Ginger Spiced Molasses Cookies

Ginger Spiced Molasses Cookies

~ Ginger Spiced Molasses Cookies ~

We’ve waited until very late (for us) to get our Christmas tree this year. Normally it’s up in early December, and by time the 25th arrives, we light the candles in a last hurrah, before dismantling it the next day. This year is a little different. We harvested our tree only this past weekend, on Saturday evening in the dark. As we picked it out, it felt like we were back in Denmark, searching for a tree in the darkness of the nordic winter. We spent Sunday decorating and will continue to do so over the next few days – after all, everyone has to have their way with the decorations. Then on the 24th, we will light the tree in its full glory as we celebrate julaften or Christmas eve, when we eat our big holiday dinner. In true Scandinavian fashion we use live candles, and it’s truly the most beautiful sight to behold.

Since the tree is so fresh, it will remain standing for a good week after Christmas, which is perfect, since we are home for the holidays this year and look forward to friends stopping in for wine and gløgg.  In anticipation, I’ve made an extra large batch of these Ginger Molasses Spiced Cookies to have on hand for any last minute tree tweaking and unexpected guests who might surprise us. The spice of these cookies goes very well with a glass of warm spiced gløgg.

Ginger Spiced Molasses Cookies

I was honored that Food52 selected these cookies last week as their contribution to a virtual cookie swap, hosted by Food Network and Yahoo! Shine. And Alicia, the talent behind the delicious blog Weekly Greens, has featured this recipe in her Whole Foods Market Cooking Column. Christmas has indeed come early this year!

Makes about 42 (1 1/2 inch) cookies.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1/3 cup finely diced candied ginger, optional
Granulated sugar for rolling

Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, salt, and cloves in a bowl to combine.  Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and molasses and mix well.  Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Stir in the candied ginger. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Pour some granulated sugar into a small bowl. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, then in the sugar. Arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and gently flatten. Bake in oven until set and crinkled on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool.

Gløgg, Glüwein, Mulled Wine

Gløgg, glüwein, mulled wine – the names and languages are different but not the results. Orange, cinnamon and cloves steep in red wine fortified with a reduction of port wine spiked with Cointreau. Goodness, if that isn’t enough to get you fired up for the holiday season, then I’m not sure what will.

There are many pre-made mixes for gløgg, but the best way to make it is from scratch. It’s easy to do and requires an inexpensive full-bodied red wine.  When you make the gløgg, the aroma of simmering spices and wine will fill your home with winter cheer. Best served in front of a fire on a cold and snowy day.

Gløgg 
Serves 8 to 10

For the garnish:
1 cup raisins
1/3 cup Cointreau, Gran Marnier, or rum
1/2 cup whole almonds (optional)

For the gløgg:
1 1/2 cups Port wine
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup Cointreau or Gran Marnier
1/3 cup brown sugar
Zest of 2 untreated or organic oranges, shaved in strips with a vegetable peeler
10 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bottles full-bodied red wine

Fresh orange slices as garnish

Prepare the garnish:
Combine the raisins and Cointreau in a small bowl. Let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours. (The raisins may be prepared up to one week in advance.  Cover and refrigerate until use). Toast the almonds in a dry skillet on the stove. Remove from the heat and coarsely chop into large pieces.

Prepare the gløgg:
Combine all of the gløgg ingredients, except the 2 bottles of red wine, in a heavy large pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid reduces to about 2 cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the red wine, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to low. Heat the gløgg without letting it come to a boil (or the spirits will evaporate!)

To serve, add a spoonful each of raisins and almonds, if using, to a glass or mug.  Strain the gløgg into the glass. Garnish with fresh orange slices and serve with a spoon for scooping up the raisins and almonds.

Danish Aebleskivers

Danish Aebleskivers

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Danish Æbleskivers

Referred to as pancakes, dumplings or even doughnut holes in English, Danish æbleskivers are served as a treat throughout the month of December. While you can buy aebleskivers pre-frozen in the shops, nothing beats the vanilla and cardamom scent and tender texture of homemade pancakes. To make them you will need a special æbleskivers pan, which is a skillet with 6 to 8 round indentations. Cast iron is best. Makes 20.

1  1/2 cups whole milk
1 envelope dry yeast or .6 ounce fresh yeast (1 cake)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 vanilla bean
2 large eggs, separated

Unsalted European-style butter
Strawberry or raspberry preserves
Powdered sugar

Heat milk in a small saucepan until lukewarm.  Remove from heat and pour into a medium bowl.  Add yeast and let it dissolve.

Combine flour, sugar, salt and cardamon in a medium bowl.  Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds into the dry ingredients.  Whisk the egg yolks into the milk.  Add the wet ingredients to the flour and mix well. Beat egg whites in bowl of electric mixer until stiff.  Fold into batter.  Let stand one hour at room temperature.

Melt 1/2 teaspoon butter in each indentation of an aebleskiver pan over medium heat. Pour batter into each indentation, about 2/3 full.  Cook until golden brown underneath, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a wooden skewer, turn æbleskivers over and continue to cook until golden and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer æbleskivers to a plate lined with a paper towel, and repeat with remaining batter.  Serve æbleskivers with powdered sugar and preserves. Accompany with gløgg.

Kale and Carrot Salad with Pecans and Cranberries

Kale and Carrot Salad with Pecans and Cranberries

~ Salad with substance: Kale, Carrots, Shallot, Pecans, Dried Cranberries ~

Fall and winter salads differ from their light and cooling summer cousin. Cold weather salads should be filling and comforting, hardy with fruit and nuts, cheese and dried meat. While served fresh, these salads should give warmth in substance. The base of this bright fall salad is kale. In it’s raw form kale is tough and bitter, best shredded in a slaw or sautéed in olive oil. For this salad I’ve softened the kale  by quickly blanching it just to soften its edges without wilting. The other ingredients fall willingly into formation, adding sweetness, crunch and a vibrancy of color pretty enough to decorate any holiday table.

Winter Kale and Carrot Salad with Pecans and Cranberries
Sliced persimmons would also be a nice addition to this salad.
Serves 4 as a side.

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large bunch curly green kale, tough vein removed, torn in large pieces
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pecans, halved
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Make the vinaigrette: Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add kale and blanch just until the color brightens and the leaves still hold their shape, 20 seconds. Drain immediately and rinse under cold water. Spin dry in a salad spinner or blot dry with a kitchen towel. Transfer to a bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Toss with half of the dressing and taste for seasoning. Serve with additional dressing to taste.

Tips and Treats for a Holiday Cheese Basket

Tips and Treats for a Holiday Cheese Basket



~
I made this cheese basket for a ghoulish gathering of friends last weekend. Cheeseboards and baskets are fun to make and with a little thought and creativity can easily take center stage at a buffet table. I never tire of arranging and decorating them, using the season and holidays as inspiration. For this Halloween-inspired cheese basket I picked autumnal decorations with a creepy twist. I created a border of spiky, frizzy greens with dark, purplish leaves and black, woody garnishes. The cheese selection was equally ghoulish: ash-rubbed cheese, a moldy blue, stinky and runny cheese and orange pockmarked cheese. The crisps and crackers were dark, rough and seeded, weaving through the cheese like wood in the forest.

~
All of the garnishes and decorations are edible and include:
Mustard greens, chicory, purple kale, frisée, miniature red pears, black radishes, burdock root, gourds and baby pumpkins, black olives, pumpkins seeds, dried currants and cranberries.

Crisps and snacks were chosen for color, shape and texture:
Corn nuts, black sesame rice crackers, cranberry hazelnut crisps,  crisp flatbread, and chunks of dense fig and almond cake.

Black slate created the background and lined the basket interior, provided a sturdy surface to cut the cheese while various wooden and black vessels contained wayward runny cheese and little nibbles.

Not only did the cheeseboard look good, it featured a thoughtful selection of cheese that ranged from soft and mild to strong and aged. When you gather a selection, try to balance it in strength, texture, flavor. As a starting point I often include a blue cheese, a creamy white-molded cheese such as camembert, a goat cheese and a hard alpine cow or sheep milk cheese.

Cheese pictured in this basket includes (clockwise from top center):

1.  Cowgirl Creamery Sir Francis Drake washed rind cheese with currants
2.  Sharp white Cheddar with a Purple Rind – selected for color
3.  Aged Gouda Saenkanter – an orange, sharp, nutty Dutch cows milk cheese
4.  Adante Dairy “Nocturne” cows milk cheese with gray mold and ash
5.  Seal Bay Triple Cream – mild, oozing and runny
6.  Gorgonzola Mountain – crumbly and streaked with blue
7.  Petit Brebiousse – a French ewe’s milk cheese with an orange rind

So have fun – enjoy all of the fabulous cheese and remember to save some for the guests. Bon appétit!

Sweet and Red Potato Mash

Sweet and Red Potato Mash

~ Sweet Potatoes, Red Bliss Potatoes and Celery Root Mash ~

It’s the time of year for soft and fluffy things. This applies to our food as well as our clothes.  As we wrap ourselves in wool and light the fire, we contemplate sating meals to comfort and fill our bellies. This simple side will do just that. Sweet and red potatoes are smashed together with celery root in a rustic rendition of fluffy mashed potatoes. Faintly sweet with potato and redolent of roasted garlic, this savory side is mellow and rich, promising to warm us as much on the inside as our fleece is protecting us on the outside.

Sweet and Red Potato Mash

Whole milk Greek style yogurt adds body and creaminess without excess fat to the potatoes. If you prefer extra richness, substitute sour cream for the yogurt. Serves 4-6.

2 pounds red potatoes with skin, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 pound sweet potato, peeled, cut in 1 inch pieces
1/2 pound celery root (celeriac), peeled, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, divided
Salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup whole milk Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Sage leaves for garnish

Combine potatoes and celery root in a large pot. Peel and smash 3 garlic cloves. Add to the pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until potatoes are very soft. Drain. Return to pot and cool slightly. Mince the remaining garlic and add to the potatoes. Add butter and yogurt. Mash with a potato masher to desired consistency. Stir in cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm, garnished with chopped sage leaves.

Winter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Pistachios

Winter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Pistachios

As much as I like a warming winter stew, I also appreciate a fresh winter salad. In fact, they both go well together.  The crisp bitter greens are a nice palate cleanser and contrast to a rich, meaty stew. I made this salad the other night with a mix of seasonal greens: mizuna, arugula, beet greens and chicory. Feel free to tinker with the combination, depending on what’s in the fridge and market, but keep in mind a variety of leaves and colors for a pretty presentation. Dried cranberries and pistachios add chewy, crunchy substance to the greens as well as a touch of sweetness and salt. I happened to spot baby rainbow carrots at the farmers market that day, and tossed a few in for extra color and texture. Don’t throw out the carrot tops. If they are bright and fresh, they can join the greens.

Winter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Pistachios
Serves 4-6

8 cups mixed winter greens, such as frisée, arugula, mustard, beet greens, chicory, mizuna
2-3 baby carrots, green tops reserved, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 handful fresh flat leaf parsley and/or cilantro sprigs
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2 tablespoons shelled pistachios

Apple Cider Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Wash and dry the salad leaves. Place in a large bowl. Coarsely chop carrot greens if using. Scatter carrot greens,  carrots, parsley, cranberries and pistachios over the leaves. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Prepare vinaigrette. Combine vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in oil in a steady stream to emulsify.

Holiday Timeout: Shrimp and Dill Open-Face Sandwich

Holiday Timeout: Shrimp and Dill Open-Face Sandwich

Are you suffering from a food hangover? No worries. You’ve made it this far, cruising through Thanksgiving, holiday parties, and now Christmas. Just a few more days to go before the New Year, and then you can look forward to a diet respite. In the meantime, here is a quick fix: a Danish-inspired open-face sandwich. Clean, fresh and minimal, this is Danish design on a plate. It’s a perfect antidote to holiday excess, yet sufficiently decorative and pretty to look at during the festive season.

Not only is this open-face sandwich healthy and low in fat, it’s seasonally appropriate. The Danes are famous for smørrebrød, or open-face sandwiches. Eaten year round, smørrebrød makes a special appearance at the Danish holiday table, where they are an important first course in the culinary marathon otherwise known as the Christmas Lunch. Christmas Lunch is a bit of a misnomer, as it applies to multiple days preceding and following Christmas Day and may happen at lunch or dinner. Whenever it may fall, rest assured there will be numerous courses accompanied by beer and shnapps and no room for any more food that day.

Now, don’t be afraid. While the Danes view smørrebrød as one course of many, for our  sake, I present you with  a Shrimp and Dill Open-Face Sandwich as a light and refreshing dietary interlude. Enjoy this for lunch or as light dinner while you pace yourselves to the New Year. And if you must accompany it with a jigger of akavit, go ahead. After all, it’s the holidays.

Shrimp and Dill Open-Face Sandwich

Bay shrimp are a good substitution for the tiny fjord shrimp typically used for this recipe in Denmark.   Makes 2 smørrebrød.

2 slices french loaf bread, 1/2 inch thick
Lightly salted European-style butter
2 large Boston lettuce or romaine lettuce leaves
1/4 pound bay shrimp
4 tablespoons creme fraiche or Greek style whole milk yogurt
Dill sprigs
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges

Spread each bread slice with butter. Cover with a lettuce leaf. Arrange shrimp in rows on lettuce. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons yogurt over shrimp. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Garnish with dill sprigs and serve with a lemon wedge.

Holiday Dessert: Chocolate Terrine with Orange Crème Anglaise

Holiday Dessert: Chocolate Terrine with Orange Crème Anglaise

Chocolate Terrine with Orange Crème Anglaise is most worthy of the holiday table. Not only is it appropriately elegant and sinfully rich, it may be prepared up to 3 days in advance, allowing you to get on with your Christmas shopping and preparations for house guests.

Also known as a Marquis au Chocolat, this popular French dessert is like eating a truffle in the form of a brick. I first made this recipe as a finale to a cheese fondue party, when I wanted a simple yet rich chocolate dessert with a French twist. I scoured my cookbooks and found inspiration in a recipe for Marquis au Chocolat by Thomas Keller in the Bouchon Cookbook. I  paired the chocolate with orange which proved to be a match made in heaven. Slivers of dark chocolate nestled in a pool of cool orange-infused crème anglaise, studded with Gran Marnier macerated fruit. Not only did the orange add a bejeweled touch, its citrus notes brightened the chocolate, elevating this classic to celebratory status, befitting the holiday table.

Chocolate Terrine with Orange Crème Anglaise and Gran Marnier Oranges
Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Cookbook

Serves 10 to 12

Chocolate Terrine:
Canola oil
12 ounces (350 g) 70% dark chocolate
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
4 large egg yolks
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1. Lightly oil a 1 1/2 quart terrine mold or loaf pan.  Line the mold with plastic wrap.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
Add 8 egg yolks to the cooled chocolate mixture, stirring to combine.  Sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa and stir into the chocolate mixture.
3. Beat cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form.  Transfer to another bowl and refrigerate until use.
4. Clean the mixing bowl and then beat the egg whites with the 2 teaspoons sugar until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture, then fold in the whipped cream.
Pour into the terrine mold and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.  (Terrine may be prepared up to 2 days in advance.)

Orange Crème Anglaise:
Makes about 2 cups

1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 teaspoons finely grated untreated orange zest
5 large egg yolks

1. Combine the cream, milk, 4 tablespoons sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and the orange zest in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, then remove the pan from heat. Cover and let stand 30 minutes to let the flavors infuse.
2. Whisk egg yolks with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl until thick and light in color.  Whisking constantly, pour one-third of the cream mixture into the egg mixture. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon, about 10 minutes.  (To check if done, run a finger down the back of the wooden spoon.  The line should remain clearly intact without the custard running.)
3. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water.  Cool the custard, stirring occasionally.  When completely cool, pour into a container.  Place plastic wrap over the surface of custard.  Cover the container and refrigerate until use.  (The custard may be prepared up to 2 days in advance.)

Gran Marnier Oranges:
2 navel oranges
2 to 3 tablespoons orange flavored liqueur, such as Gran Marnier or Cointreau
1 teaspoon sugar

Cut away the peel and pith of the oranges with a knife. Slice the oranges crosswise, about 1/4-inch thick. Cut out the orange segments and place in a bowl. Add the  Gran Marnier and sugar and stir to combine.  Let stand at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. (Cover and refrigerate until use.)

To serve:
Remove the terrine from mold.  Run a knife under hot water and wipe dry.  Slice the terrine in 1/4-inch slices.  Arrange 1 to 2 slices on a plate.  Drizzle the Orange Crème Anglaise around the terrine.  Serve garnished with Gran Marnier Oranges.

Cauliflower and Celery Root Soup with Truffle Oil and Crispy Kale

I am a huge fan of cauliflower soup, yet it’s rare that I find a version that’s just right. Often the soup is grainy or bland, redolent of cauliflower yet missing an extra oomph that keeps me coming back for more. So, in my pursuit of the right stuff, I decided to team up cauliflower with a few of my favorite ingredients. First, I added my new best tuber friend – the celery root. Celery root, or celeriac, is mild with a softy nutty flavor. Combined with cauliflower, it smooths and mellows adding a hint of celery while permitting the cauliflower to shine through. I also added a chunk of Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese. As the soup simmers, the cheese dissolves into the stock, lending depth and an elusive umami flavor that begs for more tasting. The soup is puréed and dressed with a splash of cream, adding richness without overwhelming. The final flourish is  a drizzle of truffle oil which elevates this weeknight staple to a holiday standard. For a garnish, I scatter a few crispy kale leaves over the soup. The salty roasted leaves add lovely contrasting crunch to the creamy soup. You might find yourself ferreting through your bowl in search for more.

Cauliflower and Celery Root Soup with Truffle Oil and Crispy Kale

The crispy kale is an optional addition to this luxurious soup. The kale leaves may be roasted in advance and refrigerated in an air-tight container until use. Be sure to make extra; they are a delicious and healthy snack. Serves 4-6.

For the soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium celery root, peeled, cut in 1 inch cubes
1 medium cauliflower, cut in 1 inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken stock
2 inch chunk  of Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Truffle oil

For the crispy kale:
6 (or more) kale leaves, halved, tough stems removed
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the soup:
Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add celery root and cauliflower; sauté 3 minutes without browning. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add chicken stock and cheese. Cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Carefully transfer in batches to a food processor. Purée until smooth. Return soup to pot. Stir in cream, salt, pepper and additional chicken stock if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Simmer 5 minutes. Taste to adjust seasoning. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of truffle oil. Garnish with crispy kale leaves.

Prepare the kale:
Toss kale leaves with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a 350 F. oven until crisp without blackening, 25 minutes. Crumble a few leaves in the soup before serving. (Kale leaves may be prepared up to one day in advance.)