Here’s what’s cooking

Lemony Ginger Cups with Cannoli Cream

Remember those crispy ginger snaps we just blogged about? We did that on purpose to set it up for THIS post. Because Valentine’s Day is coming up and we wanted to create an amazing dessert to celebrate. Though to be honest, we don’t actually celebrate Valentine’s Day because it’s also our son’s birthday and he takes precedence. <3

We took that same ginger snap recipe and baked them into cups in mini muffin pans. You do that by rolling them into balls and then pressing them into the muffin cups so they are a little over the edge. We also had to freeze them for about 20 minutes so they wouldn’t collapse into the cups while they baked and become muffins. We baked them for about 12 minutes just like the cookies. Even so, I still had to press them back into cups while they were warm because they rose so much. I did this with the rounded end of a handle because they were too hot to do by hand. A pestle would work, too. You end up with this:

Ginger Snap Muffin Cups

Next, I made lemon curd. I am famous for not following recipes. This time, however, I have no Kate-invented recipe to offer you. Because I use Alton Brown’s Lemon Curd because it is AMAZING. Like, out of this world so lemony and the perfect texture. I follow the recipe exactly. The only advice I can give is to keep the temp at medium to medium-high for the whole 8 minutes. You run the risk of it not setting well if you turn the heat down and then you’ll be whisking forever. Also make sure you don’t run out of water in the pan.

Finally, cannoli cream. Cannoli is that amazing Italian dessert that is sort of like puff pastry made into hollow tubes and then filled with ricotta that’s been mixed with cream, cinnamon and spices, sometimes (often?) chocolate chips, and various other ingredients – but mostly ricotta.

However, mine is really just whipped cream with some ricotta and cinnamon thrown in. That’s the recipe we are offering in this post. Just whipped cream was too light and fluffy and didn’t add enough contrast to the lemon curd. Adding ricotta to the whipping cream adds a great flavor and substance.

Now that all the components have been made (you made them, right?) it’s easy to put it all together, even though it can feel like a marathon completing the steps to get to this point. Once the lemon curd and cannoli cream are made and chilled and the ginger snap cups are baked and cooled, just fill the cups with lemon curd and pipe the cream on top. Don’t just drop the cream – remember how thick it is. It will look terrible if you just shake it off a spoon. I simply put some in a plastic sandwich bag, cut off a corner, and squeeze it in circles around the top which, as you can see, is really pretty.

(I left one plain so you could see the lemon curd!)

Crispy Ginger Snaps

Minnesota weather has been making national headlines. It is record-breaking cold and/or snowy here. So of course we felt the necessity to make our house smell like sweet, spicy cookies. That’s how the day started out.

SO many things happened today. Despite the cold, we found we had a constantly open door to let friends in and out, send the sad boy off to the vet with his beloved lizard (driving really carefully because it was snowing like crazy out there), let the cable guy in and out for a service call, and A LOT of shoveling. But of course, we still managed baking.

Ginger snaps are one of my very favorite cookies to eat, and baking them is pretty fun, too. But though the ginger is essential to the recipe (it is, after all, the ingredient that made it into the title), what really makes it work for me is the molasses. I love the rich, smoky-sweet flavor. I even enjoy watching it slowly, slowly dribble out of the bottle. Though molasses tastes amazing, it can be a little difficult to work with because it is so sticky. The best trick I’ve learned is to use a bit of cooking spray on the inside of the measuring cup before pouring in the molasses–that helps it pour faster and gets more of the molasses where it belongs – in the recipe.

I also want to mention something so important to baking it’s getting its own post: Make Sure Your Ingredients Are At the Right Temperature! Yes, molasses is slow, but what happened this time is that my butter was way too cold. I had just pulled it out of the freezer and though I microwaved it for two minutes at 20% power, it was still cold enough that it was just not creaming with the sugar. I’d thought that the kinetic energy of the beaters would heat it up enough that it would still come together, but I really should’ve known that trick never works. I had to put the whole bowl in the microwave for another minute at low power, and then things worked great.

Finally, a note about timing: The line between chewy ginger snaps and extremely crunchy ginger snaps is very fine. When we baked these today, 10 minutes gave us cookies that were crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle; 12 minutes was perfectly solid all the way through; and 14 was hard enough that it felt like my incisors were going to crack. (Still tasted great, though…and if you are looking for a cookie to dip in milk, these held up well and closely resembled the texture of biscotti.) Don’t let the cable guy distract you while these are in the oven. However, if you want to offer him one, we have first-hand experience that it will be appreciated.

These are crispy…but I’m curious whether you’re a crispy or chewy cookie eater…

Turns out Radishes are Delicious cooked.

We usually think of radishes as something eaten raw. We usually put them in salads or on veggie platters. They are crisp, slightly sweet, and have that sharp flavor you either love or hate.

Well, I got curious the other night (when we made the Orange Teriyaki Drummies) about how they would taste sautéed. Usually I’ve gone for a daikon radish when cooking, but regular radishes are what I had. I could tell almost immediately I was going to enjoy the results. The smell in the kitchen was sweet (no, literally…when you cook them they give off a sweet smell).

Besides the nice surprise with the radishes, this recipe is EASY. It’s just TWO vegetables that compliment each other nicely, the oil you cook them in, and some salt or soy sauce. The napa cabbage gets sweet while you cook it, too, so a little salty flavor really is necessary.

Napa I already knew was one of my favorite stir-fry veggies. I actually might have a bit of a reputation for my love of all things in the cabbage family. When you cook cabbage, though, it collapses. It is not going to be a crispy addition to your stir-fry, trust me. Normally I only cook it for a minute or two at really high heat after the crunchy veggies have cooked for a few minutes so it doesn’t collapse and make the whole stir-fry soggy.

This time, though, I wanted it to steam the radishes for a bit so they could have time to release their ‘sting’ and get even sweeter. It worked like a charm. Radishes and cabbage are a perfect match. Just make sure you cook it until the liquid released from the cabbage is completely dried up.

Most of my stir-fries have cabbage, onions, and broccoli as main-stays. I also love red bell peppers, carrots, and mushrooms. I’m curious what your stir-fry mainstays are. Let me know in the comments!

Orange Teriyaki Drummies

Being a lover of Japanese food and fully understanding that people who know me will be confused by my use of soy in this dish, I’m going to tell a story. When I was growing up, there were a lot of processed foods in the house. I got sick a lot. Like, hours of abdominal cramping sick. We discovered later that I was allergic to soy. I have the soy version of celiac’s disease. I learned to cook so I could control my soy intake to zero. Because it’s in EVERYTHING. When we realized this allergy, though, there was also a moment of “huh…but I don’t get sick from my favorite Chinese restaurant”. After lots of research, we discovered fermentation kills the enzymes that are trying to kill me. So soy sauce and miso (explained below) are on my food list and I use them generously in my cooking.

Teriyaki is a wonderful export from Japan, but most of the recipes I see for it aren’t very Japanese. The reason, I think, is that people aren’t familiar with Japanese ingredients and go for something they know. That’s why I think we should talk about this.

Teriyaki is a sauce that’s made with mirin, sake, shoyu, and sugar. Huh? Where’s the pineapple juice? That’s not Teriyaki anymore, but it is really good Hawaiian food. Also, skip the brown sugar, ginger, and garlic. That’s still not a Teriyaki sauce.

So what are all these ingredients?

  • Mirin – this is a sweet, tangy rice wine for cooking.
  • Sake – this is actual rice wine. In Japan, tea is a ceremony. So is opening a barrel of sake. It’s called “kagami biraki” and it’s done at special occasions like weddings.
  • Shoyu – well, that’s soy sauce. Like, just use soy sauce. It’s the Japanese word for the stuff you find everywhere.

All of the above ingredients should be readily available in the Asian section of most grocery stores. Other ingredients that don’t have anything to do with this recipe (and might be harder to find) but I hope you’ll become familiar with:

  • Tamari – this is the soy sauce you buy when you have celiacs. It’s gluten-free. I have it on hand because I have friends who thank me for it. It’s also the oldest version of soy sauce in Japan.
  • Sushi rice – This stuff is awesome. Obviously, it’s rice. But no, it doesn’t come ready to wrap around fish. For that, you have to add vinegar and sugar. That’s another post for later. And it shouldn’t be confused with sticky rice…which is Thai.
  • Dashi – this is a broth or stock made from seaweed and fish flakes. No, really.
  • Miso – Like soy sauce, it’s made from fermented soybeans (or rice or grains, actually, but always fermented). This time made into a paste that is used as a base for soups and lots of other Japanese dishes…and it’s delicious.
  • Anko – adzuki bean paste…err…red bean paste. It’s a great filling for dumplings as a sweet treat.
  • Daikon – this a giant, beige radish. If you like radishes, you are in for a treat when you eat this. It’s popular in Japan, but also in Korea where they make a version of Kimchi with it (and which is one my favorite foods).
  • Pickled Ginger – OMG. I could eat it for hours. This is a common ingredient you get with sushi…but you aren’t supposed to put it on your sushi. You are supposed to eat it between bites.
  • Wasabi – that’ll clear your sinuses. The stuff you get here probably isn’t real wasabi. Still delicious and sharp-tasting, though. It’s a relative of horseradish, by the way.
  • Panko – these are bread crumbs that are larger than what we normally see. They are very weirdly made…they electrify them while they bake to make them more oil-resistant later. *Crunch*
  • karashi – when you ask for hot mustard in a Chinese restaurant they roll their eyes in the kitchen. Even though you can get those little packets, I’m told they don’t actually eat that in China. In Japan, however, karashi is a thing.
  • Mushrooms – Shiitake, in particular. They have a great, strong flavor and can resemble jerky if you cook them right (don’t tell my Japanese friends I said that).

Oh, wait…I promised you Orange Teriyaki Drummies. There are a lot of other great Japanese ingredients I’ll share later, but let’s get on with THIS recipe.

I made this recipe up tonight and we had it for dinner. That’s common enough. The photography might not be great because it was just “let’s make that” and the response from Chris was “okay”. That’s common, too.

What’s even more common is that I took that totally authentic sauce that, if you’ll recall, is made from mirin, sake, shoyu, and sugar, and ADDED to it. Right after I told you “bad cook, don’t do that”. Well, I wasn’t really saying that…I was saying if you don’t have ALL FOUR base ingredients, which most recipes don’t, it’s not really teriyaki. That’s why I’m calling this “Orange” Teriyaki Drummies. Because I added orange. See?

Orange Teriyaki Drummies with Braised Napa & Radishes

Okay, I added a little more than orange. And while I think this would be an awesome appetizer and tagged it as such, we made a meal of it. It’s so easy to make that I hope you’ll make it soon and let me know what you thought.

I hope you liked the not-even-close-to-definitive list of ingredients I added, too. I’m curious, though…what’s your favorite Japanese ingredient?

Yay, it’s Pizza Night!

Who doesn’t like pizza? The options for toppings are literally endless, and can be a healthy meal all on its own, assuming you remember some vegetables and don’t ONLY include meat (AHEM, the incredibly delicious but oh-so-bad-for-you Heart Stopper Pizza from Donatellis in White Bear Lake, MN). Most Americans live in a place where multiple pizza places will deliver hot pizza to you in an hour or less, making it one of the most accessible foods. But…if you can spare about an hour of your own time, you can make one yourself that’s even better. After tasting this pizza, a friend from France announced that she now understood that when we order pizza in, it’s because we’re too tired to make a better one ourselves.

The base of any good pizza is the crust. Originally I used a recipe I found online, but over the years I made several adjustments to both the amounts and the process it until it came out exactly the way I like it. It’s excellent—crispy and squishy at the same time. I use a stand mixer to mix and knead the dough, which is particularly useful because I can leave it running while I change gears and chop vegetables or grate cheese or make the sauce, but you could also absolutely knead this by hand.

And yes, it’s a yeast bread, but that doesn’t mean you need to wait for it to rise. In fact, you DON’T want this to rise very much before it goes into the oven. What little rising it needs to do will happen while you’re putting on the toppings. Finally, a word about gluten. If you haven’t figured it out by now, we are NOT gluten-free in this household. However, my niece does have a gluten allergy, and for those occasions when she’s eating our food, I have tried out some gluten-free versions of my baking recipes. To be honest…most have not been very good. This recipe, however, is an exception to that rule. I think the gluten-free version was almost better than the original!

VARIATIONS:

  • Gluten-free version: Increase the yeast to 3 tsp, and substitute 2½ cups of gluten-free flour plus 2½ tsp xanthan gum. There are a lot of gluten-free flours out there with very different properties, but for this recipe I’ve had good luck with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour.
  • Deep Dish: This DOES work as a deep-dish recipe, but you need the right equipment. A cast iron skillet is essential, and for this amount of dough it will need to be 12” or 13” in diameter. Instead of corn meal to dust the pan, brush the entire inside surface, bottom and sides, with a tablespoon of olive oil. Then, press out the dough into the pan, starting in the middle and pulling it all the way up the sides. It should be about ½” thick at this point. Then, put the pan on the stovetop and cook over low heat while you’re adding the toppings. This will start the crust along so it isn’t burnt on the top and sides while still mushy and cold in the middle. Even so, it will take at least 5 minutes longer to bake than the regular version.

Caprese-Style Sausage Pizza

I found lots of Pinterest entries for caprese pizza, but they were all devoid of my favorite pizza topping, sausage. Also, they usually made it look impressive with a balsamic glaze to go over the top. I like skipping the sauce for this pizza and just putting oil and balsamic vinegar UNDER the cheese.

I start with fresh ingredients – which during the winter can be expensive so it becomes a special treat, but during the summer it’s affordable and so delicious and easy.

It’s especially easy if you start with Chris’s Pizza Crust – which rises while you add the toppings, so you’re not waiting forever to bake it. Yeah, you can buy a pizza crust or a mix for crust, but it won’t taste as good and his crust is as easy as a mix, if you ask me.

Fresh mozzarella cheese is the extra-white looking, squishy ball of cheese you can get in the deli area of the grocery store. It’s not the block you get in the dairy isle. It has a completely different texture and is totally necessary for this recipe. I also like buying the vine-ripened tomatoes in the winter (they might say hot house) because they are the closest you are going to get to flavor when they are so far out of season. Red onions are always good, and provide a great sweetness when they bake in the oven. Either mild or hot Italian sausage is good, depending on your heat preferences. If you want it even hotter, it wouldn’t be out of line to add pickled peppers.

Country Gravy (aka white sauce with sausage)

***this post does contain one affiliate link***

A funny story…about a year ago we hosted an Englishman for a week or so.  We offered him biscuits and gravy for breakfast…and the look on his face!  Because in England, they call cookies ‘biscuits’, and ‘gravy’ ONLY refers to pan drippings from cooking meat.  So if you want to offer this to a Brit, offer them a white sauce with sausage over flaky scones (that’s a bit more to say but it will keep them from making that ‘gross’ face). He was a sport about it, though.

Chris and I love cooking together.  Since he does the baking and I do the cooking, biscuits and gravy means we get some time together in the kitchen. As far as timing, I wait until he’s put the biscuits in the oven and then I go to work (because, frankly, he takes up all the counter space rolling out the biscuits).

Just as Chris introduced his pastry cutter, I would like to talk about whisks. When whisking things like batter or scrambling eggs in a bowl, you use a whisk like we usually think…but whenever you are whisking right against the bottom of shallow pan, as when mixing flour into butter or melting chocolate, there is special kind of whisk called a gravy whisk (I like this one: Rosle Stainless Steel Spiral Whisk, 10.6-Inch)*. When a recipe calls for ‘deglazing’ a pan with wine or broth, they are asking you to use this special whisk. Its superpower is that it’s shaped so you can get right against the bottom of the pan and the edges, which keeps things from sticking and burning. So here’s a picture:

Country Gravy has a lot of names: white sauce and Béchamel are the two most common alternatives. Just don’t call it Alfredo sauce – that’s just cream and no flour. Béchamel is French, and historically considered one of their ‘mother’ sauces…or, as I say it, base for adding other yummy stuff. It is very versatile and once you get down the basics you can make all kinds of things with it.

The sauce here is a basic Béchamel with sage and sausage as the flavors meant to stand out. I’ve also added onions to give an earthy, sweet undertone. Actually, you’ll find I do that with a lot of recipes. Garlic gives it a little zing, but unlike a lot of my recipes, don’t use much.

As far as the sausage goes, I use Jones breakfast links** most often. It’s a little more work to cut them up as opposed to buying bulk ground sausage and breaking it up as you cook it, but I like the flavor and texture better.

Enjoy!

*This post contains an affiliate link. But only only because I really like that whisk.

**not an affiliate link. I like them so much I’m just advertising for them anyway.

Buttermilk Biscuits: The Yummy, the Flaky, and the Recipe!

**this post contains an affiliate link**

This is one baking recipe that Kate has been known to make.  Of course, Kate being who she is, will always change recipes as the mood strikes.  For example, last Christmas Eve we made bread for 30 people at the family gathering.  I baked two loaves of bread and she made two batches of savory biscuits, using this basic recipe but adding various herbs and spices.

More commonly, though, I’ll make these for breakfast and Kate will make her own country gravy to go with them.  It’s one of our special treats.  The directions we’re giving are not for those super-fluffy biscuits southerners are so proud of.  These are a bit denser and hold up really well to the gravy. If, for some reason, you have leftovers they also taste great as ‘toast’.

fresh buttermilk biscuits with honey.
Fresh buttermilk biscuits with honey…mmm…

Here’s what you need for successful biscuits (aka flaky scones):

  1. Flour, salt, sugar. The sugar content can be decreased to make them more savory.
  2. A leavening agent. These are quick breads, so you’ll be using baking powder and/or baking soda, depending on the acid content of the liquid.
  3. A fat. Lard or shortening works, but I typically use butter.
  4. Milk. Yeah, don’t try to make this one dairy-free. Buttermilk biscuits are the best-tasting.

If you are a serious baker, you probably already have a pastry cutter.  If not, let me explain.  Pastry cutters (pictured here) are used for mixing hard things into dry things (like butter into flour).  It makes mixing biscuits, pastries, pie crusts, etc. so much easier!  If you don’t have one, you can use two table knives and ‘cut’ the dough in using a scissoring motion. This is a big deal because if you use your hands, you will melt the butter with your body heat.  Colder butter means flakier (read ‘better’) biscuits. If you want one, we like this one: Spring Chef Dough Blender, Top Professional Pastry Cutter with Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Blades (Black-Large)  It has great reviews and comes in two sizes because not all bakers have the same size hands.

Pastry Cutter

We’re going to be adding flour between each layer of folding and rolling (which you do a few times).  That’s so while it’s baking it will rise up instead of out and then when you take it out of the oven, it will pull apart in layers (which is wonderful).

Okay, here’s your recipe:

VARIATIONS:

  1. Reduce the sugar by 1 tsp and add 3 tsp fresh herbs of your choice (personal favorite: 2 tsp crushed rosemary & 1 tsp thyme) for a more savory option.
  2. Don’t want to roll & fold & roll & fold & roll & fold so much? Just increase the milk/buttermilk to a full cup and you have drop biscuits that you can put on the baking sheet by the spoonful. (You probably do want to grease the pan in this case, since the added liquid—as well as the lessened flour, due to not adding it each time you fold—will make them much stickier.)
  3. If you don’t have buttermilk, regular milk will do in a pinch, but the lower acid content means you’ll need to omit the baking soda and increase the baking powder to 4 tsp instead of 2.

Enjoy!

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