Happy Birthday and National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!

I always like to bake something to send to Poppa for his birthday.  How many golf hats and shirts can you have?  Although we did that too – sshhh.  When I realized today was Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (no it’s not on my calendar, another blogger informed me) I figured that was the start.  Trying something different I was inspired by a vegan chocolate mint cookie recipe.  I made some tweaks to reduce oil, omit nuts and amp chocolate and here’s what I came up with.  I had to pack them quickly and remind my kids they were (mostly) for Poppa.

Oatmeal Chocolate Mint Cookies

The mint and spices make set these apart from the same old chocolate chip cookie recipe.  They have a scone or cake like texture because of the lack of butter and addition of applesauce.  These can be made vegan by choosing dark or vegan labeled chocolate chips.

Makes about 24 cookies

2 cups flour

1  1/2 cups chocolate chips

3/4 cups rolled oats

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

pinch ground nutmeg

2/3 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup applesauce

3 tablespoon canola oil

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place dry ingredients, first six listed, in a large bowl and mix together.

Combine wet ingredients in a medium bowl.

Add wet to dry ingredients and mix well with a rubber spatula.

Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes.  Drop dough on prepared sheets by heaping tablespoon or small ice cream/cookie scoop.  Gently press with spatula.  Cookies will spread so leave room between.

Bake until golden brown on bottom, about 12 minutes.  Let cool on sheets.




Happy Birthday To Me….Grilled Peach Idea

Wished and Ate Before Photo (sorry)

I’ve been remiss in writing I know.  I chalk it up to summer and fun times with my family.  And although I know it’s August, we’ve finally just finished celebrating our July birthdays.  Having three July birthdays in the family means it’s never ending.  We celebrate together as a family, then with friends and then usually with trips and visit from grandparents and extended family.  We are lucky.  But it makes me lazy too.


People celebrating me means talking me out for dinners (more on that later) and hosting my family, where I don’t have to bring a thing (yes, I still bring wine or flowers).  For my actual birth day my husband made a lovely dinner of grilled salmon, asparagus, salad, couscous and bread.  No birthday cake here.  He was a grill master from start to finish and the dessert culmination has become his signature dish…(wait for it…) grilled peaches!  Yep.  These are yummy.  He’s played a bit with the recipe, like any great home chef.  At first he got a little too tricky with marinating the peaches in brown sugar, and soy sauce.  He thought the salty soy would balance the sugar.  The soy was a bit too smokey and overwhelming.  He’s discovered after making them a few more times, that the trick is just to go sweet.   Here are some instructions rather than recipe as there’s no measuring done, or really required.


First he cuts each peach in half, and removes stone.  Then he drizzles maple sugar, and sprinkles brown sugar and cinnamon on the halved peaches to marinate for about an hour (long enough to eat your grilled dinner).  Next he puts the peach halves on a hot grill (high temp) for about 2 minutes each side, until the juice and sugar carmelizes a bit and the peach becomes softer (but watch it, not too soft).  Finally he puts each hot peach half over a scoop of cold vanilla ice cream.  Voila!  A yummy, healthy and seasonal summer dessert. Candles optional.


My Boy’s Birthday…from Baklava to BBQ

My son’s birthday was mid-week in summer.  This means something small and intimate – which is great by me.  He chose to go to La Mediterranee in San Francisco for his birthday dinner.  He had his favorite food – Chicken Celicia, followed by a new favorite dessert – baklava.  He was quite happy.


a smiling hummus face

I don’t do kids’ birthday parties every year.  In fact there have only been 1 or 2 parties in my children’s lives so far.  Last year my son wanted a party with lots of his friends.  We invited and send out the invites, however only one could come (that summer thing) – so we had to postpone until September.  It was fun but not as festive.  This year my son wanted to have a few friends for a few sleepovers.  This is fine.  That’s what happens at age 9 in the summer anyway.


ready for the grill


ready for sleep...not

We had two boys over for a cookout and backyard campout.  My son wanted cheeseburgers (however there was also tofu for my daughter and portobellos for my husband), homemade chips and homemade vanilla and chocolate ice cream sandwiches.  The boys went to town on the cheeseburgers.  I of course love when kids eat their food and one even asked for a second burger.  The friends were disappointed there was not going to be cake…until they tasted the ice cream sandwiches and loved them.  We have an ice cream sandwich mold which makes these treats easy to assemble.  I made the vanilla ice cream (same as my daughter’s b-day) a few days prior, and the chocolate cookies the night before.  So assembling the morning of the party was simple.


cut cookies...
scooping and molding

The camping part was tricky as we just put in artificial turf.  Thus we realized we couldn’t steak the tent into the ground.  We didn’t worry too much as the boys played with flashlights, told jokes and giggled for about an hour and one half inside the tent.  However a gust of wind came through the yard about 10:45 pm and my husband and I heard “Help! We can’t get out!”  I went out to find the tent and boys tipped up on the back wall of the tent and the boys couldn’t reach the zipper (now on the roof).  Laughing and tired, I got them out and they came inside to “camp” in the living room.

Breakfast of course was my husband’s famous pancakes.  Studded with chocolate chips for the occasion.


Stay tuned to read what’s in store for the final July birthday of the year….mine.


Happy 6th Birthday – with Mac and Cheese Recipe

My daughter turned 6 over the weekend.  She celebrated by having two friends over for dinner and a sleep-over.  My daughter, being my daughter, had lots of opinions regarding her menu.  She wanted to serve “macaroni with cheese”, veggies with dips, lemonade, peace sign pretzels (found at Whole Foods) and a double layer lemon cake.  I say macaroni and cheese in quotes because sometimes it’s penne with gruyere or shells with white cheddar or a mix of left-over pasta and what I have on hand cheeses.  However I’ve made “macaroni and cheese” for some kid guests, who will not touch it if it doesn’t look like “the box” version.  So I consulted recipes for one that seemed the most orange and box looking.  I decided on one from my Real Simple Cooking app with a few changes and omissions (no jalapeno peppers, thanks).  Funny my daughter said it was the best recipe yet.  I think the secret ingredient is the mustard.  I wonder if mixed with the dried fake cheese is mustard powder?  See recipe below…

mac and cheese - the real deal

1 lb elbow macaroni

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon coarse grain mustard

1/2 pound extra sharp cheese, grated, 2 cups

1/4 cup parmesan, grated

Cook pasta according to manufacturer’s instructions. Drain well, return to pot and set aside.

In a medium sausepan melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour to make a paste.

Whisk in milk and heat to boiling.(careful not to over boil)

Add the mustard and cheeses and whisk until smooth.

Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and toss. Heat to warn through if necessary.


(Much to my daughter’s chagrin there was a roast chicken at her birthday dinner as my husband is not eating cheese and one of her guest’s doesn’t like mac and cheese either.  She got over it and no one starved.)


I have no idea where the lemon cake idea came to her.  If I made a lemon cake it’s been pound cake or lemon bread, but not double layer, that I can remember.  I cruised my cookbooks and the internet and found a few options.  I combined a few ideas and I must say it was quite yummy.  The cake had one half cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice which gave it a nice lemon flavor.  The frosting was a simple whipped cream and confectioner’s sugar mixture.  Then the filling between the layers was two parts cream frosting mixed with one part lemon curd.  The lemon curd was not homemade but a favorite from Trader Joe’s.  The girls had a lovely time decorating it.  I took a few photos of before the decor.  It could’ve been decorated with fresh or sugar flowers, but that’s not what makes a six year old smile.  My daughter chose a beach and peace sign theme, so there was beach sand of colored sugar, ocean of clue colored pearls, plastic retro surfers, sugar peace signs and the most ridiculous candle you’ve ever seen.  She was so excited to find the candle at our favorite cake decorating store (Cake Art in San Rafael), after seeing it at a friend’s party (who bought it on eBay!)  It shoots a flame (I blinked and missed a photo op) then spins around lighting candles and playing Happy Birthday.  The music is like a baby toy – high pitched and annoying.   When it wouldn’t stop, my husband had to cut a wire inside.

My husband is usually in charge of breakfast on the weekends, so my daughter put her birthday order in with him too – waffles with berries and whipped cream.  The girls were happy and I got to use some of the extra cream I’d whipped the night before.  However one girl said how she liked to spray “the can” in her mouth.  My daughter tried to explain there was no can.  Not sure her friend believed her.



Spicy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies for Grandpa

What do you get for grandparents that say they don’t need birthday gifts?  Something homemade of course.  My kids are great at making special cards and artwork, but we also like to make baked goods to send in the birthday package too.  Who doesn’t enjoy getting cookies in the mail?  I make an oatmeal cookie inspired by Oatmeal Cherry Cookies from the Junior League San Francisco Flavors Cookbook (which I helped recipe test for years ago), that has lots of savory spices and then added chocolate chips rather than cherries or raisins (to be honest I was out).  There’s not too much chocolate to overpower the spices, which I like.  They were a big hit.  I made extra so not only did Grandma and Grandpa enjoy them, but our family as well.   At our house they went quickly as a sweet treat with hot chocolate on a rainy afternoon.

Here’s the recipe….

Spicy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup old fashioned oats

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour or wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 egg yolks at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup reg or mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchmnet paper.

In a medium bowl combine oats, flour, salt, baking soda and spices.

In a large bowl or stand mixer cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Blend in dry ingredients until all are incorporated.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop tablespoon sized portions of dough 3 inches apart on prepared pan.  Bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until lightly browned.  Let cool on pan for 3 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.


The Other Half…Birthday That Is

So remember we celebrated my daughter’s half birthday on New Year’s Day.  You’ll also recall I froze the extra cupcakes for my son’s half birthday which is just 2 weeks later.  I of course made new frosting, this time chocolate.  I’m happy to report the unfrozen cupcakes were delicious.  But for some reason my son wanted his frozen.  He asked me to frost his and put it back in the freezer.  O.K.  This meant my daughter wanted to do the same thing. O.K.

What’s next…heated ice cream?



Review from Southern Living’s Big Book of Cupcakes

Who can tell?  What sets them apart?  Is it the paper wrapper?  No, sometimes muffins have papers.  Is is the flavor?  No they can both be sweet or savory.  Is it the texture?  No, both can be light and fluffy or dense.  Is it the ingredients?  Nope, pretty standard to have butter, sugar, eggs, flour, etc.  I think it comes down to frosting.

Many a time I’ve put a muffin in a paper cup and called it a cupcake when my kids were smaller.  But now they ask “where’s the frosting?”  I can still get away with making a healthy muffin (bran, fruit etc) in a cupcake paper and putting a bit of “frosting” such as cream cheese or plain fresh whipped cream.  However…a new  cookbook arrived at my house for review: Southern Living’s Big Book of Cupcakes by Jan Moon.  And things will change. 

My kids have poured over it page by page looking at beautiful cupcakes.  When I get a new cookbook, I start marking pages of recipes that look interesting and may try.  My kids have marked more than half the book and it won’t even close now.  I’m in trouble….

My mother-in-law is visiting and we happen to be celebrating her birthday, so it’s time to try the new cookbook.  After much deliberation, my mother-in-law chooses Lemon Ice Box.  Not only do these have a lovely whipped cream frosting, but also a filling.  I’ve never ventured into filled cupcakes.  Now we’re ruined.  This is definitely not a muffin.

bring on the filling
whipped cream frosting

The cupcakes took a bit of time, which was fine for another rainy weekend day.  My kids enjoyed helping the licking the beaters.  Funny thing was that I forgot the shortening.  I don’t ever buy shortening, so I guess I just glanced over when I read the instructions.  I didn’t even realize I fogot until I put the cupcakes in the oven.  Oops.  It didn’t matter.  The cupcakes were great – moist and fluffy and tasty.  It made me question why the recipe had it to begin with. Hmmm….

You’ll be reading more about this book and cupcakes from me soon, I’m sure.

My Review

Pros – there are many…appealing photos, yummy recipes, innovative ingredients and flavors (did I mention maple bacon?)  Really a bible for cupcake followers.

Cons – not many so far.  Although like many baking and cake books, there are some hard to find decorations (which if course you can substitute).  I question the use of shortening and butter.


Happy Birthday to Me (with Mint Chip Ice Cream)

After becoming a parent your own birthdays are not as meaningful or exciting to you, but they are for your kids.  Even if the gifts they see you open aren’t toys like they’d hope for, they still look forward to the cake.  What’s a birthday without cake?  The cake was never as important to me, even as a kid, as the ice cream.  I do appreciate a good layer cake, and I must admit the Ghostly Good Cake was a tasty one.  However we have so many birthdays and desserts the month of July, I’m ready to make something different.  

Of course my husband always brings a cake home.  It’s usually a petit one (so we don’t have left-overs) for the candle and singing ritual from the local bakery or grocer, which is usually fine and tasty.  But I insist on making mint chip ice cream.  The kids protested when I said I was making ice cream and said “It’s your birthday, you can’t make it yourself”.  To which I replied “It’s my birthday and I want MY mint ice cream. Not one you buy in a store.” 

This is my favorite recipe for mint chip ice cream.  Note: it is more mint than chocolate and thus not chocoalte mint.  It’s not a crazy color green and doesn’t have mint extract, but the real mint from the garden.  It makes it like no one else’s.  Even the kids agree, once they’re reminded by the taste.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Recipe

(from Simply Recipes.com)



  • 3 cups of fresh mint leaves (not stems), rinsed, drained, packed
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream (divided, 1 cup and 1 cup)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate or dark chocolate, chopped fine, keep in the freezer until used


mint-chocolate-chip-4.jpg mint-chocolate-chip-5.jpg

1 Put the mint leaves in a heavy saucepan with the 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of the cream. Heat until just steaming (do not let boil), remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes. Reheat the mixture until steaming, remove from heat and let stand for 15 more minutes.

cooling cream in ice bath
2 While the mint is infusing in step 1, prepare the remaining cream over an ice bath. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a medium size metal bowl, set in ice water (with lots of ice) over a larger bowl. Set a mesh strainer on top of the bowls. Set aside.

3 Strain the milk cream mixture into a separate bowl, pressing against the mint leaves with a rubber spatula in the sieve to get the most liquid out of them. Return the milk cream mixture to the saucepan. Add sugar and salt to the mixture. Heat until just steaming again, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

4 Whisk the egg yolks in a medium sized bowl. Slowly pour the heated milk cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly so that the egg yolks are tempered by the warm mixture, but not cooked by it. Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

5 Return the saucepan to the stove, stirring the mixture constantly over medium heat with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon so that you can run your finger across the coating and have the coating not run. This can take about 10 minutes.

mint-chocolate-chip-8.jpg mint-chocolate-chip-9.jpg
The custard base does not coat the back of the spoon, it is not ready.

mint-chocolate-chip-10.jpg mint-chocolate-chip-11.jpg
The custard base coats the back of the spoon. You can run your finger across the coating and have it not run. It is ready and should be removed from heat immediately, and poured through the sieve over the ice bath to stop the cooking.

6 Pour the custard through the strainer (from step 2) and stir into the cold cream to stop the cooking.

7 Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (at least a couple of hours) or stir the mixture in the bowl placed over the ice bath until thoroughly chilled (20 minutes or so). Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

8 Once the ice cream has been made in the ice cream maker it should be pretty soft. Gently fold in the finely chopped chocolate. Put in an airtight container and place in the freezer for at least an hour, preferably several hours. If it has been frozen for more than a day, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften it before serving.

Makes 1 quart.


Happy Birthday with Ghostly Good Cake Recipe

My children’s b-days are both in July.  (Actually mine is too, but who’s counting?)  There’s always a lot of gatherings and feasts as the various grandparents each come to celebrate.  Of course this also means birthday cakes.  I’ve talked about my cupcakes and cookies for birthday and my cakes at the half (birthday), but it was time to try someone’s else’s recipe.  Luckily we had been to the library and found a really great children’s book called “The Bake Shop Ghost” by Jacqueline K. Oghurn.

It’s the story of a baker named Cora Lee Merriwheather who ran a wonderful bakery and was relied upon by the town for all it’s cakes, pies and pastries.  Cora Lee dies and she haunts the bakery; scaring away all the new owners and sending them out the door in hysterics.  After the shop sits for years a pastry chef from a cruise ship, Miss. Annie Washington, settles in and has it out with ghost Merriwheather.  Annie asks the ghost what she wants and Cora Lee replies “Bake me a cake to fill me up and bring tears to my eyes, a cake like one that I might have baked but that no one ever made for me”.  Annie is stumped and makes hundreds of recipes from around the world but can’t  please the ghost for over a month.  Finally she figures out the thing that Cora Lee never got… a birthday cake with her name on it.  The ghost and Annie continue to get along and bake together (unbeknownst to the towns people, of course) , now for the Washington and Merriwheather Bake Shop. 

At the end of the book is a recipe for that birthday cake that my kids and I made to celebrate the birthdays.  It really is one of the best (for this world and beyond).

Ghost-Pleasing Chocolate Cake

This rich chocolate layer cake would satisfy the hunmgrioest ghost.  Is is adapted from my friend Luli Gray, a wionderful writer and baker, from a recipe published in Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Prepare two 8 or 9 inch round pans or one 13 x 9 inch pan, by lining the bottoms with parchment paper. 

In a Large Bowl Mix Together…

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups ll purpose flour, siften before measuring

3/4 cup cocoa

4 tablespoons buttermilk powder (available in supermarket baking sections)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a Medium Saucepan, melt over low heat (or you can use the microwave)…

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

Remove from Heat and Add…

1 cup water

4 beaten eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until blended.  Pour evenly into prepared pans and bake on the middle rack of the oven about 30 -40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out with moist crumbs gathering to it.  Do not overbake.  Cool thoroughly on a rack before icing.

Easy Frosting

This frosting can also be tinted with food coloring for decoration or writing.

3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1/3 cup softened unsalted butter

1/4 cup water 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch salt

Combine all ingreidnets in a large bowl and beat until smooth.  If using an electric mixer, beat at low speed.  Add more sugar for stiffer frosting.


Dad’s Birthday and the Burger Bar Cookbook Experience


As promised, I’m reporting back on the cookbook, Burger Bar: Build Your Own Ultimate Burgers by Hubert Keller.  Sorry to keep you waiting.   I can’t weigh in an opinion on a book until I’ve at least made a few recipes.  There’s nothing more frustrating than people who have comments and criticism based on the look, weight or photos of a cookbook.  Make something then tell me what’s it’s like.


Anyways it was my husband’s birthday and he requested making a burger recipe from the new book – Blue Cheese Stuffed Bacon Sliders.  I’ll put the burger and accoutrements together and my husband will grill it outside.  Easy enough, I thought.  However the first challenge was when trying to buy the coarsely ground sirloin at the Whole Food’s meat counter.  They did not have ground sirloin (that’s what makes the burgers a stand out and the price in a restaurant, or so I’m told) and when I asked the gentleman behind the meat counter he said too much of the meat would get stuck in the grinder.  What?  He was looking over me at the long line and his watch.  Instead of holding my own and telling him to grind it anyway, I went with the best quality grass fed beef.  I should’ve gone to a local butcher.  Next time.


I was annoyed with myself when I got home, but tired and wanting to focus on the other elements of the birthday dinner and of course dessert.  The cake requested was a flourless chocolate cake.  Easy and yummy enough.  Something I can mix up in about 20 minutes, then another 20 to bake.  My usual sprinkle of powdered sugar or cocoa wasn’t going to cut it for my kids.  They think all birthday cakes should have writing.  So we whipped up a bit of royal icing and served the cake with mint ice cream (my husband’s fav) – it’s rich, quick and perfect.


Flourless Chocolate Cake
Flourless Chocolate Cake

Back to the burgers.  I have to say they were yummy.  However there were some elements or steps that were not really necessary.  Stuffing the burgers with blue cheese didn’t add much except for time to make and worry whether they were going to break open on the grill.  Adding it to the top of the burger would’ve yielded the same flavor and not made the burger so high.  These were so tall, there was not way to get your mouth around.  We made them full size and they were messy and awkward to eat at home.  If we had made true sliders and wanted to have them at a party, they would’ve ended up on the floor (or guests would’ve been too intimated to eat).   See photo.  It also wasn’t necessary to add bacon to the meat mixture.  It was plenty on top as opposed to pieces in the meat.

 On the plus side, the sugared pears were great.  This combo with the burger and blue cheese was great and yielded a bit of moisture.  My kids loved these on the side too.  Who wouldn’t?  I’m going to remember these for salads too.  Another plus from the book was the Marinated Vegetable Salad I made to accompany.  This was easy, crisp and refreshing.  This will be a new side dish at our house for just about anything.  Even a good potluck or picnic dish.


marinated salad
marinated salad

I’m looking forward to making more of the recipes.  However like I do with most recipes, I will read and make a few changes if too complex, to edit the ingredients and steps and make more convenient.