Pale Summer Cookies


"Pale Cookies"

My brother-in-law, Chuck McLaughlin, recalls the days when we were growing up in western Pennsylvania. He and my sister Jane were married as she was the second oldest of five. I was still a young pup at home. Chuck often recalls when “Barb would spend her whole summer baking…then she would eat it all!”

Truer words were never spoken so when summer comes and the days are long, I still have the urge to bake and please my family. Summer vacation equals homemade cookies.

Last week I noticed our son (age 11) snacking frequently from the bag of chocolate chips. I said to him, “Patrick, if you want me to make homemade chocolate chip cookies just ask me.”

Minutes later, “Mom, can you make some homemade chocolate chip cookies?”

That was all I needed to hear so off I set to bake my trademark chocolate chip cookies. One problem, thanks to Patrick—not enough chocolate chips left in the bag. So I skimped on the chocolate chips and added a few butterscotch chips. The result was delicious but the color? Patrick said, “Mom, these are really good but I’m going to call them “Pale Cookies.” (He gets the naming rights.)

"Pale Cookies" named by Patrick. Read why.

Pale? First, one of the good things about my chocolate chip cookies is the texture—big, soft and chewy. TIP: This is achieved by using unsalted, melted butter cooled to room temperature in the creamed mixture with the sugar. Second, the cookies are not baked fully so they are not rock hard so they lack a truly browned finish. Add this to the lack of dark chocolate chips and you have some pretty darned awesome “pale cookies.”

We Have a Theme Going Here

Snickerdoodles, an old-fashioned cookie, definitely fits the pale cookie theme.

You can see I don’t need much encouragement, so what other “pale cookies” could I bake?

Snickerdoodles—Oh! Those are really pale for sure. This is an old-fashioned cookie made with butter, cream of tartar and the trademark cinnamon-sugar coating. You can find a recipe anywhere and they are all pretty much the same. TIP: I use a recipe with both unsalted butter and solid vegetable shortening which makes it the right amount of chewy and crispy.

So I whipped up a batch of Snickerdoodles and watched four boys devour two dozen of them with milk right before my eyes.

Kevin, a real boy, dunks his pale cookie.

You see, the boys in this neighborhood are hungry. They are a breed of boys (ages 10-14) who still play outside, climb trees, swing on ropes, ride bikes, hike to the creek and catch crawly things, play flashlight tag, flag football, kick-the-can, and more. (Okay, so the can is now Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Tomatoes instead of canned green beans like the old days…) These real boys are not sitting in front of video games all day, so they get really, really hungry! Better yet, they burn off everything they eat so they are lean and healthy too!

Coconut Macaroons

You can’t get any whiter than these. They have a limited audience but for those who love coconut, they are a hit. For purposes of this blog and the pale cookie theme I did not dip these macaroons in chocolate. However, when I’m done blogging, I will. I am such a coconut nut that I like them both ways.

These are so delicious and, really, a great no-fat cookie if you don’t dip them in chocolate. If you do dip them in chocolate, choose a dark chocolate and you really do have a cookie that is good for you. Bring ’em on.

School doesn’t start until September 7, so I have a little time left to re-live the summer baking days of my past. And, a message to Chuck—I’m not eating them all up this time! Love ya bro!

Goodnight Irene

The view from our living room -- waves are almost over the dunes during Hurricane Irene on Pleasure Island, North Carolina.

Hurricane Irene spared much of the Cape Fear Coast and the Wilmington, North Carolina, area. We weathered the storm in our oceanfront condo — a place we playfully refer to as “Banana Cabana.” (I like yellow walls!) Stocked with batteries, water, libations, and food, the four of us — me, Bill, Patrick, and Mike Kelley, fire chief from Montgomery County, Maryland, and Bill’s brother — watched the storm.

Safe and sound, we’re all back home. So ends my reporting from the Carolina Coast until I return. Stay tuned, this fall will bring many more escapades from Kelley Hospitality. I hope you’ll follow me as I transform the ordinary into the extraordinary!

And that's a wrap from Coastal Carolina. See you soon. (Wraps are an easy-to-prepare hurricane food while you're busy storm watching.)

It’s Too Hot to Eat

Hot Tomatoes! photo by Cassandra Birocco

I remember growing up in western Pennsylvania. The summers were hot for a short period so no one had air-conditioned homes. On these hot days after we got home from the pool, my mother would say, “It’s too hot to eat!”

So that meant dinner would be all fresh vegetables from my dad’s garden. I remember the succulent tomatoes we would eat right off the vine like an apple with the juice dripping the whole way down our tummies. And the kids debated: is tomato a fruit or a vegetable? And, dad would say: “These tomatoes are so good, THEY’LL DRIVE YOU NUTS!

Hot Town, Summer in the City
Fast forward to now. It’s July, it’s Virginia (in the Washington, D.C., area), and it’s hot and humid. The temperature is about 104 degrees when you factor in the humidity. The Congress should be in recess but they are staying in town to pass a budget deal. Drat, that means the traffic is still bad. And, as mom would say, it’s too hot to eat. So, tonight’s dinner was:

  • Fresh sliced tomatoes from the local farmer’s market (I can’t grow them, the squirrels and deer eat them right off the vine!) Tomato tips: Don’t ever refrigerate a tomato! If the tomato reaches the point you have to refrigerate it, then eat it. (I never met a tomato I didn’t like.) Also, consider peeling your summer tomatoes. A good, ripe tomato’s skin will peel off easily if you hold it in the palm of your hand. And, there is nothing like a peeled tomato, don’t ask me why but my grandmother peeled her tomatoes and so do I.
  • Basil from my herb garden plus a taste test of lemon basil and cinnamon basil a colleague gave me at work today
  • Sliced fresh mozzarella cheese
  • A freshly baked, warm baguette from, believe it or not, Safeway (it’s on the way home)
  • A little olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar, salt and fresh ground pepper
  • The drink: Sprodkas (my own creation, named by my husband Bill. People now ask for them by name when they come to our home.)

I really have nothing original to say to close this blog—it’s too hot to think. So, I’ll just say “bon appetit” like Julia would say.

A Wintertime Dessert Party

Please come in for a Wintertime Dessert Party.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (Listen to this while you read…)

When Rich Moss, director of admissions at The Heights where our 11-year-old son goes to school, asked me if my husband Bill and I would host the headmaster and prospective parents this month, I immediately said “Of course. I’ll do whatever you need!”

At the same time I said yes, I began to scheme. I am thinking… how many people and what does he want? You see, extending the welcome is easy for me; however, our home, a Victorian-style, is designed with small rooms and cozy nooks and crannies. It is perfect for our small family and fine for wandering/mingling parties.

However, Rich’s get-together seemed like it called for one room where everyone could eat, listen, and engage in questions and answers. Generally when we entertain large groups, we do it in nice weather where our deck, patio and back yard become the extension of the house. As Bill calls it: the “OLE!” (Outdoor Living Environment).

I asked Rich about the format. He suggested, “Just have some coffee, whatever you are comfortable with.”

“Coffee-Schmoffee!” No way were we just having coffee! I can’t pass up the chance to use my imagination and have some fun in the process. Thus, “A Wintertime Dessert” was born. I figured I could use the dining room table as large as possible and use the adjoining bar with seating that connects to the kitchen. It would be cozy depending on the final numbers, but it would work. Guests would have plenty of space for dessert without a lot of serving and removing plates.The acoustics were good so everyone would be able to hear and feel part of the discussion.

Low lighting set the mood with small white candles placed in crystal, shimmering holders with a low centerpiece using white roses, magnolia leaves, and ivory and pale mint-colored crystals. All this was accompanied by ivory linens, stemware in various shapes and sizes, and fine china. (The china story is another blog for another day.)

A visit to the sommelier helped me choose the dessert wines. I described my desserts and he suggested a champagne, a Bordeaux table wine (Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet), and a port. The port was my favorite. Even though the Bordeaux came highly recommended for the desserts, it did not taste good to me…too much like cooking wine. I should have known and followed my gut when he suggested it. On the evening of the event, Bill and I exchanged covert glances when we both sipped the Bordeaux and knew to steer the guests toward the other two choices.

The menu: my own apple/cheese tart creation, strawberries, cream, and “Outrageous Chocolate Cookies” along with the wine and/or coffee and tea.

Creamy apple cheese tart, an original by Barbara.

As the guests arrived, large snowflakes began to fall…a perfect backdrop for this February get-together. Everyone stayed much longer than the event was planned for. It is with great pleasure that I fuss and make it look like I didn’t. All the pre-planning is worth it and a dessert party is perfect for an occasion like this. The hosts can also relax because with the right preparation it is easy to pull off.

I should mention that I also invited the children of the parents. That made it easier for people to come rather than get babysitters. The children were treated to their own kids-type desserts in the basement family room along with an older sibling I paid to supervise them. Their parents were able to relax and really listen and ask questions without feeling rushed to get home. (Hey…three of the four families decided to attend the school after that night and subsequent meetings with the school!) I would say “A Wintertime Dessert” was a success!

A dessert party without chocolate would miss the mark. I have many chocolate recipes but I was in the market for something new, so I turned to the Internet and found just the thing. When I read the ingredients, I could taste it!  So, this cookie won the day. The recipe is from MarthaStewart.com and aptly called Outrageous Chocolate Cookies.

I want to know how others do dessert parties. I’m sticking with it!

The Christmas Eve Regulars

The Poirier Family---Our Regular

It is January 6, the Epiphany, so it is only fitting that I write about this past Christmas. You see, Christmas Eve dinner is a tradition in our home.  We go to Mass then home to dinner. Yes, it’s quite a feat to plan a sit-down dinner that will be ready to be served when we arrive home from Mass. Every year the menu is different and no cutting corners on this special night. But, all the how’s and what’s of the menu are for another blog entry. It is easier than you think when you prepare ahead and have a well thought out plan.

It Happened About Nine Years Ago
One Christmas Eve day about nine years ago, I was working in the morning to prep some of the food for the big feast. We were somewhat new in the neighborhood but had just met a great family down the street—Mark and Melanie Poirier and their five children.

It came like a bullet out of nowhere! The thought hit me—the Poiriers were doing a major renovation of their home and their kitchen was all torn up. I knew nothing about them—did they have family to spend the holiday with? What would they do Christmas Eve?

I called Melanie and invited them to Christmas Eve dinner that night. Before I could get the invitation out of my mouth, Melanie, said: “YES!”

So, that’s where the friendship and the tradition began. Each year since then, the Poirier’s have been our welcomed guests. Melanie always asks: “What can I bring?” To which I always reply, “Nothing but your Christmas spirit.” (And I mean that!)

Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan
In 2005 my husband, Bill, a U.S. Army Reserves JAG officer, was deployed to Afghanistan and he was gone during Christmas. Melanie called and said: “You must come to our home this year, you can’t handle all of this alone, without Bill…”

I said, “Absolutely not! This is the tradition and we will uphold it! Nothing should change for our family especially because Bill is gone. Things had to appear business-as-usual for our son who was six at the time. It was a magical night—the snow, the meal, the friendship, and Mark’s beautiful prayer for Bill and all our troops oversees for their safety and thanks for their service. I have to mention that also that same Christmas, Washington Post sent a Christmas-decorating company to trim the outside of our home in lights and wreaths because my husband was deployed. Bill returned home safe and sound the following March.

The Guests

It’s not only the Poirier’s who come but anyone we know who might be alone—single friends (Jim!) or relatives (Paul!), those serving in the military away from home, or an entire family who just had a baby and need a reason to stop and enjoy the season.

There is a place for everyone to sit as it is a formal dinner with a festive flair. There is a present under the tree for everyone who enters. Melanie, who is a top-notch cook herself, brings me a tin of homemade confections and says, “Hide these away so you can eat them yourself tomorrow!” (Which I do, by the way!) If there are small children, Santa might even appear.

This Year’s Menu
I went with an Italian theme this year—Caesar salad, foccacia bread, chicken Marsala, seafood lasagna (with fresh scallops, crab and shrimp in a bechamel sauce), green beans with red cherry tomatoes (I carried that over from Thanksgiving because I liked it so much), and for dessert—Italian cheesecake and tiramisu. Of course, Bill uncorked a good Italian wine(s). My dishes were all homemade, but I could easily provide ways to do this same menu with a few shortcuts (e.g., buying the Caesar dressing or the desserts).

So, if you’re nice and not naughty, I will give you all my recipes, most of which are original creations. Until next Christmas….to all a good night!

One of the tables---"The Colors of Christmas." The children's table was decorated in a gingerbread theme with lots of colors, sparklies and Christmas crackers at every plate. This dining table can be expanded depending on the guest list---the more the merrier!

 

Welcome to Kelley Hospitality

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Happy New Year!

Anyone who has ever broken bread with me in our home or in their home knows my views on great food, entertaining, and hospitality. People tell me I have to write a book, pitch a TV sitcom, launch a blog—anything—and share my stories. “Take your show on the road!” they cheer. “You have to write it down!”

Not really knowing what they mean or where this blog will go, I have resolved in 2011 to develop the Kelley Hospitality blog. For right now, it’s just the title of my first blog. I hope I can give you something more to chew on.

Warm regards,

Barbara (Garneau) Kelley

Photo by Cindy Dyer. Copyright 2011.