Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pfeffernusse (German Spice Cookies)

Of all my Christmas memories, the dearest to me are all in the kitchen.  Ever since I was a very little girl, my mom and I have spent the best parts of every Christmas cooking and baking together.  When I was small enough to sit up on the counter to help, she taught me to form balls of dough for molasses crinkles between my tiny little hands, then roll them in sugar and place them baking sheets.  She'd help me shake cookies like these pfeffernusse in bags of powdered sugar and arrange them on a special plate to take to church for the potluck after my Sunday school Christmas pageant.

Over time, my sisters have joined in (our poor brother stays faaaaar away until it's time to taste test) and our cooking and baking endeavors have become more complicated.  My sisters and I couldn't be more different and we haven't always gotten along.  I know these holiday kitchen sessions have been such an integral part of bringing us back together and I am beyond thankful for that.  In the past couple of years, we've brought my sweet little niece into the fold.  I hope one day I'll be able to make similar memories with a little one of my own.

This recipe is not the one my mom and I would've used all those years ago, but I think it's my new favorite.  These cookies are fully and boldly spiced, but not in an overly aggressive way.  They stay soft in a container for several days and the flavor only gets better.  Plus, I get to shake them in a bag of powdered sugar just like I did as a little girl sitting up on the kitchen counter all those years ago.

Soft, sweet, and spicy, there's nothing not to love about these nostalgic Christmas cookies.

from What's Gaby Cooking?

1/2 c. dark molasses
1/4 c. honey
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. fresh, finely-cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp. anise extract
1 c. confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1.  In a large, heavy bottomed pot over low heat, combine the molasses, honey, and butter.  Stir together until the butter is just melted and the ingredients come together, making sure the mixture does not boil.

2.  Remove the pot from the heat and pour mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer.  If you will not be using a stand mixer, pour into a large metal or tempered glass bowl.

3.  While the molasses mixture cools, sift together the flour, both sugars, cinnamon, baking soda, cardamom, allspice, cloves, ginger, black pepper, and salt in a separate bowl.

4.  When the molasses mixture is nearly cooled to room temperature, stir in the eggs and anise extract.

5.  In three additions, add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture.  Mix on low until everything is combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl before each addition.  The dough will be quite stiff.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator at least two hours, up to overnight.

6.  Preheat the oven to 325° F and prepare two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.

7.  Using a small cookie scoop, scoop out portions of dough.  Roll each scoop between your hands to form a ball.  Place each ball on a baking sheet and place two inches apart.  Bake 12-14 minutes, then remove each baking sheet and set on a wire cooling rack for five minutes.  Once the cookies begin to firm up, remove from the baking pan and place directly on the rack.

8.  When the cookies are completely cooled, roll each in powdered sugar or place in a large plastic bag, a few at a time, and shake to coat.  (These are great jobs for little helpers.)

Yield: approximately four dozen cookies

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Classic Apple Pie

Like many of you, this time of year always gets me in a sentimental and reflective place.  Life isn't perfect--it wasn't really designed to be--but I have so much to be thankful for.

I made this pie in the kitchen of the house I own.  I was standing in my kitchen, freezing cold, because I had scheduled to have my front door painted.  I figured it would be the perfect day to take care of the door.  Lo and behold, our first freeze arrived that day and having the door open while it dried meant my little house was more like an igloo.  But yet, I was in a house I owned, with plenty of warm clothes to pile on and a refrigerator and pantry full of food to cook.  As soon as I could close the door, I had a working heater ready to go.  I am fortunate.

The crust I used in this classic apple pie was just one of six recipes I'd made that ice cold day in the kitchen.  One crust was for the freezer reserve and one was for this pie.  Three more were for the best friend anyone could ever ask for, and the last one was for my best friend's mom.  I met this amazing friend of mine freshman year of college.  We've been by each other's side ever since that day and I can truly say I owe my life today to her.  She and her sweet family put me back together when I was completely broken and helped me become an even better version of myself.  The compassion, humility, strength, and generosity they showed me is something for which I will always be indebted. 

The finished pie was for Friendsgiving with an amazing group of individuals who took me in to their already tight knit group.  We met in a newly-formed Sunday school class at a church I just adore.  They had already traveled the world together on Habitat for Humanity mission trips.  They opened their arms to me when I was new to Dallas and made me feel like it was okay to toss my safety net out the window and enjoy life again.  That hasn't stopped for even a second.

Now I'm with part of my family.  My family who, though we disagree, will always rally around each other.  My family who is always ready for fun and will find a way to make it if it isn't readily available.  My family who owes all we are to a mom who has sacrificed beyond comprehension, demonstrated grace beyond words, and shown us all an immeasurable amount of love.

I hope all of you have just as much to be thankful for.  I hope you and yours travel safely and find yourselves gathered around a table overflowing with food to nourish your body, memories to replenish your soul, and love to fill your heart.

This classic apple pie, brimming with tender apples and warming spices, and enveloped in the flakiest butteriest crust is sure to bring back memories of the happiest of Thanksgivings.    

Classic Apple Pie
Apple a Day original

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/2-in. cubes
1 TBSP all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 TBSP tapioca
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 TBSP bourbon (or lemon juice, if you'd prefer)
1 egg, lightly beaten
raw turbinado sugar, for dusting

1.  Preheat oven to 400° F and the rack in the center position.

2.  Roll out one crust and place into bottom of a standard pie dish (this is not a deep dish recipe).

3.  In a large bowl, mix apples, flour, cornstarch, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg, and bourbon.  Pour mixture into bottom crust.

4.  Roll out top crust.  Roll part way over the rolling pin and place on the pie.  Trim and seal edges and slice a few small vents into the top crust.  Alternately, use small cookie cutters or pie dough cutters to create desired design for a top crust.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with raw sugar.

5.  Place the pie dish on a baking sheet and put into the oven.  Bake 30 minutes, then check.  If the pie is browning too quickly, place foil over the top to prevent the crust from burning.  Rotate the pie 180 degrees and bake 15-20 minutes more.

6.  Remove from the oven and place pie dish onto a wire cooling rack.  Let cool at least one hour before serving.       

Monday, November 7, 2016

Meatless Monday--Sweet Potato-Coconut Waffles

It's tough to choose a favorite thing about fall, but waking up on a crisp morning, going for a run, and coming home to open all the windows, make a pot of hot coffee, and cook up a leisurely breakfast to enjoy in my backyard is definitely up there.  And yes, you could certainly argue that last sentence is way more than one thing.  But this is my blog and my favorite thing, so I'm going with it.

I'm a big fan of fall foods, and I'm happy to use them in any and every way I can.  I'm hard-pressed to pass up just about anything made with fresh, peak season apples, pumpkin, squash, cranberries, or sweet potatoes.  Since breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, eating any of these foods on a cool fall morning is bound to put me in my happy place.  

But here's the deal with these waffles--I'd eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  They're that good.  With just 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, they aren't overly sweet.  In fact, they really aren't sweet at all, meaning a healthy smattering of butter and maple syrup won't take them over the top.  But if you want them sweeter, by all means, up the brown sugar and use sweetened coconut.

Since they aren't sweet on their own, they could easily cross over into savory, as well.  In fact, I'm dreaming of omitting the pecans and topping them with some Jamaican jerk chicken or omitting the pecans and coconut and making them a base for Nashville-style hot chicken.  I'm also mulling over waffle bite-pulled pork appetizers and a sweet-tart mini waffle with cranberries and an orange glaze.  

Basically, I'm trying to work them into every holiday gathering I'll be a part of this holiday season.  I don't think anyone will be mad.    

Step up your waffle game this fall with this these hearty and uber flexible waffles packed to the brim with mashed sweet potatoes, flaked coconut, and toasted pecans.

Sweet Potato-Coconut Waffles
adapted from Spicy Southern Kitchen

1 c. white whole wheat flour 
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 TBSP dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly-grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs, separated
1 c. plain yogurt (not Greek, which is too thick)
1/2 c. milk
1 c. mashed sweet potato
1/4 c. butter (1/2 stick), melted, plus more for brushing waffle iron
3/4 c. toasted unsweetened flaked coconut, plus more for topping (optional)
1 c. toasted chopped pecans, plus more for topping (optional)
butter, for serving
warmed pure maple syrup, for serving

1.  Preheat a waffle iron (I use a Belgian waffler) according to manufacturer's instructions.  Place a baking sheet in the oven and turn to warm setting or preheat to 200° F.

2.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together flours, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, yogurt, milk, sweet potato, and butter.

3.  Add the wet ingredients to to dry in three additions, stirring just until mixture incorporates each time.  

4.  Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold egg whites into batter, then fold in coconut and/or pecans, if using.

5.  Once the waffle iron comes to temperature, brush with melted butter.  Pour in proper amount of batter and cook according to manufacturer's instructions.  Repeat for each waffle.

6.  To keep waffles warm during cooking, place directly on to baking sheet in preheated oven.  To serve, top each waffle with a generous pat of butter, maple syrup, coconut, pecans, and/or any toppings you desire.

Yield: 4 full Belgian waffles

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Boo Bark

It's been way too long since I posted a fun holiday-themed treat around here, wouldn't you say?  Let's fix that right here and right now.

Even though Halloween is at the bottom of my list for holidays, I certainly can't resist making a cute chocolate confection to share.  My reasons for not being a Halloween fan all center around not liking scary things.  Haunted houses and horror films--not in a million years.  Those studies that say mostly everyone likes being scared...I put myself squarely and safely in the minority group that doesn't like it.  Not one. little. bit.  I'm not a big fan of tricks, either.  But treats?  Heck yes!  Besides, this boo bark has a short ingredient list, is simple to make, and features categorically harmless white chocolate ghosts and fun sprinkles.  Nothing to be frightened of there!

I haven't worked with chocolate in quite some time.  I must say, I've lost a bit of my touch so the bark and ghosts are a bit thicker and clunkier than I had hoped.  But it's still chocolate, so we can't be too mad, right?  I doubt your little ghosts and goblins will mind a little extra sugar anyway...

An easy, fun, and festive treat to spoil your favorite little ghouls and boys.

Boo Bark
adapted from Bakerella, via People Magazine

16 oz. milk, semisweet, or dark chocolate, chopped
6 oz. white chocolate, chopped
black sugar pearls or quins
Halloween sprinkles and/or candy

1.  Line a rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper, leaving a couple inches of overhang on each end.

2.  In a double boiler, melt the milk, semisweet, or dark chocolate.  Alternately, microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each interval and taking care not to scorch the bottom.  Spread the chocolate evenly over the prepared baking sheet.

3. Melt the white chocolate using your preferred method.  Spoon 10-12 small circles of white chocolate on to the milk, semisweet, or dark chocolate.  Using the back of a spoon or a toothpick, gently touch the white chocolate (try not to push down into the dark chocolate) and pull, forming a ghost tail.

4.  Place black sugar pearls or quins to make ghost eyes.  Sprinkle desired amount of candy and/or sprinkles on the dark chocolate.  

5.  Let the bark set completely before cutting into pieces.  Store in an airtight container up to one week.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Meatless Monday--Weeknight Tortellini Soup

When it comes to fall and winter, I'm pretty happy to consistently eat meals served in bowls.  Oatmeal, soup, stews, chilis, braises, and the like--I just can't get enough.  When the weekend comes, I love to set the slow cooker going or put a pot of something on the stove to cook low and slow all day long, filling the house with comforting, homey aromas.

But I also have a job that takes me away from the house five days a week.  And while I love to cook, I don't always want to dive into a complicated recipe after a long day at work and a workout that has left me spent and starving.  Fortunately, comfort doesn't only come from recipes that take all day.

This easy tortellini soup takes no more than ten minutes to prep and can go from ingredients on your counter to a meal on your table in 30 minutes flat.  With the help of canned crushed tomatoes and your favorite store-bought tortellini, all the ingredients will last in your fridge or pantry for at least a few days, which means you can grocery shop over the weekend and still have everything you need to make this on a hectic Thursday night or a lazy Friday night at home.

Fall comfort and weeknight ease come together in this simple vegetarian tortellini soup that goes from ingredients to your table in 30 minutes or less.

Weeknight Tortellini Soup
adapted from Gimme Some Oven

2 TBSP olive oil
1 small white or yellow onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 (28-oz.) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
5 c. vegetable broth
1/4 c. roughly chopped fresh basil
1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, plus more to taste 
1 package refrigerated or frozen cheese tortellini
2 c. fresh baby spinach or chopped kale
freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1.  Heat a stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil and bring to temperature.  Add the onion and sauté until it becomes soft and translucent, approximately 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more.

2.  Add the tomatoes, broth, basil, beans, salt, and both peppers to the pot.  Bring the mixture to a simmer and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.  

3.  Add tortellini and spinach and continue simmering for 3-5 minutes, according to tortellini package instructions.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

4.  To serve, ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan cheese.

*Note: The leftovers of this soup keep well up to three days, though I like to store the tortellini in a separate container to prevent it from getting mushy.

Yield: 6 main dish servings