Archive for August, 2012


A trip to the Asian grocery store reveals a deficit of delicious desserts

Here’s why you usually don’t see anything beyond mango sticky rice,* green tea ice cream, and fried bananas on the dessert menu of your favorite Asian restaurant. Desserts are not our forte.

What follows are exhibits A, B, and C of the freezer case at Great Wall, an Asian grocery store in Falls Church, VA. A few observations below on what’s wrong with Asian desserts.

Taro root popsicles at the Asian grocery store.

(1) Fruit is not a dessert. Most Asians eat fruit for dessert. Which is a lot healthier, of course, but a few oranges wedges aren’t going to satisfy any craving for a cookie.

(2) Some Asian desserts are so bad, they border on the offensive. Mochi doesn’t taste like anything and it’s a digestion/choking hazard. No, I don’t want fibrous taro root in my cake. Please keep your durian out of my ice cream. There’s a reason some Asian countries ban that fruit from being taken on public transportation (it’s that pungent).

Durian frozen desserts at the Asian grocery store.

(3) Care for a side of the toots with your sweets? Because many Asian desserts (mochi, red bean buns, moon cakes, shaved ice) come with beans as a topping or filling. Confusing and not delicious, right?

Beans do not belong in desserts.

*One of the lone beacons of light among Asian desserts is mango sticky rice (thank you, Thailand), which done properly can be divine. As can anything made with coconut milk. As long as it doesn’t also have taro root, beans, and/or durian in it.


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.


Dead simple chocolate mousse (the secret is marshmallows)

I wasn’t sure whether to try this chocolate mousse recipe from Nigella Lawson. Then I read the reviews, which were positive all around. I also had all the ingredients except the whipping cream in the house. Why not?

Nigella Lawson instant chocolate mousse

This recipe is quick to whip up, almost indistinguishable from regular chocolate mousse, and you don’t need to worry about getting salmonella!

The interesting thing is that you can’t really tell this from a regular chocolate mousse, except that the consistency is a bit fluffier and stickier. Next time, I’m going to whip 2 cups of cream rather than 1 so I can adjust the sweetness a bit more, and have some cream leftover for the tops. Because I reserved some of the 1 cup of whipped cream the recipe prescribes to top off the mousses, they turned out overly sweet for my tastes (and I didn’t have any more cream left to course-correct).

Folding the chocolate-butter-marshmallow mixture into the whipped cream.

Make sure to fold the chocolate mixture (after it’s cooled to room temperature) into the whipped cream. If you stir, it’ll be less fluffy.

I appreciated the fact that this recipe takes very little time and effort–save for waiting for the chocolate mixture to cool down enough to fold into the cream. The most labor-intensive part was cutting down my jumbo marshmallows into mini-marshmallow size (I only had jumbos in the house). Next time, I’ll just spring for the $1 bag of minis rather than create a sticky mess from the jumbos.

This recipe would also be great for a parfait, like layering layers of mousse, graham cracker crumbles, and whipped cream.


Trader Joe’s blueberry cheesecake ice cream wedges

Trader Joe''s blueberry cheesecake ice cream wedges.

These ice cream pops taste cheesecake-like, but not enough so to satisfy any cheesecake urge.

These bars are new to the dessert freezer at Trader Joe’s. I guess they try to manage expectations by calling them “ice cream wedges,” but let’s face it. What I wanted was a cheesecake slice on a stick.

I didn’t make it out of the parking lot before wolfing down one of these mini bars. (It was 95 degrees outside and I wanted to try one while it was still fully frozen. That’s my story.) The crumbles on the edges evoke cheesecake crust, but there’s too light a dusting to bring anything to the party. Meanwhile, the ice cream part has a dense consistency (it’s made with cream cheese) that eats a bit oddly–not as smooth as premium ice cream, or as fulfilling as cheesecake.

All said, I’d be surprised to see these in the Trader Joe’s freezer case a year from now. Because if you’re a cheesecake fan, they aren’t going to scratch the itch.