Ginger: Cookies & Cider

The rainy winter season is upon us. The one upside to the rain, snow and cold are the winter spices. My favourite is ginger. Ginger is comforting and uplifting all at once. The peak season for fresh ginger is march to september, but I always find myself craving it in desserts and drinks in the winter.

Chocolate dipped ginger cookies

Ingredients: 1-1/4 cups (300 mL) granulated sugar, 2/3 cup (150 mL) vegetable oil, 1/4 cup (50 mL) fancy molasses, 1 egg, 1-3/4 cups (425 mL) all-purpose flour, 1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) ground ginger, 1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger, 1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon, 1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder, 1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda, 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt.

Preparation: In large bowl, whisk together 1 cup (250 mL) of the sugar, oil, molasses and egg until smooth.

In separate bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt ; stir into sugar mixture.

Shape by rounded tablespoonfuls (15 mL) into balls; roll in remaining sugar to coat. Place 2 inches (5 cm) apart on parchment paper–lined or greased rimless baking sheets.

Bake in top and bottom thirds of 375°F (190°C) oven, rotating and switching pans halfway through, until cookies spread out and tops crack, about 12 minutes. Let cool on pans on racks for 10 minutes; transfer to racks and let cool completely. (Make-ahead: Layer between waxed paper in airtight container and store for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.)
Tip: You can spice up this classic by adding 1/3 cup (75 mL) finely chopped crystallized ginger to the dry ingredients.

Melt semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler. Dip half of each cookie in to melted chocolate. Let cool on parchment paper.

As the above recipe shows I can’t resist putting chocolate on everything. I also like it inside the cookie as well so I tried out Martha Stewart’s chocolate chip ginger cookies, they did not disappoint.

Chocolate chip ginger cookies

Ingredients:
7 ounces best-quality semi-sweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions: Line two baking sheets with parchment. Chop chocolate into 1/4-inch chunks; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and grated ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined.In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking-soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat dough out to about 1 inch thick; seal with wrap; refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or more.Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Roll dough into 1 1/2- inch balls; place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll in granulated sugar. Bake until the surfaces crack slightly, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Ginger Apple Cider

A couple of weeks I went to Finch’s for lunch on a very rainy day. They were serving the perfect rainy day drink: ginger apple cider. I have been making pot after pot of ginger apple cider since that day.

I heat apple juice, cinnamon sticks, several chunky pieces of fresh ginger, and a dash of powdered ginger, cinnamon and cloves. I let it simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour to let all the flavours melt, then drink up. It is perfect for sitting by the fireplace or watching an old movie on a raining evening. Don’t forget to enjoy a cookie with your cup of cider.

Pasta Pie

I saw this recipe for pasta pie and could not wait to try it out! The pasta is baked standing on end stuffed with tomato and bolognese sauce and of course smothered in cheese!

I am a huge pasta lover!  This recipe is a great alternative to the standard pasta bowl or bake. I served it up by cutting the pieces out like a cake, it actually kept it shape with some help from the upper cheese layer.  When eating all the ingredients mix together in a gooey tomato pasta mess that is completely scrumptious.  The pasta is particularly flavourful because it is placed in the pan cooked al dente.  It finishes cooking while baking in the oven, it absorbs up the tomato sauce surrounding it, providing a spicy herby flavour.

Recipe:

1 pound rigatoni

2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound ground beef

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 can (28 ounces) good quality crushed tomatoes

1 small can of tomato paste

Butter, for pan

Salt

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

8 ounces coarsely grated mozzarella

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until slightly underdone (I cooked mine for 12 minutes when the box indicated 14 minutes).  One pound of pasta should be cooked in 6 quarts of water, make sure you are using a big enough pot so the pasta doesn’t stick together.  When done, rinse in cold water and drain again.  Toss pasta with 1 Tablespoon olive oil to coat.  Set aside.

Heat remaining 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add ground beef.  Cook, stirring occasionally until browned.  Add garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and other spices.  Cook 2 minutes more.

Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste; simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Toss pasta with Parmesan cheese.  Butter a 9-inch springform pan.  Tightly pack pasta into pan, standing each piece on end.  Spread meat sauce on top of pasta.

Push the meat sauce into the pasta holes filling each one up.  Stuffing the meat into the holes is a weirdly satisfying task.  Enough said.

Place in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top and bake another 10-15 minutes until cheese is golden.  Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge to loosen and then unmold.

Cut into wedges and serve with any remaining meat sauce you might have.

Chocolate chip cheesecake

Recently my co-workers needed a bit of a pick me after the onset of winter.  We decided sweets were the answer in the form of a cheesecake taste test.

The competitors were Trees, Giovane and the Emerald cafe.  Trees advertises it’s cheesecake as the best in the city, however it turned out to be the least favourite in my office.  The winner by far was the smooth and creamy cheesecake at Giovane Cafe.  The results were no surprise, in my opinion Giovane Cafe can do no wrong.  Every thing they make is delicious and delectable.

Once I had cheesecake on my brain…or more accurately my taste buds I had to have more.  The taste test was based on good ol’ New York style cheesecake, but I needed more.  More chocolate to be exact.  I went for a simple chocolate chip cheesecake with gram cracker crust.

I like making cheesecake in little ramekins so I don’t have to fuss with making the crust absolutely perfect.  Cheesecake is a great desert for entertaining or just a snack because it is super quick to make, the hard part is letting it cool and set after baking, I always want to dive right in.

Crust:

2 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

Filling:

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs

1 cup of chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter, press into buttered 8 inch pie plate to form crust on bottom and sides.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually add in lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar, milk, salt and vanilla.

3. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in chocolate chips. Pour filling into crust.

4. Bake at 325 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until set.

5.  Chill for 2 hours or more before serving.

Blue Potatoes

I remember having blue (to me they look purple) potatoes growing up in Ontario.  It didn’t happen often and they usual appeared as a gift from someone who grew them in their own garden.  I never see these colourful potatoes in grocery stores, and have not eaten/cooked one in years.  I was super excited to see some at a farmer’s market last week. I roasted them in the oven with some rosemary and italian parsley.

The leftovers ended up in a colourful frittata for breakfast the next morning.

Nutter Butters

For the last month at work all I have been hearing is ‘Nutta Butta, Nutta Butta, Nutta Butta.’ I had never heard of a Nutter Butter before. It turns out there are two forms a Nutter Butter can take. The first is a packaged American cookie snack.

The second Nutter Butter is a cookie sandwich made with peanut butter oat cookies and peanut. My friend Andie had the Nutter Butter cookie sandwich at Bouchon Bakery in Napa, California. Hearing her describe this cookie made me drool, which is why we decided that I should try to recreate it. Luckily Andie found the recipe in a 2006 New York Times article.

So I started by baking a billion cookies:

The recipe made a lot more cookies than I was expecting, though I think I made my cookies a bit too small. Then I went about trying to match all the cookies with their perfect partner. Putting the tiny cookies together and the thick big cookies together and so on. My cookies often don’t turn out perfectly uniform in size and shape. Next step: adding a layer of super sweet peanut butter frosting in-between the cookies.

I found that with the recipe I had a lot of cookies left over after I used the frosting up. These were turned in to a fabulous midnight snack, ice cream sandwiches!

I found the cookies on their own were not that exciting. They are not very sweet and there is not a strong enough peanut taste to call them a peanut butter cookie. I did like the crunch the crushed up peanuts provided. The frosting middle to this cookie sandwich is a well balanced pairing. The frosting is overwhelmingly sweet on its own, but it works well to brighten up the cookies and to add a creamy sweet punch.

I ended up with a lot of cookies sandwiches, even after they were thoroughly taste tested at work. So I started to experiment with some of the left overs on how to elevate this classic cookie to a new level. The result was a rich chocolate ganache topped Nutter Butter. Now that’s what i’m talking about!

Pizza Heaven

#43 on Vancouver magazines top 100 things to eat and drink in Vancouver is the Bianca Pizza at Nicili Antica. The toppings on this pizza were a perfect balance of everything fabulous: roasted garlic, roasted onion, parmigiano, gorgonzola and of course a healthy topping of extra virgin olive oil.

The pizza at Nicili Antica was very tasty but if you are looking for the best pizza in the city Nook is the place to go. The pizza crust at Nook is soft, salty and perfect every time. The pizza at Nicili Antica was very well made and very appetizing but compared to Nook the crust seemed very tough.

I love thin crust pizza. I have been addicted to Nook pizza since the very first bite. I always order the special, they are fabulous at coming up with new delectable combinations with garlic, onion, and pancetta, often using in-season vegetables and speciality cheeses. Burrata cheese can comely be found on pizza special or the crostini special, it is so creamy and scrumptious, you have to try it! The pasta is also fantastic. I love the Spaghetti Bolognese, a common dish made so well with great quality ingredients and perfect spicing.

Fruit Tarts

I saw this recipe on one of Jamie Oliver’s cooking shows recently.  It is super easy and came out tasting very sweet and yummy.  A nice post lunch treat.  I think I will have to make these again next summer for a picnic, they seem like the perfect snack for lying in the sun on a plaid blanket.

The recipe uses jam as the fruit filling.  I decided I wanted more texture and more fruit chunks so I mixed in some frozen berries.  This was a bit of a waste of time as it all turned to mush in the oven anyway, but it did provide more of a mixed berry flavour.

The filling is easily recognized as jam when you taste them so it would be hard to play these off as anything fancy.  For personal consumption however they are a nice simple sweet treat.

Recipe:

Mix together: 1 egg, 100g of ground almonds, a smidge of vanilla bean paste, 100g butter, 90g of sugar & grated zest of one orange.

You can make your own pastry shells, Jamie and I both went for store bought.

Layer jam and almond mixture twice starting with jam on the bottom and end with a topping of almond mixture. Then pop them in the oven for 15-18 minutes.