A Few of my Favorite Things: Gingersnaps edition

Gingersnaps: a harbinger of good things to come.

 

It’s officially cookie-baking season at our house, and with Christmas a mere 27 days away, I am anxiously anticipating batches of palm-sized deliciousness, getting through the 10 pounds of butter in the freezer, cookie baking and exchanging with friends, and a non-stop parade of amazing baked smells coming out of this kitchen.

Today, Paige and I kicked it all of with — you might have guessed it — gingersnaps. Now, at our house, gingersnaps aren’t reserved for the holidays, but the intermingling scents of clove, cinnamon, ginger, molasses, and orange zest conjure in me the very heart of the baking season. Man, I wish this was a scratch-and-sniff blog.

Anyway, this was the first batch of cookies Paige baked with supervision:

Raise your daughters up in the way they should go. Apron included.

She handled  herself with great aplomb. Made her old momma proud.

My secret weapon in our gingersnaps is orange, two ways: a little orange juice to keep things moist, and some orange zest to balance the deep spice of the cookie with something zingy.

Green Toews Gingersnaps

(makes about 4 dozen)

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons dark molasses
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 orange

Mix together in order shown. Chill for a half-hour or so. Roll into small balls and then in white sugar. press gently on cookie sheets with a glass.

Bake at 375 for about 8-10 minutes.

Everyone Loves a Bundt

I’ve gotten in the habit of baking on weekends. We have a slice or two of whatever I’ve created, but with just two grown ups and two kids, it’s hard (and probably not the healthiest) to make easy work of a pie, or cake, or… fill in the blank, really.

I declared Sunday Bundt day. I normally reserve a good Bundt for book club (or some other equally important occasion), but I found this recipe for a fall Pumpkin Pecan Pie Cake tucked in amongst my pans, and I couldn’t help myself. There’s BOURBON in it, for God’s sake. A girl can only be so strong.

Anyway, it seemed to be a hit in the office. I think I had three people asking for the recipe before lunch. Small victories there, I guess. At least I know the baking won’t go to waste. Well, that, and I love my job and colleagues enough to say this: my colleagues are worth a Bundt.
Yah. I like them that much.

Everyone loves a Bundt.

Pumpkin Pecan Pie Cake | From  a sampling of recipes I found with my Nordic Ware pan

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup molasses (it says light; I used dark)
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 14 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temp
  • 1 15 ounce can of pumpkin

Pecan Layer

  • 1 cup toasted chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Icing

  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp water
  • 3 tsp apple cider
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

Preheat to 350. Grease and flour pan.
In a small bowl, stir together all pecan layer ingredients and set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together all dry ingredients — flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg. Set aside.
In a small bowl, stir together buttermilk, bourbon, vanilla extract, and molasses.
In a large bowl (preferably the bowl of your stand mixer), beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down after each addition. Add 1/2 of the dry goods, then half of the wet goods, then half of the pumpkin, then mix well. Repeat.
Spoon half the pumpkin batter into the pan. Sprinkle the pecan layer on top first half of batter. Add the remaining batter.
Bake for 35-45 minutes until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then invert onto a plate or cooling rake to cool completely.

When completely cool, mix ingredients for icing together and drizzle on top of Bundt. Serve and enjoy!

“This is a caramel roll.”

(I have to learn to grab the camera during the process...)

sticky, gooey goodness.

Yesterday, Alice sat down at Penzey‘s where I was picking up some spices to color. When I was done checking out and walked over to inspect my artwork, she said, “This is a caramel roll.”

Well, Alice, I can take a hint. So last night, I mixed up the tried-and-true sweet batter for cinnamon and sticky buns from my favorite bread cookbook (The Bread Baker’s Apprentice). This time, I skipped nuts and fruit and modified the caramel recipe, and took what was a super-solid recipe into mind-blowing sweet roll goodness.

Without further ado:

Sarah’s Sticky Rolls

(adapted ever-so-slightly from Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

  • 6.5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5.5 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 3.5 to 4 cups flour
  • 2.25 teaspoons instant yeast (the instant yeast is important. Forget active dry yeast if you want to bake bread; find a place you can trust that sells SAF instant yeast, an airtight container to store it in the fridge. For the investment, you’ll have far less frustration with bread.)
  • 1.25 cups buttermilk
  • .5 cup cinnamon sugar (6 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons cinnammon)

Caramel:

  • .5 cup granulated sugar
  • .5 cup brown sugar
  • .5 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • .5 cup agave syrup

For dough:

cream the sugar, salt, and butter together in a stand mixer using the paddle. Get it good and fluffy. Then whip in egg and zest until smooth and fluffy again. Then add the flour (start with 3.5 cups and reserve the last half cup to get your consistency right), yeast (this is why it is critical to have instant yeast… you can add it right in with the flour and don’t have to dissolve it in anything), and buttermilk. Mix with the paddle on low speed until the dough forms a ball; then, switch to the dough hook and knead (on 2 if you are using a KitchenAid mixer) for at least 10 minutes. I always spend about 5 minutes finishing the knead by hand, mostly because it is fun to have the girls help with this final part. Add your extra flour if you need it here; it’s more of an art than a science, but the dough should be silky, elastic, and should pass the windowpane test.

Put that bad boy in a big ceramic bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and put it somewhere warm to rise until double (I turn the oven on to 150 while I’m mixing, then turn it off once I start kneading. The lightbulb and pilot light, combined with the little bit of heat, make an excellent proofing box).

Mix up the cinnamon sugar sometime while you are waiting (it’ll be 2-4 hours, so plan accordingly).

Also while waiting, mix up the caramel. Melt the butter, sugars, and salt in a saucepan over as low of heat as you can tolerate. Once melted, but not at all browned, pour in the vanilla extract while whisking, then the agave syrup (still whisking). Remove from heat and pour into the bottom of the pan you’ll bake your rolls in (I like an old-fashioned 9×13 metal cake pan for this job).

To shape the rolls, turn out the doubled dough to an oiled surface (Pam on the countertop at this house). Use a rolling pin to make a 10×14 or so rectangle of dough. The most important thing here is to make it at least 2/3 inch thick; I like about 3/4 inch thick, personally… but I like fluffy, pillowy sticky buns. Once you have your rectangle, sprinkle it with the cinnamon sugar and then roll it up the long way, like a giant sweet dough cigar, making a cinnamon sugar spiral. Cut the dough cigar into 12 equal pieces, and put them on top of the caramel in the pan, giving them as much room as you can to expand. Put a lid on that badboy and toss it in the fridge overnight.

Grab the rolls out of the fridge 3 or so hours before you want to bake them so they can proof (yes, this may mean getting up at 5am, digging them out of the fridge, then crawling back into bed, if you are serving them at 9am).

Once proofed, crank up the oven to 350. Once fully heated, bake for 30-40 minutes on the bottommost shelf of the oven until golden brown and caramelicious. (Hint: I always make too much caramel, so it bubbles out of my pan. I have learned to add a drip pan to the bottom of my oven.)

Let rest for 5 minutes, then turn upside down onto a cookie sheet. Grab your coffee, a plate, and a napkin, maybe the NYT crossword, and enjoy.

Eat your heart out, NYC.

My finest parenting moments include the times I realize how broad my children's palates already are.

This morning, we made 14 everything bagels with ramp-chive cream cheese. We made them last year, too… and I have been dreaming of them ever since. So, needless to say, this is going to quickly become an annual tradition.

I use the bagel recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and I won’t republish the recipe here because I don’t mess with it (or any recipe from that book); they are perfect as-is. What I will say is, go buy this book if you want to bake bread. You’ll learn a ton and have every basic recipe you could want to master yeast breads.

14 bagels are too many for the three of us, so we made a random-neighbor-delivery to three friends in the ‘hood. Damn, it feels good to live in Nordeast.

And now, bagel eye-candy:

Crunchy, salty, spicy, savory goodness. That's what I'm talking about.

The waiting is the hardest part.

At last. Eat your heart out, New York.

Minneapolis, Food City.

It’s always busy during May for us. So I’m probably more excited than usual to get to the Mill City Farmer’s Market for the first time this season.

Mill City has been “our market” since we met five years ago. It’s not the biggest, and it’s not the closest to our house, but it’s a fantastic bike ride over the Stone Arch Bridge. The Chef Shack is there. And there’s a ton of really high-quality food to bring home, to boot.

And it offers a list of food that makes my mouth water… case in point, this week’s list of goodies (it’s so helpful that the market is offering a Produce Planner this year!):

  • Asparagus
  • Morels
  • Green garlic
  • Ramps
  • Rhubarb
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Spring salad mix
  • Spinach
  • Nettles
  • Fiddlehead ferns
  • Herbs
  • Salad turnips
  • Dried peppers
  • Baby bok choy

Drool. That is all.

My cheatin’ heart.

For years now, Rustica has been my go-to bakery. It’s also been the gold standard I strive to meet in my own journey toward mastering the art of baking.

Until today.

As we drove to work this morning, Dining with Dara highlighted Sunstreet Breads, on 46th and Nicollet. Now, Dara knows a thing or two about good eats here in the metro, AND 46th and Nic is conveniently a quick stop on my morning commute, so I convinced the carpool to stop in.

I bought three baguettes and a blueberry cream cheese kolache. This cream cheese kolache:

Yes, I got halfway through this pastry before I thought to take a picture of it. It was THAT good.

And while the pillowy donut-meets-sweet roll texture of the kolache is really nothing like the buttery, flaky, crumbly base of most Rustica pastries, I have to say that it perhaps tasted even better with my coffee. Maybe. However, the baguette! Oh, the baguette. Dara, you have never steered me wrong before, and I daresay Sunstreets’s baguette outshines Rustica. Gasp. There, it’s out there and I’m not ashamed. The crumb: amazing. The flavor: clean and elegant, yet complex, with notes of milkiness, a little salt, and the perfect bite. I want to bottle the aroma and sell it as perfume. Lawd.

So now, I have a cheating problem. I’ve been in  a relatively monogamous bakery relationship with Rustica for years… and I’m not ready to leave her. But Sunstreet, you are oh-so good at what you do, too. I’m a two-timing, bakery loving fool, and I just can’t help myself.

The Green Toews kitchen manifesto

“How do you guys eat so well, all the time?”

I often find myself equal parts perplexed and flattered when a friend or family member comments on how our household runs what I consider to be the epicenter of life — our kitchen. I’ve fielded questions about why we grow our own food AND participate in a CSA — why we shop at 3 or 4 local food providers, including stops at the butcher, bakery, coffee shop, and fishmonger, pretty much weekly, in addition to the grocery store — how we manage to turn out 5 or 6 home-made meals a week — and do it all within a family of four, average-joe budget.

I realize that our obsession over food isn’t everyone’s passion. And I remember a time when cooking for one (or two) seemed like more of a hassle than what it was worth.  And other times, I stop and think: have we as a culture gone soft? Do we, as a race, know how to feed ourselves, without the packaged food aisles in the supermarket and processed meat squares that come from a fast-food window? Don’t get me wrong — we feed the kids mac and cheese; our car can and will be found at a drive-through window on a roadtrip. But that’s not our day in/day out. So how do we make our kitchen happen? We follow these simple rules. And no, it doesn’t take all my time. And no, it’s not my only hobby. But my kids did eat ratatouille from scratch last night (and watched me cook as they watched the movie) — and at ages 2 and 7, sang the praises of couscous and goat cheese. So maybe we’re on to at least a little something…?

Take or leave these tips as they serve your life; they have, and will continue, to serve our family well.

  1. Get a solid handle on the basics of good cooking and baking. Make time to learn a few crucial things like knife techniques, ratios, herbs and spices, and flavor profiles. If you have ever felt anxious walking into the kitchen because “you don’t know how to cook”… this is where you start. Get a book; take a class; ask a friend who knows this stuff to mentor you (trust me, we love to pass down the knowledge). We won’t all turn out to be epic chefs. But we all have the ingrained ability to feed ourselves well. It is how our species has survived for so long. Don’t let Betty Crocker and Hamburger Helper fool you; we ALL are smart enough to put together delicious meals, all by ourselves.
  2. Buy a few really great cookbooks you like and know you’ll use; find websites with trusted recipes and make them your go-tos. Try new things from them, and make peace with the occasional failure (there’s a restaurant open somewhere that will feed you if you burn the biscuits or ruin the roast). Donate or sell the cookbooks you don’t use; they’ll only frustrate and discourage you, but they may inspire someone else.
  3. Invest a little bit of money in quality kitchen tools that make your job a million times easier. A good knife and sharpener, a solid cutting board, high-quality food processor, and top-notch mixer can make what seems daunting pretty easy.
  4. Plan your meals weekly. Balance the menu (rotate meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes as well as flavor profiles) and plan for specific recipes. You won’t overspend at the grocery store, you are less likely to give up and go out to eat.  Incredibly important key to success: plan in one or two days per week where you do nothing — eat a bowl of cereal,  reheat leftovers, or grab take-out. Don’t kill yourself in the kitchen every day.
  5. Keep track of what you have available. We use a simple spreadsheet on Google docs that inventories our freezers, and add or delete as items are purchased or used. We throw away less freezer-burned fruits and unintelligible leftovers.
  6. Shop around and find the least expensive way you can buy local. This is a big fad right now — and a good one, in my opinion, but this is America, after all, and even the best fads allow an opportunity for someone to rip you off. Be smart. My neighborhood gas station sells the same eggs and milk I’d buy at the co-op for well less than half the cost. Same brands. So yep, I do make the trip into the gas station to save myself 5 bucks on eggs and milk every week. And you know what, everyone wins… I support my neighbors and local economy,  I pay less because I don’t have to pay someone to ship it.  Also, local food is delicious food. I think of it this way: imagine how you feel after walking to the corner store. Then, imagine how you feel after being on a 8 or 12-hour plane ride. That bag of spinach from Argentina tastes the same way you feel after that plane ride, compared to the bag of spinach from the farmer’s market, picked yesterday and driven 40 miles to get in your belly.
  7. Buy in-season. Lots of  cash (and pollution, and unnecessary plant stress, and chemical fertilizers, and so on) goes into things that are force-grown/mass produced. Besides, in-season food tastes better (when it’s allowed to do what nature programmed it to do). No one wants to eat that mealy peach from Chile in  February. Especially not at 3 or 4 bucks a pound.
  8. Avoid anything that has extra packaging. You pay a (relative) fortune for the packaging – and, when things are packaged, they often need preservatives, which is another thing you don’t need, but still pay for – and, ultimately, you just throw it all away.
  9. Learn how to grow the things you use most. You’ll save time and money if you’ve frozen a giant green bean harvest for the lean winter months, instead of buying a bag at the grocer’s every week. And again, have I mentioned how much better it tastes?
  10. Make it yourself (even if you have to freeze, can, or otherwise preserve it for later) whenever you can.

Hold the strawberry

A friend of mine recently mentioned how much she loves rhubarb, and how annoying it is that rhubarb recipies are overwhelmingly paired with strawberry (which she isn’t as crazy about). That got me thinking. Having a giant soft spot in my heart for all fruits (I can’t think of one I don’t love), strawberry-rhubarb is an automatic win for me.

Enter Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. My darling sisters-in-law nabbed this cookbook for me last birthday and now that fruit is starting to pop back onto our local market scenes (and in our backyard and CSA box to boot), its been a source of inspiration.

My first experiment: Rhubarb and Tart Cherry Brown Betty. It’s a HUGE batch of dessert (I’d half the recipe next time), but oh-my-goodness yummy. And strawberry-free!

Rhubarb & Tart Cherry Brown Betty

(adapted slightly by me)

Also known as: YUM.

  • Butter for pan
  • 2.5 cups crushed shortbread cookies (I was lazy and used store-bought but you could make your own)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup pitted sour cherries (I used the pie cherries I canned last summer, drained/rinsed. super-easy.)
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch
  • Ice cream or whipped cream (for serving)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter your baking dish (this is the halved recipe, so I’d go with a 9X9 glass pan).

Mix cinnamon and sugar together in a large bowl.  Add rhubarb and cherries and mix to combine.  Drizzle in the kirsch and let the whole thing sit for 15-20 minutes to draw out some of the fruits juices and generally awesome-ize itself.

In the meantime, press the crushed cookies (maybe a little less than half of them) into the bottom of the pan to create a crust.

Dump the fruit on the top. Sprinkle the remaining cookie crumbs on top of all that.

Cover your pan with aluminum foil and toss that bad boy in the oven for 20-30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove the aluminum foil and allow the top to brown for about 10-15 more minutes (make sure the rhubarb is submerged in juices before you give it that last browning treatment).

Allow to cool. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.