Mississippi Mud Pie

Mississippi Mud Pie

Rating: 4/5 stars. Don’t let the multiple layers of this Mississippi mud pie scare you off. This rich, decadent dessert is actually fairly simple and will easily serve a dozen.

Coming off yet another rough week at work, I desperately needed some therapy baking this weekend. I don’t want to be too depressing,  so suffice it to say that our school seems destined for tragedy this year. And somehow when terrible things happen, I always find myself wishing I had some snacks to share. Maybe some cookies. I know that sounds ridiculous. Cookies can’t fix it; nothing can. But there’s a reason that we bring food when someone has died. Food is essentially human, essentially social, essentially alive. In the face of tragedy, we cling to those things. Earlier this year, my classes watched this Kevin Young poem, “Ode to Gumbo.” It’s about food and grief and sharing and remembering. Kevin Young makes those connections much more eloquently than I can; it’s well worth four minutes of your time.

And so Friday night after the kids were in bed, this Mississippi mud pie was my therapy. I turned on a podcast, preheated the oven, and lost myself in counter-top-loads of Oreos and butter. The pie looks fancy, but it’s actually not that hard, and it makes a massive amount of dessert. Over the course of the weekend, we fed this to my parents, ourselves (Rob and I had two slices each… I’m going to go ahead and blame that on the stressful week), and about eight parents from our kids’ church group. Like manna from heaven, this pie held out to the bitter end. I thought we were going to be left with one final slice after everyone left, too, but at the last minute somebody snatched it up. So I guess that means it was a hit.

Photo Feb 27, 12 12 08 PM

Time Commitment: 1 hr 15 minutes. I’ve simplified Mississippi mud pie to the barest, quickest essentials. This took about 45 minutes of active time then 30 minutes to bake the filling. Afterwards it does need to cool for an hour or two before you put on the final topping, but that phase takes less than five minutes, so I won’t bother counting it.

Mess: Fittingly, I suppose, Mississippi mud does not score well in the mess category. It requires a food processor, and the crust-making process left Oreo dust EVERYWHERE. On the other hand, the filling can be entirely assembled in the pot you use to melt the chocolate and butter. (Obviously if you choose to make real whipped cream rather than use Cool Whip, the mess factor ticks up yet again.)

Mom Fails: I totally thought I’d blown it when my Oreo crust came out of the oven looking all cracked and hole-y. I thought my pie was going to crumble into a chocolate-flavored heap when I unmolded this thing. But once I baked the filling and chilled the whole thing for a while, it actually held together perfectly. Also, always line your springform pan with foil before baking with it. Just… always do it. Every time. There’s nothing worse than scorched butter on the bottom of your oven. I speak from experience here.

Mississippi Mud PieMississippi Mud Pie

Serves 12

Source: Diethood’s Mississippi Mud Pie

Ingredients

Crust

  • 35-40 oreos (one 14 oz box)
  • 1 stick butter, melted

Filling

  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c sugar (the original recipe called for 1 1/4 c, which was just a bit too sweet for me)
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract (you could substitute some cold brewed coffee here, if you want to intensify the chocolate flavor)
  • 3 eggs

Topping

  • 1 8 oz tub Cool Whip–I used the “Extra Creamy” variety  (or, if you have the time, 1 cup whipping cream + a bit of sugar and vanilla extract)
  • Optional: chocolate sauce or toasted pecan pieces for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wrap the bottom of your springform pan with aluminum foil if you want to prevent some messes down the road.
  2. Make the crust: Using a food processor, pulse Oreos until a smooth, consistently small crumb forms. (This will take several minutes.) Add melted butter and pulse a few more times. Reserve 1/4 c of the Oreo mixture for the topping. Push the rest into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan to make crust. Bake for 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.
  3. Meanwhile, make the filling: Melt butter and chocolate in a small saucepan, whisking continually. Remove from heat. Stir flour and salt directly into the pot. Then add sugar, vanilla, and corn syrup. Stir until combined. Finally, add in eggs, one at a time, and stir.
  4. Pour filling into crust and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the top is slightly crackly, like a brownie. I
  5. Cool on a wire rack for 1-2 hours.
  6. Spread Cool Whip over the brownie filling. (If you have time, real whipped cream would be delicious here.)
  7. At this point, you can refrigerate the pie in the springform pan, tightly covered with plastic wrap, for at least a day.
  8. To remove the pie from the pan, first run a knife around the edges; then slowly unmold.
  9. Top with reserved crumb mixture. You can also use chocolate sauce and/or toasted pecans, if desired.

 

Spinach Fritters

spinach fritters

Rating: 4/5 stars. Enjoy these crispy spinach fritters with pasta or rice and a bit of tomato sauce.

Twenty-three miles; eighty minutes; seven accidents. That was my drive home today. I have no idea what sort of insanity struck the good people of Chattanooga between the hours of 3:30 and 5:00 PM, but I would have been happy to stay out of it, thank you very much. It was like I drove through a blip in the space-time continuum that took me back to Los Angeles, circa 2008, where my daily commute took me past Dodger Stadium, Staples Center, and the LA Coliseum. If there was any sporting event going on in the city, I might as well just stay at work until 8, because otherwise I’d just be camped out on the 110 through downtown.

After today’s harrowing drive, I arrived home to a dog that needed to go out, a baby just waking up from a nap–hungry, of course!–and a daughter with one thing on her mind: finger-painting. It was A LOT. I honestly thought we were going to have to resort to cold cereal for dinner, but then I looked at the directions for these fritters and decided that they looked both feasible and–obviously–healthier than the cereal option. So I took the dog out, fed #2, and set #1 up with her finger-paints. 30 minutes later, I had spinach fritters with some pasta and tomato sauce ready to go exactly as Rob walked in the door. I WIN, FREEWAY CHAOS.

Photo Feb 24, 6 27 09 PM

Of course, in the meantime, #1 painted half the table and then coated her forearms with orange paint, giving her a kind of creepy tanorexic look. No recipe is easy enough to forestall finger-paint-related fiasco, I suppose.

Time Commitment: You can easily toss together these fritters in 30 minutes. You should, however, keep an eye on what your children are doing during that time.

Mess: The fritters themselves are very low mess: one bowl, one pan, one cutting board. But of course, you have to serve the fritters with something, unless you’re one of those people who gets full on nothing but spinach and onions (in which case, no offense, but I hate you).

Mom Fails: This recipe is pretty idiot-proof. Good thing, too, because LONG DAY.

Spinach Frittersspinach fritters

Source: Rachael Ray’s Spinach Fritters

Makes about 16 two-inch fritters

Ingredients

  • 16 oz bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 an onion, minced
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 c shredded or crumbled cheese (I used cheddar, which was good, but next time I might try this with some parmesan or feta)
  • Oil for frying

Directions

  1. Beat eggs lightly in large bowl. Mix in all other ingredients (except oil).
  2. Pour a couple glugs of olive oil into a frying pan over medium heat. Fry fritters by heaping tablespoonfuls until browned. Flip and do the same on the other side.
  3. If your fritters look a bit greasy, you can set them on a plate lined with paper towel for a few minutes before serving.

Best Whole Wheat Bread

the best whole wheat bread

Rating: 5/5 stars. This surprisingly un-fussy whole wheat bread, sweetened with honey and molasses, makes a great addition to any meal.

I’d love to say that I’m a great bread baker. I love bread, first of all. And second, there’s really no comparison between home-baked and store-bought bread. Home-baked bread takes the cake (the loaf?) every time. In fact, I do make bread fairly regularly. But it’s always just one recipe: this one. I’ve been making this very same whole wheat bread since Rob and I got married, way back when we lived in Southern California–(gulp!) almost five years ago.

I know I need to expand my bread repertoire (beyond that one attempt at French bread several years ago, which ended up with a consistency remarkably like that of a concrete block). But this bread is just that good. I’ve been making it for so long, I don’t even remember where the original recipe came from, although I do know I’ve made plenty of modifications over the years. And in those five years, I’ve had the same printed-out, scribbled-on paper with the directions. That paper, in the intervening time, has gotten creased, oil stained, sun bleached, and water damaged. I’ve been meaning to type up (and save!) a clean copy for a year or so. And then I figured, while I’m at it, why not share the very best whole wheat bread recipe with you? my ancient whole wheat bread recipe

This bread is incredibly versatile. Serve it with nut butter at breakfast or with avocado, tomato, and cheese at lunch. Serve it with soup (maybe this one or this one) for dinner. Or just toast a slice for a snack. I love it with butter and jam. And good luck resisting it warm from the oven…

Time Commitment: From start to finish, you can make this loaf in under 2 1/2 hours: 15 minutes for preparing the dough, 45 minutes for the first rise, 5 minutes to shape the dough, 30 minutes for the second rise, and 35 minutes to bake.

Mess: This is a one-bowl recipe, but you do have to flour your counter-tops to shape the dough. That’s always a pain to clean up, so I sometimes lay down a couple pieces of wax paper for this step.

Special Equipment: I’ve always made this with a stand mixer. While it makes the process somewhat easier on the arms, you certainly don’t need one.

Mom Fails: As I may have mentioned, I’ve been making this recipe forever, so I know its failure points pretty well. First, make sure you thoroughly mix the ingredients as you add flour. Otherwise you may end up with small pockets that taste like pure salt. Yuck. Despite that precaution, you want to mix and knead this bread as little as possible; that keeps it from getting too tough. And finally, you definitely need good yeast–yeast that’s still alive and ready to do its yeasty duty. If your yeast has been around the block a few times and you’re not sure if it’s still active, try proofing it.

Best Whole Wheat BreadPhoto Feb 12, 11 48 42 AM

Makes two 9×5 loaves

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups hot water (as hot as comes out of your tap is fine)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6 – 7 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I always use King Arthur.)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (optional)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon wheat gluten
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast (If you use rapid-rise yeast, you may want to reduce rise times by 10 minutes or so.)
  • Melted butter (optional, to brush loaves)

Directions

  1. Place the first five ingredients (water, oil, honey, molasses, and salt) in the bowl of your stand mixer with paddle attachment and mix thoroughly.
  2. Add 2 cups flour (to cool dough slightly) and mix; then add yeast and mix again.
  3. Add gluten and 4 cups flour. You can use all 4 cups whole wheat, or substitute one cup of all-purpose flour to make your bread a bit less dense. Mix.
  4. Change from the paddle attachment to the dough hook on your stand mixer. Continue adding flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a tacky ball around the dough hook. For me, this usually happens at 6 1/2 total cups of flour; sometimes in humid weather it takes closer to 7 cups. At that point, you can stop kneading.
  5. Spray some cooking spray on your dough ball and flip it over in your bowl so that the oiled side faces down. Cover the bowl and let your dough rise until just about doubled, 30-45 minutes.
  6. Now you shape the dough. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead a couple of times, then roll into a ball. Divide the ball in two. Roll each half of dough into a log roughly the size of the pan. Seal any gaps by pinching the edges together. Place each log into a greased loaf pan.
  7. Place pans into a warm (not hot!) oven and let the dough rise for another 20-30 minutes, or until the bread has risen to the size of a normal loaf.
  8. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees and let bread bake for 35-40 minutes, or until slightly browned on top.
  9. Five minutes before baking is done, you can pull the loaves out and brush their tops with melted butter.
  10. Cool loaves for five minutes in pans; then run a knife around the edges and turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. Once cool, wrap well with aluminum foil and store at room temperature.

Weeknight Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek Soup

Rating: 4/5 stars. It only takes about half an hour to throw together this smooth vegan potato leek soup for a simple weeknight dinner.

Wednesdays are my busiest days at work. I mean, every day is really busy for a teacher–and that’s what I thrive on, so that’s fine. But Wednesdays are uncomfortably busy. Most days I get a prep period or two to gather my thoughts, grade a few papers, and collect any materials I might need for upcoming classes. Wednesdays, though, I meet with all five of my classes plus my little advisory group. My only break is lunch, and I inevitably end up trying to cram into my 45-minute lunch everything that I would have ordinarily done during my hour-long prep period.

I come home pretty tired on Wednesdays. That means that for Wednesday night dinners, anything more ambitious than scrambled eggs usually scares me off.

I’m glad I ventured out of my comfort zone for this potato leek soup. I ran across this recipe on Pinterest a couple weeks ago and was attracted by the simple ingredient list. Another enticement: I’d never cooked with leeks before. Based on the results in this recipe, I’ll have to think about other places I can work leeks into my cooking. One note, though–leeks need very thorough washing. Mine had mud throughout their layers, so I did a preliminary rinse, then halved them and rinsed them again to get out all the mud.

Time Commitment: 30 minutes. This soup comes together amazingly quickly, especially considering most of the cook time is just waiting for your potatoes to cook. This is definitely a weeknight-friendly meal.

Mess: Remarkably little. This can all be done with one cutting board and one pot.

Mom Fails: I made this recipe using a bag of small baby Dutch gold potatoes. This worked out great in terms of flavor, but peeling all those tiny little potatoes was a major pain. I’ll opt for larger Yukon gold next time around.

Weeknight Potato Leek Soup Photo Feb 03, 6 30 56 PM (1)

Source: Use Real Butter’s Potato Leek Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 glugs olive oil
  • 1 bunch leeks (3 or 4), carefully washed and sliced thin
  • 2 lb yellow potatoes, preferably Yukon gold, peeled and diced
  • 4-6 cups vegetable or chicken broth (you can sub water for part of this if desired)
  • Salt to taste–I used about 1/2 teaspoon
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste–I used about 1/4 teaspoon
  • Optional: minced fresh herbs to finish. I used parsley, but this would also be great with dill or chives.

Directions

  1. Heat oil in your pan. Add leeks and sauté for 5 minutes.
  2. Add potato and 4 cups broth. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  3. Purée soup with immersion blender (or in regular blender, in batches) until smooth. Stir in additional broth or water until soup is desired thickness.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls, garnished with fresh herbs.