Bless Your Spoon: Cooking and baking with a cozy blend of winter spices

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 2, 2021

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Holidays are about upholding traditions and making new memories. One tradition for many of us is seasonal baking. Along with that comes a heart-warming memory of spicy aromas — that of gingerbread baking in our ovens. The holiday season wouldn’t feel the same without baking this most popular, classic, Christmas cookie. Smells of cozy blends of winter spices immediately take me back to childhood.

One of the event planners for this year’s upcoming Christmas in Bermuda Run, Christy Schaefer, quickly warmed up to the idea of holding a Gingerbread House Contest. Schaefer’s a gal who knows her way around the kitchen when it comes to baking — especially cookies. She’s an old-school baker — using lots of butter and lard, and sometimes both when she’s making her homemade pie crusts. But she truly struts her stuff when making old-fashioned Christmas cookies — like those fresh and buttery sand and Linzer tarts.

Schaefer enjoys baking cookies not only at the holidays but year-round, adding, “At Christmas, I go all out — baking about 12 different kinds of cookies.”

Making sweet confections is a memory she holds most dear — especially baking with her mother. Born into a large family, Schaefer remembers her parents having about 50 people to their home on Christmas Day. When a young girl, Schaefer could be found faithfully standing by her mother’s or grandmother’s side — helping to prepare treats for the holidays. Her mom was quite the baker.

“My mother and I would bake about two dozen varieties of Christmas cookies — lemon squares, small pecan pies, Venetian squares, a date nut cookie that we’d roll, a bar cookie, an almond cookie…and on and on.”

But it was Schaefer’s paternal grandmother who taught her the finer art of cooking.

“My father’s mother taught me the finer art of cooking like preparing prime rib or working with cream sauces — she was an amazing cook — but my mother’s mother was a good baker.”

Schaefer comes by her culinary talents honestly. When her mom moved to Bermuda Run in 2003, the two ladies baked together for three days in a row — and every year thereafter until the year 2013.

While she reminisced earlier days of baking, Schaefer added, “It brings back those wonderful memories of family, my kids being small, and the very large Christmas gatherings at my parents’ home.”

To celebrate the sweet and spicy, classic, holiday gingerbread cookie — the Christmas in the Town of Bermuda Run event will feature a gingerbread house contest. The country club’s helping with the project as they already had gingerbread decorating every year for kids. The club’s providing the houses the children will decorate, and their activity director will be coordinating.

Delicious gingerbreads decorated in unique, artistic designs are sweet combos — so when asked, I jumped at the chance to be a judge alongside Jarod Lee from Davie Tavern.

Contest rules and flyers are available at gingerbread displays at Lowes Foods, Food Lion, and Harris Teeter grocers in Bermuda Run. The contest will allow families to design and decorate a house together while participating in a fun, holiday activity.

“The whole point is being together as a community and sharing what we create,” Schaefer said.

Shady Grove Elementary School’s chorus will kick off the lighting of the first Bermuda Run Christmas tree — a living tree that was donated.   A poetry reading of a Dr. Seuss-type poem will commemorate the tree, and there will be carol singing for the kids. The festivities will open with The Dancing Boots — a high school dance troupe — while escorting Santa clause who will come riding in on a Smith Grove fire truck.   

No holiday event would be complete without sweet treats, so of course, cocoa, s’mores, homemade cookies, and hot apple cider will be available. A funnel cake food truck will be on-site — they’re always fun and festive.

Among other festivities will be photos with Santa, reindeer games for kids, a heritage carriage with Dickens-style drivers, and horses with sleigh bells. The event will be held Sunday, Dec. 2, at 2 p.m. at the Town of Bermuda Run at 120 Kinderton Blvd., Suite 100 in Bermuda Run.

“We’re hoping that everyone enjoys the event, and I hope this will start a wonderful tradition,” Schaefer said.

Today’s recipes were selected to add a little spice to your life. Ginger comes in different forms. Candied/crystallized ginger is cooked in sugar syrup and used primarily for desserts. Ground ginger is a dried form of fresh ginger. Due to different flavor intensities, they don’t substitute well for each other so don’t try. I tend to bake with powdered ginger and cook a few Asian-inspired dishes with minced, fresh ginger root — buy some and try it with your meat sauces. It adds a bit of warmth and heat to your foods with subtle spiciness — I think you’ll warm up to it.

Duck Breasts with Ginger Reduction

• 4 (10 oz.) skinless, boneless, duck breasts

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• ½ stick salted butter

• 3 tsp. minced, fresh ginger root

• ½ cup brandy

• 1 cup whipping cream

• 3 Tbsp. orange concentrate

• ½ tsp. dry mustard

• Salt and pepper to taste

• Parsley or watercress sprigs

Season the breasts with salt and pepper. In a skillet, melt butter. When butter melts, add breasts and cook for 4 minutes per side. Remove from pan, set aside, and keep warm. To the reserved butter in the pan, add ginger. Saute for a few minutes. Pour in brandy and deglaze the pan, scraping all bits from sides of pan. Continue to simmer until about 2 Tbsp. remain. Add the cream, orange concentrate, and dry mustard. Simmer to reduce by half. Season to taste. To serve, slice breasts across the grain. Divide the sauce among 4 plates, covering surface of plate. Lay breast slices on top of sauce in an overlapping pattern. Garnish with parsley. You can alternate turkey or chicken with this recipe.

Gingered-Lime Chicken

• 4 skinless, boneless, single chicken breasts

• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ½ tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 4 minced large garlic cloves

• 2 Tbsp. minced, fresh ginger root

• Fresh lime wedges

• Parsley sprigs

In a bowl, combine oil, salt and pepper, garlic and ginger. Roll chicken in the oil mixture. In a 425-degree oven, bake chicken for 15 minutes or until done. Sprinkle with lime and garnish with parsley sprigs before serving.

Gingerbread Pancakes

• 1 beaten egg

• 1 Tbsp. sugar

• 2 Tbsp. honey

• 1 tsp. Tbsp. Wesson oil

• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. baking soda

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. cinnamon

• ¼ tsp. ground cloves

• 1 tsp. ground ginger

• 1 cup whole milk

In a mixer bowl, beat egg. Add sugar, honey, and oil. Add flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground cloves, and ginger while alternating with milk. Blend with wire whisk just until mixed and large clumps disappear. Pour batter onto a hot griddle. Cook until golden and turn once.

Ginger-Honeyed Chicken

• 3 cups extra virgin olive oil

• 1 chicken, cut into pieces

• 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

• 2 tsp. cornstarch

• 2 tsp. soy sauce

• ½ tsp. 5-spice powder (Asian)

• 1 cup white wine

• 2 tsp. minced, fresh ginger root

• 6 chopped green onions

• 4 Tbsp. honey

In a large skillet, heat oil. Fry chicken pieces until fork tender and brown. Drain on paper towels. Drain oil from pan. Add lemon juice corn starch, soy sauce, five-spice powder, and white wine to the skillet. Cook until well-blended, smooth, and thickened. Stir in ginger and green onions. Cook for 3 minutes. Add honey and cook for 2 minutes. Place chicken pieces into the sauce and heat for 3 minutes. Serve on rice.

Maple-Nut-Ginger Vegetable Roast

• 1½ cup whole pecans

• 4 peeled, sliced ¼-inch carrots

• 2 peeled, sliced ¼-inch parsnips

• 1 peeled, seeded, 1-inch cubed butternut squash

• 1 head, 1-inch cubed cauliflower

• 1 lb. halved Brussel sprouts

• ¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger

• 1/3 cup pure maple syrup

In a 425-degree oven, on a baking sheet, toast pecans for 6 minutes. Allow to cool. In a bowl, combine carrots, parsnips, squash, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, nutmeg, and olive oil. Toss and season with salt and pepper. On rimmed baking sheets, spread vegetables. Roast in a 425-degree oven until veggies begin to brown. Scatter the pecans and ginger on top and drizzle with maple syrup. Toss in the pans. Continue to roast for 25 minutes until tender and golden. Transfer to a bowl and serve hot or at room temperature.

Orange-Ginger Pork Ribs

• 1 cup pure orange juice

• 3 Tbsp. pure honey

• 2/3 cup hoisin sauce

• ¼ cup soy sauce

• 1 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard

• 4 minced cloves garlic

• ¼ cup minced fresh ginger root

• 3 lbs. pork ribs

In a bowl, combine juice, honey, hoisin sauce, soy, Dijon mustard, garlic, and ginger. Pour over ribs. Refrigerate overnight.  Remove ribs from sauce and place on a broiler pan with rack. Cover rightly with aluminum foil. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the sauce until it thickens. Remove foil from meat and bake 45 minutes uncovered. Baste meat with sauce using pastry brush while cooking. Serve with sauce on the side. It’s delicious with any meats.

Cream of Ginger-Carrot Soup

• 1 stick salted butter

• 2½ lbs. cut up carrots

• 1 cup chopped onions

• 4 cups chicken broth

• 3 cups whipping cream

• ½ cup orange juice

• 1/3 cup dry Sherry

• 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger root

• Salt and white pepper

• 1 tsp. fresh tarragon leaves

In a 4-quart pan, melt butter. Add carrots and onions, and cook for 25 minutes. Stir in broth, cream, orange juice, Sherry, and ginger root. Simmer on medium heat for 25 minutes. Cool and transfer in batches as necessary to a food processor. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Cranberry and Spice Rolls

• 1 pkg. active dry yeast

• ½ cup warm water

• ½ cup whole milk

• 1/3 cup sugar

• 1/3 cup salted butter

• 1 tsp. salt

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. cinnamon

• ½ tsp. ground nutmeg and ginger

• 1 egg

• 1 cup chopped, fresh cranberries

• 2 Tbsp. sugar

• 2 cups all-purpose flour or more

In a bowl, add yeast to warm water. In a saucepan, scald milk without boiling. Add sugar, butter, and salt. Allow to cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl, pour the milk mixture. Add flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, egg, and yeast. Beat until smooth. In another bowl, combine chopped cranberries and sugar. Fold them into dough. Add additional 2 cups of flour. Turn out on a floured surface and knead until smooth. Add more flour if needed. Place in a greased bowl and turn so that all sides are coated. Cover and allow to double in size. Shape into 45 balls and place on a greased baking pan. Cover again and allow to double. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

Candied Ginger Butter Cake

• 1 cup softened, salted butter

• 1 cup granulated sugar

• 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

• 1 beaten egg

• ½ tsp. salt

• 8 Tbsp. finely chopped candied ginger

In a mixer bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar and cream together until smooth. Add flour and half of the beaten egg. Add salt and ginger. Mix well. Press into a greased, 8-inch baking pan. Brush top with remaining egg. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes or until done. Allow to cool completely. Good served with vanilla ice cream. Serves 6.