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Christmas Gingerbread

Originally uploaded by ted_major

We used to make these at Christmas when I was in high school, and they were delicious. Mom found the cookie molds and the recipe recently and I made them again. The recipe noted that the spices needed increasing, so adjusted them a bit, and in looking at other recipes also found the secret ingredient for gingerbread: cayenne pepper! Just a dash brings out the heat of the ginger.

  • 2 ¼ cups brown sugar
  • ¾ cups water
  • 3/8 cups molasses
  • 1 Tbs. Cinnamon, ground
  • 1/2 Tbs. Cloves, ground
  • 2 Tbs. Ginger, ground
  • 2 (or 3!) dashes cayenne pepper
  • 8 Oz. (1/2 lb.) Butter
  • 1 Tbs. Baking Soda
  • 1 Tbs. Water
  • 8 Cups White Wheat Flour (I used white whole wheat)

Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine sugar, water, and corn syrup or molasses in a saucepan and cook over moderate heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat; add butter. Stir until butter is melted and the mixture cools. Dissolve baking soda in remaining tablespoon of water and add to mixture. In a large bowl, combine flour and spices. Add the sugar/butter mix to the flour mixture and stir. Chill for several hours. Divide into small portions, roll out and cut out gingerbread men. Place on greased cookie sheet.

To make the ginger bears in molds, don’t chill. Lightly oil the molds once before making cookies, and then flour before each cookie. Take a small portion of the dough and press into the mold. Thinner cookies show more detail than fat ones. Turn over and shake out. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes.
ginger snaps
UPDATE! Feb. 11, 2010: This gingerbread also makes a fantastic ginger snap: roll into balls approx. 1 inch in diameter, then flatten to a 2-inch circle, and dip the top into sugar (granulated works fine, but the coarseness of turbinado is a little more attractive). Bake at 400F (convection if you have it) for 7 minutes.

Outside the South grits are a foreign and sometimes weird food. There’s no doubt that they can be phenomenally bad. The worst grits I ever had were “cheese” grits at a waffle house outside of Charlotte, NC, in the late 1980s: a bowl of grits with a slice of American cheese food product on top. Disgraceful. They should have known better (and probably did, more to their shame).

Grits at their best are another thing all together, and this cheese grits casserole comes close.

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup grits (best to use stone ground if you can get them, otherwise regular grits will work, but under no circumstances consider “instant” grits)
  • 6 oz grated sharp cheddar (1 1/2 cups); use other cheeses as desired–Gouda is fabulous.
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 2-quart ceramic or glass baking dish. Cook grits according to package directions. Remove from heat and add 1 cup cheese, and butter. Stir until melted. Add milk, eggs, and pepper; mix well. Pour into baking dish and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

  • 1lb canned cut up mushrooms
  • 1 box Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice mix
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 lb. country sausage
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Seasoned salt
  • Tabasco, salt, pepper to taste

Cook rice according to package. Saute sausage and onions until brown & soft. Add cream, chicken soup, and spices. Mix in chopped mushrooms. Pour into casserole and bake 20 to 30 minutes until bubbly.


Making Christmas Cookies

Originally uploaded by ted_major

The family recipe for making Christmas cookies. The secret’s the almond extract: don’t think of making them without it.

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 400F. Cream butter and sugar; beat in eggs, vanilla, and almond extract. Mix flour salt, and baking powder together, then work into butter-sugar mix. Wrap in foil and chill until firm. Roll a small amount at a time to about 1/8″ thick. Cut out with cookie cutters. Place on a greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat) and bake 5-8 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Ice with a mix of confectioners’ sugar, a few drops of almond extract, milk, and food coloring, mixed to a spreading consistency. Add sprinkles as desired and let dry.

Macaroni and cheese is a classic comfort food. Recently, we’ve come across goat gouda, which is an amazing hard cheese from the Netherlands with a sweet, caramelly butterscotch flavor.  Great as a snack, even better in mac & cheese.

  • 8 oz penne rigati or other short, tubular pasta of your choice
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 3 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 Cup milk
  • dash salt
  • few grinds of white pepper
  • 4  oz goat Gouda, grated

Cook pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, make a classic bechamel sauce: melt butter in a 2 qt saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour to form a roux, then stir in milk, salt, and pepper and cook until it starts to thicken. Add cheese and stir until melted and smooth. Add drained pasta and stir until well-coated.