SFC: Cookie Day

                It’s not a true Holiday Season without at least one Cookie-based event, whether it’s the traditional “Exchange” or just baking a large batch for the upcoming party. A while back me, my sis, and cousins start our own little yearly thing of just getting together and all making different cookies. With my new pursuit into blogging and recipes during this year, I thought it’d be nice to list down all the recipes we brought over (and cookies are portable, so it counts towards my blog focus!). And no need to worry, I plan on keeping descriptions short and sweet (or copy and paste, haha), so very very little rambling with this one, except for the one or two things I ended up changing.

Chewy Ginger Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable shortening (preferably trans-fat free)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 large egg

1/2 cup blackstrap (robust) molasses

2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

1 cup raw or sanding sugar

             Arrange racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat brown sugar, shortening, and butter in a large bowl, scraping down sides halfway through beating, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

             Reduce mixer speed to low. Add egg, molasses, grated ginger, and vanilla; beat just to blend. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend. Mix in crystallized ginger (preferably some leftovers from when you made your own ;)); dough will be very soft and sticky.

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              Place raw sugar in a shallow bowl (if you don’t have raw, look to see if you can find any of those brown sugar cubes; I just found a bunch and crushed them up myself). Scoop out about a Tablespoon of dough into the bowl with raw sugar; turn to coat well. Roll into a ball. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with half of remaining dough and sugar, spacing balls 1 1/2″ apart.

               Bake about 12-15 minutes until spread and baked (not really sure on time, sort of lost this part in the recipe, haha).

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Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies

2/3 cup toasted (and de-skinned) hazelnuts (almonds or cashews should work decently as substitute)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no less than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped

3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/4 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup powdered sugar

            Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

            Melt chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

            Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

             Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

              Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

              Sift powdered sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and keep 1 half chilled, wrapped in plastic wrap (this is an odd step, mainly assuming you don’t have enough oven/pan space to make all the cookies at once, or something). Roll remaining half into 1-inch balls, placing them on a sheet of wax paper as rolled. Roll balls, 3 or 4 at a time, in sugar to coat generously and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.

               Bake until cookies are puffed and cracked and edges feel dry (but centers are still slightly soft), 12 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies (still on parchment) to racks to cool completely.

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Sage-scented Shortbread

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh sage leaves

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces, room temperature

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               Blend first 4 ingredients in processor – this probably isn’t too necessary for all the ingredients, but I would suggest finding a way to get the sage leaves processed some more (I placed them in my teeny weeny processor with a small amount of the flour). Add butter; using on/off turns, process until dough comes together – again, as I’ve mentioned with pie dough for those w/out a processor, or prefer using other means, this can also be done quite easily with your fingertips. Since the butter isn’t cold, though, one must be extra careful to use fingertips in a gentle but thorough manner. Divide in half. Shape each dough piece into log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill until firm enough to slice, about 30 minutes.

                Preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Cut each dough log into 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick rounds; place on sheets. Bake 25 minutes, turning/reversing sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden. Cool on racks.

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Salted Chocolate-Caramel Rounds

2 3/4  cups  all-purpose flour

3/4  cup  unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon  baking soda

1/4  teaspoon  salt

1 cup  butter, softened

1 cup  granulated sugar

1 cup  packed brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons  vanilla

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate chips

Coarse salt, Kosher or Sea

           Preheat oven to 375F.

           In a medium bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

           In a large bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated and brown sugar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture. If necessary, cover and chill for 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.

           The original recipe called for filling these with some sort of chocolate-covered caramel candy, which I just don’t want to do, so making our own caramel it is! But let’s not make just any caramel, how about some Dulce de Leche. There are a few ways to make it, but since it’s my first time I’ll stick with one of the simpler and easily controllable styles (as opposed to the uber traditional where you start off with a quart of milk and end up with under a cup… super awesome, but not this time).

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           Take your can of sweetened condensed milk, peeling it of its label, and punch three holes in the top; since you’ll be cooking this IN the can, you want holes for the pressure to release, otherwise… lots and lots of pain, and a big mess.

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            Place in pot of water, brought up a little bit below the rim, and simmer for 3-4 hours depending on how dark and thick you want it (I might even go longer next time). You’ll want to keep adding water throughout the cooking as it evaporates. Once it’s cooked long enough, turn off heat and let cool in water bath before opening up and scraping out. Make sure to mix thoroughly, various levels of caramelization from the bottom of the can to the top (or don’t mix, and separate out the different levels for various uses). Move to fridge and chill overnight, should firm up nicely.

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             Shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls, pressing with thumb. Spoon some thick dulce de leche into the center, along with a few pieces of chocolate chips and a sprinkle of salt, and enclose with dough. Place cookies 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, sprinkling with more salt either before or after baking; this year I used some leftover kosher salt I had smoked a few hours during a home bbq. Seriously, you should try SOME kind of smoked salt with this or other caramel dish, it works even better than regular sea salt.

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              Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool completely.

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               Well that’s how it should go, apparently my ideal with the dulce de leche didn’t properly come out… they sorta “exploded” in the oven. Very difficult to seal even with cool, thick caramel. In which case, if you find yourself in a similar situation (with these or any other kind of cookie), I ended up leaveing in a warm over for about 20-30 minutes and the caramel sort of “set” itself onto the cookie. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it wasn’t messy and still tastes good.

                For future fixing, I think next time I’ll pour the dulce into a flat pant (on parchment) and place in the Freezer overnight to firm up. After I should be able to cut it in small blocks and use for easier stuffing.

Butter Cookies

1 cup Butter

¾ cup Sugar

1 Egg

1 ½ tsp Vanilla

2 Tb Milk

3 cup Flour

1 Tb Baking Powder

Pinch Salt

                An old family favorite, made every year by my cousin. Super simple but super delicious, every single time.

                Preheat oven to 450F.

                Cream together Butter, Sugar, Egg, Vanilla, and Milk. In separate bowl, whisk together Flour, Baking Powder, and Salt. Slowly add this to the butter mixture, beating until combined.

                Shape dough into balls (large ones, like 1 ½ – 2in), place on cookie sheet and top with whatever sprinkles you can find (or just leave bare, your choice). Bake for 5-8 minutes.

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Kolacski

1 cup Milk

4 packages (1oz) active dry yeast

5 cups flour

4 Egg Yolks

3 tsp Baking Powder

1 lb Shortening

1 tsp Salt

1 cup Fruit Jam (any)

Powdered Sugar

                No, I don’t know how to pronounce it either…

                Warm Milk, just above room temp. Add/”Dissolve” Yeast in and set aside.

                Stir together dry ingredients, cut in Shortening until mixture is “mealy” (cornmeal texture I assume). Stir in Eggs and the Milk-Yeast, assuming by this point it has “bloomed” properly (yeast inside should be a little thick, some bubbles may be seen on top, etc).

                Knead the dough until it comes together, probably until smooth, and refrigerate overnight (which I do not believe my cousin actually did, but they still taste pretty damn good).

                Preheat oven to 350F.

                Re-knead the dough on a flour dusted countertop for a few minutes, gently allowing it to punch down and rest. Once done, carefully roll out to ¼ in thickness.

                Cut dough out in circles, placing a teaspoon of Jam (I think this is funny, because it has a specific measure of jam but nothing said on how big the circle should be) in center. Fold dough over like an empanada and seal edges with fork (also a bit funny, because the picture shows it folded differently, with two sides coming together in the middle like a Danish or Cannoli, which I’m sure also works well).

                Bake 12-15 minutes. Do NOT store in Airtight container, as they will become soggy. Dust with Powdered Sugar for service.

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Well, that’s all the recipes we went through this year, it was as fun as ever, and I can’t wait until next year to do it again with my family and share even more cookie recipes on here! Good Luck with your own cookie creations, and Good Eating come the Holidays!

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State Fair Experience 2013

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         The Great Minnesota Get-Together is on once more to a bevy of local crowds! What can I really hope to try and say about this event known for its yearly display of Produce, Animals, Baked Goods, Music, Food, and of course, random carts filled with odd Inflatables…

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           After many years of distraction from a certain other (-cough-Medieval…) Fair, I only just returned to the food-fest that is the State Fair in 2012. It was so good to put my recently developed skills in food research, “restaurant” mapping and strategization into this event which I had been absent so long. Thank god I was able to do two days of it then, with how many things I had on the list, from now on I can focus purely on new foods and reserve the favorites for whenever.

           Speaking of New Fair Foods, I thought it would be fun to recount all my finds and experiences of this year, both new and old, famous favorites and hidden treasures. It won’t be a list of “every important food you should know” or whatever, but maybe I’ll hit something you haven’t seen yet, and you can share your own opinions on them or adverse experiences if you want!

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             Well, I went with my sis early on a sweltering summer morning, needing breakfast… so of course we had to have ice cream! Hamline Dining Hall sells Izzy’s Ice Cream flavors, and this year had their new Mini Donut Batter Crunch! Had to get it with a patented Izzy scoop of Salted Caramel, since Sis wanted to try it and they taste awesome together. The ice cream itself was as creamy and delicious as always, and I was very satisfied with the authentic mini donut flavor they were able to get through.

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              On that train of thought, the Ballpark Café shelled out 12oz glasses of Nordeast’s new Fair-special Mini Donut Beer. I was gonna have it right after the ice cream, actually, but they didn’t start selling until Noon, the bastards. But I got it later, in a glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar. My thoughts leading up to it were quite doubtful; not in the idea of a beer flavored with donut, that would be awesome. Apparently their “criteria” for naming it Mini Donut was simply this: it’s the same color, it’s really malty, and then we put cinnamon sugar on the rim.

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               I was very pleasantly surprised. Even if the beer, on its own, is probably only average or a touch above in quality, it was interestingly delicious with the cinnamon sugar. They actually combined to create this extra little note that truly did remind me of the donuts in a fun and different way. Definitely a good Fair drink.

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               The Sis then dragged me into the Food Building, away from my list to grab something from the hall of wonders. One of her Fair items of note, and not too bad a grab from the Food Building Standards (besides the Nitro Ice Cream, oh god), a Jerked Chicken Roti from Harry Singh’s Caribbean Restaurant. We also got a glass of their Ginger Beer, but that was just ok; could tell they just made a ginger-flavored syrup and turned it into a (non-carbonated) soda.

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                Next was a trip to Mancini’s, which debuted a plethora of new items this year. For me, the focus was the Porketta Pig Wings, basically small pork shanks cooked super tender, on the bone, with a flavorful spice mix seasoning. God these were good, so tender and flavorful; on seeing them I almost wished (and thought before) that there was a sauce, but they really don’t need it AT ALL. Great walk-around food, would be fun to see out of a Truck.

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              Oh, they also have a Gelato area with multiple areas. Another good place to get ice cream, along with one of my favorite discoveries last year: “Lingonberry Ice Cream.” A great stop for the locals who love it, but especially for any tourists/out-of-towners who haven’t had lingonberries yet.

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              With a disappointing attempt at their Sweet Corn Ice Cream last year, I once more returned to the Bluemoon Dine-in Theater (with food in front and a screen displaying old movies in the back) to try this year’s new “wonder item:” Comet Corn. Finally, we have another stand besides Nitro playing along with liquid nitrogen, taking a bowl of it and briefly dunking in Caramel Corn to freeze instantly for a fun, chilled Fair Treat. Or at least, that’s the idea… apparently, despite originally advertising it as Caramel corn, it’s also Cheese popcorn and Pretzel gold fish. All of the items of which being that cheap, mass-produced stuff one finds in giant tins; which, if it was just the caramel corn, I wouldn’t have minded. I sorta like it as a junk food, and it works well with the Nitro freezing; you even get to breathe a little bit of that fog, so fun.

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             I think I’ve sort of figured out something about Bluemoon, because I’ve had two years in a row where I’ve been quite excited to try them and both years I’ve been quite disappointed. It’s just how their items are; each year they come up with this new thing that sounds “so different, so unique, so childish and fun or retro” or whatever, it gets hyped up by them and other people. But at the end of the day what’s actually being made is just… not really that exciting, either in what it really is or how they do it. The Cereal Killer ice cream last year; it’s just mass-produced cereal flavored ice cream. The Sweet Corn was grainy and disgusting; I love corn flavor for desserts, but you have to do it right (I don’t understand how Zimmern liked it; did I just get a bad batch?). And now there’s this Comet Corn, charging us $5 for a small cup of super cheap popcorn.

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                Well, I needed something to cheer me up, obviously. So I thank my lucky stars my next stop was Ole’s Cannoli for their new Candied Bacon Cannoli! A Fair standard for years, they provide a perfectly crispy shell filled fresh-to-order with a deliciously smooth, sweet cream cheese filling. I expected them to sprinkle candied bacon pieces on the ends (as the picture advertized…), but they did something even better! They basically just took a whole strip and laid it in the cannoli before filling; this way we’re guaranteed bacon with each delicious bight. I hope they bring it back next year.

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                My sis needed coffee apparently, and a stop to one of her two Must-have items every year, Grilled Chocolate (and Raspberry) Sandwiches, so we stopped at Moe and Joe’s. Luckily for me, they also carried the new Grilled Glaze Donut, next on my list. Which was… quite disappointing. No real flavor comes from the grill, and the donut itself is just a basic, unimpressive donut, not really one you crave. Though it is better dipped in the strawberry sauce they give, and it’s only $2 so a good item for those on  budget (but you get what you pay for). As for the Grilled Chocolate Sandwich, normally it might be something I suggest, but I think the quality decreased this year… I could actually taste the “Hershey’s Syrup” aspect of it (could swear they used a different chocolate before). Though I usually stop by each year to see if they have different sandwiches; the Marshmallow Fluff one was tasty.

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               The next stop was another favorite of my Sister’s, and I think one of the great little hidden gems of the Fair. If you’re ever thirsty for something besides water, try heading to the International Bazaar, go to West Indies Soul Food, and grab a big cup of their Caribbean Lemonade (also with pineapple and I think maybe mango). It’s super tasty. They also sell a really good Jerked Pork Chop, for those who like Pork Chop on-a-stick and wanna try something different.

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               It’s no trip to the Fair without a Corn Dog (FINE, or a Pronto Pup… evil), and this year a new stand has revealed itself to sell their own Flavored” Corn Dogs. These include one with extra Corn, a Jalapeno and Cheese, and (as they highly advertise) a “Double Bacon,” which I of course had to get myself. Supposedly they advertise a hot dog, wrapped in bacon, dipped in a batter which has itself been mixed with chopped bacon, then garnished of course. I myself… didn’t taste any of it. I could see the bacon in the crust, but none of the flavor came through; the hot dog and fried batter was too strong. Plus, I don’t think they actually wrapped the dog in bacon… definitely a stand I suggest one avoid. Stick to a regular Corn/Pronto Dog.

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              Also had some of Sweet Martha’s of course, but forgot to take a picture… oh well we know they’re delicious.

              The fact that I even got through all of this, even if I only partially consumed most of it, in 4+ hours was just numbingly tiring. Thankfully we had to leave early, because I needed to lay down after the hot day, but there was ONE MORE stop I needed to make before being completely satisfied.

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               That’s right, Famous Dave’s. I so loved their Pork Knuckle dish last year, was sad to see it was a one year thing but very happy to get their new Cajun Pork Rinds. Though damn they give you a lot of them! Squeeze a bit of that lemon over (the acid cuts through the fatty fried skin really nicely, not to mention the spice) and dip into that White BBQ Sauce, and damn these are good. I think they actually do fry the skins themselves, at one point, but even if it is just mass-produced bought and flavored I don’t mind, it was a very tasty and happy experience. Though I had to take half of it home to finish… Sadly, I don’t think they’ll have them next year, but it’ll be interesting to see what new seasonal item they have in their place.

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               Well, that was my 2013 year at the Fair. My list of staples has expanded, though many new items have been cut, but either way I can’t wait to see what comes up in 2014! What’s your favorite foods, new and old?