Cuisine: American

It’s National Chess Day!

Today is National Chess Day. Yes they are talking about the game, but it made me think about a pie I had as a child, when I would go and visit my grandparents, in Georgia. I looked through a few cookbooks and found no less than fourteen recipes for Chess Pie. Five of them are my own family’s recipes.

Folklore of how this pie got it’s name is that a cook on a plantation made up the recipe and when asked what she had made she answered “Just pie”. Because of her thick accent it was misheard as “chess pie”. Of course there are as many versions of how it got its name as there are recipes for the pie.

Another version of the story is that because the recipe has such a high amount of sugar, it is naturally preserved and therefore didn’t need to be stored in an icebox and could be kept in a pie chest. Again chest eventually got slanged down to “chess”. Finally, there is a version that says Chess Pie is really Cheese Pie, an English recipe that is almost identical and is basically a form of cheesecake. I don’t buy this one at all.

If you don’t know what Chess Pie is, it is a custard pie with a minimal amount of cornmeal or sometimes flour in it. This basic pie exists in every region, in some form. Indiana has Sugar Pie and this may even be a precursor to the base of lemon meringue pie. You could even call it a solid pudding in a crust.

This pie hits all the sensory notes. It is at once smooth with a bit of crunch from the cornmeal. The corn meal will rise to the top and form a crust. When I was a kid I loved this pie because it was so sweet and the more sugar the better. Now that I am an adult, I understand the nuances of the flavor and sugar.

Chess Pie, in the south is like Pound Cake and squash soufflé. If you ask a dozen women you will get a dozen recipes for the same item. I even did a spreadsheet to see where the variances are. I really only wanted to make my family recipe but I tried one other, too. They are both very sweet. In our family recipe, the one below, a tablespoon of vinegar is added. It seems to be what cuts the sweetness a bit.

The ingredients of the recipe are basics and you probably have them in your pantry and fridge all the time. Really, sugar, eggs, cornmeal, milk and butter, is all you need. It all comes together fast so, if you do have the ingredients on hand, you can have a fabulous dessert made in about an hour. However, I do recommend that it cool then get refrigerated over night before serving.

You can add different flavors, too. The easiest way is to change out the vanilla for another extract. However, you can add 1 cup of coconut or ¼ cup cocoa powder too. The cocoa powder also cuts down the sweetness.

Just one bite of this pie and I am driving down a red dirt road to my grandparents and catching lightning bugs.

Chess Pie
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Servings
8-10-10
Servings
8-10-10
Chess Pie
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Servings
8-10-10
Servings
8-10-10
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Beat the eggs until frothy.
  2. Stir in sugar, milk, cornmeal, vinegar and vanilla. beat until well blended.
  3. Add butter and blend well.
  4. Pour into an unbaked 9" pie shell and sprinkle with nutmeg.
  5. Bake at 325° for 45 minutes.
  6. Cool completely, then refrigerate overnight, before serving.
Recipe Notes

My pie dish is actually a 10" pie dish so, as you can see, the filling didn't come all the way up. Be sure to use a 9" pie dish or make a 1 1/2 times batch.

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Cake for Breakfast!

Cake for breakfast! Yes it’s a thing and it is all over the Internet. It’s actually not a new thing. It started popping up in my feed in every blog I get, recently. So, I decided to do a little research of my own. Before I get to a really good chocolate cake recipe, that you will probably over indulge in, let me give you some of the Kisses and Nibs of it all.

The original study came out in 2011 and was conducted in the UK. It did say that eating cake for breakfast was a good thing and that you might lose some weight. However, it turns out the study was more about eating a big hearty breakfast than it was about eating cake. It also pointed out that if you’re going to eat sugary unrefined carbs, maybe you want to do it earlier in the day, rather than later. Finally, the UK study was a closed study, meaning that the participants were living and eating in a dorm facility. So the facilitators noted that perhaps the social nature of eating together might have had the participants eating less. Be more social when you eat breakfast, if you can. Talk more, eat less.

The second study was done at Tel Aviv University in 2013. This study suggested that the brain works better when it is stimulated immediately in the morning and that chocolate cake was a great conduit for that. The long and short of this is that chocolate has flavonoids and caffeine; both can act as a stimulant. Flavonoids are also a great antioxidant. Both supply energy to the brain and in my honest opinion are a great way to start your day.

I did the MOST official study of all in 2017. It shows that if you make a chocolate cake, somebody will eat it for breakfast!

Okay, enough with the science! Here is a great chocolate cake recipe. I put it together from several different recipes. Make a double batch of the frosting; one is just not quite enough to frost the whole cake.


Really Good Chocolate Cake
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This is three full layers of cake, not one cake cut into three layers! With lots of rich milk chocolate frosting between and all around. Oh yeah!
Really Good Chocolate Cake
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This is three full layers of cake, not one cake cut into three layers! With lots of rich milk chocolate frosting between and all around. Oh yeah!
Ingredients
Chocolate Cake
Milk Chocolate Frosting
Servings:
Instructions
Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and Flour three 9" round cake pans.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.
  3. In a large heatproof bowl, combine the unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder. Heat the water and butter in a pot over medium heat until butter is melted but water is simmering not boiling.
  4. Pour hot liquid over chocolate and cocoa mixture and stir to combine and melted and smooth.
  5. Add the sugar and mix to combine. Make sure chocolate mixture has cooled then add the eggs, one at a time and use a hand mixer to just combine. Add vanilla extract.
  6. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture alternating with the buttermilk, finish with the flour, being sure to scrape down the sides. Don’t over mix.
  7. Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake 20-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then invert and cool on rack. Cool completely before frosting.
Frosting
  1. In the bowl of a stand up mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and slowly add the sugar. Be sure to scrape down the sides. Drizzle in melted, cooled chocolate until evenly combined
  2. Frost each layer with about ¾ cup frosting and between each layer. Use remaining frosting to frost whole outer cake.
  3. Melt additional chocolate candy bars and drizzle over the top of frosted cake for decoration.
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Try Something New -Homemade Pasta Edition!

In case you haven’t heard it’s been raining here in California, A LOT! So it was a great weekend to stay home and make all sorts of comfort food. It doesn’t get more comfortable than homemade pasta.

I love that you and I both probably have everything we need to make pasta, already, in our kitchens. Are you ready for the long list; Flour, salt, eggs, water and olive oil. I have a hand cranked pasta roller, but you really don’t need it. Pasta has been made for centuries, certainly long before standing electric mixers were adding attachments and even before my hand-cranked roller. If you have a wooden roller pin and a knife you can make your own pasta.

Keep in mind you can search for basic pasta recipes and find dozens of variations. Start with mine but if it s not a good fit, you can play around. Add more water; use just all-purpose flour, more oil (not too much). I did make mine in a standing mixer, with a dough hook; you can do everything by hand in a large bowl.

I want to say that, even not so great, homemade pasta will taste better than any pasta you will ever buy in a store. Once you get this pasta made, go over to March 1, 2015 and make the Marinara Sauce!

Homemade Pasta Dough
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Homemade Pasta Dough
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl combine flours and salt. Make a well (indentation) and add eggs. If you are doing this by hand, start to fold your flour over the eggs and mix, adding water and oil, until you have a stiff dough. I used a standing electric mixer with the dough hook attachment. I used a spatula to scrape down the sides.
  2. As you are mixing and adding water & oil, keep pinching the dough. When it starts to stick together easily, its ready. You do not want it too sticky.
  3. I used Durum Semolina, which is traditionally Italian. It has a coarser texture, almost like corn meal, it will need more water and olive oil. The texture smooths out in rolling and cooking. All-purpose flour will NOT need nearly as much liquid.
  4. Once the dough is all mixed. Knead for 3 - 4 minutes on a lightly floured board. Then form a disk and wrap in plastic and let rest, in refrigerator, for 30 minutes.
  5. When ready to roll, cut disk into quarters and flatten. If you are using a pasta machine or roller, start on a zero setting and run the dough through once or twice and fold in half and lightly flour each side and run through again. Repeat this process gradually increasing setting to higher numbers and ultimately increasing to desired thinness and length. Or follow the directions provided, with your machine.
  6. If you are hand rolling, lightly flour a board and use a rolling pin to roll dough out to desired thinness and length. I like to roll between two pieces of parchment or wax paper. Too much flour can make the pasta too chewy.
  7. At this point you would switch to the cutting shape, you want on the machine. If you are cutting by hand use a knife or pizza cute to cut your dough.
  8. Once your dough is cut, it is IMPORTANT to let it dry/set for a while before storing or cooking. If you don't it might be gummy. If you have something to hang your pasta over, even a towel rack will do, that's ideal. if not just let it lay straight on board or parchment lined pan. Don't let it sit bunched up, like in the picture.
  9. Once it is a little dry you can store it, folded, in an airtight container, with a little semolina or cornmeal, to keep it separated.
  10. To cook, bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it, liberally. Add you pasta and cook 5 - 7 minutes. Do not over cook. Serve with your favorite sauce or none at all. It's that good,
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Gateau au Chocolat

Here is the recipe for the greatest mistake I ever made!

Gateau au Chocolat
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Gateau au Chocolat
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Grease and line with wax paper a 9x5x3 loaf pan.
  2. Melt chocolate and beat in butter with a spoon or spatula.
  3. Beat egg whites with a hand mixer to stiff peaks; set aside. With same beaters beat egg yolks until thick and light in color.
  4. Slowly add the sugar, beating constantly. Add the flour and beat until just combined. Stir egg yolk mixture into chocolate mixture, then fold egg whites into this mixture. You will have some egg whites still showing.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Reduce oven heat to 350°F and bake 25 minutes.
  6. Let cool completely in pan. Cake will settle like a cheesecake. Turn out. Refrigerate for 4 hours until well chilled. Decorate with abandon!
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Charred Cauliflower with Picada Sauce

Picada is like a pesto. Made with chocolate and almonds it is lovely on the palate!

Charred Cauliflower with Picada Sauce
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Charred Cauliflower with Picada Sauce
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Heat oven broiler to high
  2. Toss florets with 2 T. olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil, turning once, half way through, until charred and tender, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat garlic and remaining oil in skillet an cook, over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Be sure to watch and stir, so garlic doesn't burn. Transfer oil and garlic to a a medium bowl an let cool.
  4. Stir almonds, parsley, chocolate, sherry, salt and pepper into garlic oil. Toss with cauliflower while it is still hot. Garnish and serve immediately.
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Cacao Nib & Fennel Encrusted Pork Tenderloin

This is absolutely scrumptious. If you don’t eat pork, beef works really well here, too.

Cacao Nib & Fennel Encrusted Pork Tenderloin
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Cacao Nib & Fennel Encrusted Pork Tenderloin
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (depending on hoe fine you want the rub) grind the cacao nibs and fennel seeds, together. Add the brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt cinnamon and cayenne powder. Combine thoroughly. The mortar and pestle will give you a coarser rub and a more pungent flavor. A coffee grinder or food processor will give you a finer rub and a more subtle flavor.
  3. Massage the tenderloin with 1 T. of oil and then rub with the cacao mixture until well coated.
  4. In a large skillet, over a medium-high flame, heat the remaining oil. Brown the tenderloin on all sides, turning often.
  5. Transfer to a roasting pan and cook until a meat thermometer reads 145, about 15 minutes. Pork can cook very quickly so check at 10 -12 minutes. Adjust time for beef.
  6. Once at proper temperature, take out, tent with foil and rest for 5 minutes. Slice and serve.
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Valentines Day Chocolates!

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and I know you are still wondering what to do. We all spend a lot of time looking for something new and creative to do. We all want to “keep it fresh”. Well, I’ve been married for almost 20 years and let me tell you it gets hard. I am a devotee of the classics. Let’s do a romantic dinner. That’s not to say we can’t shake things up a little bit. If you or your significant other are certified chocoholics, like me, how about a meal that has chocolate in every single course?

There is so much to love about chocolate but what you need to know here is that it starts out as cacao, which is mouth wincing bitter. Don’t be scared, that gives you control. That bitter cacao nib is a chameleon. Once add sugar, fat and cream, with a little mixing, you can have the sweet Hershey Kiss from your childhood or a complex and award winning delicacy.

In a typical three-course meal, you’ll start with salad. Let’s make milk chocolate vinaigrette. The milk chocolate is an emulsifier that creates a welcome creaminess. Serve the vinaigrette it over greens that included purple radicchio. Radicchio is a little bitter so it cuts the sweetness. Spinach adds necessary balance. To round out the salad add Asian pear for a tart crunch and diced cranberries for their sweet chewy flavor.

The star of the main course is a fennel seed and cacao nib rubbed pork tenderloin. The secret really is the rub. The rub is a blend of cacao nibs, fennel seeds, cinnamon and cayenne with cocoa powder and brown sugar bounces all over your mouth. The recipe calls for grinding the nibs and seeds in a mortar and pestle. The result will be quite coarse. If you’d like a finer texture you can use a coffee grinder or food processor. Remember though, the finer the rub, the less pungent the flavor. Is the rub sweet or spicy? The rub will seal your juices in while cooking so you won’t need any other sauce than the glorious juices as they pour out when sliced.

In keeping with the play on sweet and spicy the pork is served with a charred cauliflower in a picada sauce. Picada is similar to a pesto. This recipe uses; bitter dark chocolate, Marcona almonds, garlic, parsley and a touch of sweet sherry. The cauliflower should be tender, almost creamy, inside and just charred on the outside. There are so many great textures in your mouth.

In moments of humility and mistakes often come our greatest success and sweetness. Dessert comes from one of those moments. I misread a recipe that called for teaspoons of flour and sugar as tablespoons and the result is more like a rich, incredible brownie than cake. It won’t look so pretty when you first turn it out, so decorate with abandon. You can try whatever fresh berries in season. For a more elegant presentation, sift some powdered sugar through a lace doily and add some fresh herbs. I always say if it smells good together it will taste good together so get creative; how about some tarragon or thyme? If you are short on time a dollop of fresh whipped cream will work too.

Here’s the truth, I did not take pictures the last time I made this and don’t want to use stock pictures from the internet. I promise to post pictures as soon as I can. Finally, it appears I can only do one recipe per post so I will send the recipes one after the other.

I wish you and your loved one a very meaningful Valentine’s Day!

Chocolate Balsamic Vinaigrette
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Chocolate Balsamic Vinaigrette
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Melt chocolate and stir until smooth. Whisk in vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. While whisking continuously, drizzle in oil until thickened and combined.
  2. Divide arugula/spinach among plates. Top with pear, cranberries and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve immediately.
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Jam Cake!

For most of my life I heard about “Granny”. My Great-Grandmother. By all accounts she was an amazing cook, great seamstress and she was feisty! My Great-Grandfather was 27 years older than her and had come from a family of privilege in Georgia. My Great-Grandfather was “one of the most sought-after bachelors”. By all accounts he was a bit of player and drove a flashy “rubber-tired buggy” with a “trotting horse”. Today that might be compared to a little red corvette. Granny was a schoolmistress that came from a hard working, “good” family. In the 12 years they were married, prior to his death, they had 4 children and she was pregnant with the 5th when he passed. While the story is told of their love at first sight, I’m guessing there was a certain amount of satisfaction in catching the un-catchable.

In 1900 $18,690 would have been the equivalent of approximately $430,000 today. In 1900 that would have meant that you were wealthy. This is how much the savings passbook shows my great grand parents had in the their bank account when Granny started using it to write recipes. That is a lot of money for the time. While they lived a somewhat grand life with servants and a large plantation home, they also were very conscious of using what they could from their own land. They had crops such as watermelon and their own patch for growing fruits and vegetables. They also raised several different types of chickens and had milk, butter and cheese from their own cows.

A grandchild’s imagination can run wild and mine is no different. At first, I imagined my “feisty” Granny getting mad at Ab, my great grandfather’s nickname. Perhaps he had asked her to run ANOTHER errand to the bank on a day when she had sick children and chores to do on the Plantation. I can see her running into a friend and asking for her Watermelon Rind Preserves recipe. When she realized she has no paper, maybe she thought, “I’ll show him the value of his money!” and scratched out the recipe right there on the 4th page of the passbook. I say this because the recipe is quickly given. There is no list of ingredients and amounts, then instructions. It’s all on continuous sentence.

I sometimes fantasize that maybe she really didn’t have any paper and thought it would be “just one recipe”. However, it became her go to for writing recipes when she ran into friends. Eventually, the recipes did evolve and have a list of and amounts ingredients and instructions.

Today we don’t have passbooks and most of our recipes are shared via email, the Internet or pinterest. Having those recipes written in my grandmother’s handwriting is invaluable. As the years passed, after my Grandfather’s death, times got hard for my great-grandmother and her family. She was able to turn to her Brother in law for help and keep her family together, during the depression, World War II and a great cyclone. I still imagine that she would have been teaching us that the value of a rich family history has more value than today’s $430,000.

My favorite recipe was the Jam Cake. This is a traditional southern cake that came out of Tennessee or Kentucky, depending on what website you are looking at. I have searched high and low for a jam cake recipe that was made with wine instead of buttermilk. I’m not sure why Granny made the substitution, but it sure is good!

I’m giving it to you as written and then my version. How lucky was my Granny to be able to bake with such a limited recipe. I hope you enjoy it too.

 

Jam Cake!
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Jam Cake!
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Beat eggs and sugar together until light colored and ribbony.
  2. Sift flour and baking powder together.
  3. Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add to eggs and sugar.
  4. Slowly add flour & baking powder mix to butter/eggs mixture.
  5. Once flour is completely added, add spices and lastly wine. Blend until just combined.
  6. Pour into 8 or 9 inch cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake at 350°F for 30 - 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  7. For frosting I make a cream cheese frosting and use a good store bought caramel sauce to make a caramel frosting. Divide the layers. I put an extra layer of jam in between cake layers with the frosting and then frost the whole cake.
  8. You can find my cream cheese frosting recipe in my May 8, 2015 post of Red Velvet cake.
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A Case for Boxed Cake Mix

I am a Mom that went to culinary school whose kids like boxed cake mix! I’ve tried many a homemade cake from yellow to red velvet and every frosting imaginable. While they do love my cream cheese frosting they still like, dare I say it, canned frosting and boxed cake mix better.

So when my daughter suggested we do one of those doctored up box cake mix recipes, to add something chocolate to our family holiday celebration. I reluctantly agreed. My only caveat was that it couldn’t have any other processed ingredients. We came really close but the one my daughter wanted had instant pudding in it. I caved.

The directions were “SOOO” complicated. “Empty contents of Bag”. Add in this. Stir in that. I persevered. We greased the pan and baked the mix for the prescribed 30-35 minutes. The whole time I was mumbling under my breath and sighing. How could this be? I make great cakes! Most kids would kill to have me as their mom!

The timer went off and out came a good-looking moist cake. Huh, maybe? We’ll see. It cooled. I poked. It seemed moist and had a nice aroma. Since I managed to get out of the store without buying a can of frosting, I suggested a hack, I knew. The finger taste test was good and so far my daughter approved.

Once the cake was sliced in half, filled and frosted we put it out and we were ready for the harshest of critics…the family. They loved it! Of course every body thought it was one of my recipes and of course my daughter couldn’t wait to tell them it was a doctored up cake mix.

Well at least I can take joy in knowing that there is homemade cake and frosting that I can make with my daughters that they will like. So from my family to yours, enjoy!

*One note- I would love to give credit where due but I honestly don’t remember where this came from. It was a quick screenshot on the phone and off to the store before mom changed her mind.

A Case for Boxed Cake Mix
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A Case for Boxed Cake Mix
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Ingredients
Vanilla Frosting
Servings:
Instructions
Cake
  1. In a mixing bowl pour cake mix and pudding mix. Turn on mixer and add sour cream. Slowly add vegetable oil.
  2. Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition.
  3. Add milk, vanilla and sea salt.
  4. Add milk, vanilla and sea salt.
  5. Pour into 2 prepared (greased & floured) 8” round cake pans. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in pan then turn out and cool completely on rack. Frost and serve.
Frosting
  1. Blend together marshmallow fluff, butter and vanilla. Slowly add powdered sugar until well blended and consistency is as desired. If it gets too thick you can add some whole milk a couple drops at a time. Frost cake and serve.
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Winter’s Colorful Citrus

Winter knows how to hook you. That first nip of cold air gets you excited and all the sweaters come out. When you are sick of rain the snow starts and when you think you can’t handle the grey skies anymore, Peonies show up and the citrus is ripe for the picking.

The Peonies I had to find in NYC while looking at colleges for my daughter. They were a welcome sight on a slushy, grey street in Chelsea. The citrus, in the form Cara Cara oranges greeted me when I came home to Los Angeles. They were bursting with juice and practically leapt off their trees when I went out to pick them.

Cara Cara oranges are wonderfully sweet and have specks of dark red hinting of a relationship to blood oranges. You can juice them and cook with them. This year they were too sweet not to use in everything! First, I peeled, sliced and served them on a beautiful platter on their own. Delicious! Then I tried a variation on lemon curd. It is literally sunshine is a jar. You can use any way you would lemon curd or, like me, just eat with a spoon.


Cara Cara Orange Curd
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Cara Cara Orange Curd
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Bring the orange juice to a simmer in a small saucepan, over a medium high heat and reduce to 1/2 cup. Remove from heat and stir in zest. Cool to room temperature.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolks and sugar. Whisk in cooled juice mixture. Once combined, pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it starts to thicken and it reaches a temperature of 180°. This should take 6 - 8 minutes.
  3. Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl and stir in butter, until it is completely melted. Cool completely and place plastic right on surface of curd, to prevent skin forming. Place in refrigerator until well chilled.
  4. Store in airtight in refrigerator for 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in refrigerator, before use, if frozen.
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