Archive Page 3

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.

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.

31
Oct
12

Cake vs. pie preferences among Obama vs. Romney supporters

According to Decide Your Side, Obama and Romney supporters do have one thing in common: they both prefer cake to pie by a 3-point margin. That’s right, we’re just 3 weeks out from the ultimate pie holiday, and the American people have spoken!

Obama and Romney supporters agree on one thing: cake beats pie!

27
Oct
12

Miniscule fruits that I’ve tried

Unlike many Asians, I don’t consider fruits a dessert per se. But these Lilliputian freaks-of-nature deserved a mention.

Kiwi berries are like tiny, sweet kiwis without the sour bite.

Kiwi berries are really hard to find. I got these from DC’s Union Market, $5 for a small clamshell. I’d usually balk at that price tag, but after trying one, so many synapses in my brain lit up that I happily handed that fiver over. These taste like a very concentrated, sweet kiwi without any of the sour bite. They’re incredibly flavorful, and you can pop the whole thing into your mouth (the skins aren’t hairy).

Finger limes from Shanley Farms.

I’d read a lot about finger limes this past summer: small, skinny limes whose juice pods resemble caviar. Mr. X-sXe was keen on trying them, so we ordered a small bag from Shanley Farms.

Problem was, we weren’t sure what to do with them. We ended up adding them to salad dressing, but the pods were too tart to really blend in with the rest of the dressing. We ended up throwing the rest into a green juice. Gilt Taste recommends using them as a garnish or in key lime pie (which seems impractical, considering they’re not so easy to juice).

18
Oct
12

Journey to the Center of the Cookie with Trader Joe’s

Journey to the Center of the Cookie, and you might suffer sugar shock.

These cookies, they of the sci-fi name, remind me a lot of the cookie cups from Mrs. Fields (one of my food court guilty pleasures). But even more rich. As if Trader Joe’s hired Emeril Lagasse or Paula Deen to have their way with the chocolate chip cookie.

Seriously, JTTCOTC cookies are delicious, but you can physically feel the 49 grams of sugar. Maybe I ate it too fast, but I was nearly shaking from sugar shock (for someone who consumes as much sugar as I do, that’s saying something). Why have a can of Coke when you can take this journey and get the same jolt?

Close up of Trader Joe's "Journey to the Center of the Cookie"

Be conservative with the amount of time you keep these in the microwave, or the cookie part at the edges will dry out into tooth-chipping toughness. After making that mistake with the first cookie, I nuked the second one for 45 seconds. The molten center got soft but didn’t liquify, and the cookie stayed moist. If you want the center to melt completely, try wrapping a damp paper towel around these before you stick them in the microwave.

09
Oct
12

An Irish pub that doesn’t serve up your typical grub

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Irish Inn at Glen Echo, which I’ve been meaning to try forever. But when my shepherd’s pie came out in its own tiny copper pot, meticulously prepared and perfectly seasoned, I figured this was more than a few notches above your usual pub fare.

The Irish Inn's version of deconstructed banoffee pie

That definitely held true for the banoffee pie. The way this dessert was presented was something you’d expect from a much fancier joint, not a place that serves up bangers and mash. This particular take on the traditional English dessert (a richer version of American banana cream pie) was deconstructed: an oozing pile of bananas, cookie crumble, and toffee generously layered on top of each other.

Without a true base crust to ground it, this banoffee “pie” felt overly rich. Almost like I was shoveling caramel sauce from the jar into my mouth. I would’ve liked more crunch to balance the softer textures. All said, though, we did clean the plate.

02
Oct
12

Trader Joe’s takes on the Mounds Bar

Trader Joe's dark-chocolate covered coconut mango bites

At least, that’s the first thing that came to mind when I spotted these new dark-chocolate covered coconut mango bites (forgive the adjective string). I know, I know. Mounds has milk chocolate–Trader Joe’s uses dark. TJ’s version has mango. Mounds doesn’t. Either way, the principle’s the same: chocolate-coated shredded coconut.

Trader Joe's dark-chocolate covered coconut mango bites, cross-section

While the mango’s a nice touch, it’s not tart enough to add much flavor. Overall, a split opinion on these. I like them pretty well but they’re not the little bites of paradise I’d imagined after reading all the hype on the back of the package. Mr. X-sXe is a bigger fan, commenting that they’re packed full of “nice, stringy* pieces of coconut.”

*One of the rare occasions where you’ll see “stringy” used as a compliment.

25
Sep
12

How Martha Stewart gave me a bloody knuckle: Jamaican-spiced upside-down cake

Ingredients for Marth Stewart's Jamaican-spiced upside-down cake

This was my first attempt at a Martha Stewart recipe–or more accurately, a recipe from Martha Stewart Everyday Food. I’ve tasted baked goods based on her recipes before. They’ve always been good, but not good enough for me to demand the recipe. Would this Jamaican spiced upside-down cake be any different?

The recipe (couldn’t find it online; similar one here) incorporates some of my favorite flavors: coconut milk, lime zest, fresh pineapple. I expected it to be a totally exotic, decadent take on the pineapple-upside down cake.

The most complicated part is layering the pineapples on top of the brown sugar and melted butter.

Laying out the pineapples on top of the brown sugar and melted butter, which will caramelize with the heat.

Don’t get me wrong. The cake’s decent, a solid B-. It’s just not as good as it should be given what went into it, ingredient- and assembly-wise. Like Empire Martha itself, it’s a little safe, beige, pleasant-yet-forgettable. Or maybe I’m just bitter from grating the skin off of my knuckle while zesting.

Bloody knuckle as a result of overzealous zesting.

I may have zested those limes too aggressively.

The consistency reminds me of gingerbread (due to the molasses in the brown sugar). Not my favorite texture, since it starts getting cement-like in the mouth. Also, I wanted the cake and topping to be sweeter–I’d probably add at least 1/4 white sugar to the cake batter if I were to try this again.

The finished product: Martha Stewart's Jamaican-spiced upside-down cake.

Honestly, the best part of this cake wasn’t the eating. It was the part where you flip it onto a plate and the whole thing slides out in one piece. Now that’s gratification.

20
Sep
12

Baskin-Robbins done me wrong

When you’re taking out ads left and right for a new item like these waffle chip dippers, you’d better be pretty damn sure your stores are stocked with the ingredients.

Sloppy eater? Then waffle chip dippers make perfect sense. For the rest of us, they're a waste of time.

Here’s what they’re supposed to look like.

But when I went to the Rehoboth Beach Baskin-Robbins to try these “ice cream nachos” (forgoing The Ice Cream Store’s many creative flavors, I might add)  it didn’t take long for the remorse to set in. This particular store had run out of the brownie chips AND the Snickers/M&M toppings. Say whaaaa? Does McDonald’s ever run out of fries?

Getting the waffle chip dippers will make you feel like the most gullible person alive.

Here’s what they actually looked like.

In theory, I knew the chip dippers these were just a less messy way of eating a soft-serve waffle cone. But to say they were underwhelming would be flattery. Give me a 99-cent soft serve cone from a truck any day. Baskin-Robbins, take your hyphen and shove it. The only way you can make this up to me is to start selling your ice cream cake by the slice.

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.