Simple Scratch-made Chocolate Crackle Cookies

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A great cookie is all about texture. Whether it’s the crunch of chocolate chips, the crackle of sugar or just the soft gooiness of the center, the texture makes and breaks (in a good way) any cookie we eat. And it’s that texture I’ve always loved about these Chocolate Crackle Cookies.

I also love that all of the ingredients for this cookie recipe are always in our pantry and fridge, and they’re likely in yours, too, which means no need to run to the store! On a recent Saturday afternoon, I scoured a few cookie sites for popular recipes, came up with this combination, and walked right into the kitchen and started mixing and baking. The result was about 30 chewy morsels of sweet, chocolatey goodness that we enjoyed throughout the following week.

One of our #FoodieScore Facebook friends even suggested adding a little green food coloring to the recipe around the holidays to create Grinch cookies. Great idea! That’s what we love about cooking: You can always take a recipe and adapt it however you want.

It won’t take you long to mix the dough and watch these cookies bake and crackle on top, so we hope you enjoy the rest of the time you spend on the best part of the homemade cookie process: Eating!

Ingredients

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease baking sheet(s)
  3. Add powdered sugar to bowl and set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
  5. In an electric mixer bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar and vanilla on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Add one egg to the mixer bowl and mix until blended. Then add the second egg.
  7. Add the dry flour-cocoa mixture and mix on low speed until blended.
  8. Once all ingredients are blended, rest cookie dough in freezer for about 10 minutes. This will help cookies be less sticky when you form them for baking, which is important because you have to ball them up and roll them in the powdered sugar.
  9. After dough is cooled, use a spoon to scoop dough and roll into spoonful-size balls using your hands.
  10. Roll each ball in the powdered sugar in your bowl until each is covered well.
  11. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet(s), about 2 inches apart, and bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until crackled and puffed.
  12. Let cool on a rack and then enjoy!
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Time-Honored Christmas Treats Our Family Loves

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In this special guest post, #FoodieScore blogger Matthew Tessnear’s mom, Chris Tessnear, recalls the inspirations for the holiday goodies she makes each Christmas season and shares the recipe for a favorite family tradition. Discover her blog, where faith and art unite, at CreativeInspirations.Blogspot.com.

Celebrations in the South always involve food, and Christmas in the South means special food and treats. Growing up I remember my mom’s orange cake made with oranges from the treat bags received from the textile mill where my dad worked. I also remember my grandmother’s sweet potato pie. She, like my mom, made biscuit dough for pie crust as well. She added very little to her cooked sweet potatoes, and the pie was very thin (not deep dish). She put mini marshmallows on top and ran them under the broiler to melt and brown. I could go on, but I think I’m supposed to share some of the treats I make.

Like my mom and grandmother, I picked up ideas from other places over the years. My Nutty Fingers I first learned to make in Home Economics in the Seventies. The White Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz crackers (never found a short title) was learned when dad brought some home the girls in the office made at work. Back then, we used real white chocolate and added paraffin to the mix for easier flow and gloss. This was in the early Eighties. I guess we had not learned about Almond Bark yet.

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The Spinach Balls I make came from a former pastor’s wife, Ann Dodd. They are easy and a little healthier than most holiday treats. Peanut Butter Fantasy Fudge was always mom’s favorite. I made it more often than Christmas.

I always make good old slice-and-bake sugar cookies. It’s hard to improve on that. I make traditional Party Mix but often use the store brand cereals. Homemade Sausage Balls are a staple each year. The once handmade Cheese Ball is now bought to save time.

One of my family’s favorites is my homemade Oatmeal Cakes, similar to a familiar purchased kind and sometimes called Little Chrissy Cakes. I developed these from a recipe I already hadI made them once and it became a tradition. I made them for a church fall festival and everyone wanted the recipe.

I’ll share that recipe here.

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Little Chrissy Cakes (Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies)

Cookie:

1 1/4 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup soft butter or margarine

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 package instant vanilla pudding mix

2 eggs

3 1/2 cups oats

Combine butter, sugars, pudding mix in a bowl. Beat until creamy. Add eggs and mix. Gradually add flour mixed with baking soda. Stir in oats. Roll into 2-inch diameter log and chill. (Can be frozen up to one month).

When ready to bake, slice log into 1/4-inch slices and place on lightly sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly browned. We like ours a little chewy, and 10 minutes is usually enough. Cool on wire rack, then add filling and wrap individually.

Filling:

1 pound of confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup softened butter

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and add sugar slowly, then beat until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and mix well. Spread a good amount in between two cookies. (I admit to using canned icing mostly now. It’s all about enjoying the cookie soon and not being worn out by Christmas Day.

Yields about 18 cakes depending on the size of the cookies.

Food and Christmas go together. Traditions are important, especially at the holidays. Here’s to wishing you a wonderful Christmas filled with all the tasty hope of the season.

Foodie Travels: Carolina BBQ, Spartanburg, S.C.

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I’ve savored barbecue from corner to corner of North Carolina, but South Carolina is a different story. I realized recently that I couldn’t name even one prime barbecue restaurant in South Carolina that I could recommend to a BBQ-loving friend. So, of course, we had to change that.

Earlier this year we came across Carolina BBQ—perhaps the most common name for a barbecue restaurant in either of the Carolinas (seriously, there’s one almost everywhere it seems)—and I added it to my #FoodieScore scouting list for the state of South Carolina. (We receive a lot of “you have to eat here” recommendations, and each one goes on a list that changes almost daily. Thank you for your great suggestions!) Luckily, Carolina BBQ is in Spartanburg, which is about a 90-minute roundtrip from our home in Shelby, N.C. And it just so happens to also carry Southern Living magazine’s endorsement as the best barbecue in the state of South Carolina.

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Normally, I’d classify barbecue restaurants into two categories, legendary dives and modern Q shacks. Carolina BBQ is almost a solid hybrid of the two. From the outside of the place, you almost get the sense you’re about to venture into a decades-old kingdom of delicious meats and sides. When you walk in the door, it feels like a new-age take on the old lunch counter experience, with bar-and-stool and booth seating available.

Then you hit the menu, and you continue to toe the line of old school and new school. Carolina BBQ plates a hearty assortment of Carolinas BBQ favorites. We’re talking pulled pork (always my first meat choice at a Carolinas BBQ establishment, and theirs was a nice mix of meaty and seasoned), sliced pork and half chicken, the stuff you read on the menu of an iconic barbecue spot. But keep reading because there’s also St. Louis ribs, beef brisket and smoked turkey, and that’s just the meat.

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The side dish lineup is strong, including creamy, thick, hearty mac & cheese, the biggest fried squash you’ve seen in your life, creamy and crunchy coleslaw, and quite possibly the best Brunswick stew I’ve ever eaten. For folks not familiar, Brunswick stew is a thick soup that usually contains lima or butter beans, vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes and corn, along with shredded meat and spices for flavor. A cup of Brunswick stew is the perfect warmup on a cold day, and I’ve eaten my share of it from my days living in Eastern North Carolina. Carolina BBQ’s stew will also delight folks who are more familiar with the term “chili” or “chili beans” due to its warmth, richness and spice kick.

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Of course, a restaurant’s barbecue sauce of choice is always a heady question, and that’s one place Carolina BBQ functions as more of a modern Q shack. There’s no one sauce to rule them all. You get three on the table. When I think of South Carolina barbecue as shared by the traveling experts, I think of a mustard sauce, and Carolina BBQ’s is a good one, with a solid influence of mustard but almost a smoky-sweet side to it as well. There’s also a “mild” sauce that, to me, had more of a kick to it. And finally there’s a Cheerwine sauce that tastes more like Cheerwine than any Cheerwine BBQ sauce you’ve ever had in your life. If you love Cheerwine, you have to try it first, especially if you’re not already drinking the soda by the same name, so you can tell the difference. The sauce is a ringer for the taste of the North Carolina-based soda that celebrates 100 years in 2017. I had to sample all three sauces in separate areas of my plate, and I couldn’t pick a clear favorite. They’re all good.

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My pork plate came with two sides AND four hushpuppies (so did my wife Molly’s savory smoked turkey plate, of which there was so much that she took half home), so we had plenty to eat without dessert. But how could we resist either the deep-fried brownie bites or homemade banana pudding? We went with the banana pudding, which is unlike most you’ll find in our part of the South. The pudding is sweet, light and almost airy, not heavy at all, filled with fresh banana slices, and all on top of a crunchy pecan sandie-like cookie base. When you dig in with your spoon, dip all the way to the bottom to get a solid crunchy bite of that cookie as you scoop up through the pudding, the bananas and the whipped cream. For someone who likes to get creative in the kitchen, the Carolina BBQ banana pudding is a delightful new take on the classic Southern dessert.

Carolina BBQ offers both the classics as you’ve come to love them and favorites with new twists—and we loved both angles—so I might have to create a new “hybrid” category to describe similar barbecue restaurants. One thing’s for sure: This Spartanburg Q shop has plenty of choices for you, and they’ll all come at an affordable price. We savored two plates, two drinks and dessert for $23. Not bad at all for a filling Saturday dinner!

Carolina BBQ, 7115 Lone Oak Road, Spartanburg, S.C.

Homemade Pie Crust Tips and Tricks

Pie Crust

When you fancy flavorful homemade pies as much as we do at #FoodieScore, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to make your favorite recipes better in your own kitchen. And any great pie, no matter the rest of the ingredients, starts with a firm foundation—a great crust.

So, naturally, much of my musing about pie pertains to the pastry process and the question: How can I improve this essential building block on which the entire enterprise deliciously rests?

I’m still very much in the infancy phase of my pie-making life, but I have already learned a couple of must-succeed steps and a couple more optional tricks that help lead to a better crust. But as my mother and wife, two extraordinary and seasoned bakers, have told me, so much of the process and its positive result depends on a wide array of factors, such as climate, oven quality and specific ingredients.

Despite those wildcard variables, I believe you’ll find something useful and encouraging in the following lessons I’ve learned through my first batch of crusts. As with your pastry dough, please be gentle when working with these tips!

BE COLD: My favorite simple crust recipe so far uses unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, white sugar, salt and ice water. In short, you want these ingredients to be as cold as possible without being frozen, especially the butter and the ice water. The dough will form best and be far less sticky if they’re ice cold. I’ve even tested placing the mixed dough in the freezer for about five minutes before rolling it out flat to help keep it from sticking to my pin and paper.

PROCESS IT: Once you mix your dry ingredients, there are many ways to incorporate your butter. You can use your fingers or forks, or you can let a machine do the work. In several test runs, I’ve found that our food processor best turns the butter-flour mixture into the “gravel” consistency I’m looking for in this step of the process. Just a few solid pulses will do the trick. As you’ve probably read elsewhere, you don’t want to overwork your crust dough.

CONSERVE WATER: Your recipe likely calls for several tablespoons of water. Don’t pour all of that liquid into your mixture at one time. Add a couple tablespoons and start to work the dough. You’ll literally get a feel for how much more water you need. Once you’ve added too much, it becomes a pendulum game of add dry ingredients, add more liquid, and that becomes blatant guesswork. While there’s some guessing and intuition to forming your crust, as with baking and cooking in general, you don’t want to take a complete shot in the dark. Just drizzle a little water at a time, and remember that you might not need all of it.

Do you have tried-and-true tips for making pie crust? We’d love to hear all about your experiences! Comment below, share on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages, or email us here. Thanks for reading, and enjoy that pie!

Baked Pie Company, Asheville, N.C.

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What if I told you there’s a place where you can get three hearty slices of delicious homemade pie alongside a creamy scoop of sweet ice cream, all on a plate just for you or to share with friends and family, for $13?

Your reaction will immediately reveal how alike or different we are.

Well, there is such a place, and it’s a South Asheville shop called Baked Pie Company. The slice trio a la mode is known as a “Pie Flight,” a takeoff on the multiple-option beer flights made popular by breweries.

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This is where we determine our degree of similarity. Beer just isn’t a thing for Molly and me. Pie, however, well, it’s the only thing sometimes. Outside of a great restaurant that serves both top-notch cheeseburgers and tacos, there’s nothing that excites us more than visiting a stellar pie shop with an array of sweet slices.

Baked Pie Company has no doubt instantly joined our list of favorite pie shops with its seemingly endless display case of fruit, cream, nut and other pies. There are sugar and gluten free options. There are cheesecakes. You can order a whole pie. You can enjoy just a slice. You can indulge in a flight, which we highly recommend.

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On our first-ever visit, Molly and I each sampled our own flight. To be transparent, she took home almost half of her slices to enjoy later, but I finished the whole flight in one sitting. Hey, it was my birthday, and it was my lunch that day!

Each pie itself was incredible, and the crusts were perfectly flaky and light, not overdone in the slightest.

The honey pecan, available most every day on a rotating menu, was perfectly sweet without going over the top, and the caramelized nuts on top were so fresh and perfectly placed it’s like Baked added them after the pie cooked. The blueberry crumb offered a fresh berry taste with a sweet, slight crunch. The sweet potato was rich with real sweet potato flavor and texture, while offering the balance of a fine streusel. The lemon chess was wonderfully tart. The cranberry cheesecake a creamy delight. And the fudge brownie so rich and chocolately with the taste of real cocoa!

We enjoyed our pies in the dining area of Baked, which offers wooden tables and chairs, both in a family-style table setup and along a counter-style seating option. The rustic accents around the room add another nice touch that makes the place feel just like home. That and the aroma and sight of all that pie!

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When it comes to dessert, we understand that many folks enjoy a slice of cake, a fancy cupcake or another favorite option. We’re not those people. No, we’re pie people, and Baked Pie Company is a kindred spirit in our foodie world. If you’re a pie person, too, it’s an urgent addition on your must-visit list!

Baked Pie Company, 4 Long Shoals Road, Arden, N.C.

Pro Tip: Check the Baked Pie Company Facebook page each morning for the day’s pie list!

Rich and Simple Pumpkin Pie

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Along with turkey and stuffing, any official Thanksgiving meal I eat must include a Pumpkin Pie. But I enjoy Pumpkin Pie so much I’d joyously eat it any time of the year, especially throughout the fall.

This is a simplified take on a pie recipe Molly found in a Food Network magazine. The original recipe also incorporates bourbon into the filling, as well as bourbon and vanilla into the crust. Neither of those steps are necessary, and without them the following ingredients are even more affordable and the directions are even easier.

We’ve made this Pumpkin Pie a couple times, and we’ve been very happy with the results each time. It produces a delicious pumpkin-spiced filling that’s both rich and creamy. If you need an easy pumpkin pie in a pinch, here’s our recommendation.

Ingredients

1 15-ounce can of canned pumpkin

1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ t ground cinnamon (You can also use 1 cinnamon stick.)

3 large eggs

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

1 ½ t pumpkin pie spice

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Directions

1. Mix the heavy cream and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium-low heat on a stove burner. Bring to a simmer and then set aside to cool.

2. Transfer the cream-cinnamon mixture to a large bowl. Whisk in the pumpkin, eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice.

3. Warm your oven to 375 degrees.

4. Pour your pumpkin pie mixture into your favorite pie crust. Place the pie on top of a cookie sheet or pan for any possible spillover and slide it in the oven.

5. Bake your pie for 1 hour or 1 hour and 10 minutes, until the crust is done and the filling is set. (We like to use a pie crust shield to keep the crust from browning too much.)

Bonus Pro Tip: Mix a half cup of heavy whipping cream with your desired amount of pumpkin pie spice in an electric stand mixer (or with a hand mixer) and top your pie with a dollop of special pumpkin spice whipped cream!

A Meal in Memory of Grandma

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Food is more substance than just sustenance for me. For some people, cooking and eating are just necessary functions for life. For me, each meal’s preparation and consumption is an experience to relish and remember. Much credit for that goes to my maternal grandmother, Vember Christine Allred Quinn.

Grandma passed away on Oct. 20 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She still continued to enjoy some of her favorite foods until the final weeks and days of her amazing 88-year life, even though she hadn’t been able to think through the process of making a meal herself in years.

I deeply miss Grandma Vember’s cooking, along with so many other things that made her a beautiful person. Meals at her house, especially at times like Thanksgiving, meant I got to sit around the table with her, Grandpa, Mom and Dad to eat and talk. Each one of us always sat in the same place, and my seat was to Grandma’s left, also next to Mom.

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Grandma’s passing has had me thinking about the dishes and recipes of hers that I recall most fondly. So I’ve decided to put together a meal at Grandma’s house, and I’d like to invite you to join me for dinner. No reservation or transportation is necessary. Just continue reading and enjoy this simple yet special table of memories with me in the plates below. Here’s what’s on the menu.

FLANK STEAK: Grandma cooked the most flavorful, tender flank steak—and we just called it steak—I’ve ever consumed. My own is not nearly as tasty or chewable. Flank steak has a tendency to be tough in consistency. Not grandma’s. As I remember, hers had a light but very meaty quality to it, with a slightly soft, slightly crispy coating that had a hint of pepper in taste. This was my favorite main dish for grandma to prepare, and I’d still take a pan of flank steak now over any other more expensive cut of meat.

HOPPY TOAD BISCUITS: Perhaps my favorite food prepared by my grandmother was her biscuits. I can still picture the containers of ingredients in the bottom kitchen cabinet and her hands at work in the dough on the counter above. She’d nestle the biscuits close together and they’d join in the sided pan in the oven. When they hit the table, we’d break them apart, and they’d seemingly hop from the plate and into our mouths. They were small biscuits, shaped by the pan’s sides and their neighboring pieces of dough, with a slightly crisp outside and a soft but completely done middle. I’ve never eaten a biscuit like Grandma’s.

GREEN BEANS AND POTATOES: Some dishes are more about the memories attached than the unique recipe in which they originate. That’s how I feel about a pot of Grandma’s green beans and potatoes. In my mind, I can see the glass pot and lid that she always used for her green beans and potatoes. Neither the beans nor the potatoes were any sort of premium quality, and they weren’t seasoned in any creative way, to my knowledge. But the combination of a can of green beans and a can of whole potatoes introduced to me the realization that food can be both simple and fulfilling.

OLD DRY CAKE AND CHOCOLATE GRAVY: This is just a basic cake with butter, milk, eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla, but there’s nothing ordinary about its story in our family. Grandma made the cake once, before I’d ever tasted it myself, when Great Aunt Kathleen was eating with my grandparents and Mom. Grandpa asked her how she liked it, and Kathleen answered that it was a little dry. It’s since been known as the “Old Dry Cake.” Sometimes when she made it she’d cook a chocolate sauce (also known as chocolate gravy) and pour it over the hot cake, allowing it to run over and into the cake. I dare say you haven’t lived if you haven’t had chocolate gravy poured over “Old Dry Cake.”

If I could have Grandma make one meal right now, those dishes are exactly what I would request. They’re emblazoned on my heart, and their memories have influenced my interest in cooking and zeal for how I feed myself and my wife Molly. Thank you, Grandma. I think of you every time I step into the kitchen.

In Memory of Vember Christine Allred Quinn (Oct. 11, 1929-Oct. 20, 2017)

Foodie Travels: The Shake Shop, Cherryville, N.C.

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Don’t be fooled! If you drive by this place outside business hours, you might think it’s closed because of its rustic exterior. It’s not.

Again, don’t be fooled! If you’re a foodie fan of trendy spots, you might confuse this spot with the renowned Shake Shack, a fast-food chain based in New York City. It’s not.

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This is The Shake Shop, a locally owned Cherryville icon that’s been serving up Southern sandwich, side and drink favorites for decades. And it’s one of several dining favorites, along with Black’s Grill, in the western Gaston County community that have earned Cherryville press coverage as “Cheeseburger Town.”

That acclaim recently extended statewide as The Shake Shop was featured in the popular Our State magazine as one of North Carolina’s must-visit “Hole in the Wall” joints. The publication was enough to get us to finally make a #FoodieScore visit to The Shake Shop, and here’s what we discovered.

  • Don’t expect to immediately get a table on a Saturday if you arrive past 11:15 a.m. We drove up just before 11 a.m. and waited for the doors to open. After ordering at the counter and selecting a booth, we watched the small dining area fill to capacity in about 15 minutes. We also suggest you call ahead if you’re heading to The Shake Shop from outside town. We discovered the hours on the restaurant’s Facebook page are different than what’s posted on the door.
  • You must take cash here. Don’t forget!
  • Don’t expect to get a shake. While they’ve been served here in the past and the word is still in the name, it’s not part of the menu now. Do consider a handmade cherry lemon Sun-Drop, with cherries on top. It’s also a favorite drink over at Black’s Grill in town.
  • If you like Lottaburgers—a submarine sandwich-style bun filled with a burger patty and toppings on each half—you should try one here. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a place to top this lottaburger. The flavors—juicy meat, fresh slaw, tomato and pickle, also the standard sandwich toppings at Black’s Grill—and the portions are both large!
  • The onion rings are a great side choice, as heralded by locals. They’re some of the crunchiest, least greasy, flavorful onion rings we’ve had anywhere.

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The Shake Shop’s not the kind of place where you’ll find the crowd looking for the hippest, trendiest, most expensive and chic food available. It’s the kind of place where you’ll see families and friends meeting for a delicious meal at a good price. (We ate with tip for less than $20, and we ordered a few extras on top of the basics.) And it’s the kind of place where you’ll see regular customers arriving to a familiar question: “Are you having your usual today?” We heard that several times during just one quick lunchtime visit.

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Oh, and do expect to be called “honey” and “sweetie” when you order, as the Our State story reported. Southern hospitality flows freely here, and that’s just the way we like it.

The Shake Shop, 505 W. Church St., Cherryville, N.C.

Homemade Yeast Doughnuts

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Earlier this year, we tested a doughnut recipe in the #FoodieScore kitchen that allowed us to make the sweet treats without using yeast. The result was a flavorful doughnut we enjoyed and shared with you. But the doughnuts from that batch became much heavier as they sat for a day or two, and I found myself wanting a lighter, airier doughnut that could last a bit longer. After all, we shared some of the doughnuts with family, but we still had plenty to eat ourselves and could only eat so many at a time, within reason.

So, I searched for a yeast doughnuts recipe, hoping the inclusion of yeast would produce a lighter result and thinking such an ingredient might take a little more work to prepare. Both of those expectations were accurate with the recipe I selected. Molly did most of the preparation on these doughnuts, which required the incorporation, settling and rising of yeast, and the frying. The process did take more time and effort, but the recipe did produce a slightly airier doughnut.

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However, after a few days, the doughnuts still became a bit heavier and drier than when first made. So, I have a hypothesis about this and all doughnut recipes: They’re meant to make and enjoy right away. From our doughnut tests, we’ve learned there’s a reason why doughnut shops make their treats and sell them fresh on the day of production. A doughnut just isn’t as good after a few days. That also tells me something about those packages of Krispy Kreme and other doughnuts you see on the shelves in grocery and convenience stores. What kind of preservatives must they contain to help them maintain flavor and texture longer?

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This recipe linked here was provided by Ree Drummond, known as the Pioneer Woman, for the Food Network. It’s a solid set of ingredients and instructions, and we thoroughly enjoyed the resulting doughnuts. We also enjoyed getting creative with our decorations and toppings, leaving holes in some doughnuts and filling them with creams, icing others and adding drizzles, sprinkles, bacon and more. But most of all, we suggest that you use any doughnut recipe with plans to eat your tasty creations within just a couple of days. You’ll enjoy them more that way.

Foodie Travels: Ray’s Drive Inn, San Antonio, Texas

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We wish you good luck if you visit Ray’s Drive Inn, an iconic restaurant in San Antonio, Texas.

You’ll need luck to find a parking space in Ray’s lot, which seems to stay quite full, especially at peak dinner times. (They do appear to have a gravel parking lot across the street.) But that’s your first good clue that you’re in for an awesome dining experience at the spot that calls itself the home of the original puffy taco.

And speaking of that taco, good luck resisting the opportunity to order as many as you can, filled with nearly as many toppings as you can imagine. If you’re as lucky as we were, you’ll experience amazing service at Ray’s with a server who’s willing to describe the contents of each taco option.

Ray’s was our first stop on a two-day summer excursion through San Antonio, and we’ll be honest with you that it was quite difficult to not return for every other meal we ate in the city!

It was the aforementioned “puffy taco” that attracted us to Ray’s. I had heard about puffy tacos on one of the many Food Network shows I regularly binge on, and it appeared Ray’s was the place to get them.

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If you’ve never had one, the puffy taco is almost like a premium Taco Bell chalupa, but it’s far fresher and, well, better. The outer shell is fried crispy yet maintains a lightness that yields to the delicious filling it carries.

On our visit we sampled puffy tacos with zesty chicken fajitas, seasoned ground beef, savory pork, crispy fried fish and carne guisada. Each one offered the same familiar pop of fresh flavor of toppings like lettuce and tomato, and a crispy, puffy shell. But each one’s unique meat performed its own flavor concert with the other ingredients.

We ate a basket of chips that also came to the table—and the menu features a variety of other Mexican and American favorites—but otherwise this #FoodieScore stop was all about the tacos—wondrous homemade-style tacos.

If you can’t resist a tasty taco like us, don’t miss Ray’s. We suggest you take cash and expect a hearty crowd of other taco lovers. San Antonio’s quite lucky to have this taco treasure.

Ray’s Drive Inn, 822 SW 19th Street, San Antonio, Texas