Happy New Year with Gingerbread Dreams

Happy New Year!  2011 brought a LOT of changes for me.  I graduated with my doctorate, got married, got my first real job, and moved to a different state.  It certainly was a busy one for me.  With all that change, the blog got a little neglected, but I’m back with a lot of fun new kitchen gadgets and an arsenal of recipes, so watch out!

Wisconsin has not yet realized it is winter, so we have no standing snow and I haven’t even my pulled out my snow boots.  What is January without snow?  Saying that, I’m not complaining that it hasn’t been below freezing every day, but as a Midwesterner, I get a little suspicious when I can’t see the white stuff at the start of winter.

One thing that always makes me think of winter is gingerbread.  I revel in the earthy, slightly sweet and complex flavor.  I embrace the warm, spicy smell of it baking in the oven.  You can almost close your eyes and feel the snow softly falling outside while it bakes.  

Gingerbread has a wonderful history.  I’m sure most readers are familiar with gingerbread cookies, which are little cut out men that are often thin and crispy.  This is not the only type of gingerbread, rather this is a type of gingerbread cookie.  The other kind of gingerbread is a cakey, quick bread, more like a brownie than a cookie.  It originates from Europe, most notably central Europe in countries like Germany and France via Armenian monks.  Today, in these European countries, gingerbread is enjoyed in cookie form for gingerbread houses or large cookies worn as necklaces and in cake/bread form as squares or round shapes similar to muffin tops.  These are often lightly iced with vanilla or chocolate, and they are fantastic.  I have had the privilege of enjoying true German gingerbread, and there really is nothing like it.  But this comes close.  🙂

From Lick My Spoon

Black, Sticky Gingerbread

You can bake this in two 9×5 bread pans to make a loaf or you can cook it in a 9×9 pan for something more similar to a cake or brownie.

1 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup unsulphured molasses

3/4 cup of quality honey

1 cup tightly packed 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

1/8 tsp mace or nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground clove

3 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup milk

1 Tbl packed, grated ginger

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Lightly grease baking pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper that has been cut to hang over two opposite edges by a couple of inches.

Combine the butter, water, molasses, honey and brown sugar in a medium non-reactive saucepan and place over low heat.  The most common non-reactive is stainless steel or glass.  Stir the mixture frequently until the butter is melted, and all of the ingredients are well blended. Remove from the heat, pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, all-spice and cloves, and set aside. When the molasses mixture feels just warm to the touch, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the milk and stir to combine. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter in four additions, using big, long strokes. Don’t be concerned if you can’t get all the lumps out.  Stir in the grated ginger.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours for a full pan, around 1 hour for bread pan, or until the top of the cake springs back when touched and a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then, using the overhang of parchment, lift the cake out of the pan and cool completely before cutting.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

I thought I would start off by tempting you   with a picture of the delicious cookies I made.  What a great way to start off the new year, with cookies!  Molasses cookies always remind me of my grandmother.  There is something timeless, something comforting, about a good old-fashion spice cookie.  They take me back to my childhood and the smell of my grandparent’s old gas stove.  These cookies are spicy and sweet – the perfect type of treat to give you a fuzzy feeling in your tummy.

When I decided to make these cookies, I had a very specific idea.  I wanted the taste of molasses cookies.  Unfortunately, most molasses cookie recipes out there remind me of cardboard.  They are often thin and become rock hard 20 minutes after cooling off.  I wanted a lush, soft molasses cookie with an extra punch of ginger.  I love ginger, and the standard amount in traditional ginger cookies just don’t do it for me.  So, I went online, looked at some recipes and came up with this what is here.  It’s an amalgamation of a few ginger cookie and molasses cookie recipes with my own special touch.

There are 2 ingredients that make these cookies really special.  The first is a delightful little spice called mace.  My boyfriend introduced me to it when he was making mulled wine.  Apparently, most mulled wines in Germany call for mace.  It is actually the red casing of a nutmeg, dried and ground up.  Mace has an incredible taste.  I don’t know how to describe except . . . warm.  It adds another layer to the cookies.  The second special ingredient is ginger sugar.  Who wants to roll cookies in plain, old sugar?  To give these cookies the taste of ginger I was looking for, I made a “ginger sugar”, which is simply candied ginger and sugar.  Its heaven.  Trust me.

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 sticks of softened, unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup blackstrap molasses

1 large egg

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon mace

dash of salt

ginger sugar

3 tablespoons candied ginger

2 tablespoons of granulated sugar

Cream butters and sugar until fluffy.  Add molasses, egg and vanilla.  Beat together.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt and spices.  Incorporate dry and wet ingredients.

To make ginger sugar, pour sugar and candied ginger into a food processor.  Pulse to break up the ginger.  Chop just enough so the candied ginger is broken up to the size of a mince.

Roll cookie dough into 1 inch balls.  Roll the balls in ginger sugar.  Place on a greased pan.  Cook for approximately 12 minutes, or until cracks form in the cookies.  Do NOT overbake!

Let cool and enjoy!

Ginger Chicken

I really love Chinese food. My boyfriend likes it even more.  Unfortunately, when we moved to our new apartment we realized we chose the one neighborhood with no Chinese food.  Its a tragedy, really.  Of course, we couldn’t just go without Chinese food, so I learned to make some on my own.

Not only that, but Chinese food is comforting.  Its warm, its spicy, and it tingles my taste buds, especially when ginger is involved.  Right now, I could use all the comfort I can get. I am currently waiting to hear about my internship applications and going slightly batty in the process. My friend (who follows this blog) suggested I cook to pass the time. 🙂  So this one is for you, Kristin.

This recipe is delightfully appealing and surprisingly simple. I was intimidated to make my own ethnic food at first.  After all, why mess with a good thing? But after some trial and error, I think I’ve come up with a pretty good combination here.  I used leeks because its what I had around the house, but you could always use green onion or just regular onion.

Ingredients:

1 lb chicken breast, cubed

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 Tablespoon of butter

2 carrots, peeled

1 medium leek, washed

2 teaspoons of minced garlic

2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper (more or less depending on your taste)

1/4 cup grated ginger

3/8 cup of soy sauce (or 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons)

1 Tablespoon of sugar

1 cup of water

1 Tablespoon of sesame seed oil

2 teaspoons of lime juice

salt and pepper to tase

Begin by making sauce.  Heat sesame seed oil in a saucepan.  Add garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper.  Heat until fragrant.  This will take only a minute.  Add soy sauce, water, sugar, and lime juice.  Let simmer.

Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a pan.  Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken in pan until nearly cooked through.  This will only take a few minutes.  Remove from heat and add to sauce and turn heat down to medium-low.

While chicken is cooking slice leek crosswise,the slice lengthwise.  Chop carrots into evenly-sized pieces so they cook at the same rate.  Heat last Tablespoon of oil in a hot pan.  Add carrots.  Continue to season vegetables with salt and pepper while cooking.  Once partially cooked (this will only take a couple of minutes), add butter and melt.  Then, immediately add leeks. Cook until transluscent.  Remove vegetables from heat and add to sauce.

Let mixture meld in the sauce for at least 10 minutes.  Serve over brown rice. You will never order Chinese again!