Thursday, August 24, 2006

Vacation, sweets, coffee, wine...

It's that time of the year, Summer is almost over, we all needed a break... We rented a house in Berkeley Springs, WV for 6 days and had as much R&R as you can have with a 3-month old baby. Berkeley Springs is known for its warm springs, spas, and rivers. The house we rented was a large house with two Jacuzzis, three bedrooms, and a lot of outdoor space. The house was nestled between mountains and the Cacapon River. Our favorite spot was the porch overlooking the water. We sat there every morning drinking coffee and nibbling on cupcakes. I made some food in advance and brought to the house, we also brought a case of wine and some beer for a barbeque. We ate at restaurants in town a few times but I wasn't impressed with them. The restaurant considered one of the best in town was a very cute and artsy place (they sell paitings, art pieces and sculptures there). I had Crab Cake and File Mignon with Potatoes and Roquefort Cheese. The filet was not very tasty and the crab cake was dry, you could barely taste the cheese on the potato and our baby cried the entire meal... maybe that's why I couldn't taste anything... Anyway, here is the recipe for my favorite cupcakes. The bottom part tastes almost like a brownie with a creamy topping. This recipe yields 24 medium cupcakes. They freeze well. You can make a batch, freeze them and microwave each for 45 seconds anytime you have one.

Black Bottom Cupcake

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups water
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 medium muffin cups or 18 large muffin cups with paper liners. Batter: In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and baking soda. Stir in oil, water, vinegar and vanilla until blended. Pour mixture into prepared muffin cups, filling each 1/2 full.
Filling: In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, egg, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop a tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture into each cupcake. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday lunch

We had our friends M and C over for lunch today. It was the first time we entertained since our baby was born. It was hectic having to do laundry, clean the house quickly, and make lunch before noon. Luckily I went grocery shopping on Saturday night (yes, we go grocery shopping on Saturday night when we have a newborn!). The menu was Warm Goat Cheese Salad, Penne with Shrimp and Vegetables (zucchini, broccoli, and mushroom), Garlic Parmesan Toast, and a Fruit Tart (didn't have time to make dessert so asked my husband to run to the bakery of Whole Foods). I made way too much food so we have plenty of leftovers for dinner tonight. I am looking forward to sitting on my living room this evening with my legs up drinking the wine we bought yesterday and have some more penne and garlic toast.

Warm Goat Cheese Salad

1 log fresh goat cheese

1 large egg white, beaten
bread crumbs

For the dressing:
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg yolk (or 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard)
1 cup good olive oil
Enough mixed salad greens for 6 servings

Olive oil and unsalted butter, for frying

Slice the goat cheese into 12 (1/2-inch-thick) slices. Dip each slice into the beaten egg whites, then the bread crumbs, being sure the cheese is thoroughly coated. Place the slices on a plate and chill them for at least 15 minutes.

For the dressing, place the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and egg yolk in the bowl of a food processor (or blender using the whip button) fitted with a steel blade and blend for 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube until the vinaigrette is thickened. Season, to taste.
Toss the salad greens with enough dressing to moisten, then divide them among 6 plates.

Melt 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat until just under smoking. Cook the goat cheese rounds quickly on both sides until browned on the outside but not melted inside. Top each salad with 2 warm rounds and serve.

Garlic Parmesan Toast
Parmesan cheese

2 cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon butter
ground black pepper
1 loaf French bread, in 1/2 inch slices

Preheat oven to 400°F. In small bowl, mix garlic, oil, butter, salt and pepper. Spread the mix on both sides of bread. Line baking sheet with foil (for ease in cleaning). Place slices flat on baking sheet. Sprinkle with Parmesann cheese. Place in middle of oven and bake until golden brown.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Shopping and Wine Tasting

Saturday was a gorgeous day - mild temperature, clear sky, nice breeze... I had to get out of the house. I started my day going shopping. I stopped by Carter's to buy some baby clothes. My little guy is growing so fast nothing fits him anymore. Then a quick stop (that's what I told my husband) at Williams-Sonoma, Create & Barrel, and Pottery Barn. I found a huge, blue dog chair for the nursery and a photo album at Pottery Barn Kids. At Create & Barrel I found a couple of white inexpensive serving dishes I really liked.

After lunch, we headed to Tarara Winery in Leesburg, VA for a wine tasting. My husband and I toured the wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma County when we were on vacation in California. They are wonderful places to sit back and relax. The views are amazing, the weather is always nice, the wine is getting better and better every year. Virginia wineries are way behind California wineries. I doubt they will ever produce wines to the Californian standards. There are so many things Virginia cannot change such as soil and climate. But it's always fun to be in a winery, walk near the vineyard, see the wine aging in the oak barrels - they smell wonderful - and finally taste the wine. We tasted 9 types of wine, whites, reds, and a dessert wine. My husband's favorite was their full-bodied Chardonnay which is aged for 2-4 years in oak barrels and has a buttery taste. We bought a bottle of a Cabernet Franc to take home and a Merlot Jelly to serve on a baguete on top of Brie cheese.