Archive for March, 2014

Candy-Sprinkled Gingerbread Cookies

Candy Cane-Topped Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread is one of my absolute types of cookies. Gingerbread cookies are perfect for the winter harvest and festival season, but sadly the winter season is over. Of course now that we are officially in spring, I am craving those warm homey spiced flavors, like gingerbread, pumpkin pie, chai and curry. At least gingersnaps, chai, and numerous curries are popular enough that they are available throughout the year. I really enjoy cooking with spices beyond salt and pepper. Spices, liven up dishes and make foods so much more interesting. As an added bonus, they also contain trace minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.

Spiced treats after holiday meals (and spices in your entrees) are actually quite helpful. The spices increase digestion for eating meat and other heavy foods as well as boost metabolism, which helps increase the burning of calories and body temperature, so it makes sense to me that gingerbread is a traditional winter holiday treat. In addition, ginger acts as an anti-inflammatory. I know it is strange to mention in an entry about cookies, but cinnamon regulates blood sugar, reduces LDL cholesterol levels and is anti-microbial (and therefore a natural preservative). Cinnamon also reduces arthritic and menstrual pain. Blackstrap molasses is high in iron, calcium and magnesium (with a serving size of two tablespoons dissolved in warm water) as well as significant amounts of manganese, potassium, vitamin B6, and selenium.

Gingerbread has historically been so popular, it is available in many different forms, textures and flavors from across the world. There are dry or moist cakes and hard and soft cookies, for instance, not to mention all of the other gingerbread flavored desserts. German lebkuchen are glazed flattened cookies, whereas the German Sankt Nikolaus spekulatius are very large cookies, which are made by pressing the  dough into a highly detailed design (usually St. Nick or other religious shapes) cut into a large wooden cookie presses (really a cookie board). For the Dutch and Belgian versions (speculaas and speculoos) the cookies are pressed into wooden molds of all sorts of religious  and secular shapes, even chickens and windmills. Pfeffernuesse are also German cookies but are made with peppercorns. For more gingerbread information and various cultures’ recipes, visit the St. Nicholas Center; they even have a gluten-free recipe for making speculoos. Check out Chef Petrus Hermanni Kurppa’s great collection of wooden cookie molds over on his blog, Turku Gingerbread.

Image Credit: Chef Petrus Hermanni Kurppa of Turku Gingerbread

Image Credit: Chef Petrus Hermanni Kurppa of Turku Gingerbread

Of course, you can always make crispy gingerbread cookies with a stiff dough by rolling it out thin, and then cutting the cookies into small shapes with either preformed cutters or cutting them into larger shapes by cutting the dough with a knife while following the outline drawn onto a piece of butcher or parchment paper. Making the pieces for constructing gingerbread houses (or lebkuchenhause) are also cut this way. Decorate with colorful frosting, sanding sugars and dragees to your heart’s content!

Candy Cane Gingerbread Cookies
These cookies are not specifically based on any one recipe but a couple from The Great American Cookie Cookbook.

Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookie Dough
This cookie dough recipe is adapted from The Great American Cookie Cookbook’s Gingerbread Cookie Dough.

Yields 1 to 2 Dozen Cookies

Ingredients
1 T Chia Seeds, course ground
1/4 C Warm Filtered Water
1/4 C Unsweetened Apple Sauce or pureed pears
1/4 C Earth Balance Spread, softened
1/3 C Powdered Sucanat
1/4 C Unsulfured Blackstrap Molasses
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 C Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp Xanthan Gum
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
Icing (see below)
Fruit Flavored Candy Canes, crushed

Directions
In a small bowl, beat the seeds and water together with a fork. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so to prevent the seeds from clumping.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the apple sauce, spread, sucanat, molasses, “egg” and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, gum, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Add wet ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.

Spoon dough onto the baking sheets in one-tablespoon portions. Flatten slightly to spread the cookies to at least a two-inch diameter size. This dough is really sticky and difficult to work with, but try your best. Space the flattened cookies about inch apart.

Bake for eight to ten minutes or until the edges start browning. The cookies will harden as they cool, so do not worry if they are still soft. Cool the cookies for five minutes on the baking sheets. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Once cool, drizzle or spoon the icing on the cookies. Immediately sprinkle the crushed candy on top and press larger pieces into the icing to ensure that it sticks. Let the icing dry for up to ten minutes.

Golden Apple Powered Sugar Icing
The Powdered Sugar Icing recipe is also from The Great American Cookie Cookbook’s.

Yields 2 1/4 Cup Icing

Ingredients
2 C Powdered Sugar
2 tsp Unfiltered Apple Juice
5 tsp Filtered Water
Yellow Food Coloring

Directions
Sift the sugar into a medium to large bowl to get rid of lumps. Mix the juice, water and sugar together with a fork.* Add more juice to increase flavor and thin the icing as necessary. Slowly stir in the yellow food coloring until you reach the medium shade of your choice.

*Increase the icing’s apple flavor by adjusting the ratio amounts of juice to water.

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Split Pea and Ham Soup

Split Pea and Ham

A bit ago my husband and I received Pea Soup Andersen’s dried split peas from the Saslows; the peas were packaged in a cute little cotton drawstring bag with the soup recipe printed on the back. What a wonderful winter gift! If you have not visited one of Pea Soup Andersen’s locations before, I highly recommend that you go. They have all sorts of tasty, tasty dishes beyond pea soup, ranging from sandwiches and salads to steak and chicken. I have visited both of the California restaurants, one in Santa Nella and the other in Buellton, while on roadtrips with family and friends. Each time I found it difficult to decide what I wanted to order (other than the famous soup, of course), since their menus are so big!

The split pea and ham soup provided several great satisfying meals; sometimes I even had a few small bowls as snacks on they days that the weather was particularly chilly. Making this soup also allowed the perfect opportunity to incorporate some of the leftover ham from my earlier post into yet another delicious dish. The meat and spices really added to the soup’s over all flavor, making it even more hearty.

Andersen's premium selected split peas

Andersen’s premium selected split peas

Split Pea and Ham Soup
Adapted from the Pea Soup Andersen’s “Soup-in-a-Bag” instructions.

Yields 12 Servings

Ingredients
3 C Dried Split Green Peas*
4 qt Filtered Water, divided
1 Large Stalk Celery, trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 Large Carrot, trimmed, Chopped
1 Large Sweet Yellow Onion, skinned, trimmed, chopped
2 – 3 T Minced Garlic Cloves
1 lb Ham, cubed
1 tsp Dried Thyme Leaves
2 Pinches Ground Cayenne Pepper
1 Large Bay Leaf
Sea Salt, to taste
Ground Mixed Peppercorns, to taste

Directions
Thoroughly rinse the peas under cool water in a fine mesh strainer. Pour into large stock pot. Cook at a rolling boil with two quarts water for 20 minutes or until peas are tender. Strain through fine mesh strainer.

Return peas to stock pot with two more quarts water. Add vegetables, herbs, ham. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 10 minutes or until ham is heated through and flavors are blended. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

*For a more colorful soup, you can use a mixture of split peas with half green and half yellow.

Glazed Clove-Studded Ham

Ham and String Beans

The other day at work, someone brought home-baked ham from lunch, which of course only made me crave it, so as soon as I clocked out for the day, I went to the store on a quest. A quest for ham! Well, the first store did not have what I wanted, and the second store did not either. As it was getting later though, I settled on a mostly unflavored precooked spiral-sliced hunk of ham, since that’s all the store carried. Honestly, I was too hungry to make dinner from scratch and bake the ham for several hours. I made sure to check the ingredients on the ham label first to make sure the meat did not contain any allergens or gross chemicals.

Once it was out of the packaging, I studded it with all of my whole cloves at about one-inch intervals. As per the directions, I placed the ham on a foil-lined baking sheet and then covered the ham tightly with more foil. I baked the ham at 350 degrees F for about an hour, which was about 8 minutes per pound.

During the last few minutes of the baking time, I prepared the glaze. To reduce the sugar, I opted to only use half of the sugary spiced glaze mixture, stirring it into 3 tablespoons of water in a sauce pan on low heat until the sugar crystals fully dissolved. I simmered the glaze on low for about two minutes and then brought the glaze up to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.

While the glaze was still hot, I removed the ham from the oven and increased the temperature to 400 degrees F. I carefully spooned the glaze onto the ham, making sure to glaze all whole cut of meat. I set the foil covering aside for post-dinner ham storage, as it was no longer needed for roasting. Once the oven reached the desired temperature, I popped the meat back in the oven to roast for another hour, when the center of the roast reached 120 degrees F. (Remember the ham was precooked, so I was just reheating it and allowing the flavors to meld.) It was nice that the ham was spiral-sliced, so all I had to do was cut the meat in sections from around the bone.

Glazed Clove-Studded Baked Ham

I was so relieved that preparing the ham was so easy. Although I wish I cooked the ham and made the glaze from scratch, this was a nice alternative. I am very glad that there was plenty of leftovers for my husband and I to incorporate into later dishes, such as soup, salad and sandwiches. Most importantly, it was rather healthy and delicious.