The Great Zucchini

Think of it as a versatile, delicious little black dress.

Only it’s very dark brown instead of black, and it’s not a dress, but a cake.  But otherwise…

This is week three of dispatches from my adventures when I joined Lisa Prince and WRAL’s Brian Shrader as they prepared and filmed four recipes for Local Dish, WRAL’s cooking segment that airs each Friday on the noon news.

This week’s chocolate cake, y’all.

In keeping with the summer produce theme, this is a zucchini cake.  And there are two really important things that I need you, Gentle Reader, to take from this essay.

The first is the importance of cooking time.  There is a little butter and four eggs in this cake, but no other fat.  So, most of the moisture comes from the grated zucchini and the applesauce in the recipe.    

Which means, if you overcook it, you will get a dry result that will stick in your throat and make you sad.  It cooks for 60-70 minutes, but you should start checking it at 55 minutes.  As soon as a toothpick comes out clean but moist, get it out of the oven.  And after it’s been out for 10 minutes, get it out of that pan.

The second thing is, once it’s cool you can top it with anything from powdered sugar to a decadent vanilla fudge icing topped with crushed Oreos.  You can go simple and use whipped cream or a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream.  Or let the ice cream melt.  It then becomes a fancy custard sauce called crème Anglaise.  Set the cake on a puddle of that (for crème Anglaise use an ice cream containing only milk, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and maybe a pinch of salt).

Here are two of my favorite toppings.

Mama Cat’s Vanilla Fudge Icing

½ cup butter

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup milk

Heat ingredients in saucepan until it begins to boil.  Let cool slightly and mix in 1& 3/4 -2 cups sifted powdered sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

Pour over fully cooled cake and top with crushed Oreos (optional) or anything else you’d like.

Mom’s Fudge Glaze

6 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons cocoa

3 cups powdered sugar

6 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

In saucepan, melt butter.  Stir in cocoa until dissolved.  Mix in sugar.  Add milk and vanilla; whisk until smooth. 

Pour over cooled cake and allow to set.

The cake calls for cinnamon, but you could also tweak it with things like cayenne or espresso powder.

 Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake  

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup sugar

½ cup butter, room temperature

4 eggs

¾ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 Tbsp. vanilla

2 cups shredded zucchini

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat bottom and sides of 9 to 12 cup Bundt pan with cooking spray.

Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in bowl.  Set aside. Beat sugar and butter with mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, applesauce then vanilla.

Reduce mixer to low. Beat in dry ingredients until blended. Fold in zucchini.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until done. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and allow to cool completely before topping.

This cake also travels really well for picnics and potlucks; or wrap a slice and tuck it into a bagged lunch.  With both zucchini and apple sauce in it, you could almost call it healthy with a straight face.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

The Lemon Twist

“I see dead people.”That’s probably the most famous line in The Sixth Sense, the most famous movie from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan, whom the entire Matthews family band delights in calling, “M. Night Shamma-Lama Ding-Dong”.  His movies are famous for their twist endings.  And, with twist endings, comes the risk of someone giving the ending away, which is what Andy Richter, Conan O’Brian’s sidekick, did.  This was a couple of years after the movie came out, but he still caused a huge ruckus.When it comes to a twist ending, I love it.  But I also hate it.  And very often I’ll ruin it for myself, even as I am fully aware that I’m also draining all the fun out of it.  I’m the same way about presents (both giving and receiving).  Many of my gift recipients get them weeks before the actual event because I just can’t wait. As a child, there were many gifts for which my surprise was feigned and looked like they’d been rewrapped by a little kid with both frantic subterfuge and guilty haste. But, the twist, the fancy footwork which demolishes expectations, I love it.  Shirley Jackson’s writing, The Twilight Zone, and later, The Night Gallery, all are excellent examples of the literary head fake.  Horror lends itself to a big, surprising reveal.

Gooey butter cake is delicious, but so rich it’s killed more men than the Spanish flu…

Gooey butter cake is a rich, velvety confection.  It’s the simpler home version of a cake made famous by bakeries in St. Louis.  But both versions are super rich, super sweet, and should probably be a very seldom treat; the home versions have upwards of 16 tablespoons of butter (two sticks) and full-fat cream cheese.

When The Kid and I needed a dessert for a picnic type spread, I decided to make a new recipe I’d discovered online and modified a bit—a twist on gooey butter cake.

Lemon White Chocolate Gooey Barslemon gooeyYield: 9-12 bar

15.25 oz super moist lemon cake mix

½ cup butter, softened

1 egg

½ cup sugar

¼ cup milk

juice of half a lemon

1 cup white chocolate chips-make sure the chips have cocoa butter as one of the first few ingredients, otherwise it’s just flavored wax, and not real white chocolate 

½ cup sweetened condensed milk + 2 tablespoons if needed


Combine cake mix, butter, egg, sugar, lemon juice and milk and mix until smooth.

Spray 9×9 pan with cooking spray, line bottom and sides of pan with parchment paper, then spray parchment.

Add a little more than half the batter to bottom of pan by dropping spoonsful into pan, then spread evenly.

Sprinkle white chocolate chips in even layer on top of batter.Pour sweetened condensed milk in even layer on top of white chocolate chips- if necessary, use extra two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk to fill in bare spots.

Drop spoonsful of remaining dough on top, spreading to cover the best you can.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, turning pan 180 degrees halfway through.

Allow to cool completely in pan, then cut into squares. Store bars in airtight container in fridge for 7-10 days.The twists here are the procedure, which makes it more of a layered construction, the lemon juice to eliminate any artificial flavor from the cake mix, and the white chocolate chips which give it a pop of flavor and texture.

And the final Twilight Zonian twist is that these bars can put you in a trance.  They’re so good that if you’re not careful, it’s possible to eat the whole pan without even realizing it.Thanks for your time.


Must Desserts


I used to tease our friend Chef Chrissie that he’s not the smoothest Casanova.  Despite being Irish, he is absolutely lacking the Emerald Isle’s gift of blarney.  He’s also honest to the point that if a girl asked him if her butt looked big, he’d tell her.  Petey and he share a sense of style, something I like to call, “sixth-grader at recess ”.

But the man possesses one ability that almost makes all of his deficits disappear.  It’s a talent which when employed in the service of pitching woo, is a laser-guided missile of amour.

It’s his ‘chef-ness’.

Yup…well, sorta.

Chrissie can Turn.It.Out.

The man is a kitchen wizard.  But what to do if you have lots of love to give, but very little in the way of cooking skills?

Don’t despair, for armed with a little knowledge you can easily look like a dashing, undercover pastry chef. With the knowledge to prepare three little items, you can present any number of dishes; from fancy plated dessert, to picnic treat.

The confectionary building blocks honestly couldn’t be easier to make—two of the three come from boxes.The first, and most versatile element is whipped cream.  It lends a luscious, dressy air to any dish.  And it takes all of about two minutes to make.

Place 1 cup of heavy cream in a clean cold bowl and add 2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla, and a tiny pinch of salt.  Using either a hand mixer or an immersion blender and beat until soft peaks form.  You can add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder for chocolate whipped cream.

Only make as much as you need, and use it right away.  The longer it sits, the droopier it gets.loaded browniesThe second element is brownies.  Everybody loves my brownies.  My secret?  I start with a box.  But then, I tinker.

Instead of water, use coffee.  Add 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder, a splash of vanilla, and a big pinch of salt.  Go through your pantry and pull out chips, candy, nuts, marshmallows, anything that tickles your fancy.  I’ve been known to add dried fruits, butter toasted pecans, pretzel pieces, and broken candy bars.  Halfway through baking sprinkle a small amount of flaky sea salt on top.

And always, always cook for 1-2 minutes less than the minimum time on the box.  Then chill to set.The third item is chocolate mousse with a secret.  The secret is I use a box of cook and serve chocolate pudding, and instead of milk, I use heavy cream.  It’s crazy good, and convinces diners that you got it going on.  You can either use it warm and rich, or let it cool all the way and whip it in a mixer until it’s light and airy.

With these three items, you can make a plethora of dishes.

Cut the brownie into cubes, add some to a wine glass with spoonsful of pudding and fresh raspberries.  Top with a dollop of whipped cream and you’ve got chocolate trifle.Cut the brownie into rounds, put pudding between two pieces, freeze, and you’ve got elevated ice cream sandwiches.

Pour hot pudding into a mini pie shell and refrigerate.  When cool, top with whipped cream and crumbled brownie pieces.

Buy some cookie dough and press into mini muffin cups and cook until done.  Fill with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Or, put a big scoop of ice cream on a warm brownie square cover with hot caramel and top with whipped cream.

Or, do something entirely different with these three dessert elements.  Then call me, ‘cause I want some.Thanks for your time.