December 12, 2011

dark chocolate chip & crystallized ginger cookies - and my first contest!

I'm so excited about this post that I don't quite know where to begin.  It's my official "Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap" post, which was a brilliant idea from Lindsay & Julie.  It's also a recipe that I adapted myself, which I'm really proud of.  Finally, it's my first contest! 

When news of the cookie swap started swirling, I signed up before I had the chance to talk myself out of it.  I knew I didn't have time.  I knew I'd be posting along with some of the best, most dedicated bloggers out there.  I was a bit intimidated, but I'm so glad I did it.  I received some great cookies from new blogger friends: Carroll, Eleana and Mackenzie.  I mailed my cookies to other new blogger friends: Madison, Krissy and Hilary.  And I adapted a recipe to add to my growing list of go-to cookies:

Dark Chocolate Chip & Crystallized Ginger Cookies
accidentally adapted from Bon Appetit's

2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 c (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 c vegetable shortening
1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1/2 c ginger syrup (I used The Ginger People's)

1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c crystallized ginger chips (I used The Ginger People's)
12 oz dark chocolate chips

1 c raw sugar

Arrange racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, allspice, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt & pepper.
Fit stand mixer with paddle attachment and beat brown sugar, shortening & butter on medium-high speed until light & fluffy, scraping down sides, about three minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low, & add egg, ginger syrup and vanilla to blend.  Add flour mixture, beating on low speed until just blended.  Mix in crystallized ginger and chocolate chips.

Scoop out dough using two tablespoons to form a ball.  Roll into raw sugar.  Transfer to prepared baking sheet.  Bake cookies, rotating halfway through, until centers begin to crack, about 10-12 minutes.  Transfer to wire racks and cool.  Repeat with remaining dough & sugar.

Makes four dozen cookies.

*I say this recipe was accidentally adapted because I originally planned to make the cookie as listed in the magazine, but my molasses had gone bad and the grocery was out, so I had to shift my focus.  I had bought some of The Ginger People's Ginger Syrup and Crystallized Ginger Chips with another use in mind, but decided to try my hand at a new-to-me recipe instead.  So I swapped the ginger syrup for the molasses and added the chocolate chips.  I loved the result!  I loved it so much that I contacted the folks at The Ginger People to let them know.  They kindly offered a set of baker's items as a giveaway!

I'm giving away a baker's set from The Ginger People, which includes Ginger Syrup, Ginger Snaps, Crystallized Ginger and Baker's Cut Crystallized Ginger, which is great because it's perfectly chopped & ready for baking. 

To enter, leave a comment telling me the best ginger-infused food you've ever had.

For up to three additional chances do the following, leaving a separate comment for each:
1.  Follow @TheGingerPeople on Twitter.
2. Follow me on Twitter, @loveandnachos.
3. Tweet the following: "I just entered to win a baker's gift set from @TheGingerPeople and @loveandnachos."

The contest is open from now until Thursday, December 15 at 1 p.m. CST. Please leave a valid email address with your comment so I can notify you if you’ve won. I’ll draw a random number that afternoon and the corresponding comment will be the winner.

The prize will be mailed directly to the winner from The Ginger People. This contest is open only to entrants in the United States.

The giveaway is now closed.  The winner was randomly selected out of 45 entries.  There were 46 original comments, but one was deleted by the commenter.  Congratulations to commenter  #7, Lacey!

December 7, 2011

when in doubt, add more cheese: how to make lasagna.

cheese. 'nuff said.

I don’t need to give you a recipe for fantastic lasagna.  Your grandmother can do that.  Or your celebrichef of choice.  Really, the best lasagnas are non-recipe lasagnas.  If you read this blog with any regularity you know I’m a fan of non-recipe recipes.  Just use what you’ve got and be creative.  As long as you’ve got the sauce, pasta, filling, sauce, pasta, filling method down, it’s pretty hard to mess up lasagna.  However, I do have a few tips for making lasagna unbelievably good. 
·    Don’t use the ‘no boil’ pasta.  Just don’t.  I’m all about cutting corners, but I’m just not sold on this one. 
·    That said, undercook the pasta like crazy.  If the cook time on the box of lasagna is 8 minutes, cook it only 4.  If you’re going to make the lasagna in advance & bake later, cook it even less.  This will make the pasta a perfect al dente at the time you serve it, as it continues to cook in the sauce.
·    Put a layer of sauce down first so the pasta doesn’t stick. 
·    While we’re on that, make your own sauce.  It’s so easy to do and worth the extra effort.  If you’re a meat eater, put Italian sausage in your sauce, if only for the flavor.  If you can find one, put a pork neck bone in there.  That’s the ‘secret’ to my family’s Sunday gravy. 
·    When you place the top and final layer of pasta, have the curly edges overlap the edge of the pan a little.  When it bakes, they’ll crisp and caramelize, and when paired with the broiled, melty cheese (we’ll get to that), holy goodness it is incredible. 
·    When in doubt, use more cheese.  I’m a ricotta purist.  I’m a bit leery of the cottage cheese in lasagna thing, but to each his/her own.  I mix the big container of ricotta with a hefty handful of parmesan & two eggs.  And then sometimes I use more cheese.  And a little more after that.  I love cheese.
·    However, skip the mozzarella.  Trust me on this.  I just don’t think mozzarella has the flavor needed to stand up to a hearty dish like this.  I learned a trick from my friends at The Palm, and I never looked back.  Top the lasagna with lots (and lots) of Muenster cheese.  Like, a double layer of it over the entire top.  Typically what I do is bake the lasagna covered in foil for an hour or so, then uncover, add the (gargantuan amount of) cheese, and broil it.  It’s ridiculously good.  In fact, I now use Muenster on many dishes – homemade pizza, chicken parm, etc. 
·      Let the lasagna rest a good 15 minutes after removing from the oven.  The slices will hold together better, and the flavors will be incredible. 
If you have a favorite lasagna recipe, please share it.  If you have one that resembles a nachos lasagna (think beans, tomatoes, cheddar cheese layered with the pasta), I must know about it immediately.
If you’re making lasagna for dinner anytime soon, I must also immediately know about that so I can invite myself over.