It’s beginning to taste a lot like Christmas

Mini Morsel Toll House Pound Cake dusted with confectioners’ sugar

Now that flour is flying through the air in my kitchen and butter is getting seriously creamed, I am in full holiday baking mode.

You know from my blog and other social media accounts, most of what I post are entrees, side dishes and everyday food (Instagram @collardgreenscaviar).

Desserts are not my mainstay, but I have to admit I have a repertoire of confectionery offerings that I’ve mastered.

During Christmas is when I roll them out and bask in baker’s joy.

Yes, I can be a bit of a baker. It’s part of my Southern roots. I’ve had years of experience, nearly 40 to be honest.

This Pecan Tart has always been a part of my dessert gift repertoire.

When I was a young woman who was high on energy and low on cash, I baked all of my Christmas gifts for my family. I’d packed the baked goodies in decorated hat boxes because back then Broadway Department Store (now known as Macy’s) would give them away for free. And free fit my budget just fine.

What were some of the desserts that where piled into those coveted hat boxes? An array of my favorites: Lemon 7up Pound Cake, Mini Morsel Pound Cake, Almond Cookies with powdered sugar, Pecan Tart (thanks to Martha Stewart pie of the month calendar I got as gift in 1980), Deep Dish Sweet Potato Pie, Hello Dolly Bars, and sometimes Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies dipped in dark chocolate.

Plated Christmas delights I’ve been making for nearly 40 years.

When I finally got a real job that afforded me some “disposable income,” I flipped my skirt tail with joy. Now I could finally afford to buy my family proper Christmas gifts. But oh no, they wouldn’t have it. All they wanted was that hat box of goodies.

2017 Plated delights all dressed up and ready to deliver.

So to this very day, the tradition continues. Oh I’ve upped my game a bit. No longer do I pack the annual delights in a hat box.  I don’t think they exist anymore. Instead each year I buy a series of  various dinner plates (which is part of the gift) and pile the goodies onto them. I wrap them in cellophane and finish with a holiday bow.

One of my favorite recipes in the box or on the plate is the Mini Morsel Toll House Pound Cake. Back in the day, the recipe was featured on the back of the Mini Toll House Chocolate Chips bag.  Today, it’s no longer there. In fact, it’s not even on their website anymore.

Why do I love this cake so much? It’s moist, rich and not airy or fluffy. It is a substantial cake, one that is perfect with your morning cup of coffee, and the ying to your yang when you top it with ice cream (I prefer butter pecan).

Mini Morsel Toll House Pound Cake without powered sugar.

Sometimes I dust it with powdered sugar, and sometimes I don’t. But no matter how I finish it, it’s always a treat that makes me smack my lips.

I want to  wish you all a beautiful holiday season,  and also encourage you to think about adding this classic old school recipe to your holiday baking list. Now, get baking!

*Cook’s note: Know your oven. I have had to make adjustments in the temperature and baking times over the years based on my oven. For the past 15 years, I have had two electric ovens. I’ve learned that when using my oven, the baking time is the same, but the temperature was adjusted down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit for the older oven. Now it is adjusted to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for the new oven I purchased two years ago. I would suggest if you have a gas oven, that you set it at 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake it for 70 minutes, then insert a tooth pick to see if comes clean (I use a wooden skewer) and adjust cooking time from there. This will help prevent over browning.

Mini Morsel Toll House Pound Cake

  • Servings: 12 to 16
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Print

This moist and delicious pound cake will be a must have at your next holiday gathering.


Ingredients


1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
3⁄4 cup evaporated milk
1 bag of mini morsel chocolate chips
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to *350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease and flour a 10 inch tube/Bundt pan (I use a non-stick flour cooking spray).
  3. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl beat the sugar and butter with mixer (I used an electric hand mixer) until creamy, then add the vanilla.
  5. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until each one is incorporated.
  6. Gradually mix in the flour mixture, alternating with milk. Then mix batter (about 1 minute) with mixer.
  7. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  8. Pour batter into grease and floured pan. (Note: the batter will be thick)
  9. Bake 70-80 minute or until toothpick, when inserted, comes out clean.
  10. Cool 10 minutes, loosen sides and invert onto cake plate, cover with lid until cake is room temperature.
    (this will make for a moist cake). When there is no more moisture on top of cake, dust it with the confectioner sugar.

 

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Smart mouth, smart cookie

Happy Women’s History Month.

As the great orator T.D. Jakes often wails in the throes of his sermons, “Get ready, get ready, get ready!”

Stories of amazing, everyday women abound the entire month of March. I frankly bask in their awesomeness, drawn from their strength and courage, and get inspired by their indomitable spirits.

National Women’s History Project

The National Women’s History Project has published this year’s National Women’s History theme. It is: “Nevertheless She Persisted.”

It pays homage to women whose lives “demonstrate the power of voice, of persistent action, and of believing that meaningful and lasting change is possible in our democratic society.” (Click here to learn more about how the actions of Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA inspired this year’s theme. Chick here for this year’s Women’s History Month Presidential Proclamation.)

Katherine Spiers, food writer and food anthropologist.

Local writer, local props

As a food writer and native Angeleno, I had to look no further than my own  backyard to find a woman in my industry that, despite the changes and shifts in the print and digital media, nevertheless she persisted.

That woman is Katherine Spiers.

Remember her name.

She was the former Food Editor at LA Weekly, one of the largest alternative weekly newspapers in the United States.  She’s been writing about the vibrant and often transcendent food culture in Los Angeles for over 13 years.

The “cuisine and culture” maven has some noteworthy chops which include her boots on the ground approach to covering the LA food scene at seriouseats.com, followed by time she spent as Managing Editor of  the “Food & Living” digital section at Los Angeles  based KCET, the nation’s largest independent public television station.

LA Weekly gave her the opportunity to explore and unearth the obscure and unsung eateries in LA, and cover these stories from a myriad of social, economic and human perspectives.

“A lot of immigrants start restaurants and people were starting to realize that covering the scene food is more than just about the food. We eat the food of immigrants. So when you talk about immigration issues, food is part of that discussion. As Food Editor, I wanted to make sure we were getting the full breath of the City covered,” said Katherine.

She did exactly that during her two year stint at LA Weekly. Late last year, the paper was sold. To the shock and disappointment of many Angelenos, Katherine, along with other beloved editorial staff members were laid off.   This was a huge loss because there are very few writers, particularly women, who focus on covering LA’s diverse and vibrant food scene.  Nevertheless, she persisted.

Smart Mouth Podcast logo. Fun fact: this is an actual photo of Katherine’s mouth.

Smart Mouth, smart moves

Thank heaven for Smart Mouth Podcast. Katherine and her producer partner Michelle Lanz started the smart and engaging endeavor just over a year ago. They have persisted and elevated their coverage of the food culture which not only includes the voices of the usual culinary suspects, but voices of those outside of the food industry like actors, comedians, and other interesting personalities. As stated on their website which is chalk full of fascinating interviews which you must check out:

“We talk to the most interesting people we know, working in all kinds of industries, about their favorite dishes. It’s a way of finding out what makes them tick.”

The chemistry of Katherine and Michelle is warm, conversational and cozy. The interviews are lively, insightful, revealing and so fresh.

Katherine Spiers and producer partner Michelle Lanz.

Food anthropologist

But I am burying the lead here. To borrow a term from the hip-hop vernacular, Katherine “spits” some serious food history knowledge throughout her podcasts. She is a seasoned journalist to be sure. But you can’t help but be struck by how the inner anthropologist comes out as she blends in examples about why the history of food matters and why it’s important to talk about where food comes from.

“People will tell stories of early American food, and President Thomas Jefferson comes up a lot because of his amazing farm. He’s often credited with being the first to introduce certain foods to the states,” said Katherine. But the food historian emphasized that it was his slaves who also brought many plants, vegetables and legumes to the United States from Africa through the Atlantic slave trade; and they tended his farm and prepared his meals often using methods native to their homeland.

“I think it’s really important not give all the credit to white males in history because that just wouldn’t be the truth,” said Katherine. “What happens in the world is much more interesting and involves a lot more people than we think it does. I really try to bring light to the stories that are easily glossed over.”

Katherine recently enjoyed Halo-halo, a popular Filipino dessert, at a  local restaurant.

What’s trending on the LA food scene

Vietnamese and Filipino food are certainly trendy cuisines in Los Angeles, as well as cities across the states.  But Katherine says the concept of “pop-ups” or eateries that don’t’ confine themselves to the traditional brick and mortar model, are the most interesting.  She believes changes in the economy and an often unfriendly business environment have lead many culinary entrepreneurs to find creative venues and novel ways to reach people who are looking for good food and unique dining experiences.

“Some of my favorite Vietnamese food was being served at a pop-up that was in a break room of the chef’s uncle’s mechanic garage,” said Katherine with a whimsical tone. “The food was really incredible. I love that Angelenos seem to really be down for adventure. It’s part of the City’s culture.”

What’s up with that?

The popularity of food television shows has yielded a bumper crop of celebrity chefs and food personalities. When Katherine surveys the current landscape of food shows, she notes that there has been a noticeable shift, leaving women noticeably absent.

“When food shows started becoming popular in the early 2000’s, there were a lot female hosts because they were primarily cooking shows. But I think in the last couple of years a lot of the food content has turned into shows that feature hosts who travel around the world and eat various types of foods from that region,” observed Katherine.

“Most of those shows have men as hosts.  I’m guessing it’s because no one wants to see women eating. It’s cool that more people are learning about the world through these shows, but women are missing when it comes to these opportunities.”

Katherine served as a judge for a cocktail competition.

What’s next?

Katherine is focusing on expanding the reach of her podcast, moderating discussions at food events, and who knows – you  may see her pop up as a host of a food travel show.  But in the meantime, you can keep up with Ms. Spiers by listening to Smart Mouth Podcast and following her on her various social media platforms. She’s the one to watch in this ever evolving food space.

Twitter  @katherinespiers
Instagram @smartmouthpodcast
Smart Mouth Podcast
iTunes
Soundcloud
Facebook

A recipe postscript

Yup, Katherine Spiers is a smart cookie.  But this post wouldn’t be complete without sharing one of her favorite smart cookie recipes. It’s a take on the basic Toll House cookie recipe with a Smart Mouth twist. Katherine explains her approach here:

“I’m generous with the vanilla and salt, and I swap out the walnuts for one cup honey roasted peanuts, slightly smashed, and I use an 8 ounce bag of toffee bits (that’s 1 1/3 cups) and 2/3 cups chocolate chips.”

There you have it. Here’s the recipe.

Smart Mouth Toffee Bits Cookies

  • Servings: 4-5 dozen
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

A really tasty cookie

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (Kathrine says be generously here so try 2 teaspoons)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Katherine would use more so try 2-3 teaspoons)
2 large eggs
1~8 ounce package (1  1/3 cups) Hershey Heath English Toffee Bits
2/3 cup Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped honey roasted peanuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
  3. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
  6. Stir in morsels and chopped peanuts.
  7. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
  8. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.
  9. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.