Saturday, December 21, 2013

Gingerbread Cookies

Christmas is only days away, and I can hardly wait for it to be here! But time's a-ticking away to share this recipe with you before the season passes me by! I know lots of people have favorite, cherished recipes for gingerbread cookies, but if you don't, give these ones a try. They are fantastic.

I don't remember having a fondness for ginger spice cookies as a child -- they simply weren't part of our Christmas traditions. But I've really grown to love them in adulthood. Even that glossy, crunchy, sweet touch that is royal icing. And maybe it's even the old-fashioned nature of this kind of cookie. What is it about old fashioned dishes as we grow up? Something about them just calls out to us, I think. Makes me want to make some Chicken a la King...

Where was I?

Oh yes. Gingerbread boys. And snowflakes. And anything the heart desires, really. When cut into simple stars or holly leaves and decorated with the names of guests, these make excellent (and edible!) place cards. They also make lovely ornaments. Use a straw to punch a hole in the top of the shape, bake, and hang. So sweet, especially when you hang some candy canes to go with them. I'm thinking of working these into our Christmas Eve celebrations to decorate the tree with goodies and then munch on them all Christmas day long. Does this sound like heaven to anyone else?

This makes sturdy yet tender cookies. I've not yet attempted a gingerbread house with this recipe, but the cookies help up nicely when I used my 3D cookie cutters (found at Goodwill -- score!). You can cook them a bit more if you like a crispy cookie, but I like mine on the soft side.

Gingerbread Cookies

6 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. (2 sticks) butter
1 c. dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. (12 oz) molasses
1 Tbsp. vanilla

Makes about 6 dozen 4-inch cookies.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. Set aside.

In a mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar. Once it's pale and fluffy, beat in eggs, one at a time. Then add molasses and vanilla. Beat until well mixed.

With mixer on lowest setting, gradually (very gradually) add flour mixture. The dough will be very soft and quite sticky.

Divide the dough into thirds, and wrap each individually in plastic wrap. Let dough chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F while you roll out your dough and cut your shapes. Flour board/mat/counter very well, and keep more flour handy. I like to place a fine mesh sieve in a cereal bowl and spoon some flour into the sieve. Keeping it next to my rolling mat allows me to shake an even layer of flour over my work surface whenever needed. Dough should be well chilled when you roll, or it will be unmanageable. Transfer cut shapes to parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 8-9 minutes for larger cookies (3-4 inches) and about 5-6 minutes for smaller (1-2 inch cookies.

Decorate your cookies with a piping bag and royal icing. (I use Alton Brown's recipe.) For a little extra sparkle, sprinkle a pinch of granulated sugar over the top of still-wet icing. Gives it a special little something.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Weekly Menu 12/16 - 12/22

Woke up today to super dense fog. Must be Christmastime in Portland. Good weather for baking up a storm, starting with our bread for the week.
Here's our menu:

This Week's Menu

Monday: Roasted Carrot Soup

Tuesday: Avocado & Shrimp Sandwiches

Wednesday: Chicken Sausage & Gnocchi in Blushing Cream Sauce

Thursday: Homemade Rumbi Rice Bowls

Friday: Ebelskivers

Saturday: {Christmas Party!)

Sunday: Stacked Chicken Zucchini Enchiladas

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Spicy Double Chocolate Biscotti

I'll just come out and say it: I'm not good at video games. Especially not Mario Kart. I mention it because I am currently watching my husband play Mario Kart. Backwards. He's in 3rd place. I can't even get better than last place going the right way -- in fact I frequently end up going around the track the wrong way. Clearly opposites attract.

That's all I have to say about that.

And now we have some truly delicious biscotti to discuss, so let's get right to it. (Listen, transitions aren't really my thing, okay?)

If biscotti and brownies fell in love and got married and had a baby on their honeymoon in Aztec country, this would be the result. Deeply chocolatey, crisp, but not too dry, with a hint of spice that just tickles the back of your throat. You could easily add as much spice as you prefer, but I like to rein it in and just add a smidgeon. I love how the kick of spice lends extra depth to the cocoa flavor and makes interesting what might otherwise be run-of-the-mill.

And do you know what I love with a Spicy Double Chocolate Biscotto? More chocolate. Hot, with milk, in a mug. Heavy on the whipped cream.

(Insert happy face here.)

Spicy Double Chocolate Biscotti
adapted from "Dorie's Baking: From my Home to Yours"

1 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa powder (the darker the better)
rounded 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
rounded 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
pinch of salt

3 Tbsp. butter, at room temp
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. chopped chocolate or chocolate chips

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and cayenne into a bowl. Add salt, and stir to combine. Set aside.
Beat together butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix again until incorporated. (It may look slightly curdled, and that's fine.) Gradually add dry ingredients, one third at a time. Mix until dough just comes together. It should be tacky but not very sticky. Stir/fold in chocolate chips.
Heat oven to 375, and line a cookie sheet with parchment. Shape dough into a 1” thick log on the lined baking sheet. The more rectangular your log, the more evenly your cookies will bake. Mine was about 5 inches wide and maybe 12 inches long. (See below.)

Bake for 20-25 mins. (I like my biscotti more moist, so I did 20 minutes. If you like yours more crisp, let them bake a bit longer). The top may crack a bit but should still be soft and form a dent when lightly pressed. Remove from oven (but leave the oven on).
Let it cool down a bit. When cool enough to touch, but still warm, cut into 1” thick slices using a serrated/bread knife using a gentle sawing motion. The pieces crumble a bit on the edges -- no worries.
Arrange the pieces 1/2 - 1" apart either upright or laid on one side. Return to the oven to bake another 8 - 10 minutes in order to crisp up. If you are placing them one side down, it’s advisable to turn them over after 4-5 mins. (Again, I baked mine the shorter amount of time because I like them still a bit moist.)
Once the cookies have reached your desired level of crispness, remove from the oven and let cool completely, keeping in mind that they will crisp up further on cooling. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Weekly Menu 12/9 - 12/15

Obviously, there's a lot to love about the Christmas season, but nights at home by the fire, under the lights of the tree take the cake for me. I'm hoping for a great many of those this week.
Here's our menu; I think we're feeling a bit more vegetarian this week. How about you? Anything new on your menu?

This Week's Menu

Monday: Cheesy Quinoa Cakes, Salad

Tuesday: Tuna Pitas (because I haven't mattered the homemade pita yet, but I WILL)

Wednesday: Coconut Curry Braised Chicken*

Thursday: Oven Puff Pancakes or out

Friday: Huevos Rancheros

Saturday: Farfalle with Truffled Mushrooms*

Sunday: Vegetable Pot Pie {recipe to come}

*from The Six-Ingredient Solution -- fast becoming one of my favorite cookbooks on the shelf!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I once asked my husband what he kept me around for (the way wives often do, so coyly). His answer: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I had made them once.

So I guess they made an impression -- the only problem is, I couldn't find the recipe I had used that first time. I tried recipe after recipe, and none of them compared. This one, though, with a little tweaking, is perfection. All chocolate chip cookies are irresistible, but these are doubly so.

If you're not yet acquainted with brown butter, let this recipe introduce you. It brings a fantastic flavor and aroma. Here's a good tutorial for how to brown butter, but the best advice I can give you is that your nose knows. When it smells so good you could guzzle it down straight, that's when it's ready. It can go from brown to burned in a flash, so give it your undivided attention. Your patience will be rewarded. :)

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Babble

1 c. unsalted butter
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
2 3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stirring frequently, continue to cook until butter turns golden brown (about 5-8 minutes). It should smell insanely good and nutty. Let cool to room temperature.
While that's cooling, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine sugars. Add brown butter and whisk until smooth, then add the eggs and vanilla.
Add dry ingredients to sugar mixture, and stir until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. (If you got impatient and added your butter while it was still warm, be sure to let the dough cool before adding the chocolate chips, otherwise you'll have a big melty mess.)
This dough is best baked the next day. Let chill in refrigerator overnight — let it come to room temperature for easier scooping.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop 1/8 cup portions of dough onto cookie sheet and flatten slightly. Bake 8-10 minutes, until tops are set and bottoms are just turning golden brown.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Weekly Menu 12/2 - 12/8

I hope those of you in the US had a delightful holiday weekend. Mine was lovely, and ended with an entire pumpkin pie left over. So… It really is imperative that I whittle away at it for breakfast every morning until it's gone. Right?

After so much to-do for Thanksgiving, I'm glad to get back to our quiet routine. Here's what we'll be eating this week:

This Week's Menu

Monday: Veggie Burgers, Tater Tots

Tuesday: Honey Lime Tilapia, Steamed Rice & Green Beans

Wednesday: Chicken Gyros with Homemade Pitas

Thursday: Black Bean Burritos with Avocado Crema

Friday: Cranberry Stuffed French Toast with Orange Syrup

Saturday: {Date Night!}

Sunday: Baked Gnocchi, Steamed Broccoli

I'd love to hear what you're cooking this week. What recipes are you whipping up?