Donna Cooks


The Sprinkles Frenzy
April 4, 2007, 12:27 am
Filed under: DFW Restaurant Reviews

Sprinkles, the Beverly Hills cupcake boutique, opened its doors in Dallas last Monday.  Yes, I did just call it a cupcake boutique.  What else would it be called at $3.25 per cupcake?  DFW is certainly no stranger to high priced sweets, with Plano being the home of the world’s most expensive chocolates, NoKa.  Can another luxury high-calorie commodity like cupcakes survive?  Judging by the insane lines outside the newly opened Sprinkles store (expect waits up to two hours), the answer is yes.

So what is the craze about?  The most common rave I hear about Sprinkles is that they are Oprah’s favorite cupcakes.  If they’re good enough for Oprah, they should be good enough for me, right?  Well, I’m not exactly in the same income tax bracket as Oprah, but I was fortunate enough to have a sweet friend who brought me two dozen of these treats for my birthday (after waiting in line for more than an hour).  Here’s my two cents on Sprinkles’ $3.25 “designer” baked goods.

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We had 8 different flavors at the birthday party: black & white, dark chocolate, red velvet, vanilla, chai latte, lemon coconut, pumpkin, and strawberry (3 of each flavor).  The cupcakes are about average size with plenty of icing.  In fact, maybe it’s a little too much icing.  They have an attractive round shape (round and stout) and when lined up neatly in the box, the uniformity is charmingly cute.  Thus far I have tried four flavors, dark chocolate, vanilla, chai latte, and pumpkin.  With the thick layer of icing on the cupcake, I find the naturally less sweet flavors (chai latte and pumpkin) more appealing than the sweeter ones.  The cupcakes are so rich that for me, it is impossible to eat more than one in one sitting.  With richer flavors like vanilla, it’s hard to even eat a whole one in one sitting.  It’s a good cupcake, but I can’t seem to find anything to justify the $3.25/cupcake price tag.  They’re definitely better than the cupcakes at your local grocer bakery (icing does not have that artificial pasty taste or texture), but they are also about 10 times more expensive.  Out of the four flavors I’ve tried, chai latte is currently the favorite.  It tastes exactly like the Starbucks chai latte, and that almost justifies the $3.25 pricetag since a cup of the stuff at Starbucks will cost about the same (even more if you want soy milk substitute).

Nonetheless, the cupcakes were a crowd pleaser.  We managed to finish 14 cupcakes among the dozen guests at the party.  But now, I have the ultimate dilemma.  I have $32 worth of cupcakes leftover in my fridge and swimsuit season just around the corner…

Sprinkles Cupcakes
4020 Villanova Dr.
Dallas, 75225



I’m Still Alive… and Loving Muscat Grape Season
March 25, 2007, 3:58 pm
Filed under: 15-Second Rave

I haven’t posted in over two weeks, but I’m still alive and well!  A spring break trip to England and Scotland for 9 days spanned most of that time (look for related food travelogues coming soon!), and I’ve spent the rest catching up on errands, work, and school work.

I did manage to make it to Central Market to see what kinds of exciting produce is available this season (after 9 days of eating cream, butter, and gravy heavy foods, I was like a child in a candy store with the wide variety of fresh locally grown produce at Central Market).  My excitement peaked when I turned the corner from tomatoes and potatoes to fruits.  It’s muscat grape season, folks.

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I first discovered the joy of the muscat grape last year when a trip to Central Market introduced me to these tiny bursts of delightful, slightly tart, sweetness.  What makes this grape so different from a regular white grape?  It’s smaller, sweeter, thinner skinned, and wine aficionados will immediately recognize the familiar flavor found in muscat based dessert wines and the sparking Moscato d’Asti.

I will probably finish the 2 1/2 pound bag in less than a week :)



A New Name for Cantonese Cuisine in Town (New San Dor)
March 8, 2007, 1:15 am
Filed under: DFW Restaurant Reviews

For some time now, the First Chinese BBQ chain has dominated in the DFW area for authentic Chinese cuisine (Cantonese specialty). Ask any food lover for the best Chinese food in town, and they’ll take you right to the hanging roasted pigs and ducks at First Chinese BBQ. A new Asian supermarket, Asia World Market, recently opened in northeast Plano (Legacy at 75), and has brought some new Asian restaurants to the DFW dining scene.

I was checking out the new Asia World Market before a BYOB dinner (almost a weekly ritual now since there are quite a few good BYOB restaurants in DFW) at Jasmine Thai (my favorite Thai place in DFW thus far). By the way, the Asia World Market is large, clean, with a good selection of all sorts of Asian foods. I noticed that Japanese and Korean items had their own aisles. Anyway, armed with a bottle of Yalumba Barossa, I was ready for some excellent Thai. However, out of all the restaurants in the shopping center, we noticed one with a particularly busy amount of activity, New San Dor.

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I went in with the intention of grabbing a takeout menu and coming back another time, but between the modern sophisticated look of the restaurant (love the clay orange walls) and the mouthwatering extensive Cantonese menu, I knew I had to try it for dinner that very night. Jasmine Thai would have to wait until another time as we put our name down on New San Dor’s waiting list.

Here’s the downside to eating at New San Dor (and hopefully it’s temporary): the restaurant has been open for less than a month and the employees’ efficiency completely reflect the restaurant’s new-ness. The logistics of clearing out tables and seating new customers didn’t flow smoothly. What was quoted as a 10 minute wait turned out to be 25 minutes. I’m not a patient one so this unexpected wait was irking at my irritability.

Once seated, service was much more prompt. Turns out New San Dor offers wine and beer but will allow you to BYO for a $5 corking fee, not too bad at all, especially considering the waiter goes through the whole ceremonial bit (I hate when restaurants charge a corking fee, but then just leave a corkscrew at your table for self-service). The menu was expansive, somehow we narrowed it down to two entrees, the sizzling seafood plate and beef with bitter melon. While we waited for our entrees, I took notice of the patrons around us. A Chinese family to our left had ordered an appetizing vegetarian tofu stir-fry, crispy chicken, and some sort of hot pot. The WASPy couple to our right had ordered your Americanized Chinese standards, sesame chicken and broccoli beef. Usually, at these authentic type Chinese restaurants, their “fake” Chinese food is lacking (like at First Chinese BBQ). Surprisingly, at New San Dor, perfectly glistening individual pieces (not stuck together by the gummy soggy batter) of sesame chicken is served on a bed of fresh steamed broccoli and beef with broccoli is actually beef slices with Chinese broccoli (gai lan). Now, I only got to see these dishes, not taste them, but the couple next to us scarfed their food down in no time, noting how delicious it is with every bite.  Here’s the run down on our entrees:

Sizzling Seafood Plate:

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I don’t think I can rave enough about this dish.  I’m not even a big seafood lover but I’ve been thinking about this dish for half a week now.  Tender lightly floured pieces of shrimp, calamari, and scallops in a brown sauce seasoned with garlic and black pepper.  The calamari was pleasantly chewy and the scallops perfectly tender, the shrimp was a little bit too well done.  It’s like seafood fajitas with a great Cantonese-style sauce.

Beef with Bitter Melon:

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Bitter melon is a Chinese veggie that is more like squash than melon, and as its name implies, is bitter.  Saying that it’s an acquired taste is an understatement.  I’m actually not a die-hard fan of bitter melon (I was with an adventurous companion who insisted he wanted to give bitter melon a try), but I can handle it when the melon has been peeled before cooked (the skin is the most bitter part), like at Genroku.  New San Dor’s version had the skin on (which is common in traditional preparation) and was a little too bitter for my taste.  If you don’t think you’re into bitter vegetables, I challenge you to try the tender beef slices in the same dish.  They have just a hint of bitterness, providing some depth to the otherwise simple brown sauce.  As expected, my companion didn’t become a bitter melon fan, but still ate up the delicious beef slices.

Getting our check took a little longer than we wanted, but I’m not going to be too harsh on the service since the restaurant is so new.  Dinner was $38 for two entrees, corking fee, tax and tip, only a tad more expensive than First Chinese BBQ.  Every dish at New San Dor, both the ones we sampled and judging from the looks of the ones on the surrounding tables, was well-executed and as far as I can tell, used fresh ingredients.  I will definitely be back.  I noticed that there is a small menu of set family style dinners (prix fixe based on how many are in your party) written in Chinese.  I can’t read Chinese (only very basic characters) so perhaps when my parents are in town, we’ll give the set menu family style dinners a try. 

New San Dor is giving First Chinese BBQ a run for their money as my favorite Cantonese restaurant in DFW.  It doesn’t have the roasted goods hanging in the window, but the atmosphere and the tasty dishes are hard to beat.

Oh, one more thing.  Boba Latte, my favorite bubble tea place in DFW, has opened a second location in this shopping center (original at Belt Line & Greenville in Richardson).  They use real fruit instead of the powder stuff for smoothies and slushies.  Good place for dessert if you decide to try out New San Dor.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 (spruce up the service and this place gets a 5 in my book)

New San Dor
240 Legacy Dr
Plano, TX 75023



Try Again in Northern Carrollton (Italian Villa)
March 6, 2007, 12:57 pm
Filed under: DFW Restaurant Reviews

The paperwork on the house is signed. I’m moving to northern Carrollton in mid-May.

For those who have kept up, I’ve been on a search for a trusty neighborhood favorite in the northern Carrollton area, some place casual but satisfying that I can regularly visit when I don’t feel like cooking. So far, Goodfella’s has been a little disappointing but Mena’s has provided solid Tex-Mex (although Mena’s is still a little far to be considered the trusty neighborhood fave). This time, we tried Italian Villa in a strip mall at the northwest corner of Old Denton and Hebron, definitely close to my soon-to-be home.

Italian Villa’s warm ambiance is casual. On a weekend lunch, the place is about half full. The menu is 4 pages of all the regular Italian features (pizza, pastas, subs, with a few house specialties) plus a page for lunch specials starting at $5.95. Prompt service brought complimentary bread and butter with our drinks. The bread was stale and crusty, not in a delightfully chewy French loaf kind of way but in a “I think this bread sat under the heat lamp to keep warm too long” kind of way.

Among the 5 of us, we sampled quite a range of dishes, whose taste and quality also ranged. At the better end were the Eggplant Parmesan and Chicken Murphy. I didn’t expect much from the Chicken Murphy dish since its name completely lacks any hint of Italian-ness, but the tender chicken breasts in a creamy tomato-jalapeno sauce was fiery and smooth at the same time, and perhaps the best dish out of the five.

Eggplant Parmesan:

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Chicken Murphy:

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In the middle of the pack were the Beef Ravioli (my choice) and Chicken Marsala. You have a choice of either cheese or ground beef filling for your ravioli entree. I became a little concerned when I asked the waiter whether it was four-cheese ravioli, and he responded “you get either cheese or meat.” I ordered the ground beef version with a sense of unease, but I shouldn’t have worried because the large, piping hot raviolis were a delight. My only complaint is that the marinara sauce had an uncanny resemblance to canned tomato sauce. Chicken Marsala endured the same complaint. The chicken and mushrooms were tender and done just right, but the sauce was a bit bland.

Beef Ravioli:

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Chicken Marsala:

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At the bottom was the cheese tortellini. This dish was just so bland and uninteresting. Just a few sprinkles of freshly ground black pepper or some fresh chopped up herbs would have made this more edible.

Cheese Tortellini:

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With the lunch specials ranging from $5.95 to $7.95, you can’t really expect Italian Villa to be cranking out dishes comparable to the more dressed up Italian places. The dishes are hit and miss, but I think there’s potential to discover a few trusty favorites. I’m likely to give it another chance, but I’m really hoping they improve the stale bread situation.

Rating: 3 / 5

Italian Villa
1012 W Hebron Pkwy
Carrollton, TX 75010



‘Tis the Season for Fish (Angel Hair Pasta with Broiled Salmon & Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches)
March 6, 2007, 2:07 am
Filed under: Recipes

It’s officially Lent.  Hopefully this salmon recipe can come in handy for your next quick Friday dinner.  The jalapeno pesto sauce for the angel hair pasta is refreshingly different from regular pesto.  With the heat from the jalapenos and a splash of lime, it’s almost like a Thai pesto sauce.  I served this meal with a spinach cucumber feta salad and glass of Big Fire Pinot Gris.

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Angel Hair Pasta with Jalapeno-Lime Pesto
 
4 fresh jalapenos, seeded and deveined
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup pecans
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup fresh parsley, packed
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 tsp salt
1 lb angel hair pasta, prepared to package directions
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

Place first 9 ingredients in a food processor and puree until mostly smooth (small chunks of pecan and herbs are fine).  Heat jalapeno-lime pesto in a saute pan over medium-low heat.  Add in vegetable broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer 5 to 10 minutes.  Toss sauce with cooked angel hair pasta.

Serves 4 to 6

Broiled Salmon

4-6oz fillets of salmon, skinned
1/2 cup of your favorite marinade glaze (I used raspberry chipotle this time, you can also do a combination of Dijon mustard and honey, or soy sauce and ginger and brown sugar, as long as it has a semi-viscous consistency)

Preheat broiler. Spray broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Brush both sides of salmon fillets with prepared glaze. Broil (6” from heat) 8 to 10 minutes or until fish is lightly browned and opaque.

Serves 4

The homemade ice cream sandwiches are just a scoop of ice cream between two homemade cookies.  I tried this quick cookie recipe made from cake mix and really loved it!

Easiest Ever Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

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1/2 package (9 oz) package yellow cake mix
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350.  Beat first three ingredients at medium speed in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until batter is smooth.

Stir in chocolate chips and pecans.  Drop cookie dough by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. 

Makes 1 dozen cookies

This recipe is so easy I will definitely be making other variations of it!



Oscars Picks Party Spread
March 4, 2007, 11:22 am
Filed under: Recipes

Since the Superbowl hasn’t been interesting to me personally for the last five years or so (no teams I care about have made it that far recently), the Oscars have taken over as the “big event” for a house party.  This year, we did a Pick ‘Em ballot to add a little excitement to the superbowl of fashion.  The red carpet (red tarp from Party City) was rolled out, and the guests had a great time!  A sample of a few items from the party spread:

Coconut Balls
Renamed at the party as “Balls de Borat,” but perhaps the original moniker is more appetizing.  These sweet treats tastes like cookie dough coated with coconut shavings, but no raw eggs are involved!  The recipe is from Cooking with the Juggs, a souvenir cookbook with lots of party appetizer recipes from a tour with the loud and energetic Jugg sisters in Nashville, courtesy of my friend Lauren (thanks babe!).  I cut back slightly on the sugar and butter content from the original recipe and the recipe below reflects the proportions of ingredients I used.

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3/4 stick of butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tbsp water
1 cup flour
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup milk
2 cups coconut flakes

Pre-heat oven to 300.  Thoroughly combine softened butter, 2 tbsp powdered sugar, and vanilla.  Stir in water.  Add flour, mixing well.  Stir in pecans.

Roll dough into 1″ balls.  Place balls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes.  Cool completely before removing from pan.

Meanwhile, preparing frosting by gradually adding milk to the cup of powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Blend until smooth.  Dip cooled balls into frosting and roll in coconut flakes.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Makes 1 dozen balls

Raspberry Vanilla Trifle
It’s so easy you might call it cheater’s trifle.

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1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
1 loaf fat free pound cake (Sara Lee, for example)
3 cups low fat vanilla yogurt
Canister of low fat whipped topping

Cut loaf of pound cake into 1/2″ cubes.  Place on bottom of trifle dish (or loaf pan if you don’t own fancy things like trifle dishes, see pic above).  Top with vanilla yogurt, then raspberries, then whipped topping. 

Serves 10 to 12

Mexican Sangria (aka Shortcut Sangria)
I drink a lot of red wine with dinner but don’t always finish the bottle.  Even though I have one of those wine saver pumps, I always like to open a new bottle with dinner.  This refreshing quick sangria is the perfect way to clear out the stock of 1/4 to 1/3 full bottles of leftover wine.

3 parts red wine
2 parts lemon lime soda
1 part simple syrup (sugar and water combined over low heat)
Lime juice
Slices of lime for garnish

Combine first three ingredients.  Add lime juice to taste (I’ve been known to love all things extra limey).  Add slices of lime into cup/pitcher for garnish.

Oscar the Grouch Cupcakes (courtesy of my friend Tanya)

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There’s no recipe for this.  You need cake mix, creativity, lots of patience, and a love for cake decorating :)  Thanks Tanya, you know I don’t have the patience.

Shortcut Pigs in a Blanket

1 package refrigerated reduced fat crescent rolls
1 package cocktail wieners

Cut each triangle of crescent rolls into 3 smaller triangles.  Wrap dough around cocktail wiener and bake at 350 degrees 8 to 10 minutes.

Makes 2 dozen pigs in a blanket.

How to Make Hummus Without Tahini

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I had a half can of leftover chickpeas but the Kroger by me didn’t stock tahini (sesame paste).  What’s a girl to do?

1/2 can of chickpeas
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp lemon juice
the following seasonings to taste:
cumin
coriander
salt

Add first 5 ingredients to food processor and process until smooth.  Add seasonings to taste.

Makes about 3/4 cup of hummus.  Serve with pita wedges.

Also thanks to Michelle who brought the pin-wheels and guacamole!



It’s BYOB Time! (Zorba’s)
March 1, 2007, 2:11 pm
Filed under: DFW Restaurant Reviews

Zorba’s serves up some great Greek food. But I don’t just visit when I have a craving for pastisio. With its festive and casual atmosphere and BYOB policy, Zorba’s is my neighborhood eatery, it’s where I go when I don’t have time to cook dinner, because like homemade comfort food, Zorba’s consistency in food and service quality satisfies every time.

I did a short rave about Zorba’s a while ago. Once I realized that I was frequenting this little place twice a month (this is such a rarity since I love variety when it comes to food, in case you couldn’t already tell from this blog), a full review was in order. I normally go to Zorba’s with one other companion, pick up a bottle at the Aggie-owned Connossieur just a few storefronts down, and order the Chicago Greektown invention flaming cheese (Saganaki) appetizer, the Zorba’s platter to split, and end with whichever dessert looks the best that night (which is usually all of them, and it is always a tough decision). The BYOB policy makes it a great casual date restaurant, definitely more creative than going to Olive Garden and more affordable than splurging at a high end restaurant.

This past visit was a little different. My parents were in town visiting so I had a party of three to Zorba’s. We skipped picking up a bottle of wine since my mom doesn’t drink alcohol and headed straight for the restaurant. Knowing the size of the plates at Zorba’s, I decided splitting two plates among the three of us was the way to go. Naturally, one would be the Zorba’s platter (gyros, skewer of meat of your choice, pastisio or moussaka, Greek potatoes, broiled sausage, tzatziki sauce). For the second plate, I wanted the baked flounder, one of the specials that night, but they were out as of our 8:00pm dinner. So, in a sad attempt to balance our diets, we chose the vegetarian plate (spanakopita, falafel, hummus, dolmas, tzatziki sauce) for our second choice. Needless to say, we had quite the variety.

First up, a simple Greek salad to whet our appetites.

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Freshly grated feta, pitted kalamata olives… mmm mmm good.

Zorba’s Platter:

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We chose lamb as the meat of choice for the grilled skewer, and it was done to lightly charred outside,  medium-well juicy inside perfection.  The gyro meat at Zorba’s is always consistently excellent, well seasoned and tender, not too dry.  I always pick pastisio over moussaka due to personal preference (it’s like mac and cheese but with a much more interesting and complex flavor), and the version at Zorba’s isn’t half bad.  My least favorite thing on the plate are always the broiled sausage.  I usually try to see if a co-diner will sacrifice some stomach space for them.  The Greek potatoes are basically olive-oil/herb drenched potatoes baked til tender.  I still prefer the version at Niko Niko’s in Houston, but this satisfies the craving as well.

Vegetarian Plate:

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Let me just start off by saying that I love spanakopita.  I love spinach, raw and cooked, I love cheese, and I love pastry puffs.  The combination of the three in a dish is perfection!  Falafel reminds me of hush puppies, but with more exotic spice flavor.  I’ve never been much of a fan of dolmas, which is odd because I usually love things wrapped in some kind of leaf (tamales, zhongzi, and, as I recently discovered, little Vietnamese “sausages” in la lot leaves).  The limp grape leaves have this slightly bitter taste to them that I have never gotten accustomed to.  Hummus was fabulous as usual, I got an extra order of pita wedges just so I can wipe off every last smear off of the plate.

Then it was time for the highlight of the meal, the Ek Mek Kataifi for dessert.  The base of Ek Mek is pastry sheets chopped into thin strands (almost like vermicelli), drenched in honey, and topped with custard and whipped cream.  Heavenly!  At $44 for two large dinner plates, dessert, tax and tip (feeds 3 easily), it wasn’t a bad deal either.

Seeing as how I’ve already been to Zorba’s three times since the new year, I know I will be back.  Zorba’s will never be a super cheap, super casual, and super interesting people-watching spot like Niko Niko’s (after all, Montrose isn’t exactly Plano, but both have their upsides and downsides).  But I love the BYOB policy and the consistent quality.  Thanks Zorba’s for being a trusty favorite when the cook just doesn’t have the time for her own kitchen.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Zorba’s Greek Cafe
1501 Preston Rd (northwest corner of Plano Pkwy & Preston)
Plano, TX 75093




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