Tag Archives: chocolate

Tar Heel Pie

Tar Heel pie

It feels appropriate to revive the blog with a recipe called “Tar Heel Pie.” I imagine the name has something to do with its North Carolinian origins, if not its fudgey consistency that could be considered tar-like if you were into making such unappetizing comparisons. Basically, imagine a flaky pie crust. Now imagine that pie crust filled with a pecan-laden brownie. That’s Tar Heel pie. (And you thought that particular food fantasy would never be realized. Silly you!)

I know I tend to get hyperbolic with some regularity, but this pie, after only one baking attempt and three tastings, is officially in my top 5 favorite desserts of all time. If you are planning on inviting me to any kind of event in the next few months, I will likely bring this pie. If you are not planning on inviting me to your event, more for me.

My recipe came from my dear friend Nancie McDermott, who has written an entire book about Southern pies. Check out the recipe here — I followed the recipe exactly, so no reason to paste it here!

Rather than using a store-bought crust, which I couldn’t find in a form that involved real butter, I made my own. It’s totally unnecessary, but I had a rainy day to kill. What better way to spend it than whipping up some pastry dough?

Single Pie Crust
Makes one 9-inch pie crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled and diced
1/4 cup ice water

1) In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. You can then either cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, or grate in the butter using a cheese grater and mix into the flour and salt. (I typically freeze the butter first, then grate it, then freeze it again for a few minutes so that it stays really cold.)
3) Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
4) Roll dough out to fit a 9 inch pie plate. Place crust in pie plate. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Finish with a crimped or scalloped edge.

Advertisements

nestMeg’s First Birthday: Celebrate with Chocolate Cake

Wow. I can hardly believe a year has passed since I began this whole food blogging endeavor.

In that time, I have experienced some of the most defining moments of my life: Figuring out, with all the certainty a 22-year-old can possess, what I want to doGraduating from college. Moving to another country. Monumental moments that happened beyond the promising comfort of my kitchen–yet that was the place from which I drew my strength and sought my inspiration.

I started this blog to hold myself accountable in the kitchen. To learn how to be self-sufficient. I also learned, inadvertently, how to take risks. Within the confines of my apartment, I combined rosemary and peanut butter into a pie. (I know, I live on the edge.) But outside, I quit obligations that no longer resonated with me. I pursued passions that did. In lieu of accepting a job straight after graduation, I opted to take one last hiatus.

For some, these decisions are easily made. For me, they require deliberation akin to that of our current Congress. But I want to be the kind of person who trusts her instincts, and so I’ve expanded my risk-taking beyond the kitchen and into the real world. It’s the only way to increase one’s repertoire. And if I burn the hummus? Or make a fool of myself? Well, I can take comfort in knowing that, whatever the outcome, I learned more than I would have sitting on the couch and watching three seasons of Skins. (Not that that behavior isn’t totally acceptable sometimes.)

Then again, this chocolate cake recipe is hardly risky, unless one considers the lengths my siblings and I went to in order to eat this cake outside of permissible hours. It’s not the kind of cake you forget is lying in your kitchen, waiting. It’s the kind of cake that demands attention until the last bite has been consumed. Personally, my preferred method of extra cake attainment was running my finger around the perimeter of the pan, gathering up frosting like a snow plow, then dipping it into the cake crumbs from slices past, before licking my finger clean. Then, I’d smush the unaffected frosting down to cover my misdeed.

As you can probably guess, my stealth was no match for my mother.

And the three-year-old hand you see featured in the first picture above? I’m pretty sure the body attached to it was contemplating a similar covert operation. It runs in the family.

Speaking of family, I want to thank you, my blog family. Without your support, I’d be just another not-so-starving writer. I hope you’ll stick with me in year 2 — won’t you?

Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake:
Makes one 9 x 13 cake
3 1-ounce unsweetened chocolate baking squares (or 9 tablespoons cocoa and 3 tablespoons butter)
1/3 cup water (omit water if using cocoa and butter instead of baking squares)
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup water

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place baking squares and 1/3 cup water into a microwave-safe bowl. (If using cocoa, skip to step 2.) Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until the chocolate has melted fully. Set aside to let cool.
2) Cream butter in a bowl (including the 3 tablespoons for the cocoa, if you’re not using baking squares), then add brown sugar. Stir until well-incorporated, then add eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
3) Once the melted chocolate has cooled, stir into the butter and sugar mixture. If using cocoa instead, combine cocoa.
4) Stir in flour and baking soda, alternating with the 1 cup of water. Pour batter into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
5) Once the cake has cooled, frost with your favorite buttercream recipe. I used this buttercream frosting recipe, but omitted the mint and added a few tablespoons of cocoa.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (According to Cookie Connoisseurs)

For years, I’ve been considering whether my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe was, well, wrong. That the whole time I’d pledged allegiance to the original Toll House classic, out there existed another cookie recipe that was superior in chocolate content, chewiness and cookie dough consumption potential.

For that reason, I decided to host a chocolate chip cookie tasting. I carefully selected the recipes and not-so-carefully selected the judges, culminating in an afternoon of sugary, buttery, chocolatey goodness and 120 cookies in my kitchen. (I know. I should have halved the recipes.) The judges were given index cards on which to rank each of the three cookie recipes on a scale of 1 through 5, 1 being the worst and 5 being the best.

The cookies were ranked on the following criteria:

  • Chewy-to-Soft Ratio
  • Cookie-to-Chocolate Ratio
  • Salt Content
  • Milk Dippability
  • Thickness
  • Taste of Cookie Dough

I also asked the judges what their favorite cookie was overall and, if each cookie was a celebrity, which celebrity it would be.

First, let’s meet the judges. In the interest of parallel structure, their biographies consist of where they attend(ed) college. (I like to think I achieved diversity by drawing from UNC and Duke. It’s reassuring to know that being in the same geographical area isn’t our only commonality. We all love cookies.)

Rachel: UNC graduate
Cookie preference: A

Ryan: UNC graduate
Cookie preference: B

Gwynne: UNC graduate
Cookie preference: A

Melissa: Duke graduate
Cookie preference: A

Lauren: Duke student
Cookie preference: B

Me, Meghan: UNC student
Cookie preference: between A & B (my blog, my rules!)

As you can see, the race was a close one. Cookies A & B were quite similar in their ingredient ratios, but not quite. Check out each cookie’s profile below.

Cookie A: The Tollhouse Original
Ranking:

  • chewy-to-soft ratio–3.9
  • cookie-to-chocolate ratio–2.8
  • salt content–3.1
  • milk dippability–4.2
  • thickness–4.6
  • taste of cookie dough–4
  • overall–3.78
Celebrity Equivalent: Julia Roberts

Cookie B: Martha Stewart Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ranking:

  • chewy-to-soft ratio–4.4
  • cookie-to-chocolate ratio–4
  • salt content–3
  • milk dippability–3.9
  • thickness–4.1
  • taste of cookie dough–4.1
  • overall–3.9
Celebrity Equivalent: Dakota Fanning

Cookie C: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ranking:

  • chewy-to-soft ratio–2.1
  • cookie-to-chocolate ratio–3.5
  • salt content–3
  • milk dippability–3.4
  • thickness–2.2
  • taste of cookie dough–1.6
  • overall–2.6
Celebrity Equivalent: Snooki

As you can see, our results were inconclusive. Cookie B won in rankings, but the majority of judges preferred Cookie A. I felt bad for Cookie C, because I wanted to believe that the extra step (browning the butter) would be somehow redeeming. Rachel said it was “trying too hard.” Naturally, I have to try making it again, just to be sure I didn’t mess up royally during the production process.

I’d say that if you like a chewier cookie, go for B. If you like a softer cookie, go for A. Melissa also wavered between A and B, but said that A had “some magical superiority” that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. If you like your cookie GTL-style, go for C.

As for the The New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe, I decided that, in the interest of maintaining some semblance of a budget on this blog and in my life, spending $20+ on Valrhona chocolate discs contradicted my food and finance principles  (food is worth the investment, but let’s not get crazy). Also, a lady I met while contemplating the Valrhona chocolate at Whole Foods declared the cookies “nothing special.”

Ultimately, I’ve learned that sometimes, all you need is a little tweak to the original to keep things interesting. Change the ingredient ratio, change the type of chocolate, bake the cookies a bit longer, etc. Like music. (“American Pie” album version versus live version is all well and good, but never, ever the Madonna cover.)

Like life, in fact. Tweaking ourselves in the quest for self-improvement, but still maintaining our original integrity, our core beliefs, our buttery-sweet goodness. Never compromise on that. (And always use real butter.)

Gluten-Free (or not) Individual Chocolate Lava Cakes

As I alluded to two weeks ago, I went on a cruise last week for spring break. (The biscotti traveled beautifully, by the way. Eating it kept me awake since I drove the whole way myself.)

The cruise itself consisted of an amusing combination of college students seeking to stay drunk for the duration of the trip, families trying to entertain rowdy children, and retirees attempting to make dents in their hefty retirement savings.

I fancied myself an observer, although I cannot deny my obvious association with the former group. I remember everything about our trip, though, which is more than I can say for most of the spring breakers.

I also had the opportunity to serve as a food tester and reviewer for the benefit of my vegan friend. I identified questionable ingredients to ensure that she maintained her vegan purity, and I generously described foods that she couldn’t actually consume.

Cruise food, in case you’re wondering, will lead to hypertension when consumed in large quantities. There was so much salt I began wondering if the chefs rinsed everything in sea water. Also, nearly all of the baked goods came from boxed mixes, which my tastebuds can detect almost instantly.

One of the best desserts on the cruise was a molten cake. Unfortunately, I made my own right before the trip, so I knew what potential a cake can possess when it is made individually, left under-baked and topped with vanilla ice cream. The cruise version paled in comparison.

I made these with my friend who has a wheat allergy (my friends have quite a diverse set of palates and dietary needs), but these cakes don’t have to be gluten-free. Still trying to work out how to make them vegan, though…

Recipe from here. Yum.

Gluten-Free (or not) Individual Chocolate Lava Cakes:
Serves 2
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
5 ounces dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
Large pinch of sea salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon flour (or gluten-free flour–we used Bisquick gluten-free baking mix)

1) Preheat the oven to 450. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double broiler (I create my own double broiler by putting a metal bowl over a boiling pot of water, making sure that the hot water doesn’t actually touch the base of the bowl) or melt everything in the microwave. Add sea salt.
2) Meanwhile, beat together the egg, egg yolks, and sugar with a whisk or an electric beater until light and slightly foamy.
3) Add the egg mixture to the warm chocolate; whisk quickly to combine. Add flour and stir just to combine. The batter will be quite thick.
4) Butter small ramekins and divide the batter evenly among the ramekins.
5) Bake for about 7 minutes if you want a little cake and a lot of lava. Bake for longer if you want the opposite.
6) To serve, place a plate on top of the ramekin and flip. Then place another plate on what is actually the bottom of the cake and flip again. Melt a little more chocolate to drizzle on top, or add hot fudge sauce. Serve with ice cream.

Almond Chocolate Chip Biscotti

If the trip takes less than 15 hours in the car, my family drives.

It’s a thrifty decision that never fails to irk me, since I love plane rides and loathe sitting in the car for long durations of time. And yet, as I get older, I find myself willing to drive farther and farther distances in the pursuit of saving money. Being a prudent traveler is encoded in my DNA, apparently.

This spring break is no exception. My friends and I are driving down to Ft. Lauderdale to participate in what appears to be some sort of senior-spring-break rite of passage: going on a cruise.

Of course, my immediate thought upon learning that I would be driving the 12-or-so hours southbound was “What should we eat to pass the time?”

The answer is constantly laying on my family’s kitchen countertop: biscotti. My mom has been on what can only be described as a biscotti kick. Every time I come home, there’s a new variation, a new flavor addiction to form and then try to combat with other dippable foods.

This technique rarely works, and I end up finishing whatever biscotti my other family members did not consume between breakfast and dessert.

No doubt that these biscotti would’ve turned my teenage angst/resentment toward having to drive all the way to upstate New York into something resembling appeasement.

Almond Chocolate Chip Biscotti:
Makes 36 pieces
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup almonds, roasted and chopped
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon orange rind (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet, or line with a Silpat.
2) In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the almond extract.
3) Add the flour and baking powder and stir until just blended. Mix in almonds, chocolate chips and orange rind.
4) On the baking sheet, shape the dough into two 10-inch long by 3-inch wide loaves, a little more than 1/2-inch in thickness. Keep a few inches of space between the loaves. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until set. Cool for seven or so minutes. (The loaves don’t crumble as much when they’re cut still warm.) Cut the loaves into 1/2-inch slices with a serrated knife.
5) Lower oven heat to 300 degrees. Place biscotti slices back on baking sheet, one of the cut sides facing up, and bake for five minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, flip the biscotti, and bake for another five minutes. Let biscotti cool before placing in an airtight container.

Chocolate Coconut Crispies

Laura won my giveaway–here she is with the prize:

Two dozen chocolate coconut crispies.

Every family has one dessert that inspires such excitement that every member is willing to sneak into the kitchen for a peek, even at the risk of being assigned dish duty.

This cookie recipe is that dessert at my house.

We’ve affectionately deemed them “crack” cookies. (Actually, there are several cookie recipes that we’ve determined are worthy of the title, which can get confusing if one doesn’t specify which “crack cookie” recipe is being referred to.)

Regardless of where we are in the house, we come trailing in for a taste of the dough. For this reason, I imagine, my mom has always doubled the recipe.

We return to our respective posts briefly, ears perked for the sound of the timer beeping promisingly. Then, the accompanying springing noise of my mother returning her recliner to its original position, her footfall from living room to kitchen, her careful removal of the baking sheet from the oven.

We rush casually from our rooms, pour generous glasses of cold milk, and dive in.

Divine.

Chocolate Coconut Crispies:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup brown packed sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and cooled**
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut

1) Preheat oven to 350. Beat softened butter in a bowl, then add both sugars and beat for two minutes. Add egg and beat until creamy.
2) Pour in melted chocolate. (**You can also use cocoa: three tablespoons of cocoa and one tablespoon of butter for every ounce of baking chocolate needed.)
3) Stir in flour, baking powder and baking soda until just combined. Add oats and coconut.
4) Drop slightly rounded teaspoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes and let cool briefly on the pans before removing to a storage container.

Hot Fudge Sauce

So, let’s say it’s a Monday night. It’s 9 o’clock. You’re tired. You just left your amusing, but still mentally draining, three-hour course on the abysmal state of public education in this country.

You attempt to open your car door and are cruelly rebuffed. That’s when you realize that someone has hit it, while parked, at just the right angle to effectively prevent you from entering your car through the driver’s side door. A fender bender, to be sure.

You’re charmed. You slide into your seat through the passenger side, drive to campus police, file a report.

If you have dinner plans the next night, hot fudge sauce should be very deliberately added to the menu.

While photographing the hot fudge sauce in its pretty Bell jar the following day, you realize you’ve taken a self-portrait in its reflective glass surface. How appropriate.

You might also make and eat this hot fudge sauce if you’ve decided to spend February re-toxing. It’s chocolate month, anyway. Might as well make it count.

You might also eat this hot fudge sauce if you’ve been very, very good lately and have consumed 3+ green lentil “burgers” in a two-day span.

Recipe from the Italian momma of pizza and pesto fame. I’ll be sure to thank her for you.

Hot Fudge Sauce:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 squares/ounces of unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup (6 ounces) evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1) Melt butter over low heat in a small saucepan. When butter has melted, add chocolate and combine thoroughly until chocolate is melted.
2) Add sugar and milk, alternating while stirring. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and add vanilla.
3) Serve over ice cream. Store in refrigerator and reheat to serve.