Sunday, July 21, 2013

Honey Marshmallows

Initially, I made these marshmallows for my brother because he is sensitive to corn. Honey seemed like an easy substitute for corn syrup, and away I went.

But the final product was complex. Buttery, floral, dark and caramelly. Far more adult than an ordinary marshmallow. In many ways, inappropriate for the typical uses of marshmallows, as a sweetener or cereal adhesive. That said, they make a fantastic showcase for a special honey.

Honey can be hard to love. No, don’t deny it. Honey doesn’t sweeten quietly like white sugar, or even like brown sugar. Honey is loud and it’s proud, and it is a shame to hide it in a pastry or in a beverage.

The virtues of marshmallows- the simple alchemy of sugar and gelatin- is precisely what allows the honey to take center stage. Maybe you could mix them into crispy rice treats or float them in hot chocolate, but first, I recommend you try them the way I did- as is.

Honey marshmallows
Adapted from Alton Brown
3 packets unflavored gelatin
1 c. ice water, divided
1 ½ c. sugar
1 c. honey
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ c. flour
¼ c. shredded coconut
Nonstick spray, mild flavor
Candy thermometer

Put the gelatin and ½ c. water in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on.
In small saucepan, combine remaining ½ c. water, sugar, honey and salt. Cover and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Uncover. Clip candy thermometer to the saucepan and continue cooking until mix reaches 240 degrees F, about 7-8 minutes. Immediately remove from heat.

Turn the stand mixer on low speed and slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture, while the mixer is running. Once you have added all the syrup, increase the speed to high. Whip for 12-15 minutes, until mixture is very thick and lukewarm.

While the mixture is whipping, prep the pan. Mix the flour and coconut in a small bowl.
Lightly spray a 9x13 baking pan with nonstick spray. Add about half of the flour and coconut mix and jostle it around the bottom of the pan to make an even layer.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula to spread it into the corners. Dust with about half of remaining flour and coconut mixture (so you still have a little flour-coconut left). Allow marshmallows to sit uncovered for at 4 hours, up to overnight.
Turn marshmallows out onto a cutting board. Cut into 1” squares with a pizza wheel dusted with flour. Once cut, lightly dust all sides with remaining flour-coconut mixture. Use extra flour if the marshmallows are still sticky. Store in an airtight container up to 3 weeks.

Friday, July 19, 2013

coffee break biscotti

I think that there are “meal” people and there are “graze” people. Meal people like to sit down to a serious plate of food, three times a day. They eat substantial food, like eggs and bacon, or pork chops with apple sauce. They like burgers and sandwiches. I envision meal people being descended from tigers and lions.

Graze people, on the other hand, love appetizers. Graze people are your gazelle and your deer- a nibble off this rosebush here, a chomp from that pea plant there. Graze people live for a midmorning biscotti, an apple or yogurt for lunch, a late afternoon cheese plate. Graze people forget to eat dinner, but don’t worry, they aren’t going hungry- they had chips and salsa somewhere between noon and bedtime.

Graze people cause perpetual frustration to the people around them; boyfriends, mothers, wait staff—who want to schedule one meal to occur at one time. Graze people are a selfish, all-around annoying bunch of people. And I am one of them. And man, do I love me a midmorning biscotti.

Chocolate hazelnut biscotti
From the annals of the Smitten Kitchen, in the words of Deb, with no amendments, because none are necessary
Yields 60 cookies
1 c. whole hazelnuts
2 ½ c. flour, plus flour for work surface
½ c. cocoa
1 Tablespoon espresso powder
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 1/3 c. sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread hazelnuts on baking sheet and toast about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. If hazelnuts are not blanched, toast them until the skins begin to crack, then remove them from oven and wrap them in clean linen or cotton towel (not terrycloth). Rub hot nuts to remove most of the skin. Set toasted nuts aside.

2. Sift the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder together and set aside.

3. Beat eggs lightly, just until blended, in mixing bowl with whisk or in electric mixer. Remove two tablespoons of egg mixture to small dish and set aside. Beat sugar into remaining eggs until blended. Stir in flour mixture to form soft dough.

4. Divide the dough in half and place one portion on a well-floured work surface. (She is not kidding about this.) With floured hands, pat it into a six-inch square. Scatter half the hazelnuts on the dough and press them into the surface. Roll the dough into a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter and 12 to 15 inches long. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and place the roll of dough on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Brush the tops of both rolls with the reserved egg.

5. Place in the oven and bake about 15 minutes, until firm to the touch. (This took me until 20 to 25 minutes.) Transfer to a cutting board and cut on an angle into slices one-half-inch thick. (I found that letting them cool for five minutes made this easier, as well as a sharp knife with a tight serrate.) Return the slices to the baking sheet, laying them on their cut sides, and return them to the oven. Bake another 20 minutes, until they are crisp and dry. Allow to cool completely before storing or serving.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Club - The Ocean at the End of the Lane

For July, we read Neil Gaiman's brand-new novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. A fantastical tale that recalls the time we spent in Narnia, Hogsmeade, and Middle Earth as children, this novel seems to have one haunting message- why did we ever leave?


Summary from
“Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.”


B: So, Ocean!

L: What a book.

B: Indeed.

L: One quote summed up the spirit of the book to me:
“Adult stories never made sense, and they were so slow to start. They made me feel like there were secrets, Masonic, mythic secrets, to adulthood. Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?”
As Gaiman says one paragraph earlier, “I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.”

B: Oh, man. That’s perfect.

L: Your thoughts? What jumped out?

B: The voice – in the sense that he captured the perspective of a smart young kid dealing with things beyond his comprehension. And how perfect and simple his explanations were.

L: Indeed.

B: And the food – oh man. The descriptions of food did me in. Those pancake crepes with the plum jam – AAH.

L: Yes! And he brought back so many sensations I had forgotten – being afraid to try new foods, the anxiety of a failed birthday party, the comfort of books. The arc of the book reminded me of spending all afternoon reading during summers off. And I loved the neatness of the story.

B: Yes.

L: How each loose end was tied up perfectly.

B: Which is poetic, because of much of it was about fabric.
The descriptions of Monkton and her real form reminded me, weirdly enough, of this Stephen King novel, Lisey’s Story. It evoked the same sort of floating, insubstantial creepiness.

L: Do you think there was a significance to the antagonist being made of cloth?

B: Possibly? I think it goes back to his tendency to make the mundane fantastic. Like in Coraline, where the Other Mother and everyone else has button eyes, which is creepy as all get-out.

L: True. Those buttons were terrifying.
I kept wondering where the Hempstock women came from.

B: As in, what inspired them, or where they actually came from?

L: Where they actually came from. At first, I was thinking they were old demigods, maybe pagan. But there were hints that they were much older than that, predating the Moon. There was clearly some concept of age and relative age, but they didn’t age like humans.
Also, I’m sure I’m getting too literal, but I was baffled by their reproductive process.

B: Yes. It’s the usual Gaiman approach. Raising more questions than giving answers.

L: But that moment when George is plunged into Lettie’s ocean and feels like he understands everything; at that moment, it all seemed to make sense to me too.

B: Yeah, and then it stops making sense as soon as he leaves.

L: I loved that. It mimicked the gradual sense of absorption you feel when reading an engrossing book, and the way that feeling leaves you when you are wrapping up. While you are becoming engrossed in THIS book and then wrapping it up.

B: You’re right!

L: I also loved how the narrator was middle aged, but then fully committed to the childhood memory being the story. I get upset when a narrator dives into memory, then snaps you back, and back and forth. I want to soak in the memory. Gaiman got that.

B: I think you nailed it. I don’t have anything else to add, other than I freakin’ loved it.

L: 11/11, no question.

B: Amen. 11/11.

L: Can I just say – the South African offering up the gnarled tomcat Monster as payment for the kitten Fluffy he hit with the car? Hilarious.

B: Yeah, that was priceless. And the fact that the kid was bugging out about losing his comic in the car.

L: I loved the image of him, sad about his burnt toast, walking down the lane with Dad in his bathrobe, chomping on burnt toast and peanut butter, to retrieve the car.


Brian and I have had a blast reading together and sharing our thoughts, so we have selected the book club lineup for the next 9 months. Here is what we have in store:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Awkward Moment Vanilla Ice Cream

About six months ago, I changed departments and found myself the center of attention in a meeting of about 40 team leads I had just met. “Tell us something about yourself,” said the developer leading the meeting. “What’s your favorite kind of ice cream?”

I could barely contain my glee. “Vanilla! I love vanilla.”

He paused, nodded. Shuffling uncomfortably, he cleared his throat and quickly changed the subject. “So, quality. Let’s get a look at those numbers…”

Indignant, I stewed in my seat. Why is vanilla an awkward favorite flavor? It is just as exciting as any other flavor! And what kind of introductory mechanism is an ice cream flavor, anyway? Are pistachio people weird and slightly green? Are French vanilla people boring and a little snooty? A tad promiscuous by American standards? Maybe the responsibility of the awkward moment lies not with the answer, but with the awkward-question-asker.

I digress. My point is, vanilla is not boring. Until I spent a summer working at Coldstone and had to explain again and again the difference between sweet cream ice cream and vanilla ice cream, I thought vanilla = plain = absence of flavor. It could not be further from the truth. Vanilla complements many other flavors- fruit, brown sugar, chocolate- but it can stand on its own, velvety, sweet, and deep. And I happen to enjoy it tremendously on its own.

It is a fine day when you out-lighten Cooking Light and the result is still delicious. I replaced the low fat evaporated milk in the recipe with the skim variety, and results were still spectacular. This recipe yields an ice cream similar to Breyer’s in richness. It is not the out-and-out decadence of Haagen Dazs, but it is great for a weeknight when you might like some ice cream but do not want to break the caloric bank.

If you are ever going to buy a vanilla bean, this is the time to do it. This ice cream has a big, delicious vanilla taste, which I do not think would be done any favors by vanilla extract. Finally, this may sound heretical and anti-foodie, but I buy my vanilla beans at Target, where you get 2 for about $8, or about half as much as they cost at the nearest supermarket.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
From Cooking Light, June 2013
1 cup half and half
½ c. sugar, divided
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 – 12 ounce can evaporated skim milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 egg yolks
Kitchen thermometer

Clear enough space in your freezer for a medium mixing bowl or similar size glass Tupperware.
Combine half and half, 1/4 c. sugar, corn syrup, salt, and evaporated milk in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean; add the seeds and the bean pod to the milk mixture. Stir it all together and cook over medium heat until it hits 180 degrees F or until tiny bubbles form around edges.

Remove from heat, cover and let stand 10 minutes.

In medium bowl, mix the egg yolks and remaining ¼ c. sugar. After the milk mixture has rested for 10 minutes, use a ladle to spoon the milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking after each addition. Pour the combined mixture back into the saucepan, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a spatula so no vanilla seeds are left behind.

Heat the milk and egg mixture over medium heat to 160 degrees F. Remove from heat. Pour into a clean mixing bowl. Put in your freezer until cold but still liquid, 20-40 min. Take the bowl out, and put the mix in your ice cream maker, again using a spatula to scrape the vanilla seeds from the bottom of the bowl.

Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Spoon into a freezer safe container, cover and freeze 3 hours or until firm.

Friday, July 5, 2013

shrimp, chorizo, and corn summer salad

This salad is satisfying, light, citrusy, just a hint spicy, and delicious hot or cold- in other words, the perfect all-in-one picnic dinner. I made it last week for me and Tim to have at Concert on the Square, Madison’s free summer concert series, and it paired perfectly with a warm night and a cool bottle of white.

I’ve streamlined the recipe without dramatically changing the end product. Chorizo was hard to find in even our fanciest grocery store, so a Johnsonville chorizo brat(wurst) would have to do. Corn should be measured in ears, not cups. Tomatoes should be of one variety, and I didn’t want to have to count them out. I imagine you could also put the shrimp, chorizo, and tomatoes on skewers, and brush them and the corn down with a mix of the other ingredients, and then grill the whole batch. Do what works for you.

Shrimp, Chorizo, and Corn Salad
Massaged a bit from Cooking Light
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as an appetizer
12 ounces (3/4 lb.) raw large shrimp, peeled
3 ears corn, uncooked, husked and cleaned
1/3 c. (about half a small bunch) green onions, chopped
1 ½ Tablespoons (4 ½ teaspoons) Sriracha hot chile sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¾ ounces thinly sliced Spanish chorizo sausage, or 1 raw chorizo sausage brat, sliced lengthwise to split it open
½ c. basil, roughly chopped
24 (about 1 ½ cups) small red tomatoes, grape or teardrop, halved
2 teaspoons lemon zest, about ½ lemon
2 Tablespoons lemon juice, about 1 lemon
Nonstick spray

Combine shrimp, corn, green onions, Sriracha, garlic, salt, and half of the basil in a medium bowl. Add about half of the tomatoes. Toss gently with a spoon to evenly distribute sauce.

If you are using a chorizo brat: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Spray skillet with nonstick spray. Add brat. Cook thoroughly, about 10 minutes, flipping it about halfway through. Remove brat from heat, cut into bite size pieces, and add it to the shrimp mixture.

Increase the heat to high. Once the skillet is hot, add the shrimp mixture to the pan, stirring frequently, until the shrimp turn pink, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the remaining basil, tomatoes, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Toss to combine, and serve.

Eat immediately, or pack it up and refrigerate. If you bring this to a picnic, keep it on an ice pack and eat while it is still cold.

I take picnicking very seriously. If you’d like to see more Xtreme Picnicking (!!!), you can stalk my Pinterest board devoted to it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

roasted pear sorbet

Sorbet is a ladies-who-lunch dessert; something that you eat after a cranberry-walnut-feta, DRESSING ON THE SIDE, PLEASE salad. You can take the tiniest nibble while sitting across from women you want to impress. “Hehe, we’re so bad! We even had dessert!” All while thinking about the grilled cheese you’re going to make your hungry self when you get home.

Make no mistake, this recipe is no ladies-who-lunch sorbet. This is a decadent- no, this is a bacchanalian sorbet. This is sorbet on its post collegiate Eurotrip. This sorbet had an affair with gelato, and it came out with a bad case of Butter.

It all began so innocently.

I just wanted to try out my new Kitchenaid ice cream maker attachment. I had put Tim through an excruciating week of chocolate pie, homemade twix bars, and lemon squares. The man needed a breather. Sorbet, that light, healthy, fruity ice cream alternative, seemed like the perfect solution.

I had just the recipe in mind. I would take Deb’s delicious-sounding recipe for “pear caramel”, pulverize, strain, and freeze it. That is exactly what I did. The results were spectacular.

I am embarrassed to say that there aren’t really many pictures of the finished product, because we were too busy eating it. I’m sorry.

Vanilla roasted pear sorbet
Yields about 3 cups of ice cream
8 pears of any variety, peeled, cut lengthwise, cored and stems removed
3/8 c. (1/4 c. + 2 Tablespoons) sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla (or 1 vanilla bean, if you have it)
3 Tablespoons water
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
4 Tablespoons (1/4 c.) butter
Ice cream maker

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Put pears, sugar, vanilla, water, and lemon juice in a secured-sealed gallon size plastic bag or large bowl. Toss to evenly distribute the sweet marinade over the pears.

Dump contents out on a baking sheet with a rim, or a roasting pan. Dot each pear with a pat of butter. Bake for 30 minutes, flip all the pears, then bake 25-40 minutes longer, until you can easily pierce each pear with a fork.

Spoon your pears and their delicious pan juices into a food processor. Blend until smooth. Taste puree. If you like your sorbet sweeter or more tart than I do, add sugar and lemon juice to taste.

Strain into a medium size mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or pop in the freezer for about an hour, to cool the mixture down.

Put the mix into your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Store in a freezer safe container.

If your sorbet gets rock hard after a couple days in the freezer: run its container under warm water, to soften it enough that you can turn the sorbet out on a cutting board. Cut into 1-2” cubes. Put cubes in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and splash guard on, or in your food processor. Blitz until cubes are broken up. Eat immediately or refreeze in same container.

Thoughts on burlap

This creation is a response to Leandra Medine’s 6/20 post about a burlap suit, in which she ponders the unasked question, “What woman could pull off wearing a burlap outfit?”

Challenge accepted.

Who put this super comfy couch on the curb? Just for me? Why thank you!

Getting up in unyielding burlap proves surprisingly difficult.

So I made this burlap minidress. And I have an answer for Leandra’s question- “No woman in her right mind.”

Yes, at a mere $3 a yard, burlap makes a quick, cheap project. And it has a lot of body, which tempts me to make another dress, something with an elaborate bustle. Or a jacket with high, pointed shoulders. Or simply a well-fitted blazer- No! Not again.

Le Tigre.

Burlap is a menace to sew and a beast to wear. It’s inflexible, unravels continuously, and leaves a peach fuzz of shedded burlap fuzzies in its wake. It’s incredibly itchy and hot. Although it would probably look great on someone with olive skin- that isn’t me. So no. This might be my last burlap project.

And then again, it might not. I do love a great deal.

"Rest your hand on the tree. No, more gently. More gently than that. Ugh, just... that's fine, just pet it."

Dress: Lauren Lynch 
Shoes: Target

Photo credit: Andrew Simone

What's the verdict-- do red cap toe pumps go with burlap? And do you have a new challenge for me?