Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Butter Pecan Custard Pie (or, a Favorite Ice Cream Without the "Ice" Part)

Butter. Pecan. Custard. Pie. That is all I have to say. 


Did you ever want your favorite flavor of ice cream, but figured the season was just too cold to mess with a frozen dessert?

Me, neither.

But when I told my friends and family I wanted butter pecan ice cream, I got the old familiar looks ("Have you checked your meds, dear?"). Needless to say, I had to find a way to get away with it, and gather support for my efforts, to boot.

Enter Pop and the Friday Supper Group. This is not an organized club, or anything. It's just that our best friends come over nearly every Friday evening for a meal and decompression at the end of their very busy week. And, most Fridays, they bring a pie, as their contribution to the repast.

Well, this time, I finally got myself ready ahead of time and let them know we planned an easy meal (The Bat fixed a big pot of chili & I started a smaller pot of chicken soup, because...well, winter). This meant no reason for guilt about not bringing something to the party, which, in turn, meant I had the good excuse to provide one of my own desserts, so that I would not be shoveling pie all by my lonesome... that would undermine my year-long efforts to drop some of my excess poundage.

Long story short [too late!], I got to make a butter pecan pie, and share it with others. Merry Christmas!

It's totally gluten-free, but beyond that, it's outrageously naughty. I dug up one of the eggiest custard pie recipes I could find, and made sure it would accommodate fatty dairy products, as well (yes! real whipping cream! and butter galore!). 

The crust is nuts – literally. If you're going to make butter pecan pie, make it pecans all the way down.  

You will need a few basic pieces of equipment: a jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides), a small-ish microwave-safe mixing bowl, a food processor (or a blender and a bit of patience and attention), a 9- or 10-inch pie pan, a stand mixer, a small (1 quart is a good size) saucepan, measuring cups and measuring spoons. If you use a smaller pie pan, you may also need a few greased custard cups and a water bath for them… this filling is abundant!

The nice thing about this pie is, you don't need to serve it with anything else, like ice cream, or whipped cream. But, if you feel as though you can't just serve a pie all by itself, it's perfectly acceptable to top it with fresh raspberries or some other fruit. Excess is nice, once in a great while. Nevertheless, the pie, on its own, is all one really requires in order to thoroughly misbehave.

But then, I feel that way about all pie.

I am, after all, my father's daughter.

Butter Pecan Custard Pie

Crust Ingredients: 

2 heaping cups pecan halves, divided
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon sweetener (optional)

Crust Directions: 
Preheat oven to 375º F

In a medium microwave-safe bowl or a medium-small saucepan, melt 2 Tablespoons butter. Stir the pecans into the butter, coating them completely. 

Spread pecans out to a single layer's depth in the jelly roll pan. Place on middle rack of oven for about 8-10 minutes, until you begin to smell the butter browning. Remove from oven, allow to cool in the pan. When it is cool to the touch, place the entire sheet into freezer, allow to chill for at least an hour.

Before removing nuts from freezer, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. 

Place 1 2/3 cups of those toasted pecans and (optional) sweetener in food processor and chop coarsely. Continue to chop, pouring in melted butter, chopping until it has the texture of coarse meal (you're not making nut butter, just a crust).

Remove from food processor bowl and press evenly into pie pan. Refrigerate until the custard filling is ready. 
Custard Filling Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Custard Filling Directions:
Preheat oven to 400º F.

In a small saucepan, heat milk and cream to scald (hot enough to form tiny bubbles around the edge of the pan, but not to boil). Remove from heat, put butter in to melt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs well, one at a time. Gradually add in the sugar until it is well-mixed. Pour in milk/butter mixture and mix well. Then add in the vanilla. 

Place the crust-filled pie pan in a clean jelly-roll pan or, if you have it, a pie ring (one of those metal dinguses designed to catch overflow but not block heat from reaching the bottom of the pie), on the middle rack of the oven. Pour the custard filling into the crust until it is mostly filled, then scatter the remaining 1/3 cup of buttered pecans over the top of the custard before sliding the whole thing into the oven.

If you have extra filling, pour into custard cups in a water bath (a pan in which the cups sit with hot water at least halfway up the sides), and place alongside the pie. (You may wish to add a few of the reserved pecans to the custard cups, as well, but if you opt against it, you will have a nice, simple custard alongside the pie.)

Bake at 400º F for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 300º F and continue to bake for another 30 minutes. If you are also baking cups of custard, check them after 15 minutes by inserting a thin knife into the center of one. If the knife comes out clean, the custard is cooked, even though it may look jiggly. This same practice should be applied to checking the pie at the end of its 30 minutes. 

Remove from oven, cool on rack. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight and serve chilled.


The last slice. Woe is me, for what will tomorrow bring?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Date to the Ball: a Little Sweet, a Little Spicy, and a Little Nutty Date Balls

It's a date!


Long years ago, when I was still in pigtails (well, not literally. The Bat cut my hair short in first grade so she didn't have to fight the tangles my feral conduct created. But I digress), I took a home economics class. We all did. It was part of the mandatory education program for all young ladies, that, while we were learning to be good future wives by accepting training in sewing, cooking, and cleaning (ecch!), the boys took shop classes. For two short weeks, though, we switched around, so the boy had a clue what was supposed to go on in the kitchen, and we girls got to use a bandsaw, grinder, and buffer to make cheesy plastic jewelry.

It was during this brief interstice that I was introduced to…no, not the Love of Lucite, but The Date. The seventh grade boys got to make a non-sugary candy made from dates and coconut, and then they were encouraged to share their efforts with us guuurrrulls. I got my first and only date ever with the cute boy whose birthday I shared.

I was smitten.

With the food.

(Although, I admit, the boy was nothing to sneeze at. I saw him at our class reunion not too long ago, and he's still tall and handsome. But, again, I digress.)

This is about the medjool variety of dates, not the steady variety.

The delight in this recipe was that the boys did not need to heat up any stovetops, there was no risk that they'd set a pan of sugar on fire and fill the school with smoke. The other blessing was, it was, we were told later, good for us. There was no added sugar, and plenty of nuts, so we got protein and roughage all in a tasty little lump. (Egad! but our home economics teacher was a sly one!)

Well, I finally ran across a variation on that old recipe, after seeing dozens – if not hundreds – of versions requiring loads of sugar and/or corn syrup and boiling and processing half to putty, and decided it was time for me to give the simple recipe a whirl for myself.

And it is amazingly uncomplicated. It's pretty much equal parts dates and nuts, and a little bit of cardamom. And, if you like, a little unsweetened, finely shredded coconut.

The necessities
It does call for a good, sturdy food processor (those little mini ones just won't cut it), or a serious grinder and a good nut-chopper, and then, beyond that, it's just a matter of patience shaping the little balls and rolling them in their coating. I used a 1-inch scoop to help with keeping the balls all the same size, but if you don't have one of those, you can scoop the "dough" with your fingertips and shape just as easily.

Seriously. The shaping thing, you can let tots do.

So give these a try, sometime.

Super-Easy Date-Nut Balls*

Ingredients:
2 cups pistachios without shells (salted ones are acceptable), divided
2 8-ounce packages whole medjool dates, pitted
1/2 teaspoon (or less, depending on your tastes) cardamom
4 Tablespoons finely chopped unsweetened coconut (optional)

Directions:

Place the pistachios in the food processor with basic chopping blade, and pulse for several seconds, then continue to run on low speed until the nuts are finely chopped. Remove from bowl, set aside.

Beginning with a half bag of dates, chop coarsely at low speed, adding a few more dates at a time, until you have created a sticky ball of date. Pulse in the cardamom and 1 1/2 cups chopped pistachios.

Continue to pulse until well-mixed. It should be loosely combined to resemble – dare I say it? – cat kibble (pellets about 3 mm in diameter at the largest). If you want it to be pureed, I suppose you can keep going, but I like to get a little burst of flavor and faint crunch in each bite, so I stop before it's gluey. Besides, you're likely to need to add water to the mixture if you want to get it pureed any more than this, and that means letting the balls dry out longer before they're ready to eat, and…waiting is not my strong point. Is it yours? No? So, let it appear crumbly.
Sorry about the photo quality. Kibble reference notwithstanding, this is moist and crumbly

Place your remaining 1/2 cup of finely chopped pistachios in a small bowl, and your coconut in another bowl nearby.

Take the blade out of the processor bowl and, using a scoop, a spoon, or just your fingertips, begin forming the dough into little 1-inch balls, rolling each one in either the pistachio crumbs or the coconut. Place on a tray and allow to dry a little bit before covering (about 20-30 minutes)

Makes about 60 1-inch balls.



*Yes, I know exactly how naughty that can sound. You have a dirty mind, and I appreciate that.


Update: The Bat is not a big fan of dates, but she approves this recipe – "It's not sickly-sweet!" was her shocked response when I forced her to sample one, this evening. High praise, from her!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Feeling Like a Toff with Buttery Toffee





Christmas just isn't Christmas around our house without at least one big batch of English Toffee.  Fortunately, this is not a great challenge. It's relatively inexpensive, and takes less than an hour to put together (it takes a little longer to cool, and, really, that's the part with the greatest hardship – you see it sitting there for hours, looking all chocolatey and nutty and buttery, and you don't dare dig into it for fear you'll cover yourself in melted chocolate and be caught in the act). It's also very easy to make. All you need for equipment is a jelly roll pan (a nice 13"x18" cookie sheet with sides), a regular flat cookie sheet, a heavy-duty 6-quart saucepan, a candy thermometer, and a stirring tool, such as a wooden spoon. Cooling racks are useful, too, but I've been known to set my jelly roll pan on a folded towel, in the past, when my cooling racks were filled with cookies. The rack isn't all that special, just an aid to making the process work a little faster. And you'll need a nice, big spatula and a nice, big knife.

Also, if you're fussy, you may want a small bowl of water, and, either a pastry brush or a paper towel handy, so that you can damp-brush the crystallized stuff off the sides of the pan and back into the mix as it boils, and it won't make the candy grainy. Otherwise,  if you opt out of that, when you stir, just be sure you don't scrape the pan's sides. The bottom, lots of times, but not the sides.

Anyway. That's all the equipment you need.

Beyond the gear, though, the ingredients are also simple and few: sugar, butter, water, chocolate chips, and pecans. It's easy-peasy; if you keep a gluten-free kitchen, it's also safe for friends on that special-needs diet. However, if your friend is on a low-carb diet, he or she is SOL, as they say.

Whatever the circumstances, with a little bit of focus, you can impress the heck out of your friends who may be still intimidated by hot stoves and sharp objects. 

Shoo, sweetie. This chubby leg is not providing you a lap just now.
Since you're working with boiling sugar, I don't recommend you invite your small people into the kitchen to help with the initial work (they can help when you apply the chocolate and nuts, and beyond). If your small people are of the furry variety, though, I suggest you bribe them to stay in the other room for the entire duration (closed and locked doors may be necessary). After all, without opposable digits, they can't stir very well, and, well…nobody likes bits of whisker and floof in their candies. 

Just set yourself up for an hour without that help.

Then get going. Make a big batch.



English toffee

Ingredients:
2 cups sugar
2 cups (1 lb.) butter
6 Tablespoons water (I used bottled water because our tap water still tastes like licking a cave floor)
2 cups chocolate chips or your favorite dark chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped (the original recipe The Bat found calls for finely chopped, but we like recognizable elements where we can include them. Or, as The Bat has said often over the years, "It's good to see and know the nuts in our house." But I digress.)

Directions:

Prepare a jelly roll pan by lightly buttering it. Set aside.

Chop your pecans. Set aside, along with the chocolate chips.

In a heavy-duty saucepan, combine sugar, butter, and water. 

Just a reminder: this is NOT a low-fat, low-carb food
Over medium-high heat, set to boil, stirring frequently. 

Double, double, not much trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble

















You'll want to continue to keep an eye on this, stirring more frequently as the temperature rises above 225º F. It will begin to darken, and, if you don't stir carefully during its last stages, it will burn on the bottom of the pan. Your nose will tell you if that happens. Don't force your nose to have that responsibility. Stir. Stir. Stir. Figure eight, big circle, sweep-across, infinity, big circle, sweep across. Cover the whole bottom of the pan with your wooden spoon.

When your candy thermometer indicates the mixture has reached 300º F (just 2º shy of hard crack stage), remove from heat and pour into prepared jelly roll pan.

Let the chips fall where they may
Sprinkle your chocolate onto the hot toffee, and allow a minute or so for the chips to melt.

Covered in chocolate…is this heaven?
Using an offset spatula, or even a silicone mixing spatula, spread the chocolate across the top of the toffee, covering it all.

Sprinkle your chopped pecans over that.

With a large knife, score the candy deeply while still hot, to measure out the size of pieces you'd like to have it break into (I like them about 1 1/2 inches square. The Bat likes them slightly larger). Pretend they're candy bars – do you want them bite-sized, or jumbo, or something in between? Go for it.

Now comes the hard part: letting it cool and then giving most of it away





Allow to cool completely. You want that chocolate completely firm before you try to take the candy from the pan, because what you'll need to do is place a flat cookie sheet over the top of your candy pan and then flip the whole thing, flexing the jelly roll pan to break loose the candy. It will land upside-down on the cookie sheet, and you'll need to handle it, to put it right-side up.

If any of it sticks to the jelly roll pan, peel it away with a fine metal spatula and don't worry if it doesn't come off smoothly and squarely.

Candy, little girl?…
Random degrees of decadence
As you may have noticed, some pieces broke apart into random shapes. This is a good thing. The squared ones are for people who have problems with that random element (squares, themselves, IMHO). The bits-and-pieces ones allow us to pick and choose from tiny, small, medium, and large-ish bits, depending upon how naughty we feel at that moment. Think of them as the toffee cousin to brittle – when was the last time you saw squares of peanut brittle? Just grab a bite and live a little! 

Or, throw them in a little parchment-lined gift box, put an arty bow on it, and try not to cry as it all leaves your house.


Saturday, December 06, 2014

Buttermilk-Dill Chicken Pot Roast

I like twice-roasted taters. It's not something I get very often, because everybody in our house likes those spuds plenty when they're on the table the first time, so there aren't usually enough leftovers to send them to the oven for a second time.

But we bought some monster tubers last month so I'd be able to make tasty fries, and, with the next meal, in the long habit we have of cooking one potato per person (even though each spud was clearly enough to serve two very hungry people), I ended up with a full two servings of buttermilk-dill-roasted wedges (with sweet pepper slices) to spare.

Enter: the chicken.

And other stuff.

The chicken was in the form of pair of breasts languishing in the freezer until last night. I brought it out, thawed it, and gave it a honey-buttermilk brining.

From there, it was a matter of filling in the gaps and tossing it all into the oven to roast for an hour, keeping my fingers crossed.

So, here are the basic ingredients, in their order of play (not as if you were building on leftovers):

The chicken:
2 medium chicken breasts, in basic brine with 2 Tablespoons powdered buttermilk and a teaspoon of dill weed added. Allow to stand in refrigerator while assembling potatoes, etc.

Roasted potatoes:
1 very large potato, cleaned but not peeled, then cut in half crosswise and sliced into wedges about 1 cm at their thickest (should be about 3 cups)
1/2 sweet bell pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon canola or other mild-flavored cooking oil
1 Tablespoon dill weed
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400º F.
In a quart (or larger) zipper bag, combine all ingredients and shake vigorously.
Spread potatoes out, skin sides down, on a well-greased, foil-lined baking pan, pouring the liquids evenly over all the potato wedges.
Roast until tops turn golden brown (about 35-40 minutes).

Reduce oven temperature to 325º F.

The rest of it:
8 ounces cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced thickly
1 Tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 Tablespoons corn starch
4 ounces neufchatel (light cream cheese)
1 cup green beans, fresh, or frozen, thawed
1 small onion, cut into wedges
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large oven-safe frying pan, melt the butter over high temperature, and stir-fry the mushrooms until they brown and begin to turn crisp at the edges. Remove from heat, add onion, green beans, and potatoes.

In a small saucepan, mix the starch and chicken stock. With heat at medium, allow the stock to come to a simmer and thicken. Add in neufchatel cheese and allow to melt and mix in completely. Pour over vegetables, stir well.

Place chicken on top of the vegetables, cover with foil, and place in oven at 325º for about 25-30 minutes, until chicken is fully cooked.

Allow dish to cool 5 minutes before eating.

Serve with salad.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Salmon with Curried Creamed Spinach

I'm a new devotee of spinach. Like most kids, I hated the stuff when I was growing up, and it took quite a long while for me to acquire a taste for it as I reached adulthood. Even then, in the early years, I'd only eat it raw, as a salad or greens on a sandwich.
Somehow, though, about the time I hit middle age (that vague time frame when a person's metabolism shifts to put on the brakes, but too often fails to tell the appetite), I realized I should be eating more of it, even when the fresh stuff is not so pretty (ah, the memories of dread!). Thus, I have learned to enjoy the frozen stock, and creamed, curried is my favorite way to consume it. I've made it with a little more chicken broth, so I could have a nice sauce to serve it over rice, but for my parents, who are still not the biggest fans of spinach or curries, I've helped it by serving it with a tasty slab of salmon… The Bat can't resist a good bit of that pink fishy goodness.

So this is for The Bat.

Popeye would be proud…
Salmon with Curried Creamed Spinach

Ingredients:
2 10-ounce packages of frozen spinach, thawed, and some of the liquid gently pressed out
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs fresh (or frozen, thawed) salmon sides or filets, skin removed
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375º F.

(If you are cooking with raw spinach or raw mixed greens, you will want to stem & coarsely chop, then, in a large frying pan on high heat, quickly wilt the greens, then allow them to cool in a strainer, lightly pressing excess liquids out, before starting the rest of the stages).

In a large, oven-safe frying pan over medium-low heat, cook onions in oil until transparent. Add curry powder, chicken broth, and garlic, and stir until evenly distributed and curry powder is dissolved. Stir in heavy cream. Allow to simmer over low heat about 10 minutes, until it becomes very fragrant. Remove from heat. 

Combine lemon juice and melted butter.

Place salmon filets on top of the spinach mixture. Pour lemon-butter over the top of fish, allowing to drizzle onto the spinach. Lay slices of lemon over the top, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake in middle of oven about 30 minutes (as soon as the spinach has been boiling and the fish turns opaque). Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 5 minutes before serving. 


Saturday, November 08, 2014

Salmon Scramble, or, Eggs You Can Pretend Are Naughty

I like scrambled eggs for supper. It's near the top of my list of comfort foods. My weakness, over the years, had been the traditional pile-on-the-bacon-and-cheddar scramble, but I've needed to cut out aged cheeses, and Pop and The Bat are looking at reduced fat and reduced sodium, respectively, so we tried a change-up.

This is really very simple, too. All you need is eggs, salmon, butter (or if you're cutting down on the saturated fats, canola or olive oil. I like using a wee bit of butter in the grander supply of canola, so I get the flavor of the butter in what I cook, but that's just the kid in me whose fondest memories involve a farm or a farm community. I likes me buttah.)

Oh, yes. You'll definitely need a frying pan, and, if you're as lazy as I am, a blender of some sort, too, but the blender is entirely optional, if you like whipping the heck out of a few eggs with a whisk or a fork.

You'll also need about fifteen minutes. 

And an appetite.

That's not a lot to demand, is it?

And, if you want to adapt up or down, on this recipe, think in these terms: 4 ounces of fish per person, and 2 eggs per person, plus one extra "for the pot" for each third person (1 person – 2 eggs; 2 people – 4 eggs; 3 people – 7 eggs; 4 people – 9 eggs; and so on).

Fish, eggs, gluten-free buttered toast, and green beans from Pop's garden. Life is good.

Salmon Scramble

Ingredients:

12 ounces of fresh (or frozen, thawed) salmon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
7 large eggs
2 Tablespoons melted butter (or 1/4 teaspoon butter melted into canola oil)
salt and pepper to taste
butter and/or oil for cooking

Directions: 

In a large sauté pan or frying pan on low heat, simmer salmon in a small amount of oil until the pieces turn opaque, turning once or twice with a spatula.

Scramble the heck out of your eggs until they are frothy, then mix in butter (or butter mixture), blend completely, and pour over the salmon in the pan. continue to cook over low heat  until the eggs are almost completely cooked – just a little runny. 

Remove from heat, stir a couple more times, and let stand in the pan for about a minute, to let the eggs completely set up.

Serve with your favorite toast and a colorful salad and/or vegetable side.

Almost done…just a little patience needed.
And be sure to set aside a little for your wee beasties, if you have them. Even if you have a cat like mine, who doesn't much care for fish. 
WAAAANT! 
She likes scrambled eggs a little too much, though.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Cornbread Bites



















Ingredients:
1 cup corn flour (masa harina)
1 cup corn meal
3 Tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large or extra large eggs
3/4 cup yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup melted butter (or oil)
3/4 cup buttermilk
butter for pans



Directions:
Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.




Thursday, October 30, 2014

Little Green Monsters

Having a ball
I had the pleasure of the company of a young gentleman, today. Ilex, the younger brother of Asteroidae, came to play here after school. And, since there was a remote chance that he would be attending a Cub Scout party this evening, we decided to prepare some treats.

Ilex is still in middle school, and therefore with limited skills in the kitchen, so we went for the quick and simple -- puffed rice treats, in Halloween style. You probably have your own favorite recipe for those, often using the big brand name products. I find that, when stuffing the faces of already-sugar-saturated boys, spending the extra cash for a big, international label isn't really all that productive.  I used stuff from discount chains.

All I needed was crisped rice cereal, mini marshmallows, butter, some green decorative sugar, cupcake decoration eyes, and a gooey red filling (ordinarily I'd have used a can of cherry pie filling to make a heart amid the gruesome squidgy blood, but we made do with the raspberry syrup I had on hand, and thus, no organs).

The process is simple, too, especially if you have a handy-dandy ice cream scoop.


Crisped Rice Little Green Monsters

Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons butter
4 cups mini marshmallows
6 cups crisped rice cereal
1 can cherry pie filling (or other red, sticky, syrupy stuff – we used raspberry syrup, but you can also use strawberry or other red fruit jelly, thinned slightly)

cake/cupcake decorative eyes*
green decorative sugar in a wide bowl

Directions:
In a saucepan or a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter. Add the marshmallows, heat until completely melted (stovetop, it will take a few minutes. In the microwave, no more than 90 seconds, or, until the marshmallows expand to about twice their usual size). Stir until completely mixed, then add the rice cereal. Stir again until completely mixed. 

Half-fill the scoop with the cereal mix, press it up around the sides until you have a sturdy bowl-shape. Flip it out from the scoop, then fill the cavity with a cherry and some of the syrup (or, just your red syrup, if that's what you have). 

Sorry the pic is fuzzy. You should see the stickum on the phone.
a batch of tops

Take another hemisphere of the cereal mixture, press it over the top of the filled "bowl", and carefully compress it until it holds together and makes a firm seal. 

Squidged into a nice, firm ball of naughtiness, with only slight syrup bleed-out (fixed!)
Press a pair of pre-made sugar eyes into it, then roll it in green decorative sugar.

Repeat until you have used up all the mixture.

If you have to transport them, place each one in a mini baking cup, or even a muffin tin, so they don't stick together when they travel.

Try to feel absolutely no guilt at eating something which looks at you like this:

Admit it. You find me irresistible.


For what it's worth, we made 24 treats, start to finish and boxed to go, in less than 45 minutes, even with distractions.



*If you don't have candy eyes, you may opt to cut a few mini-marshmallows into 4 or 8 pieces, stick them on, and draw pupils on them with food coloring and a toothpick.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bringing Sweet to the Heat: Candied Ginger


The Bat is not the biggest fan of ginger, unless it's in a cookie with the word "snap" in its name. But when those cookies are on the menu, she's as goofy about our home-baked ones as Pop is... largely because not only are they crisp, like a good ginger snap should be, but because they bite back. I like to bring the heat. And my new favorite tool for that is homemade candied ginger.

Making the stuff is pretty straightforward, but you do rather need an accurate scale, a kitchen mandoline (or a lot of skill at slicing evenly, repeatedly),  and some real work time -- set aside a good two hours for the process. 

And ventilation. You will probably want to run a fan or open a window while you work with this. I love the smell of ginger, raw or cooked, but as it boils, it can be a bit overwhelming (it's not quite as bad as trying to dehydrate ghost peppers, but use caution, nonetheless).

Beyond that, it's just water and equal parts peeled fresh ginger and granulated sugar.




Candied Ginger

Ingredients:

5 cups water (about 1.2 liters)
Approximately 1 lb.  (0.453 kg) fresh ginger, peeled
Approximately 1 lb. granulated sugar

Directions:

Starting with a nice firm, sleek, non-wrinkly, large "hand" of ginger weighing a little over a pound. Peel it (if you're not sure how best to strip ginger nekkid, see this). 

Pour 5 cups water into a medium saucepan. Using your kitchen mandoline, slice ginger across the grain into 1/8-inch (about 3 mm) "coins", and place directly into the water. Cover, and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until ginger becomes somewhat tender, about 35-45 minutes.

While it is boiling, coat a cooling rack with nonstick spray, then set it over a jelly roll pan (sided cookie sheet) lined with parchment. 

When the ginger is softened, drain it in a colander, retaining the water.* 

At this point, you will need to weigh your ginger. Measure out an equal weight of sugar, and put that and the cooked ginger into the saucepan, adding 1/4 cup (.06 liters) water.

Again on medium-high heat, bring the ginger to a boil, and allow it to continue, uncovered, until the moisture is mostly cooked away (about 20 minutes), stirring often.

During the final stages, you will want to keep a close eye on it, as it goes very quickly from this

Mmm…juicy
to this.
Mmmm…crumbly.
When it reaches the dry, crumbly state, immediately remove it from heat and spread it out on the cooling rack which rests above parchment.  Allow it to cool, store in a sealed container in your refrigerator for up to six months.



And, do you see all that crumbly sugar all over it, and falling down between the bars of the rack? Save it in another airtight container… you'll want to use it on top of cookies or pies, or to drop into a cup of tea. 


Or to nosh on when nobody is looking.

It's gingery, after all.


*The remaining water can be frozen in an ice cube tray and the cubes added later to tea – or other beverages – for a little zip.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Recipe Card: Grandma Heitmann's Pfeffernusse, and Variation on a Theme

The Bat's favorite dunker. Once upon a time, the family recipe used so much flour, comparatively, that it rivaled some masonry for sturdiness. We used this recipe, once, to make a gingerbread house which would not collapse, no matter how abused it got during the entire holiday season. Even the heavy-duty Kitchen-Aid mixer couldn't handle the last stages of mixing the dough, so it had to be stirred by hand with a very strong-handled wooden spoon.

But when we dunked these little gems into hot cider or coffee, we knew Christmas was upon us.
top line gives instructions: 10 min.  375º 
By following this recipe one can make a great honkin' heap of cookies, one tablespoonful at a time, shaped into balls or rolled out to 1/4- to 1/3
-inch thickness and cut into your favorite shapes. I think we made about 200 of those walnut-sized jawbreakers at a time. In later years, the Bat would often toss at least half the dough into the freezer, so we could continue to have fresh warm cookies for the next few months.

More recently, though, we've reduced our intake of coffee, cider, and other beverages worthy of dunking. This makes it hard to get our teeth through the traditional spicy stones. Therefore, The Bat adapted the formula (and halved it) so that we could eat the treats just like any other cookies, should the need arise. Of course, they're still awesome when dunked, but now mere mortals can partake of these fine treats without damage to enamel or jaw, when just snitched from the cookie jar. 

And, they do make pretty nice decorations on a Christmas tree, if, when you roll the dough out and cut it with your shaped cookie cutters, you drill a hole near the top at least 1/4 inch in diameter (through which you can thread a ribbon or string when the cookies cool). They resemble gingerbread cookies in color, and you can decorate them the same way, but they're more durable, and they don't really go stale, even when left out in the air, for several days. For any longer, though, if you want to use them as edible ornaments, seal them in plastic before hanging them up, or give them to the birds and squirrels when the tree comes down.





Grandma Heitmann's Pfeffernusse (modern, kinder-to-teeth variation)

Ingredients:

1 pt dk Karo Syrup [dark syrup]
1 c sugar [granulated]
1/2 lb butter [1 cup, unsalted]
2 eggs, beaten
1 Tbs baking soda, dissolved in boiling water or coffee [just enough hot liquid to actually dissolve the soda – about 1 Tbs.]
1 tsp allspice 
3/4 cup ground pecans
8 c. all-purpose flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375º F.

In a large bowl, cream syrup, sugar, and butter.  Add eggs, soda liquid, allspice, and ground pecans. Mix in 6 cups of flour, then gradually add in the last 2 cups of flour. The dough will be very thick and heavy, so you will probably need to stir it in by hand, at the very last. 

Using a 1-inch scoop [or a tablespoon], drop in balls onto cookie sheet.  [You can instead roll out and cut into shapes, but will need to adjust baking time – watch for the edges to turn color.] Bake 11 minutes.  Cool on rack. 

Makes about 8 dozen walnut-sized cookies.