Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Crisp spice cookies

For many years I kept two otherwise-unused ingredients in my house for a single family recipe: crisp spice cookies my grandmother, and then my mom, used to make for Christmas. The two ingredients? Crisco and Karo syrup. But I was determined to find a way to make the cookies without using trans-fats or high fructose corn syrup. Molasses, brown sugar and a combination of butter and Spectrum's organic shortening did the trick. (I found that butter alone made the cookies spread too much.)

I also tweaked the spice blend a bit.

(Of course, I once scandalized my dad regarding those cookies. He asked me what my favorite cookies my mom made at Christmastime, confident that my answer would echo his: oatmeal-date cookies. Though delicious, my favorites since childhood have been these little gingersnap-like goodies.)

1 stick butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (preferably non-hydrogenated)
1 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons molasses
1 egg
2 cups flour (you can use a combination of all purpose and whole wheat pastry flour)
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
granulated sugar (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 375. Cream butter, shortening and brown sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in molasses and egg. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and gradually combine them into the egg and sugar mixture.

Shape the cookies into little balls, about 3/4" in diameter. Roll them in granulated sugar and place them well-spaced on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 12 minutes; allow to cool on the pan for 4-5 minutes, then remove them to a rack.

You may need to adjust the baking time a bit to get the right degree of crispiness, but in my experience, no one complains about a slightly soft, chewy cookie.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Vegetable Stock

Usually when I make soup I use water. I always use tons of vegetables, and I let them get nice and caramelized in the oil or butter when I'm sauteing them, so I figure, it sort of turns into its own stock, right? Plus, you know I'm a bean-cooking fiend, so I always have plenty of "bean stock" to round out the soup with flavored broth.


Sometimes one needs a good stock (I'm thinking particularly of the stuffing I made last month for Thanksgiving, or this baked dish with beans and potatoes I've been making from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, or, even, sometimes, to add depth to soup.)

So, how to proceed?

I've been making one that's very close to Mark Bittman's roasted vegetable stock, where you roast the usual suspects (onion, garlic, celery, carrot, maybe a potato and/or a parsnip, if available), plus mushrooms, in plenty of olive oil in a really hot (450!) oven, till they get nice and browned. I de-glaze the pan with some white wine, then throw in several cups of water and a little soy sauce. Dried herbs or a couple of sprigs of fresh (parsley, thyme), plus a bay leaf help round out the flavor. I let it gently simmer for about an hour before cooling and straining.