Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year's favorite recipes

We've cooked together quite a bit in 2009, making soups and sweets and even a few beverages and breads.

So many of you stopped me in the grocery store, sent an e-mail or called to say how much you loved the Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie, Tomato Pie or Stuffed Green Pepper Soup. A number of cooks said they have used the very easy Satin Chocolate Glaze many times on their cakes and cupcakes.

I'm often asked to send recipes to my readers because they forgot to clip a recipe or lost their clipping. I decided this week was a good time to publish again some of my favorite recipes from the year in case you missed them the first time around.

Lisa's Tomato Pie
  • One frozen or refrigerated pie crust
  • 3 to 4 medium, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped Vidalia onions
  • Olive oil
  • 3 or 4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used reduced fat)
Slice tomatoes and season with salt and pepper; drain juice for an hour or so before using.*

Cook pie crust for 10 minutes at temperature recommended on package. Make sure to prick the crust before baking.

While the crust is cooking, saute onions in a little olive oil.

Once crust is cooked, remove from oven (adjusting oven temperature to 375 degrees) and sprinkle a little of the Parmesan cheese on the crust. (Keep in mind that the Parmesan cheese will also be used in the pie’s layers, so don’t use too much.)

Layer tomato slices over cheese. Add a layer of basil, sauteed onions and a little oregano. Repeat layer, omitting basil this time.

Mix mayonnaise and mozzarella cheese and spread on top of pie. Top with remaining Parmesan.

Bake in pre-heated 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes until top is lightly browned and juice is beginning to bubble through.

Let sit for about 20 minutes before cutting.

* Here’s how I drained my tomatoes: I cut the tomatoes into relatively thin slices, not paper thin, but thin. I placed them on a cooling rack that I positioned inside a jelly roll pan to catch the juice. Then I sprinkled salt and pepper on the tomato slices and let them drain. After an hour or so, I put the tomato slices on paper towels to soak up more liquid. If you only seasoned one side of your tomato, be careful to place it seasoned-side up on the paper towels so the salt and pepper won’t rub off. Quite a bit of liquid was removed from my tomatoes, and my pie was certainly not runny. But I also waited to cut the pie until it had cooled for at least 15-20 minutes which also helped it firm up.

Satin Chocolate Glaze
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pour chocolate chips and butter into microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir until chips are blended. Mix in honey and vanilla extract. Frost cake or cupcakes.

My New Favorite Soup
  • Olive oil for sauteeing
  • Two medium zucchinis, cut into half-moon shapes
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1 onion, choped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (14.5 ozs.) petite diced tomatoes
  • 3 cans (14 ozs.) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sweet basil
  • 12-oz. package fresh turkey meatballs (cut into quarters)
  • 7 oz. package three-cheese mini ravioli, cooked according to package directions*
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese
In a soup pot, over medium heat, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil for sauteeing. Add zucchini, carrots and onion and sautee until onions transparent. Add minced garlic in the last minute of cooking.

Add spices, tomatoes and chicken broth and let come to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. Add meatballs and ravioli and cook until heated through.

Pour into individual bowls. Sprinkle shaved parmesan cheese on top.

Makes approximately 8 servings.

*I used Buitoni’s Three-Cheese Ravioletti, found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. For a cheaper option, you could use a boxed pasta, such as spirals. If you use a boxed pasta and plan to have soup leftovers, the leftover pasta will expand and soak up the liquid. You could add the cooked pasta separately to the individual serving bowls and pour the hot soup on top. Refrigerate leftover pasta in a plastic bag and use with leftover soup as needed.

Creamy Wild Rice with Chicken Soup
  • 48 ozs. chicken broth (I used reduced sodium, reduced fat)
  • 2 cups water
  • About 2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
  • 1 (4.5 oz.) package quick cooking long grain and wild rice with seasoning packet (I used Uncle Ben’s)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
In large soup pot, let broth and water come to a boil. Add salt and pepper, carrots, celery and onion and boil for 10 minutes. Add chicken; stir in rice, reserving seasoning packet. Cook rice amount of time indicated on box.

While vegetables and rice are cooking, melt butter in saucepan at medium heat and stir in contents of seasoning package. Stir until bubbly. Lower heat and stir in flour a little bit at a time until incorporated. Whisk in milk a little bit at a time until mixed and smooth. Cook about 5 minutes until thickened.

Stir milk mixture into broth mixture and stir. Let simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes.

Leftover soup is thicker but is very good!

Lemon-Glazed Blueberry Cookies
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar (divided)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, washed and air dried
Lemon Glaze
  • Juice from one large lemon
  • Powdered sugar
In a small bowl, add blueberries and pour 1/4 cup granulated sugar over top. Gently stir to mix and let stand while preparing cookies.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or prepare with a light coat of cooking spray.

In a large bowl, cream shortening, brown sugar and remaining granulated sugar. Mix in egg, milk, vanilla extract and lemon zest until well mixed. Mix in flour until incorporated. Gently stir in sugared blueberries and any sugar that has settled to bottle of the bowl.

Drop batter, a teaspoonful at the time, on prepared baking sheet. I used a cookie scoop. If you want larger cookies, the size of a muffin top, try 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter. Make sure each cookie has a blueberry or two. Smaller berries work well for this recipe. Bake 12-15 minutes in preheated 375 degree oven.

While cookies bake, prepare glaze. Squeeze the juice from a lemon into a bowl. Add a little powdered sugar at a time, stirring with a fork until the desired consistency. Should take about 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.

Let cookies cool a little before pouring glaze on top.

Makes around 3 dozen small cookies

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Keeping Christmas

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Christmas traditions and why we break our necks each December to make the same cookies, place the same ornaments on the tree and get to the same houses to celebrate.
It all started a few days after Thanksgiving. My husband, Reggie, brought in our Christmas tree from under the carport, where it had stood for a few days to air out after a year in storage. He and I started to fluff out the branches, starting at the top and working our way down to the bottom. By the time I was working on the longest branches near the base, I started noticing a peculiar odor. I knew right away what it was. It was the unmistakable stink from where a cat had sprayed our tree. At first I thought it was confined to one branch, so Reggie cut it off. But I was wrong. There was more to it, and the longer the tree stayed in our warm house, the more offensive the smell became. I called a friend who has a small family of adopted cats. We talked about my options, and I tried cleaning the tree with disinfectant wipes. But it didn’t take but a few swipes across the brittle green needles to realize we had an unfixable problem.
So I did what any stressed-out, overworked, emotional mom would do. I cried. Sobbed, actually. At no point in that breakdown did I rationalize it was time for new tree anyway. We had used this same tree since 1995. Mama and I had gone shopping after Christmas the year before. She bought one, and I bought one. We were determined to no longer buy a live tree because I was allergic to them and so was my son.
I loved this tree, and I wanted this tree to decorate my home again this year. In fact, I wanted everything exactly like it had always been. Exactly. But in my heart — and even my mind this time — I knew that wasn’t possible because this is our first Christmas without Daddy.
I knew December would be hard, but I had no idea just how much I would cry and remember.
Not only did I cry when my tree had to be tossed to the sidewalk, but I cried when we took out the ornaments and started decorating. I’m a sentimental fool, and my childrens’ construction paper ornaments from their preschool days made me yearn for a simpler life when our biggest concerns were which toy they’d take to school for “B” week or if I had a pretty hair ribbon to match my daughter’s Christmas dress.
I cried again this past weekend when I ran across my recipe for coconut cake that I made for Daddy at Christmas each year. And I cried when my husband so lovingly remembered helping my dad deliver boxes of food after our church Christmas program.
My sister and I talked about the holidays and made plans — a promise really — to make things as special as we could for our children. We wanted to serve Brunswick stew for Christmas Eve dinner and visit with Mama’s family as we always have. We wanted the children to sit in the den at Mama’s Christmas morning and to empty stockings packed full of wonderful treats. We wanted to be together.
Then a wrench was thrown in our plans. Mama, who has Alzheimer’s and is very frail, fell last week and fractured her pelvis. How could any of us bear to watch her suffer? And how could we possible celebrate Christmas if she were still in the hospital? I could feel the sadness settle into my chest, into my very soul.
I know I was gloomy and negative, but my very wise 15-year-old daughter set me straight as we were sitting at Mama’s side Sunday evening. “We’ll just bring the poinsettia down here to decorate the room and bring our stockings and have Christmas here.” Ah-ha! I thought. Maybe we don’t have to make everything exactly the same. Maybe these wonderful grandchildren are more adaptable than I thought. Maybe they are more adaptable than their moms.
Over the last few months, I’ve told myself quite often that I have two options: I can mope around and be sad that the days shared with my parents are over or I can be very thankful to have memories of our shared lives and pass along their wisdom, their traditions. I am very thankful, really I am. I realize not everyone has the same charmed childhood I had or the same loving, devoted parents who raised me. But it’s very hard not to be sad, not to cry because I’ll no longer discuss N.C. State basketball with my dad or see his distinctive handwriting on the envelope he handed me each Christmas morning.
I know the grief subsides, and I know I’ll cope better with each passing month. But it’s just so hard, especially at Christmas when traditions and memories are so much a part of our celebration.
With any luck, Mama will be able to come home for a few days at Christmas, and we’ll all be together in the house she and Daddy made so many memories in for 50 years.
At our house, there’s a new Christmas tree. It’s very pretty decorated with the trinkets I’ve collected since I was a young girl. There aren’t as many ornaments this year — Reggie and I decided to leave off the more fragile ones that might tempt our granddaughter’s busy hands — but it’s still beautiful, and it makes me smile.
There’s also a new photograph, framed in red and placed beside a candle I like to light when I’m home. The photograph shows Daddy, sitting straight up at his spot on the couch and very alert, holding his new great-granddaughter, Sora, on Christmas Day last year. She’s very tiny and sound asleep in his lap. Her first Christmas and his last. I look at that photo every time I leave the house and think of the promise of a new life and the wonderful memories of a life well spent.
I’ve made a promise to myself to share those memories and those traditions with that precious baby, who will have her own stocking to open Christmas morning at Grandma Helen’s house.

Treat for Santa

If you have children in your house, pull them in your lap and read this column with them. We're going to talk about a special treat for Santa Claus.

It's not too late to plan a delicious drink for the jolly old elf. By the time he gets to your house, he will have had all the milk he wants, I suspect. So why not fix him something different, and something warm?

If you have hot cocoa mix at your house, you shouldn't have any trouble making a special drink.

For a mocha flavor, you can mix in some coffee granules. For chai, add some spice for a delicious drink. And definitely top them both with a dollop of whipped topping. Yum.

Don't worry about keeping the drink warm. Santa has magical powers and can probably warm it up himself. And I'm sure it would also be quite good cold.

Santa's not the only one who would enjoy these delicious chocolate drinks. Maybe you can make a hot chocolate drink for everyone in the family to enjoy after a trip caroling around the neighborhood or later this winter when you've been playing in the snow.

Hot Creamy Mocha
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 envelope (1 oz. each) milk chocolate hot cocoa mix
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half (1/2 cup = 4 oz.)
  • Whipped topping
  • Ground cinnamon and cinnamon stick, optional
Mix hot water with cocoa mix and coffee granules. Add half-and-half; stir.

Microwave on high for 1 minutes; stir.

Garnish with whipped cream. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve with a cinnamon stick for stirring, if desired.

Makes 1 serving.

Swiss Miss

Chai Mocha
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 envelopes (0.55 oz. each) no sugar added hot cocoa mix
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 cinnamon stick*
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Whipped topping
Place milk, hot cocoa mix, instant espresso, cinnamon stick, whole clove, cardamom and ginger in small saucepan. Heat over medium heat 3 to 5 minutes or until hot, whisking occasionally.

Remove and discard cinnamon stick and whole clove. Pour into heat-proof glasses or mugs; top with whipped topping. Serve immediately.

Cook’s Tips:

No whole spices on hand? Substitute 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon and a dash ground clove for the whole. Reduce cardamom to a dash. Proceed with recipe as directed.

Makes 2 servings (3/4 cup each)

Adapted from Swiss Miss

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fudge, fudge and more fudge

Before Santa Claus comes, Faye Taylor will have made and given away 100 pounds of fudge this holiday season.

It's a tradition for the Wilson woman, who's very much at home in the kitchen.

For about a dozen years, she's given fudge to her family and friends as well as people whose paths she's crossed including her doctors and her children's co-workers.

"I love giving," she said. But don't expect a store-bought gift from Taylor.

"I don't buy any presents," she said. She gives food from her kitchen.

Taylor's fudge-making begins in the 55-year-old frying pan her mother gave her when she got married. It's where she starts each recipe, which includes a stick and a half of butter, 3 cups of sugar and some evaporated milk. Each recipe yields 4 pounds of fudge.

Taylor's husband, Kenneth, gets up at 5 a.m. to go to work. That's as good a time as any to start making fudge, she reasons.

Taylor said this time of year she will normally heat up the iron frying pan around 5, then make another batch two hours later. She'll repeat the process in the afternoon, making two more batches of fudge: caramel, butterscotch, chocolate or vanilla, some with nuts, some without.

It takes Taylor about 30 minutes to cook a batch of fudge. The preparation time takes longer; Taylor always pre-measures ingredients before getting started and has them waiting beside the stove. That way, she doesn't leave out an ingredient.

Once the fudge is made and has cooled, Taylor will sometimes decorate each piece with a pecan before cutting the batch into squares. Other batches are cut into seasonal shapes including Christmas trees or hearts. The fudge leftovers that result from cutting the fudge into shapes are all stored in a plastic container. When she gets enough of the chocolate pieces, she'll melt them down in her frying pan, and add butter and evaporated milk to make enough frosting for her famous 10-layer chocolate cake.

The small tins that are given to individuals usually contain 30 small pieces of fudge and one large cutout. If she's taking a tin to a group of 50 or so in an office, she'll allow two to three pieces per person.

Dr. Harvey Ham and his co-workers have gotten fudge from Taylor for more than a dozen years, he said. His favorite is chocolate fudge packed full of chopped pecans.

"The fudge is absolutely marvelous; it melts in your mouth," he said. "You can't have just one piece."

Ham said Taylor's a giving and thoughtful person.

"When she walks in, it's with a smile. She says, 'God bless y'all,' and she walks out the door." She doesn't give them a chance to thank her or fuss over her.

"It's her blessing to do that for us," Ham said.

In recent weeks, Taylor's granddaughter Bridgette Baker and great-grandson C.J. Baker have helped with the fudge-making and grocery shopping. They were with her last week when she bought another 10 pounds of butter and 15 bags of marshmallows. They shop around for the best prices, Baker said.

And they're always on the lookout for good prices on holiday tins to store and give the fudge in as well. People also give tins to Taylor for her holiday fudge.

"That's because they want them back full!" Baker said, laughing.

C.J., who's 4, is learning how to make fudge and helps his great-grandmother with the process. It's important to Taylor that her cooking knowledge is passed on down the generations. C.J.'s favorite part is the sampling. Before a pan of chocolate pecan fudge had cooled one morning last week, C.J. was eyeing it, wanting a taste.

"I could eat the whole spoonful; throw it in my mouth," he said.

Taylor's recipe is one she's developed over the years, making changes as she's gone along.

For instance, she now uses butter instead of margarine.

She tastes every batch she makes, cutting off a small piece in the corner of the pan, just to make sure it's right.

"Now I've got my fudge like I think it's good," she said.

Faye’s Chocolate Pecan Fudge
  • 3/4 cup Carnation evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 10 1/2 oz. bag miniature marshmallows
  • 1 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Pour evaporated milk, butter and sugar into a large iron frying pan, with burner at high. Let come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and stir until mixture reaches 234 degrees on a candy thermometer. Turn off heat; leave skillet on burner.

Gradually add marshmallows, chips, nuts and vanilla (in that order) with a hand mixer. Incorporate each ingredient before adding the next. Continue mixing until smooth, approximately 10 minutes.

Pour into a buttered 11X18-inch pan. Let cool at room temperature before cutting.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Treats for holiday parties

Besides the fellowship, hugs and presents, one of the best things about a Christmas party is trying other people's special cookies, cakes and candies.

I get some of my best holiday food column ideas from my family and friends.

For the last few years, I've jotted down new recipes I've tried and put them on the calendar for next year's Christmas season.

Last Christmas Eve, as soon as I tried Oreo Truffles made by my cousin Martha Cayton, I knew they'd end up on a food page this Christmas.

My family loved these tiny, tasty treats and managed to swipe a number of leftovers to take home last year. They made me promise to make them again. I said I would, but it took me a year!

On Friday, I left work early so I could make Oreo Truffles and another new treat, Cake Balls. I love reading blogs that include recipes, and a number of them have given recipes and tips for making cake balls this past year.

It was quite a busy (and messy) afternoon, but it was also fun. I love baking for the holidays, even if it is this early.

Oreo Truffles are very easy to make and would be a good recipe to do alongside your children. Basically, this is what you do: crumble most of a package of Oreos, using a food processor or pastry blender; then, with a mixer, add in a package of cream cheese until incorporated. Let chill for about 20 minutes while you clean up, then form into small balls. Chill the balls before dipping in melted white or semi-sweet chocolate. Then decorate. Easy, easy. The hardest part of this recipe is keeping your family from eating them up before your party!

There's nothing low calorie about this recipe, but I did use reduced-fat Oreos as well as reduced fat cream cheese, or Neufchatel. I can promise you no one noticed the drop in fat.

Cake Balls are made with three ingredients: a cake mix, cake frosting and melted chocolate. There are so many possible combinations of flavors: carrot cake or spice cake mix and cream cheese frosting; lemon cake mix with lemon frosting; or a Funfetti cake mix full of sprinkles with vanilla frosting.

For this column, I chose a red velvet cake mix and cream cheese frosting. The idea for cake balls is similar to Oreo truffles. You make the cake according to package directions. Once it's cooled, you break it into crumbs; I used a fork and my fingers to do this. Then mix in almost a whole can of cream cheese frosting. I chilled this mixture in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. I used my small cookie scoop and hands to form these balls. After the cake balls stayed in the freezer for an hour or so, I poured on the chocolate.

I'm not an expert at dipping candies and cakes in chocolate. I alternated between rolling the balls in the chocolate (which leaves crumbs in the chocolate) to just spooning the chocolate over the balls.

I made a big mess with these two recipes, but I thought the results were worth it.

I made both recipes in one afternoon and had both white and semi-sweet chocolate to work with. My family preferred the semi-sweet chocolate. The cake or cookie crumbs don't show through!

Cake Balls
  • 1 box cake mix, prepared according to package directions (I used red velvet and made in 9X13 glass dish.)
  • 1 container cake frosting (I used cream cheese frosting.)
  • 2 packages (8 squares each) semi-sweet chocolate, melted or white chocolate or one of each (I used Baker’s.)
  • Sprinkles for decoration
Make cake according to package directions; cool. Using fork and your hands, crumble cake into large bowl. With a spoon or mixer, stir in a can of frosting, reserving about 1/4 cup. If your mixture is too dry, add in remaining 1/4 cup. Chill mixture for 20-30 minutes.

Using a small cookie scoop or your hands, form into balls. Place balls onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or waxed paper. Chill in freezer for at least 90 minutes.

Melt chocolate according to package directions. Dip chilled cake balls into melted chocolate or pour chocolate over balls. Once the chocolate has set, decorate with opposite color chocolate drizzle and seasonal sprinkles.

Oreo Truffles
  • 1 package Oreos (reserve 6-7 for topping)
  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese (I used reduced fat.)
  • 2 packages semi-sweet chocolate, melted
Crumble Oreos, reserving a few to crumble for the topping. Use a food processor or pastry blender to make the crumbs. With an electric mixer, mix in cream cheese.

Chill crumb mixture in refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Using a small cookie scoop make balls. Once mixture is in scoop, use thumb to pack. This leaves a flat bottom. If you want it round, use hands to make a ball. Place balls on cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Let chill in refrigerator or freezer for about 30 minutes.

Melt chocolate according to package directions. Dip balls in chocolate or spoon chocolate over the balls. Sprinkle cookie crumbs on balls; add colored sprinkles if desired.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 4 dozen.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Look close to home for role models

The whole Tiger Woods scandal has prompted more than a little discussion at my house.
It’s made us pause to question why we respect people we haven’t even met. And it’s made us ponder why people in the public eye do the things they do.
My daughter, Anna, who’s 15, has been right in the middle of these talks with her dad and me and has weighed in with her opinion. Our conversations have led to tough questions: Why would a husband cheat on his wife, and, in effect, his children? Why did he think he could get away with it? Should his wife take him back, if indeed he has had affairs for so many months — years, in fact?
I told my daughter that I have friends who have worked through infidelity in a marriage. But it’s been a short fling, a one-time indiscretion in most cases. Not that I condone that, I told her, because I do not. But the couple found a way to work it out and move on. I’m not sure I could do that, I shared, but others can.
But Tiger Woods’ case is different. And at 15, she’s old enough and wise enough to see the difference. She’s also old enough to see the craziness in a wife accepting a large amount of money to live in the same mansion as a cheating husband. Is there really a mansion large enough for them both?
I’ve also been alarmed to hear myself say I don’t blame her for hitting him, if that rumor is to be believed. In fact, I was glad to know she had given him hell. But that’s not the right response. Domestic violence is wrong no matter the trigger. But I said it, and I rooted for Elin.
Anna brought up another point in our conversations. Her grandpa, who died in March, loved Tiger Woods and followed his career. He enjoyed watching Tiger play golf and thought a lot of him. Grandpa, she said, would have been so disappointed in Tiger Woods. It made Anna even more disgusted with Woods because he would have disappointed Grandpa.
So what’s the lesson in this? What do I want Anna and her brother to learn from Tiger Woods’ “indiscretions”?
I want them to find role models close to home. I want them to remember how much their grandpa loved their grandmother. How he dressed her and made her meals and drove her places as long as his body and mind would let him. And how after that, he sat on the sofa beside her and held her hand and told us over and over how much he loved her, how she was still his sweetheart.
I want them to think of their paternal grandmother, who was widowed almost 40 years ago, who dated some afterwards but never found anyone else to replace the beau of her youth.
I hope they’ll emulate their great aunts and uncles, who are in their 80s and still looking after each other, the next door neighbor, who still pines for her husband more than 10 years after his death.
And, of course, their own parents. I hope my husband and I can serve as the role models they deserve. I hope by talking to them about our opinions on infidelity that they realize their dad and I are devoted to each other and have no intention of breaking our marriage vows.
In the long run, I think we all must realize that celebrity “heroes” are human. We have no idea what goes on in their lives once the camera’s glare is turned off. So instead of looking to them for some sort of model to live our life, we should look at those we really know for guidance. They are the people who won’t let us down.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Plenty of cakes in this cookbook

"The Cake Mix Doctor Returns" by Anne Byrn. Workman. 502 pages. $15.95.

Over the years, I've cooked many cakes and whipped up quite a few frostings courtesy of Anne Byrn.

Byrn is the author of the "The Cake Mix Doctor" cookbooks. And her latest, "The Cake Mix Doctor Returns," is packed full of recipes that made my mouth water just reading them. There are 160 new cake recipes and 23 frostings. That's a lot of dessert! If you're still looking for a Christmas gift for the cook on your list, I highly recommend this book.

As with the other titles in her series, this latest book starts off with a small color photograph of each of the recipes in the book. So before I even got to the first recipe, I was wishing I could taste Fresh Orange Birthday Cake, Toffee Cake, Pink Lemonade Party Cake or perhaps something pretty called Houdini Bars.

As with her other books, Byrn gives suggestions for making better cakes from how to choose a cake mix to choosing a substitute if you're all out of buttermilk.

She also talks about making her desserts healthier. Over the years, Byrn has been trimming down the fatty, high-calorie ingredients in some of her creations, all of which start with a box of cake mix. Now she finds herself using low-fat or no-fat cream cheese for some recipes and cuts the amount of oil in others. Some recipes in this book are lightened versions of old favorites.

Byrn's newest book is divided into several categories with recipes for Bundt cakes, sheet cakes, layer cakes, bars, pound cakes, brownies, cupcakes, muffins, cookies and frostings. There's even a wedding cake!

Cooks should have no trouble choosing a cake for the family, one to take to a church gathering or a fancier cake for a special birthday.

How about Tiramisu Cake, Cookies and Cream Cheesecake, A Better Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake or Cake Mix Cinnamon Rolls? The cinnamon roll recipe came for Byrn's media escort in Minneapolis when the author was on tour with her first cookbook, which was published 10 years ago.

I had a hard time choosing which cake to try first, but I decided on Chocolate Chip Layer Cake. Only recently have I overcome my fear of layer cakes, so I was ready to impress my family with this effort. And impressed they were. Everyone in the house loved this cake and begged me to make a second one this weekend. I obliged. The second one wasn't as pretty as the first one, but no one seemed to mind.

My daughter, Anna, suggested we warm each slice of cake in the microwave for 6 seconds before eating. This leaves the chocolate chips gooey and the frosting the perfect creamy texture.

I opted to use a different recipe for my cake, which I've included here.

Chocolate Chip Layer Cake
  • 1 package (12 oz.) miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 package (18.25) yellow cake mix
  • 1 package (3.4 oz.) vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 1 cup milk (I used 1 percent)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
Place rack in center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist two 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable oil spray, then dust them with flour. Shake out the excess flour and set the pans aside.

Measure 1/4 cup of the miniature chocolate chips and set these aside for garnish, if desired.

Place the cake mix, pudding mix, milk, oil, vanilla and eggs is a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients are incorporated, 30 to 45 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until combined, about 11/2 minutes longer. Fold in the remaining 11/2 cups chocolate chips. Divide the cake batter evenly between the 2 prepared cake pans, smoothing the tops with the rubber spatula. Place the pans in the oven side by side.

Bake the cake layers until they are golden brown and the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, 33 to 37 minutes. Transfer the cake pans to wire racks and let the cake layers cool for 10 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edge of each cake layer and give the pans a good shake to loosen the cakes. Invert each layer onto a wire rack, then invert it again onto another rack so that the cakes are right side up. Let the layers cool completely, 20 minutes or longer.

To assemble the cake, transfer one layer, right side up, to a serving platter. Spread the top with a generous portion of the frosting. Place the second layer, right side up, on top of the first and frost the top and side of the cake, working with smooth, clean strokes. Sprinkle with reserved 1/4 cup chocolate chips over the cake, when the frosting has just been spread so that the chocolate chips will stick to the top of the cake.

Chocolate Frosting
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Stir or mix butter and cocoa until well blended. Add milk and vanilla and stir. Gradually add in confectioners’ sugar for desired consistency. Frosting should be thick but spreadable.

“The Cake Doctor Returns”
(This is how I prepared it, using my frosting recipe.)

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (don’t use low-fat or no-fat versions)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Place the butter and cream cheese in a medium-size bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Stop the machine. Add the cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar, a bit at a time, beating with the mixer on low speed until the confectioners’ sugar is well incorporated, 1 minute. Add the vanilla, then increase the mixer speed to medium and beat the frosting until fluffy, 1 minute longer. Use the frosting at once.

“The Cake Mix Doctor Returns”
(This is the frosting Anne Bryn uses with her Chocolate Chip Layer Cake)