Category Archives: Dessert

Baking with Children

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“Just one question, Mom,” says my daughter, Sweet Thing Two to me as she opens the door.  “Does it really matter how this dessert tastes?  I mean, are these people going to taste it?”

Although the coffee and Kahlua complimented the chocolate pasta, the pasta didn't absorb the sauce well.
Although the coffee and Kahlua complimented the chocolate pasta, the pasta didn’t absorb the sauce well.

“Really?”  I thought it was obvious.  The point is that I have to develop a recipe involving the penne pasta that Marx Foods sent me.  This recipe will be shared, so if people will be eating it, it should taste good, right?

Earlier in the evening, we were using my kitchen at full capacity.  Sweet Thing Two had been asked to participate in a church bake-off and was testing the recipe that she would use in the cupcakes that she planned to bake on the forthcoming Saturday.

I was working on my Marx Food Challenge recipe.  The Cub was sitting at our island watching us cook.  “I never would have known that this is better than watching TV!  Hey…..can I make peanut butter cookies?”

I couldn’t believe my ears.  This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  He said once he stayed at his friend’s house and they used the recipe on the back of the peanut butter jar.  We had all of the necessary ingredients and even had some mini chocolate chips, which The Cub wanted to include in his cookies.

Sweet Thing Two and The Cub baking with me in the kitchen.
Sweet Thing Two and The Cub baking with me in the kitchen.

So then there were three of us in the kitchen.  It actually worked very well.  I was putting together the components of the pasta recipe in my head, while the other two gathered their ingredients.  I helped the Cub with the measurements for his cookies, and gave him pointers on how to use the hand mixer.

The cookies were delicious, the cupcakes were beautiful.  As for my penne recipe…although it looked delicious, we all decided that the dish as a whole was not going to work.

The peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips were a big hit!
The peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips were a big hit!
lavender cupcakes
Sweet Thing Two’s cupcakes were a lovely shade of lavender.


On to plan B.


My alarm rang at 6:00 AM.  “Oh no!”

The Loup Garoup sleeping beside me says, “What’s wrong?”

“Whew….never mind.  It isn’t Monday, is it?”

“No, baby, it’s Sunday.”

Sunday.  Today is the day.  The deadline.  D-Day.  I think I have the answer, but I am sure there is a reason they call this a challenge.

Dinner for Dessert!

Marx food sent me some chocolate penne pasta, and I am to create an original recipe that is a dessert but looks like an entrée.  This pasta looks like solid chocolate, which is a little deceiving.  It is is a dried pasta that includes as an ingredient, cocoa!  When I cooked the pasta, it was a novelty.  Everyone had to try it…well almost anyone.  The Loup Garou is not a fan of chocolate.  Although the sauces that I prepared to accompany the dish were delicious, I was told by my children and also tasted that the problem with my first attempt was, of all things, the main ingredient.  I realized that like any pasta dish, the sauces that were to accompany the pasta were supposed to compliment it.  I needed something to bring out the chocolate flavor — something that would coat the pasta just like a tomato sauce!

I decided the best way to emphasize the chocolate is to make a chocolate sauce.  A white chocolate custard sauce would provide balance, and a strawberry sauce on top should do the trick of making this dish look like an entrée.  I used mint, and grated white chocolate on top as garnishes.

This dish works best when the chocolate sauce is allowed some time to absorb the sauce.  Sweet thing two and I shared this dessert and enjoyed it.  However, Sweet Thing One wasn’t crazy with the texture of the pasta in the sauce after it had been chilled.  So I recommend serving at room temperature.

chocolate penne pasta
Dessert for dinner!

Dinner for Dessert: Tuxedo Penne


  • 1 cup Cocoa Penne (
  • 2 oz. chopped unsweetened chocolate
  • 2-1/2 cups milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 oz. white chocolate
  • For the strawberry sauce:
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar


  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water (should taste like seawater) al dente.
  2. Drain the pasta in a colander. Put the pasta in a large bowl with a pat of butter (around a teaspoon) and toss until the pasta is coated. Put the bowl of pasta aside.
  3. Make the Chocolate Custard Sauce (Recipe from Irma Rombaurer's Joy of Cooking)
  4. Heat the unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler with 2 cups of milk, stirring constantly until the chocolate is melted.
  5. Remove from heat.
  6. In a large bowl, beat together 4 egg yolks 3/4 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.
  7. Slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. When the ingredients are combined, put it back into the double boiler.
  8. Stir the chocolate sauce until thickened.
  9. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  10. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla.
  11. Make the white chocolate custard sauce:
  12. In a heavy saucepan add 1 cup of whipping cream, 1/2 cup milk. Heat until boiling. Remove from heat. Add 2 oz white chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted.
  13. Beat 2 egg yolks and two eggs. Stir the eggs into the white chocolate and cream mixture. Stir constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  14. Make the strawberry sauce:
  15. In a saucepan add sugar. Heat until melting. Stir in strawberries.
  16. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  17. Cook until the strawberries have combined flavors with the other ingredients. Stir constantly.
  18. Cool
  19. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves
  20. Puree the sauce in a blender.
  21. This sauce is best when fresh and is a great accompaniment to ice cream!
  22. In a small dish add a spoonful of chocolate pasta. To the pasta add a spoonful of the chocolate sauce. Toss to coat.
  23. On top of the pasta add a layer of the white chocolate custard.
  24. Add another layer of the chocolate pasta and top it with some more chocolate custard sauce.
  25. Finish with a spoon full of strawberry sauce. Garnish with chopped mint. Grate the remaining white chocolate and sprinkle on top.

Chocolate Cannoli and the Italian Birthday Feast

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Last weekend I attended the wedding of a childhood friend.  It was wonderful to catch up with the, “old gang” and find out what everyone had been doing in the years after high school.  Some of us moved away and others stayed close to home.  One amusing subject that came up was how we all tell strangers we meet that we are from Baton Rouge.  The fact is that we are from a small town across the river from Baton Rouge, but I have learned that for most people from other states, New Orleans is the only town, “on the map” in Louisiana.  Even so, Baton Rouge is the capitol, and we expect people to have heard of it even if they don’t know where it is.

Almost any woman from Baton Rouge whose mother cooked anything at least had a copy of River Road Recipes.  It is a cookbook published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge and although there have been four different River Road cook books, the first one, published in 1959 is a classic.

Until recently, I always used the River Road lasagna recipe, because that one was the recipe that my mother used.  It’s the one I remember bringing to the Girl Scout potluck suppers when I was growing up.  When I became a mother and started using that recipe, I always doubled the meat sauce, and it was always a hit – especially with the guys.  It was also guaranteed to feed the multitudes.

I mentioned in a recent post that it is a tradition in our family for the, “Birthday Girl/Boy” to choose their birthday meal.  In June, my oldest, “Sweet Thing One”  turned 17 and wanted to invite friends to her birthday dinner.  At first she requested pan sautéed fish.  When I learned that she was inviting six of her friends in addition to the eight family members I’d already invited, I suggested lasagna.  Her response was, “Only if it’s really yummy.”

Always a fan of Italian cuisine, I have recently been watching and learning from the many wonderful Italian chefs on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.  I realized that the recipe that I had been using was not traditional, and remembered that my mother-in-law recently gave me an Italian cookbook that she found at the Pottery Barn.  The title is, The Italian Country Table: Simple Recipes for Trattoria Classics, by Maxine Clark.  Although I have not ever heard of Maxine Clark, I decided to try her recipe for, “Oven-baked lasagna” instead of my old tried and true.  I was glad I did.

I remembered that one of  my Sweet Thing One’s favorite Italian desserts is chocolate cannoli.  In fact, we once walked all over Little Italy in New York on a quest for chocolate cannoli and she had to settle for one that had a chocolate dipped cannoli shell and a regular ricotta filling.  A friend of mine who had once made chocolate cannoli shared a recipe with me some time ago, and I thought that this might be a good time to try it.  I gave my daughter a choice – cake or cannoli.  She said, “Can you do both?”  Since the cake she wanted was Italian Cream Cake, I said, “Sure, why not?!”  (Am I a glutton for punishment or what?)  I have used the same recipe for Italian Cream Cake for years, so I knew I could handle it.  Cotton Country Collection, a publication of the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana has a recipe for Italian Cream Cake that turns out very moist, and has a pecan and coconut cream cheese icing that has me licking the bowl, the spoon and the beaters!

My daughter’s 17th birthday turned out to be a memorable one!  I did adjust the lasagna recipe a bit, as I felt that for the crowd I had, I needed more meat and tomato.  The cannoli was a hit, although my daughter’s friend thought they were eggrolls when she first saw those chocolate ricotta filled tubes of deliciousness.  The friend quickly learned what cannoli was.  I used the recipe my friend gave me and combined it with others.  The dough for the shells proved to be the biggest challenge.  I realized as I was working with the dough that it is really a basic pastry dough, such as a pie crust.  A little cold water went a long way in helping me to roll out the dough.  The recipe I have posted is a combination of a recipe given to me by  Matthew Mechana and this one at

I learned a great deal from that  birthday dinner.  Tradition is important, but the most important thing about tradition is not necessarily doing exactly the same thing over and over again.  It’s about re-creating the feeling that you associate with that warm memory of what happened and that you want to create over and over again!

Chocolate and ricotta filled cannoli
These cannoli tubes filled with chocolate and ricotta fillings were delicious!

Cannoli Shells


  • 2 cups flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 4 Tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
  • 5 Tablespoons white wine or Marsala wine
  • 2 eggs beaten lightly
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Cannoli molds -- may be purchased at a kitchen store, or you may make them from wooden dowels.


  1. Preheat vegetable oil to 375 degrees. (Or, if you do not want to fry them, you may bake these in the oven at 375 for 10 minutes.)
  2. Put flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Add butter and work with fingers until mixture resembles fine meal.
  4. Add wine and 1 egg.
  5. Mix with a fork until dough can be formed into a ball.
  6. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until elastic and silky.
  7. Wrap the dough in wax paper and let rest in a cool place for 2 hours.
  8. Divide dough into 8 balls.
  9. When you are working with this dough, remember it is pastry dough. Keep a glass of ice water handy as the dough will dry out. It helps to cover the dough with a damp cloth when you are not working with it. It helps to work in batches, frying around four at a time.
  10. Run 1 dough ball through a pasta roller on its widest setting, then repeat several times, gradually moving to narrower settings, until it can be run through at the narrowest setting.
  11. Or, if you do not have a pasta machine, roll each dough with a rolling pin until it is as thin as you can get it and still work with it.
  12. Cut the dough into 3.5" by 3.5" squares.
  13. Wrap each square around a cannoli form and seal the edges. Fry until golden brown.
  14. Allow to cool before sliding off of the mold. (The metal molds especially can get very hot. Be careful when you're removing the shell from the mold. You may want to use a butter knife to carefully slide the shell from the mold. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Cannoli Filling


  • 3 cups of ricotta (I'm told sheep's milk ricotta works well if you can find it)
  • 1 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa


  1. Beat ricotta with a mixer at high speed until smooth.
  2. Add sugar.
  3. Add vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until thick.
  5. Fold the whipped cream into the ricotta/sugar mixture.
  6. If you want to have both chocolate and vanilla cream filled cannoli, then divide the filling into two bowls. Add cocoa to one of the bowls of filling.
  7. Chill the fillings for 1 hour before filling the shells.

To assemble the cannoli, spoon a little of each filling into separate pastry bags.  Pipe the filling into each of the shells.  For a garnish, you may dip the tips of the filled shells into shaved chocolate, mini chocolate chips, crushed pistachios or chopped candied citrus peel.

Chill 30 minutes before serving.

Red velvet cake

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Red Velvet Cake
Red Velvet Cake. It’s a home tradition.

One of my favorite birthday traditions practiced by my mother that I have carried on with my children is the birthday dinner request.  Usually this means that the person having a birthday may choose their favorite meal on their birthday.  Some years I requested crabmeat casserole.  Other years it was homemade fried chicken or chicken tetrazzini.  No matter what the meal was, I could count on a Doberge cake from Gambinos or a homemade red velvet cake.  In fact, one year my mother was in the hospital for my birthday and could not bake a cake for me.  She asked my aunt to bake it for me.  Imagine my reaction when my aunt asked me if I cared if it was green velvet cake or red velvet cake because she had green food coloring but no red!

This red, chocolate concoction has been served at my house for as long as I can remember, but most of my friends were strangers to it until they ate it at my house. Red velvet cake was so unknown that I once served it at a dinner and someone asked if it was peppermint.  When I explained that it was chocolate, the man did not believe me…until he saw everyone else enjoying it.  When everyone else was almost finished, he decided to try it.  He exclaimed, “This is chocolate!” as if it were some eureka moment.  Yes, this cake is chocolate.  So what if it’s red?

This cake has recently been blogged about quite a bit…and it seems that some are a little tired of the hype.    Stella Parks, of Gilt Taste suggests that her experience with red velvet cake has been less than positive.  So, she invented her own version.  I want to  try it but its such a family favorite that it would seem a sacrilege.  Instead of red food coloring she uses red wine to add color to her cake.  Now, that is one change I might be willing to try.  Given my family’s affinity for red wine, they might even go for it.

I suspect that the groom’s cake from the film Steel Magnolias may have contributed to its identification with, “all things southern.”  There are tons of posts all over the Internet with recipes for a, “bleeding armadillo” cake.  I am in no way tempted to follow that yellow brick road.

The red velvet cake I grew up with did not have a cream cheese frosting like many of the recent red velvet cakes I have encountered.  It had a cooked milk icing that was so buttery and sweet that I can still sometimes taste it when I think about it.  To this day, I prefer the recipe that my mom has always made, although I will eat one with the cream cheese icing if it is offered.

Red velvet cake was such a tradition in our house that it became a part of the bedtime stories our father would spin for us.  When I saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time I would not go to bed for fear of the Wicked Witch of the West.  So that I would go to sleep, my father told me a story to give me some courage.  The story was so good that I, and later, my sisters would often request a, “Mean Old Witch” story before bed.  As you might expect, the story ALWAYS began with:

“Once upon a time, there was a meeean oooold WITCH, and she lived in the deeeep, dark forest.  One time, (insert name of listener here) was on her way to visit her Memere (our grandmother) in New Orleans and….”

The mean old witch would always try to get us and we would always foil her plan with red velvet cake and silver bells (Hershey’s kisses.)

So, at risk of contributing to the southern cliche,  I feel that I must share this recipe because it has saved my life enumerable times and has been a part of my home life.  After all, there is no place like home.

Red velvet cake


  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz red food coloring
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups flour sifted twice before measuring
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour two 8-inch baking pans.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together shortening and sugar with a mixer.
  4. Add eggs to batter.
  5. Put aside the above mixture.
  6. In a small bowl add the cocoa. Stir in the food coloring to make a paste.
  7. Add the cocoa/food coloring paste to the shortening mixture.
  8. In a separate bowl sift together flour and salt.
  9. Alternatively with the cup of buttermilk, add flour and salt mixture in small amounts to the red shortening/ egg mixture until the batter is thoroughly mixed.
  10. Dissolve 1 Tablespoon of baking soda with 1 Tablespoon of vinegar and fold in to batter. Make sure that the ingredients are well combined.
  11. Divide the batter between the two cake pans.
  12. Bake until done. (Around 35 minutes.)
  13. Allow the layers to cool before removing them from the cake pan. Spread frosting -- recipe to follow.

Red velvet cake frosting


  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. In the top of a double boiler add the flour.
  2. Whisk the milk into the flour.
  3. Cook the mixture over a double boiler until it thickens.
  4. Allow the milk/flour mixture to cool, being careful to stir it often so that it doesn't develop a film on top.
  5. In a medium bowl cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer until fluffy.
  6. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla
  7. Add the cooled flour/milk mixture.
  8. Mix until of spreading consistency.
  9. Spread the icing on red velvet cake!




Texas Hill Country in August

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Strawberry Gelato
Refreshing Strawberry Gelato

When I travel, I try to read the local newspaper when I can.  Newspapers will tell one so many things about a place that may or may not be obvious.  Of course, one of the largest news items in Texas right now is the heat and the drought.  There was no doubt in my mind that it is hot and dry there!   When the Loup Garou, The Cub and I traveled to Kerrville, Texas last weekend to pick up the young goddesses from summer camp, the average temperature was 105 degrees and the air and ground in the Hill Country were drier than a desert.  When we left the first of the several camp closing events on Thursday afternoon, I announced that I needed ice cream.  The Loup Garou thought he was being funny when he said, “Well, if we head to Baton Rouge right now, we can get some gelato from Latte e Meile!”  Ha!

Instead, we ventured to the cool air conditioning of our hotel room where we would make decision about where we would have dinner.  I really already knew where we were going.  Rails is one of my favorite places to eat and I haven’t eaten there in years.  A former railroad depot, the small building was remodeled and turned into a restaurant — it even received an award for restoration in 2004.  Thursday night, we had to eat outside because we went without reservations. (I knew better but did it anyway.)   Luckily they had a sort of outside chilled air unit that is portable, and our server rolled the unit closer to us so that it would keep us cooler.  It was somewhat helpful, but we opted for a light meal and the house recommended chilled South African Neil Ellis Sauvignon Blanc because we still hadn’t cooled off from the earlier outdoor festivities.

We ordered the special appetizer of the evening which was grilled beef tenderloin wrapped asparagus tips served in a bed of  red bell pepper sauce and served with goat cheese and crostini.  The cub actually tasted it, but his palate has not yet welcomed the taste of asparagus.  I will say that he tried the goat cheese and loved it!  The tenderloin had a nice flavor and the goat cheese was a perfect accompaniment to the wine.

For our entrees, Loup Garou and I ordered salads — he a grilled beef tenderloin salad served with bleu cheese, tomatoes and red onions, and a balsamic vinegar.  The tenderloin was again, quite flavorful.  I ordered the grilled salmon salad, served in a bed of spinach with mandarin oranges and a citrus soy dressing.  All were delicious, including the red onion that I swiped from the Loup Garou’s salad to go with mine.  I especially liked the salad dressing on my salad.  The Cub enjoyed his Axis Burger, but he and the Loup Garou, who tasted it thought it might be a little over done.  I remember in retrospect that we did not order the Cub’s preferred, “doneness” so I think if he had ordered the burger to be cooked to medium, he would have liked it better.

When we finished our meal, we were brought a dessert tray, and much to our happiness, a strawberry gelato was offered!  There were several other yummy looking pies, cakes, and custards, but I had been wanting gelato since 4 o’clock!  Our server, Christina said that she made the fresh gelato daily and that it was a fairly new addition to the menu.  We loved the pieces of frozen strawberry and the creamy texture of the gelato.  It was quite lovely, and a refreshing way to wrap up the day.

I think I’m going to invest in a gelato machine…