Best Online Foodie Gifts for the Long-Distance Mama

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Photo courtesy of Will Pilson.
Mother's Day Sweets Box from Harry & David.

On Sunday, May 10, many of you will have the opportunity to treat your mother/maternal figure to a lovely meal (and, for the love of God, don't confine it to brunch). Some of us, however, won't get that chance. I'm not referring to those who don't have a relationship with their moms or those whose mothers are no longer with us (though my heart goes out to you).

I'm referring to myself, actually, and everyone else who loves his or her mother dearly but just happens to live 300+ miles from her (in my case, 1,463.1 miles). Meeting up for drinks and dinner is not an option; a Skype session doesn't seem quite special; and a generic card is not going to cut it.

Flowers, of course, are the conventional gift for the long-distance mama on Mother's Day, but if 1) you're looking for something more creative, 2) your green-thumb mom grows her own friggin' tulips and 3) food not flora is the way to your mother's heart, then consider sending one of these terrific Mother's Day foodie gifts from online vendors.

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Recipe: Homemade Snickers Bars

Categories: Recipes, Sweets

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Homemade Snickers Bars

If you think making your own candy always involves a thermometer and endless stirring of chocolate, take pleasure in the fact that you can make your own Snickers bars with just a few ingredients, a microwave, and some parchment paper.

The most challenging aspect of homemade Snickers bars is producing a "neat" confection as the components lend themselves to extreme messiness. So, perhaps do a few dry runs if you require public-facing, picture-perfect candy bars.

All the more reason just to share them only with your nearest and dearest who don't care about appearances.

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Bunny Butt Petits Fours and Other Delicious Giggle-Worthy Easter Treats From Three Brothers Bakery

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Some devilish decorations on these delicious petits fours.
What's trending in Easter baked goods this year? Rabbit tushes. Bakers are eschewing traditional animal representations of Easter such as the itsy-bitsy baby chick in favor of focusing on bunny buttocks; even Pillsbury has embraced this fad.

Beloved Three Brothers Bakery has followed suit and is offering its own bunny butt baked goods in the form of whimsical petits fours. These incredibly light cake bites with a rich vanilla flavor are topped with a sweet hare derrière icing decorations. (Other adornments are available for those too modest to nibble on a bunny butt.)


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There's More Than Cupcakes at CRAVE in The Woodlands

Categories: Sweets

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Photo by Phaedra Cook

One of the features at the new CRAVE Cupcakes in The Woodlands is a full coffee bar that features espresso drinks and pour-overs, as well as drip coffee.

CRAVE is well-known in Houston for its neatly-iced cupcakes in a rotating menu of flavors like carrot, mint chocolate and Nutella, but these aren't necessarily the most interesting things at the newest location in The Woodlands at 2501 Research Forest Drive.

The new location is more spacious than the original in the Galleria area. As a result, there is room for more offerings. Take, for example, the full-fledged coffee and espresso bar, where V60 drippers in gleaming copper are used for pour-overs with freshly ground coffee from Costa Rica, Columbia and Rwanda.

Also unique to this location are the savory breakfast offerings, a fledgling foray into a world that will hopefully be expanded as time goes on. The unique take on a sausage kolache made with puff pastry and with a little bit of heat to it is a conceptual success that proves that the bakery is capable of kicking more than just sweets out of the kitchen. Joining the savory lineup is a rosemary scone studded across the top with nubs of browned goat cheese.


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5 Lessons From the Houston Rodeo Dessert Competition

Categories: Sweets

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Photo by Phaedra Cook
Dessert judging at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World's Championship Bar-B-Que Competition is serious business.

This was my second year to help judge the Dutch Oven Dessert Competition. I'm glad I had a little judging experience under my belt this time. I already knew what it was like being on the competitor side of the equation.

I used to participate in a private competition that Halliburton put on for its oil and gas clients. I worked in the IT department at the time and since I was a big "foodie," of course I wanted to be on the team. We did good, taking home first place one year and a chef's table award a different year.

I always made the dessert -- some variation on an Apple Betty -- as well as a brisket. We didn't have the same restrictions on the cooking vessel as the Houston World's Championship competitors do, so I used little individual cast-iron pans that I'd set atop the firebox to bake. Getting a nice brown crust on top was the trick.

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Try These 5 Outrageously Chocolaty Desserts in Houston

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Five times the chocolate makes this cupcake five times the winner.
They say life is like a box of chocolates. That's cool, but we prefer to think of life like a box of chocolate-chunk-loaded, ganache-filled, buttercream-iced chocolate cupcakes. We don't have an analogy for it -- we just really, really love chocolate.

If you do too, check out these 5 seriously good chocolate treats.

See also:
Try These 5 Seriously Awesome Hot Dogs
Try These 5 Seriously Outrageous "Salads"
Try These 5 Absolutely Loaded Grilled Cheeses
Try These Five Monster Breakfast Dishes
Try These Five Monster Sandwiches
Try These 5 Absolutely Loaded Pizzas
Try These 5 Absolutely Loaded Fries
Try These 5 Chili-Smothered Dishes
Try These 5 Awesomely Outrageous Burgers in Houston
Try These 5 Awesomely Delicious Kimchi-Packed Eats in Houston
Try These Five Outrageously Awesome Shellfish Dishes
Try These Five Outrageous Hangover Cures
Try These 5 Outrageous Mac & Cheeses

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Dish of the Week: Buttermilk Pie

Categories: Recipes, Sweets

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Photo by Ralph Daily
Buttermilk brings a great tang to this classic sweet pie.
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we're sharing a sweet Southern classic: buttermilk pie.

Buttermilk pie is a custard pie made with, you guessed it buttermilk. Though it's known as a dessert popular in the Southern United States, its origins are likely from the U.K.

The dessert is often confused with chess pie; though chess pie contains cornmeal and occasionally corn syrup, where buttermilk pie does not. Instead, buttermilk pie is made simply with buttermilk, sugar, butter, eggs and flour. Variations include the addition of vanilla extract, lemon zest, fruit, or even chocolate.

The mixture is poured into a traditional pie crust; then baked until it sets and gets a crisp, caramelized top. The result is a rich, slightly tangy, and ultra creamy pie that is melts in your mouth with each bite.


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Eat This: Three Brothers Bakery King CHEESECake

Categories: Sweets

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Photo by Allison Huseman
Three Brother King Cheesecake
The most exciting thing about regular old King Cake is the fact that lurking within is a creepy plastic newborn whose appearance in your slice means prosperity in your future. Barring that chance to secure the good luck baby (or bean, as the case may be) even the most well-made King Cake, IMHO, is a somewhat dry over-sugary circular pastry.

The ever creative chefs at Three Brothers Bakery have introduced their own spin on King Cake that resolves the failings of typical versions. To do so, they pretty much reverse the proportions of cream cheese and cake.

Using King Cake as the crust base, the bakery then pours its classic cheesecake as the second main layer and bakes this sweet amalgam in the oven. In keeping with the symbolic Mardi Gras colors, the King Cheesecake is topped with green (faith), purple (justice), and yellow (power) sanding sugar.

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Admirable use of festive sprinkles.

The result is a lovely marriage of creamy and flaky textures with strong notes of dairy, egg, and vanilla. It's way more decadent than your average king cake, but isn't decadence the whole point of Mardi Gras? Alas, no baby inside; however, the soft top layer means it's not hard to insert your own little bugger from Party City in there someplace.

The King Cake Cheesecake will be available at the beginning of February, and Three Brothers Bakery encourages you to call ahead to place an order. A full cake sells for $59.95, and slices cost $6.95.


Testing Pillsbury's $1M Winning Bakeoff Recipe

Categories: Recipes, Sweets

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Peanutty Pie Clusters

In early December, Pillsbury announced "Peanutty Pie Clusters" as the grand prize-winning recipe of its 47th Bakeoff contest. The $1M recipe, submitted by Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia, is particularly distinctive for its incorporation of toasted pie crust squares.

This innovation in combination with a short, ostensibly simple ingredient list prompted me to test it for a holiday cookie exchange. The Huffington Post didn't think much of the look of these clusters, but whatever.

Here's where my troubles began.

Actually, they began specifically in the baking aisle at H-E-B while I was searching for one particular ingredient: "white vanilla baking chips." There were white chocolate chips. There were some generic "white chips." No "white vanilla baking chips." Isn't white vanilla sort of redundant? And "white chocolate vanilla" soft of oxymoronic? Also, are "morsels" the same as "chips"?

This recipe is not for neurotic language scholars.

This story continues on the next page.


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Dish of the Week: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Categories: Recipes, Sweets

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Photo by Juliana Su
You may as well serve the chocolate drink with churros for good measure.
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

Just in case the weather actually gets colder for good this time, this week we're sharing a recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Mexican hot chocolate is like classic hot cocoa in that it's made with heated milk, chocolate, and sugar. This drink, however, has added spices like cinnamon, vanilla, anise and chiles.

The beverage traces back to Mayan and Aztec cultures, where seeds from cocoa trees were ground into a paste, mixed with water, and flavored native spices and herbs to cover up the bitter taste. The word cocao is derived from the Nahuatl word xocolātl, meaning bitter water. Since it had a very sacred place in Central American culture, the scientific name of the cocoa plant is Theobroma cacao, with theobroma meaning "food of the gods."

Cold, thick, and intensely flavored. traditional xocolatl was quite the acquired taste. Once Europeans introduced sugar, however, it morphed into the slightly sweeter hot cocoa that we know and love today.

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