Fancy a pint?

Posted by Anita on 02.27.07 8:04 AM

black & tan ice cream (c)2007 AEC…of Ben & Jerry’s?

I’m sure you’ve heard of Guinness ice cream, maybe even seen Ben & Jerry’s Black & Tan, which swirls together chocolate and cream-stout flavors.

But did you know that this pint has a creamy head, too? We had a good laugh a couple of nights ago as we opened the container. Although at first it looks like marshmallows, the “head” is actually fluffy puffs of the cream-stout ice cream.

(And yes, it’s delicious.)

beer, dessert


Happy birthday, Cupcake

Posted by Anita on 01.22.07 6:08 PM

(c)2007-AEC *all rights reserved*Yesterday, the Bald Guy celebrated his thirty(mumble) birthday — an occasion worthy of pulling out all the stops… and half of the pantry bins. But when you’re baking in a toaster oven countertop convection oven, your patisserie options are a wee bit limited. In one of those “only in the food-blogosphere” coincidences, Chockylit and Garrett are hosting a cupcake roundup this week — and yours truly just happens to have a little six-cup muffin tin that’s perfect for a half-batch of mini birthday cakes.

Not content to follow a request for “yellow cake with chocolate icing” to the letter, I started thinking about fancier alternatives. A series of chats about classic New England fare got me wondering how I could make Boston Cream Pie in a cupcake format. So I whipped up a batch of vanilla sponge cake [link removed*], some pastry cream, and a simple chocolate glaze: a cup of heavy cream, a quarter-pound of dark chocolate chips, and a tablespoon of Karo syrup.

One of the things I love about Boston Cream Pie is the way it combines a trio of simple Home Ec 101 recipes into a fun, old-timey dessert. But, as I soon discovered, the original format — cake sliced in half, pastry cream between the layers, chocolate glaze over the top and dribbled down the sides — doesn’t work very well in miniature. If you add enough cream to make a distinct filling layer, the pieces won’t stay together. You end up with a (delicious) mess, rather than a cupcake.

Undaunted, I tried a new method: Using a doughnut hole-cutter, I punched halfway down each cupcake, and dug out the center, ever so gently. Then I dipped the top of the cupcake in the chocolate glaze, far enough that the center got coated. I added a tablespoon of the pastry cream to the well, and filled the hole with the top half of the cut-out round. After a little more experimentation, I realized that it was easier to dip the center piece of cake in chocolate before placing it over the cream, rather than drizzling more glaze over the almost-finished cupcake. (If all this is too much to visualize, I’ve documented it all in a Flickr set.)

An excellent side benefit of dipping the unfilled cupcakes and their “stoppers” — rather than pouring glaze over the completed cupcake — is that the chocolate keeps the cream filling from soaking into the cake. And, it also makes a whole lot less mess.


* Edited to add: We removed the link to the Cook’s Illustrated recipe in July 2008 in protest of their bullying tactics.

baking, dessert, holidays & occasions, other blogs


Sweet release

Posted by Cameron on 01.11.07 9:05 AM

PaydayWhile picking our way through the tattered wreckage of our kitchen late last week, Anita pointed out an empty plastic wrapper of Sour Punch Straws and said, “One of the guys has a sweet tooth.”

I wondered if it had been left behind by one of the contractor’s children, as I’d seen them at the job site a couple of times. But Anita was sure, and I think that she was right. It had the definite feel of worker debris.

At first I thought that they were a modern take on Pixy Stix–paper straws filled with a mixture of powdered citric acid and sugar. Kind of like crystal meth for kids in fun flavors: rots your teeth and makes you crazy. Turns out they’re more like gummy worms/licorice with sour powder on the outside.

The idea of pouring a pile of powdered sugar in my mouth is about as appealing as eating sand, but I’m no candy snob. When I have a sweet tooth and the only option is the drugstore rack, I can run down a tick-list of several well-loved options.

First up is Payday, that happy combination of nuts and aereated caramel. If I want chocolate, I’ll grab a Milky Way, although that’s lost some of its appeal in recent years. I can also be seduced by Starburst or Skittles. I used to be a complete slut for York Peppermint Patties (are they still running those goofy commercials?). I’d nibble all the chocolate off so that I could get a few bites of the unadulterated minty filling.

Thanks to Mike’s Candy Wrappers for the graphical raw material.



Pie from the past

Posted by Anita on 12.02.06 8:10 AM

Grandma Anne with Angel PieApparently, Mom’s been keeping secrets from me.

I never knew until a few years ago, when Mom gave me a few of his carbon-steel knives, that her grandfather, my Great-grandpa Vivaldelli, had been a chef. And, although I knew that Mom’s mom, my Grandma Anne, was a dedicated cook, I never knew a thing about Angel Pie.

Mom and I were sitting around after Thanksgiving, talking about pies in general, and old-fashioned pies specifically, when she first mentioned it.

“Auntie Pat makes it all the time,” she said. “I need to get the recipe from her.”

And then, almost as an afterthought: “I have a newspaper clipping somewhere with a picture of Grandma and that pie. It was her specialty.”

Sure enough, the next morning, a yellowed clipping from the Glendale News-Press appeared at my place at the breakfast table. And there’s Grams, in a shirtwaist dress, cutting a slice of her popular — but, one must admit, rather homely — Angel Pie. The iron trivets now in my mom’s kitchen (and my own) are hanging on the wall behind her, and familiar glass canisters line the counter.

November 14, 1959
No Weighty Problems for Reiks

Imagine a family with no weight problems that can eat all the dessert it wants. This is the case of the Robert C. Reiks and their four children, Nancy, 18; Toni, 15; Bob, 13; and Patty, 12.

Mrs. Reik (Anne), whose father was a chef for leading hotels in Chicago, has taught her three daughters to cook … any one of them can prepare a meal. Mr. Reik, an amateur chef, confines his art to the backyard barbecue.

Mrs. Reik’s current hobby is making braided woolen rugs. She has always collected recipes, and says her Chocolate Nut Angel Pie hits the jack pot [sic]. She keeps copies to offer friends because once a person tastes this dessert, he wants the recipe.

I have to suspect the author took a few liberties. I can’t imagine that Grandma never taught my Uncle Bugs to cook. And — at least by the time I was around — Gramps certainly never confined himself to the barbecue… he was quite an accomplished cook!

But, at least she got the recipe right:

Chocolate Nut Angel Pie
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 T hot water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Butter a 9-inch pie plate, and set aside.

Sift sugar and cream of tartar together. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Add sugar gradually, while continuing to beat until smooth and glossy.

Line the prepared pie plate with this mixture. Keep center hollowed out to 1/2-inch thickness, and do not spread meringue on rim of plate. Sprinkle with nuts.

Bake in slow oven, 275º F, about 1 hour, or until delicately browned and crisp to touch. Cool thoroughly.

Melt chocolate in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add 3 T hot water to the chocolate, and stir; cook until thickened. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add vanilla, then fold in whipped cream. Turn into meringue shell. Chill 2 to 3 hours, or until set.

baking, dessert, family, recipes


Yes, grasshopper

Posted by Anita on 11.27.06 6:04 PM

grasshopper pie (c)2006 AECA faithful MWD reader, keeping an eye on my Flickr set last week, sent me an email: “I can’t believe anyone other than my Mom is still making grasshopper pie!”

Well, believe it, Grasshopper! Knowing that Cameron and I aren’t big fans of pumpkin pies, Mom asked what we wanted for Thanksgiving dessert, and this old favorite was the first thing that popped into my head. I know it was my “birthday cake” on more than one occasion growing up, and it’s maintained its place in the pastry pantheon over the years. And I’m sure I’m not alone in my love of this cookie-crusted, nuclear-green pile o’ fluff…

A few years ago, we rented a big house on Whidbey Island with a gaggle of friends, and I made a trio of pies for a Thanksgiving dinner: A gorgeous wild-blackberry pie with an all-butter lattice-top crust, a silky pumpkin custard in a leaf-lard shell, and a homely ol’ Grasshopper Pie.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

Sure enough, the Grasshopper was the hit of the dessert table, as a dozen thirty-somethings waxed nostalgic about the beloved dessert of their childhood.

Last year, I made the pie using Martha Stewart’s recipe. It was good — maybe even better than the original — but the added effort took some of the charm out of dessert. Part of this pie’s charm, at least for lazy ol’ me, lies firmly in its simplicity, its reliance on grocery-store ingredients, and its thoroughly un-chic appearance.

Since it’s minty and green, Grasshopper Pie makes a nice Christmas dessert. Or, you know, my birthday’s not too far off…

Grasshopper Pie
16 Oreo cookies*, crushed fine
2 T butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
24 marshmallows (full size, not minis)
1/2 pint whipping cream
4 T creme de menthe
2 T creme de cacao
Chocolate curls or chocolate jimmies, for garnish

Mix butter into cookie crumbs and press evenly onto the bottom and sides of an 8-inch pie plate; refrigerate to set.

Heat the milk to a simmer in a large saucepan, then reduce heat to low and add marshmallows. Stir until all marshmallows melt. Cool the mixture to room temperature, then refrigerate.

When fully cool, beat the melted marshmallows with a hand mixer until fluffy, adding the creme de menthe and creme de cacao. In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream to medium peaks, then fold whipped cream into the marshmallow mixture.

Pour filling into prepared crust. Trim with chocolate shavings or jimmies, or extra cookie crumbs. Freeze overnight, or at least 8 hours, before serving.

*If you want to get all fancy, replace the crust ingredients with 1/2 package Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, crushed fine, and 4 T melted butter.

dessert, family, holidays & occasions, recipes


The “no-recipe” club

Posted by Anita on 10.27.06 10:33 PM

apple cake (c) 2006 aecNot quite five years ago, my mom and dad retired to Henderson, just outside Las Vegas. Their neighborhood — a megasized age-restricted community — is one of those places where you can get hopelessly lost among all the similar-looking houses as you whiz past the golf course, the gigantic rec center, the three-story waterfall… You’re miles from the nearest grocery store or restaurant, or anything else other than a few thousand houses that look pretty much like your own.

But — as much as it’s the kind of development where I’d never choose to live — it’s a pretty cool place in one important respect. Since all the houses in their section were built to order around the same time, everybody moved in pretty much at the same time. Many of my parents’ neighbors had left behind friends and relatives in their old hometowns, and were anxious to make new friends.

My mom found her place among a great group of ladies who live on her street and beyond. They moved to Henderson from all over the country (and, originally, all over the world), so there’s a nice assortment of interests and personalities. In various combinations, they shop together, line-dance together, play Pickleball together.

One of the other things that Mom and her friends like to do is cook, so they formed a Recipe Exchange Club: They each take turns hosting a potluck, and everyone brings their dish’s recipe to share. Or, at least that was the original idea… apparently nobody’s brought recipes since the first “meeting”, because they all cook dishes that they know by heart. It’s evolved into an excuse for a casual meal together where the women sit in the dining room and talk about mahjong and their part-time jobs, and the men sit outside on the porch, admiring the view of The Strip in the distance and talking about poker and football.

Mom and I were in charge of dessert for tonight’s gathering. Since most of Mom’s friends aren’t big dessert-eating types, we decided that something fruity, and not too sweet, would fit the bill. Mom tinkered with a recipe she found on All Recipes, and came up with a great dessert that I bet also makes a tasty coffee cake.

After the amazing spread of dishes these ladies made, I wasn’t sure that any of us would have room for cake. But we sat and talked after dinner, and — lo and behold — everyone found space for a slice.

Caramel-Apple Cake
4 apples – peeled, cored and diced (approx. 4 cups)
1 T sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup applesauce
1/4 cup apple juice
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt or angel-food cake pan. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the apples with the 1T sugar and the spices; set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining sugars with oil, applesauce, juice, vanilla and eggs. Beat at high speed until smooth. Fold in flour mixture, then add in chopped walnuts and apples.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Serve slices with homemade caramel sauce.

baking, dessert, entertaining, family, recipes, Vegas
1 Comment »


Bellagio’s other fountains

Posted by Anita on 10.25.06 8:52 PM

chocolate fountain (c)2006 AECOn the way to take my sister to the airport for a red-eye flight, we decided to stop off at Bellagio to check out the massive pumpkin patch and have dessert. We wandered through the conservatory, eyeing dozens of exotic and enormous pumpkins, many of which topped 500 pounds. We also spied a few plant-sculptures of Mallard ducks, which appeared to be made partly of broccoli and cauliflower!

Right next door to all this healthy fodder, you’ll find Jean Philippe Patisserie. In addition to eye-popping mini-desserts, luscious gelati, and crepes made to order, Jean Philippe is also home to the world’s largest chocolate fountain.

Now, when I heard the words “giant chocolate fountain”, my imagination conjured an overgrown version of one of those gadgets you’d find at a bad Jersey wedding. But I should have known that the Bellagio wouldn’t stoop to something so crass. [cough]

Here’s an excerpt from the press release announcing the fountain’s debut:

Standing 27-feet tall, the masterpiece circulates nearly two tons of melted dark, milk and white chocolate at a rate of 120 quarts per minute. [...] Three rivers of dark, two of milk and one of white twist and swirl from vessel to vessel, flood across then spill down to the next carefully positioned receptacle. The colored streams and vessels are staggered, creating a mosaic effect in earthy shades of cocoa, gleaming viscous surfaces and refracted light. Having finished their acrobatic tumble down the tiers of this colossal chandelier, each rivulet funnels into hidden melting tanks, recollects and begins the journey once more.

Sounds like a bunch of PR hype, but in fact, the darned thing really is mesmerizing. Neither the statistics nor my photos do it justice.

Being as it was a Sunday evening, the pastries were rather picked over and looking much the worse for wear. I chose a lemon-meringue tart, which tasted like it had been sitting around for more than just the workday. Mom and Sis wisely opted to share a scoop of chocolate gelato and a bananas Foster crepe. The crepe was nice, although the banana topping looked pretty sorry — no great surprise, as it was kept warm in a hot-fudge pot. The gelato’s deep, bittersweet flavor was my favorite taste of the evening — and I’m not even a chocolate lover.

I’m sure I’ll give Jean Philippe another try, perhaps earlier in the day when the pastries are fresh… if only to see that fountain again!

Jean Philippe Patisserie
3600 S. Las Vegas Boulevard (inside Bellagio)
Las Vegas, NV

dessert, family, travel, Vegas


Frittering the day away

Posted by Anita on 10.15.06 6:15 PM

fried green tomatoes (c)2006 AECThere’s nothing sadder than fruit left on the vine at the end of summer, with no prayer of ripening. Our not-terribly-prolific tomato plant on the back porch finally got around to setting fruit just in time for autumn’s chill, so we’ve got an abundance — yea, a vertiable bumper crop — of green tomatoes that will never become red. Luckily, the theme for this month’s installment of Hay Hay It’s Donna Day (hostessed by JenJen at Milk & Cookies) is Fritters, a perfect excuse to sizzle up some fried green tomatoes.

We got an advance review copy of the Lee Brothers’ new cookbook last week, and we’ve been testing out a few recipes. Even though I am (technically) a daughter of the South, I find most Southern cookbooks rather ho-hum. I want to love Frank Stitt, and there’s a warm spot in my heart for Miz Lewis (and her port-roasted pork shoulder, specifically), but every time I test out a new collection of Southern recipes, my response is an unqualified “meh.”

This time, I thought I’d gotten lucky. Flipping through the draft, I noticed a ton of recipes that seem a little more interesting than the norm. Sure, there’s the obligatory receipts for pimento cheese, spiced pecans and whole country ham, but then there’s also a chile relleno stuffed with cheese grits, a smattering of cocktails that breaks out of the julep-and-punch mold, and a mini-section on preserving. More than a handful of recipes boast a Sunday (fancy) and Tuesday (easy) version, and each chapter offers “QKO”s aplenty — quick knockouts that turn out impressive-but-speedy weeknight suppers.

Unfortunately, none of the recipes we’ve tried yet have been out-of-the-ballpark successes. We enjoyed the Pork Loin Chops with Pears and Vidalia Pan Gravy, but it seemed like a lot of prep work for a “quick knockout”. We both agreed we would try the Buttermilk Ice Cream again, although I’d probably add a touch of corn syrup to help with the grainy texture. (Still, if you put Fran’s caramel sauce and some toasted pecans on it, you’ll be so transported that you may not notice the less-than-stellar mouthfeel.) It’s sad that something so elemental as ice cream would need to be tinkered with, though.

Which brings us back to those tomato fritters, aka Fried Green Tomatoes. Now, my mama taught me that if you cain’t say somethin’ nice, keep your mouth shut… but just between you and me, the breading was so incredibly salty that we literally couldn’t eat the tomatoes. Which is a shame, really, as the texture was lovely, and the underlying recipe was very well planned.

It’s even more worrisome, though, that the super-salty “all-purpose dredge” used the coating is a master recipe, called for in fried chicken, fish, oysters and such. The accompanying buttermilk dressing was similarly flawed: oddly flavored and way too runny — as though the ratios were off here, too. I certainly hope that these issues are fixed in the final edition (which just hit the streets).

Here’s my modified version of the recipe:
Green Tomato Fritters
- adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 T stone-ground cornmeal
2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound green (unripe) tomatoes (2-3 medium)
1 large egg, beaten well
1/4 cup whole milk
approximately 1 cup peanut oil
salt, to taste

Whisk all of the dry ingredients together in a flat bowl or pie plate. In a second bowl or pie plate, whisk the egg and milk until well blended.

Cut the stem ends off the tomatoes and slice them 1/4-inch thick with a serrated knife.

Pour the oil into a low skillet to a depth of 1/3 inch, and heat over medium-high. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 225°F, and set a baking rack over a cookie sheet on the top rack.

Place a plate near the stove, lined with a double thickness of paper towels; have more towels handy.

Press a tomato slice into the dredge, once on each side, and shake off any excess. Dip the dredged slice into the egg wash on both sides, shaking off excess, then back into the dredge on both sides. Shake off excess coating and place slice on a clean platter. Repeat with more slices until you have enough to fill your skillet.

With a spatula — not your fingers — transfer the first batch to the hot oil in the skillet. As the first batch cooks, dredge more tomato slices, keeping an eye on the skillet. Once the slices are golden brown on one side (about 2 minutes) flip them carefully and fry for 2 minutes more or until equally brown on both sides. When done, remove to the paper-towel-lined plate, sprinkle with salt as needed, and let sit for 1 minute.

Arrange the cooked slices in a single layer on the rack in the oven, until all slices are cooked. Serve hot, with your favorite creamy buttermilk ranch-style dressing as a dip.
(For more pix, check out our Fried Green Tomatoes photo set.)

cookbooks, cooking, dessert, garden, other blogs, recipes


Caption contest

Posted by Cameron on 10.13.06 10:22 AM

cakedressValentyn Shtefano may be the toast of Uzhhorod, Ukraine, but upstaging a bride on her wedding day is bad form. After seeing this photograph, we wonder if Mr. Shtefano might one day wish he’d chosen a different venue for his food/fashion debut.

Click on the pic to see Viktoriya’s dress made out of cream puffs by her husband Valentyn, take a close look at her expression, and then come back and give us your best photo caption.

dessert, levity


Workin’ for the weekend

Posted by Anita on 08.21.06 4:55 PM

heirloom tomato salad (c)2006 AECBoy, did we have a blast this weekend… so much so that I’ve been too beat to blog.

Saturday found us in the usual place: Breakfast at Primavera — ack! no chilaquiles? I suppose migas are close enough — then a long wander around the Farmers’ Market. Highlights included taste-testing about a gazillion peaches (oooo… Frog Hollow didn’t make the cut), looking far and wide for the best heirloom tomatoes, having an excuse to splurge on burrata at Cowgirl, discovering the previously mentioned tri-tip of luv at Prather, and scooping up the weekly bag of gloriously bacony avocados from Brokaw … mmm, mm!

Back south again with a stop at In-N-Out Burger en route to Target and the Colma BevMo for their big Grand Reopening sale (had to use that $10-off-$40 coupon!). Then back home, for a bit of prep cut short by realizing that we’d forgotten a few things… Off to Noe Valley on a “bourbon and bouquets” run, stopping at French Tulip — where we ran into Sean, quelle surprise — for hydrangeas and such, then on to Urban Cellars for a shockingly overpriced bottle of Knob Creek.

Whew. No wonder I’m tired… that sounds exhausting. But at the time, it felt like a nice and leisurely preparation for the dinner party we hosted on Saturday evening, jokingly (but accurately) called “bounty of the market, plus cheese”.

As our guests arrived, we started with a round of Currier cocktails on the back deck, accompanied by gorgonzola-and-peach bruschetta from the Ferry Building cookbook. Moving to the table, we paired a surprisingly affordable Yalumba ‘Y Series’ viognier with a salad of heirloom tomatoes, rosemary salt, burrata, and toasted pain-de-mie breadcrumbs (photo, above).

For the main course… there goes that tri-tip again, offered with a side of our friend Wendy’s luxurious penne-and-cheese, the winner of a recent mac-n-cheese cookoff among our old Seattle crew, and a Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley cabernet. (We won’t talk about the haricots verts that we forgot to serve… oops.)

Dessert was easy but good: We stole a page from our friends Russ & Nick’s dessert tricks, sweetening mascarpone with honey… which we then drizzled over Ciao Bella grapefruit-Campari sorbetto, topped with a few perfect raspberries. Then coffee in the living room, served with a platter of kumquats and shortbread, and another of madeleines and macarons from Miette, and some Recchiuti fleur de sel caramels.

Hard to imagine we had the strength to get up the morning after such a glorious evening, but shopping waits for no woman! Another early stop at JoAnn’s en route to Toys ‘R’ Us — our niece is on her West Coast tour and must have Dora! — then home for a quick nap before the family arrived. Thank goodness we have an appreciative audience for our leftover mac and cheese.

breakfast, cooking, dessert, entertaining, farmers markets, food boards, Noe Valley, shopping, wine & bubbly