Hungry Ginger Recommends – Holiday Edition

It’s finally reasonable to blast Christmas music and every office building in downtown Seattle seems to have a Christmas tree. You may think you have plenty of time to do your Christmas shopping, but you don’t. Also, have you put covers on all your outside faucets? It’s getting mighty cold at night and those old pipes could burst. Your neighbors have recently engaged in a Christmas decoration battle across the street, lighting up the neighborhood as bright as day, interfering with your sleep cycle. And speaking of day…does the sun even come out anymore? It’s dark when you go to work and dark when you leave. Ba Humbug!

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This is what Hungry Ginger would say if she were a Grinch (which I am not). I LOVE the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean the above Grinchy complaints aren’t true or valid. Not everyone loves the holidays and, even if you do, it can be a stressful time, full of expectations, to do lists, crazy holiday traffic and stressed out shoppers. That’s why this Hungry Ginger recommends a few things to bring you a little Holiday Cheer with a lot of Holiday Chill.

Have a Drink

Go visit the Christmas Popup, Miracle at Rob Roy (if you are in Seattle). They have decorated the shit out of the place (complete with a twerking Santa!) and have seasonal drinks up the wazoo. One “Yippee-Ki-Yay Motherfucker,” barkeep! Of course this popup is bound to be busy, so I recommend going early or late if crowds aren’t your thing. Honestly though, when we went at about 6 on a Saturday, it was packed but everyone seemed to be in a good mood and kindly made room in the cramped space. I don’t know if it was all the holiday cheer or what, but there was an unusual sense of conviviality among strangers that really warmed the cockles – could have also been the Rob Roy strong cocktails, but after two nogs, it’s really hard to tell.

If there isn’t a Christmas themed popup where you are, or if you just prefer to consume your holiday cheer at home, go buy some egg nog, mix with dark rum or bourbon and cognac and grate some fresh nutmeg on top and there you have it, holiday cheer. If dairy and booze aren’t your thing, try a cranberry old fashioned. Recipe is from Inspired by Charm.

Cranberry-Old-Fashioned-recipe

CRANBERRY OLD FASHIONED
Makes 1 cocktail

Here’s what you will need:
3 ounces quality bourbon whiskey
1 ounce cranberry simple syrup*
3 shakes Angostura bitters
Garnish with orange peel, Ocean Spray® Fresh Cranberries, and rosemary

In a serving glass with ice, stir together the bourbon, cranberry simple syrup, and bitters. Garnish with orange peel, fresh cranberries, and rosemary.

*Cranberry Simple Syrup – In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar, and one cup of fresh cranberries to a boil. Once boiling, cook for 4-5 minutes. Strain with a fine mesh sieve. Cool before serving.

Watch a Holiday Movie

This is the time of year when the Hallmark Channel finally gets out of the red…and into the red and green! Oh yeah, I went there…Whether your idea of a great holiday movie is Mariah Carey realizing she is a princess while saving Santa from evil bankers trying to turn Rudolf into a stunt reindeer, or Bruce Willis barefoot in an air duct, holiday movies are a great way to get into the festive season and enjoy and cozy night at home. Some of my favs are the aforementioned Die Hard, Love Actually and the original Miracle on 34th Street (so dated, but so good!). The Thin Man is also a great one to watch between Christmas and New Years.

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If you are in Seattle and feel like going out to a theater, the Cinerama is doing a Holiday Film Series this coming week and Three Dollar Bill Cinema is showing one of my favs, Auntie Mame!

Go on a Holidate

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Every year, the hubby and I go on a holiday themed date, a holidate! We get brunch or holiday tea at the Fairmont, brave Nordstrom to get a little Christmas shopping out of the way and then settle down for a cocktail or three and a yummy dinner. A Holidate could be anything though! You could pack a thermos of spiked hot apple cider, some meats and cheeses and head up to the mountains for a snowy walk and picnic. You could check out the Enchant Christmas light show at Safeco and then get dinner in the International District, or drive over to Leavenworth and visit the year-round Christmas store and taste some full-bodied winter beers. You could do all of this with your S.O., your bestie, your Mom/Dad or your dog! The point is to make it yours so that the holidays bring you joy rather than annoyance. No matter what your religious beliefs may be, it makes sense that we have this festival of lights during the darkest time of year, so I invite you to get out there and enjoy it in whatever way warms YOUR cockles most!

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Cookie Monster

At the tail end of September, I had a hell of a sweet tooth. Halloween was looming in the distance in all its candy corn studded, fun-sized glory, but I had a hankering for a very specific kind of sweet: the tried and true chocolate chip cookie. I grew up eating my Dad’s chocolate chip cookies. They followed your basic “back of the Toll House bag” recipe cooked to a pleasant crispness that isn’t really my jam anymore. But even thinking of them now evokes fond memories of Sunday afternoons playing dress-up with my friends or painting with my dad. A big bowl of cookie dough and me, attempting to eat as much of the raw dough as I could get away with. And then that freshly baked cookie smell. Ahhh….

So maybe I was trying to capture a bit of that magic in the midst of this exhausting adulting project that has so many deadlines but no real end. My subconscious self seemed to be aware of this even before my conscious mind and, one day, I looked at my saved recipes and saw a half dozen iterations of the chocolate chip cookie, just begging to be explored. I didn’t have so much a plan as a general direction. I would start with the classic ingredients – chocolate, butter, sugar, listen to my gut and see where it took me.

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My recommendation for chocolate chips. Chunks are always better than chips because they don’t have stabilizers and these are high quality and “pre-chunked” for convenience.

First, I wanted a gooey buttery, chocolate chip cookie, the kind reminiscent of the Mrs. Fields cookies at the mall. I wanted warm cookie dough baked to food safety standards, but just barely. No fancy bells and whistles, classic, timeless. For this I chose a recipe from the New York Times. You can find it on my Trello Board HERE.

This recipe is pretty similar to the Toll House of yore ingredient-wise, but is distinguished by the fact that you chill the dough for up to 72 hours before baking. 72 HOURS, you say?!? But I want my cookies when I want my cookies! I don’t want to have to wait for up to three days! It may seem like a long time, but with some planning and adjustment of expectations, it’s totally doable and worth it! I mean, you can still snack on the dough while you’re making it!

 

 

That time chilling in the fridge allows the wet and dry ingredients to really get to know each other and creates a delicious unified flavor throughout the cookie. The only thing I did differently from the recipe as written, was that I formed the dough into balls before chilling, on the recommendations of the some of the comments on the NYT website. Chilled dough tends to be crumbly, which can make it difficult to form into balls for baking.

Chilled chocolate chip cookie dough

Something that I learned from doing this recipe is that I don’t actually have to bake all the dough at once. In fact, I can do just two for me and the hubby, as an after dinner  treat, and throw the rest in the freezer for another day.

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This recipe turned out great! The cookies had great flavor and texture and, eaten warm from the oven with a glass of cold milk…perfection!

Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies

Having satisfied my classic cookie craving, I looked abroad for some inspiration. There is a restaurant/bakery in Paris called Mokonuts. David Lebovitz has waxed poetic about it and more recently, the New York Times shared the recipe for their famous chocolate chip cookies. Find it on my Trello Board HERE. These cookies are inspired by the classic cookie but influenced by the chef owner’s middle eastern heritage, featuring not only dark chocolate chunks but also poppy seeds, dried cranberries and a mix of AP and Rye flour. “Sacrebleu! Sacrilege!” You may cry. How dare those French mess with MY classic All-American cookie! Well, I am happy to report that, not only is this version a tasty cookie, but it honors the original, while taking you on a flavor and texture journey that the humble Toll House could never hope to accomplish.

Mokonuts cookie dough

Now, I am not a fan of the oatmeal raisin cookie. To me, it is an impostor; disappointment masquerading as a tasty treat. It looks like a chocolate chip cookie but, where the delicious chocolate chunks should be, are instead shriveled up sadness. And the oatmeal is just too chewy…bleh. So I was loath at first to add rye and cranberries, let alone the inexplicable poppy seeds to what was already a good thing. However, I’ve gotta say, it worked. The rye played nicely with the AP to create a richer dough. The cranberries added a nice tartness to balance out the sweetness and complement the dark chocolate. And the poppy seeds added a surprising crunch without changing the flavor profile at all. This was an exciting cookie to eat, with each bite offering up a little adventure to spice up the familiar.

cookie dough, mokonut, baking

Another different aspect of this recipe is that the chilled dough is baked at a toasty 425 degrees for only 10 minutes. This results in a cookie that is just holds together, with a gooey center and slightly crisp edges. Not your grandma’s cookie but a delicious iteration nonetheless.

cookie, mokonut, baking

So far, we’ve gone old school and new French school and, for our final cookie, let’s go big or go home. This next cookie recipe has been making its way around the internet on various blogs for a couple years now. People are fascinated by both the cookie’s size and the seemingly fussy baking instructions that result in an entirely unique and delicious experience. Yes, this is a giant cookie. The recipe has us use a full 1/3 of a cup of cookie dough per cookie. This is a lot of cookie dough, when you consider most recipes ask for a heaping spoonful. I ended up using about 1/4 cup of dough per cookie and that was plenty big. Like the other two recipes here, chill the prepared dough. I ended up chilling my dough for a bit longer than recommended, mostly because I was a little intimidated by the sheer size of the things. This didn’t seem to negatively affect the end result.

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Salt and pepper gnome here for scale…not sure why I thought this would be helpful but he’s pretty cute isn’t he? Needless to say, these balls were big. This is all of the cookie dough, which in a normal recipe would make about 18-20 cookies. When I finally baked them about four days later, I followed the involved baking instructions which have you bake at 350 for 10 min, then bang the cookie sheet on the oven rack so the cookies collapse, then repeat the process every 2-3 minutes until they have been baking and banging for about 18 minutes total. This creates a ripple effect that is both Instagram worthy and delicious. The cookies are soft and velvety in the center and slightly crisp toward the edges. The hubs and I mowed down with a glass of milk right before bed and were a little wired, so I recommend eating them earlier in the night to avoid sugar dreams.

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Notice that two cookies take up nearly half of the baking sheet. These are not for the faint of heart and you can find the recipe on my Trello board HERE.

So what is the takeaway from this cookie adventure? Besides the fact that it is dangerous having ready to bake cookies in the house at all times, I learned that a beloved classic can be enjoyed in many forms and, just like in life, getting out of your comfort zone every once and a while can be a wonderful and eye-opening thing. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my Dad’s chocolate chip cookies but I look forward to making new memories with cherished recipes of my own.

Happy Baking!

Cookie monster

 

Hungry Ginger Recommends – $%&! It’s Almost the End of October Edition

Wasn’t it just August and we were coughing through the summer wildfire smoke, making icebox cakes and exercising regularly?? Then, all of the sudden, freakin’ leaves are falling, Trader Joe’s is throwing pumpkin everything at us, and the gym seems like the worst idea. I mean, it’s going to be the holidays soon. Does it even matter at this point? Plus, it’s raining. Even the cat is depressed.

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Before we start panicking about family holiday gatherings, let’s catch our breath and do a few things for ourselves.

Read a Book

I just finished Robert Galbraith’s latest mystery novel, Lethal White. If you are unfamiliar, Mr. Galbraith is the pseudonym of the one and only J. K. Rowling, who was outed in 2013 and, as of this October, is the author of four books in the Cormoran Strike series. All of the books are very good and this latest installment is the most intricate yet. The story lines are engaging and and the characters well-developed, with just the right level of sexual tension between the two main characters. Lethal White is quite long, clocking in at around 650 pages, but it moves pretty quickly and the pay-off is satisfying. It’s a perfect read for cold drizzly Fall days, curled up on the couch with a hot cup of cider. Cinemax has a mini series based on the first three books, which is quite good as well.

Watch a Show

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat came out in 2017. It is, and isn’t a cookbook. Yes, there are recipes, but at least half of the 450+ pages are more of a friendly conversation about cooking. The central idea of this cookbook is that, you don’t need recipes to cook well, just a basic understanding of how salt, fat, acid and heat work together in the kitchen. There’s a reason your pasta water should be “as salty as the sea.” Your dish too sweet? Add some acid! While I definitely recommend the cookbook as a kitchen staple, the mini series, just released On Netflix, is a feast for the eyes as well. Samin Nosrat is not your typical culinary television personality. She is goofy (in a genuine way, not a Guy Fieri way), real, and clearly relishes everything about food and cooking. She is someone you can imagine spending a relaxing afternoon with, messing around in the kitchen. The show is a good mix of travel, food porn and practical tips and, at just four episodes, will leave your mouth watering and wanting more. You might also be inspired to make some scratch pesto, just like the Italian grandmas did.

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Light a Candle

Okay, okay, I know I made fun of Trader Joe’s earlier, but it’s only because I am guilty of buying into their pumpkin lunacy. Yes I silently judged the girl in front of me for grabbing the pumpkin Spice cookies…and then snagged a box for myself. Some of my favorite seasonal items at TJs, however, are the candles. The Pumpkin Vanilla and Honeycrisp Apple varieties to be exact. The Pumpkin Vanilla candle smells like you could possibly be a good baker and the Honeycrisp Apple smells like a crisp fall day and you’ve just bitten into a big juicy apple. They’re a great way to get into the Fall mood, just in case the wet leaves and dark mornings aren’t doing the trick yet.

That’s it! here’s hoping we are in for a few more sunny Fall days so my cat doesn’t start requiring kitty Prozac.

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Of Comfort Food and Culture Wars

Two years ago France and Italy came to near blows over a recipe for spaghetti carbonara that was Frenchified with the addition of onions, creme, fraiche and, gasp…parsley!? It was a simpler time back then. One can argue that conflict over recipes is infinitely preferable to whatever shitstorm characterizes the political climate these days. International issue or not, spaghetti carbonara is my go-to comfort food. I always have eggs, pasta and parm/pecorino in the house and Trader Joe’s has these 4 oz packages of diced pancetta that are perfect for carbonara for two.

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If you can get it, buccatini, a hollow spaghetti, is great for the silky clingy carbonara sauce, which works its way deliciously both inside and outside each noodle. Carbonara is something I can make in just about any state: hangry, hungover, late at night drunk on tequila, you name it! I spent a lot of time trying different recipes for carbonara and finally settled on one that is simple and classic. You can see it HERE.

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A few carbonara commandments that I learned along the way:

  1. Don’t use milk or cream. Fat, starchy pasta water and cheese are all you need for an incredible sauce.
  2. Eggs are necessary and, if you want a richer sauce, use more yolks.
  3. Do not make your sauce in the pan you cooked the pancetta or bacon in. This can lead to scrambled eggs. Instead, fill a large bowl with hot water and let it sit while you are prepping your other ingredients. Then, when you are ready to mix everything together, dump out the water so you are left with a warm bowl that will gently nudge your sauce to silkiness rather than strong arm it.

Following these rules will result in a luscious, subtle sauce that is both rich and light, a far cry from the calorie bombs that can be found on some Italianesque restaurant menus, and on French food blogs apparently. However, I won’t judge if you prefer it creamy and/or parsleyed. I have a good friend who uses bacon bits and sour cream and I really enjoy her version as well. This is what is so great about comfort food. It is all about what makes YOU happy. We have enough to worry about in the world these days without drawing battle lines in our kitchens as well.

Burritos – The Ultimate Convenience Food, Infinitely Riff-able

I loooove me a good burrito! Be it all snuggled in its foil wrapper, easily eaten on the go, or slathered in sauce and the size of a small infant, I am there for it, baby! I am a frequent visitor of taco trucks and hole-in-the-wall taco joints. This truck and this taqueria in my home town of West Seattle are two of my favorites. However, there is something to be said for not having to leave your house and having a delicious burrito ready and waiting for you in your freezer, mere minutes away from your mouth after a quick trip through the microwave (or in my counter-space challenged and thus microwave free home, a slightly more lengthy stay in the oven). Regardless of how you heat ’em up though, freezer burritos and breakfast burritos can seem like small miracles when you just can’t even but want something delicious and comforting to fill your belly.

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Zoe can’t even…

Over  the years, I have played around with this convenience food, trying different recipes and filling combinations and have discovered that the beauty of the frozen burrito is that there is no ULTIMATE RECIPE but rather, it is a dish that endlessly customizable and delicious in its many iterations so long as you follow a few basic principles of burrito making and a couple small but important freezer guidelines.

Burrito Principle #1: Have a variety of textures – No one enjoys a burrito that is just all mush. I mean, I love hella cheese and refried beans as much as the next person, but part of the joy of eating is variety – in texture as well as flavor. So, toss some cooked rice into that tortilla along with black or pinto beans that have been cooked and mashed slightly. Or leave your beans whole, but for the love of all that is sacred, make sure that they are cooked fully. No one likes under-cooked beans in their burrito. Then balance out the relatively soft textures of the rice and/or beans with some veggies like bell peppers and onions cooked to the point where they maintain a little crunch. And of course cheese and salsa to your liking!

Corollary of Burrito Principle #1: For breakfast burritos, replace beans and/or rice with hashbrowns and eggs scrambled with a little cheese, salt and pepper. I like to defrost some frozen hashbrowns or even tater tots and toss them with the cooked veggies.

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Hashbrowns and veggies in the background and scrambled eggs with ham and cheese in the foreground destined for Denver Breakfast Burritos.

Burrito Principle #2: Don’t muddy the flavors – It may be tempting to really raid the spice cabinet here. I mean, when else are you going to use that artisanal ancho chili powder that you got at the farmers market last year? Or was it two years ago? First, check the sell by date. Odds are, many of your spices are past their prime and won’t be doing you any favors in whatever dish they land in. Second, be judicious about when and where you spice. For example, I like to use a boxed Mexican or Spanish rice for convenience sake when making my burritos. Near East is a brand that is readily available at grocery stores and makes a flavorful light (read: not gummy) rice for burritos. If I use a boxed rice, I ease off on the spices elsewhere. Maybe just some chili powder added to the veggies along with a splash of lemon juice and a half teaspoon each of cumin and coriander added to the beans. However, sometimes I will do a cilantro lime rice a la Chipotle and in that instance, I may add some more spices to the vegetables like paprika (sweet or smoked) and ancho or chipotle chili powder.

Burrito Principle #3: When it comes to cheese, its all about location, location, location! – Don’t just toss a handful cheese into your burrito and call it a day. You have been so thoughtful up to this point. Don’t leave, what is arguably the most important part of the burrito, to fate or your questionable rolling technique! It is always a little disappointing when we get to the very bottom of our burrito and there sits a large glob of cheese that would have been put to much better use lovingly woven throughout the whole. Slightly better, though not ideal, is when we bite into the burrito and see the clear demarcation if rice and beans and other fillings to cheese. Battle lines were drawn and the cheese stands alone to one side. Yes, it all comes together in your mouth, but perfection it is not. The answer to this, is to lay out your tortilla and then sprinkle shredded cheese all over that bad boy. Then add your other fillings to one side and get rolling. This way, the cheese is distributed throughout. It is cozying up to your other fillings but it is also hanging out between layers of tortilla, a happy cheesy surprise that makes every bite perfectly balanced. And, if you want to get REAL crazy, dollop some cheese sauce on top of your fillings to create a molten cheesy core. Take care: This technique is only for advanced burrito rollers and cheese fiends.

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Ok, so you have got your burrito with all the fixins’. Is it ready to be rolled and frozen? Wait, step away from the burrito and attend to these two freezer guidelines:

Freezer Guideline #1: Don’t go crazy with the dairy – I mean, you went crazy with the cheese and that’s fine, but for these frozen burritos, leave the sour cream in the fridge. The water content in more liquid dairy products does not lend itself to home freezing, which is a slow process, inviting the formation of water crystals. No one wants ice in their burrito, which will melt and, separated from that fat, can turn your tasty creation into a soggy mess. Check out this really interesting article on the science behind freezing ice cream where the same fundamentals apply. You are totally welcome to heap sour cream on your warmed up burrito (or eat it straight out of the carton alongside…). I won’t judge.

Freezer Guideline #2: Keep the avocado on your toast and out of your burrito – Freezers do weird things to our favorite hipster health food.  I am sure there is some science behind the phenomenon, involving enzymes and oxidation. Perhaps, I’ll do a deep dive into this in another post, but for now, trust me, just don’t do it. As with the sour cream, feel free to go crazy with the guac when it is time to eat the burrito. On top, on the side, EVERYWHERE!

Now you have filled your burrito and followed the freezer guidelines like the A+ student that you are, and now it is time to roll those babies up and toss them in the freezer, a down payment on your future happiness. If you plan on baking them in the oven later, roll up in foil and then stack in a gallon freezer bag. If they are destined for the microwave, roll in parchment paper, then foil and the gallon freezer bag.

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That’s it! Happy rolling! Below are a few articles that I found online and used as inspiration for my burrito adventuring.

Tablespoon.com – Freezer Friendly Denver Omelet Breakfast Burritos

Good Cheap Eats Freezer Burritos

The Kitchn How I Make Burritos to Freeze