Archive for the 'breakfast/brunch food' 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.
22
Mar
13

Some gelatin desserts are more socially acceptable than others

Buttermilk panna cottas

Buttermilk panna cottas, accessorized with lemon cookies from Trader Joe’s.

Making this buttermilk panna cotta (inspiration: a recent Cupcakes and Cashmere post) brought me back to my childhood, where rainbow jello was on heavy rotation.

Ok, so maybe the only thing they have in common is the jiggle. But that’s what I was reminded of by the texture of this gelatin-based panna cotta, something you’d serve at a dinner party for grown-ups. Whereas rainbow jello is something you’d serve at a dinner party with guests whose ages are in the single-digits, or with a tongue-in-cheek 70s theme (break out the avocado-green Tupperware!).

rainbow jello

Half the fun is peeling apart the Technicolor layers as you eat it. Photo from alphamom.com.

Bemoaning the lack of jello dessert options at your local restaurant? One of the places you can still find jello options in abundant supply, apart from your local senior center, is K&W Cafeterias. I head there whenever I’m visiting my hometown in NC and need a cheap comfort-food fix.

K&W cafeteria congeal menu

The full range of congeal options at K&W Cafeterias. Would you like yours with cottage cheese?

At K-Dub, they call jello congeal, not a word you’d normally associate with anything you put in your mouth. If that doesn’t make you think twice about that green, gelatinous cube with mandarin oranges suspended within like a Damien Hirst shark tank, I’m not sure what will.

But back to the panna cotta. It’s not as solid and chewy as your typical block of jello, but it’s definitely got a jiggle about it. If you like the flavor of vanilla yogurt, I recommend trying the recipe mentioned above. It’s dead easy, just requires a few ingredients, and foolproof. I didn’t even bother straining the mixture, and it turned out just fine. Like yogurt, it’s best served up with a compote or fresh fruit. I liked it with strawberries and mangoes (if available, buy the champagne mangoes, with the yellow-orange skin. They’re sweeter than the larger ones with red-green skins and have a buttery texture).

buttermilk panna cotta avec fruit

Buttermilk panna cotta tastes like yogurt, so buddy it up with fruit.

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.

10
Feb
13

Donutz hit the District

Zeke’s Donutz had its soft opening recently in the old Dupont Circle Tangysweet space (spoils from my weekend visit pictured below). Meanwhile, Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken is due to open any day now in Metro Center, after a few pop-up events at Chinatown Coffee where their goods sold out quickly. Apparently I’m not the only sucker willing to pony up $2.50+ for a donut.

The haul from Zeke's Donutz

Clockwise, from top left: Mexican chocolate, creme brulee, passionfruit, salted caramel, and lemon curd.

It seems that DC’s finally gotten on the gourmet donut bandwagon, and not a minute too soon for us sugar addicts looking for (cup)cake and pie alternatives. I’ve been dying for a good donut place ever since visiting the fried-dough mecca that is Doughnut Plant in NY. So it’s reassuring to know that more places are popping up where one can get a gourmet donut to take out (besides Palena Market).

We try 5 flavors from Zeke's Donutz.

We taste-tested the donuts by splitting them into fourths. The winner was the lemon curd (the one with the powdered sugar).

When I stopped by Zeke’s, they mentioned their official opening might be delayed because there was still work to be done on converting the space (I figured, since the Tangysweet sign is still in the window). So check their Facebook page for daily opening times. The guys at Zeke’s were super helpful in helping me choose from the 10+ flavors. In the end, I got 3 filled (creme brulee, Mexican chocolate, lemon curd) and 2 glazed (salted caramel, passionfruit).

Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken

Another gourmet donut place, Astro Doughnuts, is coming to DC in February 2013 (hopefully).

If you can only try one donut at Zeke’s–your willpower is admirable–I’d go with a filled option. The lemon curd was the favorite among my friends, the curd nicely balancing tartness with a custard-y texture. The creme brulee was a close second. The glazed flavors needed more glaze or filling to help balance out the doughiness. It was like eating a cupcake with too little icing on top. Don’t get me wrong–the glazes were very good, down to the flakes of salt on the caramel, and the authentic tang of the passionfruit. I just needed more of it given the overall size of the donut.

Update, February 18: Another donut-and-chicken place is open in Dupont, with donuts brought to you by Birch & Barley pastry chef, Tiffany MacIsaac. Check out GBD here.

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.

10
Nov
12

A couple do-it-yourself Trader Joe’s treats

This chocolate-peppermint loaf certainly doesn't taste like it came out of a box.

Around this time of year, my grocery bill at Trader Joe’s usually doubles because there are so many seasonal goodies to try. One of them is this chocolate-peppermint loaf mix, which I may have to stock up on because it’s that good.

This loaf (I wish they’d call it something else) certainly doesn’t taste like anything you’d typically get out of a box. My only disappointment with this mix is that they skimped on the mint-chocolate chips. So I added an additional 3 ounces of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips before baking. The final result is a rich, dark-chocolatey loaf with a pound-cake consistency.

The almond croissants from Trader Joe's take minimal effort--and give many patisseries a run for their money.

These almond croissants were even easier to make than the mix. You lay them out on a baking sheet the night before so they can rise at room temperate into fluffy pillows, then stick them in the oven in the morning. That’s it. These were tastier than many almond croissants I’ve had at bakeries (although nowhere near the gold standard of the genre from Tout de Sweet in downtown Bethesda). Generously filled with almond paste and fresh from the oven, they make a tasty breakfast. Not a healthy one, but might as well eat the rich stuff earlier in the day to kick start your metabolism, right?

You leave these Trader Joe's almond croissants out overnight at room temperature to rise.

From frozen, these almond croissants quadruple in size overnight.