Thursday, September 29, 2011

Classic Ginger Cookies

Ginger. Sweaters. Tea. Cinnamon. Dry leaves. Crisp air. Apples. Pumpkins. Caramel. Red wine. Harvest. Baking. Hearths. Sage. Nesting.

I love this time of year. And I'm ready for it. I just purchased my annual splurge of heavy-duty face moisturizer to get me through the winter (this stuff, if you're curious).  I pulled my sweaters and jackets out of a storage closet to get ready for another year of wear.  The heavy comforter is already on the bed, although we haven't yet put on the flannel sheets. Even the garden is slowly getting cleaned up, lazy gardener that I am.  Yes, I am ready for the cooler temps.  Bring it.

With the chill of autumn, I've been a tea drinking fiend lately, brewing up a couple cups nearly every morning, enjoying the simple pleasure of holding the warm mug in my hands. In general, I don't usually nibble anything with my tea, but recently I had a ginger cookie craving - a chewy, warm, spiced ginger and molasses cookie. I found exactly the recipe I wanted in the classic red-and-white plaid Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

As a general rule, I use butter in cookie dough, but I stuck with Crisco here to make the cookies softer and chewier.  The spice and sweetness level was perfect - reminded me of the spice cookies my grandma used to make. However, this recipe makes A LOT of ginger cookies.  I bundled up some extras in little fall colored cellophane bags with a couple teabags of chai and wrote a quick "Happy Autumn" note on tree wrap paper. Ben got a lot of smiles as he handed our little cookie gifts to friends and neighbors.

Ben helped me make the cookies and served as the official taste tester, too.  I thought he got his fill, but as I was snapping a couple photos for this blog post, suddenly a little marker-covered hand came into the frame.

I guess you could think of that as his official taste tester stamp of approval.

Classic Ginger Cookies
A perfect little baking project for a cool, grey fall day. Kids can help roll the dough in sugar - just watch so they don't nibble too much dough!  Nothing worse than a cookie dough stomach ache. 

4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups shortening
 2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
Additional sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl stir together flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat shortening with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the 2 cups sugar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and molasses until combined. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture.

 Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar. Place 1-1/2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned and tops are puffed (do not overbake). Cool on cookie sheet 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Makes about 120 small cookies.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kale Chips

Act I, Scene I

(Husband walks into kitchen. Wife is pulling kale leaves off stems.)

Husband: "What are you making?"

Wife: "Kale chips."

Husband: ".........................kale chips."

Wife: "Kale chips."

(Husband feigns a look of interest, nods, then exits kitchen to go putter in the garage.)


Wondering what to bring to that football tailgating party this weekend? Surprise your beer-guzzling, brat-eating friends with...kale chips!

Before you run away in horror, these suckers are addictive.  No, they don't taste exactly like potato chips, but if you like kale and/or greens at all, and you like crispy snacks, you'll dig these.  They remind me of Japanese cuisine - really light and delicate, fresh, a little salty. And I've been seeing them EVERYWHERE.  Food Network Magazine has them in the October issue, as does another national food magazine I was flipping through at Barnes and Noble the other day. Then I saw them on Joy the Baker's blog and thought it was a sign, a perfect trifecta of indicators telling me I must make kale chips.

I had regular 'ol curly kale from my CSA share in the fridge, although you can use any kind of kale.  I ripped the leaves off the stem, piled them on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled Old Bay seasoning generously over it all. I did make a mistake here, though - by piling them up, the leaves at the bottom of the heap steamed rather than crisped up.  Lesson learned - one layer of leaves at a time, please.

After about 15 minutes in the oven, I could definitely smell something cabbage-y.  I opened the oven to stir them around and was surprised that some where already crisping up nicely, even browned.  After a few more minutes, I pulled them out, gently laid them on a paper towel to cool and tried one. And then another. And then all the steamed bits. And then most of the crispy ones, vowing to make these again very soon.

Act I, Scene II

(Husband walks in from the garage. Wife removing kale chips from pan.)

Wife: "Hey, wanna try one of these?"

Husband: "Sure." (Takes a kale chips from wife's hand.) "Those are pretty good."

(Husband doesn't eat another one while wife continues to nibble happily.)


Kale Chips
Pull leaves off one bunch of kale and place on rimmed baking sheet with little overlap.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with Old Bay seasoning (or salt and pepper or whatever you want, really) and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until crispy and browned, stirring once during cooking. Cool on paper towels.  If you have any leftover, they should keep for a couple days in an airtight bag or container.

Maple Apple Bran Muffins

Hellloooo autumn!

So lovely to see you again. Yes, come in, come in and stay awhile.  

No, don't listen to those nay-sayers who talk up summer so much. You, my dear autumn, have so much to offer. The colors, the crisp air, the pure pleasure of pulling out the sweaters and cranking up the oven for fall baking. Don't tell the others, but I think you're my favorite season. 

I know you hear people complain that you are just a reminder of the oncoming dreariness of winter, but those folks are missing the beauty of the moment, don't you think? And frankly, I don't see why there is such a huff about winter anyway.  As we say around here, winter keeps the riff-raff out.  

Oh, don't worry about that early frost last week. I covered the tomatoes and they made it through just fine, and now the apples on the tree out back are ready to eat. My little one loves to roam back to the garden and pull himself a snack from its branches. 

Stay for awhile, won't you? You know you are always welcome in this house. I'm making a pot of tea and these muffins. The kitchen is warm from the oven and it smells divine.   

Maple Apple Bran Muffins
Adapted from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger. I bought this cookbook in Portland, OR when I was convinced I was going to open a bakery someday and traveled there to explore great bakeries. The bakery biz 'twas not to be, but this book is still my go-to reference for great breads. Instead of lining the muffin tin with paper liners, try greasing the cups with butter (not cooking spray) - the butter creates a crispy edge to the muffins that I adore.

1 1/2 C buttermilk
2 eggs
4 Tbls melted unsalted butter
 1/4 C canola oil
1/4 C maple syrup
1 1/2 C All Bran cereal
1 C peeled, chopped apple
1/4 C dried cranberries
1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C wheat or oat bran flakes
1/4 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C chopped or slivered almonds

 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease 12-18 standard muffin cups (will vary depending on the size of the tins). In a large bowl with a whisk, combine buttermilk, eggs, butter, oil, maple syrup, and cereal. Add the apple and cranberries and let stand 10 minutes.

 In a separate large bowl with a whisk, combine flour, bran flaks, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and almonds. Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir with a large spoon until evenly moistened, no more that 20 strokes.

 Spoon the batter into each greased muffin cup until just level with the top of the pan. Add a little bit of water to any empty cups. Bake 25 mins or until browned and the tops feel dry and springy. Cool muffins in the pan for 5 mins, then remove and cool completely on a cooling rack.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Our Favorite Grouse Recipe

This is the grouse meal we wait all year for, the one My Dear One keeps saying "You know how you make that grouse? With the wine and stuff? That's my favorite ever." And I nod and smile at the compliment of my culinary prowess, even though I know in reality he says this because if he ever wants to eat the same meal again in this house of constant never-eat-the-same-thing-twice rotation, he needs to make a special point to say so.

Grouse season in our house goes something like this: hubby packs up the truck, kisses me goodbye, and heads out to the fields with his brother while I stay home with the two-year-old (very 1883 homesteader housewife, I know, sans six more kids).  He then returns home with more stubble than usual, smelling of fresh air and sage, the coldness of the fall wafting in our warm kitchen with him when he walks in the door, that same chill sticking to his skin and embedded in his clothing.  In the back of the pick-up sits our happily weary Springer and a cooler of dead birds, basking in blood-tinted water.  He shares stories of the hunt while our child climbs into the back of the truck, excited to play "puppy" by caging himself in our portable dog kennel.  With that scene, surely we must look like Parents of the Year to any passers-by.

Whatever he brings home from the hunt, whether it be birds or venison, we always try to enjoy some of it fresh instead of freezing it all right away. As he cleaned the birds, instead of just cutting out the breast meat, I asked for the whole birds (or at least as whole as is reasonable with these small winged creatures) and the hearts, too.  We froze the hearts and a couple birds, and I prepared three fresh birds using, yes, Our Favorite Grouse Recipe.

But it doesn't stop there, oh no.  After dinner, I had three perfectly good grouse carcasses left on the plate. Time to make stock.

I placed them in a pot along with an onion cut in half, a bay leaf, and some peppercorns, covered it all with water, and let it simmer for a couple hours, creating grouse stock.  Then, after making the stock, I figured, what the hell, let's make soup. So I browned some Italian venison sausage, added the stock along with cubed potatoes, and let that simmer until the potatoes softened.  Then I added some chopped kale, cooked a few minutes long, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste and voilá - homemade soup for dinner tomorrow.

PS - not quite sure what I'm going to do with those grouse hearts, but you know I'll keep you updated.

Grouse with Tomatoes and Rosemary
I've posted this before, with a few tweaks, but I figure it's worth revisiting. Serve it with crusty bread to soak up the juice.

3 or 4 grouse, cleaned
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
3 Tbls olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
2 Tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse grouse, pat dry, season generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven and brown the grouse (no need to cook through, just brown the outside). Add garlic and onion, saute for one minute. Add wine, broth, rosemary, and tomatoes, cover the pot, and place in the oven for 45 minutes, or until juices from bird run clear. Remove rosemary sprigs and discard. Remove grouse and set on platter (can put in 200 degree oven to keep warm). Bring the remaining liquid to a boil and reduce by half, about 15 minutes. Turn off heat, whisk in butter, and serve grouse drizzled with sauce.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


This is what it's all about. Family gathered around a dinner table. Faces aglow in the candlelight. Sharing a meal, sharing stories. Laughter echoing into the evening.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Zucchini Pizza with Cherry Tomatoes and Feta

My mother is begging, pleading with me to take more zucchini.

Are you sure you don't need any more? 

"Yeah, pretty sure we're stocked up." 

I already took a load of zucchini to the soup kitchen. 

"Wonderful, I'm sure they appreciate that."

You know you can shred it up and make zucchini bread. 

"Yes mom."

A bounty of fresh food, what a great problem to have. Add in the fact that I've been itching to make homemade pizza for awhile now, and zucchini pizza seemed like a natural fit. 

Zucchini?  On pizza?

Actually, as long as it meant I was taking a couple extra zucchini off her hands, I could've been making zucchini ice cream and my dear mom would nod her head in approval. 

I love the idea of homemade pizza, like in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where Barbara Kingsolver gathers her family together every Friday night for homemade pizza night. In her book, everyone happily pitches in the pizza making, for all I know they probably play Pictionary afterwards and all, including her teenage daughter, are pleased as punch about it.  However, it's going to take some time for me to achieve family pizza bliss as honestly, I don't typically have much luck with homemade pizza.  Either my crust is too soggy, or my toppings too heavy, or my dough too sticky, and I usually end up thinking I should've just saved myself the effort and called Papa John's instead.  But eureka!  I had some good luck with this one, and I have one lady to thank: Ms. Deborah Madison.

I picked up her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone at the public library book sale last fall.  Since it's a hefty tome over 700 pages and as book sale customers pay by the pound (50 cents/lb for hardcover, $1.00/lb for paperback), it was a splurge...oh, who am I kidding, 50 cents/lb?  The whole cookbook probably set me back $1.50.  I can't even buy a cup of coffee for that anymore. 

The cookbook sat unused, hibernating on my cookbook shelf, patiently waiting for its grand entrance.  Winter past with our usual dinners of venison, pheasant, and other such meaty creatures that certainly I wouldn't find in the pages of a book titled Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  It wasn't a great reference for baking, either with only three, count 'em, three recipes the index under "chocolate."  In comparison, chard gets 14. 

But then, spring came and our CSA shares started coming in. What the heck am I going to do with all these beets and kale?  

I pulled that hefty cookbook down from its shelf and it hasn't left my counter top all summer.  Whatever vegetable I have just pulled out of my garden or received from my wonderful Riverbound Farm CSA share, I just flip to the index and find a dozen great ideas of what to do with it. It's my vegetable bible.  Ms. Madison's recipes are simple with straight-forward ingredients that let the vegetable freshness shine through, always with delicious results.  Olive oil and lemon juice make frequent appearances in her recipes, along with fresh herbs.  Many of the flavors lean towards a European-palate rather than the Asian-inspired flavors that we see more of today (this cookbook was published in 1997, almost 15 years ago) and the photography inside feels dated, but the recipes are perfection and I appreciate the fact that I can find nearly every single ingredient at my local grocery store.  

So back to the pizza.  If anyone could help me make a decent zucchini pizza, I thought Deborah could. I whipped up her simple pizza dough recipe, set half aside for two pizzas today, put the other half in the freezer for two pizzas next week.  I grabbed some yellow pear tomatoes out of my garden along with fresh basil, sliced up some of mom's zucchini, and got cookin'.  I neglected to preheat my pizza stone in the oven, so my first pizza ended up with that dreaded soggy crust, but the second pizza on the hot stone?  Perfection. All the flavors waltzed together on my taste buds, the crust was just the right amount of crispy, and I felt a twinge of satisfaction from finally winning a round in my ongoing pursuit of great homemade pizza. 

Zucchini Pizza with Cherry Tomatoes and Feta

Pizza Dough

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 to 1 cup whole-wheat flour, to taste
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour

 Pour 1/2 cup of the water into a mixing bowl, stir in the yeast, and set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining water, olive oil, and salt, then beat in the whole wheat flour followed by enough white flour to form a shaggy dough. Turn it out onto the counter and knead until smooth, adding more flour as needed to keep it from sticking. For a crisp, light crust, pizza dough should be on the moist side, which means it will be slightly tacky.

 Put the dough into an oiled bowl, turn it once to coat, then cover with a towel and set aside to rise until doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes. Turn the dough onto the counter and divide into the number of pizzas you want. Shape each piece into a ball, set on a lightly floured counter, cover with a towel, and let rise for another 20 to 30 minutes.

The rest of the recipe, making one 10" pizza

1/4 recipe Pizza Dough (freeze the rest for future pizzas)
3 small-to-medium zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
Olive oil for sautéing, plus extra virgin for the top
Salt and freshly milled pepper
4 ounces cherry tomatoes
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 basil leaves, torn or thinly sliced
2 ounces mozzarella, thinly sliced or diced
2 ounces feta or goat cheese, crumbled

 Preheat the oven to 500F with the pizza stone or pan preheating in the oven as well.

 Sauté the zucchini in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until tender and beginning to color, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Slice the tomatoes into halves or quarters and toss them with the garlic, a little olive oil some pepper, and half the basil.

 Roll or stretch the dough into a 10-inch circle, set it on a floured peel or pizza pan. Distribute the mozzarella and zucchini over the dough, then add the tomatoes. Bake on a stone or in the pan for 5 minutes, then add the feta cheese and bake for 3 minutes more or until crust is browned and cheese is bubbly. Remove, drizzle with little extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle on the rest of the basil leaves.