The Trick to Ginger Snaps

…is to remember that most cookie recipes are a little bland. That means you want to take the elements that give the recipe its flavor and amp them up. Use very fresh (dried) ginger. Use more ginger. Don’t use plain sugar or plain fat. Doing all that, a recipe like this one becomes something more like this, where I had to make a second batch on request a few days later:

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (not cassia, if you have real cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup dark molasses

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or these awesome things


Sift together the dry ingredients. Fresh dried ginger will be sticky and tend to clump up, which you don’t want in your cookies.

Cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the egg until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl, then the molasses. Add the flour mixture slowly until you have a soft dough.

Roll the dough between oiled hands into one-inch balls. Place three inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake for 1o minutes.

Allow to cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container for the short period of time it will take you to finish these off.

The Trick to Ginger Snaps

Cookie Time

For holiday gifts, my husband and I mostly give charitable donations. I say mostly because there are children in the connection who wouldn’t quite appreciate them in the spirit given, and there are a few people in enough need to warrant helpful gifts and a few people with specific gift traditions where ending them would leave a hole in the holidays. Mostly, though, we give donations.

Oh, also cookies.

Very soon, our kitchen is about to go into production mode. Extra butter, extra sugar, extra eggs. Fresh spices and nuts and fruit. A dishwasher running constantly. Cooling racks on every surface and pans rotating in and out of the oven.

People may not get commercial gifts from us. That doesn’t mean they don’t get our time and attention.

There will be the grandma cookies, of course. It isn’t Christmas without my Grandma Lylah’s “cottage cheese cookies” (so much better than that sounds). There may be ginger snaps, because it’s been a few years. Aside from that, however, I’m finding myself wanting to try new cookie recipes.

So, help a blogger out here. What are your favorite holiday cookies, and where can I find the recipes?

Cookie Time

Thanksgiving Recipe: Turkey Stock

Some people are done with their Thanksgiving cooking when the bird makes it to the table. Not here.

We cook two turkeys on the grill each Thanksgiving. The smaller birds are a little leaner (and, I think, more tasty), and we can flavor them differently. As I write this, we have one turkey sitting in a Moroccan-spice brine, and I’m about to go downstairs to shove minced garlic and rosemary under the skin of another bird.

When the birds come off the grill–always a little earlier than we expect–they get set aside to rest before being carved. Carving is most decidedly not done at the table. There just isn’t room on a platter to remove both breasts; joint the wings, thighs, and drums; and pull off the remaining small bits of dark meat.

Besides, carving turkey breast at the table generally means cutting along the grain instead of against it, which produces longer fibers. Our turkeys aren’t dry, but even for them, shorter muscle fibers make for more pleasant chewing. Our way, the breast is cut off whole, then cut into slices the short way. It hold the gravy better that way too.

A little skin is set aside for those who like it. Grilling, by the way, makes for very tasty, crisp skin. Then the rest of the skin, the necks, and the main part of the carcasses (plus any chicken, duck, and turkey bones that have accumulated in the freezer) are thrown in a stock pot with water to just cover them on low heat.

By the end of dinner (dessert comes a couple of hours later), the water in the stock pot should be near to simmering. While waiting for it to get there, we add a couple of onions, quartered, and some big chunks of carrot and celery. Bay leaves and peppercorns go in now too, as well as the additional bones from the meal and any wings and skin that people didn’t want to eat.

The stock never gets above a low simmer. We check the heat when it’s time to serve pie and when everyone packs up their stuff to leave. About an hour before bedtime, the heat is turned off. Last thing to happen before bed, along with another load of dishes, is that the stock is poured through a large colander into another, smaller pot, leaving behind all the bones and now very squishy vegetables.

Voila. We have stock, with next to no work aside from already cooking the turkeys. It may need to be boiled down a little before being turned into turkey wild rice soup, but that doesn’t take much more time and attention than making the stock itself did.

Thanksgiving Recipe: Turkey Stock

Thanksgiving Recipe: Apple and Caramel

So you liked the idea of cheesecake for Thanksgiving yesterday, but you want your pumpkin pie more traditional. That’s fine. I can live with that (as long as you use plenty of good spices in your pie; bland pie is bleah). You can also do an apple cheesecake and be just as tasty.

This recipe was modified from Emeril’s Caramelized Apple Cheesecake to use some caramel sauce we’d made, add more spice, and…well, because I mess with recipes.

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
5-1/2 ounces of ginger snaps, reduced to fine crumbs

2 tart, crisp apples (I prefer Haralson) peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1.5 cups apple cider

1-1/2 pounds cream cheese
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon
dash cloves

Mix butter and crumbs. Press into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Chill while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Poach the apple slices in the cider until flexible, just a few minutes. Set aside to cool.

Using a mixer, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time and fully incorporate before adding the next. Add the spices and beat well. (I like a little air in my cheesecake for added fluffiness.)

Take the crust out of the refrigerator and build a layer of apple slices on the bottom. Drizzle with caramel sauce. Add half the cream cheese mixture. Build a second layer of apple slices and caramel, and add the remaining cream cheese mixture.

At this point, you can add any additional apple slices to the top of the cheesecake, but they will result in cracking. It’s decorative, but it may not suit your cheesecake esthetic.

Bake for 80 to 90 minutes, turning a quarter turn every 30 minutes. When done, it should be only slightly jiggly in the center. The top may get quite brown.

Cool on the counter, then refrigerate. Serve with the caramel sauce.

Thanksgiving Recipe: Apple and Caramel

Thanksgiving Recipe: Pie and Ginger

The fall housecleaning is done. Our houseguests are here. That means it’s time to turn our attention to the Thanksgiving food. It’s time to repost a few of my favorite harvest festival recipes.

Since I improvised this with only a partial recipe and it won a contest (tied for first, anyway), I suppose I should capture it for posterity.

Spicy Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
1 9-inch pie crust (I recommend my husband’s, but do what you can)
16 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1# pie pumpkin
3 t Ceylon cinnamon
1-1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground cardamom
1/4 t ground clove
1/3 of a nutmeg, freshly grated
2 T chopped candied ginger (see below)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream the cream cheese and sugar. Incorporate the eggs one at a time. Mix in the pumpkin and ground spices. Pour into pie crust and sprinkle with the candied ginger. Bake for 50–60 minutes.

What I would change next time: The cheesecake was not as solid as it could have been, despite cracking around the edges. Next time, I’d lightly blind bake the crust, then bake the whole pie in a shallow pan of water to keep the edges from cooking so thoroughly before the center is firm.

Continue reading “Thanksgiving Recipe: Pie and Ginger”

Thanksgiving Recipe: Pie and Ginger

Thanksgiving Recipe: Grandma Lylah’s Cranberry Relish

The fall housecleaning is done. Our houseguests are here. That means it’s time to turn our attention to the Thanksgiving food. It’s time to repost a few of my favorite harvest festival recipes.

Or, how to make all the kids eat their cranberries while still entertaining adult palates. Seriously.

3 12-oz. bags fresh cranberries
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large can crushed pineapple
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 lb. mini-marshmallows

Wash and drain the cranberries. Grind using a medium die.

Mix in sugar and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Drain the crushed pineapple thoroughly. Mix the juice with some rum. This is for you, not the kids.

Whip the cream to very stiff peaks, just shy of butter.

In a bigger bowl than you think you’ll need, mix the pineapple and marshmallows into the cranberries. Fold in the whipped cream just until you have no large red streaks.

The end result is fluffy, unthreateningly pink and has distinct sweet and tart elements. Serves dozens and freezes remarkably well.

Thanksgiving Recipe: Grandma Lylah’s Cranberry Relish

Thanksgiving Recipe: Squash Ravioli

The fall housecleaning is done. Our houseguests are here. That means it’s time to turn our attention to the Thanksgiving food. Over the next few days, I’ll be reposting a few of my favorite harvest festival recipes.

I know it’s a little early, but I started cooking for Thanksgiving today. We decided, oh, about the time that winter squash came into season that we wanted to serve squash ravioli for one of the vegetable dishes. So today I picked up a couple of small acorn squash and baked them in a tiny bit of water until pliable.

Continue reading “Thanksgiving Recipe: Squash Ravioli”

Thanksgiving Recipe: Squash Ravioli

Grandma Cookies

It’s the time of year when almost everything else takes a backseat to cookie making. As I’ve mentioned before, most of the gifts we give are charitable donations, with cookies to sweeten the deal for the recipients. That’s a lot of baking in a short period of time, particularly if I’ve compressed my holidays by taking a week-long trip in the middle of them, as I did this year.

What am I making this year? Nothing too fancy; I go for variety of flavor over shapes, making at most one “presentation” cookie in a year. There are a couple of trusted standbys: almond sugar cookies and pecan sandies that Ben makes. There are the tweaked classics: Kiss cookies with a coffee cookie and dark-chocolate Kisses, crispy rice bars with chopped pistachios and dried cherries mixed in (‘Cause they’re green and red. Get it? Oh, never mind.). There’s the untried recipe: “Pumpkin cookies with orange icing? Huh. Sure.”

Always, however, are the grandma cookies. I’m sure they had a name at one point, but when I copied down my father’s mother’s recipe, I didn’t keep it. I’ve never seen anyone else make them, so they’ve stayed named after her. They’re a cake-like cookie, with a smooth texture and a mild but rich flavor due to the Dutch-process cocoa.

A few things to know if you’re thinking about making the cookies. This produces a stiff, sticky dough that has to be refrigerated overnight before baking. It’s too much for me to stir together by hand, and it makes my Kitchen Aid whiny. Admittedly, it’s an older stand mixer, but I wouldn’t want to try this with beaters either. Nor can I use my dishers to portion the dough for baking. The sweep comes off the track.

Natural cocoa will not give you the same flavor. If you can’t get Droste at your local market, consider ordering from someplace like Penzey’s (gotta love cocoa powder that is labeled “high fat”). Also, this uses a lot of dishes. Be prepared to take up counter space.

Wet ingredients:
12 oz. cottage cheese
1 c. butter (2 sticks, 1/2 lb.)
2-1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs

Dry ingredients:
4-1/8 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. Dutch-process cocoa
1-1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt

1-1/2 c. chunks (good chocolate chips, toasted nuts, chopped dried fruits that play well with chocolate)

Powdered sugar for coating cookies (about 1 cup).

Pull the butter and eggs out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. In the meantime, whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl and set it aside.

Dump the cottage cheese into a sifter and work it through the holes into the mixer bowl using the back and edge of a table spoon. Add the butter. When that is roughly mixed, add sugar and mix until the texture is smooth (sugar will still be visibly granulated). Incorporate eggs one at a time.

Slowly add the dry ingredients. Expect to clean cocoa off all the nearby surfaces when you’re done, but working in small amounts will help. When the dough is a consistent texture, add the chunks at once. Stop mixing as soon as they’re incorporated.

Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350F with racks just above and below center.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls. I use nitrile gloves, as the dough really is that sticky. Roll the balls in powdered sugar to coat. Space about 1-1/2 inches apart on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes. May be moved to a cooling rack right away or cool on the pan briefly.

Makes about 7-1/2 dozen cookies.


Grandma Cookies

Tweeting the Nobel Conference

Life is still busy. Yesterday and today are the Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. This is an annual event, coinciding with the announcement of the winners of the year’s Nobel Prizes, pulling together a number of scientists to talk about a particular topic. This year is “Making Food Good.” Next year is “The Brain and Being Human.”

Each scientist gives a lecture, but what follows may be the coolest part: All of the invited scientists then get together for a panel discussion of the lecture, asking questions outside their fields and trying to fit the information they’re hearing into their framework of the topic. The presenting scientist also takes questions from the audience. That audience includes an internet audience, as the lectures are all streamed live.

What the lectures are not, despite the presence of lots of students from the college and from local high schools, is live Tweeted. At least, they weren’t. After missing part of the first lecture due to an accumulation of delays yesterday morning, I checked the conference hashtag, #Nobel46. There was nothing. So I took over.

I’ll blog the lectures later, with additional information, but if you want to follow along in the meantime, that hashtag is your place to be.

Tweeting the Nobel Conference

Artichoke-Crab Spread

Or, the joys of a well-stocked pantry.

It’s holiday party time again. I was planning to bring cupcakes with a cream-cheese-based frosting to a party today, but one of the hosts started talking about all the baking she was doing, including cupcakes. Never “compete” with your host’s cooking. So I was stuck for something to bring. I’d just gone grocery shopping, so I didn’t want to head back to the store. After looking around, here’s what I came up with.

Artichoke-Crab Spread

1 8-oz package of cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1 can crab meat, drained and liquid given to cat
4 cloves garlic
1-1/2 t. dried thyme
1 t. lemon juice
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Throw the cream cheese and sour cream in a bowl. Use one just a little bit larger than you expect to need. This isn’t easy to mix.

Chop the artichoke hearts, chokes more finely than leaves. Add artichokes and crab meat to the bowl.

Mince the garlic. Chop the thyme slightly to break up the leaves. Add.

Drizzle lemon juice over the contents of the bowl. Add a heavy pinch of salt to begin. Go lightly on the pepper. With the thyme in the mix, you won’t need as much as you might think.

Mash the ingredients into the cream cheese to break it apart. Once you’ve achieved a uniform consistency to the mix, taste. Add more salt and pepper if needed, but be aware that the flavors will not have blended yet.

Rest in the refrigerator to rehydrate the thyme and pepper for at least one hour.

Spread on crusty bread and nom.

Artichoke-Crab Spread