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.

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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Recipe Card: Lemon Squares

Every busy cook/baker/chef has a collection of favorite recipes. Back in the day, we wimmenfolk had boxes or books in which we tucked cards and cut-out pages from trusted sources, as well as, occasionally, from the pages of newspapers or magazines. These days, with so many of us living in limited spaces, or living a transient existence, it's hard to keep amassing those recipe cards, so we turn to the new media – to blogs, for example. 

Still, there are some of us who live the life of transition. The Bat and I, even having divested ourselves of several hundred lovely cookbooks (donated to the local Friends of the Library, for loan or sale as they saw fit), still have several hundred hard-copy volumes in our collection. And, even with all that, the treasure is not actually any particular book, but the stuff we wrote down for our own regular (mostly seasonal) use. I filled three cheap blank books with my tightest scrawls, so as to avoid losing family recipes.

The Bat had a little spiral notebook of cards for her most popular cookies. Somehow, it spent three years in purgatory, beyond our reach, beyond our ability to find it.

Then, in trying to fiddle with an electrical plug behind a six-foot bookcase, I happened upon that old spiral notecard book. Before I handed her treasure over to her, though, I took a few snapshots, so we'd have the recipes on record the next time disaster strikes...and it will. It always does.

I reckon I shouldn't publish all of them in one blog post, though, because then, I will have lost only a single small element when I screw something up online...and I will. I always do.

It's how I learn.

Since the cards are in Battish kitchen English (aka Mom's shorthand), as I post each one, I'll try to make sure to fill in any communication gaps there might be. Any explanatory stuff [in brackets] is my own, not from the Bat, so keep any negative comments about that directed at the snarky editor, not her long-suffering kitchen instructor.

So, without any further fuss, I present (wait. Play a fanfare in your head. This is worthy of a fuss)....


Lemon Squares

In case the picture isn't all that clear for you, the recipe goes like this:

Ingredients for cookie base:*

3 c. flour [that would be all-purpose flour]
1 1/2 c. shortening [I like using butter, but you can use your favorite solid shortening, if you lean that way]
3/4 c. conf. sugar [confectioner's, or powdered sugar]

Directions for cookie base:

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Blend well, and press into jelly roll pan [cookie sheet with sides, approx. 13"x18"]
Bake 20 minutes. 

[While that is baking – about halfway through this baking process – assemble the filling.]

Ingredients for filling:

6 eggs [large or extra large]
3 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbs. lemon juice

Directions for filling:

Beat together well [until slightly frothy. If you're energetic, this can be done by hand. If you're me, a regular hand-held mixer will take only a very short time]
Pour over crust & bake 20-25 [minutes] more. DO NOT overbake. Filling puffs while baking but flattens upon cooling. 

[Many other recipes recommend lightly dusting the top with powdered sugar. The Bat & I like our lemon bars with a tad less sweetness, a little more zip.]


*I like to add finely grated zest of one lemon to the dough for the base. But if you're not inclined to do so, it's still not a bad idea to zest the lemons before juicing them, then store that zest in an airtight container in your freezer, for some future recipe. It always seems, to me, to be a pity to waste something as lovely and aromatic as citrus peels.