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Monday, December 26, 2011

Give Something Sweet

Nothing brings more smiles than a plate of gingerbread men or sugar cookies.  These holiday staples are not only easy, they're fun to decorate too! 'Tis the season for giving (and eating), so why not bake a batch of homemade goodness to share with family and friends?

Happy Holidays!

Gingerbread Cookies
Adapted from Food Network
3 Cups all-purpose flour
1 TSP baking soda
3/4 TSP ground cinnamon
3/4 TSP ground ginger
1/2 TSP ground allspice
1/2 TSP ground cloves
1/2 TSP salt
1/4 TSP freshly milled black pepper
8 TSP (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 Cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 Cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 Cup unsulfured molasses
1 Large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt and pepper through a wire sieve into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and vegetable shortening until well-combined. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is light in texture and color, about 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses and egg. Using a wooden spoon, gradually mix in the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours. (The dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead.)

Let dough stand at room temperature until just warm enough to roll out without cracking (about 10 minutes, more if the dough has been chilled for longer than 3 hours).  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to 1/8 inch thickness, being sure that the dough isn't sticking to the work surface (dust the surface with more flour, if needed). For softer cookies, roll out slightly thicker. Using cookie cutters, cut out the cookies and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Make sure to keep the remaining dough chilled before rolling out more cookies.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire cake racks to cool completely. Decorate with icing.

Vanilla Frosted Cookies
Adapted from The New York Times
8 TBS (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 Cup sugar
1 TSP vanilla extract
1 Egg
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 TSP baking powder
Pinch salt
1/4 Cup milk, plus more if needed
Vanilla frosting
Crushed candy canes, sprinkles or sanding sugar for decorating

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar; add the vanilla and egg and beat until well blended.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add half the dry ingredients to the dough, beat for a moment, then add the milk. Mix for about 10 seconds, then add the remaining dry ingredients and a little more milk, if necessary, to make a soft dough.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut into desired shapes.  Bake for 10 minutes on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Let cool completely before frosting and decorating.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Herbed White Bean and Sausage Stew

Herbed White Bean and Sausage Stew
Adapted from The New York Times
2 TBS EVOO, more for serving
1 LB sweet Italian sausage, sliced 3/4-inch thick
1 TBS tomato paste
1/2 TSP ground cumin
2 Medium carrots, finely diced
2 Celery stalks, finely diced
1 Onion, chopped
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 LB dried Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked through
2 TSP kosher salt, or to taste
2 Thyme sprigs
1 Large rosemary sprig
1 Bay leaf
1 Bunch of kale or spinach, chopped
2 TSP balsamic vinegar, more for serving
1/2 TSP ground black pepper, more to taste.

I used to never understand why anyone would waste their time cooking with dried beans, but this recipe has completely changed my mind.  While canned beans are perfectly fine in some situations, they can be mushy and bland - not ideal when they are supposed to be the star of your dish.  There's no need to soak the beans in this stew (which saves a ton of time), yet they still come out tender and flavorful.  Make on a snowy day for a soul-satisfying meal, and you may just become a convert too.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown until cooked through, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add the tomato paste and cumin to the pot. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, 8 cups water, salt, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 2 hours, adding more water if needed to make sure the beans remain submerged.

Return the sausage to the pot. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and pepper.  Adjust the seasoning if needed.  Ladle into warm bowls and serve drizzled with additional vinegar and olive oil. 

If you like, you can add a bunch of chopped kale or spinach when you add the sausage for added color.

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The Hungry Yuppies, Annie and Rich, are a young couple from CT who are self-proclaimed foodies. Annie is the chef, and Rich is her willing taste tester. Juggling a full time job in the city wasn't going to get in the way of Annie's love for cooking. It's about eating well whether you have just 30 minutes on a Monday night, or all day on a rainy Sunday.