Friends and Lafayette Utilities Systems coworkers Heather A. Escott and Alison Alleman usually rely on traditional staples like macaroni and cheese and artichoke soup for their holiday menu, but 2005 will be different. "I'd like to start a new recipe tradition this year," says Alleman.

After spending a day together in Alleman's newly remodeled kitchen, the women are ready to debut their Dark Chocolate cookies and Mushroom-Stuffed Brie at holiday parties. "I really like dark chocolate," says Alleman. Escott adds, "You always have everything in your pantry [for the recipe]." The cookies call for flour, sugar, cocoa and eggs. "You just roll them in balls, roll in white sugar, refrigerate for 20 minutes and bake," says Escott. "You just have to watch closely." The darkness of the chocolate makes it hard to tell when the cookies are done, but the finished product should be crunchy and sugary with a bit of softness in the center.

The Mushroom-Stuffed Brie is slightly more complicated but takes less than an hour to make. The recipe calls for a 12-ounce round of Brie, but a smaller, 8-ounce round works just as well and will leave some pastry for an added touch at the end. "Basically you slice the mushrooms and onions and sauté with nutmeg and sherry," says Alleman. "It's done when all the moisture is evaporated." The Brie is then sliced horizontally and stuffed with the mushroom mixture.

The layers of white cheese and rich brown mushrooms make for a unique presentation. "That's a little twist on the look of the brie," says Escott. The top is brushed with a beaten egg for a glistening finish, and Alleman uses the leftover pastry to make decorative leaves with a cookie cutter. The Brie can be served with crackers or crusty bread, but the rich taste of the cheese and mushrooms encased in buttery pastry is just fine by itself.

Dark Chocolate Cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 egg
Sugar for coating

Sift the flour, baking cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt together. Combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup and egg in a mixing bowl, and beat until fluffy. Add the flour mixture slowly and mix well. Shape into 1/2-inch balls. Roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 12-14 minutes. (The middle should still be soft.) Cool on a wire rack. Serves 20.

Mushroom-Stuffed Brie
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small red onion, finely chopped
8 ounces Portobello mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 17-ounce package puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 14-ounce Brie round, chilled
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, mushrooms, sherry and nutmeg. Saute until the vegetables are tender and the liquid is absorbed. Let cool. Roll one sheet of puff pastry into a 13-inch square on a lightly floured surface. Place the Brie on the pastry and cut a circle, leaving a 1-inch lip. Roll another sheet of puff pastry, and cut a circle of the same size. Slice the Brie in half horizontally. Spread the mushroom mixture over the bottom half of the Brie, and top with the upper half. Place one of the pastry circles on a baking sheet. Top with the Brie, and fold the edges of the pastry up around the Brie. Top with the second circle of pastry, and press the edges around the Brie to form a tight seal. Brush the pastry with the egg. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with crackers or bread. Serves 10-12.

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