TWD: fresh ginger and chocolate gingerbread

I had no idea gingerbread was for eating.  I’ve always associated it with construction material – like the play dough I used to make for day camp – used for houses that support loads of candy and cookies that stand up and run in cartoons. Who knew you could eat it, too.

chocolate gingerbread

Dorie’s ginger chocolate cake is lovely – an adult, not-too-chocolaty variation of a chocolate cake that made me very happy during an otherwise very depressing time of year (have you been to Chicago in January?  You’ll find every shade of gray imaginable). Also, the chocolate icing kind of hardened when it cooled, so I could safely pack it for lunch at work without fear that I would embarrass myself licking the frosting off the foil I had wrapped the cake in.

An added bonus, I found that this dessert has health benefits.  Red wine and chocolate have become cliché, but ginger has a lot going for it, too, and so it was with a little less remorse that I scarfed down Dorie’s chocolate gingerbread. Ginger seems to interfere with some other medications, but in otherwise healthy people ginger has been shown to reduce diarrhea;  nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy; and joint pain from arthritis, though studies on this have been inconsistent. More important to me and my cheese addiction, ginger may have blood thinning and cholesterol lowering properties that may make it useful for treating heart disease.

I’m just sayin’.

Instead of a 9×9 pan (which Dorie herself told the TWD bloggers was crucial) I used 11 aluminum custard cups, and I still had WAY too much batter – I totally could have used 13 or 14, but those 11 were the last ones leftover from Thanksgiving.

The recipe was chosen by the blogger at Sherry Trifle. It was a great choice, and she’ll post the recipe there. I recommend you pick it up. I had one other variation to note: I used 1/3 c. molasses and made up the rest with honey to avoid a trip to the grocery store for such a small amount of an ingredient I use so infrequently. I think it turned out just fine.

Eggnog Panettone Bread Pudding

Of all the Italian treats and traditions I remember from my childhood, panettone is not one of them. It is, however, one of the easiest (and most inexpensive) to find in the stores at Christmastime, and so it is one I have quickly adopted.

Panettone is a dense, sweet, tall cake-like-bread-hybrid that is filled with fruit. It seems fairly difficult to make,which is fine because the one I buy at Trader Joe’s is so good, and filled with cranberries in place of the usual fruit.

Panettone Bread Pudding

What makes it especially good is the eggs and cream I soak it in to make bread pudding each year, which can then be reheated in the microwave and enjoyed with a spritz of whip cream on cold nights after crappy days at work.  I use this recipe from Rachel Ray, which I find quite nice: sweet and dense, creamy when reheated, and it keeps well for a REALLY long time in the refrigerator.

Rachel makes hers in a muffin tray, which works ok, I guess. This year I used some foil cups I had leftover from the pumpkin flan I made for Thanksgiving, and it worked out MUCH better.  I ordered the foil cups from here, and they were worth every penny! (Sorry Prudence Pennywise.)

The most comforting chicken and dumplings

The weather in Chicago continues to be garbage, and we’re all doing the best we can.  It was Sunny Sunday and as warm as 20 degrees – and people flocked to the outdoor mall in droves to enjoy the warm spell and boost their moods a little in the sunshine. Today, however, it’s snowing again, and not quite as warm as the sun made it Sunday.

So I’ve got that, there are still more hours of darkness than daylight every day, and work is heating up in advance of the Big Meeting my office will host at the local convention center next month. At home, I’m searching for comfort food.

Gooseberry Patch

 I went to Gooseberry Patch – specifically, the 2009  calendar I received as a holiday gift.  Gooseberry Patch has a whole line of cookbooks that I go to when I’m looking to make some kind of tried-and-true dish without putting a whole lot of effort into it. Think: crockpot dishes, baked casseroles that have cream soup bases, and anything that involves ground beef.  The good thing is that they’re all good and use a lot of pantry staples. The bad part is that theat sometimes involved “shortening” on the list of ingredients.  Just something to be aware of.

The calendar’s recipe for January was for chicken with dumplings – which was, as expected, cheap and easy: 1 can of cream of chicken soup, 4 cans of chicken broth, chicken, 2 cans of vegetables, and two tubes of refrigerated biscuits.

The recipes in Gooseberry Patch are all like that – folksy foods that can be prepared quickly and inexpensively to feed a crowd: Fruit salad dressed with a mixture of honey, lemon juice and pineapple juice;  a recipe for cheesy herbed biscuits ingredients that you layer in a canning jar to give as a gift; fudge made with shortening; popcorn balls for Halloween.

Regardless, the chicken and dumplings I made last week was perfect for the modd I was in, and the refrigerated biscuits made great dumplings.  I dropped the raw dough in the top of the boiling soup and covered the pot. The dough sort of sat on top of the soup for a combination of boiling/steaming/braising, and absorbed all of the flavors of the soup base.

I made the chicken version of the recipe for myself, and a vegetable version for friends who needed a comforting meal. I thought both were good.  I even slipped a few peas in – which I hate! – but I got them down without hesitating.

TWD: Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins

Before we get to the food, a word about the weather:

It’s crap. Complete and utter crap.

Saturday it snowed wildly, trapping me in the house with my untouched list of errands to run, wistfully looking toward the widow and thinking “I’ll give it another half hour to slow down before I hit the road,” or “maybe in another half hour I’ll just to the stuff in town.”

“HA!” Mother Nature replied as either the snowflakes got bigger or the wind blew harder, pushing me farther back toward the kitchen.  I left the house only once on Saturday, and that was by force at dusk when a realtor wanted to walk through my place with potential home buyers (yes, my place is still for sale).

Monday, it snowed again. Tuesday will bring arctic winds. Wednesday and Thursday promise more of the same.

corn and pepper muffin

The only response on days like these is to make soup (or oatmeal, if it’s breakfast time), and Dorie’s muffins went perfectly with the boxed red pepper and tomato soup I dressed up over the weekend.  Thanks to the blogger from Ezra Pound Cake for the foresight to know that I would need these corn muffins this weekend.  She’ll post the muffin recipe on her blog this week, while I describe how wonderful they are.

To start off, the muffins are pretty. Yellow cornmeal flecked with deep red chili powder makes for a very rich looking muffin, but the bits of finely chopped fresh red pepper and jalapeño pepper and the bright yellow corm make the muffin almost festive – confetti-like. I was really proud to put them on my table (even if I was wearing a stained t-shirt and hadn’t bothered with makeup for 24 hours before coming to the table).

Biting into the muffin puts flavor behind the appearance, as the buttermilk batter and good quality chili powder really do make for a happy mouth.  These are the perfect tomato soup muffins.  Many of my TWD colleagues served them with chili, but I think the flavors would compete.  These are a good companion for a creamy soup.

NOTE: Two days later they have dried out a bit, but I think toasting the leftovers and buttering them will perk things right up tonight. I usually need a snack while I cook dinner after work.

Salty Sweet Peanutty Treats, for Mom

My mom found this recipe for a cookie-pretzel-peanut-caramel-chocolate cookie back around the holidays.  I was too busy recreating my old-reliables to try this recipe then, but I pulled it up earlier this week when email troubles at work forced me to clean out my deleted mail folder.  After a nice really IT consultant with really bad BO solved my problem, I decided to take the recipe out of my mailbox and into my kitchen. I’m glad I did.

I’m wondering, though, if you would pick one of these cookies up from a buffet table without knowing about the salty-sweet goodness it contains. Are they visually appealing?

sweet and salty

Amazingly, I had just about everything I needed to make these cookies in the house: peanuts left over from a TWD flop, pretzels left over from holiday mock turtles, caramels from something so long ago I can’t even remember, and exactly ONE egg left in the carton. I made a quick trip to the grocery store on the way home from work for cookie mix (SACRILEGE!) and I was good to go.

The cookie base came together quickly, but was so sticky I regretted not changing out of my work clothes before I started baking.  The pretzels and peanuts were easy enough to handle, and then came the caramel topping: it took WAY longer than expected to melt, and you really do have to stir it constantly in order to get it to met evenly.   My arm did not enjoy that.

I hit a wall and went to bed before the cookies were cool enough to top with the chocolate, and I didn’t get to it for a full two days.  No matter: the caramel topping is not much to look at and provided absolutely no temptation while I took a night away from my kitchen for dinner with my in-laws.  When I got to melting the chocolate, it was a little too gloppy to drizzle or flick off of the fork, so I spread a thin layer across the whole thing.

Today, the cookies and nicer looking and perfect for my taste.  Not too much chocolate. More chewy and cake-y than crisp. Sweet AND salty. And you get a little shot of protein from the peanuts.

But I’m just not sure how they look on a table.  I attend a couple of holiday parties every year with people who either purchase beautiful cookies basket from caterers or else spend DAYS making beautiful pizzelle cookies, one of my all time favorite Italian traditions.  Could these sweet and salty treats co-mingle with such fare?

TWD: Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

Dorie says this is a basic, but sometimes simple is best.  This recipe was a hit in my house and at a New Year’s Eve party (but many at the party were feeling no pain by the time I pulled out the dessert tray, so who knows).  I reserved a few for personal consumption in the days following the party, and they were GREAT with champagne.

Mini Tall Cheesecakes

Rather than bake one huge cheesecake I used a mini cheesecake pan and made nearly two dozen bit-sized cakes.  But since I used a lot of crust for these cakes I still had enough filling left over to pour 12 mini pies (you know the little ones Keebler makes and sells in boxes of 6? I had some in my pantry from a summertime key lime pie experiment) and to pout a bit of the batter down the garbage disposal. If I do this again, I’ll double the recipe for the crust.

Because I used the mini cake molds, I didn’t get to wrap them all in foil and bake them in a water bath, and that was just fine.  The cakes still turned out light and creamy after about 25 minutes in the oven, though the edges rose considerably more than the centers. I filled a few of the holes with pieces of a Snickers bar and (even though the NYE host mocked me for that) I thought it made for a nice tray.

The only thing I did to change Dorie’s tried and true recipe was to use store-bought almond Biscotti for the crust, rather than the graham crackers, ginger snaps or chocolate wafer cookies that she recommended. I loved it that way.

You can find Dorie’s recipe at AnneStrawberry. She turned her cheesecake into a peppermint bark treat that looks very festive.


CEiMB: Chocolate Cherry Almond Biscotti

Another not-great cookie recipe from Ellie.

I like Biscotti, and I’ve now baked it successfully using Dorie Greenspan’s recipe.  But Ellie’s chocolate-sherry-almond-orange creations left me highly unsatisfied.

Cherry Biscotti

Here’s the problem: too much stuff!  The whole wheat flour added a certain depth in it’s own right, so then mucking it up with dark chocolate, tart cherries, orange zest AND nuts was just a little much for me (but others may like it – you’ll find the recipe here).  Of these flavors, I found the orange overpowering and not good for dunking these cookies in coffee.

To top it all off, the cookies were a mess to slice!  The outside baked WAY faster than the inside, and so while I was slicing it the inside was sticking to the knife while the outside was chipping off large chunks. I sliced them pretty thick to make the best of it, but they were still pretty ugly at the end: the inside was more dense and darker colored than the crusty rims (even after the third stage of baking) and the rims were all jagged.  I didn’t care to put them in many of my holiday dessert trays.

And so it is that I am withdrawing from CEiMB. I’ve enjoyed the challenges and the interaction with other blogging cooks, but I’ve disliked too many of the recipes to continue with this experiment.  Good luck to all of the other home cooks who will reap the health benefits of Ellie’s creations.