Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The 4 C's

As I mentioned yesterday, we will be celebrating my husband's birthday this weekend. When asked what he would like for dessert, he was quick with a response -- "that chocolate pie with caramel on the bottom".

I knew exactly what he was talking about. Years ago I found a recipe in my 7th edition (1991) Betty Crocker Cookbook for "Caramel-Chocolate Pie Supreme". It's everything a dessert should be--cookie crumb crust, caramel, cream cheese, and chocolate (the 4 C's). Who could ask for anything more?

Caramel-Chocolate Pie Supreme
Cookie Crumb Crust (see below)
30 vanilla caramels
2 T butter
2 T water
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 pkgs. (3 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 bar (4 oz.) sweet cooking chocolate
3 T hot water
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups whipping cream
2 T powdered sugar

  1. Prepare and bake Cookie Crumb Crust. Set aside to cool.
  2. Heat caramels, butter, and 2 tablespoons water over medium heat, stirring frequently, until caramels are melted. Pour into crust.
  3. Sprinkle with pecans.
  4. Refrigerate about 1 hour, or until chilled.
  5. Beat cream cheese and 1/3 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Spread over caramel layer; refrigerate.
  6. Heat chocolate and 3 tablespoons hot water over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted. Cool to room temperature. Stir in vanilla.
  7. Beat whipping cream and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar in chilled medium bowl until stiff. Reserve 1 1/2 cups. Fold chocolate mixture into remaining whipped cream. Spread over cream cheese layer.
  8. Top with reserved whipped cream.
  9. Refrigerate pie at least one hour or until firm. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Cookie Crumb Crust:
1 1/2 crumbs from crushed pecan shortbread cookies
1/4 cup butter, melted

Combine crumbs and melted butter. Press mixture in bottom and up sides of 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 10 minutes.

In case you're wondering what the photo has to do with today's recipe? Absolutely nothing. They were recent visitors to our backyard and I wanted to share them with you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Let the celebration begin


Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching--and in our household that means "birthday". My dear husband's birthday falls near the end of the month. Lucky guy. While most of us get just one day of recognition, he always gets an entire weekend (and a guaranteed extra day off of work too!).

Since there will be more than one birthday gathering, I need to line up several options for main dishes, sides, salads, and (best of all) desserts. Bill loves the taste of cherries. Sure, I could make a cherry pie but that's so common-place. I found a recipe for cherry bar cookies on the Better Homes and Gardens website ( that I think will fit the bill (pun intended):

Chewy Cherry-Almond Bars
1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I reduced this from the original 2 cups)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
1 tsp. almond extract (not imitation)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups regular rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 sliced almonds
1 12-oz jar (1 cup) cherry preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over the edges of the pan. Grease foil; set pan aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar and baking powder. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and almond extract until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour, the oats, and almonds.

Remove 1/2 cup of the dough and set aside. Press the remaining dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Spread with preserves. Crumble the remaining dough evenly over preserves layer.

Bake in the preheated oven about 35 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Using the edges of the foil, lift the uncut cookies out of the pan. Cut into bars. Makes 36 bars.

To Store: To Store: Place bars in a single layer in an airtight container; cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Coffee and Cocoa--both are BEANS, so it must be healthy, right?

Yesterday was a beautiful Spring day--temperature in the mid-60's, sunny, clear skies...........and I was stuck inside with work. Today my desk is clear and, guess what? It's cold, gloomy, gray, and rainy. How depressing!! I guess I should work on my coping skills. I should thumb my nose at the gloom and go out for an invigorating walk. I should. But I'd rather bake cookies!

I found this recipe on the website. It was originally published by Southern Living in 2004. Chocolate, coffee, butter, sugar--hmmm, let's see, that's beans, dairy, and fruit right?  I'm sure these are good for me and will make me feel so much better. And I think you'll like them too!

Mocha-Chocolate Shortbread


  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels, divided
  • Vanilla or coffee ice cream (optional)


Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium bowl; add butter and vanilla, and beat at low speed with an electric mixer until blended. Stir in 1 cup chocolate morsels.

Press dough into an ungreased 9-inch square pan; prick dough with a fork.

Bake at 325° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup morsels over top, and spread to cover. Cut shortbread into 25 (about 1 3/4-inch) squares; cut each square into 2 triangles. Let cool 30 minutes in pan before removing. Serve with ice cream, if desired.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream


Once a week I receive a post from Leite's Culinaria--an amazing blog by David Leite (pronounced leet) who encourages us to step out of our comfort zone and expand our horizons. His mission statement is "to educate and to entertain cooks and readers of all levels who are interested in the diverse world of food".

Mr. Leite provides full-length articles, columns, in-depth interviews, essays, cooking tips, recipes, and so much more!

Last week he introduced us to the delightful epiphany that we can actually produce home-made, creamy, luxurious ice cream without an ice-cream machine. The feature recipe "Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream" was taken from a Kraft Foods publication "Spread a Little Joy--A Collection of Simple and Delicious Philadelphia Recipes to Inspire and Enjoy ".

I love strawberries, and I love cheesecake (one glance at my thighs will testify to that statement). But I was in a chocolate mood. So I wondered--could I somehow take out the strawberries and replace them with chocolate? I'll present the recipe as David posted it, and then provide my changes below:

(From Leite's Culinaria)
Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries
3 graham crackers, coarsely chopped

Beat the cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, and lemon zest with a mixer on medium speed until blended. Scrape into a resealable container and freeze until almost solid, about 4 hours.

Puree the berries in a blender until smooth. Beat the frozen cream cheese mixture with the mixer until creamy. Add the strawberries to the cream cheese mixture along with the graham cracker crumbs and stir with a spoon to combine. If you want to evenly distribute the strawberries and grahams you can, or you can simply stir them in a little to create swirls. Return the ice cream to the resealable container and freeze until firm, about 8 hours or so.

Remove the ice cream from the freezer about 15 minutes before serving and let stand at room temperature to soften slightly. Scoop and enjoy.

Carb Diva's Chocolate Cheesecake Ice Cream
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup Hershey's chocolate syrup
3 chocolate graham crackers, coarsely chopped

Beat the cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk with a mixer on medium speed until blended. Scrape into a resealable container and freeze until almost solid, about 4 hours.

Beat the frozen cream cheese mixture with the mixer until creamy. Add the chocolate syrup to the cream cheese mixture along with the graham cracker crumbs and stir with a spoon to combine. If you want to evenly distribute the chocolate and grahams you can, or you can simply stir them in a little to create swirls. Return the ice cream to the resealable container and freeze until firm, about 8 hours or so.

Remove the ice cream from the freezer about 15 minutes before serving and let stand at room temperature to soften slightly. Scoop and enjoy.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Famous duos

Bonappetit: Photo by Dan Forbes
Recipe by Lauren Chattman

Bacon and eggs. Milk and cookies. Spaghetti and meatballs. Sonny and Cher. My favorite duo? Peanut butter and jelly. It's a perfect marriage--salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy (I prefer chunky peanut butter), a little protein, a bit of fiber, and some carbohydrates.

The March 2011 issue of Bon Appetit contains an article written by pastry chef Lauren Chattman--"Pantry Raid". Ms. Chattman gives us six amazing desserts you should be able to whip up without a trip to the grocery store. All of them sound amazing. But today I'm craving PB & J.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars


  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup grape jelly or other jelly or jam
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped salted dry-roasted peanuts


  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with heavy-duty foil, leaving 2-inch overhang around edges and pressing firmly into corners and up sides of pan. Coat foil with nonstick spray.
  • Whisk flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in small bowl. Using electric mixer, beat peanut butter, sugar, and butter in large bowl until smooth. Add egg and vanilla; beat on low speed until smooth. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend. Transfer half of dough to prepared pan (about scant 1 1/2 cups). Place remaining dough in freezer for 10 minutes. Using fingertips, press dough evenly onto bottom of pan. Spread jelly over in even layer. Remove dough from freezer; using fingertips, break into grape-size pieces and scatter over jelly layer. Sprinkle chopped nuts over.

  • Bake bars until top is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool bars completely in pan on rack.

  • Using foil overhang as aid, lift bars from pan. Gently peel foil from edges. Cut into 16 squares. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A different take on Red Velvet

Photo: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Buffy Hargett

Last evening I was looking through my recipe card file (yes, I still have one of those) looking for inspiration for today's post. I found a recipe for Red Velvet cake that my sister had given me in the 1960's. Her version was lusciously rich, moist, and brilliant red, but was topped with a cooked milk frosting which, when whipped (and whipped, and whipped some more) would miraculously turn into a fluffy whipped cream substitute.

In time the popularity of red velvet cakes faded--replaced by bundt cakes, snacking cakes, and all things made with "Herman". But then, in 1989 Julia Roberts and Shirley MacLaine starred in a movie entitled "Steel Magnolias" which featured a red velvet grooms cake. Red velvet again became popular. In fact, every bakery, espresso stand, and cupcake shop I've been in lately has red velvet cake in the display case.

I love cake, but sometimes a whole layer cake seems a bit much for just the three of us. And, baking, cooling, and frosting a cake is a big investment of time. That's something I don't have today. 

So I wondered if red velvet could be baked in the form of a brownie? A Google search revealed that I am not the only person to ask that question--there are quite a few red velvet brownie recipes out there (who knew?). This one, from Southern Living was published online at (I've made a few adjustments in technique):

Red Velvet Brownies
  • 1 (4-oz.) bittersweet chocolate baking bar, chopped

  • 3/4 cup butter

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 (1-oz.) bottle red liquid food coloring

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 1.  Preheat oven to 350°. Line bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch pan with aluminum foil, allowing 2 to 3 inches to extend over sides; lightly grease foil.

    2. Melt chocolate and butter in double boiler over simmering water until smooth. Remove from year and let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk in sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking just until blended after each addition. Gently stir in flour and next 4 ingredients. Pour mixture into prepared pan.

    3. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool completely on a wire rack (about 2 hours).

    4. Lift brownies from pan, using foil sides as handles; gently remove foil. Cool completely.

    Suggested decorations: cream cheese frosting, white chocolate shavings, powdered sugar

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    May the Fourth be with you!

    We have been blessed with a beautiful day. It seems our long wait for spring-like weather has finally been rewarded. There's so much to do in my yard, I can't spend a great deal of time in the kitchen. And I'd much rather work in my garden than buy groceries (yes, I'm a disorganized mess today).

    How to handle the dinner dilemma?

    I need something that utilizes the things I already have in my pantry, is quick to fix or will be content to simmer on my stove. And tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo (all this week I've craving Mexican food) so I'd like to create something spicy. Oh, and did I mention that my husband is coming down with a cold and so would probably like to have soup?

    I have canned tomatoes and canned black beans--those could become the base for a soup. I know that there is some precooked brown rice in the freezer. A bit of that added at the end of cooking would make the soup a bit more hearty and satisfying and would also provide a nutritional boost. There's a bit of fresh cilantro in my frig that I could use.... OK, I think I have a plan.

    Black Bean and Rice Soup
    1 15-oz can petite diced tomatoes (do not drain)
    2 cans black beans (do not drain)
    1 medium onion, diced
    1 tsp. chili powder (or more if you prefer spicy)
    1/2 tsp. dried oregano
    1 tablespoon ground cumin
    2 cups cooked rice
    1 tsp. lime juice
    1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

    Place the canned tomatoes, ONE can of the beans, the onion, and the spices (chili powder, oregano, cumin) in a large saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer about 2 hours or until the tomatoes and beans are very soft.

    Stir in the 2nd can of beans and the cooked rice. Simmer about 30 minutes more. Just before serving, stir in the lime juice and cilantro.

    P.S. - The title of today's post? -- just a groaner of a joke I've been waiting for a year to use. I apologize.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Paper or plastic, canned or bottled....

    Photo: Moises Luque;
    (Empanadas fritas de Queso)

    Choices. So many choices. I'm not talking about the big life-changing forks in the road (i.e. will you go to college, move to another town, marry). It's the countless little every-day decisions.

    Believe it or not, I do consider, every day, what I eat. I strive to eat healthy but as you can tell, I don't always listen to my conscience.

    There's a dear friend at church, Charlie, who last week was singing the praises of the apple empanadas from the local Mexican fast-food chain. His passion was almost rapturous. I'm sure those empanadas are amazing, but I also know that they are deep fried.

    We don't deep fry anything in our house. I just can't bring myself to submerge food into a vat of oil. So I created the Carb Diva non-fried version of Charlie's favorite dessert.

    Apple Empanadas

    For the filling:
    2 large Granny Smith apples
    2/3 cup granulated sugar
    1 tablespoon cinnamon
    1/2 tsp. nutmeg
    1 tsp. lemon juice
    2 tsp. water
    1 tablespoon cornstarch

    Peel, core, quarter, and thinly slice the apples. Place in a saucepan over medium heat with the sugar and spices. Cook, stirring constantly until sugar melts and apples begin to give off their juices. Turn heat to simmer and continue to cook until apples are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir together the lemon juice, water, and cornstarch. While stirring constantly, pour in the cornstarch slurry. Increase the heat slightly and continue to cook and stir until sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

    For the pastry:
    2 cups flour
    1/2 tsp. salt
    2/3 cup solid vegetable shortening (I used butter-flavored Crisco)
    about 3 tablespoons water

    Combine flour, salt, and shortening in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until mixture forms coarse crumbs about the size of small peas. At this point some will tell you to add the water to the food processor bowl. I prefer to have more control over how the dough "feels". So, I would recommend that you remove the flour/shortening mixture to a medium-size bowl. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and toss with a fork until mixture begins to form a ball. Work gently so that the gluten in the flour doesn't break down. Once the gluten breaks, your dough will become a sticky mass. (Great for yeast bread but not for pastry).

    (By the way, the reason the amount of water cannot be specific is because humidity greatly affects how much water your flour will accept).

    Form the empanadas:
    1 egg
    1 tablespoon water

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Beat egg and water together in a small bowl and set aside. This is an "egg wash" for the formed pastry.

    Place your dough on a well-floured surface. I prefer to use waxed paper or parchment baking sheets--sandwiching the dough between two sheets of paper.

    Roll your pastry to 1/8-inch thickness.

    Now, here's the Carb Diva trick. Gently pull the top paper from the pastry and then gently place it back on top of your dough. This loosens the paper from the top of the dough surface. Now, flip the entire paper-dough sandwich over. The paper that was on the bottom is now on top. Gently peel this paper off.

    Now you can cut your dough into 3 1/2-inch to 4-inch circles, and remove to a well-floured surface. By gathering scraps and rerolling, you should be able to get about 10-12 circles of dough.

    At this point I should probably say that working with this dough is not for the faint-of-heart. This dough is very "short" (i.e. a high proportion of fat to flour ratio) and so it is very tender and tears easily. Don't panic. We can do this!

    Place a large spoonful of the apple mixture in the center or each dough circle. Fold the dough over the filling so that the edges meet and, using the tines of a fork, press the edges together.

    Arrange the filled empanadas on the prepared baking sheets. Don't worry if they break apart a bit. Lightly brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-17 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove the empanadas from the oven and let sit at least 5 minutes before removing from the baking pan to serve.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Happy Uno de Mayo

    Today is the first day of May, and it feels like the first (finally!!) day of Spring. After church I donned my gardening clothes and spent four glorious hours in upper 60's, crawling on my knees to snatch out offending weeds and bending at the waist to trim last year's sword ferns. A great workout and it didn't cost a penny at the local health club!

    In four more days, regardless of ethnic background, many will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

    I don't want to wait that long. I love Mexican food, and why wait until Thursday? One of my favorite Mexican main dishes is tamales. But, have you ever tried to make them? I have, several times. And the results (even though I am the Carb Diva) have been less than satisfying. I've prepared the filling, simmered the masa, soaked the corn husks, and assembled beautiful-looking tamales. And I've steamed them. I've steamed the LIFE out of them, but they are never as tender and comforting as those I've found in Mexican restaurants.

    What to do? Well, I know how to cook polenta. And polenta and masa are both ground corn. Why not substitute polenta? And (while we're being creative) why steam the corn batter and filling in husks--which we immediately toss away? Why not just layer the corn batter and the filling in a casserole dish, top with cheese, and then dive into a creamy/meaty/cheesy heaven?

    So here's what happened in our kitchen today.

    Carb Diva Non-Tamales

    For the filling:
    2 tsp. olive oil
    1 cup minced onion
    1 pound ground beef or turkey*
    2 tablespoons taco seasoning**
    1/2 cup water

    1. Heat olive oil in large skillet; swirl to coat pan. Add onion and saute until onion softens and begins to turn golden.
    2. Add ground meat to pan and continue to cook until meat is no longer pink.
    3. Stir in taco seasoning and 1/2 cup water. Simmer about 5 minutes then remove from heat and set aside.
    * I made a vegetarian version of this by substituting 2 cups meat crumbles (such as Morningstar).

    ** I make my own taco seasoning --

    •  2 tsp. instant minced onion
    •  1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. chili powder
    •  1/2 tsp. cornstarch
    •  1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
    •  1/2 tsp. instant minced garlic
    •  1/4 tsp. dried oregano
    •  1/2 tsp. ground cumin

    For the the corn batter:
    3 cups water
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 cup polenta (not the instant kind)

    non-stick cooking spray
    1. Bring water to a boil in large saucepan with lid.
    2. Slowly stir in polenta--don't dump all of it into the pan at once, you'll just an ugly lump. Be gentle and patient, using a whisk to make sure all of the dry corn meal is wet and suspended in the water.
    3. Turn heat to lowest setting. Continue to cook and stir until polenta is very thick, about 5 minutes. Place lid on saucepan and let cook 5 minutes more.
    4. Meanwhile, lightly spray an 11x7-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

    Assemble casserole:
    1 cup shredded cheese (Cheddar, Jack, pepperjack, etc.)
    Sour cream (optional)
    guacamole (optional)
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
    2. Pour cooked polenta into prepared pan.
    3. Spoon cooked taco meat filling on top of polenta.
    4. Top taco meat with shredded cheese
    5. Bake in preheated oven about 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted
    6. Serve with sour cream and/or guacamole if desired.