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Bacon Ginger Cookies

26 Nov

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  My sister-in-law’s aunt was kind enough to open up her home to us this year, since this is the first time we’re celebrating Thanksgiving away from all of our family.  It was difficult not being surrounded by all the traditions Peter and I were used to, but so fun getting to join in someone else’s traditions too.

I was on cookie duty.  I made pumpkin cookies, chocolate chip and cranberry oatmeal cookies, pecan balls, and my new favorite cookie in the world: bacon ginger cookies!

I need to come up with a more clever name for them, since I have decided that these will be a tradition in our household.  It’s a combination of a couple different recipes I’ve seen, and I know it sounds weird.  But the bacon grease gives the cookies a slight smoky flavor.  Needless to say, you’ll need to plan a bit ahead if you want to make these – unless you already happen to save bacon grease, or are planning on cooking about three packages of bacon anytime soon.

Bacon Ginger Cookies:

  • 2 1/2 C. all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 tbsp. bacon grease, softened (not melted)
  • 1/3 C. brown sugar
  • 1/3 C. granulated sugar (plus more for rolling)
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C. dark molasses
  • 1/3 C. candied ginger, finely diced (this is about the contents of a tall jar in the spice aisle.  Don’t worry if it’s a little more or a little less)

Preheat the oven to 375° and line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, add flour, baking soda, spices, pepper, and salt, whisking to combine.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, bacon grease, and sugars, and mix on medium speed until they are light and fluffy.  Reduce the speed a bit, and add the egg yolk and vanilla.  Increase the speed and mix until everything is well incorporated.

Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the molasses and beat until it is fully incorporated.  Scrape down the sides again, and put mixer on lowest setting.  Add flour mixture and the diced ginger.  Beat until just incorporated.

Get a small bowl and fill it about half-way with more granulated sugar for rolling.  Roll large balls of dough (about 2 in. in diameter), and drop them one at a time in the sugar bowl, rolling them around until covered.  Set the balls on the lined baking sheet, at least 2 in. apart (don’t press the cookies flat).

Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or soon after the tops of the cookies have gotten a crackling effect on top.  Don’t overbake them!  Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack.  Enjoy warm or cooled, with a cold glass of milk.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November…

5 Nov

…The pretzels, the ham, and the swiss!

Wittenberg Piggies

30 Oct

Reformationstag is tomorrow!  Our church had her annual Reformation Day celebration and dance last night.  It was tons of fun!  I was pretty bummed that Peter and I wouldn’t be able to host a grand Oktoberfest dinner this year as I’d been hoping to, so I decided that the next best thing would be to make these little treats to bring to the dance:

After much deliberation – and accepting that my German is far too limited for me to come up with some cute alliteration in German – I decided they should be called Wittenberg Piggies.  They are delicious little beer brats wrapped in pretzel dough and served with a slew of different mustards on the side.  Seriously, you’d have to be a Socinian to not enjoy these.

Wittenberg Piggies

Ingredients for dough:

  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast

Ingredients for pretzel bath:

  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 tbsp baking soda

Additional Ingredients:

This is a bit of a time-consuming recipe, unless you have lots of little hands to help you out.  I found it helpful to cut up the brats and brown them on a frying pan on medium-high heat the night before.  Then I just stuck them in a container in the fridge.  I did not find that the sausages being chilled affected how the dough rose when I prepared them.

The dough, of course, should be made the day you are going to enjoy the piggies:  add all dough ingredients into the pan of a bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer.  Program the bread machine for the dough cycle and press “start.”  When the machine has completed the cycle, the dough should be smooth and elastic.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray them with cooking spray.  Set aside.

Turn the risen dough onto a clean counter top.  Do not flour the counter top, but keep a little floured area to the side, to dab the dough in.  If you don’t use any flour at all, the dough will just stick to the counter rather than roll nicely.  But if you flour the counter you’re rolling the dough on, the dough will get too dry and won’t roll nicely either.

Use a bench knife or spatula to cut off a small section of dough.  Keep the unused portion of dough covered with a clean towel so it won’t dry out.

Begin to roll the small section of dough into a narrow snake (its diameter should be about 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch).  Beginning with one end of one brat piece, wrap the dough snake around the brat, snip off the end of the dough when finished, and place the brat seam-side down on one of the cookie sheets.  Continue doing this until all the little brats are wrapped.  Without worrying about perfection, try to wrap them as well as you can, because the dough can detach from the brats when put in the baking soda bath, if not wrapped well.  When all brats are wrapped, let them rise uncovered for about a half hour.

While waiting for the dough to rise, preheat the oven to 400° and bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.  Add the baking soda to the boiling water.  Carefully lower up to 8 piggies into the boiling water – don’t drop them from too high.  Allow the piggies to simmer for about 45 seconds, by which time you will notice the dough puffing.  Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the piggies one at a time, give them a little shake to remove excess water, and place them back on the cookie sheets.

When all piggies have been bathed, arrange them on their cookie sheets so that the dough – rather than the brats – are facing upwards.  Brush the tops of the piggies with the egg/water, and lightly sprinkle them with the coarse salt.

Bake the piggies for about 16 minutes each, or until the tops are a nice glossy golden brown.  Remove from the oven and transfer to a pretty platter.  Serve with lots of mustard varieties on the side, and enjoy!

Happy Autumn…

23 Sep

…as of 11:09pm last night!  What’s with that?

It’s pretty hot in our part of the Ozark Plateau right now, and there aren’t very many changing leaves yet.  But I’m still really exciting about making more soup, eating more squash, shifting my color pallet from blues to yellows and oranges, and some day – some day wearing my turtle necks and scarves.

All of the projects I’ve undertaken seem to be autumn-inspired.  We recently got a brand-new printer on Craigslist and needed a little table to put it on.  So we went yard-saling and Goodwilling, and the best we could do was this thing:

One leg wobbles a bit, the legs are that ugly forest green that seemed to be so popular in the mid-nineties, and it still cost me $10!  I feel like I could have found this kinda thing easy for $2 in Maryland.  But it was still much cheaper than a nicer looking (but still cheaply made) table from Wal Mart or somewhere like that.  So I bought a can of black spray paint for $1 (I was gonna do gray, but was afraid it would look too much like blue) and two yards of a butternut squash-colored cotton fabric for around $2.50.

I’m much happier with it now.   I was thinking of putting some yo-yos or something on it, but I think I prefer how simple this is.

And now for cookies:

My mom used to make these awesome pumpkin cookies (she called them Golden Nugget cookies), and I have to make them every Autumn.  They’re really simple and really fluffy, so I can eat about half a batch of them before I feel like I’m gonna go into a coma.

Mom’s Pumpkin Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350°

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed or canned pumpkin
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)

Cream together butter and brown sugar in a mixer or by hand in a large bowl.  Add eggs, beat thoroughly.  Mix in pumpkin.

In a separate medium bowl, combine dry ingredients and stir together.  Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and mix well.  If using raisins, add to batter and stir until evenly distributed.  Drop by the spoon-full onto a greased baking sheet and bake until bottom of cookie starts to crisp and brown – 15 to 20 minutes.

Hospitality and Etiquette

23 Jul

I had absolutely no idea how to cook, bake, or entertain when I first got married.  My brothers are fantastic cooks, but my mother says I never showed any interest in learning myself, so I was consigned to ignorance by my own stubbornness.  When I met Peter, he knew how to cook more than I did – that is, he knew how to make spaghetti and really good salmon.  By this time, I recognized that my ignorance was really something pretty pathetic and I resolved to correct it.  Unfortunately, I sought out women like Martha Stewart in order to do so.  Consequently, I became consumed with perfection in cooking, baking, and entertaining.  Likewise, when I discovered Miss Manners, I became consumed with what she insisted polite society deemed good etiquette while entertaining, or doing anything else.  By saying I was consumed with those things, though, please don’t think I claim to have ever achieved perfection or anything close to it.  It was simply my constant aim.  And when I didn’t, in my own estimation, achieve it, I counted the entire evening an embarrassing loss.  Needless to say, I was usually pretty depressed after having guests over, and tense during their visits.

I don’t have any problem with Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, Miss Manners, or anyone else who insists “you really must do this or that if you are going to please your guests.”  My orange binder is chock full of recipes by the former two ladies, and I have learned some very useful things from Miss Manners.

What I do need to be careful of, however, is that I remember that these ladies are operating from a different worldview.  That may sound silly and legalistic, to those who know neither the definition of legalism nor my point.  My point is that a Christ-centered worldview permeates an entire life.  A saint’s life is going to glorify God in a completely different way than a summer day or a chipmunk.  The summer day and the chipmunk are doing what God created them to do from birth.  A newly-created woman, however, is glorifying God in a more direct way and in saving knowledge of the One directing her day.  It would be incorrect to say, as many people have: “Well, all people and things glorify God in equally important ways because they are all directed by God.  So… carry on.”  I guess what I mean is that a chipmunk is glorifying God in a more basic way by using his little claws to gather nuts, as God gave him instinct to do; the Christian is glorifying God in a more direct way by using her arm to point to the God who saved her.  We are worth more to God than many chipmunks.

Anyway, my point in all of that is that things like hospitality, etiquette, entertaining, and dinner are not indifferent things, as though “whatever you do is going to glorify God, so just do whatever you please.”  Those women I’ve listed above have some very good, very Christian things to say about how one ought to operate in those areas.  However, because there is not a Christian worldview present, it can easily become a strict – and lifeless – set of rules to follow if one wishes to do hospitality correctly, or if one wishes to live by proper etiquette.  Some things we do in the Church go straight against the rules of etiquette: older women approaching younger women in order to train them; Paul requesting compensation for the spiritual leadership he has devoted himself to giving; Christians seeking other Christians for help when they are in need; Christ rebuking Martha (no, the other Martha) for worrying more about entertaining than enjoying her Guest.

Often I see Christian women – myself included – worrying so much about doing hospitality correctly that we end up really only being hospitable a couple times a year, because more than that would be too taxing and expensive.  Often we worry so much about etiquette that we refrain from offering help to someone, because we have always been told that “if the offer may possibly offend the friend, then it is best to not offer,” or “this service must never be rendered by one within the person’s immediate family,” and so on.  We can also be too concerned about etiquette to ask for the help for ourselves or our families. I know I’ve been guilty of that myself. Is that somehow pleasing to God? If not, then how can we refuse to ask for help on the grounds of etiquette, or even worse: roll our eyes at a sister who dares to break those cold lifeless rules herself?

Evelyn Waugh said “It is a curious thing that every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste.” It is possible to let ourselves become so engrossed with doing these things “correctly” that the originally intended aim of them becomes something terribly undesirable to us. When we find ourselves tightening our shoulders planning a dinner or a shower or anything else whose intention is meant to be to bless someone else and to enjoy that person, we ought to take note of our rude, impolite sister Mary, and remember how Christ praised her for her disregard for the rules of etiquette and hospitality when the Lord over etiquette and hospitality was in her midst.

Plum’n’Apple Chai Pie

4 May

Some of the best foods were created when someone needed to empty out the fridge or cupboard, or needed to use up what he had before it spoiled (Old Bay seasoning, dirty rice, &c.).  I found myself with some leftover plums from a tatin I’d made the week earlier.  They were getting wrinkly, and were a little too bitter for me to want to eat them alone.  I also had one single leftover pie crust in the freezer.  I couldn’t make a full-fledged pie out of it, so I threw together this:

The Plum’n’Apple Chai Pie

Ingredients:

  • Half a recipe Pate Brisee (found here), or one storebought pie crust
  • 1 eggwhite
  • 3 large Granny Smith apples, skinned and cut into relatively thin slices
  • 5 or 6 plums, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. molasses (I didn’t measure, I just drizzled and stirred until the fruit was lightly coated)
  • Half a fresh lemon, or a bottle of lemon juice
  • 2 heaping tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Chai tea bag (you’ll only be using half of it)
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • Half a stick of butter, cut into small slices and chilled
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 big handsfull dry oats

Preheat oven to 400.  Flour a clean smooth surface and roll out the pate brisee or storebought crust, being careful to not make it too thin (so it doesn’t burn), and lower into a pie dish.  Using a pastry brush, brush the rim of the pie with the egg white.  Put crust in the freezer until ready to fill (if you don’t freeze it, it will kinda sink down into the pie dish once it’s put in the oven).

In a large bowl, combine fruit, molasses, lemon juice (either half a lemon’s worth, or a few squirts from a bottle), sugar, half the contents of a chai teabag, and cornstarch.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix flour and brown sugar until combined.  Add butter and, using a pastry cutter, cut butter into dry mixture until well combined.  Add oatmeal and briefly mix with hands.  You can also mix flour, brown sugar, and butter in a food processor, transfer it to a bowl, and hand-mix the oats into that.

Take crust out of freezer, dump fruit in, and top with oatmeal mixture.  Place on top of tin foil-lined cookie sheet and put in oven (center rack) for about an hour, or until juice from fruit starts to bubble through the crumble topping.  Let cool before serving.

More of Katie’s Shower

6 Feb

I want to throw an indoor garden party of equal beauty.  I think I did a pretty good job decorating this shower, if I do say so myself.  I am completely open to color suggestions.  What would brighten your mood in the middle of winter?