Sunday, November 30, 2008

and so it begins...

In the weeks before Christmas my pantry begins to fill with cocoa powders, sugars, molasses, and spices, my fridge fills with pounds of butter, blocks of shortening, and dozens of eggs. And then it begins. Holiday Baking. Four weeks of doughs and batters, mixing, melting, rolling, piping, icing, and...tasting. It's a production, certainly, but it just wouldn't be December without a counter constantly full of cooling cookies, and I have to admit, I love every minute of it.

So I'm happy to share one of my favorites with you here. I make these cookies every year, and more often than not, they are the ones I choose to kick off the baking spree. Spicy and sweet, warm and soft, they are an old favorite and will make your kitchen smell like Christmas.

Molasses Raisin Gems

(The original source of this recipe has been long lost - I received this version from my mother, but if anyone knows the origin of this one, please let me know and I'll be sure to give proper credit)


3/4 Cup vegetable shortening
1 Cup granulated sugar
1/4 Cup molasses
1 egg
2 Cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Cup raisins
Turbinado sugar for rolling (approximately 1 Cup)

Beat shortening and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy. Add the molasses and egg. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt in a separate bowl and gradually add this mixture to the shortening mixture. Add the raisins to the dough using a wooden spoon to incorporate. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 1/2 an hour or until well-chilled.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
When dough has been chilled, remove from the refrigerator and roll into 1 1/2 inch balls. Roll the balls in the turbinado sugar, one at a time, and place 2 inches apart on greased or lined cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies will appear cracked on the surface and should still be quite soft when removed from the oven. Allow cookies to cool for a minute, then carefully remove them using a spatula, and let cool completely on wire racks.
This recipe should yield approximately 36 cookies, and they do freeze remarkably well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

bitter greens and ginger knobs

Judging by the next recipe here, and according to the old adage that 'you are what you eat,' some might be tempted to call me saucy and bitter. (Of course, some might call me that without any edible prompting... But only after a really crumby day at work...) Really I'm normally quite pleasant :) and so is this little bowl of greens and tofu:

I know some folks are just never going to love tofu, and that's okay by me, but I adore it and use it often in quick stir-fries. If you prefer, substitute chicken, pork, shrimp, or even beef - heck, you can even omit it altogether! These greens are so tasty, they're great on their own.

Broccoli Rabe and Tofu Stir-fry


2 Tb. vegetable oil (soy, peanut, canola, grape seed, etc.)
1 large bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), chopped
4 scallions, chopped (green and white)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and minced
1 package firm or extra-firm tofu, sliced and patted dry
3 Tb. dry white wine (optional)
4-6 Tb. Tamari
1 Tb. cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 Cup water

Heat oil in a large wok over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli rabe and scallions and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted and just cooked (3-5 minutes depending on how soft you like your greens). Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant - about 30 seconds. Add the tofu and cook until heated through. Pour in the white wine (if using) and simmer until nearly evaporated. Add the Tamari and the cornstarch/water mixture and bring to a simmer, stirring constanly. Continue to cook until sauce has thickened to your liking. Remove from heat and serve with steamed rice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the fruits of November

No recipe here, but I thought I'd share with you the little fruit platter I made for my Grandparents' 50 wedding anniversary this past weekend.
I was a little concerned when handed this assignment, as November isn't really known for it's bounty of fruit around here. I made do with one of my favorites - cinnamon-dusted apples, some pecan halves, dried figs and Turkish apricots, and a crisp bunch of red grapes.
Accentuated, of course, with some of the many leaves now decorating my yard...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

soup season

Sometimes simplicity is in order.

6 ingredients.

A bowl of broth, a hint of heat, and spoonfuls of tiny pasta and cauliflower.

Perhaps it sounds unremarkable, but one of my favorite spots serves a version of this soup that I continually crave. I find it warm and familiar like my favorite quilt. The broth is nourishing and satiating, but the flecks of red pepper keep it from being a bore. And if you don't mind pasta that has become a bit more than al dente, this soup is even better re-heated the next day.

Sicilian Cauliflower Soup


6 1/2 Cups homemade clear chicken broth*
1 large head cauliflower, cut into very small florets
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 Cup uncooked ditalini pasta
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes (more or less depending on your tastes)
salt and pepper

Bring stock to a simmer in a large stockpot. Add cauliflower, garlic and red pepper flakes. Continue to simmer with the lid on, until cauliflower is tender.

While cauliflower cooks, boil the pasta: fill a separate large pot with fresh water and bring to a boil. Salt the water and cook the pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Drain pasta and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper.

*Quality of the ingredients is essential in this recipe as there are very few. The success of the soup will depend on the quality of the broth.