Rainy Day Cooking: Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

2014-01-29 13.22.45What better way to spend a rainy day than making cookies?  In my opinion, none.  So, that’s how my boys and I spent part of our morning.  Want to try them?  The recipe is below.  Before I jump into the recipe, what do you think about the plate in the photo?  I stumbled across this beautiful find at a local thrift store in Sonoma.  Although exceptionally beautiful, it had two small flaws.  A couple of small chips, hence the price.  So, i tried filling them with epoxy at least so they wouldn’t spread. I still need to figure out how to paint the chips. 

In any event, as a fan of all things vintage, especially old china I had to learn about this pattern.  Would you know it was by the same folks who did flow blue?  Furnivals a company dating back to the 18th century.  Amazing they could make this in the days of horse and buggy transportation.  The crazing on this piece is exceptional as is the painted pattern.  This plate is now the oldest thing in my house.   And, undoubtedly will remain chipped, but I love it anyway.  

Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 cup butter (my salute to Julia Child).  If you don’t want to use all butter you can use shortening or try to increase the applesauce as a substitute.
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 4.6 ounce package of chocolate instant pudding.  I used a Belgium chocolate pudding from Trader Joes
  • 1 tablespoon Vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 2 1/4 cup flour (oatmeal flour is amazing in this recipe)
  • 12 ounces of dark chocolate.  I use 72% dark chocolate from Trader Joes.  Chop it up.

Preheat oven to 375.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats

Beat butter and sugars in mixing bowl until fluffy.  About 4 minutes

Add eggs one at a time.  Will look curdled, but don’t worry.  Add pudding, vanilla, baking soda, cinnamon, applesauce, nutmeg, salt.  Mix.  Add oats.  Mix.  Then mix in flour. 

Shape cookies.  An ice cream scooper is really helpful here.  Bake until the cookies look dryish and soft.  About 13 to 14 minutes. Let them cool on sheet for a minute or two.  Then on a cooling rack.  Display on your favorite plate.  Enjoy with your favorite folks, and share with new friends.  Happy baking!

 

 

Bringing Back the CheeseBall

There are some things from days of past that I just adore.  Vintage shoes, china, kids clothes and the art of entertaining.  I’ve started selling some of my favorite vintage things on Ebay which is a total digression from this post which is about entertaining.  From parties to food, there are some sweet ideas from days of past that deserve to be brought back.  For example, a Sip & See to introduce a new baby, the teacup bridal shower, and vintage hors doeuvres like the deviled egg.   There is another hors doeuvre warranting attention. Something easy, affordable and flavorful.  The Cheeseball! Even typing it makes me giddy.IMG_4874

The Cheeseball has been a party staple since the 1920s.  According to Better Homes & Gardens “they’re only getting better with age.”  I’d have to agree.

At my last party, a Rio themed birthday party (details here), I wanted to reintroduce this time honored dish to my circle of friends.  With images of the traditional cheeseball from the supermarket, you know the one the nut covered Velveeta cheese concoction, I was dying to flavor it up with quality ingredients.  My Google Search resulted in images that were brown, ugly, and with the word Kraft, which just wasn’t what I was going for.  After a little digging, I found Martha Stewart’s version which was a  nice start.  Her beautifully styled pictures gave me inspiration – a cheeseball didn’t have to be brown.  It could be green or red and served with complimentary colored crackers.  For example, beet chips make the brown cheeseball look more appealing.  Then, a photo of a pumpkin themed cheeseball from the Food Network really blew my mind.  So, I’ll be doing that around Halloween this year.

From Martha Stewart’s post, I learned that the base was cream cheese, salt & lemon.  To that you can add what you like. I wanted to make two, one sweet and another savory.  For savory, I added mushrooms sauteed in butter, Marsala wine, Gruyere cheese and roasted garlic.  When that was too bland, I added a half cup of blue cheese.  For sweet, I went on a berry and orange theme.  So I added a fig & cranberry compote and shredded sharp cheddar.

My basic recipe this is more than enough for a crowd of 60

  • 32 ounces cream cheese
  • juice of one lemon
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 5 dashes hot sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste

Split into as many portions as you want balls. I decided on two.  For the mushroom I added 2 cups of chopped mushrooms sauteed in butter, a tablespoon of bacon fat; 2 tbsp Marsala wine; 1 tbsp roasted garlic, 1/2 cup blue cheese, 1 cup Gruyere.  For the cranberry, I added about 1/4 cup of fig & cranberry compote & 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese.  Next time, I think that I’ll add some roasted figs. I might even get really daring and add some prosciutto.  Form the final product into a ball – wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Here’s the trick.  To let the flavors marry let them sit overnight in the fridge.

Then it is all about presentation.  For the mushroom ball, I decided to roll it in scallions and parsley.  The textures of which gave it a really pretty effect, sort of like a moss ball you’d see in an English garden.  To compliment the green color and salty flavor, I served it with salty yet classic Ritz crackers.  I served it on a shiny pewter platter, but next time I’ll use a rustic cutting board.  For the cranberry ball, I took another approach. I rolled it in cranberries.  When I didn’t have enough (oops), I chopped up some dried cherries to finish it off.  The deep dark red of the cherries mixed with the lighter red of the cranberries to provide a beautiful depth.  To add elements of sweet and orange, I served it with Anna’s Orange Swedish Cookies.  I served it on a vintage cake stand made from green glass from the Depression era (which began my love affair with vintage glassware).  The great thing was that the cranberry orange cheeseball also went with the Ritz crackers, so folks could make it more salty of they preferred.

Here’s how the berry one turned out –IMG_4872

My thoughts are that the cheeseball is a fabulously easy dish to offer at your next gathering.  It’s almost too easy!  So, yes – it’s time to bring back the CheeseBall.  And sorry friends, you’ll be seeing this time and time again.  Next time at the MadMen themed cocktail party to raise awareness about the Epilepsy Foundation.

Roasting Up A Seasonal Snack: Pumpkin Seeds

photo(26)Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins!  Whether they are in baked goods, coffee or homes as decorations, I just can’t get enough.  As decorations, pumpkins have an additional feature.  Carving Jack O’ Lanterns has an added benefit to their luminescent glow, seeds.  The perfect opportunity to roast up some seasonal snacks.

For years, I avoided tackling the seeds, opting to purchase them at the store.  Mostly because of the time it takes to wash them and the inconsistency in baking them.  For whatever reason, the insides would always turn out stringy.  Now, though I’ve figured it out.

Interested?  Here’s a version to try:

Preheat the oven to 320.  Remove the seeds from the pumpkin pulp.  The easiest way to do it is put everything in a bowl of water.  Mix it all together.  And, the seeds will come loose from the rest.  As my son B says, they float!  So, you can just scoop them off the surface.

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Next, boil them in an uncovered pot of water with 1 tablespoon of salt. Boil for about 10 minutes.

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Strain. Dump on a baking sheet.  I prefer the one by Chicago Metallic.   Coat with seasonings.  This can be a fun job for little hands.  My boys loved getting their hands dirty by mixing the seeds and spices.

Bake at 320 for about an hour, mixing around every 15 minutes.  Let cool.  Enjoy!  My boys and even our sweet pug love enjoying these as a snack.

Weekend Dinner: Rose Rissotto

ingredients  As a busy mom, I look forward to being able to cook on weekends.  Weeknight cooking is the bare minimum as far as hands on time, and ingredients.  In fact, we usually eat leftovers from larger weekend meals.  Leftovers merely require reheating.  (yay!)  Weekends enable me to make dishes requiring more extensive ingredients as well as attention to detail.

Since my boys love shrimp, and I love risotto, last weekend I created a shrimp rose risotto.  There’s something so comforting about the  texture of risotto.   Creamy, cheesy and comforting.  It’s like putting on a cozy sweater.

Want to try it? Here’s the recipe.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup Rose Wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup of chopped greens
  • 1 cup grated dry cheese (Gruyere, romano, Parmesan or mixture)
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3/4 pound baby shrimp
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (tarragon, oregano, thyme) (optional)

Mix the liquids together and set aside. I like to keep mine in a large measuring cup  like this one so it’s easier to keep track of how much I’m using.

Warm your pan.  I use a Le Creuset shallow brassier.   Add the olive oil, saute the garlic & shallots for a few minutes.  Add the rice and swish it around in the oil and garlic mixture.  Turn down the heat.  Add a cup of the liquid mixture and stir. photo(14)

At this point heat a skillet and  melt a tablespoon of butter and teaspoon of paprika.  I like the flavor of smoky paprika, but a sweet would work well too.  Add the shrimp and quickly saute for about a minute or two, just to impart the paprika flavor to shrimp. Set aside.

Go back to the risotto.  Stir occasionally until mostly absorbed.  When mostly absorbed, add another cup of liquid.  Keep  stirring.  Do once more.  Add the mushrooms and chopped tomato. 

add last cup of mixture.  Add the chopped greens and fresh herbs.  Once liquid is mostly absorbed add the 3/4 cup cheese and shrimp.  turn off.  Let cool for a couple of minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Top with the rest of the cheese. 

I like to serve this with a light brussel sprout salad and thin crust mushroom & Gruyere pizza.  Check back for those recipes.   Of course don’t forget to enjoy with a balanced local Sonoma/Napa white wine like the chardonnay from Roche Family Winery which is still my fav. photo(13)

Pumpkin Waffles

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If you’ve been following my blogs, you know that I love anything having to do with pumpkins.  Pumpkin lattes (see my recipe here), pumpkin scones, pumpkin patches and my own lil pumpkins. So when my husband gave me a waffle maker – which in my family we joke about gifts like these being the gifts that keep on giving time and time again — I had to work on incorporating my favorite food into a waffle.  There’s just something about the light flaky taste of a properly cooked waffle.  Add a hint of pumpkin and bamn – pure bliss!  Top it with spiced fruit or maple syrup and there’s no reason to leave the kitchen table other than to make another one.

Mouth watering yet?  Mine is as I write this.  If you want to dive into pumpkin waffles, here’s my recipe:

  • 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (can be canned or fresh)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (or white sugar with a hint of molasses)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or combination of cinnamon, cloves, cardamon & ginger)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs or equivalent of egg replacer
  • 1 cup of water

preheat your waffle iron.  Then whisk together the eggs or egg replacer, brown sugar, oil until combined.

A quick word about egg replacer for fellow folks with kids with egg allergies.  I’ve tried different kinds and they seem to absorb moisture making batters more difficult to work with.  So far, I’ve had the most success with the replacer made by Bob’s Red Mill which is available at Whole Foods or delivered to your door via Amazon.

Add the pumpkin & vanilla.  Mix until combined.  Add the baking powder.  Combine.  Then whisk in the spices and flour.  If too thick then add a little more water.  If too thin, then add a little flour.

Coat your waffle iron with a non-stick spray or brush with melted butter.  Cook to your liking and enjoy! I personally like my waffles a bit crispy and crunchy with an airy center.  It’s the number 5 setting on the All Clad Waffle maker which truly has been the gift that keeps on giving.

Serve right away as after awhile they will lose their crispy factor.

Serve with  butter (my other favorite ingredient), syrup and some spiced pears or applesauce if you have it.  My neighbor just made some spiced applesauce that is so rich and flavorful.  If you haven’t made your own for awhile, try it out.  It is definitely worth the effort.

Also serve with thick cut bacon; the perfect salty treat to compliment.  In fact, I made these for my son’s 4th birthday.  And, we had a friend who gave us some fresh thick cut bacon – it was a to die for combo!  It’s just one of the many benefits of living out here in the sticks.

So try it out, and let me know how it goes!  Wishing you happy times baking up memories.

Enchiladas the Quick and Easy Way

photo(11)Living in the wine country has lots benefits, including being home to many wonderful taquerias.  For nights when going out to eat isn’t an option, it is easy to fake it at home. This recipe including baking time takes about 30 -40 minutes.  Rather than labor over making enchilada sauce and tortillas, which is always a fun activity especially with kiddos, I buy my enchilada sauce and tortillas at my favorite taqueria.   I buy enough sauce so I can use half and freeze the other for a a rainy day.

Then, add a few other premade items and you’re on your way.

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix together chopped chicken, 1.5 cups of cheese, the chopped greens, 1 cup of enchilada sauce and 1 cup of red pepper & tomato soup.  Take a baking dish, 13 x 9 works well.  Coat the bottom with a little bit of the soup.   Fill your tortillas with the mixture, about 1/2 cup worth.  Then roll and place in the baking dish.  Do the same with the rest of the tortillas.  Once all of them are in the dish, then top them with the rest of the sauce  (enchilada sauce + soup) and cheese.  Bake until warm (about 20 minutes).  Serve with hot sauce.  Enjoy!

Light Brunch: Greens, Gruyere & Girly Bubbles (including how to make the perfect fried egg)

Life in the wine country means enjoying lovely food.  There are days when unexpected visitors provide a fun excuse to to create a lovely lunch and savor company as well as local flavors.  A recent creation of mine is too easy and delicious not to share.  A green salad topped with eggs and Gruyere cheese.  The perfect compliment to a glass of chilled bubbly!
eggs

Ingredients

Heart of Romaine Lettuce

Eggs

Hard cheese (any of the white hard cheeses from Vella Cheese would work)

Lemon

Salt & Pepper

Fresh herbs

Preparation

The best part about this recipe is that it is absolutely as simple as can be.  The hardest part is literally shaving the cheese.  Start by cutting some fresh greens.  I like Romaine as it maintains a crunch when topped with something warm like eggs.  Add some shaved white cheese.

Top with two fried eggs.  I fry mine in bacon fat, as everything is better with bacon.  To get the perfect fried egg heat a pan on medium.  Add enough fat (bacon fat, butter or olive oil) to coat the bottom.  Then, once the fat is melted, add your eggs.  Turn down the heat to medium-low.  Check the eggs in 2 minutes.  If they are mostly cooked with a little bit of uncooked whites, then cover with a lid or foil.  Turn off the heat.  Let the eggs sit for a minute.  Check, if the whites look fully cooked then you’re done.  If not, cover for another thirty seconds.

Top with  salt, pepper and a dash or two of lemon.  Sprinkle fresh chopped herbs.  Basil & tarragon work wonders.   Pour a glass of bubbly and enjoy!