Monday, June 14, 2010

"The Best Thing I Ever Ate" Inspires Strange Hobby in Home Cook

I can't decide if I love or hate the Food Network program, "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." It is certainly very interesting to learn about what foods that famous chefs crave when they go out to eat, but it's ultimately very frustrating, because you end up wanting to try the dishes yourself, and they are, invariably, far, far away. Of course, I do keep a running list of restaurants and bakeries that I wish to visit in NYC (where many of the places featured on TBTIEA are located), but I can't afford to visit that fabulous but wallet-draining city more than once or twice a year.

Thus, I have developed a strange passion for cloning and/or adapting recipes for foods that I have never even tried! So I don't know if the things I create are close to the original versions or not, but I guess if they are good eats in and of themselves, who really cares? The funny thing is, I have had the experience of trying a clone first, and finding that I actually prefer it to the original item once I finally get to try the "real thing" (refer to the infamous Levain chocolate chip cookie)! However, please know before I share some recent experiments that I have never actually tried the foods referenced on TBTIEA, so I'm not sure how they compare. But I welcome readers who have had the originals to try my versions and let me know how they stack up!

The first item I attempted to clone was a favorite southern pie of Cat Cora's from The Crystal Grill in Greenwood, Mississippi. I seriously doubt that I'll ever get to try this confection in person, but I reviewed the episode a few times, and watched the baker at The Crystal Grill make it, and I think this recipe captures the general spirit of the pie. It seems very similar to a key lime pie, but with lemon instead of key lime juice. Of course, you can make this with a traditional graham cracker crust as they do at The Crystal Grill, but my twist was to use ginger cookies, because I LOVE the combination of lemon and ginger. In any case, this is one pie with serious PUCKER POWER!

Lemon Icebox Pie with Gingersnap Crust

1 package of Anna's Ginger Thins (32), crushed
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine the crushed cookies, sugar, salt, and butter, and press evenly into a pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

2 cans sweetened condensed milk
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of two lemons
1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)

Whisk together the milk, egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice. Spoon into the prepared pie shell, and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until just set. Let cool to room temperature, then chill at least two hours, preferably four, or ideally, overnight. Serve with whipped cream.

The second recipe came from the same episode of TBTIEA where they profiled "Fluent in French Toast," a maple-flavored rice pudding from a shop in NYC called Rice to Riches that is reported to have the best rice pudding in the known world. They have many original flavors that change daily, and also inspired toppings with lyrical names like Mischief, Burst, Cloud 9, Flourish, Blessings, and Heart Throb. Now I couldn't find a copycat recipe for the maple rice pudding, but I found one for a variety called Chocolate Chip Flirt that I adapted a bit to suit my own preferences. The resulting dessert tastes very like the love child of rice pudding and a chocolate chip cookie! If this flavor doesn't suit you, I still think this is a boilerplate methodology that can be used for any kind of rice pudding that you favor. I know that this is how I will be making all rice puddings in my future! Oh, and if you want to try the real thing, you'll be pleased to know that Rice to Riches offers rice pudding by mail order, and there's still time to get some for Dad for Father's Day!

"Rice to Riches" Chocolate Chip Flirt Rice Pudding
(Source: adapted from
Group Recipes)

1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
zest of half an orange (I omitted this--I personally do not enjoy the orange/chocolate combo)
3/4 cup brown sugar (next time I might cut this back just a bit, to maybe 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup Italian risotto rice (I doubled this to one cup, because I wanted more rice and less custard)
1 to 1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped dark chocolate (I used mini chocolate chips)

Put everything except the chocolate into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to boil, stirring frequently. Simmer 30 minutes until rice is tender and mixture is thick and creamy. (This took more like 45 minutes for me, and perhaps as much as an hour.)

Remove from heat and add chocolate. Stir a couple of times to give a ripple effect. Serve warm or cold.

*Gina's Note: I might actually prefer this pudding without the chocolate, if you can imagine--it tastes like decadent dulce de leche! So I did not mix the chocolate into the whole batch of pudding, but when chocolate was called for, I simply threw a small handful of chocolate chips into the warmed pudding and swirled it together.


Amy said...

This pie was very disapointing. Not sweet enough, almost bitter. Not sure what did wrong, but it didn't taste good.....

Unknown said...

I was on a photo road trip through Mississippi and made it a point to stop at Crystal Grill to try the lemon icebox pie. The best pie I've ever eaten. I tried your recipe and it was dang close. It is a more tart lemon pie than most other lemon pies which is what I really loved about it. Great recipe.

Anonymous said...

To Amy who said the pie was bitter....if you are new to zesting lemons, perhaps you got the "pith" of the lemon in the zest (the white part just under the yellow skin of many citrus fruits)? It's extremely bitter, and will ruin the dish. I know this post is old, but thought I'd comment in case anyone else reading it tries it and doesn't know about pith.