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!

 

 

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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.

Life is the Perfect Loaf of Bread

photo(27)The other day, I went to a local landmark, the Grist Mill.   Eons ago in the 1800s, it operated just as that, a grist mill.  Joshua Chauvet who settled in Glen Ellen around 1850 started it.  He opened a winery, the grist mill and a brickyard.  Everyday, I am reminded of this entrepreneurial man, as his bricks decorate my home.  And, they are surely gorgeous in a rustically historic way.   Today, the grist mill is  part of a darling little shopping village called Jack London Village.  In it there are restaurants and even a chocolate shop which in my opinion is not to be missed.  Across the way is Eric Ross winery, which is worth a visit.  Try the Albarino, totally delicious.

Although the grist mill is no longer milling grains for bread,one can’t help but think of bread being made when walking around.  From the large mill stones to the water wheel, there are reminders at every turn and even in the most unusual of places.

So, my particular visit was on an extremely hot afternoon around dinner time.  I didn’t want to cook so opted for some Indian, Himalayan food.  Yeti Restaurant is divine.  While waiting for my order, I sat at the bar watching the chefs cook.  An avid cook myself, I was most interested in seeing what they were doing.  A round pillow really intrigued me.  Then, the chef took a ball of dough, rolled it out.  He moistened it with water and then grabbed the round pillow.    The dough was wrapped around the round pillow.  He then, placed it in a oven. A couple of minutes later, naan.  The whole process was a dance, perfected in every-way.  Sometimes, I wonder what Joshua Chauvet would have thought of such an international delicacy being made there.

photo(28)My own bread making has room for improvement.  Bread is such a complicated process. For those of you who bake, you know how finicky sourdough yeast can be, or how the smallest of variations can impact the taste of things.  From sourdough baguettes to cinnamon rolls, I’ve had my share of baking trials.  The latest was with cinnamon rolls for a church gathering.  They literally took three days to make.  And, two of the three batches were off.  The dough was denser than usual.  Something with the yeast or flour I think.   Totally frustrated, I almost pitched them all and started anew at 10pm.  But I decided to set aside my perfectionist side and just enjoy them as they were.  They ended up being gobbled up in no time at all.

Having these experiences makes me appreciate the art of bread.  And when I find the right loaf I appreciate it in every-way savoring its smell, texture and taste.   The grist mill, the naan, a loaf from La Farine bakery in Oakland.  All to be embraced.  It’s like life.  When things all work together and create something beautiful, its time to embrace it, memoralize it and remember it.   Holding onto those times for other more challenging moments.   And, when things don’t go as planned, like my cinnamon rolls, it’s time to reevaluate and potentially roll with it.  For the good is what makes the bad bearable. It makes it worth it.

So, here’s to finding your perfect loaf.  Cheers!

Wine Country Entertaining – Downton Abbey Style

Entertaining in the wine country means being flexible. Whether it’s a small group of friends, large chaotic kids party, or small intimate formal dinner, it’s all about combining fabulous friends and flavors.

Of course throwing parties with kids is an entirely different animal as the entertainment options can range from as simple as coloring sheets and play dough to extravagant hired entertainers and traveling petting zoos.

Recently while enjoying a quiet laid back casual dinner of homemade pizzas and local wine, the conversation turned to our favorite TV show, Downton Abbey. The four of us decided to throw a small intimate black tie dinner party for fellow Downton fans. We decided to do something revolutionary: have a party without kids. Us parents don’t get out much, so the thought of adult time made it more fun.

The beginning planning stages involved conversations about whether it would be white or black tie, when to send invitations and what to serve.

downton 3From the invite to the place settings, every detail was thoughtfully planned. I used Paperless Post for the invitations. I chose a formal design with a picture of a chandelier similar to the one that would decorate the party.

Having sent the invitations, it was time to plan the other details such as decorations, place settings, music and menu. Planning ahead made it such a success. For the cooking portion, I have to thank Ina Garten for her tips published in one of her fabulous cookbooks. For example, she suggested a cooking timetable. Well, when coordinating seven courses, the timetable was key. In the days before, the schedule made the little tedious tasks like unpacking crystal and silver more manageable. For the day of the party, having a written schedule took the stress out of things. Another key factor was hiring an assistant to help serve the meal and help with washing the legions of dishes left in the wake of a 7 course formal meal. (Emily – you rock!)

So, for the menu, I had a 24 pound turkey that I built the menu around.

Passed Appetizers, Bubbles & Lady Mary Cocktail

Endive with roasted garlic cream cheese and shrimpdownton
Dates wrapped with prosciutto
Lady Mary Cocktail (bubbly, Lillet Blanc, lemon & basil) or (sprite, lemon & basil)
Main Meal

Mushroom sherry soup (mushrooms + sherry + shallots) with a heavy cream drizzle
herb roasted turkey, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, English peas & cherry port gravy
mixed greens with raspberry vinaigrette
cherries jubilee over ice cream (this is fun as you light it on fire)
cheese course (cheeses, dried fruit, crackers)
homemade fudge & port

For wines, the party featured those from Peter Cellars Pinot Noir & Roche Winery Merlot

As far as set-up, Emily Post was helpful in setting the scene. The detailed diagrams helped guide the European table setting required for a formal Downton evening. Admittedly though, I didn’t follow it exactly as to make things easier I put the dessert utensils on the table. (Gasp!) A sin for which I likely would have been fired or put on probation had I been working at Downton Abbey.

With most of the food ready to go, greeting guests was a pleasure! We enjoyed the flavors and libations. And, afterwards silly fun with fake mustaches (really worth a laugh). In Downton Style the men departed for cigars & scotch and a chat about all things manly. Us ladies did the same (cigars, scotch and a chat about all things girly).

downton2Of course ages after our bedtime, we dimmed the lights and started dancing the night away. Like I said earlier, us parents don’t get out much so we are easy to entertain.

Now it’s on to planning our next one. Perhaps it will be Mad Men cocktail party or a Gone with the Wind garden party.. Any ideas??