Tag Archives: Epicurious

Four Ingredients — Pun Intended — Cookstr Needs To Be a Truly Viable Recipe Site

I recently interviewed for a position at the recipe site Cookstr.

And…I made this joke on Facebook at the time, so, friends, bear with me: Like the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s and the Chicago Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, I have a history of choking when it counts…so I spent a fair amount of time reviewing the site beforehand so I’d be as prepared as possible at the moment of truth.

And…I gotta say: I like what I found. I think it’s a really good concept — and I’m not just saying that.

Here’s why:

In this NY Tech Meetup video from CenterNetworks, Founder and CEO Will Schwalbe shares his love of cookbooks and explains that the major online recipe databases, Epicurious and FoodNetwork.com, are focused on Conde Nast and Food Network content, respectively, but chefs and cookbook authors don’t really have a place on the Web where they can share their recipes and drum up interest in their books.

And thus, as Schwalbe tells it in the video, Cookstr was born.

It sort of reminds me of Birchbox, actually. I talked to one of the start-up’s founders for a ClickZ story in January. Basically, for $10 a month, Birchbox members receive high-end samples of hair, makeup and/or skincare products from partners like Benefit, Nars, Cargo and Laura Mercier. Birchbox, in turn, talks up all of the samples it includes in each monthly box…and gives members the opportunity to go back to its Web site to order full-size products. So…the partners give away samples, but, in turn, reach a wider audience and gain yet another online space where they can hawk their wares.

That’s essentially what’s happening with Cookstr, except there’s no monthly fee. Cookstr has partnered with a slew of chefs and cookbook authors, who are featured on the site. These recipe-producers allow a sample of their content to appear on the site…and each recipe is displayed alongside an image of the cookbook it originated from…and, if you click on it, you are given multiple options for purchasing the book from retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

It’s pretty smart for all parties involved, as I’m sure Cookstr has revenue-sharing agreements with each vendor. And the cookbook authors and publishers don’t have much to lose — just a few recipes.

I think Cookstr has really great search options — I especially love the cost feature — and, frankly, I like a lot of the chefs.

But Cookstr is not perfect.

According to Compete.com, Cookstr had slightly more than 57,000 unique visitors in January. That’s versus 1.8 million for Epicurious and 11.3 million for FoodNetwork.com

Granted, Cookstr is still quite young and can’t be expected to compete on a level playing field with two major media companies. (According to Wikipedia [after a very cursory Google search], Food Network had revenue of $1.5 billion in 2008…which is when Cookstr was just a baby.) But I honestly think Cookstr *could* give Epicurious and FoodNetwork.com a run for their money…if it only implemented a few small changes.

I always spend hours prepping for interviews and thinking up answers to potential questions and most of this stuff never sees the light of day…so here is my response to, “How could Cookstr improve and/or better compete with Epicurious and FoodNetwork.com?” if for no other reason than proving how passionate I am about food/words/online content and what a great fit I’d be for this site:

1. More feedback.

One of the things I love about Epicurious (my go-to recipe site) is that I can search for a basic recipe like, “apple pie,” and even though I end up with multiple results, I can quickly scan the ratings — 1 to 4 forks, from worst to best — to see how users grade each recipe, as well as what percentage of users would make the recipe again and what — if any — comments they have. The comments often include valuable information about tinkering with the recipe and/or tips for next time and help me narrow down my options.

If, for example, I was deciding between Rum Raisin Apple Pie and Lattice Apple Pie with Mexican Brown Sugar, I’d see that 95% of users would make the Rum Raisin pie again and that they’ve given it an average rating of 4 forks and that user mandica from Windham, Conn. decided to soak the raisins longer to make them plumper.

I know that the content on Cookstr is supposed to be trusted already…but I also think it’s fair to say that every recipe site — Epicurious included — is bound to have a stinker somewhere. Plus, Rick Bayless may assure me that his Smoky Chipotle Salsa with Pan-Roasted Tomatillos is as simple to make as it is delicious, but what about those of us who haven’t spent decades studying Mexican cuisine? How easy is it for us to produce? That’s where I think user feedback is so valuable. If I’m going to the trouble of actually cooking or baking something, I’d like a reasonable expectation that it will turn out okay. And seeing multiple users say, “Yummy!” Or, “Perfect! Just cut down the salt…” puts my mind at ease.

But, sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much commenting on Cookstr recipes. Of the 25 recipes I added to My Cookstr, only four had comments. And just one apiece. I suppose the number of “favorites” each recipe has helps…but not as much as forks or percentages.

I think Cookstr needs to implement some sort of promotion or go on some sort of social media spree — or both — to encourage users to comment on recipes. Maybe they can reward comments with points and a certain number of points yields a discount on a cookbook…or, since the site already has partnerships with publishers (I think), why not give away some cookbooks to the most prolific commenters? Or, at the very least, tempt those commenters with a feature on the Facebook page?

Simply put: If Cookstr wants to be a trusted recipe site, it needs more user-generated feedback.

2. A dinner newsletter.

The Cookstr 10, a list of ten recipes that is sent out each week, seems pretty focused on holidays or major events. And while that is helpful, to a degree, I feel like eventually you’re going to come to a time of year when there aren’t any holidays or events nearby and you’ve already done warm weather or cold weather recipes…so…what then? I guess focusing on one particular cooking technique isn’t a bad alternative…and I’m not arguing that the Cookstr 10 should be done away with completely. I just think Cookstr users could be better served by a newsletter that helps solve the problem of what to make for dinner. (This is actually what the Cookstr 10 focused on last week…I don’t see why they can’t do it every week.)

It’s not an original concept. Everyday Food and Good Housekeeping do it. And there’s good reason. When I look at magazines or cooking websites, I’m often looking for inspiration. I need to go to the grocery store, but I have no idea what to buy. And I don’t think I’m alone.

That dinner void is exactly where Everyday Food and Good Housekeeping step in, and I see no reason why Cookstr can’t do the same. All they need is seven dinner recipes once a week — it could even be a compilation of all the Recipes of the Day that week.

If the majority of people do their grocery shopping on weekends, Cookstr could send out this new newsletter, on, say, Friday. It could still focus on the time of year and what’s in season and what holidays are coming up…but it would be a much more practical way of saying, “Hey — here are our suggestions for this week. Now you don’t have to think about it,” which, I think, in turn, conjures up a sense of trust — but only if the recipes are good — and the consumer begins to rely on it more and more (if the recipes are good). Another win-win.

3. Play to the crowd.

There are certain dishes that only come up once a year…but they are reliable bets annually.

Last week, for example, a friend on Facebook posted a request for king cake recipes.

However, if I search for “king cake” on Cookstr — which I did — I get Kathleen’s Wheat-Free Fudge Brownies, Flaky Scones and Rosemary Foccacia Sheet. None of these recipes are even remotely close to king cake.

Epicurious, on the other hand, has three viable king cake recipes; FoodNetwork.com has nearly ten.

With Easter coming up, I imagine folks will also be looking for hot cross buns. But, sadly, when I look for “hot cross buns” on Cookstr, I get Jamie Oliver‘s Bun and Butter Pudding.

I realize these are two heavily Christian examples and that the world is made up of lots of different faiths and that Cookstr can’t possibly accommodate every single holiday. But…I think they need to do some research to make sure they have their bases covered for the most popular ones.

Sure, king cake and hot cross buns may not come up super-often…but the absence of recipes in cases like this will alienate those who *are* looking for them and send them right into Epicurious and/or FoodNetwork.com’s arms. I, for one, get quickly discouraged if a site offers no options for what I’m looking for…and I move on.

In short, I think that if Cookstr wants to gain and/or retain the trust of consumers who are searching for recipes, it needs to better anticipate what they are searching for — and accommodate them.

4. More tweets.

As of Sunday afternoon, Cookstr‘s last tweet was on March 4. That’s nine days ago. They simply can’t go that long without any updates.

For one, the site features a Chef or Author of the Day every single day. At the very least, that’s prime tweeting material.

The site also features a Recipe of the Day. Why are these recipes not tweeted daily, too?

What’s more, tons of folks are talking about Cookstr recipes on Twitter. Check out these search results. There’s no reason for @Cookstr not to reply to — and follow — these users.

Simply put, the site needs better engagement with this audience. @Epicurious and @FoodNetwork don’t miss a day — neither should @Cookstr.

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Filed under blogs, books, cake, dishes, entrees, Food Network, Uncategorized

In Which I Allege Prime Meats Has No Clothes…Or is At Least Half-Naked…

I’ve been Yelping.

Mostly because I realized I have opinions about local restaurants and it’s silly not to share them…even though I remain terrified someone is going to call me out, a la the Lucky purse disaster on Consumerist. I guess this proves that despite all the book rejections that have come my way, I still haven’t developed very thick skin.

Nonetheless, I did a bold thing today: I posted a review of Prime Meats in which I alleged the restaurant is completely uninviting. Angry mobs may be assembling as we speak.

I’m not sure whether I’ll become a hard-core reviewer on Yelp — after all, there are so many places on the Internet where you can review things and provide your opinions…like, say, on Epicurious…and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to write it all.

But I also know a little cross-promotion can’t hurt…and am kind of proud of this review. There — I said it. (Which probably means it is terrible as that is usually the case whenever I like something I write.)

Nevertheless…for non-Yelpers, here’s my review:

I am going to make a bold statement. And I’m fairly certain it’s going to ruffle some feathers, but I’m going to say it anyway: I think, to a degree, Prime Meats — like the Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale — has no clothes. Or it is at least half-naked.

The food is very good, to be sure. Prime Meats wouldn’t have garnered so much attention if that wasn’t the case.

I also think it was a bold move for the owners to focus on German cuisine – although perhaps therein lies their genius.

But somehow Prime Meats, despite its delicious food, doesn’t have the warm, inviting atmosphere of other restaurants of its caliber. That is not to say it is not aesthetically pleasing. But it is permeated by a sense of entitlement that belies the site’s humble history as a dry cleaning business.

On a recent weekday, one of the owners waltzed about with his French bulldog in hand with such an air of confidence, I wondered if he would actually get in trouble if a health inspector dropped by or if he could simply say, “Do you know who I am?” and get away with it.

I’ll repeat: The food is very, very good. You can get a fine steak here – and this is a neighborhood that cannot otherwise boast a good steakhouse.

But I think the fuss over this restaurant is partly psychological. In other words, I think part of the reason people rave about it is the same reason the head cheerleader and the quarterback of the football team are powerful in high school. It’s not necessarily because they’re good people…

Sam Sifton did an excellent job describing diners in his NYT review last May: “…brownstone bohemians, third novelists, people with Web sites, with good art at home.”

They are served by waiters in beards, skinny jeans and suspenders…or, as Sifton described them, “a crew of handsome men and women dressed as if ready to ride horses back home to Bushwick, where they trap beaver and make their own candles.”

I am admittedly a struggling writer with a degree that has so far not justified its pricetag…and perhaps if I had landed a job at the New York Times or Conde Nast, I would feel more welcome here. But I don’t. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a restaurant where I’ve felt so unwelcome.

I could perhaps understand if I was dressed inappropriately or was spewing profanities. But I wasn’t. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And I live very close. I walk by virtually every day. And yet when I decided to drop by to take advantage of an oyster special and the restaurant was unoccupied with the exception of one other party, it took 15 minutes for our drinks to come and yet another 15 more for the oysters to appear.

“I’m sorry, but the oyster guy is backed up,” our waiter explained as the table next to us received their second platter of oysters and we checked our watches.

We were eventually served and, as noted, the food was good. But at no point did I feel my business was wanted or that I would ever be compelled to return…unless I was suffering from acute hubris and needed my ego cut down to size by a staff eager to imply that I wasn’t good enough to eat there.

It’s not just me. I’ve heard stories from neighbors who were deemed unfit to mingle with the clientele and who were encouraged to sit at the bar or move along.

Take Frank Bruni on Twitter, for example. On January 5, he wrote, “At Prime Meats last nite, didn’t think: I’m in BROOKLYN!”

In his defense, he went on to say, “Didn’t mull geography. Just ate well at super place. The borough has plenty.”

But, at the same time, a Brooklyn prejudice seems terribly outdated and pompous…and somehow completely fitting for this restaurant that calls the borough its home.

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Goodbye, Libby’s (At Least For Now)

This year, I carved my first pumpkin in a long, long time. The last pumpkin I carved was based on advice from Martha Stewart (or the like) when I was working at a credit union in Fairbanks. My office held a carving contest and my pumpkin was truly something to behold – I made a leaf pattern and cut out leaves around the pumpkin, carved veins in them, and then pushed the leaves partially back through the holes in the pumpkin so that when I lit it up, the leaves looked like they were floating around said pumpkin and glowed. But — story of my life — the pumpkin rotted and liquefied the night before judging and I lost.

I can’t say this year’s pumpkin was a triumphant return, but it was nice to feel festive again.

I *also* decided that for the first time ever, I would roast the seeds instead of tossing them out…and, boy, am I glad I did! It was sort of hard to find a recipe I liked…so I ended up just rinsing them, tossing them in olive oil, adding salt and roasting on a sheet pan at about 300 degrees for 45 minutes. They were perfect! My mother said it was really hard to get all the orange pumpkin gunk off of them, but I didn’t think it was actually that bad. And it turned out that T’s favorites were the ones that were a little darker because they were roasted with gunk on.

I also heard that you should consider boiling the seeds first…but I thought the roasted seeds were fine sans boiling.

Now my goal is to make a pie from an actual pumpkin. I’ve never done that before either. And even though my baking enthusiasm has dimmed considerably and may never be what it once was, I’d still like to try out real pie this year. Another friend had a taste test last year in which she made a pie from scratch and a pie from a can and asked guests to guess which was which. It seemed obvious to me — the pie made from real pumpkin was a darker color and sort of less pleasant to look at…although I don’t actually remember how they tasted (…which may actually be because I thought the canned pumpkin pie tasted better, but I am too ashamed to admit it).

But, as a general rule, I’ve been perfectly happy with Libby’s all my life. There – I said it. If that makes me Whiskey Tango, so be it.

So I’m not sure I’ll turn pie-from-an-actual-pumpkin into a holiday tradition for years to come. But, like seeing Mount Rushmore or going waterskiing, it seems like something I should do once in life.

And yet…the Web seems to be barren of useful pie-from-a-pumpkin resources. Could it be that the difference is negligible and so no one bothers?

Granted, my research was not as exhaustive as it perhaps could have been, but every pie recipe I saw on Epicurious.com (my favorite!) called for canned pumpkin. Ditto FoodNetwork.com.

And I’m surprised that given the annual food mag task of making old Thanksgiving news new again that they haven’t jumped all over this. I would think that Alton Brown of all people would have made a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin at least once — after all, I saw him harvest coconut using a power drill — but, alas, I cannot find a recipe from him either.

Thankfully, my go-to cookbook when the Internet fails — The Joy of Cooking — has perfect instructions. I will give it a shot soon (and maybe make a Libby’s pie, too, just for old times’ sake) and report back.

And…just a reminder: There are rumors of another canned pumpkin shortage this year…so if you don’t want to experiment with real pumpkins, make sure to pick up a can of Libby’s before the Thanksgiving rush!

Image via cardamom/Flickr

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Filed under Alaska, books, Food Network, Halloween, holidays, pie, pumpkins

Mad Classics…and Tips for Feeding Trashy, Homesick Interlopers.

(Thanks, LehighValleyLive.com! I found this by Googling "Jersey Shore food.")

In honor of last week’s Mad Men premiere and the much anticipated launch of Jersey Shore’s second season, I thought I’d take a moment to ponder which particular foodstuffs would go best with each show.

I’ll start with the much-lauded Mad Men.

I was lucky that the Next Food Network Star included modern twists on ’60s favorites the week *before* last, making it very easy for me to (eww…gross!) regurgitate them this week.

I’m not actually very good at cooking without a recipe (It’s the baker in me?) — Reason #2 I will probably never be on the show. Instead, I found some recently updated versions of these classics, thanks to Epicurious and the Food Network (mostly).

Tuna Casserole

  • Tuna Noodle Casserole — I actually made this recipe once when I was hankering for comfort food. It seemed the most interesting spin with the mushrooms and the sherry and whatnot. It was good…but I haven’t made it since (and I’ve had half a bag of egg noodles in my cupboard, patiently waiting for the day I feel nostalgic enough to try it again…).
  • In general, I am wary of Rachael Ray recipes — I feel like they’re too bland for the required effort and if you really want something “easy,” you might as well really go hog wild and just microwave something (or order in). But…her Retro-Metro Fancy Tuna Casserole sounds okay. And I wonder what using actual tuna steaks would do to a tired-out casserole recipe. Jazz it up? Or would the steaks be lost in the faux-mushroom-soup sauce? That’s basically what Brianna did in that particular episode…but, then again, — spoiler alert — she got the ol’ heave-ho.
  • I feel basically the same way about Martha’s recipes, but her Mediterranean Tuna Casserole sounds like it has potential. I don’t know what makes it Mediterranean though — seems like you’d need to add capers and/or olives or something.

Pigs in a Blanket

First off, I am astounded by the variety of names in the Wikipedia entry. Who knew?

Lobster Thermidor

I confess I didn’t actually know what lobster thermidor was before that fateful Food Network Star episode. I mean, I’d heard of it…but I didn’t know anything about what actually went into it. And…now that I do, I gotta say it sounds pretty gross — egg yolks and cognac?? — and I’m not sure why Tom picked it.

  • I’m also not sure if it’s a recipe that has stood the test of time. Gourmet only has one recipe for it…and it’s from 1940.
  • Emeril has his own version — and it got really good reviews…(although I had to Google “bouquet garni,” so I feel like perhaps I am too ignorant to make it).
  • And…believe it or not, Oprah has a recipe, too…although it’s only because she, too, jumped on the Julia Child bandwagon last year. (Although I guess I have to give her props for not reprinting the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe that was absolutely everywhere…)

Deviled Eggs

I won’t spend too much time here as I have made no secret about my hatred for eggs…and I would never in a million years devil them.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

I actually remember eating this as a kid — I think my grandmother made it. Which makes sense. I don’t think there’s much modern or new about these recipes though — just plain cake. Which is maybe as it should be?

Okay…got that out of your system? Ready for pickles and Ron-Ron Juice?

I am officially thrilled that Snooki discovered fried pickles while driving through Savannah, Georgia en route to Miami in Episode 1. (I’m a little sad that they let one guy represent all of Georgia and dismissed him as a giant hick, but…that’s a post for another day.)

You may recall I once wrote a heavily edited story about fried pickles that made me sound like a complete ditz. I won’t link to it here as I was completely aghast by what the editor did in trying to assume my voice, but…let’s leave it at this: fried pickles are kind of amazing. (Snooki said it was a life-changing experience that put pickles on a whole other level! She’s not far off.)

Other than their family dinner nights, I imagine the cast of Jersey Shore has better things to do than find good food. (Didn’t J-Woww buy ham at a late-night grocery store and eat it in the confessional room to avoid cheating on her boyfriend once?) So…it’s kind of a short list. And then there’s the whole issue that only one of them is actually from Jersey anyway…so it really should be a post about New York and Rhode Island food?

But…my new ball and chain is from Jersey…so, in his honor, I’ll share all that I know about Jersey food — most of which I have learned from him — should Sami want to seek solace in empty calories or something as she embraces singlehood in MIA.

1. Diners. Jersey is famous for diners. So…typical diner food.

2. Taylor ham. I tried to call this “pork roll” and was corrected. He also thinks it’s fascinating that, like Kleenex, Taylor is a brand name that has come to represent the product itself. And you have to eat it in some sort of sandwich form?

3. Gravy fries. (There’s a bar near me that calls them “Disco fries.” I think this is a substantially more fun name.)

4. Clams? Or is that just my warped memory of Sam Sifton’s piece?

And…there you have it.

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Filed under Brooklyn, eggs, entrees, fish, Food Network, hot dogs, Martha, pickles, pork, Uncategorized

My Top Ten Patriotic Desserts

Kudos to the Cool Whip marketing team — whenever I think of Fourth of July desserts, I think of the Wave Your Flag Cake.

But…I was also pretty sure that there had to be other patriotic desserts out there…and while this *may* be slightly belated, it *is* still technically Fourth of July weekend…so here are my Top Ten Favorite July Fourth Desserts…which you can maybe still pull out for Columbus Day? Or Veterans Day?

10. Sandra Lee’s Fourth of July Trifle. I agree with Matilda Cuomo that cottage cheese has no place in a lasagna (I’m sorry, health nuts, but it’s wrong…), but if you are actually in possession of a trifle bowl, I see no better way to cap your 07/04 festivities than with the potential future First Lady of New York’s trifle. And, in true Sandra Lee style, this shizz is easy.

9. Or…how about this beauty? Taste of Home’s Red, White ‘n’ Blue Salad literally screams, “Happy Independence Day!” Just look at it.

8. If Yankee Doodle went to town and found this, he would have called it magnificent.

7. As temperatures rise, try these Patriotic Pops on for size.

6. Normally I feel Epicurious hits home runs…and the Red, White and Blue Ice Cream Cake may very well be super-tasty…but it also got hit with an ugly stick.

5. Firecracker Bites. These look more like sliders with straws or mini milkshakes to me…but kids allegedly enjoy making them.

4. I would wager a lot of people would prefer a younger, more scantily clad man emerge from a cake…but, in the spirit of the holiday, I suppose we can make our peace with Uncle Sam Celebrates 4th of July.

3. I don’t know where you find green ice cream cones, but — in all seriousness — these Lady Liberty Cupcakes are the bee’s knees.

2. Wait! Maybe I spoke too soon! Uncle Sam Ice Cream Cones are darn cute. *And* you can use regular cones.

Drumroll…

1. I’m not a huge fan of marshmallows on their own, but these Edible Eagles are maybe the most creative dessert I’ve ever seen. And, frankly, a fudge-covered Oreo in and of itself would make me one happy camper any day of the year.

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Filed under blueberries, cake, cherries, cupcake, holidays, ice cream, parties, red velvet

The Hello Dolly Bar Mystery…

So…I just got back from Arizona/Colorado/New Mexico, where I hung out with my parents and stood in four states at once and saw some ruins and ate a lot…including a new dessert: Hello Dolly Bars.

Long story short, my mother saw a recipe for “Magic Cookie Bars,” which she knew as Hello Dolly Bars from long ago. I asked why they were called Hello Dolly Bars, but she didn’t know. And I made a mental note to look it up when I got home…

As noted, I’m back. So…I did some research…and, basically, I came up with nothing. There are lots of hits for “Hello Dolly Bars,” on blogs…including variations on the recipe — some with butterscotch chips, for example — and several of those blogs question where the name came from (they’re known as Seven Layer Bars and Magic Cookie Bars, too…)…but no one has an explanation. (One of them — which I can’t find now — said that they will become a sticky nightmare in the pan if you don’t use wax paper…which was good to read as I was thinking about skipping the pan-lining step next time…)

I thought maybe one of my cookbooks would have something…but, alas. There’s nothing in the Joy of Cooking. (I wish I had the Cookie Bible…but, sadly, I only have the Cake and Pie and Pastry versions of the Good Word.) And I *thought* I saw something somewhere about Hello Dolly bars as a Southern thing…but Paula Deen doesn’t have anything either.

Epicurious turned up nothing under the “Hello Dolly”- or “Seven Layer Bar”- names. (And here’s what I think the Web-savvy kids call a “white whine”: Epicurious has hands down THE most annoying online ads. If you run your cursor over one of those damn things, these horrible things pop up and it takes WAY TOO LONG to make them go away.) The Food Network has a recipe for Magic Cookie Bars sans explanation..and, apropos of nothing, I find it sort of hilarious that it lists Warm White Bean and Roasted Garlic Dip as a similar recipe.

It’s been SO LONG since I’ve seen Hello, Dolly that I don’t really remember the plot…and I am tempted to add it to my Netflix queue now. (Maybe this is a sign from the universe that I should watch it again and I will rediscover something in it that will change my life forever.) According to Wikipedia, it’s about a meddlesome matchmaker…so maybe Hello Dolly bars are sort of like Rachael Ray’s You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta in that they are so good, you’ll trap yourself a man? Or maybe one of the early bakers really liked to listen to Louis Armstrong while baking? (I don’t think there are any clues in the lyrics…) Or maybe Carol Channing or Barbra Streisand just really like them a lot?  Those are my best guesses.

The recipe (adapted from an online magazine…but I don’t remember which one…but, as noted, the Internet has about a zillion versions of this, so I don’t feel *too* bad for ripping off whatever poor schmucks printed this version):

Hello Dolly (or Magic [or Seven Layer]) Bars

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup oatmeal

1 Tb brown sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (recipe calls for bittersweet, but I think milk works just fine)

1 cup flaked coconut

1 cup pecans (original recipe says to chop them…but I didn’t and I think it turned out just fine)

Preheat oven to 325. Line an 8X8-inch baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, oatmeal, brown sugar and butter; beat well.

Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom of baking pan.

Sprinkle chocolate chips, coconut and pecans on top. Pour over the condensed milk evenly.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until slightly golden on top.

Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan.

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Filed under blogs, books, brown sugar, cake, chocolate, cookies, Food Network

Simple Bruschetta and Less Interesting Apples

I have found that my posts about food — allegedly the, ahem, bread and butter of this dog and pony show — don’t receive quite the same attention as those about my life. Perhaps I have inadvertently found my calling.

Nevertheless…I feel it would be remiss to not talk about 1) the bruschetta; and 2) the apple tart.

1. I’ve wanted to make bruschetta ever since I saw that food porn scene — you know which one I’m talking about — in Julie & Julia. I should have just Googled those precise terms, I guess…as I would have come up with this: Bruschetta alla Julie and Julia. As you know, Epicurious is my go-to site…but they really didn’t seem to have any basic bruschetta recipes — everything had lots of stuff and I was really looking for something simple. So…FoodNetwork.com is always Choice #2…but, same deal. (Alton Brown’s is simple, yes, but it lacks tomatoes…) Finally, I looked in my cookbooks, et voila: The Joy of Cooking had the very simple recipe I was looking for. I kind of monkeyed around with it a bit and added the garlic to the tomato/basil mix instead of rubbing it on the bread (which perhaps means I did not make proper bruschetta at all, but I can live with that…) and I decided to go with a little onion, too. In the end, it was really amazingly delicious…but very heavy. I wanted to be able to eat, like, an entire loaf of the stuff, but just couldn’t stomach it. And when I woke up the next morning, I could still sort of taste the garlic…which I know is totally gross to admit…but, it’s true. (And thanks to some little writer figurines that my friend Frani gave me yesterday, I know that Virginia Woolf said, “If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.”) It was really good stuff though…and I still have enough tomato goods to make it three or four more times, I’d say.

2. And…apparently I don’t like using apples as much as I thought. The same thing happened last year. I went on that standard fall-time I’m-in-a-couple ritual — apple-picking — and in theory, I should have been on cloud nine afterward, baking up a storm…and churning out pies and tarts and sauces faster than you can say, “The leaves are changing color!” But I never really used them all. And it’s not like I had many apples this year…I had plans to emulate my New Jersey friend and make an apple tart — as in singular! — but the recipe I wanted to use required cardamom and I couldn’t find any at my grocery store…and my mother actually ended up sending me some in the mail…and I checked on the apples yesterday and they’re kind of mushy now. So, I mean, I can still totally *make* the tart…it will just be with less interesting apples.

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