The cookie house

Monday, December 26, 2016
Three cousins
Yesterday was a wonderful Christmas day. After gathering around the tree for gifts in the morning, we attended church with mixed feelings, as we bade farewell to our senior minister and organist, both of whom are retiring after 23 years with the congregation. The girls have grown up in the Sunday School and youth choir, and it's been home to our family since we joined 19 years ago. We're sad to see Mark and John leave, but we look forward to welcoming our new senior minister, Maya, in January.

In the afternoon, we visited my sister Gwen and her family, who hosted Christmas dinner this year. The meal was fantastic, but the highlight was the cookie house that my mom has made every year since I was a kid.  It's a part of the holidays my kids can't imagine being without, and they're still happy to pose with the cookie house on Christmas day. 

Today's recipe can't compete with a cookie house! But this kale and cauliflower gratin is a terrific side dish for holiday meals. Served with a salad, it would make a complete vegetarian meal. 

Wishing all my readers a happy Christmas season, and much joy in 2017.

Cauliflower Kale Gratin
(slightly adapted from Goodness, by Peter Neal and Chris Neal)

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into 1 1/2” to 2” florets
1 1/2 cups kale, stems removed and leaves sliced into 1/2 inch ribbons
2 Tbsp butter (first amount)
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup skim (fat-free) milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 cups coarsely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions, green part only
1/2 tsp kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper
2 Tbsp unsalted butter (second amount)
20 square (2-inch) saltine crackers

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish.

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook cauliflower 5 minutes. Add kale, stir well, and cook another 2 minutes. Using a colander, drain cauliflower and kale and transfer to the prepared baking dish.

Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 2 Tbsp butter. Whisk in flour to create a roux, then add milk in a slow stream, constantly whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and stir until thickened.

Remove milk mixture from heat and add cheese, green onions, salt and paper, whisking until cheese is melted. Pour cheese sauce over cooked vegetables and stir gently to combine. Set aside.

Coarsely crumble crackers into a bowl. In a small saucepan, melt 2 Tbsp butter. Pour over crumbs and toss to coat.

Sprinkle crumb topping evenly over vegetables. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Cousins at the Cookie House, December 2001

Decorating the Cookie House with Gwen when we were kids

Brown butter chocolate chip cookies

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Truth: there is no such thing as too many chocolate chip cookies.

And even though I've written about both my classic Chocolate Chip Cookies and my Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies, it's time to add the third member of that triumvirate. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the fabulous Brown Butter Chocolate Chip cookies.

Brown butter makes everything better - amirite? And normally I don't put nuts in chocolate chip
cookies, but here the pecans set off the brown butter perfectly.

Chocolate chip cookies are one of the first things I remember baking as a little girl helping my mom in the kitchen. They were one of the first recipes I learned to bake as a young woman living on my own. They were always one of my favourite recipes to bake with my daughters when they were young. And even though I'm not really a chocoholic, I'll always have a special place in my heart for chocolate chip cookies. No matter which recipe I use.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted slightly from Joy the Baker)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter (first amount)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (second amount)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp molasses
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

Brown 1/2 cup butter in a pot over medium heat. Once it has browned, pour it into a small bowl and let cool for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cream remaining 1/2 cup of butter with brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add vanilla extract and molasses, and beat until incorporated.

Once the brown butter has cooled slightly, pour it (brown bits and all) into the creamed butter and sugar mixture. Add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes, until well-incorporated. Add the egg and egg yolk, and beat for 1 minute more.

Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that everything is evenly mixed. Remove from mixer. Add the flour mixture and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough by the two tablespoonful onto prepared sheets, leaving 2" of space between cookies.

Bake for 12 - 14 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven, let rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then remove and let cool.

Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I know without even looking at the calendar that it's the first weekend of December:

- With a week off between my last work contract and the next one, I set a goal to both start and finish my Christmas shopping last week. I came very close, and am now basking in the knowledge that I don't need to visit another mall until 2017.
- We had an early celebration of Andrew's birthday yesterday, when both the girls were home. I baked his favourite cake and we enjoyed some wonderful family time together.
- Andrew put up the Christmas lights this morning, and now our house looks like it's ready for Santa!

The cake I baked on Saturday was the simple but amazing Gingerbread recipe I've shared on this blog before. But this Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread is terrific too, and a festive choice to celebrate a birthday, the holiday season, or being almost done your Christmas shopping.

Upside-Down Pear Ginger Cake

For topping

2 1/2 firm pears (preferably Bosc)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar

For cake

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup molasses (preferably mild)
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Peel and core pears and cut each into 8 wedges. Melt butter in 10" or 12" heavy skillet until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low, then sprinkle brown sugar over bottom of skillet and cook, undisturbed,  for 3 minutes (not all sugar will be melted). Arrange pears decoratively over sugar and cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If the skillet handle isn't ovenproof, wrap it with a double layer of foil.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together molasses and boiling water in a small bowl. Beat together butter, brown sugar and egg in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy, about 2 minutes. Then alternately mix in flour mixture and molasses in 3 batches, stirring after each addition, until smooth.

Pour batter over topping in skillet, spreading evenly and being careful not to disturb pears. Bake in middle oven until a tester comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool cake in skillet for 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of skillet, then invert a large plate with a lip over top. Using pot holders to hold the skillet and plate tightly together, invert cake onto plate, replacing any pears that stick. Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipping cream or vanilla ice cream.