chocolate cake with cream cheese filling.

Today is Mammy’s birthday. If you’ve known me longer than about 5 minutes, then you know how much I adore my grandmother, and how important she is in my life. I wasn’t able to visit with her this past weekend – my month of traveling finally caught up with me (and my dirty, dirty house) – but I spent a lot of time thinking about her. About our family. And how lucky we all are to have her guidance and humor.

Mammy has taught me so much about life. She loves her daily crossword puzzle and jumble, and has read almost every book ever written. She’s a godly Christian woman who faithfully attends church and Sunday school, and is active in her small community. She recently quit the DAR because her position was becoming too much for her to handle, and if she couldn’t do her part, then it wasn’t fair to make others carry her load. Though life has thrown her some curve balls over the years, she doesn’t feel sorry for herself but looks to how she can help others. She is true to her family and is proud of where she comes from, spending the last 30 years near the land on which she was raised. Her humorous observations on life keep me on my toes, and I always hear her in the back of my mind.

Mammy is there when I have a question about cooking, and she diligently cuts and sends recipes she comes across in magazines. I have hundreds of her handwritten notes; some with newspaper clippings she thinks I might enjoy, others just telling me about her day. (Yes, I have them all.) Friends are always amused that Mammy’s hip to the times – she reads books on her kindle, and has both a desktop and a laptop computer. I regularly get emails and jokes from her, and she’s even on the Facebook. She’s even a faithful reader of this blog and has been known to scold Tina or me for not properly documenting a recipe. We are lucky she’s paying attention and keeping us in line. Mammy might not cook as often as she used to, but the lady knows her stuff.

I could obviously go on and on about this special lady, but this here is a food blog and you are here for the tasty treats aren’t you? In honor of Mammy’s birthday, I made her a cake. The original recipe calls for walnuts on top, but naturally I used pecans from her tree that I have in my freezer. Pecans are the only worthy nut anyway, and the fact that she cracked them and stored them makes them taste all the better.

Happy birthday, Mammy. I love you!

Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Filling & Pecan-Sugar Topping
via Brown Eyed Baker

For the Pecan-Sugar Topping:
2 cups chopped pecans
½ cup granulated sugar

For the Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Cream Cheese Filling:
2 (8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan; set aside.

2. Make the Walnut-Sugar Topping: Combine the chopped walnuts and the sugar in a small bowl; set aside.

3. Make the Cake Batter: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the water, vegetable oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, mix together until just combined and there are no traces of dry ingredients. Set aside.

4. Make the Cream Cheese Filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until soft and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and continue mixing until light and fluffy, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the salt and beat until thoroughly combined and smooth.

4. Pour half of the cake batter into the prepared pan. Slowly pour all of the cream cheese filling over top, trying to distribute it as evenly as possible (do not try to spread it after you pour it). Pour the remaining cake batter over top of the cream cheese filling. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the walnut-sugar mixture.

5. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Let cool completely before serving.

My notes:

    • I’d use less than half of the cake batter for the first layer. I think this makes a large difference in the texture of the layers. My second layer of batter looked pretty pitiful… see?

  • I had to cook this closer to 50 minutes for it to even start to look done. Maybe I need to buy an over thermometer. Start looking at yours at 30-35 minutes and just keep cooking it if you need to.
  • I dare you to not eat the cream cheese filling out of your mixing bowl.

Who wants cake?


Introducing: Crist (the Southern Belle)

I actually kind of hate when women call themselves Southern Belles, as I don’t think that’s a title you can bestow upon yourself, but Dorothy came up with our blog name and tagline and we just liked it too much to change it. So here we are.

All that said, I am about as Southern as they come and have only recently learned that what I assumed was The Way Everyone Lived is not quite so. We say and eat and do things differently down here, and I am exceptionally proud of my region and state. Southern cooking has become quite popular nationally, but my mother and grandmothers and all those before them have been cooking this “new” way for years. I am excited to share a little bit of the Deep South with you.

Yes, I own a deep fryer – though, to Matt’s dismay, we do not use it very often. I use my grandmother’s rolling pin and bundt cake pans, and I occasionally use a cast iron skillet. Pimento cheese is a staple in the fridge, and I always have grits in the freezer, along with vegetables my Mammy put up two summers ago. My pantry is stocked with jams and relishes made from my grandfather’s prior harvests, and I truly believe that red pepper jelly over cream cheese with Ritz crackers is one of the best appetizers of all time.

I hope you can forgive my lack of decorum and an absence of any formal introductory post. It’s taking me awhile to get my blogging mojo back – Tina and I have been sitting on this blogging idea for 6 months now, and it was just this past weekend that we decided FULL STEAM AHEAD! (or, I decided that and Tina humored me… as she is wont to do. It takes a lot of humor and patience to be my friend, what can I say.)

I am a recipe-follower and, unlike Tina, cannot just throw a bunch of stuff together to make a presentable supper. I’m getting better at improvising and altering recipes but I am far from free-handing most things. My early years of cooking were full of epic failures and a few successes, but I have come a very long way. Cooking, on most days, is a good way for me to unwind after a work day, and I love spending Sunday afternoons making a time-consuming dish for supper.

So humor us — we are well aware of the fact this world needs another food blog about as much as I need another hole in my head — and we promise we’ll try our best to entertain you. If we fail, well, at least we’re entertaining ourselves.

Introducing: Tina (the Yankee Baker)

Well, I am as shocked as you are that my partner in crime, Crist (the Southern Belle) has not formally introduced herself on this here blog. Even an etiquette-challenged Yankee such as myself knows that it’s only polite to introduce yourself before you just start talking at someone! Clearly I will have to do a little work with her on her manners.

So… Hi. I’m Tina. I am the Yankee Baker half of this blogging team, and I live in Michigan (affectionately known ’round these parts as The Mitten). Crist is one of my nearest and dearest friends – and given that we spend a considerable amount of time emailing recipes to one another, sending crappy iphone photos of our meals back and forth, and introducing our favorite regional foods and dishes to each other, we thought – why not start a food blog? Even if we are the only two people that read it, we think it’ll be a fun venture. And if this blog leads to me being introduced to more Southern delicacies, such as shrimp and grits, or pimento cheese? SIGN ME UP.

I should start off by saying that I am not much of a by-the-book type of cook. I like to use recipes for ideas, and general guidelines… and that’s about it. In general, I prefer an off-the-cuff style of cooking – where I use what I have on hand, I make things up as I go, and I RARELY measure anything. I wasn’t always this way, however. When I first started really cooking (after college – I don’t consider cooking plain chicken or baking a potato in my college apartment “cooking”), I was AWFUL. So, so bad. My husband will happily tell you that he wanted to run screaming from my house, the first time I made him dinner. And I genuinely do not think he’s exaggerating. It was a dark time in my culinary history, unfortunately. But, I spent a few years using recipes, watching an incredibly inappropriate amount of Food Network, and just COOKING… and gradually, I got better. And I started to really enjoy cooking, and improvising while I did so – and while there have been a few duds along the way, I don’t think my husband has run screaming from the dinner table in a very long time (well, at least not because the food was awful).

(As someone who also does a lot of baking, please note that I DO measure while baking – I am quite fastidious about it, actually. But when it comes to cooking? Why dirty up extra dishes for no good reason?? People. I HAVE NO DISHWASHER. This is reason enough to minimize the number of dishes and utensils I use while cooking.)

All that to say – my tendency in the kitchen is to just… throw things into a pot or pan, stir, simmer, taste, add more stuff, taste again, repeat. And hope for the best.

I will do my best to give fairly accurate measurements when I post recipes here. I can’t say that they’ll be exact, or perfect – but I hope that that will maybe encourage those of you who are clinging to exact measurements to experiment a little. There is a lot of room for adjustment in most recipes – if you are making chili, and you love lots of tomatoes in your chili? Add an extra can! If the chili calls for kidney beans, and you HATE them? Use cannellini beans instead! If you can’t stand spicy food? Leave out the cayenne pepper! None of these things will ruin the dish, I promise you.

If there are two rules I would give you to follow when you’re improvising and playing with recipes, they would be:

1.) Always. season. everything. with salt and pepper. If you’ve ever had a dish that was just incredibly bland, I can practically guarantee you that it was underseasoned. Salt is your friend! A lot of people shy away from it, thinking that salt is “bad” – but just a pinch of salt (or a teaspoon of salt, in a multiple-serving dish) will bring out a TON of flavor in the food you’re using, and it won’t hurt anyone.

2.) You can always add more – but you can’t go back in time and add less. Whatever it is you’re adding to a dish, just add a little – and if it feels like the dish needs more? Add more. You can’t pull a tablespoon of cayenne pepper out of a pot of soup – but you can add more, if a 1/4 teaspoon didn’t give it enough spice.

So, that’s me. I’m hoping that posting recipes here will encourage me to try out new recipes, make some of my own, and keep learning more about cooking. If nothing else, it will give Crist and I yet ANOTHER electronic/internet-based way to keep in touch – because heaven knows that texting, hey-telling, calling, tweeting, facebook-ing, and g-chatting are not NEARLY enough!