Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

FullSizeRender-2Move over, sea salted caramel. You’ve had your 15-minutes of fame. Try this decadent gingerbread caramel sauce, a crazy crossbreed of fresh gingerbread cookies and rich caramel. This ice cream/cake sauce was posted on Martha Stewart’s site as an “under 30 minutes” holiday recipe. I latched onto it because it’s a gluten-free option that looked like a good Christmas gift for co-workers and friends. But I couldn’t give it away without knowing if it was actually tasty, so I did a test batch. How was it? Absolutely, positively, DEE-licious. I couldn’t stop licking the stirring spoon! When my friend Suzie texted me that her husband was smearing it on his breakfast toast just to find a base other than ice cream, I had to applaud his ingenuity. You go, Paul. Sauce it up.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good photo of the sauce in action, as the ice cream melting under the warm sauce made a mushy mess in the bowl. That reminded me of my days working as an art director on Pillsbury cookbooks, and all the tricks we had to pull to get a shot of ice cream under hot studio lights. Here’s rule Number 1 in the food biz—if you’re selling ice cream, you must use your ice cream in the photo. No stand-ins. This required forming dozens of perfect scoops of ice cream, then putting them on dry ice for several hours. Then you had mere moments to pour the sauce and get your photos done. I had to blow through a straw onto the sauce to keep it from frosting over on the hyper-frozen ice cream, while the photographer furiously clicked away. So much work! But what fun to finally get the shot.

Food biz rule Number 2—if you’re selling the sauce but not the ice cream, you can use a salted dough (similar to Play-Doh) that mimics ice cream in appearance. A couple scoops of the salt dough handled the sauces well, and wouldn’t melt under the hot lights. It made for a much easier photo shoot day! Since I didn’t have any stand-in ice cream on hand, my shot above is of my sweet little jars all sealed and labeled for gift-giving.

Makes 6-7 half pints

3/4 cup molasses
3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1-1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger

In Dutch oven, combine sugar, molasses, and ½ cup water. Heat over medium-high, gently stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil. Continue to cook and stir constantly for 4 to 5 minutes (about 250 degrees on a thermometer, if using). Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream, butter, salt, and spices, stirring until butter is melted and combined. Ladle into clean half-pint jars; wipe rims of jars to remove any excess sauce. Put on fresh, clean canning lids, and screw on top. Cool jars in refrigerator. (Jars may seal due to rapid cooling.) Once opened, sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; reheat before using.

NOTE: I found it works best to have all your ingredients measured out before you start making the sauce. The butter and the cream will make the sugar mixture splatter when added to the pot, and may cause it to cool too rapidly. I turned the heat back on to low to get the butter to melt at this stage. Also, it’s best to sift in the spices and salt, otherwise the cinnamon and ginger tend to clump because the sugar mixture is so hot. As far as the salt content goes, I think the 1½ teaspoon salt was a little much, and will back it off to 1 teaspoon in future batches.

Cranberry, Turkey, and Sharp Cheddar Bites

FullSizeRenderHeading into New Year’s Eve celebrations, this tart and tasty cranberry, turkey, and cheese concoction is a quick fix to have in your kitchen recipe arsenal—IF you have the cranberry conserve made ahead of time! Originally posted about a year ago, the conserve goes together in about 30 minutes, so isn’t a huge culinary black hole. In that post, I also talk about a tasty sandwich option using the cranberry conserve.

But we’re talking about quick appetizers here, so let’s move on! You’re basically making a mini open-faced sandwich, with either deli turkey (or leftover holiday bird) or ham, a slice of provolone, Swiss, or white sharp cheddar cheese, green apple, and a dollop of the cranberry conserve. That’s it! Easy, peasy, lemon squeezey, right? The picture here shows these with “Food Should Be Good” gluten-free corn tortilla/crackers from Costco. But I’ve also make these on sour dough bread or those mini rye bread squares, when I’m not serving a gluten-free crowd. (You know, the ones your Mom used to buy only during holidays for housing the abundant cream cheese spreads…)

Speaking of abundant cream cheese, the nice thing about these appetizers is that they do NOT start with a brick of Philadelphia cream cheese—and that’s rare in nibbles offered on holiday tables.

Serves as many as you want!

Layer the following ingredients and place on serving platter:

  • Food Should Be Good Corn Tortilla Chips/Crackers, sour dough bread, or mini rye bread squares
  • Sliced deli turkey or ham
  • Sliced Provolone, Swiss, or extra sharp white cheddar cheese
  • Green apple, sliced thin (do not peel)
  • 1 half-pint jar of cranberry conserve

Nette’s Cranberry Salsa

FullSizeRender-2Tomato salsa is so last year! This cranberry salsa has some kick and some sass, just like my neighbor Nette—which is fitting, since I got this recipe from her. You’ll need a food processor or blender to make it, but if you’ve got the tools, it’s a snap to whip up. If you serve it with corn tortilla chips, it’s both gluten free AND dairy free—how many appetizers can make that claim? Not many! At least not the appetizers found on most midwestern buffets in the cold winter months. And if you need more incentive to try this recipe, take note that cranberries are higher in antioxidants than the highly-acclaimed blueberry, and offer 24% of your daily allowance of vitamin C. So stick THAT on your chip and eat it. (Smiley face…)

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into slices
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup chopped red onion
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and membranes removed, and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeño (like Mrs. Renfro’s brand)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and drained

Combine apple, sugar, onion, lime zest and juice, fresh and pickled jalapeño, and cilantro in a food processor or blender and pulse several times. Add cranberries and pulse until grainy. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving for flavors to blend. Serve with tortilla or pita chips.

Ginger Crisps with Cranberry Goat Cheese, Pear, and Pepitas

IMG_1298It takes longer to say the name of these delicious, sweet and savory appetizers than it takes to make them. With only 4 ingredients (see picture below) and no cooking or baking required, you can churn these out in a snap, as long as you’ve got the right stuff on hand. Purchased ginger thins are the base, and they can be found at a variety of stores. I used to only be able to find Anna’s Ginger Thins at high end grocery stores like Lund’s, Byerly’s, and Kowalski’s. While they still carry these, you can also find them at Walmart or even Walgreen’s right now. (I believe those two places only carry them seasonly, so if you’ve got a craving for these appetizers in the spring or summer, check at the aforementioned places.) Trader Joe’s carries something called “Triple Ginger Cookie Thins” and are about $4 per box. Again, they only carry them when people are gaga for ginger and pumpkin flavors. Not sure that the “triple ginger” claim makes them taste any different than the other brands… But I think the best value can be found at IKEA, where they sell a large box of Pepparkakor for $7.99, and the cookie/crackers are bigger and sturdier, like any good Swede should be.

FullSizeRenderThe other seasonal ingredient you need is a small log of cranberry goat cheese. Goat cheese straight up is a little too pungent for my taste, but with the addition of the sweetened cranberries, it’s perfect on these little appetizers. They sell this at just about any grocery store in the fall and winter—high end to Trader Joe’s. I even found a brand called Celebriti’s Cranberry Goat Cheese at Costco this year. For the fruit, you can use any type of pear for this recipe (Bartlett, Anjou, etc.), but the Red Anjou looks especially festive on top. 

The last ingredient is a sprinkling of tasty little pepitas, roasted Mexican pumpkin seeds. These are sold in bulk at just about any grocery store, or pre-packaged at the high-end grocery stores. They taste similar to a sunflower seed, but you can eat the greenish shell after they’ve been roasted and salted.

Whew!!! That enough info for you? Believe me, it’s worth the effort to seek out these special ingredients. These little taste treats are a perfect way to start anything—especially a New Year!

Serves 8-10

Rating: Super Easy

1 package Anna’s Ginger Thins, Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Cookie Thins, or IKEA’s Pepparkakor
1 (8 to 11 ounce) package cranberry goat cheese, at room temperature*
2 Red Anjou pears, cored and sliced
¼ to ½ cup pepitas

Spread goat cheese on ginger thins. Top with slide of pear and a sprinkling of pepitas. Arrange on a platter and serve.

*NOTE: It’s easier to spread the cheese and not break the crackers if it’s room temp. You can make these with goat cheese straight from the frig, but you may have a few more broken cookie fatalities.