Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's a snap!

There's just something about the holiday's that drive me into the kitchen and get my baking blood flowing. It's usually cookies that I crank out, but there is also room in my heart for cakes, pies, casseroles--all things oven I love to turn out. The aroma of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, can liven up the hardest and coldest of hearts and turn them from brown, dreary, bah humbugs to happy, holiday embracing souls.

The only problem I have with gingersnap cookies is the...snap...part of it all. I'm just not a fan of crunchy cookies, which might put me in the minority. I prefer soft, delicate, tender cookies that have some chew to them. I wanted to search out a cookie for gingersnaps that I could make soft and chewy. My search ended in the hills of Missouri at Silver Dollar City. They have a new culinary school and do cooking demonstrations in a fabulous kitchen. The demonstrations always sell out before I get a chance to purchase my turn ($10 per session), it will happen one day. One of the feature recipes demonstrated is a Ginger Cookie. A little searching on the Internet led me to the recipe.

I knew I wanted to make a soft cookie and I knew I wanted it to be frosted. After a reading about 100-200 cookie recipes this season I decided to frost my soft ginger cookies with royal icing. Kendra and I use royal icing for our gingerbread houses and it makes a great glue when dry. I find it not too sweet, but just the right amount of sweet.

I had all of the ingredients together and was about to take a picture when my helper showed up and was super excited to help. Levi is one of my favorite cooking partners, he's getting very good at his skills even for 3. He loves to cook with his Mom and me. I didn't really have time to get a picture because he was ready NOW to help.

Ginger Cookies
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar (plus some for rolling dough)
1/8 teaspoons cloves
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon ginger
1 large egg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup shortening
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, add shortening and sugar together mixing until light and fluffy. Add molasses, egg, vanilla, milk, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, mixing until combined. Add flour, and mix to combine.

Using a spring loaded scoop, dispense dough and roll balls into sugar. Arrange on parchment lined cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 10-15 minutes. 10 minutes yields the soft chewy kind. Remove to a cooling rack and frost with royal icing when cool. Should yield 3 dozen.
Royal Icing
2 Tablespoons Meringue Powder
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound of Powdered Sugar (2 cups)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, add water and meringue powder with vanilla. Mix on low. Sift powdered sugar and add to mixer bowl. Increase speed to medium, scraping down sides, and whip until soft peaks form (just barley holds the curl). Remove to bowl and frost.

This will make a lot of icing, so you could easily cut this in half and not have a much. Meringue powder is a nifty little addition to your baking pantry. It will last for quite a while, we've had ours for two years and it's just fine. You can find this powder where cake decorating supplies are sold, and it will be by the decorating section (I know Wal-Mart super centers carry this powder).

These cookies were soft, chewy, had a tremendous flavor and when topped with this smooth, creamy, sweet frosting it was just too much. If you love the taste of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves then give these a try. So good.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Titus Special

I love casseroles. A lot of my friends think that is weird given that I do not like my food to touch on my plate AND I eat one thing at a time. I always go with the item on my plate that will be the grossest. Always eat my fries first, then my burger when fast food is on the menu. Typical meals I eat my carbs and starchy foods first, veggies, then proteins last. I also don't typically drink when I eat until I'm finished eating. So you can see why most people would wonder why I like casseroles when everything is all together. I usually just say that it's supposed to be together and leave it at that. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, Titus Special.

The occasion for me to cook is few and far between because I don't' get home in time to get dinner ready and on the table. Our schedule just doesn't work out to where I cook dinner. The last time, or two that I did cook dinner I made a "creation" which isn't really that creative. Turns out that Titus loved it and ate two huge helpings of this pasta saying, "what IS this stuff--I LOVE IT!" "It's called Titus Special." Last night Kendra took Titus to karate and I stayed home with Teensy and Levi, and cooked dinner. Titus Special sounded good so I made it. I think you'll love it too, and you can kick it up several notches adding whatever you like. In yours. Here's the cast of characters:
  • Two pounds of ground beef (or one pound of Italian sausage and ground beef, your choice)
  • Two 16 oz cans of Spaghetti sauce, or your favorite brand
  • One can of diced tomatoes (this is probably 10 oz.)
  • Two cups of elbow macaroni
  • One Onion, diced
  • One Tablespoon dried basil
  • One Tablespoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cups Parmesan cheese
  • Paprika for dusting
Before we get to cooking, let's talk about onions. Cutting onions has not been one of my favorite thing to do, especially when the onion is older because it seems to have more juice which makes my eyes water more. Whether that holds true or not is up for grabs, but newer onions seem to be tighter and have less juice. I like my onions finely diced, as well as my celery. I don't like obnoxious blasts of celery or onion in my food, I like the flavor it contributes but not the huge chunks of it. First thing, cut off the ends and peel the outer shell off. I usually make a thin slice from top to bottom and peel it away. After that I will make several horizontal cuts, making sure that I do not cut all the way through the onion. Next I make a half turn of the onion and do the same thing, horizontal cuts, making sure that I don't cut through the onion. After that I turn the onion on it's side and slice down which results in the onion releasing uniform, perfect diced cubes of onion which I can then chop even finer, or place in my bowl and use for cooking. I don't make as many cuts this way and it seems to go really fast. Try it, you might like it.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Now in a large skillet add one tablespoon of Olive Oil and bring up to heat, over medium high. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally about three to five minutes until the onions are tender. I use sweet onions, or yellow onions, and hardly ever buy white or purple--just because that's what I do no other explanation. Season your onions with salt and pepper ( teaspoon of each).

After the onions have cooked to the point that they are tender, add the ground beef and cook until it is done, about five minutes. I use a potato masher to get the meat broken up and find that this method gives quick and perfect results every time. When the meat has cooked about two-three minutes you'll want to season the beef. If you have dried Italian seasoning use that, about two tablespoons. I like the flavor of basil and oregano so that's what I use. Taste the meat once it is cooked and adjust for flavor. Remember that the sauce will reduce which will intensify the flavors, especially salt, so be careful.

Add the diced tomatoes to the skillet, stirring to combine. [Good time to check on the water it's probably boiling by now. If so add two tablespoons of salt to the water and the noodles and cook to the minimum suggested cooking time on the box which is usually 8 minutes.] Next add the spaghetti sauces and stir. Bring to a slow simmer and cook until thick and bubbly. I usually time this so that the sauce is simmering while the noodles are boiling. Drain the noodles and place back in the pot. Add the sauce to the noodles and stir well. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Place in a greased 9x13 casserole pan and cover with cheddar cheese. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the cheddar cheese and dust with paprika. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly. Let stand five minutes and serve. We like green beans with our noodle bake, but you can do whatever you like. It is always better the next day (I'm looking forward to to night!). This makes a lot and can be easily divided and with one pan being frozen for later.