News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: Pete Bakes

Ready for one seriously delicious interview? This week, we head to the kitchen with Pete Ryan from Pete Bakes.

Pete Ryan bakes up a batch of delicious blueberry muffins. Photograph by Chris Leaman

Pete Ryan rolls up his sleeves once a week and tests new recipes in his Adams Morgan kitchen. His blog, Pete Bakes, documents his successes—and occasional failures.

Ryan started the blog after college when he moved into his own place and missed his mom’s home cooking. “She didn’t do it for a living, but I remember my mom always taking a tray of brownies out of the oven or icing a cake,” he says. After reading lots of food blogs, Ryan decided to start his own.

A self-taught baker, Ryan has tried his hand at everything from bread to candy to pastries to crackers. He aims to teach his readers something new with every post. Though he hasn’t won an award for his blog (yet!), Ryan recently won the first-ever Foodie Fight, an Iron Chef-type competition among local food bloggers. His winning recipe: potato-wrapped cod.

We caught up with the Web producer/graphic designer—that explains the slick Web site!—to find out his favorite recipes and his biggest baking flop. A warning before you read: This interview might make you very hungry.

Number of cookbooks you own:
“If you forced me to count . . . maybe a dozen? Is that a lot? My girlfriend got me to start going to the public library again, and there was this revelation, the first time we went in, that they have cookbooks that we can just take home with us. For free!”

Favorite cookbook in your cache:
“I love Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The deli-style rye is killer.”

Best and worst recipes you’ve ever tried:
“Best: Challah bread. It was the first recipe that gave me real confidence as a baker. Plus it’s great the next day as French toast. Worst: A New York Times chocolate-chip-cookie recipe. It was pretty foolish to think that anything could be better than the original Toll House  cookie recipe. It could have been my fault, though, because I couldn’t track down a few of the ingredients and substituted my own.”

Best recipe you’ve ever invented:
White-chocolate/macadamia-nut/pumpkin cookies. For some reason, pumpkin and regular chocolate just don’t mix, but white chocolate and pumpkin: a total epiphany. Okay, this question is making me hungry.”

Biggest kitchen disaster:
“Making homemade apple butter springs to mind. After five hours of standing by the stove stirring a giant pot of extremely hot apples, bits of molten apple goo suddenly started shooting all over the kitchen and me. I powered through some second-degree burns to finish that recipe, but it must have been worth it because a year later I did it all over again. Another time, I almost burned down my old apartment making pizza—it was like black-smoke-and-crawling-on-the-floor-to-get-to-a-fire-extinguisher bad. I sure hope my ex-landlord isn’t reading this.”

Advice for newbies in the kitchen:
“Don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work. Figure out why and try it again. And always use real butter. I can’t stress that enough.”

Embarrassingly simple recipe that always impresses guests:
Spinach-artichoke dip. All the ingredients are out of a can, but it comes together looking so elegant.”

Pantry item you can’t cook without:
“Butter. I’m hard-pressed to think of anything I’ve made without it.”

Pantry item you most frequently run out of:
“Butter again. If there were Land O’Lakes points you could send in, I’d have the Harrier jet by now.”

Three courses you’d make for an easy and delicious at-home dinner date:
“To start, sweet-pea crostini to set the elegant-but-not-fancy vibe. Next, herb-crusted baked salmon with a side salad of baby spinach, red onion, feta cheese, and just a squirt of lemon. Finally for dessert, since peaches are in season, warm peach crumble with vanilla ice cream. These are three courses that make it look like you spent a lot more time on dinner than you really did and that will instantly make your date fall in love with you (love not guaranteed).”

Pain-in-the-ass dessert that’s worth the hassle:
Cannolis are a bit of a challenge the first time, but after you’ve had them fresh from your own kitchen, you’ll never buy one again.”

Favorite from-a-box cake:
“As far as I’m concerned, Funfetti is the only box cake. It’s quite literally a party in a box and one of the few desserts I can think of that’s appropriate for both a child’s birthday party and a fancy wedding.”

What you’d eat for your last meal:
“I can’t choose, so I’ll give you two scenarios: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, apple sauce, and green beans with almonds, or chicken Parmesan with pasta and garlic bread. Either meal served with lemon-lime Kool-Aid. For dessert, my mom’s giant American-flag sheet cake. For some reason, cake just tastes better when it’s super patriotic.”

Kitchen appliance or tool you can’t live without:
“Some people swear by their stand mixer, but I can’t go a day without my trusty wooden spoon.”

Where you go when you want a night off from the kitchen:
“Sometimes Mr. Chen’s Organic Chinese in Woodley Park, or maybe Pho 14 in Columbia Heights. But mainly, Five Guys. Classy, I know.”

Finish this sentence: “If I wrote a cookbook, it’d be called . . . ”
“I’d rather go with a TV show called Extreme Makeover: Bacon Edition.”

Favorite local food blog besides your own:
“You’ve already covered a few of my favorites in other columns here (The Bitten Word), but one I’m digging a lot right now is Macheesmo. The dude posts almost every single day with new recipes. I’m in awe.”

Next week, we go fashion forward with Brooke Kao from The Fashion Void That Is DC. (Don’t worry—she’s not as hard on Washington fashion as you might think.) Check back for Kao’s favorite summer fashion trend, advice for the fashionably inept, and where she shops for bargains.

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