Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"The Help" Dinner Party

Newspaper columnist Lee Ann Flemming is one of the best bakers in Greenwood,  so I hear.  She made 53 chocolate pies during the filming of The Help.  Her fudgy version here is as classic as it gets.  This recipe originally appeared in Food and Wine.

 The Help's ending hinges on a secret involving Minny's famous Chocolate pie.  As I was preparing for our dinner party, Jhumpa asks what the dessert will be.  I said, Minny's Chocolate Pie of course, minus one ingredient.  Her comment, "Stone will have to take the first bite!"

Minny's Chocolate Pie
1 single pie crust
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Whipped Cream, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 350'.   Place the pie crust into a 9" pie plate and crimp the edges decoratively.  Prick the crust lightly with a fork.  Line the crust with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for 15 minutes or until set.  Remove the foil and weights and bake for about 5 minutes longer, just until the crust is dry but not browned.
2.  Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the sugar with the cocoa powder, butter, eggs, evaporated milk, vanilla and salt until smooth.
3.  Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake for about 45 minutes, until the filling is set around the edges but a little jiggly in the center.  Cover the crust with strips of foil halfway through baking.  Transfer the pie to a rack and let cool completely before cutting into wedges  Serve with whipped cream.
Make Ahead:
The chocolate pie can be refrigerated overnight.

I can't remember the last time I had Ambrosia.  I don't know why I never prepare it since it is so good.  In the movie The Help, Ambrosia is the salad that Sissy Spacek, aka Mrs. Walters, ate while she watched The Guiding Light during the bridge parties.

Ambrosia Salad
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (8 ounce) tub cool whip
1 (11 ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 (10 ounce) jar maraschino cherries, drained, halved and patted dry
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup chopped nut (pecans, walnuts, cashews) optional 
2 cup miniature marshmallows
1. Fold sour cream into Cool Whip in a large bowl.
2.  Gently fold in remaining ingredients, making sure the oranges, pineapple, and cherries have been well drained.
3.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving.

Now I remember why I never fry chicken.  It is too much work!  Not wanting to make a mess in the house, I fried the chicken outside.  I stressed all day about this chicken.  The sad thing was, after all this work it didn't compare to my mama's or KFC.  My mama always made it seem so effortless.  It is not!!!
With our dinner, Jhumpa cooked up a batch of collard greens while Helen brought mac and cheese with crumbled bacon that had been cooked on their Green Egg, therefore smoky.  

Dinner With The Better Halves

Unlike my typical dinner parties with couples, this one was all women.  I'm sure our men were thinking we spent the entire night talking about them, but honestly we didn't except once when I told the story about why Stone will not eat sweet potato anything.  The reason is, when he was in the third grade, while standing in the lunch line after eating sweet potatoes, he threw up on his shoes.  Since that day, he has NEVER eaten anything that resembles a sweet potato.  So I was very happy when Leann said she was bringing a sweet potato casserole to accompany our dinner.  I love sweet potato casserole, all buttery, sweet and topped with pecans.

We began our dinner with a fabulous salad Tina had assembled.  It's amazing the difference in a spring salad with all the fresh produce verses the ones made in the winter, since the spring one is so much better. I had to remind myself that we had the rest of the meal ahead of us and the salad was not our entire meal, although I could have made it mine.  Give me a good salad, some bread and I'm all set.

Nancy-Kirstin-Tina-Bethany-Judy-Leann-Me (Brenda)

Tina and Kirsten 
These ladies are part of an organization called KAMA, Knoxville Academy of Medical Alliance.  The Alliance meets September through May and participates in many community, special interest and philanthropic activities.  

Kirsten also made a Caramel Cake for our party.  YUM!!!  I tried making a Caramel Cake once and unlike hers, the results weren't so good.  The icing turned out more like candy and not in a good way. She will have to give me lessons.

Caramel Cake
Caramel Cake

1 box yellow cake mix 
1 stick of butter, softened
4 eggs
1 C milk
1 tsp vanilla

For a 9x13 pan, bake at 350, for 30 minutes, but check at 25 minutes.
For 2, 8” cake pans, bake for 25 min or less and check it.

Caramel Frosting

1/2 C butter or margarine
1 C firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 C whipping cream, heavy cream or whole milk
2 1/2 C sifted powdered sugar
1 t vanilla extract

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan.  Add brown sugar; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves.  Do not boil. Remove from heat.  Stir in whipping cream.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla; beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until smooth. 
Use immediately. It tends to stiffen quickly.

Also a member of KAMA, Judy prepared some roasted vegetables to go along with our dinner.  One bite of buttery, sugary sweet potato then a bite of roasted vegetables made it all balance out.  It was perfect.

brought the first bottle of wine for the evening, which I struggled to open, until Courtney politely said, "it has a screw cap."   Stone is usually our wine opener for our events, so I sometimes forget when I am in charge that some have a screw cap.

As we sat out on the porch enjoying the hummus that Nancy brought, Courtney told some funny stories of their horses and dogs.  The funniest was when their neighbor told her that their dog had been climbing their chain link fence and taking off during the day.  Apparently he had been doing this for some time unbeknownst to Courtney and her husband.  Hmmm, their dog sounds like a teenager, but must make sure he's home before mom and dad.

an amazing mother of eight brought some lovely wine to share with the ladies. I thought four was a handful.  I don't think I could have done it.

The Sweet Potato Queen.

The Plant Guru  

When our spouses have their next Member Member Meeting, the Better Halves should gather at my house and maybe we can talk Nancy into giving a program on plants, hint, hint.   How cool would that be. I love working in my lawn, but sometimes I make the wrong decision on what or where to plant.  
Nancy showed us pictures of some Fairy Gardens she assembled.  They were so cute that I want to make one NOW!

For this ladies gathering I prepared the main dish.  Honey Mustard Chicken and Rosemary Basic No-Knead Bread to soak up all that heavenly sauce.  Both recipes are easy and tasty.

Dinner With The Better Halves
  Honey Mustard Chicken
1/3 cup Dijon Originale (I use Maille's)
1/3 cup honey
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds skin on, bone in chicken thighs
salt and pepper
2 sprigs rosemary
1. Preheat the oven to 350'.
2. Salt and pepper chicken.  In a skillet pour a few tablespoon olive oil.  Heat skillet.  Place chicken, skin side down.  Cook about 3-4 minutes each side.  
3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, honey, and olive oil.
4.  Place seared chicken, skin side up in a casserole dish.  Spoon the honey mustard sauce over the chicken.  Place the rosemary sprigs in between the pieces of chicken.
If your having an event, place the baked Honey Mustard Chicken with all the honey mustard sauce in a crockpot and set to warm.  Make sure you put pieces of the rosemary in it also.  Then its ready when you are, and still warm.

Dinner With The Better Halves

5.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until the thighs read 175' on a meat thermometer, or the juices run clear when the meat is pierced with a knife.  Remove the casserole pan from the oven, use a spoon to spoon off any excess chicken fat that has rendered during the cooking.

Dinner With The Better Halves

 A great evening was had as we all gathered around the table for a night of feasting and good conversation.  

I had to have a bath, so you bet I was at this party!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Whiteoak Sinks "The Secret Trail"

It was 78' and sunny at the Whiteoaks Sinks in the Smoky Mountains.  A trail that is kind of a secret, since it doesn't actually exist on any GSMNP map.  I was very surprised that the Whiteoaks Sinks that is so hidden, was so busy. 
 About two years ago, Stone and I stumbled upon it by accident.  Then a 85 year old man lead us out, seeing that it was getting dark, to dark to follow the trail back the way we came.  The elderly man was there with his wife, son and family.  Turns out the son was a physician who also lives in Knoxville.   They kindly drove us to our car about three miles away.  Since then we have wondered how to get to that parking lot that would lead you to the sinks, making it about a four mile hike, verses an eight mile hike as we did previously. 

 We began our hike on the Schoolhouse Gap Trail.

Whiteoak Sinks
 Beaked Violet

 Yellow Trillium

Whiteoak Sinks
 Dog Hobble

Whiteoak Sinks
 Wild Geranium 

Whiteoak Sinks

Whiteoak Sinks
 White Trillium

 A blanket of Blue Phlox greeted us as we entered the Basin floor at Whiteoak Sinks.

Whiteoak Sinks
Blue  Phlox







 My Lunch

Whiteoak Sinks
 Yellow Trillium

 Shooting Star

Whiteoak Sinks
 Crested Dwarf Iris






 We took a break and rested the camera on a tree that had fallen across the trail for this photo op.  That old fallen down tree came in handy.

Whiteoak Sinks
Yellow Lady Slipper