Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chewy Triple Ginger Cookies

Are you completely over cookies yet?  I have to admit that I just really started my holiday baking.  I'd made sausage balls and not-Chex mix, but as of this past weekend, I hadn't baked a single cookie yet.  But when I got home from a business trip, Vince asked if I would bake some cookies, as he'd signed up to bring some for his office's holiday potluck.  (He did say that we could just buy them, but where's the fun in that?!)  By Saturday evening, I'd made chocolatey Hello, Dollies and fruity shortbread thumbprint cookies, but didn't have anything spiced, which is pretty much mandatory at Christmas.

These aren't the traditional crunchy ones you cut out and decorate, but a chewy, richly spiced cookie.  The addition of both fresh and crystallized ginger gives these a kick that you don't get from a gingerbread man.

Chewy Triple-Ginger Cookies
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated and 101 Cookbooks via Forks, Fingers, Chopsticks

What's in them:

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup large grain sugar, for finishing (optional)

How to make them:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Adjust racks – one in top 1/3 oven – second in bottom 1/3 oven.

Peel and grate fresh ginger, finely chop crystallized ginger, and set both aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda and salt.  Add crystallized ginger, separate if it clumps and stir to incorporate. Set this aside too.

In a small pot, over low heat, melt the butter.  When it has melted almost half way, turn off the heat and add the fresh ginger, brown sugar, molasses.  Combine with a whisk, stirring carefully.  The mixture should be warm to the touch, but not hot.  Add beaten egg and stir to incorporate.

Pour over flour mixture and stir until combined, being careful to not overwork the dough.

Shape dough into balls (1/2 tablespoon dough for small cookies, ~1 1/2"; 1 heaping tablespoon dough for 3").  Balls should be placed at least 2 inches apart for smaller cookies/ 3 inches for larger.  For a prettier cookie, coat each ball with large granule sugar before baking.

Bake for 8 to 9 minutes for small cookies; 10 to 12 for larger. Cookies are done when they have risen and cookies crack. Do not overbake; underbaking is better. Store in airtight container for about 1 week.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cinnamon Marshmallows

Last year it seemed like all of a sudden I started to need hostess and thank-you gifts around the holidays.  I don't know what changed (maybe it's another step toward actually feeling like a grown-up?), but I remember several last-minute trips to the craft store for festive packaging for holiday cookies, vowing to plan better this year.  And so when I made my holiday baking list, I added homemade hot cocoa mix and marshmallows to the list, to be packed up together and handed out as needed.

I'd made these marshmallows before for s'mores pops, and wanted to make them a little more obviously holiday-appropriate.  Adding some cinnamon extract, a swirl of red, and cutting some of them out in fun shapes like trees, candy canes and stars made these nicely festive.  With some hot cocoa mix (homemade or storebought), a batch of these is the perfect thing to have on hand for your neighbor, delivery guy, or anyone that could use some holiday cheer.

Cinnamon Marshmallows
adapted from Alton Brown via Beantown Baker

What's in them:

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
Nonstick spray
Red food coloring

How to make them:

Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment ready to go.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F (soft ball temp, if you're a regular candy maker), approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. (Be very careful to not let the the syrup get wrapped up and around the mixer gears, unless you want it to be hard candy-coated.  Don't ask how I know this, just trust me.)

Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla and cinnamon extracts during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula (or fingers) for spreading evenly into the pan. If you want colorful swirls, drop 5-10 drops of food coloring onto the marshmallows as desired.  Drag a toothpick or wooden skewer through the drops, creating swirls. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a knife dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture, or cut out shapes using cookie cutters dusted with the mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Broiled Grapefruit

Breakfast during the week is generally limited to easily prepped and transported options for me: lots of oatmeal, Greek yogurt and granola, sometimes muffins or English muffins with a smear of peanut butter.  So when the weekend comes around, I’m usually ready for something a little more time-consuming that probably doesn’t travel well, and often plan for much more elaborate breakfasts, like breakfast tacos with eggs, chorizo and avocado or dressed up pancakes.  This time of year, though, I’m starting to get a little burnt out on heavy food, and with holiday baking, shopping and partying, spending a lot of weekend time on breakfast just isn’t always possible.
Then I saw broiled grapefruit on Serious Eats.  It’s perfect- not something I’d be likely to pack up for work, takes very little time to prep, and isn’t going to fill me up all morning when I’d rather be snacking on seasonal goodies.  The little bit of caramelized sugar softens the tart grapefruit, and the spices make you feel like you're eating something special.

Broiled Grapefruit

What’s in it:

1 grapefruit, halved
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp butter

How to make it:

Preheat broiler and line a baking sheet with foil. Using a paring knife, carefully loosen grapefruit segments, separating them from the membrane and rind. Sprinkle cut sides with sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Dot with butter. Place grapefruit halves on baking sheet and broil 5-8 minutes, until sugar is beginning to brown. Let cook for a few minutes, then serve.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sausage Balls

Yes, another snack and appetizer post.  I have been cooking real food too; check out my What's for Dinner? page to see what we've been eating.  But my focus lately has been our holiday favorites.  These sausage balls are another tradition from my family, a perennial favorite at my mom's annual holiday open house and one of our must-haves for Christmas morning brunch (the only rule- no flatware required.  Keep those hands free for opening presents!).

While I've seen variations of these a lot of places around the internet, with different ratios of sausage to cheese to baking mix and types of cheese and sausage, my mom first started making this more than 20 years ago from a recipe in the high school booster club's Jaguar Cookbook. 

Sausage Balls

What's in them:

2 c. baking mix
4 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I use sharp with the sage sausage and mild with the hot sausage)
1 lb. bulk sausage (I like to use hot or sage sausage)

How to make them:

In a large bowl, combine all three ingredients.  I usually put them in the bowl in the order they're listed to keep the baking mix from making a dusty mess.  Knead the mixture by squeezing handfuls to form clumps, then break up the clumps and repeat until everything is thoroughly and evenly mixed.  This usually takes about 10 minutes (and can be pretty therapeutic).

When you're done kneading, roll into 1" balls, about a generous tablespoon for each, and spread them on a baking sheet that fits in your freezer.  Freeze sausage balls (they'll hold their shape better when you bake them), and store frozen in an airtight container or bag.

To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Bake sausage balls until cooked through and browned, about 15 minutes.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Not-Chex Mix

This is one of those foods that instantly takes me back to the holidays during my childhood.  While snack mix is generally not a traditional Christmas treat, it was in my house growing up- we only made it at Christmas, and maybe for the Superbowl (which was almost as important).  Amid all of the sweet offerings, this snack mix was a welcome hit of savory.

While there are a million different recipes for snack mix, we have always stuck with the original (not the microwave version), with one notable exception- we don't use Chex cereal, but Crispix instead.  In my opinion, they're crispier, and even better, the recipe uses just about a whole box, rather than a third of three different cereals.  In the past few years, I've also started playing around with the seasonings, cutting back on the salt, adding some cayenne and Dijon mustard, and upping the Worcestershire sauce in my favorite version.  The result is addicting; I'm almost embarrassed to admit it took us less than three days to decimate the first batch.

Not-Chex Mix

What's in it:

9 c. Crispix cereal (about 1 17.9 oz. box)
1 c. mixed nuts
1 c. bite-sized pretzels
1 c. garlic bagel chips, minis or regular sized broken into 1" pieces)
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

How to make it:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with foil.

Mix first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  In a microwave safe bowl, melt butter, about 45 seconds to one minute on high in the microwave.  Whisk remaining ingredients into the butter.  Pour about half of the butter mixture over the cereal mixture, and stir to coat well, and repeat with the remaining butter mixture, making sure that everything is coated.

Divide the mixture between the two baking sheets, and spread into an even layer.  Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Let cool, then store in an airtight container. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rosemary Candied Cashews

Does anyone else remember Good Things Catered?  Sadly (for me and its other followers), its author Katie took it down due to a move and a new job.  It's really too bad, the recipes were always just right, had a ton of great tips, and really demonstrated that good food didn't have to be hard. 

One of my favorite simple recipes was for rosemary candied nuts; luckily for me this was also published on Recipes Tap, so all is not lost.  I usually add a little cayenne for some heat, and I really think the salty-sweet combo is impossible to resist.  I had these out as part of the pre-Thanksgiving dinner snack table and there wasn't much left when we sat down for dinner!

Rosemary Candied Cashews
Adapted just a little from Good Things Catered

What's in them:

4 Tbsp butter
1/4 c dark brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced

Cayenne pepper to taste, I like about a 1/2 tsp here
2 c whole cashews (or nuts of choice)
coarse grain salt

How to make them:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a baking sheet- I line mine with non-stick foil.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat butter, sugar, rosemary and cayenne, stirring until fully combined.  Add nuts and cook until the nuts covered in sugar mixture and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Spread nut mixture onto prepared baking sheet and bake until sugar has slightly hardened (will be bubbly), about 15 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and toss with large pinch of coarse salt.  Cool completely, tossing periodically to keep the nuts from sticking together.