I’m not sure exactly why I pulled “Back Around the Table” out of a stack of cookbooks and decided to give it a go.

To be honest, I didn’t know who David Venable was (turns out he’s QVC’s resident foodie) and most the recipes are a bit more decadent than the ones I usually go for. Sure, mac ‘n cheese bites and chicken cheesesteak egg rolls sound good, but that’s the kind of comfort food I try to avoid cooking often. But a few recipes listed on the book jacket did catch my attention, blueberry-lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry syrup and eggs Benedict bread pudding among them.

The cookbook, Venable’s second, features nearly 150 recipes separated into categories like “Mix & Mingle,” “Brunch & Beyond” and “Smoke & Fire.” He describes it as a collection of “mini cookbooks” in one and focuses on recipes that are easy and comforting.

As I flipped through the book, I found myself both pleased and disappointed. The recipe instructions are presented in a clear, easy-to-follow way with little anecdotes from Venable. So far so good. I was disappointed, however, because the most interesting recipes called for a pressure cooker, and I don’t have one. When I do acquire a pressure cooker, I’d like to try his honey dijon chicken and Osso Buco.

Meanwhile, I settled for the Black Bottom Cupcakes because reading the recipe reminded me of special cupcakes I had once as a child. Well over two decades ago, on a road trip to Minnesota, we stopped to visit a family friend in Chicago. Waiting on the table when we arrived were her famous chocolate-cream cheese cupcakes, which my dad had been raving about. Venable’s recipe is the closest I’ve ever seen to cupcakes I remembered.

The cupcakes were so moist and creamy, they didn’t even need frosting, although the lack did lead my husband to insist they were just fancy muffins. Whatever you want to call them, they’re worth trying.


Black Bottom Cupcakes

Makes 18


1 (8-ounce package) cream cheese, at room temperature

1 tablespoon sour cream

1/3 cup sugar

1 large egg

1/3 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips


1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup sour cream

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 18 standard or 12 jumbo muffin cups with foil liners.

To make the cream cheese mixture, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and egg in the bowl of a standing mixer until smooth. Using a spatula, fold in the mini chips.

To make the batter, whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking soda, salt and sugar in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the vanilla, 3/4 cup water, sour cream and melted butter. Using a fork, blend the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Fill the muffin cups one-third full with the chocolate batter. Drop a heaping tablespoon cream cheese mixture on top of the chocolate batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the chocolate part of the cupcake comes out clean. Turn the cupcakes out onto a wire rack and let cool completely.