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!

SFC: The Only Reason Christmas Should Enter November

                I LOVE Fruitcake. I decided to make a proper recipe for it last Christmas and I’m doing it again this year because I now really LOOOOOVVVEEE Fruitcake!

                If you are unable to relate to this sentiment, then I implore you to find a way to share this excitement, because it IS possible. And the time to do it, if any, is NOW. Because, if you ask any of them, all true Fruitcake bakers (the good stuff, not… “that”) know that Fruitcake season isn’t truly around Christmas; it’s the month (or more) beforehand!

                In fact, I’ve already mixed and baked my fruitcake, it’s just that this post has been a while in the actual creation. There is a reason for this of course, but why ruin the surprise now? Here’s the recipe I’ve been using so far (maybe I’ll try a different one, or two, next year for fun):

Fruitcake a-la Alton Brown

4 Cups Dried and/or Candied Fruit

Zest One Lemon + Orange

¼-½ cup Candied Ginger (homemade be best)

1 cup Rum

1 cup Sugar

5 oz/ 1 ¼ sticks Unsalted Butter

1 cup Apple Juice/Cider

4 whole Cloves, ground or equivalent

6 Allspice berries, ground or equivalent

1 tsp ground Cinnamon

1 tsp ground Ginger

1 ¾ cup AP Flour

1 ½ tsp Salt

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Baking Soda

2 Eggs

¼-½ cups Toasted Nuts, broken/rough chop

Delicious Liquor, like Brandy

                One of the biggest separations between the fruitcake that makes you drool and the ones you expect to put a dent in the floor if dropped (not for that reason of course… that’s a whole other problem right there) comes in the very first step: the actual Fruit. With a recipe like this, you have 4 whole cups of stuff to play around with, whatever you want… DON’T SCREW IT UP!! And by that I mean don’t, for the love of god, get any of those bright Green and Red “Candied Cherries” that serve to only mark what not to eat on the Christmas Table. Or any other really shitty mass-market candied products of things in fake colored syrup.

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                A good note is to just stick with dried fruit, it’s easy to find, can grab multiple different kinds, and always good with some of the “manipulations” we put them through next. If you can find, or make, some good quality candied fruits or other items, do so. It wouldn’t be too bad to switch out the citrus zests for candied versions of themselves either.

                With that little rant out of the way, we can move onto the first step for a brief period of time: combine all the dried fruit, zests, and candied ginger in a bowl. The latter of these ingredients is practically a necessity, and very easy to find in any Surdyk’s or Co-op… but then again, we could always make it ourselves.

                IMMEDIATE INSANE RECIPE INSERTION!

Homemade Candied Ginger (also a la Alton Brown; what can I say, he’s put up some thorough and fun recipes for a lotta shit)

1 lb Fresh Ginger

5 cups Water

Sugar – Equal weight to Ginger (after first phase)

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                Much like fruitcake I love candied ginger, so I just had to make this at some point, and the holiday season seemed just right. A note: when scaling this recipe up or down, I find the amount of water for boiling doesn’t seem that important with ratios, so just round up or down as you see fit.

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                Take however much Ginger you’re using (in my case, a loootttt) and peel it all; a spoon works really well at getting all the little corners while scraping very thin pieces of skin off, but the downside is it can take quite a while to get through all the ginger with just that.

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                Evenly slice all of it to 1/8” thick pieces; the original recipe recommends using a mandolin, which can work well if you have the nice, “young” ginger that’s smooth through and through, and/or a really nicely sharp mandolin. However it’s not so smooth going when you have the older, fibery ginger, and with how dangerous a mandolin can be if things don’t go smoothly I’d suggest only slicing SOME of the root on there to give an idea of thickness and then carefully slice the rest yourself. Though I’d say the more important thing isn’t how thick it is but just that they’re all about even.

                Place in pot, cover with the water and lid and cook on med-high for at least half an hour, or until “tender.” I’m still not exactly sure what that means as far as ginger is concerned, but sorta at the point when it seems noticeably softer than before (not so “crunchy” when you stick with a fork).

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                Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking liquid and drain the ginger. In a normal case I might implore you to save the leftover ginger-water to use in a number of flavorable applications, like syrups or stock bases, but then I tried a taste… do not, I swear do not use this for anything other than the recipe. It is just sharpness and burning and mouth pain all in a tiny spoonful; I swear I’ve had un-thinned whiskey straight from the barrel (for your reference, all liquors have water added afterward to get it to a proper alcohol content and flavor balance) that went down easier than that. Seriously.

                At this point you’ll want to carefully measure/weigh this out, figure out the exact measurement before weighing and equivalent amount of Sugar.

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                Damn… that’s a lot of sugar.

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                Recombine ginger with water and sugar in pot and bring to a boil. Which yes will be possible, I know it might not seem so at first but after the sugar is added and starts to dissolve you’ll end up with quite a decent amount of liquid in the pan.

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                Reduce heat to medium and cook for what could be 20 minutes up to an hour, stirring every now and then to start and then more frequently as it goes on. It’s hard to describe what it looks like as it gets close to the desired result, but you’ll know; the ginger’s color is different, the syrup is shinier and reduced, sorta thicker, looks and feels like it’s staying on the bottom. At this point you do NOT want to leave it at all; keep stirring, giving it a few seconds between to lay flat and let more sugar cook and evaporate before stirring some more. The moment you start seeing any signs of crystallization, do not stop the stirring.

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                This is the step you’re looking for, all the water evaporating and the sugar recrystallizing around the ginger pieces. Just like watching sugar caramelize, this will happen in the span of only a few seconds, thus you’ll want to keep it stirring fast so no sugar is left liquid and no ginger is uncovered and quickly turn out onto a cooling rack set over a pan, letting the excess sugars fall through.

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                Well, this is my excuse for a cooling rack; the only one we have has very wide spacing, more for actual pans then things like cookies and candied ginger. I figure I’d try out a makeshift way of turning it into a tight interlocking grid.

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                And this is all the ginger turned out onto it. Suffice to say the rack didn’t survive or serve its purpose too well, but that’s okay. The ginger wasn’t harmed and I was able to still collect all that excess Ginger Sugar (which you definitely need to save, it is awesome, such as a garnish for ice cream and stuff, or rimming cocktail glasses). Separate and store ginger in an airtight container for future use, like in my Fruitcake.

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                Considering how much I ended up actually making, and my adoration of its flavor, I actually ended up substituting about a cup of my dried fruit for extra candied ginger.

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                Soak all your fruit and citrus in Rum, or a 1 cup mixture of Rum and any flavored liqueur you enjoy; I’m using a bit Harlequin Orange as my own little substitute for the orange zest I didn’t have. Leave at least 4-6 hours, but ideally overnight, making sure to shake the container every now and then to ensure more fruit gets in contact with the delicious alcohol.

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                Move all this into a large pot and combine with butter, sugar, spices of choice, and your Apple “Juice.” Or in my case, Cider; a combination of both the alcoholic kind, for fun a deliciousness, and the non, for its inherent musty apple richness.

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                Bring to a boil and stir for about 5-10 minutes. Take off heat and let cool for at LEAST minutes. And though the recipe says to add the butter in the beginning, I actually sorta prefer keeping it cold and adding it to the mix while it’s still warm, mixing it in fast to let it properly emulsify into the fruity alcoholy syrup, like making a beurre blanc.

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                This can of course be done ahead of time, the important thing is that the mixture isn’t hot or even noticeably warm as you move onto the next step. One ready, turn over onto 325F and continue.

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Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a strainer/sifter and sift over your fruit, stirring it every now and then as you do. This could be done by transferring the mix to a large bowl beforehand, but I just like using the cooking pot; no need to wash another pan, and this way I know EVERYTHING is still in there. After mixing add the Eggs, one at a time, to make a complete batter.

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                Finish by mixing in your Knuts (traditionally, toasted Pecans) and transfer to a prepare loaf pan. Hopefully the pan is non-stick and/or you’ve been able to butter/spray it VERY well, but I had some issue with my cake from last year so I decided to line it with Parchment Paper as a just-in-case. This way I know it comes out whole.

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                Bake for at least an hour until toothpick test works. Definitely an “at least,” mine usually takes another 20-30 minutes more due to how thick it ends up. Ya wanna wait until it has that nice, evenly deep chestnut brown color on top, just like that… I mean how beautiful is that?

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                Then you let it cool before taking it out, slice into it, and just take a look at that kaleidoscope inside. That sight alone just calls me, and makes the next step even more difficult.

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                Shove this in a Tupperware or other covered dish, stick it in the fridge, and don’t touch it for a month. That’s right, you heard me, LEAVE IT ALONE. Well, not completely alone, for every day you must take this out of the fridge, open it up, and spritz it with a fine layer of Brandy (or any other alcohol/combo of your choice. This year I’m doing Hennessee Black and Kirschwasser). Which is why I’d say this recipe alone is worth going out to get yourself a spritz bottle to reserve just for cooking purposes.

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                This is why you do this a month beforehand, to give your big, rich, soft yet dense and sweet little fruit cake time to “age” and absorb each fine addition of complexly flavored alcohol, its flavor slowly evolving over the days. Not much at first, but after a week you start to see its appearance as different than what you remember, and if you were to try it halfway through… it might be too much temptation for the cake to last until Christmas.

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                Though technically you’re only supposed to spritz every couple days when it looks “dry”… but who the heck wants to give it that many days without a drink? Give it a whole month’s worth of boozy additions (the spray as is only ends up as maybe a teaspoon or so); hell, last year I did this TWO months ahead of time.

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                And by Christmas you’ll have something that the whole family will be craving. Now, I just have to see how much of my cake actually lasts until then. I do plan on turning some of it into a fun Street-Food-Related post afterall (it’d be unfair to my other recipe posts if I didn’t), so look for that in a week or so.

                Now if you’ll excuse me, my cake needs some more Brandy.

The Holiday Dilemmas

                Thanksgiving has come and gone (besides the weekend get-togethers some are required to have), and now is the time for leftovers. And as such it’s also the time for an army of bloggers, news shows, TV Chefs, restaurants, and anyone else we can think of to try and impress the reader/watcher with “fun new ways to use them!” Hell, I just saw a local bar’s facebook post on using them in 3 different cocktails.

                It certainly makes for quite the deluge of information and recipes which I doubt I could even begin to try and compete or add a proper installment into. Not that I wouldn’t love to try… how I wish I could fill a post with Turkey-Stuffing-Potatoes-Green Bean Casserole-Casserole, or make a giant Hoagie filled with everything, and Eggbake made with dinner rolls, even a dessert of candied yam custard with cranberry coulis.

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                Oh all the things I would like to make a post about… if only I had enough leftovers to actually do it with. The majority of our Tupperware is filled with baked butternut squash (not candied with marshmallow, just plain butternut squash… not really the traditional/cliché thanksgiving fair) and some mashed potatoes. 3 rolls and enough Turkey for about only one or two sandwiches accompany only enough leftover stuffing (and GOOD stuffing too! With sausage…) for a midday snack.

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                Sooo no real recipes today, I haven’t been able to do that much with what I’ve got besides some roll sandwiches and a sautéed hot dog-stuffing mix. I did think of a fun little portable pocket item though.

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                Take whichever rolls one has used on hand and split in half (the best are those firm, round rolls with the crispy crust; can cut them like a clam shell easily) and pull out the fluffy insides, leaving just the hollowed out crust. From here I easily stuff both sides with small amounts of practically everything we have left; a little turkey, some stuffing, potatoes, gravy, squash, cranberries, even half a green bean.

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                I then reattach the halves and fill whichever openings I can find with the bread insides, effectively hiding all its stuffing into what looks like a regular bun (not sure what situation you’d need the trick for, but it’s still fun). From here, we could enjoy it as is like a cold sandwich (I can’t say I haven’t done this around midnight) or move into a 300-350F oven for a while, warm the bread and insides up while crisping the outside.

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                It’s not much but a pebble in the deluge of possibilities, but it contains the fun possibilities one can do for a quick minute snack. Besides, if I’m not recounting some of the things I do at home, what’s the point of having an outlet like this in the first place?

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                I hope all of your Thanksgivings have gone the best they can, and wish you luck in your leftover devourment. Experiment to your heart’s content or just shove everything into a baking dish, enjoy the food the best you can!

                Until the next holiday season or whichever recipes come before, Good Eating to all.

Wednesday Rally after a break

         First, let me apologize for my absence this past week; with the Independence holiday ALONG with an intense Midterm on Monday I had to spend a week studying for, I haven’t exactly had much mental time to put reviews or things together.

         That said, it’s about time I update and recap on a few things I’ve noticed in my away time! Though I of course can’t give a full count on all the Truck-related events going on during the 4th (way too many, and again was busy).

           I still have yet to see any full review on how the 2nd Food Truck Fair went, though some facebook comments are quite enlightening. It seems despite the hopeful attempts and free admission (or possibly due to it), once again we see long, crowded lines and waiting. Consensus is high that they once again piled all the trucks in too tight an area, and need to either reduce these numbers or, better yet, spread the area out (like a “throughout Uptown” thing). I am thankful I did not have to witness it myself, and hope they’re able to try and improve the event even more the coming year. Oh well, though, at least no one had to waste money on the debacle (well, besides those wanting drink wristbands).

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Gogi’s just added Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps to their Menu! Great idea for them, though they still serve the things in a damn giant styrafoam box…

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          Moral Omnivore has got a fun, snazzy new menu design!

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           And I just popped down to the Wednesday Lunch by the River! For those who haven’t attended it yet, their weekly line-up includes 128 Café, Fork in the Road, Gastro, Vellee, and Simply Steve’s (though they didn’t show on the day I went). All parked on Kellogg and Wabasha, the ORIGINAL Lunch-by-River location! Oh how nostalgic it was by that odd little cement triangle… so conveniently next to Rice Park too (not that there were many trucks there today).

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         That’s about it, how was YOUR Food Truck experiences during the Holiday Week?

          Oh, and reviews for Lulu’s and 128 will be coming soon.