Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ginger Squares -- thank you, Ann Hodgman

Ann Hodgman's Beat That! is a cookbook that I return to again and again. Why? Because everything I've made from it (with the exception of some pickled shrimp which I found to be more trouble than they were worth) has been beyond excellent. And, any cookbook that was a gift from everyone's favorite JOB GODDESS Kimm Walton has to be a winner.

As the sugar and butter holidays are upon us, the very least that BakeManiacs can do is to put a modestly delusional nutritional spin on gifts from the kitchen, and I can think of few things that are better than my version of Ann's Ginger Squares. Ginger is good for you, don't-cha know?

I have doubled her recipe, added more candied and dried ginger AND grated fresh ginger, switched out lemon for lime juice and added ginger juice to the glaze. Resist the temptation to bake this in a 9x13 pan. The outside will be done long before the middle. If you ignore this advice, finish cooking the gooey unbaked middle pieces in the microwave at 10 seconds on high power until you are satisfied. This makes a ginger candy rather than a ginger bar. Not that ginger candy is a bad thing...

* A note on brown sugar: I grew up in the Washington DC area, and when I moved to Minnesota, I thought that there was something wrong with the dark brown sugar here. It is noticeably pale. However, for my first decade in the frozen north, Pale Brown Sugar was less than a Burning Issue of Our Time. I was right, though, and I now regularly return from DC with pounds of molasses-rich mahogany-colored dark brown sugar. In this recipe though, you are on your own with the brown sugar of your neighborhood. Ginger trumps all!

Ginger Squares -- a lot of them


1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar*
1 cup packed dark brown sugar *
2 large eggs
1 T vanilla
1 T grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 cup all purpose flour
8 ounces crystalized ginger slices
1 T ground ginger
1 tsp salt


4 T fresh lime juice
1 tsp grated fresh ginger juice
1 c sifted confectioners sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter two 9-inch square pans. If you have parchment or silicon pan liners, nothing will stick. Use them.

2. Melt the butter over medium low heat in large non-stick low-sided pan. Add the brown sugar and stir until it dissolves. This might take 10 minutes, which is why the large, low-sided pan works better than a saucepan. Use a silicon spatula if you have one, and stir very frequently or this will either boil over or burn. Remove from the heat and when it is cool enough so that the eggs won't scramble, beat in the eggs, vanilla and grated fresh ginger.

3. Process the flour, the candied and ground gingers, baking powder and salt until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir this into the butter and sugar mixture, and scrape into the prepared pans. It is a nice idea at this point to weigh the pans to make sure that they are more or less equal.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, reversing the pans halfway through the baking period. Ginger squares are baked when they bubble a bit and have a glazed look on the top.


Stir the lime and ginger juice into the confectioners sugar. Pour over the squares when they come out of the oven. Cool the pans on a rack, and cut when they are cool.

Packed between parchment or wax paper, Ginger Squares ship well.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The best and easiest party salmon - hot, cold or room temp

The very excellent cooking store and school Cooks of Crocus Hill has wonderful tools and terrific classes. In a participation class several years ago, I learned a fast, foolproof technique for roasting salmon which proves itself every time, and no matter how many pounds of salmon I serve -- there are NEVER leftovers. Because it can be served hot, cold or room temperature, it is a great item for a buffet or potluck or for any occasion that might otherwise be a train-wreck in the oven or in the kitchen at dinner time.

This is a single-skill recipe calling only for your chopping skills. It takes one visit to a kindly fishmonger who will take out the salmon's pin bones, and one trip to a well-stocked Asian food isle for dried fermented black beans. I prefer the kind that are dried with ginger bits, but I never overlook an opportunity to add ginger to anything.

This is infinitely expandable -- two pounds, five pounds, ten pounds of salmon. How many folks do you need to feed? The original recipe called for 2-1/2 pounds of salmon to feed 10 people as part of a very elaborate appetizer buffet. I have seen 30 people demolish 10 pounds of this dish as part of a large buffet dinner.

Use a very heavy duty sheet pan -- weapons grade from the restaurant supply house -- not the flimsy one from the grocery store, and line it with parchment paper. No sticking and easy cleanup.

Roasted Salmon with Black Beans, Ginger and Scallions (adapted from Cooks of Crocus Hill)
Affectionately AKA: "Slab 'O Salmon"

2-1/2 pounds of salmon
4 T dried, fermented black beans (with ginger, optional), minced
1 bunch of fresh scallions, white and green parts julienned
8 oz. fresh ginger, peeled if not young, julienned
4 oz. soy sauce
3 T plus 2 oz. Mirin (rice wine vinegar would work in a pinch)
2T sesame oil
4 T sake (Sherry is an ok substitute)
2 T sugar
1 - 2 tsp hot chili oil (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place the salmon on the parchment-lined sheet pan. Do not let it hang over the edge.
3. Cut 1/2-inch slashes every 3 inches all the way down the length of the fish.
4. Rub the minced black beans into the slashes and on the top of the fish.
5. Roast the fish for 5 minutes.
6. Remove the fish and brush with two tablespoons of the Mirin.
7. Roast until the salmon is cooked through. This will depend on your oven's true temp and the thickness of the piece of fish that you buy. Checking is a worthwhile activity.

1. Heat a large saute pan over high heat. Add the sesame oil and swirl it until it heats through. You will know when it is hot when you can smell it.
2. Remove the pan from the heat, add the scallions and ginger and the remaining ingredients (2 ounces Mirin, 4 tablespoons of sake, 2 tablespoons sugar and the optional chili oil). Keep warm in the pan.
3. When the salmon is done, remove it from the oven and pour the sauce over the fish.

SERVE: Hot, cold or room temperature. No leftovers. Ever.