Gingerbread House

Posted by alannak on Jan 05 2010 | Dessert

When we originally conceptualized this gingerbread house, we planned to create it in the image of Mount Vernon.  It just so happens, we are major GW dweebs.  I mean, have you seen this?

In the end, it was less George Washington than we imagined, and significantly more . . . glitz.  Though we did stay true to original by replicating the rounded driveway.  And there’s always next year to cut original molds for archways and weather vanes.

The house took three days to complete.  Day 1: making dough from this epicurious recipe (it’s not super sweet, but it holds up beautifully).  Day 2: making icing and gluing molds together.  Day 3: decoration.

Ginger GW and Martha felt quite at home.


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Chilean Sea Bass in Papillote

Posted by alannak on Apr 28 2008 | Main Course

Presents are the best. You could wrap a rock beautifully and I’d be happy to receive it. Wrap a meal, and I’m giddy with excitement. This wrapped fish was also part of my birthday meal — it’s a Chilean sea bass with lemon, thyme, capers and cherry tomatoes, tied up in parchment paper.

By placing the fish on top of lemon slices and adding a touch of olive oil, you set the stage for a deliciously simple sauce to form while the fish cooks. The result is a soft and flaky fillet, surrounded by flavorful ingredients that compliment the lightness of the fish. The presentation (present-ation) is unbeatable as well: each individual gets a piece to unwrap, and a sweet, lemony aroma escapes as the parchment is opened. We served this with homemade polenta, but it could go well with a side salad, any fresh vegetable, and even rice or pasta. For something with such panache, it’s extremely easy to make. Check out the recipe from Epicurious here, or just read on.

Ingredients (serves 4):
3 tbs olive oil
4 (6 oz) fillets Chilean sea bass with skin (should be about 1-inch thick)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
8 thin lemon slices
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
12 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tbs drained bottled capers

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400. In a heavy skillet, heat oil, then sauté garlic until pale golden (about 30 seconds). Add tomatoes and a pinch of salt and sauté until tomatoes are softened, about 1 minute. Stir in capers, then remove from heat. Lay out 4 (12 to 15 inch) squares of parchment paper. Drizzle center of each parchment square with a little olive oil, then top with a fish fillet. Slide lemon slices under fish and top with thyme sprigs. Spoon tomato mixture over fish. Gather parchment up around fish to form a pouch, leaving no openings, and and crimp closed (or tie tightly with string and make a bow so that you can untie it easily). Put pouches in a large shallow baking pan and bake until fish is just cooked through, about 12 to 20 minutes (depending on thickness of fish). Transfer fillets with lemon slices to plates using a spatula and spoon tomatoes and juices over top. Serve immediately, discarding thyme before eating.


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Posted by alannak on Mar 09 2008 | Dessert

We’re usually not very good at posting holiday recipes very far in advance of the holidays, but this time we’re on the ball. Purim is at the end of next week, but we’ve already made our first batch of hamantaschen. The recipe is from the only place to find a decent hamantaschen recipe these days: my mom’s old synagogue cookbook.

So goes the dough, so goes the hamantaschen — which means that creating a dough with perfect flavor and consistency is crucial. This recipe is great because it calls for just enough sugar, and results in a cookie that holds together well (far too many hamantaschen are overly crumby) but still gives a good crunch. As for fillings, anything goes! We used two pre-made fillings — raspberry jam and poppy seed filling, but also did our own apple-pie filling by cooking apples together with sugar, cinnamon, raisins, butter and a bit of cornstarch. With this dough, however, I imagine that almost anything will taste great.

4 cups sifted flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs beaten (+1 additional egg, beaten)
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add 4 eggs, oil and vanilla. Blend thoroughly. Roll portions of dough onto floured board, 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 4-inch rounds (glass size). Place about a tsp of filling in center. Run a wet finger around the circumference of the dough and pinch edges together to form a triangle. Place on greased cookie sheet. Brush with 1 beaten egg mixed with a small amount of water. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.


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Favorite Soup: Vegetable and Matzo Ball

Posted by alannak on Feb 06 2008 | Soup

This is my great grandmother’s recipe for vegetable soup with matzo balls. My mom has been making it for as long as I can remember, mostly on holidays and sick days. I think that it is the best soup in the world. It’s far heartier than most matzo ball soups, which consist of a few lumpy balls in clear broth, and the vegetables blend together so subtly and intuitively that its truly harmonious. I’ve only recently begun attempting it on my own (and by that I mean with Alex, who does most of the intensive labor) but I know that I will continue making it for the rest of my life.

There are so many things to love about this soup. It tastes super healthy, and with its strong kick of ginger, it has healing effects on bellyaches, colds, stressed minds or pretty much anything. Plus, the steps are simple: Throw stuff in a pot and let it simmer for two hours before blending. In fact, if you ask my mom for further instructions, she gets very ambiguous. When I was younger, I was convinced that this was because she was hiding a secret ingredient or step that perfected the soup, but now I think that its because no matter what you do, it still tastes delicious.

The vegetable soup is amazing alone, but we always add matzo balls. My favorite brand is Streits, but since my local grocery stores doesn’t carry it, I used Manischewitz. The trick to making perfect matzo balls is to make sure that your hands are very wet, and to only lightly bring the matzo meal together. Try not to pack them; it doesn’t matter if they aren’t perfectly round. I’d take a light and funky-shaped matzo ball over a heavy one any day.

1 whole chicken, cut into its parts
5 carrots, peeled and cut into very large chunks
3 parsnips
, peeled and cut into very large chunks
top 1/3 of a celery bunch, cut into very large chunks
1 potato, peeled and cut into very large chunks
2 onions, cut into very large chunks
4 garlic cloves
3 inch piece ginger, peeled
1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch dill
1 can stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato sauce

Put all ingredients in a large pot and fill pot with water. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for two hours. Remove chicken pieces and set aside for later use (makes great chicken salad). Using a strainer, remove remaining solids and separate any leftover chicken from the mass of vegetables. In a blender, puree vegetables in batches with a bit of the broth, and add back into the soup. Adjust seasonings (salt) and add matzo balls, as per instructions on the box.


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Posted by alannak on Dec 17 2007 | Dessert

Two days of exams remain, and it’s getting to us. You know your brain is shot when you can watch the three-hour season finale of Survivor without realizing it. That happened. But some good came out of our study lapse as well — in the form of a sweetly moist and richly-flavored gingerbread loaf.

We were all set to bake ourselves a cake, but the second we found this recipe we knew it had to be. Like when you walk into a party with one person, but fall in love at first sight with another and ditch the first. It’s not that you didn’t like them, it’s just that the alternative looked SO much better. Gingerbread recipe: You had us at … something. Butter? The best part was that at the end of the night, we knew we made the right choice. Our mouths watered at the aroma, and it tasted perfectly spiced and festive.

The recipe is from 101 Cookbooks, which posts amazingly-adapted recipes from a vast cookbook collection. We love it. We wish we had that many cookbooks. We modified the recipe again slightly, owing to what we had around the kitchen. I’m posting exactly what we did below, but check out the original recipe here.

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup dark molasses
3/4 cup honey
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice (we ground ours with the mortar and pestle!)
3 large eggs,
1/2 cup milk (1 percent)
1 tbsp fresh ginger root, grated

Preheat the oven to 325. Lightly grease 9 x 9 baking pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper, cut to hang over two opposite edges. Combine butter, water, molasses, honey and brown sugar in a medium saucepan and place over low heat. Stir until the butter is melted and ingredients are combined, then pour into a large bowl and set aside. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and all-spice and set aside. When the molasses mixture feels warm to the touch, add the eggs one at a time and beating well. Add the milk and stir to combine. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter a bit at a time. Stir in the grated ginger. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the centre of the oven for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, remove from the pan using the parchment. Cool entirely before cutting.


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Ginger Cookies

Posted by alannak on Dec 05 2007 | Dessert

Thin Mints vs. Samoas, Oatmeal Raisin vs. Chocolate Chip, Slice and Bake vs. frozen dough — these are the cookies wars that we have fought for generations. Yet none is as famous or divisive as the war between soft-cookie people and crunchy-cookie people. Though I generally align myself with the soft-cookie camp, my allegiance is admittedly somewhat weak, and I can be persuaded by a good crunch from time to time.

That said, the notion of a soft gingersnap is swoonworthy. I became so excited when I found this recipe while skimming through Baking Bites, who found the recipe from Real Simple. The recipe assures us that the cookies do not turn out like rocks, as gingersnaps often do. We love ginger but chipped teeth repel us; it was a must-try.

The verdict? Better than we imagined. The crystallized ginger pieces not only lend an excellently spicy flavor, but also a chewiness that we loved. The cookies also call for pepper and balsamic vineagar, which we found intriguing. Though you can’t distinguish the flavors when the cookies are baked, they contain a strong spiced flavor that we agreed is unlike that of any other gingersnap. So do your part to promote the global takeover of soft-cookie people, choose these as your holiday gingersnap.

Ingredients (makes 5 dozen):

4 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup butter, at room temperatur
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, plus more for coating
2 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs, molasses, vinegar and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and pepper. Beat the flower mixture into the butter mixture. Add the crystallized ginger.
Make 1 to 1 1/2 inch balls, and roll them in extra sugar before placing them on the baking sheet. Press cookies to flatten slightly and bake for 10-12 minutes.


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