Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chocolate Pudding Pie

This pie wasn’t supposed to happen like this, but between Joe’s and my schedule, we’re learning to roll with it.


We were going to a friends’ house for dinner on Friday, and Joe proposed that we take nice beer and a dessert. Having debriefed in the gym parking lot, we decided to get take-out salads that night and make the dessert. I headed home to pick out a recipe while Joe got his work out on. However, our plans were derailed when Joe called to tell me that he had been called back to the hospital for a surgery. The bright side was that he would likely be off the next day, and he volunteered to make the dessert by himself.

I selected this pie, something we already had all of the ingredients for, and I left out the non-perishable ingredients on the counter. I sent Joe the recipe via e-mail along with some tips, mentioning that he could use a frozen pie crust but would probably need to blind bake it. And, for God’s sake, if he had any questions, to call me or page me.

All throughout my work day, I didn’t hear a peep from Joe. It seems as if he didn’t need my help. When I got home, I peeked in the fridge and saw a beautiful chocolate pudding pie. He had even whipped the cream and stored it in a separate container.

As we prepared to top the pie with the whipped cream, I asked Joe if he had baked the crust. He looked at me blankly.
“Didn’t you see that I had mentioned you might need to blind bake it?”
“Yes, but I didn’t know what that meant.”
I thought we might be able to serve it in a slightly soggy crust, but Joe broke off a piece of the unbaked pie crust and promptly vetoed that plan. Fortunately, he had purchased a pre-made chocolate cookie crumb crust, so even though it wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing, we scooped the chocolate pudding into the crust, topped it with the whipped cream and sprinkles and were on our way.


It went over smashingly. The pudding was light in texture but with an intense chocolate taste. The crust is secondary to the filling in my mind anyway. As always, the homemade whipped cream was vastly better than anything out of a can. Now if only we had gotten the crust right…

Chocolate Pudding Pie
as seen on Smitten Kitchen


1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao), finely chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1 crust’s worth of your favorite pie crust recipe

Bittersweet chocolate shavings or chocolate sprinkles for garnish (optional)


Prepare pie dough: Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 11-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang under and crimp edge decoratively. Prick bottom and side of shell all over with a fork, then chill shell 30 minutes. While shell chills, preheat oven to 375°F with a baking sheet on middle rack. Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Bake on baking sheet until pastry is set and edge is pale golden, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove weights and foil, then bake shell on baking sheet until pale golden all over, 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool shell.

Make pudding filling: Whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk [tips alert!] in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, two minutes (mixture will thicken). Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

Pour filling into cooled shell and chill, its surface covered with wax paper (if you want to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least two hours.

Just before serving, beat cream with remaining two tablespoons sugar until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon onto pie and garnish with bittersweet chocolate shavings or sprinkles, if you’re feeling fancy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Perfect Party Cake

Growing up, I didn’t like that my mom wasn’t like other moms. She didn’t know how to French braid hair. She didn’t chaperone field trips or bake her famous homemade cookies for school bake sales. Instead of the long flowing hair of my female classmates, I had short hair and big goofy plastic glasses.


I didn’t realize it at the time because I was a spoiled little brat, but my mom wasn’t doing those things because she was busy being a bad-ass. She was a crazy fast runner before running became a “thing”. She was a corporate lawyer when there weren’t a lot of women who worked full-time in positions like that. She certainly wasn’t a saint, and we didn’t always have a great relationship. But now that I’m older, I really appreciate what I’ve learned from my mom:


1. My mom never told me I couldn’t do anything.
Whether I wanted to be an opera singer or a priest, she never told me I couldn’t do it. I never heard that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. In fact, I think at one point she suggested I try to join the wrestling team. She sent me to Michigan when I was 16 and let me fly all around the country for college auditions. When I decided to pursue ordination, she supported me fully in that as well. Whether I wanted to get married or not, have children or not, she has never openly discouraged me with regard to important life choices.


2. You can have a personal style without being prissy.
My mom is and was an athlete, and even though the 1980s may have taken their toll, she is awesome at finding a style that works for her, even if it doesn’t look like everyone else’s. She always looks good and takes care of herself but isn’t self-conscious and weird about it.

3. Physical fitness is important.
I’m so thankful that my parents are healthy and take care of themselves by exercising and eating well. I hope that I’m just as awesome when I’m their age.


4. Food is also important.
I partially credit my mom with my relationship towards food. She was never a person who was able to subsist solely on grilled chicken salads. Pizza, Mexican, doughnuts, etc. were all fine in moderation. While both of us have struggled at times to figure out moderation, she never modeled deprivation for me.

Obviously, the best way to celebrate my mom’s birthday was with wine and cake. We headed to Arrington Vineyards for a Riedel wine tasting and got to keep the glasses!


My mom prefers lighter white cakes to a big heavy chocolate cake, so I immediately decided to make Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake. Layer cakes are definitely not my forte, so I was shocked when this turned out as well as it did. It was so light and tender with just a hint of lemon. Indeed, it was perfect for celebrating my mom’s 59th birthday!


Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake
as seen on Ezra Pound Cake


  • 1 1/2 CUPS SUGAR






  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
  2. For the Cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
  4. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
  5. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one-third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
  6. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
  7. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
  8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)
  9. For the Buttercream: Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.
  10. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
  11. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.
  12. To Assemble the Cake: Using a sharp, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with the third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream left over). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

STORING: The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to 2 days.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shrimp, Black Bean, and Pineapple Foil Packets

I didn’t make this dinner. Joe actually made it on a rainy Tuesday while I was sitting in traffic trying to get home from the hospital. I had asked him to prep a couple of the things. Mostly, I was hoping that he would peel the shrimp because I despise peeling shrimp. Not only did he prep a few ingredients, but when I walked in the door, the foil packets were on the grill.

Granted, we had a short window for dinner due to our new membership in our condominium bridge game on Tuesday nights. We’re the youngest people by about 30 years, but if two 96 year-old women are playing, there must be something about it keeping the mind sharp. Neither Joe nor I had played in 8-10 years, but they were patient with us and answered our questions when we couldn’t figure out how to bid. Joe even ended up being the highest scorer of the night and took home the grand prize of $5.

So I can’t tell you much about the preparation of this meal, but I can tell you that the shrimp were really juicy and not at all dry or rubbery like shrimp can be. The foil packet method was especially easy for clean-up, and the citrus flavors of the lime and pineapple gave it a Latin-Caribbean vibe. Hopefully we’ll get to use the grill well into October, but this was a quintessentially summer meal.


Shrimp, Black Bean, and Pineapple Foil Packets
source: Cara’s Cravings
Yields 2 servings


8oz raw, medium sized shrimp (peeled, deveined)
1 cup cooked black beans
3/4 cup finely diced pineapple
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons minced jalapeno pepper
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, divided
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 avocado, diced
Lettuce wrap, quinoa, couscous, or whole wheat tortilla for serving


Preheat grill to medium.
Rinse the shrimp and pat dry. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the black beans, pineapple, red onion, jalapeno, and ginger. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice, coriander, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cumin.
Spray two large pieces of aluminum foil with cooking spray. Spoon half of the black bean mixture into the center of each and top with half of the shrimp. Squeeze the remaining lime juice over the shrimp. Bring the edges of the foil together and fold down, sealing well.
Place the foil packets on the grill, cover, and cook for 10-12 minutes, until shrimp are opaque.
Carefully open the foil packets and stir the contents. Top with the diced avocado and sprinkle with cilantro.