafeteria-style joint where you can count on options aplenty (including lots of soul food), servers that bark at you, and quivering blocks of Jello embedded with random flotsam and jetsam. Because K&W is geared toward an older crowd, some of the main dishes are overcooked to the point of being gum-able. So I mostly stick with the dishes like fried chicken, fried fish, and fried okra–ask for a side of ranch with it, and you’ll rethink okra.

You might not feel very good about yourself after your K & Dub indulgence, but at least you’re not eating like that every day (are you??).

This was a German chocolate pie and an egg custard pie. The former was too treacly for me; the latter I’d get again. It had a lightness and consistency that reminded me of Chinese egg tarts. Now if only I’d had a piece of crispy bacon to go with it.


Trader Joe’s mochi coconut “ice cream,” and how traditional mochi can kill you

This is a pretty great product, especially if you’re lactose intolerant. The coconut filling is creamy enough that it could be mistaken for regular ice cream, only your GI tract isn’t at the mercy of a bottle of lactase. (You get 2 of each flavor in a perfectly pre-portioned mochi wrapper.) The mango was my favorite, followed by the dark chocolate.

Speaking of which, I have never, ever understood the popularity of mochi, which is a Japanese sticky rice cake widely found throughout East Asia. It’s like chewing on a super dense, unsweet marshmallow dusted with flour. My jaw tires just thinking about it. Sometimes there’s a sweet bean paste center or some other filling, which makes it marginally more appealing.

You may have seen small mochi bits in the toppings bar at your Red Mango or Pinkberry. Mochi is a New Year’s tradition in Japan, and every year a few people–usually the elderly–choke to death on it. Which results in another (rather morbid) Japanese New Year tradition: reporting the mochi death toll.

Luckily the mochi in this product isn’t your typical mochi, but a more gelatinous and rubbery shell that’s easy to chew. For me it was just a layer standing in the way of the coconut creaminess underneath. But at least it’s a lot more palatable than the kind of mochi that doubles as a Darwinian device.