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01 Dec 2010 Gingerbread Cookies (with Royal Icing)

It’s December first, time to start the Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies posting.  I should be excited!  I should be baking!  My house should be filled with the smell of molasses, peppermint, gingerbread, chocolate, butterscotch, and so on!  My counters should have piles of freshly baked cookies on them!  My freezer should be ready to received tins of stacked cookies!  But, I’m, afraid, this is not the case…

On Sunday a pipe burst under my kitchen.  On Monday the fence guy noticed it.  On Tuesday the plumber said, “It’s bad. Call an excavation company.”  The excavation company and the insurance company will be here this afternoon.  I can’t use the sink.  The wall between my kitchen and garage is going to have to be knocked down.  The money I was going to spend on butter, sugar, vanilla and flour is now going to have to multiply and pay for pumps and plumbers and pipes, oh, MY. Not sure how many cookies I am going to get baked in the next twelve days, not sure how happy I am going to be over the next twelve days. This is SO not a good thing…

BUT! I did make a head start on my Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies special.  So…, with fingers crossed, let’s get started! And let’s hope we can finish 🙂  Ready, set, BAKE!

EVERY Christmas cookie plate needs an old fashioned Gingerbread cookie.  I have been using this recipe for years.  The cookie is sturdy, bakes flat and although it has a pronounced gingerbread taste, it’s not overwhelming; kids can decorate it without it breaking, and kids will eat it without complaining! I found this recipe in a small spiral bound Christmas Cookie cookbook back in the 1980s or 1990s.  My daughter just baked 12 dozen of these cookies for two Christmas parties she’s catering.  She’s making the cookies, and the kids will decorate with royal icing and assorted candies and then take them home to their families.

If you don’t have memories of decorating and eating Gingerbread cookies from your childhood, perhaps you’d like to create that memory for the children in your life.  Start with this recipe.  It’s a good one.  If you do have memories of decorating and eating gingerbread cookies, then do the happy dance! I’m sure you are going to start, or already have started, creating the same memories for the children in your life. Use this recipe, use the recipe that your grandmother used…, just get started!  It is, after all, the beginning of the Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies!

Save this recipe; it’s not just for Christmas.  Cut the dough into pumpkins, bats, ghosts and witches… It’s perfect for Halloween!  The same pumpkin cutter, along with leaves, pilgrims and turkeys, make it a good cookie for Thanksgiving, too.  And hearts, cupids, X’s and O’s, along with pink, red and white Royal Icing, make it a very good cookie for Valentine’s day <3

Gingerbread Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1 cup light molasses
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
4 ½ cups flour

  1. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy–at least 5 minutes.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stir in molasses and vinegar.
  3. In another bowl stir ginger, cinnamon, baking soda and salt into flour.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture.  (Dough will be very soft)
  4. Divide dough into fourths, and place into a large Ziploc bag and place in freezer for an hour.  (I prefer to let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator, because the dough is VERY firm, and difficult to roll when out of the freezer.) Dough can be made up to two days ahead.  When ready to bake proceed as below.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Gently roll dough to ¼ inch thickness.  Cut into shapes. Re-roll scraps. This recipe will make a lot of cookies, but the number depends on the size of the cookie cutters used.  I think you’ll get at least 4 dozen 3 inch cookies out of this recipe.
  7. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for ten to twelve minutes.  Remove to racks to cool.
  8. Store baked cookies in an airtight container.

Royal Icing

3 Tablespoons meringue powder (available at Michael’s, specialty baking stores and many upscale grocery stores)
1/3 cup warm water (or more, add additional water 1 Tablespoon at a time)
4 ½ cups (1 pound) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

  1. Beat ingredients together with an electric mixer.
  2. When combined increase speed to high and beat for seven to ten minutes.  Place in decorator bag with a decorator tip.
  3. Decorate cookies!
  4. There will be a lot of Royal Icing for this cookie recipe. (Almost double the amount you’ll need).  Gingerbread cookies look good with plain white Royal Icing, but icing can also be colored with paste food coloring.

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen today! Hopefully we’ll be able to meet back here SOON for some more baking!

20 Nov 2010 Turkey Dressing/Stuffing

Yesterday I went to Costco and Trader Joe’s.  Both places had samples of make-it-from-a-box turkey Dressing/Stuffing.  Did they think the samples would entice people to buy that stuff? What WAS it?  The texture was glue-y…, the taste was…, was…, there was no taste, it was just warm.  It’s no wonder we have a generation of kids who don’t like much more than hamburgers, fries, chicken nuggets, and soda.  If I were served that stuffing, I’d be longing for McDonald’s, too. C’mon, folks. We can do better than that.  I know I am preaching to the choir, but I was so taken aback at how horrible that boxed stuff was that I just can’t keep my mouth shut.

Here’s my recipe for Dressing/Stuffing for turkey or chicken.  It’s evolved over the years.  Thirty plus of them. I’ve made Thanksgiving dinner for 30 consecutive years.  That’s right.  Thirty years.  No break.  Before that, my Dad used to make the stuffing when I was a kid.  It was always sage and onion.  He boiled the onions, then chopped them, mixed them with breadcrumbs, lots of powdered sage-sometimes too much, cooked turkey liver and pork  sausage, and then used the onion water to moisten the dressing before stuffing it into the bird.  When I was a teenager, my friend’s mother told me her secret, she said to use crackers instead of bread in the stuffing, so I did, and still do, most of the time.  I have tried making this dressing with cornbread too, but it didn’t work out very well.  I had cornbread mush.  It wasn’t very appetizing. One of these days I will try the cornbread again, because it should have worked. I must have done something wrong.

My recipe is amazingly similar to my friend, Kayte’s, whose mother told me the cracker secret.  Kayte and I have been friends for over 40 years, but we had never compared stuffing recipes until she wrote hers down and shared it with our cookbook club. Kayte’s recipe evolved through the Irish women on her side of the family, mine evolved through English men, we overlapped a bit with the cracker tip, and we basically have the same recipe!  It’s a good one, too!

This is an old school dressing. Nothing too fancy, but compared to those samples of that boxed stuff, it’s out-of-this-world!

Advance Prep Tip:  Prepare and saute all  ingredients, then refrigerate (or freeze) until needed.  On Turkey Day, defrost if needed, and then just mix the prepared ingredients with the crushed crackers or toasted bread crumbs, stir in the fresh herbs, moisten with broth and eggs, and bake according to the directions below.

Turkey Dressing (or Stuffing)

  • 1 1 lb. box saltine crackers with salt (or 1 lb. loaf sourdough bread or 2 baguettes, stale, cut into ¼ inch cubes, and toasted)
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter or  olive oil or vegetable oil, divided use
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • about 3 cups turkey or chicken stock, divided use
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, chopped (not sliced–mushrooms should be about the same size as the onions and celery)
  • 1 lb. pork sausage (Jimmy Dean’s Sage is my preferred sausage)
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and grated
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh sage plus 1 teaspoon dried sage (or 1 tablespoon dried sage), or to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
  • ¼ cup melted butter (or bacon fat), optional
  • Directions

    1. Crush the crackers and set aside.  Hints…you want crushed crackers, not cracker meal. I crush the crackers in their sleeve over a large bowl, and when the package bursts I let them fall into the bowl and use my fingers to crush any larger pieces.  Set crackers aside.  If you are using bread cubes, pour them into the large bowl, and set aside
    2. Heat 1-2 tablespoons butter or oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  When hot, stir in chopped onion and saute until soft, about 8 minutes.  Stir in chopped celery, and saute for another 3 minutes or so.  Add 1 cup of hot stock to pan.  Stir to release any stuck on brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Let simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove mixture from pan and let cool.
    3. To same pan add a bit more oil, and the pork sausage.  Brown sausage over medium high heat and then set aside to drain on paper towels.
    4. Add more oil to hot pan, if necessary, and add chopped mushrooms.  Saute mushrooms until cooked.  Turn off heat and let mushrooms cool slightly.
    5. Add the onion/celery mixture, the drained sausage, the cooked mushrooms, and the grated apple to the cracker crumbs. Toss to combine. Stir in sage, parsley, and pepper. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
    6. In a separate bowl combine the beaten eggs with 2 cups of stock.  Pour this mixture over the crumb, meat, veggie mixture in the large bowl and stir to combine.  If needed, add a bit more stock for mixture to be uniformly moist and clumpy.
    7. Stuff turkey with dressing and bake according to directions on turkey package for your sized turkey OR pour mixture into a 9 x 13 inch pan**see NOTE below!. Drizzle with 1/4 cup melted butter and cover with foil.
    8. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes the uncover and bake for an additional 12-20 minutes.  If dressing looks dry, stir and add another 1/2 to 1 cup broth.  When baked dressing should be puffy and have a nicely browned top crust

    **NOTE:  This year I am going to put some of the stuffing mixture into sauteed mushroom caps, and then bake for 20 minutes.  I will use the stuffed mushrooms to make a ring on the serving plate, and then mound additional stuffing in the middle of the plate.  Won’t that look nice?  I expect the stuffing aficionados in the family–that would be all of us!–to go wild over this.

    Enjoy!  Happy Thanksgiving!

    16 Nov 2010 Sweet Potato Pie

    A friend asked me, “How does Sweet Potato Pie compare to Pumpkin Pie?” and I answered, “Sweet Potato Pie is Pumpkin Pie’s richer cousin.” How about that? Sometimes words don’t fail me! I got it exactly right!

    I looooooove me some Sweet Potato Pie.  The best Sweet Potato Pie I ever tasted was from Everett & Jones BBQ in Jack London Square, Oakland.  I wish I had their recipe, but since I don’t, I’ve worked hard at creating the best darn possible recipe for Sweet Potato Pie that I can.  It’s been years of trial and error.  Well, no error.  I’ve never met a Sweet Potato Pie I didn’t like.  It’s been years of upping spices and enriching the filling.  The latest enrichment has been to add a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger.  I saw that Cat Cora put fresh ginger in her Sweet Potato Pie, so decided to add it to mine.  I still like Everett & Jones’ Sweet Potato Pie better, but just a bit!  I suspect they must put at least double the brown sugar in their pie than what I put in my pie, but I don’t know for sure.  I think a field trip is in order.  I need to investigate this further.  After all, I am a serious food blogger now! As for Cat Cora’s pie, I think mine is better.  I don’t remember maple syrup, dark brown sugar, or whipping cream being in her pie.

    Here’s MY best recipe for Sweet Potato Pie, and here’s an oddity; this recipe is not made with sweet potatoes, it’s made with yams!  Use Beauregard yams; the long yams with the purple skins and orange flesh. Sweet Potato Pie is a “must have” on our Thanksgiving dessert table.   Walk away from the pumpkin pie, and say “Hello” to its richer cousin!

    Sweet Potato Pie

    • 1 unbaked pie crust in a 9 inch glass pie pan, chilled
    • 1½ cups cooked, mashed “sweet potatoes” / Beauregard Yams, about 2 large (To cook the sweet potatoes: microwave whole potatoes [don’t forget to prick them] about 6 minutes on each side OR bake in a 400º oven for about 1 hour. Cool and scrape the flesh out. I prefer to bake the potatoes, rather than microwave.)
    • ¼ cup pure maple syrup (Grade B has a more robust flavor)
    • 1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
    • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
    • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
    • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream

    In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix cooled mashed sweet potato with brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, spices, fresh ginger and salt.  Stir well to combine.

    Whisk in eggs and cream.

    Pour pie filling into prepared pie crust.

    Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until filling is set in middle and slightly puffed around the edges.

    Cool completely.  Cover and refrigerate.  Can be made up to two days ahead.

    Serve with slightly sweetened whipped cream-some people will declare their undying love and affection for you if your beat 1-2 tablespoon of Bourbon or Rum in with the sugar to each cup of whipping cream-or, better yet, cinnamon ice cream (see recipe on this blog).

    I hope you enjoy Sweet Potato Pie as much as I do 🙂  If you are ever in the vicinity of Everett & Jones, pulllleeeese  bring me back one of their sweet potato pies.  I’ll love you forever!

    30 Oct 2010 Doggie Cupcakes

    No recipe with this post, I just wanted to brag on my daughter Abby.  Look at the cute “Pupcakes” she made for her nephew’s second birthday party!  Isn’t she talented?  She got her inspiration from Martha Stewart’s book, “Cupcakes”.  BTW, these cupcakes were not cheap.  By the time she bought the ingredients to make the cupcakes and to decorate the cupcakes, she had spent $50.  (I know because she charged it on my credit card.)  $50 divided by 24 cupcakes is just over $2 a cupcake!  (But there are enough leftover ingredients to make another batch or two.) They also took a lot of time, it took her and a friend about 4 hours, just to decorate the pupcakes.