Friday, January 27, 2012

National Chocolate Cake Day!


Today is National Chocolate Cake Day. Could anything possibly make me happier? (Well actually, yes, if there was a National Mashed Potatoes and Gravy Day, but otherwise I'll settle for this).

I found this recipe in the early 1970's on the back of a can of Hershey's Unsweetened Cocoa. I think I was trying to impress a boyfriend. Boyfriend is long gone, but the recipe still remains a favorite in my recipe file.

If you like super moist intensely chocolaty cake, this is the recipe for you.

Best Chocolate Cake
1/2 cup Hershey's unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup boiling water
1 3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup buttermilk

Combine the cocoa powder and boiling water in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

Cream together sugar and shorting in large mixing bowl; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time.

Sift together all dry ingredients. Beat one half of the dry ingredients into the sugar/shortening mixture. Next beat in 1/2 cup of the milk. Add the remaining dry ingredients and then the remaining 1/2 cup buttermilk. Beat 3 minutes on medium speed.

Pour into two greased and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Birthday Pie!

Today is my older daughter's birthday. Unfortunately she has to work today, so we are planning a family celebration tomorrow. I asked what she wanted for dessert and she voted for Dutch Apple Pie.
So what makes an apple pie "dutch"? I don't know where the expression came from, but a Dutch Apple Pie does not have a top crust. Instead, there is a layer of streussel topping. (Hmmm, so maybe the "Dutch" is actually "Deutch"). Anyhow, here is the recipe for Beth's birthday pie:
Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Dutch Apple Pie

Pastry for a single-crust 8-inch pie

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup flour
6 cups sliced Granny Smith apples

Mix the sugars, spices, and flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the apple slices and toss to coat the apples slices evenly with the sugar/flour mixture. Let sit for about 20 minutes or until the apples begin to release their juices and the sugar/flour mixture becomes moist.

Mound the apples in the bottom of a pastry-lined 8-inch pie pan.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
Combine the flour, butter, and brown sugar in a small mixing bowl until crumbly. Evenly distribute over the top of the pie filling.

Place the pie on a pizza pan or cookie sheet to catch any drips of spillovers.
Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Cool in a draft-free place.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

National Peanut Butter Day

Did you know that today is National Peanut Butter Day? If that's news to you, you're not alone. In fact, you're in really good company. I was totally clueless until my daughter's best friend wrote a post about it on Facebook.

There is a pretty well-written summary of the history of peanut butter at the Huffington Post. If you want to take a look, here's the link: 

But I'd rather eat peanut butter than talk about it. One of my favorite peanut butter desserts is from the 1970 "Pillsbury's Bake Off Cook Book--prize winning recipes from the 21st Bake Off". Mrs. Florence Stull of Danville, Ohio created the "Marble-ous Peanut Butter Dessert"--a frozen dessert made with a peanut butter/brown sugar crust and a peanut butter/cream cheese filling, with swirls of semi-sweet chocolate. It's like a frozen cheesecake for all of you Reese's fans.

Here is Ruth's recipe:

Mable-ous Peanut Butter Dessert

Crust1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c. peanut butter (I use crunchy & it is great!)
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. flour
1 c. (6 oz. pkg.) chocolate chips

Filling:1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 c. (1/2 pt.) whipping cream, whipped & sweetened (see note below)

Prepare Crust:
In small mixer bowl, cream brown sugar, peanut butter and butter until light and fluffy. Add flour; blend until crumbly. Sprinkle into ungreased 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Set aside half of crumb mixture (about 1 cup) for topping. Lightly press remaining crumb mixture over bottom of pan.

Prepare filling:
In small mixer bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, peanut butter and vanilla; beat at medium seed until smooth and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. By hand, fold in whipped cream.

Pour filling over crumb mixture in pan. Melt chocolate chips; drizzle over filling. Gently cut through to marble. Sprinkle with reserved crumbs; press in slightly. Freeze at least 2 hours or until serving. Remove from freezer 1 minutes before serving

Tip: If desired, you may substitute 2 cups (4 1/2 ounce carton) frozen whipped topping.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chinese New Year

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner and Jan Gautro,
I have long been interested in genealogy--although my mother's family tree has been difficult to trace because her ancestors came from an area which was once part of the USSR, my dad's family originated in the British Isles. We've been able to trace back for centuries. Likewise for my husband. husband's surname, although British, is also a common Chinese surname. And we love Asian food. So it seems appropriate to think about preparing a Chinese dish today.
Fried rice is ever so easy, but also ever so easy to mess up. Let's take it step-by-step:

Carb Diva Chinese Fried Rice
4 cups cooked rice (see note below)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 (14-oz) pkg. firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see note below)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup bias-cut carrots, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
1 teaspoon bottled minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sake (rice wine)
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
Thinly sliced green onions (optional)


Prepare rice (see below) and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu (see note below for preparation); cook 4 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from pan.

Add eggs to pan; cook 1 minute or until done, breaking egg into small pieces. Remove from pan. Add remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to pan. Add 1 cup onions, peas, and carrots, garlic, and ginger; sauté 2 minutes.

While vegetable mixture cooks, combine sake, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sesame oil. Add cooked rice to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add tofu, egg, and soy sauce mixture; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Garnish with sliced green onions, if desired.

How to Cook Rice (crock-pot method)
2 cups long grain converted rice or jasmine rice
2 1/2  cups water
1 tsp. butter (optional)

Spray the inside of the crockpot  generously with cooking spray. Add rice, water, and butter. Stir and cover.Cook on low 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Lift lid. Check to see if all the liquid is absorbed and taste to see if the rice is done. If not, add a little more water and cook 1/2 hour longer.

How to Prepare Tofu
Remove tofu from packaging. Slice horizontally to form two squares. Place tofu on double thickness of paper towels. Place another double thickness of paper towels on top and then weigh down the entire thing with a heavy weight--a cast iron skillet for example. Let "squeeze" for at least 30 minutes, draining off the excess liquid several times.


This recipe is very adaptable. You can add sauted chicken, shrimp, or leftover cooked pork or beef if you wish. You can omit the tofu if you don't have it on hand, or don't care for it. And as far as the vegetables go--use whatever you like. I love broccoli and Chinese cabbage in my stir fries. You can even toss in zucchini, tender baby green beans, or red bell pepper strips.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ooey gooey cheesy goodness!

Years and years (and decades?) ago, when my husband and I were working together, we discovered a restaurant near our office that once a week served French onion soup. I had never actually heard of French onion soup until I saw it on the menu (my mom was a good cook, but not very adventuresome).

To say that it was a "new taste sensation" is a gross understatement. Never before had I experienced a simple meal with so much intense flavor and textures in one tiny bowl--the richness of the broth, the fragrance of the herbs and onions, the creaminess of the cheeses and the crunch of the toasted croutons.

And so over the years, with much trial and error (emphasis on the latter) I developed a recipe that I really liked. BUT, that original recipe included beef broth--not a favorable ingredient when someone you love (my younger daughter) is a vegetarian. So about 10 years ago I began my quest to create that same wonderful rich-tasting broth without the use of animals.

Here's how to do it:

Vegetarian Onion Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 red onions, thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups water
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Saute the onions in  the olive oil in a large saute pan or dutch oven over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until browned--about 30  minutes. (This first step requires a bit of patience. The onions need to caramelize low and slow to develop the rich, sweet flavor one associates with french onion soup. Hurry the process with high heat and you'll end up with bitter, burned onions. If you don't allow the onions to develop a deep golden color you'll end up with flabby, watery, and tasteless onions.)

Increase heat to medium-high. Add salt and pepper, wine, and tomato paste. Cook until wine is almost evaporated (about 5 minutes). Add water, tomatoes, and herbs. Bring to a boil and then cover; reduce heat to simmer and cook about 20 minutes. Stir in soy sauce. Discard bay leaves. We prefer to leave the tomato pieces in our soup, but you may strain the broth and discard the solids if you wish.


OK, now you have the vegetarian stock. And you can use this for so many more things than French onion soup. So, keep this recipe in your back pocket (as my dad would have said) for future reference. But, if you want to proceed to turn this into Ooey Gooey Cheesy Goodness, simply add:

1 day old baguette, cut in 1/2-inch thick slices
about 2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Gruyere (or Swiss) cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush bread slices with olive oil and bake in oven until edges are brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

When ready to serve, whisk the 1/2 cup Parmesan into your hot broth. It’s important to whisk in the cheese at the last minute, or else the cheese will fall to the bottom of the pot and burn. Ladle the warm soup into heatproof bowls, and lay a slice of the baked bread over each bowl. Sprinkle a layer of Gruyere cheese over the bread, and place the crocks under the broiler until the cheese bubbles and browns.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine...

Photo: Food and Wine Magazine
Actually, this isn't about bread and a jug of wine. It's about bread and the grapes. There are some beautiful grapes at my favorite produce stand today. Since we're knee-deep into Winter, I'm going to assume that these grapes aren't "locals". Nevertheless, they are tasty.

And, I have an excess of Gorgonzola (blue) cheese in my frig--a leftover from the holidays.

Also, in my pantry is a 2009 "Food and Wine" cookbook which has a recipe for "Rosemary Flatbread with Blue Cheese, Grapes, and Honey". Sounds like all of the things I love (or want at this moment).

I looked online to see if there are any reviews.........and was horrified (horrified, I tell you!) to see how many wineries and blogs have not only published this recipe as their own, but even use the photo from the Food and Wine publication without accreditation.

For shame!

I've not tried the recipe (yet). But the grapes and cheese are waiting patiently in my frig, and the rosemary in my garden is leaning longingly toward the kitchen. I'll let you know how it turns out, and if you should happen to try the recipe too, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

And (by the way) the photo is from Food and Wine magazine.

Rosemary Flatbread with Blue Cheese, Grapes, and Honey
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups bread flour, plus more for rolling
3/4 cup warm water
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp. fine salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound red grapes (1 1/2 cups)
Coarse sea salt
3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon snipped chives

In a large bowl, whisk the yeast and sugar with 1/4 cup of the flour, Stir in 2/4 cup of the warm water and let stand until slightly foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary, fine salt, pepper, and the remaining 1 3/4 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of water; stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer the dough toe an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a draft-free spot until billowy and double din bulk, about one hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. place a pizza stone in the bottom of the oven,and preheat for at least 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press and stretch the dough into a 13-inch round, then transfer to a lightly floured pizza peel. Press the grapes into the dough and sprinkle with sea salt.

Slide the flatbread onto the hot stone and bake for about 12 minute, until the crust is golden and the grapes have begun to release some of their juices. Sprinkle the blue cheese on top and bake for about 2 minutes longer, until the cheese melts. Slide the flatbrad onto a work surface and drizzle with the honey and sprinkle with the chives. Cut into wedges and serve.