If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #6

What chocolate recipe series would be complete without featuring chocolate chip cookies?

My mama always added oatmeal to her chocolate chip cookies. That way you don’t feel guilty about eating them for breakfast; the oatmeal practically makes them cereal bars. Right?

For the first several years of my childhood, my mama used the recipe on the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip package. But then one day someone gave her a photocopy of the urban legendary Neiman Marcus cookie recipe. There’s also a Mrs. Field’s version of the same urban legend. Anyway, the story around the recipe may have been a myth, but the cookies themselves are tried-and-true! My mama never went back to the Toll House version. She bought airbake cookie sheets and a melon-ball scooper, and her cookie baking was never better!

Fast forward a decade or two and imagine my delight when I discover my sweet friend Kate uses the same recipe! Somehow cookies just taste better when someone you love bakes them for you, and it had been a dozen years since I’d tasted cookies so similar to what my mama’s tasted like.

I watched Kate make these cookies one afternoon, paying close attention to see if I was missing a step. It turns out that Kate rolls the dough into balls by hand, rather than using the melon-ball scooper. This may seem insignificant, but it makes a big difference in the final product.

Tried-and-True Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups butter (softened)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • 5 cups oatmeal
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 24 oz. chocolate chips
  • 6 oz. Hershey bar (chopped into small chunks or grated)
  • 3 cups nuts (optional)

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips, Hershey bar chunks, and nuts. Scoop out by the spoonful and roll into balls. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 375 degrees F for 6 to 8 minutes. Makes 112 large cookies.

Things I’ve Learned that Mama Didn’t Teach Me:

  • 112 large cookies may be too much of a good thing. I often half this recipe.
  • If you forget to half the recipe, put un-baked cookie balls on wax paper and then slide several dozen into zip-lock freezer bags and freeze them. You’ll thank yourself later, I promise.
  • Baking cookies on metal cookie sheets can be tricky in some ovens. I have had the most success using a Pampered Chef baking stone and baking them a few minutes longer.
  • Let the cookies rest 3 to 5 minutes before moving them onto a cooling rack. They hold together best this way.
  • God often shows His love for us through our friends. True friends are a gift from Him, whether they bake or not. But isn’t it lovely when they do?

Happy baking! And be sure to check out the other chocolate recipes in this series entitled “If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother?”

If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #5

Nope. Those aren’t tortillas. Or “breakfast pinatas” as we usually call them around here. Those are chocolate crepes.

Now, before I get too far into this I must confess, I don’t think my mother ever served up chocolate crepes. This is the same crepe recipe she used, but she served hers with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, which makes a delightful breakfast. However, this is supposed to be a recipe series only about chocolate, and because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mom would have treasured the chocolate version of this recipe — here we go!

Mama’s Crepes

  • 1½ cups milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

You’ll also need:

  • about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips (My favorite brand is Ghirardelli; I slip them inside the warm crepes, and they melt so nicely.)

For the crepes, combine the ingredients (not the chocolate chips, mind you) and beat with a rotary beater until combined. Heat a lightly greased 6-inch skillet. Remove from heat. Spoon in 2 tablespoons of batter, lift and tilt skillet to spread the batter; return to heat. Lightly brown one side. Invert pan over a paper towel and remove crepe.

At this point, slip a few of those chocolate chips in the middle of the crepe and roll it up tight. Let it cool for a bit. Then top with whipped cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar and a smidge of cocoa.

In our house, we use both Redi-Whip and homemade whipped cream, depending on what’s in the refrigerator and how early in the day the crepe-making happens. Here’s the homemade whipped cream recipe I use.

Homemade Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a chilled bowl, combine whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat with chilled beaters of an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Serve with pie. Makes 2 cups.

Also, if your garden is overflowing with berries, I’m sure these crepes would serve up nicely with them. We especially enjoy strawberry or raspberry crepes — don’t forget the whipped cream and powdered sugar.

Be sure to check out the other chocolate recipes in this series entitled “If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother?”

If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #4

In the middle of a Costco shopping trip one afternoon, 8-year-old Linnea asked me thoughtfully, “Mommy, what is ‘scratch?’”

After I replied with a bewildered, “Huh?” she clarified, “You know, scratch. You always say that you make pies and things from scratch. What is it?”

No, scratch can’t be purchased in bulk at Costco. But it’s the essential, creative ingredient in baking that really appealed to my mom. And it appeals to me, too. 

I bake many treats from scratch, but I personally don’t bat an eye about serving up brownies from a mix. In fact, I often use and recommend Ghiradelli’s double chocolate brownie mix. But for my mom, brownies made from scratch was an indisputable law of baking. They were always one of her favorite desserts, and she’d usually serve up her brownies warm alongside a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. 

To her credit, Mama never, ever, ever used a brownie mix throughout my entire childhood. Instead she used two brownie recipes. One makes cake-like brownies, and the other makes gooey, fudge-like brownies — in one bowl. I always prefer less mess and gooey brownies, so I’m sharing the latter recipe. But first, here are four random things about brownies that my mama didn’t teach me.

4 random things about brownies that Mama didn’t teach me:

(1) Lining the pan with non-stick aluminum foil allows you to easily remove the brownies and helps them cool faster.


(2) It’s much easier to cut the brownies when they aren’t in the pan.

(3) Crumbs don’t stick to plastic, so using a plastic knife to cut brownies eliminates the crumbly, gooey build-up metal knives collect.

(4) Sprinkling powdered sugar on top of cooled brownies adds a lovely, lacy contrast and makes them completely irresistible to my husband. (He adores the white stuff so much I’m convinced he’d eat his own shoes if I sprinkled powdered sugar on them!)

That said, here’s how to make those gooey, yummy brownies in just one bowl!  

Mama’s Brownies

(aka Baker’s One-Bowl Brownies)

  • 4 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
  • 3/4 cup butter (one and a half sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup nuts (optional, which means I don’t include them)

Microwave butter and chocolate until melted.

Stir in sugar.

Stir in eggs and vanilla.

Mix in flour and nuts.

Pour into a greased or foil-lined pan (see random things #1 and #2 above).

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.

Makes 16-24 brownies, depending on how generous or stingy you feel when you cut them.

Please excuse me, I need to wash the dishes.

Be sure to check out the other chocolate recipes in this series entitled “If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother?”

Look at the Birds! Part 2

Now that everyone in our family has seen more than a dozen robins in our yard, we are overdue for our annual First Robin Tea Party — a sure sign of spring in this house!

Sadly, I have not been very good about planning the minor details, such as the party date, the guest list and invitations. Maybe those are the major details! Oh dear. My brain is still in a state of thawing out from our long, harsh winter. Well anway, I have been slowly adding spring decor — mostly birds and eggs — around the house. I’ve also been stumbling across new ideas for the party itself.

New Artwork

I often admire the Christian artwork available through DaySpring, but I’m cheap when it comes to that sort of home decorating, especially when my options are limited. (Or maybe I am just too much of a control freak?) So one evening I was playing around in Photoshop Elements and decided to make my own springy artwork. Here’s what I made:

I had Mpix print it on 12 x 12-inch paper, and then I threw it in a scrapbooking frame and set it up on the bathroom shelf. I think I like it. What say you?

Menu Changes

As in years past, we plan to make mud pies with (gummy) earth worms — the recipe for those is posted here. But this year I have a new recipe for the edible bird nests. I’ll try to report back on how that works out since nobody ever ate the ones we made last year. Sigh. I also added crackers to the menu since I recently found out that Target’s version of Goldfish crackers are bird-shaped and called “Chickadees.” How fitting!

New Literature

What I am thrilled most about for this year’s party is a new picture book! The Story of the Easter Robin, written by Dandi Daley Mackall, is a beautifully illustrated tale about a little girl, her grandmother and a robin’s nest build on a window ledge at the grandmother’s house. The book also incorporates the Pennsylvania Dutch legend of the robin’s red breast — a symbol of Christ’s suffering and love — as well as the tradition of decorating eggs in the style of Pennsylvania Dutch Easter birds. I love this book so much I bought extra copies to send to my nieces!

Memory Work

One of my memory verses for last month was Psalm 91:1,4 — very fitting scriptures for our robin tea party discussion, as is the passage of Matthew 6:25-27

Over the past several months, the girls and I have memorized a new poem that fits quite nicely with our bird theme.

Little Bird

a Mother Goose rhyme

Once I saw a little bird

come hop, hop, hop.

So I cried, “Little bird,

Will you stop, stop, stop?”

And was going to the window

To say, “How do you do?”

When he shook his little tail

And far away he flew.

Of course, the best-ever poem for the first robin tea party is this one, which we all still have memorized from last year’s party. 

To the First Robin

by Louisa May Alcott

Welcome, welcome little stranger,

Fear no harm and fear no danger

We are glad to see you here,

For you sing ‘sweet spring is near.’

Now the white snow melts away,

Now the flowers blossom gay.

Come, dear bird, and build your nest

For we love our robin best.

 If I ever actually stop piddling around with minor details, set a date and invite real-live people to the party, I will take pictures and share a slide show of the celebration.

In the meantime, let’s all go get some fresh, spring air! Shall we?

If It’s Not Chocolate, Why Bother? #3

Disclaimer: I’ve posted this recipe before. But since my mama’s chocolate “mud” cake recipe ranks in the top 3 of all my favorite chocolate recipes, it’s worthy of repeating, especially if you didn’t catch it the first time!

We use this recipe for nearly every birthday cake in our family. Rumor is that my brother even has his wife bake this cake for him on my birthday, even though we live hundreds of miles apart! I’m not sure whether I should feel deeply honored or deeply disturbed by that…

Anyway, until just a few years ago, I was certain my mother had all but invented this recipe. If you saw the frayed edges and spatters on her blue recipe card, you’d understand how I came to that conclusion.

But then one day while baking the cake, I noticed a cake recipe on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container. The title claimed it was “Perfectly Chocolate.” Immediately, I thought, “Ha! Perfectly chocolate whatever! These Hershey folks have not seen the likes of my mama’s chocolate mud cake.” So just for fun I compared the ingredients and now I almost wish I hadn’t.

I was utterly shocked — and somewhat deflated — to find the two recipes were identical! And since I don’t recall the Hershey folks ever snooping around my mama’s kitchen, I can only conclude they must have played some significant role in the recipe’s development. Since the recipe calls for nearly 1.5 cups of cocoa — if you count what’s in the frosting — I suppose I should have seen this coming. Although, in my defense, you should know that I come from a long line of bakers and my great-grandparents were the Hiersches.

Mama’s Chocolate “Mud” Cake (aka, Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • chocolate frosting (recipe follows)
Directions:1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with “PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING. 10 to 12 servings.

ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.

THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.

BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. (I only soften mine so my icing stays fluffy and easier to decorate with.) Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

The appliances/tools I use for this recipe are my KitchenAid Mixer and my Wilton Desssert Decorator Pro. Hint: The cupcakes look prettiest when baked in brown or black baking cups.

If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #2

The series on my mama’s favorite chocolate recipes continues with this delicious chocolate pie.

WARNING: This pie sets the standard and will ruin you! No store-bought pie or restaurant pie has ever even come close to matching this one. 

Chocolate Pie Filling:

3 cups milk

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla

2 and a half squares of baking chocolate (or 8 tblsp. cocoa)

5 tblsp. cornstarch

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tblsp. butter

Begin warming milk and chocolate squares in a large pot on the stove top, medium heat. Mix cornstarch and sugar and salt together in a small bowl and then add to the milk. Stir well. Add beaten eggs yolks. (I usually spoon out some of the warm milk mixture to add the beaten eggs before pouring the eggs into the saucepan. This warms them up slowly and prevents lumps.) Whisk mixture constantly and cook until thick. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and butter. Pour into pie shell. Allow to cool completely and then cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Serve with whipped cream on top.

I suppose you could buy a pie crust, but I love making my own. Here’s how:

Basic Pie Crust:

2 cups flour

2/3 cup shortening (I use Crisco)

1 tsp. salt

5-6 tblsp. ice water

Combine dry ingredients and use pastry cutter to blend. Add water and use fork to blend. Form a ball of dough with hands; roll out on lightly floured sheets of wax paper. Makes a pie shell and top. (You won’t need a top for the chocolate pie, so there will be some dough leftover.) Use a fork to prick holes in the crust and prevent air bubbles. Bake the pie shell at 450 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes.

Whipped Cream:

1 cup whipping cream

2 tblsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

In a chilled bowl, combine whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat with chilled beaters of an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Serve with pie. Makes 2 cups.

Alternative: Skip the crust altogether and just serve up the chocolate pudding in individual dishes. Top with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles or chocolate shavings for extra flair.

If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother? #1

In honor of my dear, late mama, I’ve decided to start posting some of her favorite chocolate recipes. “If It Isn’t Chocolate, Why Bother?” was Mama’s baking motto.

I think these yummy chocolate cookies are a great way to kick off this series. Mama’s recipe card calls them “Choco-Nut Chewies,” but my children have re-named them “Smushy Cookies,” so that’s the title we’ll use. While she never met her granddaughters, Mama was a word nerd who would certainly have approved of their re-naming her baked goods.

Smushy Cookies

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 egg

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2/3 cup oats

1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Melt chocolate chips in microwave or double boiler. Be careful not to overheat them! In separate large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, vanilla, and melted chips. Add dry ingredients. Stir in oats and nuts (optional). Roll dough in spoonfull-sized balls. Smash each with a small drinking glass. Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool 2 minutes on baking stones before removing to cooling racks.

11 Questions on 1/11/11

Last year I answered 10 random questions for 2010. I thought it’d be fun to go back and answer them again for this New Year. To change things up somewhat, I added a question and modified some of the original ones just a tad. And despite what WordPress’s clock might lead you to believe, I’m publishing this in the 11th hour of 1/11/11. 

1. A Verse (or three):
What are a few verses of Scripture that you are meditating on lately?

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

“All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you may also have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3

2. A Voice:
What are two quotes that have inspired you lately?

“When we speak, it must be with the realization that God has given our words significance. He has ordained for them to be important… God has given words value. So we must do all we can to assign words the importances Scripture gives them.” -Paul Tripp

“Every conversation we have with another person carries this marvelous potential of passing on the grace of God.” -Carolyn Mahaney

3. A Laugh:
What are two things that have made you laugh lately?

Yesterday the girls were playing with homemade paper dolls. Linnea had made a mermaid outfit for one of the dolls. She kept referring to the top as a bra. “It’s a bikini top,” I cringed as I corrected her. A few hours later when the girls were again playing with the dolls, I overheard Linnea correcting Laurel. “It’s not a bra! It’s a zucchini top!”

Also, Dave Barry’s review of 2010 totally cracked me up earlier this month. 

4. A Food:
Link us up to a favorite online recipe!

Shortcut Stroganoff – We had this last week for the first time in quite a while. It’s so yummy!

5. A Flick (or three):
What movie(s) do you recommend renting?

Oh, I can’t list just one, which surprises me because I’m not a big movie-goer. Letters to Juliet and Ramona and Beezus were my two favorite movies of 2010. PluggedIn Online offers helpful reviews of both movies. I also really loved the HBO movie Temple Grandin with Claire Danes (also available on DVD). Temple is quite an amazing person. I helped edit some of the articles she wrote for BEEF magazine when I was on staff there. Plus, I was thrilled to see issues of BEEF magazine show up in the movie! Yay for BEEF and yay for Temple!

6. A Family:
What’s your best home-building tip?

Don’t reserve special meals just for times when company is coming to dinner. Treat your family to the extra-special stuff, too! Lighting candles, lowering the lights, using the fancier napkins and playing soft background music during dinner makes everyone feel especially loved.

7. A Chore:
What’s your best house-cleaning secret?

Pretending to be Cinderella’s step mother allows you to (A) amuse your children (B) get away with speaking in grouchy voice while ordering your children to do housework and (C) share the house-cleaning workload with those small people you love. (If only it worked with my husband, too!)

8. A Shop:
Sell us on one of your favorite online stores!

I am totally digging Two Peas in a Bucket — mostly for their digitial scrapbooking kits and fonts. Love them! (Thanks for the tip, Kate!)

9. A Prayer:
What’s one thing that you’d like blog-readers to pray about today?

Pray that we would fix our small eyes on Jesus, that we would allow Him to transform us, and that we would look for the beauty of enormous things in 2011.

10. A Product:
What’s one great product that you’d like to tell the world about?

For Christmas I got a Savvycents wallet, and I LOVE it! Its super-nifty tab dividers make me feel so organized! Dave Ramsey may or may not agree that it’s fashionably frugal, but I’m willing to bet his wife would agree! (Thanks for the tip, Alice and Chris!)

11. A Song:

“What Love Really Means” by J.J. Heller inspires me to love my loved ones simply for who they are.

May God go with you in 2011!

More Piles of White Stuff

As the snow continues to pile up in frightfully large amounts outside — they say it’s the snowiest December on record here in Minnesota — the girls and I are making some additional piles of white stuff in the kitchen. You know, piles of flour and powdered sugar and sparkling sugar sprinkles…

Ahh, sugar cookies. Michael and I had mixed up the dough last night, so it was nice and chilled this morning. The girls and I started rolling out the dough mid-morning, and I don’t think we stopped until nearly 3 p.m.! Whew! 

It’s been nearly two years since we’ve made sugar cookies, and my children’s decorating skills seem to have progressed noticeably. The funniest thing about today was the red hot cinnamon candies because Laurel kept referring to them as “hot rods.”  Linnea decided that was easier and more fun to say, so all day long it was “hot rod” this and that…

After shoveling in countless cookies topped with buttercream frosting, I put my “sugar rush” to good use by shoveling the entire the driveway. Sadly, the snow was coming down at a rate of one inch per hour, so the driveway was completely white again when Michael drove in from work. At least I still had some sugar cookies left to show for our efforts!

5 Star Links for Friday

1. Be inspired and encouraged to hide God’s Word in your heart! Read Why Memorize Scripture by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.

2. Get help answering that nagging “What’s for dinner?” question! Check out these meal planning resources from Jolanthe at No Ordinary Moments.

3. Early bird or night owl? This Proverbs 31 Devotional by Rachel Olsen may completely change your perspective on when the day begins!

4. Make the most of every opportunity! Hand out these tracks with your treats on Oct. 31!

5. GirlTalk shares an unfailing resource for when we moms are at wits’ end with our children.

And I really do know how to count to 5. But here’s a bonus link — let’s just call it dessert!

Dessert. Single Serving Pie in a Jar. Adorable and delicious. Need I say more? (Thanks, Tiffany!)