Posts Tagged ‘Food Network


Suspend your disbelief: this prune cake’s actually really good


A steaming bowl of mashed prunes isn’t exactly an auspicious start to a cake. In fact, it can do the opposite of whetting the appetite.

Yet this prune cake with buttermilk icing from the Pioneer Woman’s really, really good. Like a mild spice cake without the annoying cloyingness you can get from too much molasses and/or brown sugar. The buttermilk icing gives the entire thing a caramelly finish.


I suppose if she called it dried plum cake, it wouldn’t sound that much better. Seriously, though, no matter your feelings for prunes, this is a cake worth trying if you’ve got some extra buttermilk in the fridge.

You can cut back on the sugar without hurting the taste (I cut back to 3/4 cup for the cake and 3/4 cup for the icing. I didn’t end up using all of the icing.). Provided you don’t over-mix the batter, you get a super fluffy, moist cake that will having you re-evaluating your preconceived notions of prunes.


A test run of Pioneer Woman’s lemon-blueberry pancakes

Maybe a couple times a year, I’ll get a mad craving for pancakes. But it doesn’t strike often, because pancakes are like matzoh balls: eat too many, soon it feels like you’re packing a musket. [Aside: I usually go for the blueberry pancakes from Silver Diner. They’re good without being overly heavy.]

A food stylist once told me the secret to making pancakes look good in ads: dark corn syrup, which is gooey-er so it doesn't soak into the pancakes as quickly. (That's maple syrup pictured here.)

When I saw Pioneer Woman’s recipe for lemon-blueberry pancakes in People magazine (the Steve Jobs issue), I thought I’d give it a go. For one, I wanted to see if she of the wildly popular blog—now a Food Network show—knows what she’s doing in the kitchen.

Two, looking at the ingredients, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill starch bricks. The recipe calls for cake flour, which is lighter than all-purpose. The lemon juice doesn’t just add flavor, it creates a “buttermilk” for fluffier pancakes. Brilliant, because I hate buying buttermilk. I seldom end up using the whole container, and freezing it turns it into smeg. (Another fluffy-pancake secret is egg whites, like at Clinton St. Bakery. But do you really want to spend your Saturday morning separating eggs and whipping them?) I also liked that the recipe uses almost exactly 1 can of evaporated milk. Unlike the fresh kind, it lasts for eons.

Don't over-stir the batter or your pancakes could get tough.

Verdict: Worth adding to your recipe files. The brightness of the lemon, along with bursts of blueberries, make you feel like you’re eating a food-pyramid-approved version of the classic. Also, there’s just a few tablespoons of sugar in the batter to balance the lemon juice. So you’re in control as far as tweaking the sweetness later with your maple syrup.

Recipe notes:

  • Don’t buy cake flour: I substituted pastry flour for cake flour, because that’s what I had in the pantry. If you only have all-purpose flour, you can simulate cake flour by cutting it with corn starch.
  • Don’t overmix: The batter doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth. Otherwise, the pancakes could get tough. I mixed the ingredients by hand.
  • Fold gently: Be careful to fold in the blueberries gently as a last step, or you’ll get purple batter, along with battered blueberries.
  • Use frozen blueberries, if you can’t find fresh: By the time I made these pancakes last weekend, I couldn’t find fresh blueberries at prices I’d actually pay.
  • Zest as many lemons as you want: I used the zest of 2 lemons. Might even go with 3 next time.
  • Use a nonstick pan in addition to greasing the pan with a pat of butter.
  • Go small: Smaller pancakes = easier to flip and eat.

Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate: For Brunch

This episode was particularly awesome because (1) only the most curmudgeonly of curmudgeons doesn’t love brunch, and (2) Alex Guarnaschelli namechecked Norma’s, the Grand Poobah of indulgent brunch food in NYC. Specifically, she mentioned the chocolate decadence French toast (below), made of slices of cake. Which is just crazy genius or suicide, depending how you look at it.

Face it, brunch menus tend to be underwhelming. There’s the standard egg-based fare (hollandaise, omelets, huevos rancheros). Then there’s the starchy stuff—if you’re lucky, tricked out with a variation on the theme (stout waffles, challah French toast, or ricotta pancakes, let’s say). Lastly, there’s a couple nods to the health-conscious: yogurt & fruit, Irish oatmeal, tofu scramble. Yawn.

The Waz-Za is what happens when a fairy throws up on your waffle. Cheers to for the photo.

A couple years ago a friend and I hit Norma’s on a whim, and I’ve been meaning to go back ever since. Even the most jaded bruncher can find something to like on their menu.

Me, I went straight for the Waz-Za waffle, which was as close as you’ll get to dessert for brunch (apart from cake for toast). Waz-Za! perfectly sums up how you feel when you set eyes on this dish. A pile of blueberries sits on a layer of brulee. As you stick your fork in, the brulee gives way to a pool of lighter-than-it-looks berry cream atop sliced bananas, lounging on one perfectly formed waffle. I’m getting a bit wistful at the memory, as this was one of the most luscious breakfast dishes to have ever graced my taste buds.

My friend had a savory cheesy toast that she didn’t end up finishing; she had a slight case of food envy. Moral is, the sweet options are a safer bet. Just plan on a lazy weekend, because crashing after the sugar high is inevitable.

Where to get it:

Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien

119 W. 56th St.

New York, NY 10019

(212) 708-7460

Before Food Network, there was Jules and Jacques

While channel surfing the other day, I caught an episode of Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. It was a glorious reminder of the days before Food Network turned the cooking show into a well-oiled machine and the celebrity chef into an industry. In this day and age of the multiple take, it was fun to see Julia and Jacques in all their minimally edited glory.

Photo from

For instance, every time Julia or Jacques used their hands to work with the food, Julia would crack, “Now we use our immaculately clean hands to…” At one point, a close-up revealed that Jacques had black crud under his nail. That would’ve definitely been edited out of today’s cooking shows, where a raw chicken on the set merits a gratuitous lesson in hand-washing.

The other thing that struck me was how many tips I picked up from a single episode (this particular one focused on crepes):

  • The fastest way to separate eggs (and to keep the yolk intact) is to crack multiple eggs into a bowl, then fish out the yolks with your hand by cupping them.
  • Never flambe anything by pouring the alcohol directly from the bottle onto the dish/pan. Pour the alcohol into a spoon first. Otherwise the flames could travel up back into the bottle and explode it. Which makes me even more wary of flambeing anything, ever.
  • Pour your crepe batter onto the edge of the pan, not the middle. Quickly tilt the pan to coat the bottom. Always keep the batter moving.
  • You can stack crepes on each other, spreading different fillings between them to create a cake-like creature (see photo below).
  • Perfection is boring–what you see in a Martha Stewart/Barefoot Contessa/Giada De Laurentiis show is not real life. Not most of ours, anyway.

From Click on photo for Julia Child's recipe.


Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Reinvented Classics

This episode is noteworthy because (correct me if I’m wrong) it features the only DC restaurant so far, Founding Farmers. I was super psyched when they opened in my former hood–Foggy Bottom desperately needed more restaurants to fill the void between Johnny Rockets (student-friendly burger joint) and Marcel’s (fancy French place that I’ve never seen anyone under the age of 40 enter, unless they were an escort).

Food critic Tom Sietsema skewered this place in a 2009 review, and having been there 5 times, I tend to agree with his opinion of the food. That shouldn’t stop you from going there to try the Devilish-Eggs that were called out by Robert Irvine, though. And to Founding Farmers’ credit, they’re green, it’s a fun atmosphere, and they offer a new vegan menu (the chocolate stout waffles were tasty enough that you won’t miss their non-vegan cousins). Judging from the Yelpers and crowds constantly spilling out onto the sidewalk, people are going to continue mobbing this place, reviews be damned.

Anyway, back to the reason we’re here: where to get the 2 desserts featured on the show.

Image from

Cheesecake Lollipop Tree – DavidBurke Townhouse

133 E 61st St.

New York, NY 10065


Churros Con Cajeta – La Casita Mexicana

4030 East Gage Ave.

Bell, CA 90201


Giada’s ricotta orange pound cake kinda makes up for her annoyingness

Most folks would argue that Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee is the Food Network equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. For me, that person is Giada De Laurentiis. Her head-to-body ratio and mannerisms scream human bobblehead. Her cleavage-revealing tops make me want to toss peas at the TV screen. And people who pronounce foreign words in the native accent are inherently annoying. I’m not totally sure she gets a pass for being born in Italy.

Rant aside, I’ve tried a few of her savory recipes before and found them a bit bland. But when I saw that this ricotta orange pound cake was one of her favorites, I decided to give it a go. With her pastry chef background, I figured she’d know what she was doing in the baking department.

Sure enough, Mr. X-sXe declared this the best pound cake he’s ever eaten. I stuck closely to the recipe, extending the bake time at least 15 minutes past the 50 minutes recommended to solidify the center. The extra minutes in the oven resulted in a super-brown top crust that added a nice crunch. Thanks to the ricotta, the cake stayed very moist, giving it a nubby, cornbread-ish texture. (Don’t expect it to toast up the way a traditional pound cake does.)

A few recipe notes. You can substitute lemon zest for orange zest, and almond extract for Amaretto. The cake flour (pastry flour) was a bitch to track down. I tried Target, Giant, and Trader Joe’s before finding it at Safeway. Looking at the user reviews, some people who tried substituting regular flour ended up with a mess on their hands, so that’s one thing you probably don’t want to skimp on.

The orange zest lends plenty of flavor, while the alcohol in the Amaretto bakes off, leaving the smallest hint of almond.


Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Crazy Good

Bakersfield, California has never really been on my travel wishlist until now. It’s home to Sweet Surrender, a bakery that does an undercooked, fudgy chocolate cake with buttercream (the “Matterhorn”) that made that local news when Giada singled it out for this episode. Since she’s got some serious pastry chops, I figure this cake isn’t gonna suck.

Here’s where to get the Matterhorn and the other 2 desserts featured on this episode.

Matterhorn Cake – Sweet Surrender

6439 Ming Ave.

Bakersfield, CA 93309


Maple Budino – Locanda Verde

377 Greenwich St.

New York, NY 10013


Banana Special – Fentons Creamery

4226 Piedmont Avenue

Oakland, CA 94611


Croquembouche. Crisp in the mouth, delicious in the stomach.

Whatever you might say about the French (don’t get my dad started), there’s no denying that they know how to live. Take this traditional dessert, croquembouche, which translates to “crisp in the mouth.” It’s basically a  tower of cream puffs in a web of spun sugar. You crack the sugar with the back of the knife before serving it to your awestruck friends.

Food Network Magazine featured a recipe for making this from scratch in their December issue. They preface the recipe by saying it’s easier than it looks, which usually means it’s not. Sure enough, the recipe goes on for three pages and involves a pastry bag–already too complex for me.

Rather than trying to make cream puffs, you could buy some in the freezer case and do the spun sugar caramel yourself. I’ve included that part of the recipe below.

Full recipe here, courtesy of Food Network:

Caramel recipe to create web of sugar:

3 cups sugar

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 cup water

Directions: Mix the sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Don’t stir. Uncover and boil, swirling the pan, until the syrup turns deep amber, 20 minutes. Immediately dip the bottom of the pan into a bowl of ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking. Transfer the caramel to a liquid measuring cup and cool just slightly–it should still be hot and liquid.

Draw a seven-inch circle on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Partially dip each puff in the caramel, letting the excess drip off. Arrange the puffs around the circle. (Note: If the caramel hardens, microwave about 45 seconds.) Build the base of puffs, continuing to stack into a tower formation of smaller circles.

To get the “web effect” of spun sugar, dip the tip of a fork into the caramel and quickly wave it in circle around the tower to create a web of caramel strands. Repeat. (Make sure your working surface is covered in parchment paper, because this process can be messy.) Let set. Destroy web before eating. Voila!


Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”: Holiday episode

Here’s where to find the two desserts that were mentioned on this episode. I’m not an Indian pudding fan (maybe I’ve just never had it done right?), but I do like to bring home a panettone for the holidays. It’s a buttery, eggy Milanese bread with an airy texture, studded with dry fruits. Panettone reminds me of Challah, flavor- and texture-wise. You can find them in grocery stores for about five bucks, and they have a pretty good shelf life. I liked toasting up slices before serving. It’s also a great bread for French toast.

Panettone Milanese-Emporio Rulli

446 Magnolia Avenue

Larkspur, CA 94939

(415) 924-7478

Warm Indian Pudding-The Colonial Inn

48 Monument Square

Concord, MA 01742

(978) 369-9200


Dangerously Delicious Pies, coming to DC this month

I can’t wait to try the pies at this place, especially the rhubarb. With all the cupcake joints in this town, it’s about time DC took its pies seriously. Looks like Baked & Wired and Kramer’s better step up their game.

Dangerously Delicious Pies also does savory pies and quiches. The guy who owns this place, Rodney Henry, was on Food Network making his chicken pot pie with Paula Deen. I remember the episode well because the ingredients weren’t exactly healthy (they never are if you want a truly delicious, flaky crust and creamy filling). Dangerous for my cholesterol, indeed, but small price to pay for a good pot pie.

Dangerously Delicious Pies, 1339 H Street, NE, 202-398-7437