03 March 2015

Aunt Hen's Chocolate Bar Pie

Aunt Hen’s “Favorite Recipes”

Aunt Hen was a lifelong reader. As early as I can remember she belonged to several mail order book clubs. She often sat at her dining room table looking over catalogs as she decided which books to order. She looked forward to opening the box when her selections arrived by mail. Her favorite genres were Christian Fiction and Cookbooks. She read them much the same. Aunt Hen would read a cookbook like a novel, page by page.

Aunt Hen was also a writer of sorts. Around the time I got married, Aunt Hen had begun to collect recipes in bound journals with the words “Favorite Recipes” in gold on the front cover. There she wrote out recipes that she liked in her own tidy handwriting. Some of the recipes may have been original. Others were credited to the source of the recipe, often a friend whose name I would recognize. After they were written she numbered the pages and indexed the recipes in the back of the book.

Decades later I am still enjoying Aunt Hen's cookbooks. Among those passed down to me are slick Southern Living cookbooks, spiral bound community cookbooks and special interest cookbooks. The collection also includes three of Aunt Hen’s “Favorite Recipes” books that I keep on a shelf near my kitchen. They contain recipes for everything from down-home favorites to unlikely salads and casseroles to a wide variety of interesting cakes and pies.

Aunt Hen liked her homemade cookbooks and, as a wedding gift, she wanted me to have one too. She promised to start it for me, writing out some of the recipes we had made together and others she knew I liked. Then she gave it to me so that I could add favorites of my own.

One Hundred Years

Today I have been thinking of Aunt Hen and looking through her legacy of cookbooks. It is her birthday. If Aunt Hen were still with us she would be one hundred years old today. I thought of making a cake for her birthday but while I remember birthday cakes she made for me I cannot remember any that were her personal favorites.

More often I remember the way she enjoyed special pies. I remember her Cherry Cheese Pie, Aunt Hen’s “Brownie” Pie and Lemon Meringue Pie topped with her favorite recipe for “No Weep” Meringue. All of those recipes are already posted at My Own Sweet Thyme. But there is another pie I first learned to make with Aunt Hen. Near the front of my “Favorite Recipes” book is a childhood favorite from Aunt Hen’s kitchen, Chocolate Bar Pie.

Chocolate Bar Pie is a simple recipe. All you need to make it is two basic ingredients along with water, a pinch of salt and the pie shell of your choice. Still it is a crowd pleaser. Nearly everyone of every age likes chocolate and that’s nearly all there is to it. Aunt Hen recognized the value of such a recipe. Classically light and sweet, it was easy to make, easy to enjoy and still made her guests feel special. I think she would enjoy a bite as much as I would. Happy Birthday, Aunt Hen!

Chocolate Bar Pie

One ready-to-fill 8-in. pie shell (either a pre-baked pastry shell or a graham cracker crumb crust)

1 8-oz. chocolate bar (with almonds or plain)
1/3 cup water
dash of salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Break up chocolate bar into small pieces. If your chocolate bar isn't 8-ounces (these days the large chocolate bars I find are 6.8 ounces) make up the difference with some chocolate chips or part of another chocolate bar. (I used one Hershey's Chocolate Almond bar plus nearly 1/4 cup of chocolate chips.)

In a small saucepan combine the chocolate, water and dash of salt. Stir over moderate heat just until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Cool at room temperature.

In a medium bowl, beat heavy cream with an electric mixer until stiff. Fold in the cooled chocolate mixture. Spoon mixture into prepared pie shell. Chill until ready to serve.

Garnish with chocolate shavings and/or additional whipped cream.

Note: This pie can just as easily be made from other chocolate candies. We have often made it with leftover holiday themed chocolates. There are lots of possibilities.


21 February 2015

In the Pink - Cast Iron Salsa

The Phone Call

Sometimes life takes a radical turn. Sometimes you see it coming. Sometimes you don’t.

Last year, in February, I went for a routine mammogram. Then I went about my business. I attended a women’s retreat. I posted to my blog. I hardly gave it another thought.

I had no reason for concern. A mammogram was a routine part of my annual health care. It had been since my 20s. I hadn’t felt a lump or anything out of the ordinary in my monthly self-exams and I wasn’t unusually anxious about the results.

Then I got the phone call. I needed to come back to the women’s health center for more pictures, then for a biopsy. Less than two weeks and three tests later the results were confirmed: Breast Cancer.

The Learning Curve

I spent the next three weeks reading, praying, asking questions and keeping appointments. Besides learning about my cancer there was little time to do anything but eat and sleep. When what I learned began to ache in my chest and feel like paralysis, I slept. I slept a lot during those weeks decisions were made and I moved toward treatment.

After an MRI, genetic testing and appointments with several surgeons, I checked into the hospital for a double mastectomy. By the grace of God, my margins were clean. My sentinel nodes were clear. Thankfully my breast cancer was caught early. Another couple of weeks and my drains were removed. I was on the road to recovery.

As I have learned over the past year, my story is not unique. It happens again and again all around us. Sometimes we hear about it, sometimes we don’t. Some people are comfortable sharing and some people aren’t or don’t know how to. I learned about others who were recently diagnosed: another woman in my Bible Study group, someone two streets over in my neighborhood, a friend from church. I learned the stories of survivors: my cousin, a neighbor from Texas, a neighbor from Virginia, women at church, the mothers and sisters, daughters and friends of those who offered care and concern and wonderful meals that kept me well nourished as I recovered from surgery. And I have been reminded of the stories of those who, like my mother, haven’t survived and still are well remembered.

Reflections in Cast-Iron

I’ve been one of the quiet ones. I haven’t talked much about my cancer. I’m not one to dress in pink or wear the ribbon. But today, one year later, I want to share a recipe that in some way speaks to this milestone in my walk with cancer.

I clipped this recipe for Cast-Iron Salsa from Southern Living magazine last year. It starts with the deep pink of plum tomatoes. Toss in pungent garlic and white onion along with a fiery jalapeno. Together they are seared and sweetened in my cast iron skillet, the big one that always sits on my stovetop reminding me of where I come from and those who have walked before me.

I have little to add to the recipe. I scarcely deviate from the steps as written. I slice through the tomatoes, tear up as I confront the onion, wince at the scent of the split jalapeno roasting on the hot bed of the skillet.

Once the vegetables begin to char, they are roughly chopped in a food processor. Then they are salted to bring out their character, brightened with a zing of lime juice and garnished with the chopped leaves of fresh cilantro.

Tempered by hot iron this salsa has a rich depth of smoky-sweet undertones. Serve it with chips or savor as a relish with eggs, meat or fresh roasted vegetables.

Cast-Iron Salsa
From Southern Living

3 plum tomatoes, halved
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 jalapeno pepper, halved
1 medium white onion, cut into 16 wedges
1½ Tablespoons fresh lime juice
¾ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot (approximately 5 minutes.) Place the tomato halves in the skillet, cut side down, spacing them evenly. Add the garlic cloves and jalapeno pepper. Cook, turning the vegetables occasionally, until soft and slightly charred, about 6 minutes.

Transfer the tomatoes and jalapeno to the bowl of a food processor. Peel the garlic cloves and add them to the bowl.

Place the onion wedges in the hot skillet and repeat. Cook the onions, turning occasionally, until soft and slightly charred. Add the cooked onions to the bowl of the food processor.

Process the vegetables briefly, 30-45 seconds or until they reach the desired consistency. Add the fresh lime juice and salt. Pulse to combine.

Allow the mixture to rest for 10-15 minutes to cool completely. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

Transfer to a pretty bowl and serve.

14 February 2015

Warm Spiced Olives

This is the best kind of recipe: simple, warm, fragrant and delicious. Like Fried Almonds with Rosemary, it starts with something nice that is easy to pick up at the market. Then, with only a few ingredients and within just a few minutes, kicks it up a notch and makes it personal.

Olives make a wonderful appetizer. They are relatively low in calories and high in phytonutrients, antioxidants and other beneficial qualities. From the deli or olive bar they are delicious just as they are. I have eaten them like that for years, enjoying olives straight from the container. Though I know they also add a nice note to many warm entrees I never thought of serving warmed olives as an appetizer.

Leave it to Martha. Looking through a back issue of Martha Stewart Living I found this gem of a recipe on the recipe card page. I followed the concept and list of ingredients while changing the quantities and directions somewhat. I left the seed spices whole and cooked them a little longer before adding about half as many olives as the recipe called for. I love toasty bits of rosemary and the crunch of whole fennel and coriander seeds adorning each gently warmed olive.

These olives are completely delightful as a party snack or pre-dinner nibble. Gently warmed the olives are meltingly tender and infused with a lingering aftertaste of warm chiles and sweet fennel. Remember to have a few breadsticks or chucks of crusty French bread on hand to mop up any of the warm spicy oil and seeds left over once the olives are gone.

Bonus: Your kitchen will smell fantastic!

Warm Spiced Olives
slightly adapted from a recipe in Martha Stewart Living

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 small dried red chiles
Leaves from 1 rosemary sprig, (about 1 Tablespoon)
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
½ teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1-2 cups mixed olives, rinsed and patted dry

Heat oil, chiles, rosemary, fennel seeds, and coriander seeds in a medium skillet over medium heat until fragrant and starting to brown, about 3-5 minutes.

Reduce heat to low, and add olives. Stir to coat.

Heat olives, stirring occasionally, until warmed, about 5-10 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!