Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Oreo, It's Time to Stop with the Crazy Flavors

Photo: Slate.com

I used to eagerly check Target end caps, hoping to find a new-and-exotic Oreo flavor, which I’d then buy, regardless of what it was. But I’m starting to experience flavor fatigue. For one, as much as I hate to admit it, nothing beats a classic Oreo. There’s a reason it was the first flavor invented—it’s the best.

But that doesn’t mean I’m above a well-thought-out Oreo spin-off. Problem is, I think Nabisco has stopped thinking, simply cranking out a new Oreo variety once a month, no matter how repulsive it sounds. Every time I go to the supermarket, there’s another one—most recently, there was Pumpkin Spice, Lemon, Berry, and Cookie Dough, among others. 

An Oreo flavor of Halloweens past. (Photo: PopSugar.com)
I’ll admit, I’ve tried the Lemon Oreos, and they’re delicious. But Pumpkin Spice? That’s just jumping on the ever-popular pumpkin bandwagon—and I question whether the Oreo execs actually asked, “Will a pumpkin-flavored Oreo really taste good?” I kind of doubt that it does.  

In my experience, many of the funkier flavors just taste, well, funky. The Birthday Cake Oreos were a terrible letdown. The Cookie Dough ones kind of taste like chemicals. A couple years back, I resorted to pulverizing my Gingerbread Oreos to make a cake ball of sorts, eager to just get them out of my cabinet. I didn’t even dare try the Watermelon or Fruit Punch Oreos.

Photo: HuffingtonPost.com
My research tells me there have been at least 24 odd Oreo attempts, not including the various Golden Oreo and Chocolate Oreo varieties. Here, in alphabetical order: Banana Split, Berry, Berry Burst Ice Cream, Birthday Cake, Blizzard, Candy Cane, Candy Corn, Caramel Apple, Cookie Dough, Cool Mint, Creamsicle, Fruit Punch, Fudge Sundae, Gingerbread, Lemon, Limeade, Marshmallow Crispy, Mint, Neopolitan, Peanut Butter Cup, Pumpkin Spice, Sherbet (or "Shure, Bert!"), Strawberries n' Creme, and Watermelon.

This overload of options, many quite disgusting sounding, has made me unwilling to buy any new Oreo flavor, because the novelty has worn off. So, please, Nabisco, save your fire for truly original—and yummy—flavors. S'mores, perhaps?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

HGTV Hosts Then & Now

My man, Pat Simpson.
I've been watching HGTV pretty much forever. But my first real obsession was Before & After, a home remodeling show that I watched every Sunday night with my mom. The host was Pat Simpson, a distinctly normal-looking guy, complete with a hard-to-miss set of bags under his eyes. That didn't stop me from stalking him, though: I had my parents take me to a home show where he was speaking. That was only the beginning of my HGTV addiction.

Since the days of Pat Simpson, the HGTV stars have undergone quite a transformation: The "regular folk" vibe of the hosts has all but disappeared, as talent that could be mistaken for celebrities have taken their place. 

Then: Joan Steffend, host of Decorating Cents 

Now: Sabrina Soto, host of Real Estate Intervention

Then: Clive Owens and Lisa LaPorta, hosts of Designed to Sell

Now: Jamie Durie, host of The Outdoor Room

Okay, I'm pretty sure his show has been canceled, but he's simply too studly not to include. Consider this my petition for his return. 

Then: Chris Harrison, host of Designer's Challenge

Chris Harrison isn't exactly a "normal" guy, but I had to throw him in the mix, because I find it hilarious that the host of The Bachelor used to be on HGTV! (Poor guy can't seem to get a manly gig.) 

Now: Chris Lambton, host of Going Yard


Apparently, we've gone from Bachelor host to an actual former Bachelorette contestant. 

Then: Michael Payne, host of Designing for the Sexes


Now: Drew Scott, host of Property Brothers

Then: Suzanne Whang, host of "House Hunters"

Now: Nicole Curtis, host of Rehab Addict

Then: Sandra Betzina, host of Sew Perfect

Now: Emily Henderson, host of Secrets from a Stylist 


Monday, July 14, 2014

5 Country Cooking Secrets from Cracker Barrel

Hashbrown Casserole

This is the restaurant's most popular sideand now it can be your family's favorite at home: Use colby cheese, instead of cheddar, in your hashbrown casserole, which one former Cracker Barrel employee says more closely mimics the actual recipe. Combine all of the ingredients the day before (taking the potatoes straight from the freezer, instead of letting them thaw), then cover and refrigerate the uncooked casserole over night. Finally, use a large spoon to place dollops of the mixture into a greased pan, rather than patting it down firmly with your hand. 

Want a recipe? The person who submitted this one claims her parents acquired it while working on a Cracker Barrel training video. Worth a try, right? 

One Cracker Barrel cook says the secret to the pillowy little biscuits is simplicity: White Lily self-rising flour (2 cups), buttermilk (2/3 cup), shortening (1/3 cup), and nothing more. Combine the flour and shortening, add the buttermilk, and mix for one minute; roll 'em out, cut 'em into circles, and bake for  8 minutes at 450° F. While they're hot, brush your biscuits with melted butter. An awesome quote from the Cracker Barrel employee who leaked this recipe: "That's how I do it, and cannot say if that's how I also do it at work." Sounds like a guilty conscience to me. 

Instead of using standard breadcrumbs in your meatloaf, crumble up homemade buttermilk biscuits, which employees say is the key to a Cracker Barrel-like loaf. 

Fried Apples
You'll find bacon drippings in most copycat recipes for Cracker Barrel's fried apples, but at least one employee says that addition isn't actually a part of the recipe. 

The pancake mix for sale in the country store is likely the same stuff used in the kitchen: One former worker says the chefs just use a mix (which has an unusual ingredient: rye flour), to which they add water, wait 10 minutes for the batter to rise, and then whisk until smooth. The ideal temperature for your griddle: 400° F

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Best of My Thrift Store Finds

Can You Guess What This Is?
People often comment on my ability to find treasures at thrift stores, then ask if I can teach them my ways. Although I do have a few Goodwill shopping secrets, I believe it's more about having an eyelearning to see potential in a forlorn-looking item piled onto a shelf with a dozen other donated goods. 

Here a few of my most recent (and favorite) finds:

I normally scoff at thrift-score tchotchkes, but this little guy was too cute to pass up. He doesn't have any defining marks, so I have no idea if he's worth anything. But he only cost a quarter. And who could refuse that sweet little face? I also found the tray he's sitting on at Goodwill for $5 (a Target cast-off), and I bought the antique typing table beneath (see it here) at a thrift store for $10 a few years back. 

Several months ago, my mom started collected Golden Books, and she inspired me to do the same. I only purchase the antique ones, like these two (the one on the left is from 1951, the other is missing its copyright page). The cost for both: $.70.

Agate home accessories have exploded in popularity this year, so I was thrilled to find these agate bookends for $45 at a thrift store in Sonoma, California. (I've seen them elsewhere for upwards of $100.)

I picked up this metal planter for $7 at Goodwill. The legs were falling off, so Frank, of course, had to buy a rivet gun to repair them (he was thrilled). A new planter AND a new tool!

I scored this mercury glass lamp at Goodwill for $10. I had to buy a shade (which naturally cost twice as much), but I still consider it a steal! 

This may just look like a worn-out wooden box, but it's actually an antique advertising case for Rush Park Seeds, based in Iowa. I paid $36 for it at a local thrift shop, which is much more than I'd normally spend at a secondhand store. But boxes like this go for close to $400 on eBay! 

This little bird is actually an antique salt shaker. The matching pepper shaker was missing, but I bought him for $2 anyway (I'm a sucker for cute animal items!). I also bought the metal tray underneath for $.25 at the same thrift shop.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Would You Do THIS To Your Walls?

A timeless trend I love: lacquered walls. 
For those of you who don't know, Frank and I are moving to Maryland. (Finally! Goodbye, Lehigh Valley!) It most likely won't happen until the end of the year, but that hasn't stopped me from house-hunting
—and, of course, imagining how I'd decorate my favorite properties. I'm particularly enamored with a brick home built in 1893, with its soaring 10-foot ceilings, pocket doors, and hand-stamped hinges. 

It's the perfect home for an elegant decorating trend I've had my eye on: lacquered walls. This high-gloss paint finish is perhaps most associated with the Hollywood Regency styleknown for its glamourous finishings, with a slight Asian influence. Makes sense: Lacquering has its roots in ancient East Asia, well before Hollywood Regency borrowed the shiny finish.  

The earliest iterations of lacquer involved harvesting the toxic sap of a tree native to East Asia; up to 30 layers of the stuff had to applied to achieve the signature slickness. Thankfully, lacquering no longer requires poison! Today, decorators often use shellac mixed with denatured alcohol, which creates the same liquid-like finish. 

You've probably seen lacquer on furniture, lamps, and decorative boxes. But walls? Really? 

Trust me: Applying sheen to your walls is attention grabbing, but not in the gaudy way of loud animal prints or sequin-covered everything. It's as glamorous and delicate as a Faberge egg. 

Take a look at these gorgeous interiors as proof: 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Knoxville Legend, Revealed: The Truth About Thunder Road

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the notorious Thunder Road crash on Kingston Pike in Knoxville, for which the famous ballad by Robert Mitchum was named. It also marks the passing of Edward "Eddie" Harvey, a former racecar driver and whiskey car mechanic, who died on Monday, April 7th, 2014, at age 91. 

I had the privilege of interviewing Eddie in 2008, when I was in journalism school, for an assignment about Thunder Road. Nearly six years and hundreds of interviews later, he remains one of the most interesting people I've ever encountered. The story he contributed to is below; I will be posting the full contents of my interview with him later. 

John Fitzgerald and his buddies coasted on their bicycles into the parking lot of Mr. Galyon's service station, like many mornings, in search of a Moon Pie or a Nehi soda. But this morning, April 1, 1954, was different. A cluster of unmarked cars and suited men, their faces red and their bodies flitting nervously from car to car, hemmed the normally desolate country store.

Suddenly embarrassed by his bicycle, the sixteen-year-old quipped to his friends that the official-looking man, tall and pot-bellied, sipping on a Grapette soda, should have bought an RC Cola instead. He sobered, however, when he heard the men whispering about Thunder Road. That cool spring morning, John and his friends had inadvertently stumbled upon a federal operation to capture a notorious Kentucky moonshiner known only as "Tweedle-o-twill." 
Let me tell the story, I can tell it all | About the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol | His daddy made the whiskey, son, he drove the load | When his engine roared, they called the highway Thunder Road
"Thunder Road" was the code name assigned to the undercover federal operation to nab moonshiners, but to locals like John, its meaning was no secret. In the Appalachian foothills, Thunder Road was a term coined to identify the nighttime route from Harlan, Kentucky, to Knoxville, Tennessee, traveled by illegal whiskey haulers. The source of many a southern legend, it was this route that spawned Robert Mitchum's 1958 Hollywood hit Thunder Road and his song "The Ballad of Thunder Road." But to the men who traveled the route, it was much more than legend. It was the road to freedom from economic despair.

Early 17th-century European immigrants to the United States brought their knowledge of distilling with them, and in the hills of the Appalachians, where freshwater and farmland were plentiful, moonshining proved to be a profitable venture. Isolated mountaineers fashioned makeshift stills to convert their crops to whiskey to trade at market. Eventually, moonshine spoke as loudly as cash, and so the moonshine culture was born. 
On the first of April, nineteen fifty-four | A federal man sent word he'd better make his run no more | He said two hundred agents were coverin' the state | Whichever road he tried to take, they'd get him sure as fate
In the early morning hours, just down the pike from Galyon's, Tweedle-o-twill, the son of an elusive mountain moonshiner, was racing against time. As the sun peaked through the trees, he rocketed down the highway, sweeping across the last leg of his journey down Route 33 from Kentucky through Maynardville and into Bearden. His misty green 1950 Ford was loaded with 'shine, likely concealed by nothing more than a blanket, and daylight was dangerous.

Once outside of Knoxville, he had the choice of an old truck route, today known as Papermill Road, or the public highway, Kingston Pike. The two roads converged past the crest of Bearden Hill, creating a stretch of highway with no through-roads, where the federal agents planned to surround the illustrious whiskey hauler. 

But at a rate as high as $40 a run, little could stop a determined driver like Tweedle-o-twill.

"Farmers were compelled to find money somewhere," Alex Gabbard, author of Return to Thunder Road, said. "There was no place to get cash money except whiskey. So you had makers and watchers and haulers and moonshiners and bootleggers. This moonshine culture was an early form of sharing the wealth."

Economic necessity drove Ed Harvey, 86, owner of Eddie's Auto Shop on Broadway, to enter the moonshining underworld. Somewhat of a local legend for his appearances on the Real LeRoy Mercer tapes and Johnny Knoxville's MTV show Jackass, Harvey first earned his larger-than-life reputation as a whiskey car mechanic. 

Growing up, he watched his grandfather manufacture whiskey at his four-story Union County distillery, when alcohol was legal in neighboring Kentucky, but still banned in Tennessee under Prohibition in the 1930s. Although Harvey's grandfather had a license to produce and sell whiskey to the U.S. government, he also had another source of under-the-table income. 

"I asked Grandpa, 'How come you so rich? You got three buggies and six horses.' He said, 'The wagons come at night,'" Harvey recalled. "They'd come in there from Kentucky every night, stuffed with cases and cases of whiskey. I told him I was going to be rich that way."

In Harvey's teenage years, when hard times hit after his father left, aiding moonshiners seemed an obvious choice. 

"One of the biggest reasons they all did it was these were poor people," Jaymie Frederick, Harvey's niece, said. "Ed's mother would take her children to work at Kay's Ice Cream and throw ice cream out the window so they would have food. You did what you had to do."
Sometimes into Asheville, sometimes Memphis town | The revenoors chased him, but they couldn't run him down | Each time they thought they had him, his engine would explode | He'd go by like they were standin' still on Thunder Road
Around the bend from Kingston Pike's Mount Vernon Motel, today occupied by World Futon, the federal agents devise a makeshift roadblock, two cars nudged nose-to-nose across the two-lane highway. They parked their fleet of vehicles in the cedar-lined driveway of a roadside farm and waited. But as Tweedle-o-twill raced toward them at 90 miles an hour, it became apparent that he had no intention of stopping. He flew off the road, crashing over fences and infant trees, evading the roadblock and barreling past the agents unhampered.

High-speed hot rods were as critical to moonshiners as the half-gallon jars of whiskey they hauled. Closely intertwined southern traditions fueled by fast cars and competition, whiskey driving and stock car racing went hand-in-hand. Whiskey drivers competed both on and off the racetrack, and mechanics like Harvey battled to build the best whiskey car. They removed the back seat from the carsHarvey preferred 1940 Fordsto make space for the loads, but the real magic happened under the hood.

"We'd change the motor in them, put a big, high-speed motor in. That's what makes 'em go, go, go," Harvey said. "We had racecars. They'd get away from anybody."

Anybody, meaning the law.

And there was thunder, thunder over Thunder Road | Thunder was his engine, and white lightnin' was his load | There was moonshine, moonshine to quench the devil's thirst | They law they swore they'd get him, but the devil got him first
On rare occasions, the police managed to corner whiskey drivers and seize their cars, keeping some for themselves and selling the rest at auction. 

"I'd buy them all back at the courthouse in Knoxville," Harvey said, laughing. "I got to where I'd go down there and buy them, and they'd say, 'You can't have no more cars. They're back on the damn road in a week.'"

Raised in the harsh hills of Appalachia, moonshiners were resilient by nature, determined to keep their stills operating and their cars running. But it wasn't without risk. Moonshining was a serious gamble, its offenders subject to federal charges of conspiracy, operating an unregistered still, brewing unregistered whiskey, and trafficking an illegal good.

"If you got caught, they'd give you time in the workhouse, or they'd put you in the Big House," Harvey said. "You'd stay there for maybe a year."

But with the federal tax on whiskey at $9.50 a gallon in 1950, when a six-gallon case sold for $5 or $6, profit-seeking moonshiners willingly took their operations underground.
Roarin' out of Harlan, revvin' up his mill | He shot the gap at Cumberland, and screamed by Maynardville | With T-men on his taillights, roadblocks up ahead | The mountain boy took roads that even angels feared to tread
After clearing the first roadblock, Tweedle-o-twill roared down Kingston Pike, unaware that a second roadblock, a row of cars, bumper to bumper, was aligned at the intersection of Morrell Road and Kingston Pike. John and his friends watched from a nearby farmhouse, located on the present-day site of West Town Mall.

"As he came back on Kingston Pike, he's got an uphill, right-hand turn. This turn, Dead Man's Curve, is what's called an off-camber turn," Gabbard explained. "This was a notorious turn."

Rocketing around the bend, he lost control, sending the car into a dirt bank bordering what is today the parking lot of Bearden's Cat Music. The high-speed collision whipped up a cloud of red clay dust visible from the second roadblock. As the federal agents raced to the scene, John pedaled down Kingston Pike to catch a glimpse of the accident that would become legendary. 

In writing Return to Thunder Road, Gabbard encountered a number of people claiming to have been witnesses of the famed crash, others identifying Tweedle-o-twill as a distant relative. While ultimately finding John Fitzgerald's account to be most historically accurate, Gabbard didn't write off the others as entirely false. 

In the Thunder Road days, two-lane highways spidered across the southern countryside, roughly constructed with insubstantial macadam, their paths determined by the lay of the land and farmers' willingness to sell their property. Accidents among moonshiners, traveling by night and often dodging the law, were inevitable.

And after the Thunder Road film popularized the accident, southerners laid claim to the legend, and it became something of a storytelling tradition. As the Thunder Road tale passed through generations, its tellers adapted the account to include their friends and family and came to regard each story of a local moonshiner's run-in with the law as "the" Thunder Road.

In fact, Harvey has a Thunder Road story of his own, regarded by his wife Barbara as the "true Thunder Road."

"Rufe Gunter, he drove a race car I made, was coming from Newport to Knoxville. Somebody had ratted on him," said Harvey. "When Rufe found out, he bought an old car, an old Studebaker, and loaded it down. He thought the law wouldn't know him."

But as Rufe neared Knoxville, just outside the city limits at Swann Bridge on Highway 70, the police began tailing him, determined to catch the Newport outlaw.

"They couldn't catch Rufe," Barbara Harvey said. "It became a vendetta."

He swerved and struck a tree stump, propelling his car, loaded with as many as 20 cases of whiskey, into the Holston River.

"The law never did stop," said Harvey. "I went up there, and I found him hanging on a limb in the creek, drowned."

For Harvey, Rufe's death signaled the time to abandon his moonshining days. "When Rufe got drowned up there, I quit. I didn't fool with it no more," he said.

Son, his daddy told him, make this run your last | The tank is filled with hundred-proof, you're all tuned up and gassed | Now, don't take any chances, if you can't get through | I'd rather have you back again than all that mountain dew
In an interview with Gabbard, John, now deceased, recalled his boyhood amazement at the crash site of Tweedle-o-twill. "That bank looked like a bulldozer blade had cut into it," John told him. "He hit straight on with such an impact that it buckled the frame of his car."

As the car launched through the fence of a roadside utilities substation, its trunk sprung open, shattered jars of whiskey seeping their contents amidst the electrical equipment. John watched as the substation burst into flames, the smell of whiskey strong and biting.

It was the distinct smell of cooking whiskey mash that lured police dogs to the moonshine stills dotting the mountain landscape, tucked away in rocky crags or between grassy knolls.

"They stayed till somebody ratted on them," Harvey said.

The illegal brewing process started with mash, a substance consisting of liquefied fruit or grain mill and warm water, eventually to be mixed with yeast and covered for several days to ferment. After fermentation, the still was placed over a fire, bringing the alcohol to a boil and pushing the vapor through copper tubing submerged in a cold water bath. The alcohol vapor condensed into a water whiskey, called singlings, and was heated again to yield a crystal clear liquid. Some called it 'splode; others called it mountain dew. Most just knew it as 'shine.
Blazing right through Knoxville, out on Kingston Pike | Then right outside of Bearden, there they made the fatal strike | He left the road at 90; that's all there is to say | The devil got that moonshine and the mountain boy that day
John gazed at the motionless, bloodied form of Tweedle-o-twill lying next to the crushed car. Thrown upon impact, the small-framed, twenty-something man was crumpled on the pavement, his body resting humbly in the fetal position. His hair was dark and cut in the typical 1950s fashion, and the sleeves of his light-colored shirt were stylishly rolled.

The officials tried to shoo John, but too entranced to leave, he just stepped onto his father's field that bordered the scene.

"I remember looking at the driver and thinking, 'What a waste,'" John told Gabbard. "He have his life for a trunk of whiskey." 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The 850-Calorie Cake That's TOTALLY Worth It

I once had a friend who spent half her free time researching clever ways to cut calories in desserts: applesauce instead of oil, chickpeas instead of flour, prune puree in lieu of butter. Sorry, but I want REAL dessert when I indulge. Not some sugar-free, fat-free substitute that forces you to pretend you're satisfied. I'd rather eat the calorie-packed real deal and walk away totally thrilled with my decision. 

Which is why I had no problem eating this lemon cake at the Steelhead Diner in Seattle (the photo above is my replication of it):

The restaurant, near Pike's Place, is known for its seafood, which meant the desserts were pretty much the only thing on the menu I could eat. (I don't eat any kind of fish or shellfish.) I can't say I was disappointed, because I'd been craving a tangy lemon dessert for days. I was pleased the moment by waitress set my plate down in front of me: The presentation alone was impeccable. 

This layered lemon creation may look tiny, but it was so loaded down with rich ingredientsmascarpone cream, lemon curd, white chocolate shavingsthat it undoubtedly packed a meal's worth of calories. And it was incredible. I initially intended to share it with my dining companions, but that didn't happen, obviously. 

I was so blown away that I had to try to recreate it at home. I found an old Epicurious recipe with the core elements: homemade lemon curd, a lemon-infused mascarpone layer, and 850 calories per serving. Mmm.

The recipe is for a standard layer cake, but I wanted to mimic the Steelhead Diner Lemon Cake down to the last detail. So I baked the cake batter in a muffin tin, creating cute little cake discs, perfect for stacking. 

This is a very laborious dessert to make. But the mascarpone filling and lemon curd are totally worth the effortthey taste exactly like the diner's versions. The cake's texture kind of came out funky, a little bit tough, although still chewy. But I think I just either over-mixed it or overcooked it. So proceed with caution! 

Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd and Mascarpone
Adapted from Epicurious

What You Need

6 large eggs, separated
14 Tbsp sugar
1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Lemon Curd
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Filling and Frosting
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 containers (8 oz. each) chilled mascarpone cheese
White chocolate shavings

Put It All Together

1. Position rack in the center of your oven, and preheat to 350° F. 

2. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and 7 Tbsp sugar, until the mixture is very thick, about 4 minutes. Then in a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 7 Tbsp sugar to the whites, one tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff and glossy. Fold half of the egg whites into the yolk mixture, then stir in half of the flour and 1/4 tsp salt.  Fold in the remaining whites, followed by the remaining flour. Mix until just combined. 

3. Coat a muffin tin with cooking spray, then spoon about 1.5 Tbsp of batter into each cup. (You'll probably need two muffin tins.) Bake 8-10 minutes. Cool in pan on rack, then run a knife around the edge of each cake disc to loosen them. 

2. Prepare the lemon curd: Whisk the sugar, lemon juice, eggs, and egg yolks in a medium metal bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Whisk constantly until thickened and a candy thermometer reads 160° F. Remove bowl from water, then add the butter, whisking until melted. Transfer 1 cup of the curd to a small bowl, and reserve the remaining curd for the filling. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of each curd. Chill overnight. (I just chilled mine for a few hours, and it was totally fine, FYI.) 

3. Make the syrup: Place sugar in a small metal bowl. Add 1/2 cup boiling water; stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in lemon juice.

4. Prepare the filling and frosting: Beat the whipping cream and sugar in a large bowl until peaks form. Add the mascarpone to the lemon curd you reserved for the filling. Whisk until blended, then fold the whipped cream into the lemon-mascarpone mixture. 

5. Prepare for serving: Spread a spoonful of the lemon-mascarpone mixture in the center of a dessert plate, forming a circle just larger than one of your cake discs. Place a cake disc on top of the filling, with the flat side facing up. Use a pastry brush to spread syrup over the surface of the cake, then spoon on a layer of lemon curd, followed by a layer of the lemon-mascarpone filling. Repeat with a second cake disc. Sprinkle white chocolate shavings on top and on the plate. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Weird New Bathroom Design Trend

Double sinks are expected. Low-flow toilets? Practically the norm. But joining these standard master bathroom features is a weird new trend: eliminating the bathtub. In a new Houzz survey, 43 percent of homeowners say they're doing away with the tub altogether. 

I'm kind of shocked: What about bubble baths? Relaxing after a rough day? Wanting to sit down to shave your legs? 

But, according to Martha Fondren, a homebuilding expert, "The emphasis on the giant garden tub is no longer there. Now the emphasis is on, 'What can I do with my shower?' People want a spa experience in the shower." The Houzz survey backs this up: 45 percent of young homeowners want to install rain-style showerheads, 35 percent want a handheld showerhead, and 24 percent want multiple showerheads. 

I agree that garden tubs are a bit of a design faux pas: They're often oddly shaped, surrounded by unattractive tile, and are tough to maintain. (On my recent trip to Israel, I accidentally hit the jets in the hotel tub, and awful-smelling water came spewing out.) But rather than ditching the bathtub entirely, I'd prefer a return to the freestanding tub (ideally, the clawfoot style), a classic option a third of homeowners would consider, according to the Houzz survey.

Want to kick your jacuzzi to the curb? Here are a few tub-free bathrooms I admittedly dig:

Friday, February 28, 2014

How to Make "Orange is the New Black" Prison Cheesecake

The hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black is based on a true story: an upper-class white girl, Piper, goes to prison on 10-year-old drug charges. There's lots of fighting, gratuitous nudity, and even a transgender inmate. But the producers didn't include something the book emphasized: prison cheesecake. 

Apparently, inmates often fill their hours by concocting microwave creations, relying entirely on ingredients from the prison commissary or those smuggled in by the kitchen staff. Piper specialized in cheesecake, and lucky for us (maybe), she included the recipe in her book.

So being the cheesecake fan that I am, I had to make it.

What You Need

Here are the instructions, excerpted from the book by Piper Kerman:

  1. Prepare a crust of crushed graham crackers* mixed with four pats of margarine stolen from the dining hall. Bake it in a Tupperware bowl for about a minute in the microwave, and allow it to cool and harden.
  2. Take one full round of Laughing Cow cheese, smash with a fork, and mix a cup of vanilla pudding until smooth. Gradually mix in one whole container of Cremora**, even though it seems gross. Beat viciously until smooth. Add lemon juice from the squeeze bottle until the mixture starts to stiffen. Note: This will use most of the plastic lemon.
  3. Pour into the bowl atop the crust, and put on ice in your bunkie's cleaning bucket to chill until ready to eat.
*I used one cup of graham cracker crumbs. This made for a crumbly crust, so I'd suggest using 3/4 cup. 
**This proved to be the most difficult ingredient to track down. I finally found it at Wal-Mart. Since it's non-dairy, it's not in the refrigerated section; it was down the coffee aisle, hidden on the bottom shelf, at my store. Cremora comes in different size containers: I'm guessing prison doesn't have the jumbo size, so I used about two-thirds of the 22-ounce bottle.

The resulting mixture was surprisingly smooth, although I did cheat and use my KitchenAid. It wasn't entirely cheesecake-like, though. More like marshmallow creme, but not quite as sweet. To be perfectly honest, it kind of grossed me out, probably because I knew it was primarily coffee creamer. That said, if I was in prison, it would be a welcome treat. (And my husband thought it was halfway decent.) 

My verdict: Save this for your Orange is the New Black viewing party. Otherwise, it will sit untouched in your fridge. It's been in mine for a week.