chocolate cake

Even though I’ve used the same chocolate cake recipe dozens of times, we didn’t have luck the last time we made it into cupcakes (see my daughter’s post), though that was most likely due to the baking powder/baking soda switch.

Because I’ve usually had great success with other Hershey’s chocolate recipes, today I searched their site for a chocolate cake recipe that included only ingredients I had on hand (my weekly trip to the grocery store is not until tomorrow, and I was not going to make a special trip just for one recipe). Found one they call Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake. I made just one small change to it, by substituting 1/3 cup milk for 1/3 cup water (the cup of water stayed the same). Why? Not really sure … it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

The batter was fluffy and looked delicious, though when the two round cakes came out of the oven, they weren’t as high as I expected. Also, the recipe called for a baking time of 30 to 35 minutes, but it took a bit over 35 minutes until the toothpick I inserted at each test came out clean.

I frosted it with chocolate frosting. After dinner we cut into the cake. I asked everyone at the table to tell me what they thought. Here are the responses:

“Moist!”

“MMMMMMMM…. so moist.”

“Yum! It’s so moist!”

I think we’ve found our new favorite chocolate cake recipe! And just so you know, it’s very moist.

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Chocolate Cake

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 2/3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 eggs

2/3 cup cocoa

2 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water + 1/3 cup milk (or use 1 1/3 cups water)

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Heat oven to 350F.

Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans, or use silicone baking liners (my preference).

Mix together the softened butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs.

In a bowl combine the dry ingredients.

Add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture the dry ingredients with the water and milk — a little of each at a time — until all mixed together well.

Distribute evenly between the two cake pans.

ready for the oven

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pans for 10 minutes.

Remove from pans and cool cakes completely on wire racks.

Frost and serve.

whoopie pies

There are a few baked goods that instantly remind me of my youth.

apple pie

picnic cake

chocolate chip cookies

whoopie pies

Ahhh, whoopie pies. I grew up thinking these were a southern favorite, since my mom made them and she was from the south (the northern part of the south, but still). It was just recently that I learned they originated in New England, where I’m from. No wonder the love I have for them is so deep!

Now this recipe was given to me from my mom when I begged for it years ago, but as I’ve mentioned, my mom has a gazillion trillion recipes and this may not be the one she made when we were younger. Also, I’ve typed it up and transferred it from one recipe card to another a few different times, and I’m pretty sure I typed it wrong at least once. Also, the original recipe listed solid shortening, but I never use that, therefore my version used butter instead. So over time I experimented with the recipe until I became satisfied that it was ready to pass on to my kids. Below is the version I use now, and it does bring back many wonderful childhood memories!

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Whoopie Pies

Cookies:

5 tablespoons butter, softened (not melted)

1 cup sugar

1 egg

5 tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups flour

1 cup milk (I use whole milk, but 2% would be fine)

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Heat oven to 425F.

In mixer, beat butter with sugar. Add egg. Add dry ingredients. Mix slowly while adding the milk. Mix well to combine (scrape sides of bowl a few times).

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets, or cookie sheets lined with parchment paper (my favorite choice) or silicone baking sheets. Try to keep them uniform in size and shape. They will spread a bit, so keep some space between each one.

Bake at 425F for 9 minutes. Let sit on cookie sheet for 1 minute, then transfer (carefully!) to cooking rack. Allow to cool completely.

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Filling:

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened (not melted!)

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

about 8 ounces marshmallow cream (I purchase the 16 ounce container and spoon out what looks to be half. When I purchase the 7 ounce container, I use the whole thing.)

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In mixer, cream together the butter, powdered sugar, and salt. Add the vanilla extract and marshmallow cream. Mix well and scrape the sides a few times.

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When the cookies are completely cool, plop a heaping tablespoon of the filling on one cookie, then top with the second  cookie.

Eat. Enjoy. Create wonderful memories!

 

Updated June 2014: I tried a new recipe for these and was not thrilled. They turned out too fluffy and BIG. Had to cut them in half before filling them, rather than using one for the top and one for the bottom. Won’t use that recipe again! Sticking with mine. Below are some pictures from this new batch.

foodwithpictures whoopie pies (1) foodwithpictures whoopie pies (5)

meals to go

Having a meal delivered when you need it most is a wonderful gift.

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For the past four years I’ve belonged to a local mother’s group, which is very active in scheduling meals for moms who need the help. Usually that’s due to the birth of a child, but also if the mom has surgery (as I did two years ago), or if she or a family member are undergoing medical treatments, or if there is a death in the family, or for any special needs that arise in a family.

Having been on the receiving end of these wonderful gifts of meals, I know what a relief and help it is to have food to feed your family when you are not able to make a meal. Whenever possible, I now pay-it-forward by making meals for others in need.

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From all these meals I’ve delivered, and from those received, I’ve learned a lot about this process. Here are some hints and suggestions. If the opportunity arises for you to bring a meal to a friend, I hope you will find this information useful.

  • Take into consideration the ages of the children in the family. If the children are young, don’t include onions or garlic. Stay away from spicy dishes. Usually casseroles for little ones don’t tend to go over well. A safe bet would be a simple meat (roast chicken or sauteed chicken breasts, a beef roast, etc.), a veggie side, and potatoes or rice or pasta. Yes, there are children that will eat anything (my oldest) but I’ve learned that for every one of those type children, there are two that are super picky (my two youngest).
  • Don’t be adventurous. This is not the time to try a new recipe or experiment. I’ve made this mistake twice (I know, I know… I should have learned my lesson after the first disaster!). Usually I have luck with new recipes, but the two times I tried new ones, both for moms that had just had babies, the recipes failed big time, but I realized this too late. If I had known before sending over the meals, I would have tossed them in the trash and ordered pizzas. From this I’ve learned it’s best to pick a meal you’re comfortable making — one that you know will turn out well. Save the experimenting for your own family.
  • Vegetables are a must, of course, but it’s so hard to know what the family members will or will not eat, without bothering them by going down the list of every possible veggie. I’d suggest making a simple steamed veggie mix — for example, broccoli and carrots. The children may not eat both, but chances are they’ll eat one of the two. In addition, bringing a baggie of cleaned and cut raw carrots and cucumbers and other good crunchy veggies may satisfy those that don’t like cooked vegetables. Maybe even a bottle of your favorite ranch salad dressing for dipping them into.
  • Everything should be in disposable containers. Easier said than done, I know, especially when cooking in those foil pans is less than ideal. Lately I’ve started cooking the food in my baking dishes, then I transfer it over to a disposable container. Reduces space in their fridge as well, since by doing that I can put the meat with the potatoes and veggies in one dish, rather than sending over three separate containers.
  • Consider including fruit. It’s a great option for those picky youngsters who might not eat veggies, and can be served with breakfast the next day — for the mom in need, or any family member. For a simple fruit salad I like to cut up a couple crisp apples and a pear, and toss in some berries. When doing this I coat the pieces of fruit with about a tablespoon or so of orange juice so that the apples don’t turn brown. If I add a banana and berries to the mix, I don’t toss the fruit salad before sending it over, since the berries and banana slices could end up under the heavier apple pieces and get squished. Instead I layer the fruit starting with the apples on the bottom and end with the berries and banana on top. Strawberries with pineapple chunks is a simple combo that is a favorite of mine as well. Of course, a large bag of cleaned grapes or a few oranges would be welcome too.
  • A very thoughtful addition to the meal being delivered would be muffins or something similar for the family to enjoy at breakfast the next day. This doesn’t have to be homemade (but I do have some recipes to suggestthis thisthis) — a store bought baked good or half a dozen bagels with cream cheese would work well. Or if you live near a donut shop, you could pick up a half dozen for the family.
  • Desserts are usually appreciated (though sometimes not — for example, if the meals are due to a serious health issue where desserts would be frowned upon). When making a dessert for another family, I highly suggest staying away from anything with nuts (all nuts… not just peanuts). So many people have nut allergies and it’s advised that younger children shouldn’t have nut pieces until they reach a certain age. There is a family I made cookies for once, and I knew the kids (teenagers) didn’t have any food allergies, so I went ahead and tossed on some crushed walnuts. When I delivered the meal I told them about the nuts, just to be sure, and found out the dad has a walnut allergy. I felt terrible that I hadn’t thought to ask if the parents had any food allergies. From that point on, my new rule is no nuts. Period.
  • Portion control is important. If the family is getting meals delivered every other day, I suggest sending over enough food for 1 1/2 meals. If you double everything, and some of the family members don’t like it (hey, it happens), that’s a lot of food to deal with when dinner is done. And maybe they also have meals from neighbors or church friends or work buddies. Sometimes the food can be overwhelming and there just isn’t room to store it all if it can’t be eaten the day it’s delivered. So I suggest sending over just enough for that one meal, or a bit extra for them to eat for lunch the next day. If meals are being delivered daily, stick with just enough for the one meal.
  • Don’t expect a thank you. I know, I know, that’s a tough one. I’m a stickler for what is now considered the old fashioned written thank you note, but when I was recovering from surgery, I had just enough energy and brain power to log onto email every few days. It was much easier for me to send a quick email, letting them know the meal was received and enjoyed and appreciated.  If I waited until I felt well enough to write a heartfelt note, I may have forgotten who gave which meal and would have surely missed someone.
  • Finally, let’s say you don’t love to cook. Or you don’t have time. Or you are worried the family won’t like your style of cooking. You could send a pizza with a large salad from a local restaurant. Or pick up a rotisserie chicken and a few side salads and fruit from the grocery store. Another option would be a few subs (or submarine sandwiches, grinders, hoagies, — whatever you call them!), or deli meats and cheeses with hearty rolls, a salad, some chips and fruit. Anything that would help the family — it doesn’t have to be homemade.

Do you have any suggestions or hints for delivering meals to a family in need? Please share in the comments section!

crockpot roast with potatoes and carrots in tomato sauce

Beef in the crockpot is really the only way I can cook beef (other than hamburgers) to know for sure it will turn out well.

I’ve posted my recipes for crockpot roast beef and crockpot chuck roast with tomato sauce. Today I decided to combine the two by including the potatoes and carrots, as well as the tomatoes. I’ve even come up with the unique, creative name of “crockpot beef — #3”. Catchy, isn’t it?

*Note: This has been edited to change the name of the recipe. I did this because with the old name it was hard to locate the recipe when using the search field.

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Crockpot Roast With Potatoes And Carrots In Tomato Sauce

vegetable oil or olive oil

chuck roast

1/2 cup water or beef broth

1 can (28-ounce) Roma tomatoes

4 white potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half

6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon dried basil

salt and pepper

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Heat oil in large pan and cook meat on all sides — about 2-3 minutes per side — over medium heat. Remove meat from pan and place in the crockpot.

Turn off the heat under the pan. Drain the oil and fat from the pan and add the water (or beef stock) to deglaze the pan. Pour this liquid over the meat in the crcokpot.

Add the tomatoes to the crockpot. (Note: Drain the can of tomatoes if you’d prefer less liquid in the final result.)

Add the potatoes and carrots to the crockpot.

Season it all with the basil, salt and pepper.

Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours or high for at least 4 hours.

*Edited to add the potatoes and carrots into the recipe. Just realized they weren’t listed … oops!

hidden kisses cookies

When Christmas comes around, I make a lot of cookies. Perfect time of the year for it, and there are so many fun recipes that show up online and in magazines around that time.

Today as I was wondering what type of cookies to make for a friend, I came across my Christmastime cookie recipes and realized I don’t need to wait eight months to make these … they’ll taste just as good in April as they do in December.

I decided on a recipe that was super easy to make, but since I didn’t have any cocoa in the house, I omitted that. And you know what? I think I like them better without the cocoa!

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Hidden Kisses Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened … not melted

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour (I used white whole wheat)

1/4 cup cocoa OR an additional 1/4 cup flour

about 3 dozen Hershey’s Kisses, unwrapped

powdered sugar, if desired

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Heat oven to 350F.

Beat butter, sugar and vanilla in mixer until creamy.

Gradually add flour and cocoa (or just flour if not using cocoa), beating until blended. The dough will come together — that’s when you know it’s ready.

Mold a tablespoon of dough around each chocolate kiss, covering the kiss completely. Roll gently in your hands to form a ball. Place the balls on ungreased cookie sheets (or cookie sheets lines with silicone baking sheets or parchment paper).

Bake 10-12 minutes or until set. Note: The cookies will not be golden brown. If they are, you’ve cooked them too long.

Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet then transfer to a wire rack.

Allow to cool about 5 minutes (or more), then roll each one in powdered sugar, if desired.

Cool completely, then store in an air-tight container.

taco salad

My plan for dinner tonight was taco stew. While the onions and a few scallions were cooking in the oil I gathered the other necessary ingredients, starting with enchilada sauce. Well wouldn’t you know I am completely out of enchilada sauce. This astounds me, because I typically purchase at least one can each week at the grocery story. Or, I did, at one point, but then had such a stash that I stopped doing so. But I really didn’t think I’ve used them all up, yet the absence of enchilada sauce on my pantry shelves proves otherwise.

While searching frantically in the pantry, I took many items out thinking the enchilada sauce might be hiding behind bulky items. I found half a package of taco shells. Some really nice organic yellow corn taco shells that I had forgotten I had.

Hmmmm… this got me thinking. I could switch from taco stew to tacos. Sure! That would work.

But I didn’t want tacos, mainly because I get frustrated when the taco shells break at the first bite.

Okay, the other ingredients could be a salad and the broken taco shells can go on top…. voila! … taco salad!

After eating a large bowl of this salad, I was shocked that I don’t make this more often. So good. So easy. Ridiculously simple. I will be putting this meal into the rotation more often. And I will be adding enchilada sauce to my grocery list … for next time!

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Taco Salad

In a skillet saute chopped onions and scallions in olive oil or canola oil. Add 1 pound ground turkey breast and cook through.

Add a few tablespoons of taco seasoning.

Lower the heat and add about 1/2 cup salsa. Stir well.

Drain 1 can black beans, and add to the skillet. Stir well and cover.

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In a bowl start with cleaned and chopped romaine lettuce.

Add chopped tomatoes.

Add a large scoop of the meat and bean mixture.

Crush one taco shell and put that in the bowl.

Top it all off with shredded Mexican cheese and a scoop of sour cream.

Enjoy… dinner is done!

fettuccine alfredo with chicken and asparagus

As a teen I babysat a lot. There were a couple of the moms that would hire me to help when they had parties, to prep the food and set up and to clean up afterward. One lovely lady, Alice, entertained often, and I enjoyed helping her out with her party prior to getting the kids to bed before the party started. Her standard party food was marinated flank steak with fettuccine Alfredo. After helping her make this many times, it became my special dish. I never wrote down her recipe, and I still make this from memory. Therefore it’s not authentic, and it may be a bit different each time, but it is always quite yummy!

Over the years I’ve made it for roommates, co-workers, and it was the first dish I made for my husband, on our second date — rumor has it this is the reason he married me.  😉

Sometimes I make it with the traditional pasta, but I also like it with spinach fettuccine, as in the photos in this post. I find the taste is the same. And instead of asparagus, I often make it with broccoli — whichever looks best when I’m shopping at the store that week.

In order to make this not-so-horrible-for-your-health, I often make it with whole milk or 2% milk rather than cream. And I greatly reduce the Parmesan when doing so. But at least once a year (typically New Year’s Eve) I make the full-fat version, because sometimes you just need it the way it was intended to be.

Thanks Alice … wherever you are!

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Fettuccine Alfredo With Chicken And Asparagus

Start by boiling water for the pasta. Cook as directed on the package.

While that’s cooking, heat some olive oil in a large skillet. Cook 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts on both sides (about 3-5 minutes per side) until they’re nice and golden brown. I season them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Remove the chicken from the pan and put into the pan chopped onion, chopped garlic, and asparagus (cut into 1-inch pieces), along with about 1 tablespoon butter. (*Note: If there isn’t much liquid in the pan from cooking the chicken, add up to 1/2 cup chicken broth or few tablespoons of water if need be.) Cook this over medium heat until the asparagus are just tender.

Turn off the heat and return the chicken to the pan. Add the cooked and drained pasta to the pan as well.

If you haven’t made the sauce yet (if time permits I make mine while the chicken is cooking), cover the pan with the chicken, asparagus and pasta to keep warm while making the sauce.

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To make the Alfredo sauce:

In a small sauce pan, melt 1 stick butter over low heat.

Whisk in 1 cup cream (I use light cream, or sometimes half & half, but it can be made with heavy cream if you are willing to be totally sinful).

Add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Whisk well.

Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.

Serve.