Orange Iced Gingerbread Bars ~ ElephantEats.com

This past weekend I had my annual gingerbread house decorating brunch with my friend, Erica. We do it every year, but it has gradually been changing for the better, I think.

The first year we did it we used graham crackers and tried to attach the structure together with icing. Anyone who has attempted a gingerbread house knows that this method works, but only if the structure has a day to dry before decorating it. Since we only had an afternoon, we found out the hard way that royal icing takes a while to set.

Orange Iced Gingerbread Bars ~ ElephantEats.com

The next year I had read online that you could use melted sugar to instantly bind the crackers together. This works awesomely, as long as you’re SUPER careful not to burn yourself on molten sugar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. We did this for a couple years, but you still have to set aside time to assemble it. 

But this year I decided to just buy a couple of those gingerbread house kits.

gingerbread house kit ~ ElephantEats.com

The kits come with pre-assembled houses, saving us hours of aggravation, and they also come with candy included and an idea for how to decorate. I knew the kit was great because I decorate a house from a kit every year when I go down to my mother-in-law’s for Christmas. 

photo 2

Anyway, it ended up being perfect. We had a tasty brunch that Erica prepared and then got to spend a couple hours decorating our houses. I think Erica did a much neater job with the icing, but it was fun nonetheless.

Gingerbread Houses 2013

Today’s recipe is related because it’s for gingerbread bars! Not only that, but I literally think they’re the best thing to come out of my kitchen this year…and that’s saying a lot since it’s now December.

Orange Iced Gingerbread Bars ~ ElephantEats.com

These bars are spicy from the molasses, have tons of flavors from all the spices and have the ooey gooey texture of the perfect brownie. I chose to add some orange juice and zest too, because for some reason i feel like gingerbread goes really well with that citrus flavor.

Basically, you NEED to make these. They taste like the holiday season :)

Orange Iced Gingerbread Bars ~ ElephantEats.com

 

 

Orange Iced Gingerbread Bars
Yields 9
A spicy, citrusy, dense and chewy gingerbread bar!
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Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  2. 1 large egg
  3. 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  4. 1/2 cup unsulphered light or medium molasses
  5. zest of 1 orange, divided in 2 (will be about 1 Tbsp total)
  6. juice of 1 orange (will be used in both bars and icing)
  7. 3 teaspoons ground ginger
  8. 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  9. 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  10. 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  11. 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  12. 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted
  13. 1 cup powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Coat an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, egg, brown sugar, molasses, half of orange zest (about 1.5 tsp), 1 Tbsp of the fresh orange juice, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg until smooth.
  3. Add the flour and stir until just combined, don't over mix.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake 32-34 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with moist crumbs clinging. Allow the bars to cool while you prepare the icing.
  5. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, powdered sugar and rest of orange zest. Add orange juice (you will only need about 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp) a little at a time until it reaches a smooth, pourable consistency. Pour evenly over cooled bars. Cut and serve.
Notes
  1. Best served at room temperature.
Adapted from The Live in Kitchen
http://www.elephanteats.com/

Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting ~ ElephantEats.com

Pardon my lack of posts. There have been so many changes happening in the Elephant Eats household, making me a bit busy and causing me to have insomnia. I’ve been waking up at like 3 or 4 in the morning with my mind racing about various things…hence my finishing up this blog post at 4am. Surprisingly I haven’t been as tired as I would imagine the next day. I guess adrenaline will do that to you!

The house hunting thing is stressing me out a bit. Like how do you know when you like a house enough to want to buy it and that something better won’t come along? I’m obsessively combing the listings on a daily basis.

Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting ~ ElephantEats.com

This past weekend was super busy. It started with a little house hunting Saturday morning with a realtor. It made me realize how expensive things are for how little you get in this area. I’m hoping there will just be something that I fall in love with (that’s in our budget).

Then I rushed off to my friend Emily’s bridal shower and bachelorette! She was one of my maids of honor and I’m one of her bridesmaids. I, along with the other two bridesmaids, planned the whole shower/bachelorette weekend. We put a lot of hard work into it and I think it came out great and went off pretty much without a hitch!

Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting ~ ElephantEats.com

Plus, Emily told us she loved every second of it :) We did any Asian-themed shower because she loves sushi. I got some hanging paper lanterns in her wedding colors to decorate her soon-to-be sister-in-law’s house. They looked great! I unfortunately was too lazy to upload the photos but maybe I’ll add them soon.

The bachelorette went late into that evening and ended with a sleep over. I didn’t get much sleep and was up early to go house hunting some more on Sunday!

Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting ~ ElephantEats.com

Nate told me he doesn’t care at all about the house and that it’s totally up to me. I guess he trusts my judgement.

It was so fun to go in all the houses, and driving around the suburbs on a gorgeous spring day made me dread going back to the city.

This is all completely unrelated to this recipe. I made it when we were down in PA two weekends ago, and it was a perfect way to end to our Easter dinner! (pardon the photos, as they were taken after daylight and I didn’t have my trusty food photography lights!)

 

Spiced Layer Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

very slightly adapted from Bon Appetit (11/09)

Print this recipe!

Makes one 3-layer cake

1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup orange, peach or apricot jam
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below)*

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottom of pans with waxed paper. Butter and flour pans; tap out excess flour. Sift first 8 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter and orange peel in large bowl until fluffy.

Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture alternately with sour cream and milk. Divide batter among prepared pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer pans to racks and cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread 1/4 cup jam and then 2/3 cup frosting over. Top with second cake layer. Spread rest of jame and then 2/3 cup frosting over. Top with third cake layer. Cover top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and store at room temperature.)

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
2 8-ounce packages chilled cream cheese
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup chilled sour cream

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until well blended. Beat in sugar, then orange peel and vanilla. Beat in sour cream. Cover and refrigerate until frosting is firm enough to spread, about 30 minutes.

*note that I found the frosting barely covered the cake. In making this again I might 1 1/2 the recipe.

Spiced Cranberry Ricotta Scones

Well here we are approaching Christmas, and I actually have my act together enough to post a festive recipe for you ahead of time! Hopefully you can make this for your family on Christmas morning…or on any morning :)

Before I met Nate, I had never celebrated Christmas. I guess every family does it differently, but at his house (or technically his mom’s house) the whole family wakes up Christmas morning, opens presents, and then has a big, yummy breakfast. You need food after all that exhausting unwrapping.

Spiced Cranberry Ricotta Scones

The first year I got to spend Christmas morning with them, I wanted to contribute something, so I made these delicious overnight cinnamon rolls. They’re definitely a good choice! They get prepped the night before and then you just take them out about an hour before you wanna bake them to let them warm to room temp. Nate’s mom also makes turkey sausage and bacon and has plain croissants and chocolate croissants and blood orange juice! I told you it was a big, yummy breakfast ;)

 Spiced Cranberry Ricotta Scones

If you want to be really decadent, you could make this thick and rich hot chocolate too. It’s practically like eating (drinking?) dessert.

But another great breakfast food is scones. Ok, maybe not in England because I think they eat them for tea time there. But in America, scones are lovely for breakfast.

Spiced Cranberry Ricotta Scones

We had some leftover ricotta the other day and I knew Nate loves scones, so I tried to  come up with something festive. Not only did I succeed (I think cranberries and spices definitely scream holiday), but Nate said they were “AMAZING.” And I think I have to agree ;)

Spiced Cranberry Ricotta Scones

Spiced Cranberry Orange Chocolate Ricotta Scones

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Makes 8 large scones

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
1 cup fresh cranberries (or thawed frozen ones)
1 cup dark chocolate chips (I actually used mini nonpareils because I had them and they’re festive!)
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup whole milk + 2 Tbsp to brush tops of scones
zest of one orange (about 1 Tbsp)
1 egg

Preheat oven to 425. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon together.

Add the butter and use the a pastry cutter (and/or your fingertips/ potato masher or ricer) to cut/blend the butter into the flour mixture until the biggest pieces are the size of small peas. Toss in cranberries and use the cutter again to break them into pieces and quarter berry sized chunks. Add chocolate chips.

In a small bowl, blend ricotta, milk, egg and orange zest. Stir them into the flour mixture to form a dough with stiff spatula or wooden spoon. The dough will be very wet.

Dump dough on to a very well-floured counter, flour the top of the dough and pat it into a 1-inch thick circle. With a large knife, divide the dough 8 pieces, cut like a pizza (or whatever shape you like your scones). Transfer the scones to prepared baking sheet with a spatula and keep them at least 1-2 inches apart because they will spread. Brush scones lightly with milk.

Bake the scones for about 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden at the edges. Cool in pan for a minute, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Best served warm but still delicious the next day. They even stay pretty moist when straight out of the fridge!

 

 

I’m such a sucker for the impulse buy items in the checkout line at the supermarket. It’s not the candy and gum, but every register in nyc has little packs of granola or nuts hanging enticingly in front of my eyes.

I try not to shop hungry, but when I need to grab groceries on the way home from work, I sometimes have no choice.

So a few weeks ago, I happened to see an orange-cranberry candied nuts mix. Being that I love that combination and I was famished, I fell into the very trap they had planted and shoved them in my shopping basket.

I opened them the second I got outside and ate half the bag on the way home. They were so good. I was really surprised by how much orange flavor came through and the cranberry added the perfect touch of sour and sweet. Needless to say I had no appetite for dinner that evening.

Ever since that night, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of cranberry and orange. Remember my Cranberry Orange Rice Salad I made a couple weeks ago?

Anyway, I didn’t want to get suckered into the total rip-off that is the checkout line impulse items again, so I promplty made it my mission to recreate these nuts at home.

I did a little searching and found an orange spiced nut recipe which I then added dried cranberries too. This one had the addition of cinnamon, which I was skeptical about, but after tasting the finished product I think it wouldn’t have been as good without it.

With cold weather coming, you should definitely make these. They’re perfect for fall!

But the best part about this recipe? I actually got to make it on a weekend and take the pics in daylight..YAY for natural light photos!


Cranberry Orange Spiced Nuts
Adapted from Taste of Home

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Makes 20 servings

Ingredients:

2 egg whites, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup walnut halves
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, combine egg whites and orange juice. Add nuts and cranberries and toss to coat; drain.

In another large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Add nuts/cranberries and toss to coat.

Spread in a single layer in a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan. Bake at 250° for 30-45 minutes or until dry and lightly browned.

Cool completely. Store in an airtight container. 

Everyone loves rice.  It’s the most important staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in East and South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the West Indies.

The seeds of the rice plant are first milled using a rice huller to remove the chaff (the outer husks of the grain). At this point in the process, the product is brown rice. I’m sure you all know this chewier, nuttier form of rice that healthy folks eat instead of the typical white rice.

Personally, I like white rice.

Black rice is one of several black colored heirloom plants. It’s high in nutritional value and has a similar amount of fiber to brown rice…who knew?! I bet people would way rather eat black rice than brown rice. The rice council of America should start promoting that more. Then maybe Americans would get a little more fiber in their over-processed, fatty diets.

Wild rice isn’t rice at all! It’s actually four species of grasses. It’s not even directly related to Asian rice, although they are close cousins. Like close enough that it’s probably still not ok for them to marry and have kids. ;)

Weedy rice, also known as red rice, is a species of rice that produces far fewer grains per plant than cultivated rice and is therefore considered a pest. Take that red rice!

Isn’t that all you ever wanted to know about rice…and more? ;)

Ok, so now that you’ve had your little lesson for today. Let me introduce you to something delicious. This here salad is apparently made from the weedy version of rice, but I promise you it doesn’t taste weedy at all.

Truth be told, I wanted to use black rice because I thought the color would look pretty with the cranberries, oranges, and mint in the recipe. But the stupid little nyc supermarket I went to didn’t have black rice, and I wasn’t about to go to two or three other markets to maybe find it. Apparently, black rice turns purplish when it cooks, so it probably wouldn’t have been all that much prettier than the red rice I ended up using.

Colors aside, this dish would be beautiful with whatever variety of rice is your favorite. Or even with another grain like wheatberries. That could be tasty.

I’m submitting this recipe to #ricelove. Please join in on the #ricelove fun by linking up any rice recipe from the month of September.  Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list… Powered by Linky Tools


Cranberry-Orange Rice Salad
Slightly Adapted from foodman11 on Epicurious.com

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Serves 4

1-1/3 cups Black, Red or Wild rice
2 large oranges, supremed (peeled and sectioned)
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 cup diced toasted pecans
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon orange zest
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
sugar to taste

Prepare rice according to package directions; set aside until cool.

Combine cooled rice with remaining ingredients.

Let stand at least 20 minutes for flavors to blend.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.