Monday, November 15, 2010

Chocolate Tuxedo

I think I've had as many failures in the kitchen as I have had success, if not more failures.  The failures usually come when I get a craving for something and go on a hunt for just the right recipe only to find that it's not what I was looking for, which makes the craving worse.  I love chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips and have been searching for the perfect recipe for years.  I usually find that the dough is too crumbly and doesn't hold together well, if at all.  I don't know enough about chemistry to adjust and fix a recipe, so I just toss that recipe and keep on looking.

Over the weekend I happened upon a recipe in one of Kendra's magazines for a chocolate based cookie.  I had high hopes for this recipe as it was from a butter council, I figured they knew a thing or two about buttery cookies.  I changed up some of the ingredients and tweaked the cookies to my preference, hoping that I didn't totally destroy this cookie.  Much to my relief and amazement-IT WORKED! It not only worked, but it was delicious and just what I had been searching for all this time.

This cookie will fall into the category of, "good but time consuming", as it does take a little effort.  It's easy, just time consuming, so I'll make these when the craving gets to me, or if we have some special cookie trays to make up.  Chocolate crinkles, raspberry thumb prints, and snickerdoodles are other cookies in this vault of great cookies that just take some time to make.

1 1/2 cups special dark chocolate chips, melted
1 2/3 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 bag white chocolate chips (2 cups)  [See note below]


  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Place dark chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl (see note)
  • Add dry ingredients to a medium size bowl and stir together
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add butter and both sugars.  Mix on medium speed until light and creamy.  I usually set my kitchen timer for 5 minutes and it's perfect.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.  Add vanilla.  Turn mixer to low and slowly add dry ingredients until completely mixed.  Add white chocolate chips and stir to combine.

On a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Place rounded tablespoons of dough about two inches apart (I use a medium size spring loaded scoop).  I use a jelly roll pan and can get 12 cookies (3 across 4 down) per pan.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Let stand about a minute, them move to a cooling rack.  Store in cookie jar.

  • Melting chocolate chips in the microwave is tricky.  You have to remember that chips hold their shape, so don't expect to see smooth melty chocolate.  The best trick to use is to microwave the chips for 30 seconds, then stir.  Microwave for another 20 seconds then stir.  This is usually as long as it takes for my microwave.  Just keep microwaving at 10-20 second intervals until the chips are melted and smooth.
  • Adding the dry ingredients separately is not a great idea because the cocoa powder is very fine and no matter how slow you mix there will be a cocoa powder mushroom cloud!  Stirring the salt, baking powder, cocoa, and flour together is the ticket to cloud free mixing.
  • I wasn't trying to impress anyone with my cookies, but if you wanted to make them really pretty.  Save about 1/4-1/2 cups of the white chips and just push three or four on the tops of each cookie before baking.  That will make them look very pretty, I think they are fine just as they are.
  • I can't really say why, but as soon as ANY cookie I'm baking comes out of the oven I give each one a gentle swat with my spatula to knock out the air.  I think it makes them look prettier and I always do that.  You have my permission to do this as well.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pumpkin Chess Pie

Google Images provided this image.
It looks pretty good to me.
If you are a fan of pumpkin pie then you will have to make it a point to prepare this pie.  I had high hopes of getting this pie made before Thanksgiving and taking some pictures, but time is just not on our side at this point.  Traditional pumpkin pies are dense, custard filled pies with sweet spices.  With a pumpkin chess you lose just a bit of the denseness of the traditional, yet keep everything else. I ran across a recipe for pumpkin chess a while ago (close to ten years) and tweaked that version to make it my own and decided that I would forever prefer this over traditional pumpkin pie any day.  Why? I think for me it all comes down to texture.  Traditional pumpkin pies are dense, this pie is not AS dense, but don't get me wrong it's far from a mousse.  This pie is also made a day or more ahead and refrigerated which is good because I love cold pumpkin pie.

With holiday baking just around the corner, you may be looking for something a little different than the normal line up in which case I would recommend this pie. When I sell this pie I include the praline sauce, but when I make it for me it's whipped cream all the way!  Fresh whipped cream sweetened with just a hint of vanilla on this pie is fantastic.

  • 1/2  (15-ounce) package refrigerated piecrusts
  • 1  (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (not the pie filling)
  • 1/2  cup  half-and-half
  • 3  eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2  cups  sugar
  • 1/2  cup  plus 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground ginger
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Place piecrust in a 9" pieplate; fold edges under, and crimp. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment add pumpkin and remaining ingredients, mix on low to incorporate then increase speed to medium, mixing to completely incorporate make sure you scrape down  the sides.
Pour pumpkin mixture into prepared piecrust. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  The custard should be set, not completely firm, but set. Cool completely on a wire rack the place in refrigerator overnight. Serve with Praline Sauce.

Praline Sauce:

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup toasted pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place brown sugar, whipping cream, and butter in a medium size saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil, stirring occasionally.  When it comes to a boil stir constantly for one minute.  Remove from heat, add pecans and vanilla stir well.  Place in an airtight container in the fridge.  Try this on vanilla ice cream! Oh heavenly days.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Potato Soup

My Mom went to work when I was one year old at St. John's hospital in Joplin.  She worked there for nearly 40 years, forced into retirement last year.  I grew up not knowing what a say at home Mom was like, I only knew what a working Mom was like, but when that is all you know it's normal.  I spent a ton of time with my Great Grandmother and my Great Aunt (whom I called Robba) and credit them with instilling my love for cooking.  It was in their kitchens that I learned the ropes of basic country cooking.  I could fry a mean pork chop by the time I was 10.  I can remember spending hours in front of the TV watching public access cooking shows and learning a great deal about food from those cooks.  I just seemed natural to me, to love cooking and reading cook books.

Most kids have quite a list of things they love for their Mom's to cook.  I cant' really say that I have a list because I can't remember my Mom ever making cookies or cakes, or anything "special" that I just have to have. I do remember my Mom making my Grandpa a yellow cake with fluffy white frosting and coconut, which he really liked a lot.  My Mom did make Potato Soup, always served with a side of cornbread, when the weather started turning brisk.  I think it's the one and only thing my Mom actually made.  Some people used to say that they felt sorry for me, but I don't think pity or sorrow is necessary.  It was all I knew so it was normal, I never pined away wishing for something better because I thought I had a pretty great Mom.  My Mom took me to work with her from the time I was 7 until I left for school.  I could fill a library with the things I learned from spending time with my Mom at work.  The work ethic and drive I have today is a direct result of those days spent at her side watching her work until she couldn't wiggle one more eyelash and working some more.

I have a recipe for a loaded potato soup that I really love, but this recipe is straight from my Mom's kitchen and transports me back to my childhood.  As long as I make this soup I will be able to connect to my Mom.  I'm blessed to still have my Mom here with me and we love spending time together.  My kids are amassing a list of the things they love, and I hope that when they are gone the first thing they say when they come home is, "can you make..."  The greatest treasure for my children is the time they get to spend with my Mom, their Nonny. We take Nonny on vacation with us, go to her house for the weekend just to hang out, and spend all of our holidays with her, too.  That time is irreplaceable and something I know they will cherish all of their life.

Ok, we've pulled off of Memory Lane and are now ready to talk soup.  This soup is straight forward and honest comfort food.   It couldn't be more simple to make, but has a great flavor.  After Kendra and I were married I discovered the wonder of adding cheese and bacon to this soup, something I had never added as a kid.

2 russet potatoes per person, plus one for the pot
1/2-1 cup butter (depending on how much soup you make)
1/4-1 cup milk or half and half (we always used milk)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Crisp bacon, cheddar cheese, green onion for garnish

Peel the potatoes and cube them up, trying to cut the potatoes in fairly uniform size.  Add the potatoes to a large stock pot and add cold water just enough to cover them.  Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Once the potatoes start to boil, add about 2 tablespoons of salt and boil until the potatoes are fork tender (about 8-10 minutes).

Drain the potatoes, saving about 1/4 cup water.  Add the butter and stir until melted.  The potatoes will break up as you stir.  Add milk and stir.  Season with salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasoning to your preference.  I usually get out the potato masher and mash up the potatoes a little bit.  I really depends on how chunky you like your soup.  Sometimes I will make it smooth, no lumps, other times I have just a few chunks of potato.  Bring this back up to a boil.  The starch from the potatoes will thicken the soup.  If it gets too thick add just a touch more milk to thin it out.

Serve this with cornbread and your choice of garnish: bacon bits, cheddar cheese, green onion.  Mom always crumbled up her cornbread in the soup.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Red Velvet Cake

I can almost remember the date and time of the first time I ate a bite of Red Velvet cake.  Kendra and I were working at a new church plant in a tiny community outside of Edmond, OK and had reconnected with some very good friends of ours who were also attending the same church.  Red Velvet was our friend, Donna, and her family's favorite celebration cake.  Donna shared with me that her mother had made this cake for her and that no one could make it like her mother.  Who could make something like a mother? No one!  We come close but the one ingredient that cannot be recreated is the pinch of mother's love that goes into the creation of a dish.  Red Velvet was a way to honor, remember, and enjoy a fond child hood memory.  Luke, her oldest, requested it more often than not (I remember one strawberry cake he requested) as his birthday celebration cake.  That first bite was just incredible.  I knew at that moment, Red Velvet would be a life long favorite cake.  Now over a decade since that first bite it is, in fact, still a lifelong favorite.

I was determined to make this cake for several reasons.  The foremost reason was I wanted to make the cake for Donna so she wouldn't have to make her own birthday cake.  The first several cakes were made in her kitchen, with her close supervision.  Kendra and I always had a great time with Brian, Donna's husband, and Donna.  I always came, "close enough" she would say.  I think she was just glad she didn't have to make her own cake!  Red Velvet remains one of the only truly from scratch cakes I make.  I make this cake at Christmas and for Kendra on her birthday because it is her hands down favorite cake.  My children have fallen in love with Red Velvet and is requested quite often.  I save it as a celebration cake to keep it special.  Mentioning the words red and velvet send my kids running to kitchen to enjoy a slice or two.

This is an easy cake to create, however you must remember to follow certain steps to ensure that it turns out right.  It has a subtle chocolate note, isn't a chocolate cake.  The flavor can only be described as red velvet as their is no other taste with which to compare.  You MUST not over bake this cake or it will be dry.  I usually take my cakes out before the minimum baking time elapses finding that 22-25 minutes is all it takes to make this cake "done."  I think, possibly, the single biggest mistake a cake baker can make is to over bake a cake as this leads to dry cakes.

I promise I'm almost ready to give you the recipe.  There is just one more issue that we have to cover: frosting.  Putting a cream cheese frosting on a red velvet cake is without a doubt very popular, however I submit that it is a criminal offense.  Red Velvet cake is subtle, cream cheese frosting is obnoxious.  Who wants an obnoxious flavor hog icing on a subtle delicate cake like red velvet? Not me.  The frosting I must insist you make is the one included.  Please do not let me know you've made this cake and frosted it with cream cheese frosting.  There are just somethings people need to never be told.  This frosting is as subtle as the red velvet itself, yet when the two come together they are magic.  The frosting is creamy, light, and has just the hint of vanilla flavor. The creamy texture of this frosting gives your palate that "velvet" taste.  Having a stand mixer will keep us friends, if you decide to make this frosting.  You have to mix the sugar and margarine together for a very, very long time.  We'll get to that though.

Red Velvet Cake

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • eggs
  • ounces red food coloring
  • tablespoons cocoa (heaping)
  • cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon vanilla
  • teaspoon baking soda
  • teaspoon vinegar

Step one:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour two 9" cake pans, set aside.
In a small bowl: add the food coloring and cocoa together, mixing well.  Set aside for step three.
In the bowl of a stand mixer add the sugar and shortening together.  Mix on medium speed until completely incorporated (about five minutes), scraping down the sides to ensure even mixing.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing completely between each addition. Add salt and mix.

Step two:
Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between the two.  Remember you always begin and end with the dry.

Step three:
Add the food coloring and cocoa paste. Mix to incorporate.  Add vanilla.  Add the soda and vinegar, in a small bowl and add to cake batter.  Mix just to incorporate.

Dispense the batter evenly and bake in the pre-heated oven for 26-30 minutes.  Check the cakes often with a cake tester after 20 minutes and remove promptly when cake tester comes out dry.  Cool on wire racks until ready to frost.


  • tablespoons flour
  • cup milk
  • cup sugar
  • teaspoon vanilla
  • cup margarine (Parkay all the way), room temperature.

Step one:
In a medium sauce pan, add the flour, milk, and vanilla.  Over medium heat, stir with a wire whisk until the mixture comes to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Place in a shallow dish and cover with plastic wrap.  Cool in refrigerator until no longer warm (10-20 minutes).

Step two:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, add the butter and sugar.  Mix on medium speed until the butter and sugar combine then on high until the mixture is fluffy and creamy (about 20 minutes).  Add the cooled paste and mix until is is well blended.

Frost cooled cake.

  • I don't cut corners when it comes to greasing and flouring pans on this one.  I had rub Crisco in my pans and then flour them to ensure there will be no sticking.
  • As soon as I put the cakes in the oven, I make the paste and get it in the fridge to cool.  By the time I get the mess cleaned up from the cake batter... the cakes are done so I pull the cakes out of the oven to cool.  That's about the time to start the frosting, and by the time the frosting is mixed enough to add the paste it's cool (about 40 minutes has elapsed.).
  • The butter and sugar will look fluffy, but be sure to feel it because you don't want to feel a lot of grains.
  • I usually put this cake in the fridge and let it set up overnight.  I don't know why, but I do.
  • I think the next time I make this I'm going to dump in the cocoa, mix it, then add the food coloring to the mix and try to avoid the stirring process all together.  It may not work, but it's worth a shot.  My kitchen usually looks like a red paint grenade went off.
  • These cakes don't rise a lot, they will look flat so don't freak out.  It's ok, it's normal.