Big Soft Ginger Cookies

I can easily say that these are my favorite cookies of all time.  My grandmother always used to make a tin of these and keep them around for me during the holidays.  I can’t even tell you how many I would eat in a sitting – enough to get my daily dose of iron, I am sure.

I recently made a batch of them and they disappeared quite quickly – I had no idea they were one of Eric’s favorites too.  They make the most perfect ice cream sandwich cookie – I paired it with peppermint ice cream in this photo.

Molasses is what makes these cookies so delicious – it creates the chewy texture and the lovely flavor.

The other key to these cookies is not over baking them.  To keep the soft chewy texture I baked each batch for exactly 10 minutes.  Then, each batch cooled on the pans for 2 minutes and then transferred to a cutting board.  I used a cutting board to prevent breaking and bending of these bad boys – I need them whole to hold ice cream!

Pumpkin ice cream also creates a tasty festive pairing for these cookies.  These could be great pie alternatives (or additions, if you are like me!) for your Thanksgiving dessert.

Big Soft Ginger Cookies – from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book, 1998.

1. In a medium bowl combine: 2-1/4 cups flour, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves.

2. In a large mixing bowl or mixing stand, beat: 3/4 cup butter for 30 seconds.  Beat in 1 cup sugar. Add 1 egg and 1/4 cup molasses, beat well.  Stir flour into egg mixture.

3. Shape dough into 1-1/2 inch balls, using about 1 heaping tablespoon for each.  Roll balls in 2 tablespoons sugar to coat.  Place dough balls about 2-1/2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until light brown and still puffed.  Do NOT over bake.  Cool cookies on cookie sheet for 2 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Makes 24 cookies.

Margarita Mandarin Jell-o w/ Coconut Whipped Cream

This weekend went by so quickly!  We started off with outdoor movie night on Friday with a few friends.  I made a cake for a friend’s half birthday and decided to throw in another adult-only dessert for the evening.  We are into full-fledge use it up mode around here.  If we don’t use it in the next couple of weeks we will be dumping a great deal of food items in the trash or into the arms of friends.  Three different kinds of mustard, 5 different BBQ sauces, 2 jars of lime juice, and canned tomatoes anyone?

This was one of those items in the cupboard begging to be used – along with the triple sec I added to make this an adult dessert.  I am not a huge Jell-o fan.  So, if I do make it, there needs to be a large enough crowd to finish it off.  I only had one small helping of this – I think it’s the texture of Jell-o that gets me.

I added mandarin oranges for a little extra oomph and flavor.

I made a batch of coconut whipped cream as a topping.  This absolutely made this recipe delicious.

We spent most of the weekend hanging out on our deck, soaking up the sunshine and warmth, and trying to get Greta over her fever.  We’ve had an exciting past couple of weeks though – check back soon for house news on our front!

Margarita Mandarin Jell-o

1. Pour Jell-o mix into medium bowl.  Add 1 cup boiling water.  Stir until well combined.  Add up to 1 cup of cold triple sec (I used ¾ cup triple sec and ¼ cup water) and mix well.

2. Place in refrigerator and allow to set for 1 ½ hours.  Add in 1 small can of mandarin oranges, well-drained.  Mix well and return to refrigerator for 3 ½ more hours or until set.

3. Serve cold with a helping of coconut whipped cream.

Coconut Whipped Cream

1. Allow 1 can of coconut milk to sit overnight in the refrigerator.  Make sure the coconut milk is not the light variety, as it will not whip very well.

2.  Open can carefully and using a spatula, scrape off the top creamy layer into a mixing stand bowl.  Stop when you reach the coconut water on the bottom.  Save this for other uses.

3. Whip cream for a few minutes or until stiff peaks are formed.  Refrigerate any unused cream.

Ginger [sugar-free] Chocolate Cake

Yum to this cake.  This vegan cake recipe has proven to be a regular in this household.  It is so moist and fluffy without being at all complicated.  One would never know it is a vegan recipe, either.  

The idea came to me whilst shopping in my favorite local health grocery store, Earth Fare.  I was looking at the Jamaican Ginger Ale and wondering how I could make a cake with this Stevia Soda, er, I mean pop.  I have to get used to saying pop again, since the big move to Iowa is looming nearer now.

That reminds me, I wrote an e-mail to Earth Fare lamenting moving away from Greensboro and being unable to shop with them anymore.  I basically begged them to consider a store in Des Moines.  I know these kinds of e-mails are received all the time, but I thought it was worth a shot.  I got a reply!

Hello Chelsea,
Thank you for your interest and support!  We opened our newest store in Noblesville, IN late last year and we are currently working on opening stores in Solon, OH and Carmel, IN in 2013.
At Earth Fare we are always exploring new areas and will consider the Des Moines area for future possibilities.

Thank you again and please let us know if we can be of further assistance.
Best of luck with your move!

Erin S.
Earth Fare Customer Service

Anyhow, a girl can dream. 

This cake is a rich dark chocolate with a sprinkling of ginger.  I swapped sugar for a pop made with Stevia and coconut sugar.

It would truly be a lovely Halloween cake – this plate is proof.

Ginger [sugar-free] Chocolate Cake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In an 8×8 inch square pan, mix 1-¼ cup flour, ½ cup coconut sugar, ⅓ cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1 teaspoon baking soda with fork.  Mix very well. 

2. Mix 1 cup room temperature ginger ale made with Stevia, 1 teaspoon vanilla, ⅓ cup vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar in a small bowl.  Add all at once to the dry ingredients.  Mix well.  Use a spatula to scrape sides and bottoms to ensure adequate mixing.  Sprinkle a light dusting of ginger on top of batter. 

3. Bake 30 minutes or til knife comes out clean.  

Chocolate-Peanut Butter-Banana Sugar Free Cupcakes

I tried a variation on my original sugar-free banana peanut butter muffins – adding cocoa!  This addition and a one other, makes these dense, rich treats more cupcake-like than before.  I highly recommend you try this and some other swaps – you could switch the peanut butter for any nut butter.  You could switch the banana for applesauce or another pureed fruit.  Let your imagination run wild with this recipe.

I added ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder to the flour mix.  Be sure to check your peanut butter and almond milk if you want to truly keep this recipe sugar-free.  Those are two areas that sugar lurks – read your labels!

I added 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed – use a coffee grinder blender, or baby food processor to grind these.
I found a tip on Pinterest about cupcakes and decided to try it with this recipe.  It does not work as well as I think it would with other recipes, as this recipe lacks refined sugar.  Sugar is not just used for flavor – it also adds volume, tenderness, texture, color, and acts a preservative.  See information on sugar at the Joy of Cooking site here.  Knowing your ingredients and their job/role in each recipe is one of the most important aspects to cooking and baking effectively.  Knowing the function of a particular ingredient will also help you to make substitutions that work.  (Insert PSA about science in the classrooms and how every student should take science in every school, in every state, across the country here).

So, this time I filled the cups ¾ full, baked them at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

Yum!  Two big ones for the adults in the house and 1 small one for the toddler.

Greta inhaled her muff-cake (that is what I called cupcakes the first time I tried them as a toddler).
We are off to the Banff Film Festival this evening, hosted by Greensboro REI.  I am looking forward to an evening full of short films about the the outdoors.  If you are able to catch this series, I highly recommend it.
One of my favorites from the 2010 year, is called Take a Seat, where Dominic Gill from the United Kingdom rides 32, 000 kilometers from the northern most tip of Alaska to the southern most tip of South America on a tandem bicycle.  The catch is, he must pick people up along the way to help him pedal.  The journey takes him two years to complete and is an amazing tale.
One of these years Eric and I talk about being in Banff for the actual film festival itself.  It would be a great way to celebrate an anniversary – since we went to Banff for our honeymoon.
Sugar-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Muffins/Cupcakes – makes 16 -18 2 cakes, adapted from The Joy of Cooking, 1974.
Have all ingredients at about 70 degrees.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease or line 16 -18 muffin tins, set aside.
1. Beat until soft: ⅓ cup margarine.  Add gradually: 1 cup mashed bananas (about 1 ½ bananas).  When these ingredients are light and fluffy, beat and blend in well: ½ cup peanut butter.  Combine and beat until  light: 2 eggs, ½ cup stevia, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed.
2.  In a separate bowl, stir together: 2 cups all-purpose flour, ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, ½ teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons baking powder.  
3.  Beat the egg mixture into the margarine mixture.  Add the flour mixture to the batter in three parts with ¾ cup almond milk.
4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.  Fill about ¾ of the way full.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes.  Allow to cool in pan about 5 minutes, then remove to cool on wire baking racks.
All muffin pans should come with lids.  Seriously.


The Best Cookies Ever

….proclaimed Eric.  Actually he said, “These are the best cookies you have ever made.”

Followed by a quick, “Good thing you didn’t make the whole batch or I would sit here and eat them all night.” Followed by, “Seriously, you can make those anytime you want.”  

This time I used a mixture of Truvia and brown sugar.  I figured with the chips I was going to add, a little less sugar would do us good.

I made a ½ batch, based on the recipe on the back of the bag.  The only thing from the full batch I kept was the 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  I write my notes on anything I can get my hands on – Smithsonian insert card anyone?

The amazing contrast in flavor and texture comes from the peanut butter & milk chocolate chips and the pretzel bites.  Sweet & salty and chewy & crunchy all in one cookie – it’s the best of both worlds.

Mix up the dough and chips, but hold off on the pretzels until just before baking – that way there is no chance of soggy pretzels.  I always refrigerate my dough at least overnight – the cookies taste and bake better this way.

Allow the dough to warm slightly before baking, but not enough for it to be really sticky to the touch. 

Use a dough scooper or spoon to create uniform cookie sizes.  Then, add 5 to 6 pretzel bites and roll in hands, avoiding too much handling so as not to warm the dough too much.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 11 minutes, allow to cool on pan for 1 minute before removing.

Enjoy with a glass of (almond) milk.  Repeat.  Make these and you will be someone’s best friend, mom, dad, spouse, partner, colleague, boss, or something.  I promise.

What is your favorite kind of cookie?

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Chip Cookies w/ Pretzel – ½ batch recipe proportions (about 2 dozen), from Nestle Toll House 

In a small bowl, combine 1-⅛  cups all-purpose flour and ½ teaspoon baking soda

Beat ½ cup (1 stick) of butter⅜ cup granulated sugar (or Stevia) cup packed brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large mixer bowl until creamy.  Add 1 large egg, mix well after addition.  Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Mix in 1 cup of chocolate & peanut butter chips. 

Cover bowl of dough and refrigerate at least overnight*, but 36 hours is the optimal time.  

Use a dough scooper or spoon to create uniform cookie sizes.  Then, add 5 to 6 pretzel bites and roll in hands, avoiding too much handling so as not to warm the dough too much.  Bake 10 – 11 minutes.  Allow cookies to cool on pan 1 minute before removing.  Serve warm. 

*Dough may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week or 8 weeks in the freezer.  

I just love this new color of Kitchen Aid Mixing stand, don’t you?  It’s called Flamingo. 

Happy Valentine’s Day + Vegan Chocolate Cherry Cake

It’s not too late to make this sweet treat for your Valentine.  It is fast, simple, and takes very minimal prep time.  

I spread out on the dining room table last night to make this cake for Eric, who actually requested a cake.  Usually if I start talking baking on a weeknight there is some eye rolling, because of course, there are other more important things I should be doing – lunch prep, coffee prep, walking the dog…

I mixed the cake up in a medium mixing bowl.  Normally for this recipe, you mix everything in the pan, but since I was using a layer of cherries on the bottom, a bowl was necessary. 

I made the same vegan cake I made for the Super Bowl last year, but added a twist with a layer of cherries on the bottom of the cake. 

Of course, I made the horrible mistake of reading the ingredients!  I think next time I will go with frozen or fresh cherries and a sprinkling of sugar and melted butter or margarine.  No more corn syrup and Red 40 for me. 
Grease a 9-inch cake pan with margarine and then pour the can of cherries on the bottom of the pan.  That Red 40 sure does look festive and Valentine-like though! 
Happy Valentine’s Day to you, Eric!  He got to enjoy his cake with an IPA. 

Here are the last of my Valentine Day cards for 2013.  I liked the ice skating design on this one.  I used pen and ink again to create the blue heart background and then sewed the image to the card.  My sewing line slipped a little on the ice.  :)

Eric and I always opt to stay home on Valentine’s Day, we are curmudgeons that way – it is just too busy in the restaurants, the wait staff is annoyed, and the “specials” are over priced.  We plan on staying in and making dinner tonight.  What are your plans?

Vegan Chocolate Cherry Cake


1-1/4 c. flour

1 c. sugar
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 c. warm water
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch cake pan.  Open can of cherries, pour into bottom and smooth out.  In a medium mixing bowl, mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt with fork. Mix very well.
2. Mix water, vanilla, oil, and vinegar in a small bowl or glass mixing cup. Add all at once to the dry ingredients. Mix well. Use a spatula to scrape sides and bottoms to ensure adequate mixing.  Pour cake batter over the cherry mixture. 
3. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or til knife comes out clean.


S’mores Brownies

Oh tomorrow’s Super Bowl will even S’more Super thanks to this easy recipe.

 This recipe calls for 1 boxed brownie mix (1 egg, 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup water, and 1 packet of Hershey’s chocolate syrup which was part of this particular mix), 14 graham cracker squares, and 24 marshmallows.

 Grease a pan or spray with cooking spray.  I used a 13 x 9 inch pan for thinner brownies.  Break 14 graham crackers into squares place in bottom of pan.  Depending on the size of your pan, you may need more graham crackers.

 Mix brownie mix, according to directions on box.  Spread over the tops of the grahams.

 Use a spatula to ensure even, thorough coating.

 Bake brownies according to time on package.  Take out with 2 minutes to go.  Top with 24 marshmallows.  Space evenly, about 2 inches apart, as shown.  Return to oven for last 2 minutes of baking.

Remove from oven and use spoon to press marshmallows flat.  Allow to cool in pan.  

Slice and serve.  These would be perfect birthday treats, camping dessert, or sweet treats for your next big game day party.

In other news, Eric and I have been working on house updates.  We decided to swap out the bathroom light for this one.  I won’t even show you the old one – it was that hideous.  We discovered the old wallpaper underneath though – it looks like a nice 30s print.  I would love to have seen our house when it was first built in 1939 and to have seen the first family that lived here, no doubt employed by the nearby textile mill.  Don’t worry, we will be painting over this ASAP, but I had to document it.

Enjoy your weekend!

Here’s the pan I used for this brownie recipe.  It has a lid which makes it great for transporting.

Broiled Grapefruit + Chocolate Ice Cream

I wish I could come home to this as a snack every day after work.  It would be such a nice way to enjoy my afternoon.  Though, I know I would have some problems getting Greta to eat a healthier dinner with me chowing down on this dessert.  How many other moms out there are hiding in the kitchen eating something not as healthy to prevent child(ren) from wanting what you are eating instead of what you should be eating? Yeah.  Well, this dessert isn’t really all the bad.  I would share this with Greta, only thing is her palate consists of mac n cheese, yogurt, milk, bread, dried fruit, and food packets right now.

 Cut 1 grapefruit in half.  I made the mistake of cutting off all the rind.  I wish now that I had not, it was harder to eat – the rind would have given the spoon something to scoop the grapefruit flesh out.

Place grapefruit halves on a foil lined rimmed pan.  Drizzle vanilla and agave syrup on top, about 1 spoonful of each, per grapefruit half.  Allow to soak in about 10 minutes.  

Place grapefruit halves on rack just under broiler.  I used the toaster oven for this dessert.  Broil for 25 minutes.

 Do not worry – they will look blackened!

Serve with chocolate ice cream of your choice.  I served ours with chocolate dairy-free ice cream.  

The chocolate and the tart grapefruit were a perfect combination.  
Broiled Grapefruit with Chocolate Ice Cream – serves 2
1. Cut 1 grapefruit in half. Using paring knife, cut slits along membranes of fruit segments, from the center to the rind.  This will help to loosen the fruit and make it easier to eat.  Place grapefruit halves on a foil lined rimmed pan.  Drizzle 1 spoonful of vanilla and agave syrup on top, per grapefruit half.  Allow to soak in about 10 minutes.  
2. Place grapefruit halves on rack just under broiler.  Broil for 25 minutes. Serve with chocolate ice cream of your choice. 

Gluten-free Black Forest Cake + Christmas Day

This chocolate cake was wildly delicious and one would never guess it was gluten-free!  My mother in law has a plethora of gluten-free baking and food items around the house due to gluten intolerance. 
This particular cake was made from the Williams-Sonoma Ad Hoc Gluten Free Cake Mix.  This mix is more expensive than others, but so delicious. 
It was baked according to the box directions in 2 cake pans. When they were cool enough to touch, Eric sliced them both in half, to create 4 thin cakes.
To assemble the cake, place the first layer on a plate and spread with cherry topping.  We used a jar all the way from Germany for a more authentic flavor.  Extra thanks to Eric’s sister for popping that into my mother in law’s luggage before she headed back to the States. 
Place the second layer on top and cover in Cool Whip or real whipped cream.  Repeat with the last two layers, ending with Cool Whip for the top layer. 

Note: a cooler cake will frost much easier.  This cake was still a little too warm and we had a little bit of oozing due to this. 

It turned out to be a gorgeous cake. 
We sat down to an afternoon meal with gluten-free items.
Pasta with shrimp, asparagus, and a pesto broth sauce for the main entree and a side salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes, and a mustard vinaigrette dressing (see below for the recipe).

After our Christmas meal, we opened some gifts.  Eric received some very nice woodworking accessories. 

After digesting a bit, we ate our dessert.  It was so good, I ate mine entirely too fast.  My father in law nicely offered to look away while I licked my plate clean.  I was so impressed with this simple and rewarding dessert. 

Greta finally awoke from her afternoon nap and had a few gifts herself to open. 

Poor thing was overwhelmed by Christmas this year.  We have spread things out for her though and allowed for plenty of napping in between events.  On Christmas Eve she tried to lay down on the floor and go to bed, after taking two naps prior to gift opening.  Oh to be almost 2 again.

After gifts, Eric and his dad made use of a homemade gift – a beer flight paddle.  Eric made sure to travel with North Carolina beers to sample as a Christmas treat.  More on this flight paddle later. 

Meanwhile Greta and Grandma played with a fun animal app and

Brownie considered another Christmas nap or possibly a round of barking at deer.  This dog hates deer, we have discovered on this trip.
Mustard Vinaigrette
Mix together in a bowl 6 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons coarse stone ground mustard.  Serve with salad of your choice.

Scotch Short Bread + Easy Table Top Tree

There have been too many sick days in our household as of late.  This past weekend after plenty of naps, a trip to the science center, the last of the Christmas shopping, and some craft time, I found time to bake.  This recipe is in my top 5 favorites for Christmas.  It is an easy to make and easy to please recipe with only 4 ingredients.  
This one comes from the Joy of Cooking.  I love the format of this cookbook – so easy to use!  I did a little digging on Scottish Shortbread and discovered that this treat is centuries old, but has evolved over the years from an oatmeal and yeast creation to the flour and butter treat it is today.  It was originally quite expensive and eaten at Christmas, weddings, Hogmanay (New Year’s) and other such holidays. 
Sift together 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  
When I do use salt, I love the Kosher salt. 
Sifting is essential to this recipe – it gives these bars a creamy texture. See before and after?  
Next, cream 1 cup butter.  
Blend the dry ingredients into the butter.  Pat the stiff dough into a 9 x 9 inch ungreased pan.  
Press the edges down.  Pierce with a fork through the dough every 1/2 inch.  If the dough is too sticky, refrigerated until chilled and stiff again.
Bake in a 325 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes.  Edges should be slightly browned.  I did not have a 9 x 9 pan, so I just stopped the dough short of the edge of this pan.  
Cut into squares while it is still warm.  
In other news, the band saw Eric bought in a yard sale earlier this fall has turned out to be quite useful.  He created a tabletop Christmas tree for me.  
He used a large dowel rod for the center.  He then cut smaller dowel rods at various lengths for branches – shorter for the top of the tree and longer for the bottom of the tree.  He drilled holes with a corresponding drill bit for the dowel rods.  He then simply tapped the dowel rod branches into place with a hammer. 
He used a square of wood and drilled the large dowel rod trunk into place.  
I decorated it and it was ready to go.  Now if I can only keep cats away from it…