Oh Snap.

Gingersnap, of course!

My mother has thrown down the gauntlet, and challenged me to a gingerbread house contest. The deadline is New Year’s Eve, and I’m in the process of testing out gingerbread recipes, because mine has to win. Not every recipe is cut out for a career in architecture, so I’m finding other uses for the copious amounts of gingerbread dough in my fridge.

This particular recipe, the gingerbread from Bittman’s How To Cook Everything (which, side note, is becoming my new favorite resource, even though I totally used to say I wasn’t into cookbooks), makes perfect ginger snaps. I’ve been dipping them in my morning coffee.

The Recipe: Gingersnaps, adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe featured in How To Cook Everything

Yield: 4-5 dozen
Time: 40 minutes

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar, plus 1 tsp for sprinkling
1 cup mild molasses (or blackstrap for more savory gingersnaps)
1 tsp baking soda
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt

Do This
Cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and ginger — which, by the way, smells really awesome.

Mix the baking soda with a couple of tablespoons of warm water, and add to the butter/sugar/molasses mixture. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, and blend well. Shape the dough into a big lump, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 350, and remove your dough from the fridge. While the oven is preheating, let the dough hang out and soften for a few minutes, then roll out to your desired cookie thickness. Gingersnaps are supposed to be fairly crisp, so I like to aim for about 1/4″ or thinner. Cut out desired shapes (I was boring this time and went with round, but you can use cookie cutters if you like) and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with sugar, just for fun. Bake for 8-10 minutes (until the edges of the cookies start to turn golden brown) and cool before tasting. The cooling step? Not optional. If you try to sneak a cookie before they’ve cooled off, you’ll discover that they’re so soft that they’ll break into little mushy, delicious bits.

Of note: I chose to do round cookies with this recipe because the dough didn’t want to play nice with the more intricately-shaped cookie cutters. It was alternately too hard (right out of the fridge) or too sticky (after 10 minutes) and I couldn’t get the dough to the consistency I was looking for. But, that’s the way the cookie crumbles! I’ve got plenty of gingerbread recipes to try out, so expect to see an abundance of festive treats.


Amazing Braising

I finally used my dutch oven for the purpose it was (likely) made for: I braised beef short ribs in merlot.

I am still amazed that this piece of kitchen equipment is suited for stove-top use, but that’s kind of that it’s made for.

Meat that is so soft you can break it apart with a fork? Wine-soaked veggies and smashed potatoes? Yes, please.

Bonus: the leftovers are just as good. The beef didn’t dry out in the microwave like I feared it would.

Bonus #2: if you save the sauce, it makes a delicious baked potato topper.

Thanks again for the dutch oven, Gma! You are the best :)

Quick update: I’ve gotten some emails asking about the process. I (loosely) followed the braising directions from my trusty
How To Cook Everything, but I’ll be editing this post soon with the how-to’s.

Butter and Shortening. Not The Same.

So, I learned some things yesterday.

(1) My parents have not done much baking since I moved out of their house.

(2) Shortening does, in fact, have an expiration date. Even if it’s not printed on the container.

(3) Rancid shortening is one of the most foul things on the planet.

(4) Butter is only a semi-acceptable substitute for shortening.

All that aside, it is possible to make choreg without using shortening. It just doesn’t have the same dough texture — the dough is sticky and less friendly to work with. Simple solution: instead of braiding the choreg, make little roll shapes.
So…if your shortening happens to have gone rancid, and you’ve already started mixing everything else (cough, cough…who checks their ingredients first?), you can switch out the 1/2 lb of shortening for 1/2 lb (2 sticks) of butter. To compensate, you’ll need to add some extra flour — I honestly can’t tell you how much because I was just adding a tbsp at a time until it worked, but it was enough to make the dough not stick to my hands. Best guess? Another cup of flour.

(5) My old camera is not nearly as good as the other one. Everything looks so blurry!

On the bright side: no matter how ugly and pointy the choreg might look before they go in the oven, they’ll smooth out and look better during the baking process. I was seriously concerned with the sticky factor, but it looks like it’s not that big of a deal after all.

Want that choreg recipe? It’s right here.

Okay, So It Takes More Than 5 Minutes

From start to finish, the artisan bread isn’t exactly the 5-minute deal that the book’s title implies, but I am so in love with how the bread tastes that I am completely unbothered by this. And, to be fair, the authors do clear up the whole 5-minute thing in the book — it’s 5 minutes of active work and a bit more time for rising, resting, baking, et cetera.

Time breakdown for my 5-minute-a-day bread:

Ingredients mixed together: 10:25pm
Dough rises in plastic container for 2+ hours: 1:26am
Dough is retrieved from fridge: 12:51pm
Ball of dough rests on pizza peel: 1:07pm
I remember to preheat oven: 1:47pm
Dough slashed and placed in oven (after extra rising time): 2:07pm
Bread retrieved from oven: 2:39pm
Delicious bread sliced and consumed: 3:26pm

Total time from start to finish: 17 hours 1 minute
Total time spent on bread today: 2 hours 35 minutes

I suspect that things will go much more smoothly (and faster!) next time I bake. I dragged things out by forgetting to preheat the oven. And sleeping.

The best thing since…well, you know.

Of note: I need a good bread knife. I used a steak knife to slice this because apparently I didn’t feel a need to own serrated blades before this.

My favorite thing about this bread is the moist, chewy interior. The so-called “custard crumb” effect that the authors described is surprisingly not difficult to achieve — I got it in my first try! The recipe is delightfully simple, and possibly fool-proof: I’m one to make every possible mistake (like not putting enough cornmeal on the pizza peel, or forgetting to preheat the oven), and my loaf turned out just fine, if a bit mis-shapen.

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Dinner in Miniature

Bite-sized bonanza! Small foods smorgasbord! Petite party treats!

Whatever you want to call it, my offering for this month’s Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 event is a selection of little dishes, all intended to be eaten in a single bite (or two!). Flatware-free eating, to encourage mingling at a fun little soirĂ©e.

I have a tendency to be super indecisive about what I want to eat at any given time (Bacon! Pesto! Cheese! Fried food! Cake! Did someone say bacon?), so I’m a giant fan of tapas, dim sum, and small plates in general. Lots of little bites, packed with flavor = the way to go.

And when I’m hosting? I want to show off my favorite flavors and play around with new techniques, but I also want to enjoy the party. So, without further ado: Dinner in Miniature, a selection of bite-sized treats for an evening get-together without the formality of a sit-down meal.

Olive You

Infused olive oils pair with bread, fresh mozzarella, and grissinetti to make a dipping tray worth gathering around.

Wanna make these hot-infused oils?

Start by selecting a flavor (I went with fresh ground black pepper, crushed red pepper, fresh basil, but you can get creative and try your favorite herbs and spices — or a blend). Pour a small amount of olive oil (2-3 tbsp) into a saucepan, and heat on low until the oil starts to bubble a bit. Add in a few herb leaves (or a few shakes of dry spices), and cook for several minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat before the spices turn brown (trust me — this does not smell good), and pour into a bowl or serving dish. Strain the oil if the herbs and spices are too large, or if you prefer a clear oil for dipping — I like to leave a bit of the herbs in, just to indicate what the flavor is. Pour in a tablespoon at a time of plain olive oil, taste-testing until the infusion is just right. Need more oil for lots of dipping? This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, or expanded as large as you need; just keep the ratios consistent with your favorite small batch.

To Eetch Their Own

Okay, so maybe this one requires more than one bite, but I’ve been dying to use the tomato-as-a-bowl thing for a while now.

I borrowed the eetch recipe from my great aunt Rose (also known as AR). Eetch (which has a Wikipedia entry!) is one of my favorite Armenian dishes. It’s excellent served cold, almost like a bulgur salad — it’s refreshing, and provides a nice, cool contrast to the heavier, warmer plates. Want AR’s recipe? Click here.

Everything’s Better With Bacon

Next up: a duo of bacon-wrapped goodies.

Scallops are a favorite, but they’re even nicer when wrapped in a bacon jacket.

These couldn’t be easier to make:

Season fresh scallops with salt and pepper. Wrap each with half a slice of thick-cut bacon, and secure with a toothpick (tip: soak the toothpicks in water before assembling to prevent burning in the oven). Broil for a few minutes, watching closely to make sure the bacon doesn’t burn. Flip each piece over, and continue to broil until the bacon is done (but not overcooked!) and the scallops are opaque.

More bacon-wrapped goodness:

Dates + almonds + goat cheese + bacon = win. Savory, sweet, and creamy, all at the same time.

The assembly line on this one is pretty easy, too. Slice bacon in half, slice dates in half, stuff dates with goat cheese and wedge almonds inside, close dates, wrap in bacon. Broil until the bacon is cooked.

Don’t Be Crabby…

Or do! These little mini crab cakes aren’t overloaded with breadcrumbs or fluff — the emphasis on crab makes them a little bit heartier.

Served in a ramekin with a slice of lemon — simple and perfect.

These guys are super easy to fry, and are done in minutes! (this recipe is also a bit too long for this post, but it’s inspired by the crab cake recipe in How To Cook Everything…check back soon, when I’ll change this text to a link to a new post with my recipe!)

Sweet Sippers

In shot glasses, of course!

Keeping with the one-bite theme, these bright-colored beverages were served in individual portions.

Blue: a citrusy blue “lemonade” with citron vodka and blue curacao.

Red: a cran-apple liquid Jell-o shot, made with cranberry-flavored gelatin (un-set), vodka, and apple schnapps.

Green: a shot that I like to call the “starburst,” due to its similarity to the candy of the same name. Vodka, peach schnapps, apple schnapps, lemon juice, lime juice, cranberry juice, and sugar.

Covert Confection

And after all of those savory treats: little pancakes, stuffed with mascarpone and chocolate hazelnut spread.

They look a little bit like cornbread, but they’re really dessert! Also…I couldn’t help myself when I saw the special stuffed-pancake pan at Williams-Sonoma. I snagged the batter recipe when I bought the pan — it’s super light and fluffy (and also huge…definitely one to pare down). Mastering the filling part was a bit of a challenge, and I definitely spent some time cleaning melted chocolate hazelnut spread off the stovetop, but it was completely worth it!

So…take a bite. Or several!

Thanks, FoodBuzz, this was an awesome time :)

Beef (actually) Stroganoff

Last time I thought about making Beef Stroganoff, I had no sour cream in the house, and it was super cold outside, so I wasn’t even going to think about walking to the grocery store for some old milk.

This time, I came prepared. Sour cream? Check. Paula Deen’s recipe? Check.

I thoroughly enjoyed this recipe, and it has restored my faith in Food Network chefs (cough cough, Alton Brown). The only modification I made was to add a little bit of minced garlic to the pan with the onions and mushrooms — Paula really nailed this, and I don’t think there’s anything else I could have done that wouldn’t have ruined it.

I’ve decided that this is one of the ugliest food photos I’ve taken. Oh no, I’ll have to re-make this and take a better one! :)

Mac ‘n Cheese, Martha Style

Don’t compare this to the so-called macaroni and cheese that comes in a blue box and involves a mysterious cheesy powder. It’s not in the same ballpark. Not even close.

It’s not orange, and it doesn’t come in a blue box. It’s just really good mac ‘n cheese.

Martha Stewart’s Perfect Macaroni and Cheese recipe was the jump-off point. I made a couple of changes, one intentional and one accidental. The intentional change: adding a third cheese (sharp orange cheddar). The accidental change: adding an extra cup of milk (I was trying to count cups of cheese and cups of milk, and I got all tangled). The extra milk made the cheese sauce slightly thinner, but it’s not soupy at all. The orange cheddar added a nice kick.

Grated Gruyere. Not orange mystery powder.

Martha nailed this one. It’s easily the best mac ‘n cheese I’ve had yet.

However…there are some friendly little edits that might make it even better. Miss Roommate suggested (and I concur) that this might be improved by substituting the Gruyere with a sweeter cheese. Also? Gruyere and sharp white cheddar are not cheap. I’m going to give this another try with some cheeses that don’t cost over $15/lb, and let y’all know how that works out. And just for kicks, I might try it with some orange cheeses.

Also, the way it’s written, this is a 5-saucepan recipe. Something tells me that mac ‘n cheese should not be so complicated as to require that many saucepans (plus a casserole dish and a skillet). I went with a slightly-less-hassle execution of this dish. I love Martha, but she’s a little bit too intense sometimes. Reusing pans is good; so is reading over the recipe beforehand and figuring out which pans can be reused. Prep work, like grating the cheese in advance and cooking the pasta before working on the sauces, will save much hassle.