Archive for January, 2013

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.

08
Jan
13

The automat is due for a comeback. Cakes and pies on demand, people!

"Automat" by Berenice Abbbott, 1936.

Utterly fascinated by this photo titled “Automat” by Berenice Abbott, 1936 via Wikipedia.

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.