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Aunt Hen's Chocolate Angel Pie

Parenthetical Notes

Aunt Hen was my guardian. I always felt that was an interesting title. As a child I sometimes turned that word over in my mind thinking about what it meant. I knew it was official because it was something she would write down on paper and my Aunt Hen wouldn’t write down anything if it wasn’t true.

My Dad was out of town at least one night every week on business and when he was gone my aunt would sometimes have to sign papers for school or a note for the bus driver. When she signed those notes she sat down at the head of her dining room table and carefully wrote out her whole name. At the end, in parentheses, she would add the word guardian.

In some ways I was troubled by that parenthetical note. The formality of that designation seemed to add an unnecessary weight to the process of gaining permission. It suggested someone might question my aunt’s authority on it’s own. What’s more those parentheses seemed to point me out as being different. No one else I knew of had anyone to sign papers with parentheses at the end of their name. All I really wanted in those days was to blend in and be like everyone else.

On the other hand, having a guardian was always a comfort. While I wasn’t really sure what all of the legal implications of having a guardian might be, if nothing else, having a guardian meant I had someone to go to in times of need. It meant someone had my back.

Angels in the Kitchen

Throughout the years Aunt Hen continued to have my back. Even after I passed the age of needing a legal guardian she was there for me. When I was scared or lonely or just needed advice she was only a short walk or, later, a phone call away. Whenever I had a nagging question about what or how something should be done she was usually the one I would turn to, especially when it came to matters of the kitchen.

Angel Pie is a recipe Aunt Hen sent to me in one of her frequent letters a few years after I moved away from home. She recommended it highly and knew I would like it. With only some slight variation, it combines two of my all-time favorite recipes: Aunt Hen’s Chocolate Bar Pie nestled into a crust of my mother’s crunchy sweet Meringue Cookies. The result is a pie that strikes an elegant balance between light and satisfying.

Today would have been Aunt Hen’s 102nd birthday. It has been nearly two decades since she passed on to dwell with the angels. That doesn’t mean I don’t still take those matters of the kitchen to her for advice. When I wonder what to make for dessert and need a recipe that is classic, dependable and not too complicated I know where to turn. Usually the answer is right there in Aunt Hen’s own handwriting.

Chocolate (Guardian) Angel Pie

2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
½ cup sliced almonds
½ teaspoon vanilla

4 ounces chocolate (I used dark chocolate)
3 Tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cream

Preheat oven to 300F.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs whites with an electric mixer until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar. Continue beating until soft peaks form.

Add sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in sliced almonds and ½ teaspoon vanilla.

Turn meringue mixture into a lightly greased 8-inch pie plate. With a spoon, make a sort of nest of the meringue, building up the sides to the rim of the pie plate, forming a thick pie shell. Bake in a slow oven, 300F, for 55 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

In a small saucepan or the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate, stirring over moderate heat until the chocolate is soft. Add 3 Tablespoons hot water and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Blend until smooth. Set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream with an electric mixer until stiff. Fold the cooled chocolate into the whipped cream. Spoon mixture into the meringue pie shell.

Garnish with chocolate curls, if desired.

Serve and enjoy!

Chewy Chocolate Meringue Cookies

A Demanding Recipe

I don’t cook as much as I used to. In the past year or so I have posted about it even less. Times change, as do circumstances. I have fewer mouths to feed these days and my kitchen remains in transition. Yet sometimes I still happen across a new recipe that demands to be shared. Chewy Chocolate Meringue Cookies is one of those recipes.

It caught my attention in Parade Magazine as I looked through the pages of the AJC one Sunday morning. A photo of beautiful dark chocolate cookies drew me into the text. Like many of the best recipes, on first read it struck me as both familiar and totally new.

Taking It to a New Level

On the one hand, these cookies are not all that different from the Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies I have been making most of my life. That was my mother’s recipe and a family favorite made from just a few ingredients that could be found in even a sparsely stocked kitchen most of the time.

On the other hand, this recipe takes those ingredients to a new level of intensity and relevance, producing a cookie that is denser, chewier, more flavorful and that satisfies on a whole different level. Besides that, it is gluten free adding to its general appeal. All told, it has become a personal favorite and is an excellent cookie to share with someone special this Valentine’s Day!

Chewy Chocolate Meringue Cookies
Slightly adapted from a recipe in Parade Magazine

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

4 egg whites, at room temperature
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon espresso powder
¼ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
pinch of salt
¾ cup sugar
12 oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled
½ cup toasted chopped walnuts
walnut halves for garnish

Preheat oven to 325F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Beat together egg whites, lemon juice and vanilla until foamy. Add sugar gradually, beating until stiff peaks form.

Stir espresso powder and chipotle pepper into cooled chocolate. Fold chocolate mixture and chopped walnuts into the beaten egg whites.

Scoop the batter into a gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bag. Seal it, then cut a ¾-inch opening across a lower corner of the bag. Use it as a pastry bag to pipe 2-inch cookies onto the parchment lined cookie sheets. Top each cookie with a walnut half.

Bake at 325F for 15 minutes, or until outside is set and dry. Cool on pans. Remove from parchment sheets and store in an airtight container.


Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Cold Conditions

I think there are times when we could all use a little more sweetness in our lives. I have found this winter to be one of those times. Everywhere I turn there are hurtful words, false assumptions, and wild accusations. For those already burdened by personal challenges such harsh conditions can really take their toll.

My personal antidote comes from the kitchen. That’s where I retreat when life turns cold or unkind. This week it comes in the form of a sweet new recipe for a coffee cake. This cake has a crumb softened by sour cream and a streusel warmed by a healthy measure of cinnamon.

Sweet Antidotes

Cloistered in my kitchen I turned from the front page conflicts and drama to the Food section of the local paper. There I saw a story about a Sour Cream Coffee Cake that had been passed down from generation to generation. Remembering that I had some left over sour cream in the refrigerator after making Cornflake Casserole for my son, I took note.

While the recipe in the paper was tempting I took a page from my own family’s traditions and looked to Taste of Home, a magazine Aunt Hen subscribed to and often cooked from, for a recipe that better fit the ingredients I had on hand. While I didn’t have quite as much sour cream as it called for, I filled out the measure with a little milk. Otherwise I didn’t change a thing in baking this sweet conclusion to a cold winter day.

Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffee Cake
From tasteofhome.com


¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)

Cake Batter:

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325F.

Grease a 9-inch square pan. Set aside. (If you don’t have this size try a 10-inch springform pan or a 9 x 13 inch rectangular pan. The baking time may vary slightly so watch carefully.)

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the topping. Set aside.

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

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.

Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the topping over the batter. Spoon the remaining batter over the topping layer in dollops. Spread lightly. Sprinkle the remaining topping over all.

Bake at 325F for 40 – 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.


Quick Whole Wheat Molasses Bread

Out With the Old

Last year, after decluttering the house with many rounds of "Ten Things", I was able to apply still another layer of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Finally, I cast a more critical eye on not only my kitchen cabinets but my pantry as well. I started by tossing a few items that were out of date or past their prime. Next I shared spices and other ingredients I wasn't likely to use up while they were in their prime. Then I challenged myself to cook through food I had purchased in moments of inspiration that waned shortly after I unpacked them at home.

By September both my pantry and my freezer were neat and spare. I enjoyed the newfound sense of space. I could create a shopping list with a minimum of sorting through what was on hand. I could find what I needed with a glance. Then came the holidays.

No regrets! I enjoyed stocking up and baking through the season. Now, though, it is time to deal with my pantry again. Luckily I learned a lot last year and have some great new recipes that use up the bits and pieces that tend to linger into the New Year.

January Style

Today I will be baking Whole Wheat Molasses Bread from a Mark Bittman recipe I discovered at Cookie + Kate. This recipe is super simple to put together. It requires a minimum of ingredients and measuring tools. It is also wonderfully adaptable: a recipe that works well with a variety of flours and sweeteners. It will use up the rest of that jar of molasses left on my shelf after trying a new recipe for Gingerbread Cookies. If I don’t have enough I’ll throw in some honey or maple syrup to round out the ½ cup measurement. It will also use up some miscellaneous bits of flour left over from Christmas baking. All-purpose flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour or a combination, all work well here. A little cornmeal adds texture if you have it in your pantry. If not, you can use a little more flour instead.

This is a January–style quick bread. It has a rugged sweetness, maybe even an acquired savor. My husband didn’t care for it. Even I didn’t love it at first bite. It wasn’t until I sliced it and stored it in the freezer that I came to fully appreciate it’s character. From the freezer, slice by slice, I happily munched through several loaves within a few weeks. For breakfast I toasted it, twice, to bring out its endearing rustic qualities.

Warm from the toaster, this bread is quick to invite a few more leftovers to the table. It is delicious topped with what you have on hand. Kate suggests almond butter, cream cheese or Homemade Citrus Curd. I will use the rest of the chunky peanut butter that I bought to make Aunt Hen's Peanut Butter Fudge for Christmas, and top it with a few cocao nibs to add crunch, bring out a bittersweet edge and complement a satisfying finish.

Quick Whole Wheat Molasses Bread
from Diner's Journal via Cookie + Kate

1 2/3 cup buttermilk (or plain yogurt, or 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar stirred into 1½ cups milk)
2½ cups whole wheat flour ( or white, white whole wheat, or bread flour)
½ cup cornmeal (or more flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup molasses (or honey, maple syrup, or combination)

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.

If using buttermilk or yogurt, skip this step. If using regular milk, sour it by warming the milk gently (1 minute in microwave should do it) and stirring in the vinegar. Set aside for at least 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, salt and baking soda.

In a small bowl, stir together the molasses (or other sweetener) and buttermilk, soured milk or yogurt.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir together with a wooden spoon, just until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake at 325F until the loaf is firm and a toothpick inserted just off center comes out clean, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Allow the bread to cool in pan for 15 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and allow to fully cool on a wire rack.

Slice and Enjoy!

Gingerbread Cookies

A New Season?

Today is Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. The twelve days of Christmas have come and gone. I’ve packed away the holiday snow scenes and frosted decorations. I’ve turned the page on my calendar and started making plans for a new year. I’ve even turned in my favorite Christmas music and loaded an active playlist for a new season.

Meanwhile it seems Mother Nature has a few more verses of those wintry carols to sing. Word is - it’s going to snow! Friends are texting snowflake emojis. Atlanta schools announced they would be closing two hours early and my husband’s office followed suit. Everyone is grabbing provisions and hurrying home to burrow in for the weekend. This town is determined not to see a repeat of the Snowpocalypse of 2014!

Ample Provisions

Luckily, I think we have all the supplies we need to make it through a snowy weekend. Burrowing in will give me a chance to clean out the kitchen and think of new ways to use up some of the ingredients left over from holiday shopping. It will also provide an opportunity to savor some of the high points of the season I was too busy to linger over at the time.

One of those high points was a new recipe for Gingerbread Cookies. I didn’t take the time to post about it when I first made them. My to-do list was long and my thoughts were scattered. But now that I have a few moments, I think I’ll add it to my list of favorites.

As it turns out, I also have a few of these tasty Gingerbread Cookies stashed away in the back of the freezer for just such an occasion. There is no need to set them out to thaw. These few remaining Christmas cut-outs are delicious still frosty from the freezer and gingerly dipped into a mug of hot coffee. In fact, that’s the way I like them best: the crunchy sparkling sugar crystals glistening, the ginger cookie coldly resistant when dipped, barely warmed but not soggy with coffee, the cinnamon and ginger leaving a spicy note of fire on my lips and tongue…

Gingerbread Cookies
from Cook's Illustrated magazine

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
¾ cup molasses
2 Tablespoons milk

In the bowl of a large food processor, add flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Process until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over the flour mixture. Process until the mixture resembles fine meal, about 15 seconds. With machine running, gradually add the molasses and milk. Continue running until a dough is formed, about 10 seconds.

Turn the dough onto countertop or other work surface. Divide dough in quarters. Working with 1 portion of dough at a time, roll the dough to ¼-inch thickness between two sheets of parchment paper. Stack the rolled out dough sandwiched between its parchment sheet coverings on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer (15 to 20 minutes) or in the refrigerator (2 hours or overnight) until firm.

Once firm, remove one sheet of cookie dough and place it on a work surface. Peel the top layer of parchment from the dough. Sprinkle a very small amount of flour on the dough and lay the sheet of parchment over top. Turn the sheet of dough over and peel away the second sheet of parchment.

Using cookie cutters, cut dough shapes. Place the shapes 1 inch apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with decorative sugar, if desired.

Bake cookies in a preheated oven at 350F about 8 to 10 minutes, for soft cookies. For crisper cookies roll the dough a bit thinner before cutting and bake at 325F for 15 to 20 minutes.

Cool cookies on cookie sheets for 2 minutes then remove to a wire rack with a wide spatula to cool completely.

Repeat with the remaining sheets of cookie dough. Scraps can be rerolled and cut into shapes.


Cowboy Caviar

New Beginnings

Hi there! It’s been a long time, hasn't it? There are probably at least a million reasons. For my part the last few years have involved distracting challenges with moving, health, business, politics, organization, technology, photography and Apple products, just to name a few.... but that’s not really what I want to talk about here today.

Today marks a new beginning, the start of a new year. The dawn of 2017 finds me feeling hopeful. Despite the challenges and divisions of an era, today I am thinking about that thread that draws together the past and the future, the one that gathers fond memories and transforms them with our current resources into something that will carry us into the future. What I am thinking about is food, the recipes that call me out of my bed on holiday mornings and promise a space of remembrance and reinterpretation as I nourish myself and my family around the table.

Already, I have baked a Cinnamon Coffee Cake for breakfast. I’ve made Mimosas from leftover New Year’s Eve champagne and made sweet use of an unopened bottle of aromatic bitters while taking notes on an idea for a champagne cocktail for Valentine’s Day. I’ve also cleaned out the refrigerator, using up the celery, carrots and parsley in my crisper drawer, to start a pot of Lucky Black Eyed Peas. Soon I will put some Cornbread in the oven.

Breaking the Silence

Meanwhile I feel compelled to break the silence here. While I am excited about the many favorite recipes I have posted on My Own Sweet Thyme over the years I am realizing that there are still more I have yet to post and that there is no time better than New Year’s Day to get started.

That said, here is a recipe that reminds me of the years I lived in Dallas. Cowboy Caviar makes great use of that southern New Year’s Day staple – black eyed peas. It pairs them with canned (or frozen) corn, the fresh flavors of green onion and cilantro, along with a good dash of vinegar and spice. This is easy to throw together on short notice and makes a great salad or side dish or, when served with tortilla chips, a tasty appetizer or game-day party snack.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2017!

Cowboy Caviar
From Sunset magazine, March 1997 issue

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 ½ to 2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 ½ teaspoons salad oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 firm-ripe avocado ( about 10oz.)
1 can (15 oz.) black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 can (11 oz.) corn kernels, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ pound roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 bag (6 oz.) tortilla chips or 2 cups finely shredded cabbage

In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, hot sauce, oil, garlic and pepper. Peel and pit avocado. Cut into ½-inch dice. Add to vinegar mixture and gently toss.

Add peas, corn, onions, cilantro and tomatoes to avocado mixture and gently toss to coat. Add salt to taste.

Serve with chips as an appetizer or on a bed of shredded cabbage as a salad.