Maida Heatter’s English Gingersnaps

Hi there.  It seems I’ve been missing.  The holiday season flew right by me, Thanksgiving was a bust (well, not totally, but there wasn’t any turkey), and I’m not really sure how all of a sudden it’s Christmas next week.  How on earth did that happen?

pile o' cookies

I guess I’ve been preoccupied with client dinners and wedding planning.  And these scallops had clouded all thoughts of other food.  Wednesday, however, I made a batch of Maida Heatter’s English Gingersnaps, so I hope that counts for something.  I’m betting most of you have your cookie-making planned—or executed—by now, but if you’re like me and haven’t gotten that far yet, these are for you.

Spices

They’re gloriously easy, and delicious to boot.  The spices—lots of them—are sifted with flour and added to butter creamed with dark brown sugar and molasses, and then the dough is rolled into balls and tossed in sugar. That crackly sugar crunch is essential to holiday cookies; I couldn’t imagine a Christmas without it (the thought of one is probably what knocked me into the holiday mode at last). The combination of spices, too—of cinnamon and clove and ginger and allspice and black pepper—-is Christmas to a tee. Don’t let the black pepper scare you: all you’ll notice it some gentle heat that, with the right amount of salt, makes this the perfectly seasoned cookie.

dough

It looks like we’re in for a snowstorm this weekend, so I’ll be baking some more cookies. It’s the perfect time, actually, to fall into the holiday spirit. I’m just not sure which cookies to bake. Any suggestions? Preferably the kind that can be pulled off after a few glasses of eggnog, of course.

ginger cookies

English Gingersnaps

These cookies are from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, my all-time favorite cookie book, worthy of a spot on any cook’s bookshelf.  Besides having a wide range of recipes, each one I’ve tried has been delicious, with that perfectly seasoned quality I’m so smitten with.

This is a classic recipe for large, dark, semisoft gingersnaps.

2 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
6 ounces (1½ sticks) butter
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
Granulated sugar (to roll the cookies in)

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and black pepper and set aside.  In the large bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter.  Add the brown sugar and beat well.  Add the egg and the molasses and beat for a few minutes until the mixture is light in color.  On low speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until incorporated.

Refrigerate the dough briefly (in the mixing bowl if you wish) until it can be handled; 10 to 15 minutes might be enough.

Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Spread some granulated sugar on a large piece of wax paper.  Use a rounded tablespoonful of dough for each cookie.  Roll it into a ball between your hands (rubbing your hands with a bit of canola oil helps keep the cookies from sticking ), then roll it around in the granulated sugar, and place the balls 2½ to 3 inches apart on cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies for about 13 minutes, reversing the cookie sheets top to bottom and front to back once during the baking to insure even browning.  The cookies are done when they feel semifirm to the touch. (I found that my cookies, in my electric oven, took about 11 minutes.)

With a wide metal spatula transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

Chicken, mushroom, and potato hot pot.

Do you like Jamie Oliver?  He came into my frame of reference about a year ago; before that he sat in the black hole in my mind reserved for TV-celebrity chefs: I knew of him, would sometimes catch a show (absentmindedly while doing laundry) but I didn’t cook from his recipes.  After a while, though, I found myself waking up at 7:30 on Saturday mornings to watch the reruns of his show Jamie at Home, looking forward to it for days really, to wake up before anyone else and make a cup of coffee and sit and watch his show, deciding what to cook for dinner.

Thankfully we’ve gotten Tivo since then, because waking up at 7:30 on a weekend never feels as nice when the afternoon rolls around and you want to nap, and I can record, and save, all of Jamie’s shows.  Jim’s convinced that I just like to watch Jamie and his cute British slang, but really it’s (well mostly it’s) the food.  It’s home-cooking, the way home-cooking should be.  There’s an attention to detail without being fussy; an attention to the right details, really, the ones that will help to make the food taste better.  A lot of his dishes are rather ugly, plebeian-looking things.  But the flavors are there, present and beautiful.

This chicken and mushroom dish became my favorite Jamie Oliver dish.  It’s unabashedly simple.  You fry up some vegetables in chicken fat, then add mushrooms and cook until they are dry.  Then you add some chicken pieces, nutmeg, herbs, wine, and sliced par-boiled potatoes.  The dish ends up akin to a shepherd’s pie, with browned, roast potatoes subbing for mashed (a substitution that suits me well) and a warm, earthy flavor that’s perfect for a cool May night, just when you thought summer was about to come and all of a sudden it’s 50 degrees out there.

Jamie Oliver’s cooking no longer sits in the black-hole and I’m a bit sad for how long it took me to come around.  If you’re a home cook who hasn’t been introduced to the man yet, I urge you to try this dish.  (If you can find lovage, which is the herb used in Jamie’s recipe, try it with that too.)  I also urge you to Tivo some of his shows.  His British slang is pretty adorable.

Chicken, Mushroom, and Potato Hot Pot

adapted from Jamie Oliver’s website

serves 4

6 medium potatoes, skins on
2 big handfuls mixed wild mushrooms, or 3 portobello mushrooms
6 chicken thighs, 3 chicken drumsticks
1 red onions, peeled
1 celery sticks
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp plain flour
a few sprigs parsley and thyme, leaves picked
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
salt, pepper
chicken stock, homemade (made with the bones in this recipe if you don’t have any on hand)
splash of dry vermouth
a little melted butter

Cook potatoes in salted boiling water until just tender. Drain and cool.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Take skin off chicken thighs and drumsticks and cut meat from the bones, saving a few pieces of skin and the bones for stock (made now if you don’t have homemade stock on hand or saved for later.)

In a large oven-proof skillet or braiser, add some of the chicken skin and render the fat. Once rendered, remove the skin and add onion, celery, and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until most of the moisture has evaporated. Add mushrooms and cook over medium heat until all the moisture has evaporated. Add chicken and then vermouth and cook it down. Add flour and stir to combine, then add a tablespoon or two of stock to make a thick gravy. Add herbs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Arrange potato slices on top of skillet, as pretty as you can manage. Brush some melted butter over potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Place skillet in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are golden browned and chicken is cooked through and tender.