The BEST Chocolate “Fudge” Pie

You know how you have those favorite recipes you keep in your handwritten book and make over and over again, so much so that they become as much a part of you as they were of the person who wrote them originally? This is one of those. As promised, the second of my savory and sweet pie posts, and this time it’s a fantastically easy and absolutely delicious pie of the sweet variety, the perfect dessert for all occasions.

Original recipeHere’s my go-to pie to make for holidays and company, because most everyone loves chocolate and it comes together in a snap with a pre-made pie crust or an unbaked pie shell. Yes, Chocolate Fudge Pie is indeed just what you need when the rest of the meal is troublesome or time consuming, or if you’re entertaining at the end of a busy work week, or even if you just love chocolate pie and have a craving. The pie you see here was made during the holidays…for Thanksgiving in fact, but I’m just getting around to posting. It’s such a great recipe to have in your back pocket and that’s really why I wanted to share it. Truly a recipe that deserves to live on and on.

When I first tasted this pie I was much younger. A dear family friend named Rachel served it at her home. I immediately fell in love with it, even though I’ve never been a big pie eater. Both the texture and the taste of this pie spoke to me. And even though I didn’t cook much back then, I really wanted the recipe…and I’ve been making it ever since! I was told at the time where the recipe originally came from and I believe it was either from a church cookbook or a community club cookbook from Birmingham, Alabama. Since I don’t know who to attribute it to I will call it Rachel’s pie in honor of her sharing the recipe, and I thank her as well as the original recipe creator out there, whoever you are! I guarantee if you make this, you’ll be thanking them, too.

In texture, this pie is a cross between a true chess pie and a cream pie. The pie forms a crust on top very much like a chess pie, but within lies a creamy and light, but fudge-y tasting center. Just chocolatey enough, and not too much. While it is wonderful unadorned, I like to serve mine with a little dollop of some Grand Marnier and orange zest-flavored whipped cream (mostly unsweetened) and I find that to be the perfect accompaniment. (Or a little scoop of vanilla ice cream, whatever floats your boat!)

Is this decadent? Sure. But if you share it, you can’t feel too bad about it. That’s my motto and I’m sticking to it. Live life and enjoy it!

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Note: You’ll see my cool Colonial Williamsburg pie plate was the cooking vehicle for this pie, too. See my last post for details on that.

Rachel’s Chocolate Fudge Pie
Serves 6-8

1/2 stick (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons good quality unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey’s works well.)
1 1/2 cups sugar (I use cane sugar)
2 eggs
1/2 cup evaporated milk
dash of salt, I use kosher or kosher sea salt (1/16 teaspoon is a dash of table salt, 1/8 teaspoon is a dash of kosher salt)
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract (I use Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla)
1- 9 inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Melt the butter over low heat and remove it from the heat. Stir in the cocoa powder and the sugar. Beat the 2 eggs with a whisk and stir them into the butter/sugar/cocoa mixture until well combined. Add the evaporated milk, salt and vanilla and stir to blend well. Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, then at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. (Puffed and shaky when done, it falls.) Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, Grand Marnier and orange scented whipped cream, or ice cream.

Grand Marnier and Orange Scented Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh orange zest, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Grand Marnier Liqueur

In a medium bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Add the sugar, zest and Grand Marnier. Whip another few seconds until the ingredients are combined and the cream is just beginning to stiffen. Do not overbeat. Serve a dollop on top of above pie. Stir any leftovers into coffee or hot chocolate.

Rustic Spinach, Pancetta, Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Quiche

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Not the most carefully composed nighttime shot, but a nice quiche just the same!

Sometimes pie is just the right thing for dinner or dessert. This is the first of two pie recipe posts…one savory pie and one sweet.

My spurt of pie making started when my friend Diane gave me a wonderful authentic ceramic pie plate from Colonial Williamsburg as a birthday present and I’ve been making pies with it ever since. It was the perfect vehicle for inspiring this quiche with it’s cozy colors and even clay cooking. Of course you can use any pie plate you happen to have, but I like either clay or glass pie plates for cooking a quiche.

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My very cool pie plate!

As you’ve now guessed, this first pie is savory. Quiche isn’t something I make too often, but I do enjoy a really good one. Because it has a tendency to be quite rich, I always load my quiches and frittata with lots of veggies and a little less egg than many recipes call for, and this particular pie is no exception to that rule. This winter quiche is filled with fresh spinach, tasty pancetta, wild mushrooms and caramelized onions, and makes for a very satisfying and savory meal all by itself. If you like, you can serve it with a side of very lightly dressed salad greens to balance the richness…and oh yes, a nice glass of wine!

I made my quiche with a prepared pie crust that I thawed and rolled out to save time, and also because I didn’t have any homemade pie crust on hand. You can make your quiche with a homemade crust, a prepared and ready to roll out crust or an uncooked pie shell.

This is definitely another dish in the winter comfort food category, but I really think it would be great any time of year. Enjoy!

Rustic Spinach, Pancetta, Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Quiche
4-6 servings

1 uncooked refrigerated 9-inch pie crust, rolled out and placed into a 9 inch pie plate
4 oz. pancetta, diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
5 oz. fresh baby spinach, chopped
3 oz. Shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2-3 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup gruyere or swiss cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cook the pancetta in a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat until it is cooked through and crisp. Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and place it on a paper towel to drain. Add the onions to the pancetta grease in the pan and cook on medium heat until they are translucent and begin to caramelize, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the onions from the skillet and set aside. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the skillet, then add the spinach and a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper, and cook the spinach over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until wilted and tender. Remove the spinach from the skillet and place in a fine mesh sieve to drain. Add 1-2 teaspoons more of olive oil to the same skillet and add the shiitake mushrooms. Sprinkle the mushrooms with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper, and sauté them over medium low heat until they are done and tender, about another 5-8 minutes.

Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the cooked spinach with a paper towel, and layer the spinach evenly in the bottom of the pie crust. Sprinkle the pancetta on top of the spinach, then layer the onion, mushrooms and the cheese in that order. In a blender of food processor, combine the 4 eggs, the milk, the cream, the nutmeg and another small pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Blend until well mixed. Pour the egg mixture over the top of the layered ingredients in the pie crust. Place the quiche into the oven on a center rack and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the custard is golden, puffed and set, but the center still slightly wiggles in the center. If your pie crust edges start to brown too much, cover them with foil. When the quiche is done, remove it from the oven and allow the quiche to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Cut into 4-6 wedges and serve.

Chicken, Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup…just what the doctor ordered!

bowlofsoup2I’m baaaaack!!! I hope all of you had really lovely holidays and that 2015 has been a great year for you so far!

I apologize for the radio silence for so long, as even with taking some time off for the holidays, I certainly didn’t intend to stop posting for so long. It appears I became a bit run down by the time Christmas was around the corner and I managed to contract one bug after another. I’m now finishing up my third cold/flu/stomach thingy in as many weeks. I know it’s been going around, but for someone who rarely gets sick, I think I’ve had more than my fair share! Definitely not what I had in mind in ringing in a new year. My heartfelt thanks to you all for hanging in here with me in spite of my lack of posting. I assure you that I’m more than ready to get back to my regular programming.

Winter is now upon us and it’s been very cold here indeed. And with the chilly weather my thoughts naturally turn towards soup. A nice, hearty soup is just the perfect meal to brighten up these short, dark days and warm you up. And a chicken soup has the added benefit of all those famous medicinal qualities.

So, boy (and girl) have I got a great one here for you! This chicken, wild rice and hearty mushroom soup is to die for. It’s a warm, comforting and luxurious soup filled to the brim with tender pieces of chicken breast, a toothsome and nutty mixture of wild rice and brown rice, lots of tasty veggies and some woodsy, earthy mushrooms. The added bonus here is that the chicken makes its own broth for the soup, so nothing is wasted. By finishing this soup with a little cream and some dry sherry, it becomes a creamy and savory bowl of goodness—truly a meal unto itself, although a wee salad alongside or some cheese toast is mighty fine as well. Check it out and see what you think..it’s good for what ails you, or for no ailment at all. I know I’m feeling much better already!

Chicken, Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup
Serves 6-8

1 3/4 lb. split chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
10 cups water
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and minced
a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons of flour
1 cup wild rice blend (1/2 wild rice and 1/2 brown rice)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
8 oz. Baby Bella or Cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dry sherry
3/4 – 1 tsp kosher salt and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Place the chicken breast into a large, heavy bottomed stock pot and cover with the 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer the chicken until it is tender and just barely done through. Remove the chicken breasts from the liquid and set them aside to cool, reserving all of the “stock” in a large bowl. Allow the stock to cool and skim off as much fat as you can. Remove the skin from the chicken breasts and tear the meat off the bone and into bite sized pieces. Reserve the meat.

Wipe out the stock pot well with a paper towel, and add the butter and olive oil to the pot. Melt the butter and oil together over medium heat, then add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt and some ground pepper over the veggies. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the veggies are softened, about 5-8 minutes. Add the flour and stir for a couple of minutes to cook it, then add the rice and stir it in. Then add the 10 cups of reserved broth and the thyme. If you don’t have a full 10 cups of broth, make up the difference with water. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every once in a while. After 30 minutes, add in the chicken and the mushrooms, and cook for another 15 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 to 1 teaspoon of salt and black pepper a little bit at a time, and adjust the seasoning to taste. Pour in the cream and the sherry and stir until the soup is hot again. Ladle a generous portion in your bowl and enjoy. Keeps for several days and reheats well, but try not to boil when reheating as it may break the cream.

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A Very Merry Christmas to All!

Wishing you and yours peace and all the joy of the holiday season.

To all who celebrate, have a very Merry Christmas filled with fun times enjoying family and friends. May your cup runneth over! (But not on the rug, please.)

And may all of your fondest dreams come true in 2015!

Gifts, Goodies and Greatest Hits

I have some new recipes, really I do! And some travels and adventures to share as well. And I have pictures, too. But as I am still in high gear work mode right now with some deadlines looming before the Christmas holiday, I think I’ll first take this opportunity to share these “greatest hits” of the season with you. May these favorites of mine inspire some holiday food and gift ideas for you to try until I can get back to the regularly scheduled programming.

I hope you all have enjoyed the holiday season so far, and may your days be merry and bright…and filled with good food, friends and family.

Cookies! For the cookie monster in us all.

Who doesn’t love cookies any time of year, but during the holidays they are a mandatory make and give. Starting from the top with these biscotti…this is the one thing I will try to get made before Christmas!

biscottiA-1Chocolate Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti are perhaps the most addictive cookies ever known to man or woman. These truly decadent biscotti have the perfect dry texture combined with savory hazelnuts, spicy candied ginger and melty semi-sweet chocolate surprises in every bite. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if I don’t make these for my husband every Christmas, I might as well find another place to live. I kid you not!

cookies smOld Fashioned Drop Sugar Cookies are a recipe that my mom used to make every year. They are the best I’ve ever had and fun to make by yourself, or with some little elves helping you to decorate! They have the added advantage of keeping well for a week or more in an airtight container.

crinkles2Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies. I knew I had to try them the moment I saw Eva’s original recipe, and then Sawsan’s adaptation of Eva’s recipe that added some warm spices. They did not disappoint!

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readytobake2Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies are so easy to make ahead and wonderful to freeze, then have on hand to slice, bake and decorate a few whenever you need or want them. Prettily packaged, they make a sweet gift as well.

Mmmm. These Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal cookies are to die for! Mmmmuuuuaaaah ha ha ha ha!

Sweet Cider Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal Cookies have festive flavors and aren’t quite as heavy as some cookies…so you can eat more than one, not that I can only eat one anyway!

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Ma’amool is a Middle Eastern treat in the form of a fruit or nut stuffed semolina cookie that is molded into beautiful shapes. They taste as good as they look, too! No mold? No worries. You can seal them and decorate with the tines of a fork.

Toffee Bars are a wonderful gift to make and give to that special someone that you want to thank for all that they do. These were my gift to the Firemen who came to our house when it was struck by lightning. They are truly gift-worthy!

Hors d’Oeuvres, Noshes, Appetizers and Snacks

While I don’t snack during the day at all, I do love a good nosh with a glass of wine or a cocktail before dinner. Here are some of my faves to make as gifts and some more faves to make to serve.

almonds1R2olives4Glazed Red Pepper and Fennel Almonds are a hit with everyone and won’t last long at a party…or in your home in general. They’re a most welcome gift for a cocktail nibble or appetizer, and a few sprinkled atop a green salad with some fruit are a lovely way to enjoy them, too. You’ll also find these savory Provençal Olives in this post. They keep well for about a month or so, and make a great hostess gift. These two together as appetizers or tapas are a dynamic duo.

jarsfinal1This Walnut Thyme Honey is just amazing drizzled over cheese for a quick and impressive appetizer. Needless to say, it makes a lovely gift.

wholeplateMy Retro Cheese and Olive Bites make a “can’t believe how good these are” do-ahead-and-freeze appetizer to bake when needed, then serve or give away. They are truly addictive, so be sure to make enough for yourself and some to share. Also in this same post are the equally fabulous make-ahead-and-freeze Bacon Wrapped Dates with Pistachios and Apricots.

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Two more lively appetizers for entertaining are found in another post: Mini Crab Cakes with Lemon Chive Aioli and Goat Cheese and Fresh Basil Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes. While the crab cakes take a little work, they can be made ahead and frozen, then rewarmed when needed. And the stuffed tomatoes are just too darn easy and good to be ignored. Seasonal colors, too.

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

These Artichoke Squares are truly a revival of a favorite. A throwback recipe, circa 1960 or so, that I’ve updated with some fresh ingredients. These are the perfect accompaniment to cocktails, are rich little bites and can be made ahead, frozen and then warmed as needed. What more can you ask for in an appetizer?

Drink and Be Merry!

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Cranberry Liqueur is the perfect gift and keeps at room temperature for a year. There’s still time to get a batch made for holiday giving or New Year’s tippling. Be sure to make some while fresh cranberries are still available.

Chai Tea Mix is fast and easy to make, and who doesn’t love a good hot cup of chai tea, any time of the year? Make your mix and package it in mason jars tied with pretty ribbon for a lovely hostess gift.

The Raindog

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Champagne Cocktail

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Christmas Dawn

My post wouldn’t be complete without a couple of my favorite cocktails to go with all of this food. Here are some classics, perfect for holiday entertaining. The Raindog is an easy variation on the classic martini, fortified with some fresh herbal essence and tasty olives. The timeless Champagne Cocktail will never go out of style and is easy to make for a crowd. And if you’ve also made the Cranberry Liqueur listed above, try out these Festive Holiday Cocktails for an extra Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The Busy Season: Some Food, Some Fun, Some Pots

I’ve been cooking, I’ve been hiking, I’ve been working…a lot, I’ve been making clay pots, and I’ve been traveling some. And then suddenly, it’s NOVEMBER!!!

Here’s what’s been going on (click the red links for more info and recipes:

RibollitaThere was a batch Ina Garten’s fantastic Ribolitta pictured above, to warm up the cold evenings.

There was a lovely hike to Raven Cliffs Falls in the North GA mountains. Spectacular leaves that weekend.

spooktacularchiliThere was some Spooktacular Beef and Italian Sausage Chili made for Halloween!

And Punkitties were carved for the big event!

There was a lovely gathering of cousins in town that called for an early batch of my most favorite gratin and holiday potato dish, Potato and Fennel Gratin. It takes a little effort, but the flavor is show stopping.

And this week I’ve been carving some clay pots for a friend’s new lifestyle website…more on that later.

And then there was work…happily lots and lots of it! So that’s what I’ve been up to. How about you? Are you having a fun autumn so far? Happy Weekend!

A Bodacious Birthday Cake!

Well, once again some time has passed since my last post, written on my birthday at the very beginning of this month. Thank you all for the wonderful birthday wishes…it was an awesome birthday! I feel like I’m still celebrating.

Upon request, my husband gave me a new pair of hiking boots and socks for my birthday, along with some other goodies. And additionally, keeping with the hiking theme, a friend gave me a really super day pack as a birthday present. In order to do justice to all of this new gear, we had to go someplace where the hiking was cranked “up a notch,” so to speak, and we spent a lovely weekend in Highlands and Cashiers, North Carolina. Continue reading

Enter…Fall. Roasted Vegetable and Kale Stew

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So here we are…Fall has fallen, so to speak, and October is upon us! (What happened to September??? I don’t have my Fall banner up yet!)

I love Fall, actually, and especially October. I was born in October (today is my birthday, as a matter of fact), and I love the crispness in the air, the changing colors of the leaves and the deep blue of the autumnal sky. And while I do miss all of the summer vegetables, there’s a lot to be said for this season’s variety of fruits and veggies, too.

Even though we still have 80 degree temps this week, here’s a very fall-ish dish for those cooler nights. This roasted vegetable and kale stew is filled to the brim with hearty veggies and earthy greens. Potatoes, carrots, green beans and squash are roasted first to concentrate and caramelize their flavors. Tender leeks are sautéed with a bit of fresh garlic, salt and pepper. Then a little chicken broth (or vegetable broth or all water) is added to the pot along with some tomatoes, herbs, the roasted veggies and fresh kale. Cook until the flavors blend and you have Fall in a bowl! And as with most soups and stews, it gets better each day after you make it, and freezes well. Continue reading

Last of Summer’s Bounty: Rustic Heirloom Tomato and Caramelized Onion Tart

finishedslice1Although Summer isn’t my favorite time of year…mainly because it gets so darn hot and muggy where I live, I do really enjoy the fruits and veggies of the season. The end of summer always brings a tearful time saying goodbye to the last of the peaches, corn, peas and tomatoes of the season. Fortunately, we do have a longish summer here, and I could still find an heirloom tomato or two in our local farmer’s markets last week.

Having procured three fine heirloom tomato specimens, I felt bound to make a dish in their honor. This rustic tomato tart has a few steps, but it’s easy to make. Use some of your own pie crust you may have on hand, or purchase some good quality crust at the grocer. The juicy-ripe tomatoes join with their BFF’s—sweet onion that’s been caramelized to really enhance the flavor, some fresh basil and thyme, and three fantastic cheeses—to create this delightful ode to tomato goodness. It’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s gooey, it’s delicious.

Continue reading