I had the best birthday! Wonderful friends, amazing food and drink, a little late night craziness — what more could you ask for? For my gift this year, my husband arranged for Cal Stamenov to come to Santa Barbara and cook dinner for us all. Cal is the chef and culinary director for Marinus Restaurant at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, and he has also been a good friend of ours for about eight years. Picture the most beautifully plated dish you can think of filled with local delicacies from the sea and garden, and then imagine it being so delicious that if you were alone, you would literally lick the plate clean — that’s Chef Cal’s cooking.
His food manages to be elegant and refined, yet at the same time mouthwateringly delicious — I love that combination! We got to know him through our wedding planning when he cooked our wedding dinner at Bernardus (11 courses, 60 guests, one table — fabulous … if I do say so my-gosh-darn-self). Seriously, if you ever have a chance to enjoy a meal from Cal, jump at it!
So for my birthday, Cal, along with his trusty sidekick and amazingly talented pastry chef, Ben Spungin, came down to Santa Barbara with the mission of cooking a non-traditional dinner for my birthday guests and me. It’s difficult enough to cook for a large-ish (20 person) group in a home kitchen, but I also threw some other “curve-ball” requests Cal’s way:
1) The food had to be able to be eaten easily on one’s lap. As much as I love a good formal dinner, I did not want to be stuck at one table the whole night so we rearranged the patio furniture (with Kyle[GB1] ’s help — thanks, Kyle!) to sit 20 on sofas and chairs outside with plenty of of heating lamps.
2) I wanted to taste lots of different types of food, so that meant multiple courses.
3) I wanted the cocktail area to be by the pool — nowhere near the kitchen, which meant the food for that area had to be room temperature.
4) My last request was for a secret dessert table filled with a ridiculous, over-the-top array of treats!
We designed the party to be fun and easy, but memorable. And memorable it was, because I requested that all my guests wear a wig that night. I’m telling you, this wild little accessory really made the party fun. People seem to let loose when wearing a crazy wig, and (I can’t lie) there is one particular afro wig hidden in the back of my closet that I will bust out with just the flimsiest excuse! We spent the night switching headpieces, being wacky, and just generally having a blast.
Every time Cal and Ben come to the house, Ben bakes some amazing cookies. Katie and Amy (my servers extraordinaire) and I can usually be found sitting in the kitchen late at night polishing off the box. This recipe makes a huge batch, but these cookies are so wonderful and delicious that you’ll be happy to store the extras in a sealed container in the fridge.
Carrot Cake Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups sugar
1 lb. butter
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 ½ tsp. ginger
3 cups grated Earthbound Farm carrots
1 cup raisins or currents
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped pecans, optional
Cream butter and sugars together until light brown. Add eggs one at a time. Wait until each one is combined before adding the next. Mix in vanilla. Fold in carrots, raisins and oats.
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in a large bowl. Slowly add mix to wet ingredients by fourths. Scrape after each addition.
Scoop by teaspoons (I use a small 1-tsp ice cream scooper to make the perfect size) onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes until golden.
Cool on rack.
While the cookies are baking and cooling, whip up the frosting.
1 lb. cream cheese (softened)
1 lb. butter (softened)
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Cream butter and cream cheese until no lumps remain. Slowly add vanilla and sifted powdered sugar. After the cookies have cooled and the frosting is ready, assemble them by smearing some frosting on the bottom of one cookie and then sandwiching it closed with another.
For more on “Chef Cal,” Ben, or Bernardus Lodge, go to: http://www.bernardus.com/lodge/cal/index.htm