Chunky Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies for Papa

My grandfather passed away recently. It’s never easy to lose a loved one, even though you know it’s coming when you see their health declining.

He lived a long, good life and made it until the ripe old age of 90. This blows my mind.

How do people make it to their nineties these days? He is survived by my grandmother, who is 91.

I’ll go ahead and say it… They were the cutest couple on the planet. Maybe even the universe. This April would have been their 72nd wedding anniversary. I’m serious. The thought of my husband tolerating me for that long seems impossible, but they made it. I can still hear him calling for her in that sweet voice from across the house. “Eloise? Have you seen my billfold?” He was a very hard-working man with a fiery temper and an immensely deep love for his family. He would go over the moon for any of us at any time, especially Grandma. I’ve never seen a man love his wife more than he loved her.

He was a man you wouldn’t want to mess with if you threatened his family. Forget Mama Bear, Papa Bear would tear you to shreds in an instant.

Perfect example…

Thirteen years ago, I was visiting my parents when my dad had a heart attack. My mom was at the hospital with my dad, and I had come back to their house to take a shower. It was dark outside, and I was alone in the house. After getting out of the shower and drying off, I heard someone knocking at the back door. No one EVER knocks on the back door. It freaked me out. I stayed in the bathroom with the door locked and waited for a few minutes, listening to my heart pound in my ears. After throwing a towel on my head and getting dressed, I bolted into a nearby bedroom to call my mom and see if they were expecting anyone to stop by. “Um, no. You said they knocked on the back door? Are you sure?” I replied, “I’m 100% positive it was the back door. Do NOT tell Daddy, he doesn’t need any more stress on top of all this and he’ll get super paranoid. I’ll keep my eyes peeled and the doors locked.”

What did she do?

You guessed it, she told my dad.

Lord help us.

He started making phone calls to different neighbors, and called my grandparents who lived five minutes away.

Papa was on his way over.

At this point, Papa was in his late seventies, but still walked and rode his bicycle several miles a day. Every day. He stayed active working on the yard and in his workshop, also helping Grandma with the garden. They both grew up on a farm, and he was in three branches of the military. Oh, and he ALWAYS had a pocket knife on him.

He gets to the house and is on high alert. We’re talking about who could have knocked on the unlit back door. A few minutes later, the front doorbell rings. I look over and see a guy from across the street, armed with a smile and a casserole dish. Surely he looked threatening.

Papa whips out that pocket knife, gets a grimaced, teeth-gritted look on his face and starts stomping toward the front door with the knife pointed out to confront the intruder.

“PAPA!!! Put the knife away!!!! Stop!” I cried, and sprinted across the room. Luckily I beat him  by a split second, opened the door to the unsuspecting neighbor, Papa standing behind me ready to cut some booty.

“Hi! We heard about your dad being in the hospital, and my wife made y’all a baked ziti.” Papa still had that knife in his hand, and the neighbor looked at him, slightly puzzled. I responded, “Thank you so much. They’re both still at the hospital, but I’ll take that and put it in the fridge. Did you by any chance come by earlier and knock on the back door?” He said, “Yeah, I came to the front door first and wasn’t sure if the doorbell worked, so I tried the back door.”

Whew.

I thanked him again and sent him on his way.

As I turned around to look at Papa, I saw that grimaced look on his face with the knife STILL in his hand.

“You can put the knife away now, Papa. The baked ziti won’t hurt us.”

For many years, Papa and Grandma would go our family’s farm and pick pecans. And when I say they would pick pecans, I mean like TEN POUNDS of pecans at a time. Not kidding. They would bring them home, shell them, give everyone they knew a large bag of pecans, then pack the rest up and stick them in the freezer.

If only I had a nickel for how many pecans I was offered over the years.

When they moved into assisted living at the beginning of the year, I inherited their freezer. Guess what was in it?

PECANS. TONS OF PECANS.

My sister-in-law prepared a huge meal for the family the day of the funeral. All the delicious southern foods you can think of, and she asked if I could make dessert. After thinking about making cupcakes, it seemed only appropriate to make something for Grandma with the pecans she and Papa picked together.

So, here are the cookies.

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Thick, soft and fully loaded cookies packed with chocolate chips and those wonderful pecans. We ate them in his honor while telling old “Papa” stories. There was laughter, and there were tears.

It was a beautiful service and we paid our respects to a man we will always miss, and truly cherished the time we had with him.

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Rest in Peace, Papa. We love you.

Chunky Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies Recipe

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 (12 oz.) bag chocolate chips + 1 heaping cup chopped pecans

In a small mixing bowl, combine both sugars. In another medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Cut up butter and put in a microwave safe dish with shortening. Microwave for 1 – 1 1/2 minutes, until melted. Pour melted butter/shortening into small mixing bowl with sugars, whisk vigorously until well combined and smooth. Whisk in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Pour into medium mixing bowl with dry ingredients, gently stir together until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans. Using a medium size cookie scoop (about the size of 3 tablespoons), distribute cookie dough to a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Shape each piece of dough into a disc, place back on cookie sheet. Put cookie sheet in refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.

When ready to bake, pull cookie sheet out of fridge to let dough rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place cookie dough about 2 inches apart from each other on cookie sheet (highly recommend baking stone!!!). Bake for 12-14 minutes, until a very light golden color. Remove from oven and let cookies sit on pan for about 12 minutes before transferring to cooling rack lined with wax paper to cool completely.

When cookies have cooled completely, store in airtight container. Best when consumed within two days after baking!

Ultimate Oreo Cake

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep? Happens to me more than I’d like, but often that’s when a lot of brainstorming takes place in my noggin.

Sometimes I’d rather be sleeping, but that’s when an idea pops in my head that makes me want to start baking a massive dessert at 3am. That happens to everyone… Right?

Well, that’s what started this…

The Ultimate Oreo Cake.

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As I was laying in bed in the middle of the night desperately trying to fall back asleep, Oreos were dancing in my head. Then came the cheesecake. And the chocolate.

Oh, the chocolate.

The end result was a three layer decadent dessert made for dreams. Two moist layers of chocolate cake surrounding a thick and fluffy Oreo cheesecake, covered with Oreo Cream Cheese Icing, chocolate ganache, and little baby Oreos.

Mmmmm, Oreos.

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As my husband watched me layering all of this goodness together, he said, “Why would you want to ruin a cheesecake by adding cake to it?” I gawked at him. “That’s it, I’m locking you away in a padded room tied up in a straightjacket.”

It must not have been all that ruined since he ate an entire piece.

For the Chocolate Cake:

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 cup strong coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium size mixing bowl and whisk together to combine. Add liquid ingredients and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed for about 1-2 minutes, until thoroughly combined. Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans, pour batter evenly into pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and let cakes cool in pans for 12-15 minutes. Turn cakes out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

For the Oreo Cheesecake:

4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine 1 package cream cheese, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar. Beat at medium speed until combined. Add each package of cream cheese, beating after each one until fully incorporated, stopping to scrape down the sides. Add remaining sugar and continue to beat. Add vanilla and eggs, beat just until combined. Finally, add heavy cream and continue to beat just until the cream is mixed in with the cream cheese.

Spoon mixture into a 9 inch springform pan. Wrap aluminum foil around outside of pan twice, making sure the outside of the pan is fully covered. Place in a larger pan (I typically use a 12 inch round cake pan for this) and fill the larger pan with water, just until the water level comes halfway up the springform pan. Carefully place in oven and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, just until the middle is a little bit jiggly. Pull pans out of oven, remove springform pan from larger pan and place on a cooling rack for cheesecake to cool completely. When it has cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer overnight.

For the Oreo Cream Cheese Icing:

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

5 cups confectioners sugar

1/2 cup Oreo cookies, crushed into crumbs (easiest to use electric food chopper or processor)

Combine butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a medium size mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer at medium speed for 3-4 minutes. Add confectioners sugar, one cup at a time, continue to mix for another 3-4 minutes. Pour in Oreo cookie crumbs and beat for one more minute.

For the Chocolate Ganache:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Dump chocolate chips in a small mixing bowl, set aside. Heat heavy cream in microwave safe dish in microwave for 45-60 seconds, until it just starts to boil. Pour over chocolate chips in bowl and whisk vigorously until chocolate melts.

Putting it all together:

Place one layer of chocolate cake on a cake board/stand. Spread a thin layer of icing on top of cake. Remove cheesecake from freezer and loosen the side. Carefully push the bottom up to remove from the side. Place a piece of wax paper on a hard surface (I typically use another cake pan) and turn top side of cheesecake down, so the bottom of the springform pan is facing up. Using a knife, loosen cheesecake from the pan all the way around. Since the cheesecake is frozen, it’s easier to handle. Once you remove the bottom of the springform pan from the cheesecake, place the cheesecake on top of the chocolate cake layer. Spread another thin layer of icing on top of cheesecake, then place other layer of chocolate cake on top. Cover the entire cake with the icing until smooth. Spread chocolate ganache on top, just pushing over the sides so it drips down. Place cake in refrigerator or freezer for the ganache to set. Pipe remaining icing on top, set baby Oreos on top of icing for added garnish. Store cake in airtight container in refrigerator for 3-5 days.

 

I put my family in a diabetic coma over the holidays.

Do you find yourself in charge of making something in particular for the holidays? I’m usually in charge of desserts.

No complaints here.

Since none of these calories count, here was the opportunity to really go overboard.

My mother-in-law asked if I could make something for their annual Christmas lunch where all of us get together. Does an alligator pee in a swamp? Of course.

But, what to make? The family LOVES cheesecake, and I knew there would be over 30 people at the gathering and one cheesecake won’t cut it. So what do you do in a situation like this?

Make two cheesecakes.

And a cake.

And two types of cookies.

And another cake.

What about my side of the family for a Christmas gathering? Several people on my side are weirdly picky about what they like, so something that will easily make everyone happy is the way to do it.

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So, here’s the Christmas dessert lineup to stuff our families like Hansel and Gretel:

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Chocolate Oreo Cheesecake:  rich, chocolate cheesecake with an Oreo crust and Oreo chunks packed throughout the cheesecake, topped with chocolate ganache, fresh whipped cream and a mini Oreo cookie.

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Tiramisu Cheesecake:  coffee cheesecake with a Nilla wafer crust, ladyfingers dipped in coffee and kahlua, and a mascarpone-cream topping with sprinkled cocoa.

Boston Creme Pie:  two layers of fluffy vanilla cake filled with vanilla pastry cream, covered with chocolate ganache.

Red Velvet Cake:  two layers of moist red velvet cake smothered with cream cheese icing.

Chocolate Chip Cookies:  thick, soft, and chewy chocolate chip cookies. No further explanation needed.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Cookies:  two Ritz crackers sandwiching a thick layer of creamy peanut butter, dipped in white chocolate.

We had to make sure we saved chocolate chip cookies for Santa. He’s so needy.

The only promise I can make right now is to avoid eating any more desserts…for a couple days. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

The Cleaning Fairy leaves Crème Brulee when she visits.

Imagine going to bed at night, sleeping 8 hours straight, and waking up to a clean house. All the clutter is gone. The counters are wiped down. The living room is straightened and vacuumed. The trash cans have been emptied. The bathrooms don’t have pee everywhere. You go to open the door to the refrigerator, and sitting on the sparkling clean shelf in the middle are ramekins filled with crème brulee, ready to be torched and eaten. The Cleaning Fairy visited during the night, just like she does every week.

WAKE UP!!!

Reality sets in. She didn’t come by and clean the house, de-clutter anything, and most certainly didn’t leave any crème brulee. Witch.

Instead, I have to do it. When the hubaroo gets off the phone with his mom and says he’d like to take the kids out for lunch and to hang out with her for a while- “Do you want to go?” HERE is the opportunity. A quiet house (well, until the 90’s booty-shakin’ music starts blasting when they leave) to really have the chance to get things done without distraction. NO, I do NOT want to go. Love the hubaroo, kids, and even the mother-in-law, but here’s the chance to wear myself out and be somewhat happy with the end result.

De-cluttering the house is a chore that most people dread doing, especially if you tend to hoard things that really have no business being in the house. Guilty!

It took reading a book that gave some true motivation to really get things in motion. Clutter’s Last Stand by Don Aslett got me on the wagon 9 years ago after reading it for the first time. It was on. Thirteen very large trash bags later, the house looked magical. This was B.C. (Before Children), so it was a LOT easier to maintain. The years dragged on, we got more crap, had two kids, got MORE crap, and here we are…with lots of crap.

Have you ever looked around your house and wanted to throw everything in the garbage can that was out of place? Yeah, that’s where I have been for the past month or so, but haven’t had the time (or energy) to light a fire under my butt and get things going.

So, here is the opportunity to get started. Christmas is a good motivator since there will be even more crap coming in the house when the fat man in red makes his delivery. We pay him with cookies and milk.

After going at it for a few hours and plopping down on the couch, I made a phone call to check on hubaroo and kids. After asking what he wanted for dinner, he said, “How about pizza? That’ll be simple. Oh, and some crème brulee.” You know, because pizza and crème brulee go together so well, right? (insert sarcasm here)

Since ordering pizza doesn’t take much effort, the crème brulee was definitely an option.

This and a glass of wine were my rewards for de-cluttering 10% of the house. A trip to Vegas after the whole thing is done will be sufficient. Or a new Mustang.

Since hubaroo was so gracious to remove our little freeloaders from the house for a few hours, I gave in to his dessert request. The best way to describe Crème Brulee is to call it French Pudding. Easy enough to explain that to people, and they’re more likely to eat it if they’ve never experienced the gloriousness of it before. And who doesn’t want to play with a kitchen torch?

What would you want as a reward for de-cluttering the house?

Crème Brulee Recipe

1 whole egg

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon triple sec

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

extra granulated sugar (for torching)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk together the egg, yolks, and sugar in a medium size mixing bowl. Set aside. In a microwave safe container, heat the cream until hot but not boiling. Slowly pour a stream of the cream into the bowl with the egg, yolks, and sugar, constantly whisking. Whisk in the triple sec and vanilla. Pour liquid through a wire mesh strainer into another bowl with a spout.

Pour into 4 (8 oz.) shallow* ramekins. If you have smaller ramekins, you’ll have more servings. Place in a half sheet cake pan and pour hot water into pan (BE CAREFUL NOT TO GET WATER IN THE RAMEKINS, IT’LL RUIN THE CUSTARD). Very carefully place pan in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, just until the custards are set (and just a tiny bit jiggly). Remove pan from oven, use spatula to transfer ramekins to a cooling rack. When they are cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.

When torching for service, sprinkle about 1 tablespoon evenly on top of each custard. Torch the top using a kitchen torch.** Let set for about 1 minute before serving.

*Why shallow ramekins? The custard will cook more evenly in a shallow ramekin as opposed to a deeper one. The consistency will be the same throughout.

**I’ve heard some people say you can use the broiler in your oven if you don’t have a torch. It’s definitely not as effective as a kitchen torch, but is a way to improvise. Get yourself a kitchen torch though if you’d like, just keep it away from kids and pyromaniac husbands.

 

Gingerbread Rice Krispie Treats

While strolling through Wal Mart, the holiday baking section always catches my eye this time of year.  Well, I say that I was strolling, but it was more along the lines of a race-walking situation where I was headed for the finish line (being checkout).  I slowed down for a few seconds, then came to a screeching halt.  There they were…practically taunting me from the shelf…Gingerbread Marshmallows.  Was this an oasis in the dessert of shopping craziness in front of my eyes?  Clearly it was, so two bags were quickly thrown into my cart.  On I went, bolting for the self checkout aisle.  I couldn’t help but to fantasize about how satisfying some Gingerbread Rice Krispie Treats would be going into my belly.

With previous Rice Krispie Treat recipes, I’ve noticed that they’ve seemed a little dry.  Since I’m a huge fan of delicious desserts with moisture, I usually add a little more butter than what the recipe calls for…and in this case, some added cinnamon.  You’re welcome.

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Gingerbread Rice Krispie Treats Recipe

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 (8 oz.) bag gingerbread marshmallows

5 cups Rice Krispies cereal

extra butter for dish

Generously rub extra butter in bottom an dup sides of a 9×13 inch baking dish, set aside.  In a large pot, melt butter on low/medium heat on stove.  Continue to cook butter, stirring constantly, until slightly browned.  Stir in cinnamon and continue to cook for another minute.  Add marshmallows, reduce heat and stir constantly until marshmallows are melted and mixture is smooth.  Remove front heat, immediately add cereal and stir well until mixture is completely coated.  Spoon mixture into buttered dish.  Use extra butter for rubbing on hands, then press mixture evenly into dish.

Cayenne Chocolate Cookies

In all honesty, I was a little skeptical of these cookies at first.  One of my good friends told me about these cookies over the summer, which left me intrigued.  Spicy and sweet, all at the same time?  Will my taste buds revolt against me after eating these?   It’s amazing how the flavor of these cookies can send your entire mouth into a twist…  First, you get the rich sweetness of chocolate.  Next, it’s that sweet spice of cinnamon.  For the big bang, here comes the cayenne with a kick.  My mouth almost felt a weird numbness after the first one, but still wanted more.  The perfect opportunity to make these presented itself while I was preparing chicken tortilla soup and quesadillas for dinner.  It truly was the perfect ending to a Mexican style meal.

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Cayenne Chocolate Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened

2 cups sugar

2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 bag semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium size mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar.  Using an electric mixer, beat at medium speed until mixture is fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla, continue mixing at medium speed until combined.  Add flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, cayenne pepper and cinnamon, continue mixing until dough is well combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Using a cookie scoop, drop dough on cookie sheet.  Bake for approximately 12 minutes, remove from oven.  Let cookies sit on cookie sheet for another 2 minutes before using a spatula to move cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.  Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Brownie Truffle Pie

Flipping through recipe books when you’re hungry is like begging someone to hold a chocolate bar in front of your face while dieting.  It’s cruel and unusual punishment, yet I find myself doing this on a regular basis.  Too many times I’ve slammed the book shut and fussed at myself for the self-inflicted torture.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s the real dessert in the pictures though, because it looks like an oasis in a desert since I want to eat the page itself.

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The picture of this particular dessert took up an entire page, and I stared at it.  My daughter comes up and says, “Mommy, I want you to make THAT!”  Yes, kiddo, me too.

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I made a few modifications on this to make it a little easier, but the result was out of this world.  The pirouettes are more of a fancy garnish, adding a “wow” factor to the presentation…along with added deliciousness.  This is a rich, velvety dessert with a moist and creamy texture, so even a small slice goes a long way.  Excuse me while I slip into a chocolate coma.

Brownie Truffle Pie

1 box brownie mix (plus eggs, oil and water for baking directions)

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 tablespoons coffee liquor (use cooled coffee if you’d prefer not to use liquor)

4 oz. frozen whipped topping, thawed

14-16 Pirouette cookies, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 8 inch round baking pan with foil, spray with cooking spray.  Mix brownie batter together, spread in pan.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

In a microwave safe bowl, combine heavy cream and butter.  Microwave on high for 1-1 1/2 minutes or until butter is melted and mixture is boiling, stir until smooth.  Add cream mixture to chocolate and whisk until chocolate melts.  Stir in vanilla and coffee liquor.

Set aside 1/4 cup chocolate mixture for garnish.  Transfer remaining chocolate mixture to a large bowl.  Place brownie on serving plate.  Spread half of the remaining chocolate mixture over brownie layer, spreading evenly over the top.  Stir in whipped topping with chocolate mixture until well combined.  Spread over chocolate layer, also around the sides.  Gently press cookies into side of dessert.  Pipe reserved chocolate mixture on top.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Remove from fridge 5 minutes before cutting.

**Spreading the top layer is easier if the ganache layer is already set….to do so, place brownie and ganache layer in refrigerator for 20-30 minutes for layer to harden before spreading mousse layer on top.**