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Borderland Corn Bread

Tomorrow the New Year will be here. I’m ready. I have a resolution in mind – to simplify. I have Lucky Black Eyed Peas ready to go on the stove in the morning. I have the bone from my Christmas ham to season it with and the few other ingredients it takes to make those peas palatable. Besides the beans all that is needed for my simple New Year’s supper is some greens and a good square of cornbread.

It has been a long time since I’ve made good cornbread. Somewhere, over the years, I lost my favorite recipe. It was made with beaten egg whites and I remember it as being on the “healthy” side with some extra steps involved.

I have already been digging through the excess at my house and taking carloads of old or seldom used items to Goodwill. I have included a number of unfinished projects in the hope of paring things down and, better yet, being able to find the things I need without time lost looking through things I seldom or never use. Instead of digging through my file drawer for that old cornbread recipe I decided to try something new.

Actually, my new recipe is an old one too. It comes from The Courier~Journal Kentucky Cookbook. It is printed with a note from local celebrity food writer Cissy Gregg and dated 1955. The note suggests this is no true southern cornbread but still tastes good enough to print. I’d have to agree.

I did change it slightly, simplifying the quantities by combining it with another recipe for Simple Simon Corn Bread, which is printed on the following page of the same cookbook. Something about the name appealed to me…

Borderland Corn Bread
Slightly adapted from The Courier~Journal Kentucky Cookbook

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
¼ cup bacon drippings
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a whisk, stir together the flour, corn meal, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl whisk together the milk, maple syrup, bacon drippings and eggs.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing until smooth, but no longer.

Pour the batter into a well-greased 9-inch square pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes.

Cut into squares and serve hot with butter.

Note: Melted butter or margarine can be substituted for the bacon drippings. You can also substitute a maple-flavored syrup, or brown or white sugar, for the maple syrup.


Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache

It’s Christmas week and things are looking festive. Winter is officially here and the short days end in darkness punctuated by festive displays of light. My sense of taste has stopped craving a palette of corn and pumpkin and turned to peppermint and chocolate.

I saw these little cookies near the back of the December issue of Martha Stewart Living. They were so pretty I had to take a second look. Reading through I was smitten with the thought of crunchy crisp chocolate filled meringues fragrant with the fresh scent of peppermint. I had to give them a try.

These are perfect for Christmas dreaming. The process is not complicated but it involves a good bit of waiting. Take it slow and relaxed. Put on a classic like White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. Gently warm the egg whites and sugar over a pan of barely simmering water. Whip the warmed whites until patterns and stiff peaks form like dreamy snow-scapes in your bowl.

Pipe the meringue into small swirling baskets and let them rest in a low oven until crisp and dry. Then fill them with a dark creamy ganache and dust the tops with sparkling bits of crushed candy cane. I think you’ll find that they are worth the wait!

Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache
from Martha Stewart Living, December 2010

vegetable oil cooking spray
3 egg whites, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon pure peppermint extract
red gel-paste food coloring

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

1 large candy cane, chopped or crushed

Preheat oven to 175 degrees.

Prepare Cookie Sheets - Trace 1½ - 2 inch circles approximately 2 inches apart on two pieces of parchment paper.

Lightly spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray. Lay the parchment paper, traced side down, on the cookie sheets.

Make the Meringues – In a heatproof mixing bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Warm the mixture over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring gently with a whisk, until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar begins to dissolve, about 3 minutes.

Remove the egg white mixture from the heat and beat with an electric mixer at medium to high speed until stiff peaks form. Stir in the pure peppermint extract.

With a small food safe paint brush, paint three streaks of red food coloring paste up the inside of a pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch plain round tip. (I used Wilton tip #6)

Transfer the egg white mixture to the pastry bag. Fill each traced circle on the parchment paper with a coil of the meringue then pipe around the edge, coiling the meringue upward, until the sides of the meringue cups are approximately ½ - 1 inch high.

Bake at 175 degrees for approximately 1 hour 30 minutes or until meringue cups are stiff, dry and easily transferred from the parchment paper to a wire rack. Allow the meringues to cool completely.

Make the Ganache - Place the chopped chocolate (or chocolate chips) in a heatproof bowl.

Warm the cream in a small saucepan over low heat until it comes to a gentle simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow it to sit for two minutes. Stir until smooth.

Cover the ganache loosely and refrigerate for approximately an hour to an hour and a half, until firm. Stir the ganache again and transfer it to a pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch star tip. (I used Wilton tip #21.)

Pipe ganache into the meringue cups with a swirling motion.

Garnish with crushed candy cane bits.

Make Ahead Tip: I suggest eating these soon after assembling. That probably won’t be a problem. They are light and festive and appealing. If you do want to save some for later, store the meringues in an airtight container and store the ganache in the refrigerator. Shortly before serving whip the ganache briefly, until it is creamy. Then transfer to a pastry bag and pipe the ganache into the meringue cups. Sprinkle with candy cane bits.

Serve and enjoy!

Pecan Praline Cookies with Brown Sugar Frosting

One of the best things about being a home cook is finding others who share that same interest. It is a delight to meet someone whose eyes sparkle at the mention of recipes and who can tell a story about the dishes they serve. Even better is meeting someone who shares (or at least understands) your taste preferences and food quirks.

I met one of my dearest food friends when we moved into our first house in Texas. It so happened that she lived right next door. Over the years Anne and I have shared many dinners and special events together. We have also swapped many recipes. The recipes she shares are often versatile and always dependable. Even better they almost invariably appeal to my particular sense of taste and style. These cookies, rich with brown sugar and pecans, are no exception.

I first tasted these at a Christmas Cookie Swap several decades ago. I have made them almost every Christmas since. They are not difficult to prepare but do require an extra step for the frosting. That extra step makes them pretty and doubly tasty, therefore perfect for the holiday season.

Pecan Praline Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup finely chopped pecans
Brown Sugar Frosting (see below)
Pecan halves for garnish

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugars, mixing well. Add egg and vanilla; beat well.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, soda and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture, stirring after each addition. Stir in the chopped pecans.

Chill dough for 30 minutes.

When chilled, remove from the refrigerator. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place the balls of dough on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

When cool, spread Brown Sugar Frosting over the tops of the cookies. Top each with a pecan half before the icing sets.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Brown Sugar Frosting

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup half & half
1 Tablespoon butter
1½ cups sifted powdered sugar (plus a little more if needed)

Combine brown sugar and half & half in a saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil 4 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in butter. Add 1½ cups powdered sugar. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add a little more powdered sugar, if needed, to achieve a desired spreading consistency.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Christmas is just a few weeks away and the baking has begun.  I love holiday baking and to me that means cookies, usually the fancy festive kind. All the same, last weekend I found myself baking what may be the most common variety of cookie in the world... Chocolate Chip Cookies.

And why not? These universal pleasers are quick and easy to put together from ingredients many people have on hand.  While on the homely side, these cookies are well loved and bring a smile to almost every face.

Hot from the oven they satisfied my family and a room full of guests who come with a variety of food preferences.  They may not be the prettiest cookies that ever graced a holiday buffet but more often than not they will be gone so fast that no one will notice.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the back of the Ghiradelli bag

2¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
¾ cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, brown sugar and white sugar until creamy. Add vanilla and eggs beating them into the butter mixture one at a time until incorporated.

Gradually add dry mixture into creamed mixture.Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if desired).

Drop by tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve warm, if possible.


Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cookies

The holiday season calls for extra special baking. This festive time of year brings out a longing for flavors and textures that draw on our memories and light our imagination. It asks us to search out recipes that are at once both comforting and inspiring.

As we celebrate we hope to offer a taste of something that reflects the best of who we are. We also want to honor those qualities that make the recipient special to us. What better way to do that than to bake with quality ingredients that are wholesome and nutritious as well as rich and delicious?

These cookies meet this lofty ideal. They are not low in fat but the fat content comes from sources that are recommended for their healthful benefits. In fact almost every ingredient in these cookies, with the exception of the sugar, flour and leavening, is on one list of superfoods or another. Eggs, walnuts, almonds, extra virgin olive oil, oranges and even chocolate are now recommended as smart additions to a healthy diet. These cookies taste rich and fresh and incredibly delectable.

Based on a recipe for Blood Orange Olive Oil Brownies that I tried last Valentine's Day these cookies deliver a similarly rich impact in a two-bite sized gem. They make a worthy holiday indulgence.

Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cookies

2 cups flour
¾ ground almonds
½ t baking soda
¼ t salt
1 T finely grated orange zest
1¼ cups sugar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used blood orange EVOO from Navidi's)
3 eggs
1½ cups chocolate chips, melted and cooled
1 cup toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, soda, salt. Set aside.

Stir the olive oil into the melted chocolate. Set aside.

In a large bowl mixing bowl rub the orange zest into the sugar until fragrant. Stir in the ground almonds. With an electric mixer on medium beat in the eggs and beating until well combined. Add the chocolate mixture and continue beating until smooth.

Add the flour mixture and then the walnuts blending just until combined. Do not overmix.

Drop dough by Tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, 1½ inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. (Rounded teaspoonful sized cookies bake for 8 minutes.) Immediately transfer to a rack to cool.