Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Time for Some Christmas Cookies - Pfeffernusse

Baking cookies for the holiday season is always a milestone on the calendar. Many families have different traditions when it comes to cookies, and my only tradition is to bake up a few favorites and also try something new each year. The new cookie in the mix this year is pfeffernusse. 

While the recipe is new to me, the pfeffernusse has a very long holiday tradition. I thought it was of German origin, but someone said it actually came from the Netherlands. Either way, it has a wonderful old-fashioned texture and taste! 

¾ cup molasses
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
2 eggs
4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp finely ground black pepper

Cook molasses and butter until butter melts in a large pot or Dutch oven over low heat, stirring constantly. When butter has melted, remove from heat and allow to cool.

Whisk or sift flour, sugar, baking soda, and spices together in a large mixing bowl.

When the molasses and butter have cooled to room temperature; stir mixture back together again if it separates. Add 2 beaten eggs; stir to combine. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix together to combine. Dough will be firm, so you’ll need to use some muscle.

Refrigerate dough for 1 hour. Form chilled dough into balls and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Bake at 375ยบ for 10-12 minutes. If you put two cookie sheets in the oven at one time, make sure to rotate them halfway through baking.

Allow cookies to cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet then remove cookies from cookie sheets with a spatula and place on wire cooling racks.

Once cookies are completely cool, roll them in powdered sugar. You can do this by placing about ½ cup powdered sugar into a gallon-size Ziplock bag with about six cookies at a time; gently toss them around until well-coated with powdered sugar.

Store in airtight container/s.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Colder Weather is Time for Bean & Ham Soup

We have entered “high soup season” here in the Midwest as the days become shorter and the temperatures colder. There are few things better than a big pot of soup simmering away on the stove, filling the kitchen with the hearty aromas created by long and slow cooking. The wonderful thing about soup making is that is starts with a blank canvas and there are countless directions you can go – I always decide based on what I have on-hand in my refrigerator, freezer or pantry.

About two months ago I had a gang of friends over and made a big ham dinner. After the dinner was over, I carved the remaining ham and used it for sandwiches, breakfast, etc. and purposely leaving a good amount of meat on the bone, I put the hambone in a freezer bag and transferred it to freezer. And as is often the case, I forgot about it!

While looking for a bag of peas I stumbled across the hambone, which I saved specifically for the purpose of making soup. I had a one pound bag of navy beans in the pantry, as well as an onion and some carrots. I have everything necessary for a pot of bean and ham soup! Once the soup was made, it fed us for three days! Our modest lunch was nothing more than a big bowl of this soup and some nice crusty bread, but it warmed the belly, heart and soul all at the same time!

Bean and Ham Soup
1 ham bone
1 large onion, diced
1 lb. dried navy beans
3-4 bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 carrots, peeled and sliced

Put beans in a colander and sort to remove and discolored beans or small pebbles. Given beans a good rinse. Depending on the method you prefer and the amount of time you have,  you can either soak the beans (covered with two inches of water) overnight in a pot or use a quick soak method, which is what I used. 

Putting the rinsed beans in a large pot, add two cups of hot water, cover and bring to a boil. Once a boil is reached, remove pot from heat and let stand covered for an hour. Then empty beans into a colander and rinse well. Return beans to pot and add 2 quarts of water, diced onion, salt, pepper, bay leaves and ham bone. Cover and bring to a boil – then reduce heat and simmer for two hours. 

After the soup has simmered for two hours, remove ham bone. Using a fork, remove any meat from around the bone and add pieces of ham back into the soup along with the sliced carrots and simmer an additional 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves and soup is now ready to serve.

If you want to thicken up your soup a little, remove a couple a ladles of the beans, put them in a bowl and mash them with a fork or potato masher. Then stir the mashed beans into the soup.