Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Made From Scratch: Marshmallows

We have a big group of friends coming to visit next weekend, and inevitably, at some point, there will be a bonfire and s'mores will be made. I thought I'd up our s'mores game this year by making a batch of marshmallows from scratch.

For some reason, I thought making marshmallows would be a long, drawn-out process, but honestly, it really couldn't be easier. I used Alton Brown's recipe, which was super-simple to follow.

I took the classic vanilla route with this batch of marshmallows, but the flavor options are really endless. For my next batch, I'm thinking of adding a little bourbon or amaretto to the mix. Or maybe a dusting of cocoa powder? Yeah, I think our s'mores are going to be out of this world.

Homemade Marshmallows (printer-friendly version)

makes about 4 dozen large marshmallows

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch

1. Add the gelatin to the bowl of an electric mixer along with 1/2 cup of ice cold water.
2. In a small saucepan, add together the remaining 1/2 cup of ice cold water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Turn the heat to medium high, cover, and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove the lid and clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, 8-15 minutes. Once the mixture reaches 240 degrees, remove immediately from the heat.
3. With the whisk attached, turn the mixer on low speed, and while running, slowly (and carefully!) pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. Once all of the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high and whip until very thick, about 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping.
4. While the mixture is whipping, prepare the pan: spray a 9" x 13" metal baking pan with nonstick spray. In a small bowl, sift together the powdered sugar and cornstarch. Sift some of the powdered sugar mixture onto the bottom of the pan, then carefully shake to evenly coat the bottom and sides of the pan. 
5. Once the marshmallow mixture is ready, pour it into the prepared pan, using a spatula to spread the mixture evenly into the pan. Dust the top of the marshmallows with the sugar-cornstarch mixture to lightly cover, reserved the rest for later. Let the marshmallows sit uncovered for at least 4 hours or overnight. 
6. After the marshmallows have set, use an offset spatula to carefully loosen the edges of the marshmallow around the pan. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board. Cut the marshmallows into 1-2" squares using a sharp knife or pizza cutter lightly coated in the powdered sugar mixture. Dust all sides of the marshmallows with the powdered sugar mixture to prevent them from sticking together. Marshmallows can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What I'm Drinking: Strawberry Bourbon Smash

When it's hot out, I love to cool down with a bourbon smash. You can go about a million different ways with a bourbon smash -- the "smash" refers to muddling fresh fruits such as berry or citrus, typically with mint leaves, to give a fresh fruit flavor to the cocktail.

Strawberries are abundant in the marketplace these days, so I chose to feature this sweet berry in today's bourbon smash. Garnish with a couple of blueberries, and you've got a cocktail fit for celebrating the 4th of July.

Strawberry Bourbon Smash
makes one cocktail

3 strawberries, leaves removed and quartered
4 fresh mint leaves
1 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces bourbon
ice cubes

To garnish:
1 strawberry
1 blueberry
mint sprig

1. Muddle the quartered strawberries and mint leaves with the simple syrup in the bottom of a bar glass or cocktail glass. Add the bourbon and shake with ice.
2. Strain into an old fashioned glass filled with ice cubes.
3. Garnish with a strawberry, blueberry, and mint sprig.

Friday, June 26, 2015

What's For Breakfast: Coconut Chai-Spiced Granola

Your morning bowl of yogurt is clamoring to be covered with this coconut chai-spiced granola.

Our ladies have been a little lax at laying of late, so instead of scrambled eggs, I've been reaching for my ol' standard breakfast -- a bowl of Greek yogurt sweetened with maple syrup, scattered with fresh berries (yay summer!), and topped with crunchy granola.

I have to admit I've been a little lazy lately and have been purchasing granola from the store. But that ends now! Particularly since I typically have all the ingredients I need on hand, anyway; I really don't have an excuse not to make my own granola from scratch. This granola gets a little extra crunch from the addition of whisked egg white to the ingredients. In addition to crunch, the egg white also helps in the formation of clumps -- which I think is the best part of granola. (And, yeah, I'll admit it, I'm totally That Girl who grabs all the ginormous clumps from a freshly opened bag of granola.)

I tend to go a little plain Jane with my granola and skip the addition of dried fruit, but feel free to stir in some dried cherries, raisins, or banana chips after pulling the baked granola from the oven.

Coconut Chai-Spiced Granola (printer-friendly version)
makes about 6 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (also called chips)

1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/2 teaspoon Maldon flaky sea salt
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 large egg white

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients except the egg white.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy.
4. Pour the egg white over top the oat mixture and stir to evenly coat.
5. Spread the granola into an even layer over top the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then use a spatula to carefully flip the granola over, maintaining as many clumps as possible. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the granola is  golden brown and dry to the touch. Let cool on the baking sheet, then place in an airtight container to store.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What's Baking: Angel Food Cupcakes with Strawberries & Whipped Cream

These angel food cupcakes, topped with strawberries and whipped cream, are the quintessential summertime treat. 


Organically-grown strawberries have finally reached a price point that my wallet agrees with, and I can't help but buy a pound (or two, or three...) every time I make a grocery run. And while I am perfectly fine with eating them as they are, or quartering several as a topping for a bowl of yogurt, my favorite way to eat strawberries is with a generous slice of angel food cake. 

Mashed strawberries (with a little bit of sugar) and angel food cake was a common summertime dessert in our house when I was growing up. It's so simple, and yet so delicious. And given that a major component of angel food cake is egg whites, it's a relatively healthy dessert as well.

I've made angel food cake before, so I thought I would change things up and make angel food cupcakes. These cupcakes get a delicate burst of citrus flavor from the addition of orange extract and orange zest. If you don't have orange extract on hand, you can substitute vanilla extract, but don't skip the zest. These individual angel food cakes would make a delicious dessert to share at any summertime get-together. 

Angel Food Cupcakes (printer-friendly version)
makes 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1/2 cup cake flour 
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon orange extract (or vanilla extract)
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

For the strawberry topping:
1 pint strawberried, hulled and quartered
1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1. Make the strawberry topping: In a small bowl, combine the quartered strawberries and sugar. Let sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. Use a potato masher or pastry blender to mash the strawberries. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Make the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup cupcake tin with paper liners and spray each lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.
3. Add the granulated sugar to the bowl of a food processor. Process until super-fine (powdery) sugar forms, 1-2 minutes.
4. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, 1/2 cup of super-fine sugar, and sea salt. Set aside.
5. Add the egg whites to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed until frothy and foamy, about 2 minutes. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on, slowly add the remaining powdered sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed to medium-high, and continue beating until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes. Beat in the orange extract and orange zest.
6. Remove the bowl from the electric mixer. Sprinkle about 1/4 of the flour mixture on top of the eggs, and gently fold in with a rubber spatula. Fold in the remaining flour mixture in three additions, being very careful not to overmix.
7. Divide the batter evenly among the prepped cupcake cups in messy mounds that slightly tower over top the liners. Bake the cupcakes until they spring back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 14-16 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the tin for 3-5 minutes, then remove and set them on a wire rack to cool completely.
8. After the cupcakes have cooled, carefully remove them from their paper liners. Top with freshly whipped cream (recipe below) and the strawberry topping before serving.

(adapted from this Food Network recipe)

Sure, you could use the stuff from the can, but you can't beat (ha!) the taste of freshly whipped cream.

Freshly Whipped Cream

1 cup organic heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Chill your mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
2. Pour the heavy cream into the chilled mixing bowl, and whip at high speed. When cream begins to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla extract.
3. Continue to whip the cream until stiff peaks form.


Monday, June 22, 2015

What's For Dinner: Pork Belly Roast

 As I mentioned last week, pork is going to be on the menu a bit more often in the coming months. Why, you might ask? Meet the newest additions to Orange Dog Farm.

We're no longer just chicken farmers, as we recently added three pigs to our little farm. Our pigs are Tamworths — a heritage breed that originated in central England. Tamworth pigs first arrived in North America in 1882. They are a hardy breed that are meant to forage in the great outdoors. They are highly sought after for their great-tasting, lean meat. Oh, and they are also super-cute. (Uh-oh.)

A couple of months ago, D took a whole-hog breakdown (butchering) class at Underground Meats in Madison, Wisconsin as a way to educate himself about pork cuts, sausage making, and dry-curing. Since we will be selling our pork (I think we only have one half unaccounted for at this point), we wanted to be able to talk knowledgeably with our customers about the whole process. (Due to USDA requirements, in order to sell the meat, our hogs will be processed at a USDA-inspected butchering facility.) Long story short, in addition to gaining plenty of knowledge about primal and sub-primal cuts of meat, D also came home with a coolerful of pork.

First up? Pork belly, a cut of meat that's becoming rather popular in the farm-to-table restaurant world. This was the first time I've ever cooked pork belly, and I think it turned out quite well. The cracklings, seasoned with peppercorns and fennel, were particularly tasty and made for an excellent addition to a quiche I made later in the week. Though I served the pork belly roast with gravy, it is also quite delicious with a little bit of your favorite barbecue sauce. (You can't go wrong with pulled pork sandwiches made from any leftovers.)

Pork Belly Roast (printer-friendly version)
makes 4-6 servings

2-3 pound boneless pork belly, skin on
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons Maldon flaky sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped into 2-inch segments
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch segments
4-5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 cup white wine 

For the gravy:
2 cups white wine
1-2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
2-3 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
2. In a dry skillet, toast the fennel seeds and whole peppercorns over medium high heat until fragrant, about one minutes. Place them into a mortar and pestle along with the salt and thyme leaves and grind until the fennel seeds and whole peppercorns are smashed. 
3. Use a sharp knife to score the skin down to, but not into, the meat in segments about 1-centimeter apart.
4. Drizzle about half of the olive oil over top the scored skin of the pork belly. Use your fingers to work half of the fennel seed mixture into the skin, taking special care to get it into the skin and down to the meat. Repeat on the bottom side of the meat.
5. Place the chopped carrots, chopped celery, and smashed garlic cloves into the bottom of a Dutch oven or roasting pan. Place the prepped pork belly on top of the vegetables, skin side up. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the skin is golden and bubbly. Then reduce the heat to 350 and continue cooking for 90 minutes.
6. After a 1.5 hours has passed, pour 1 cup of the white wine into the roasting pan and cook for an additional hour.
7. Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven to check to see if the meat easily falls apart. If so, remove the meat and place it on a wooden cutting board to rest. If not, continue cooking until the meat is tender.
8. Place the roasting pan on the stove top over medium heat and stir in 2-3 tablespoons of flour. Continue stirring until the gravy has thickened. Stir in 2 cups of white wine. If the gravy is thicker than you like, stir in 1-2 cups of vegetable broth. Use a potato masher to mash the vegetables into the gravy. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes over low heat, then pass the gravy through a fine-mesh sieve to strain. Remove the crackling from the pork belly, then pull apart the meat and serve with the warm gravy.

(adapted from this Jamie Oliver recipe)

Friday, June 19, 2015

What's For Dessert: Strawberry Cheesecake Bites

These mini strawberry cheesecakes are a little tangy, a little sweet, and a little spicy. 

Last night I met up with a group of girlfriends for our June wine -- er, I mean, book -- club get-together. This month's choice was Wildfire by Mary Pauline Lowry. Lowry worked on the Pike (Colorado) Hotshot (wildfire fighting) crew and the book is basically a fictionalized (and highly dramatized) version of her experiences. The book's description of life on a hotshot crew was fascinating, although the writing was a little cheesy in places.

As is typical for most of our book club get-togethers, we often spend 5 minutes or less talking about the book and spend the rest of the evening eating, drinking, and catching up on our lives. I like book club as it gives me an excuse to make new recipes and share them with friends.

This time, I brought along one sweet and one savory treat to share. The sweet treat? Mini strawberry cheesecakes. These cheesecake bites have a little tang from the cream cheese, a little sweetness from the strawberry topping, and a little spice from the ginger snap crust. And, bonus, the recipe is also gluten-free.

Strawberry Cheesecake Bites (printer-friendly version)
makes 24 mini cheesecakes

For the crust:
1 cup ginger cookie crumbs (I used about 15 gluten-free mini ginger snaps)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecakes:
1 (8 oz) package neufchâtel cheese (or regular cream cheese), softened
1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon tapioca starch (you can substitute all-purpose flour if gluten isn't an issue)

For the strawberry topping:
2 cups chopped fresh strawberries
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons water

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners and set aside.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, use the steel blade attachment to make crumbs from the ginger cookies. Add in the brown sugar and pulse a few times to incorporate into the crumbs. Carefully add in the melted butter and process until incorporated.
3. Spoon the crumb mixture into each lined mini muffin cup, filling each cup about 1/4 full. Use the back of the spoon or your fingers to press the crumb mixture firmly into the bottom of each muffin cup. (The round end of a muddler also works quite well to tamp down the crumbs as well.)
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the neufchâtel cheese, Greek yogurt, egg, vanilla, and sugar together at high speed. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl as necessary. Add in the tapioca starch and beat until thoroughly combined.
5. Spoon the cheese mixture on top of the ginger cookie crumb layer, filling each muffin cup almost completely full.
6. Bake in the oven for 13-15 minutes, or until the cheesecake layer has set and appears matte, not glossy. Remove from the oven and let the cheesecake bites cool in the tin on a wire rack. Once cooled to the touch, place the tin in the refrigerator to chill.
7. While the cheesecakes are chilling, make the strawberry topping: In a small sauce pot, add together the chopped strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Cook over medium heat until the mixture just comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened and the strawberries have softened, 7-10 minutes. Remove from the heat, then stir in the vanilla. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and water. Then add this mixture to the strawberries and stir to combine. Pour the thickened strawberry sauce into a container, top with a lid, and refrigerate until cooled.
8. To serve, remove the cheesecake bites from their paper liners and then carefully dollop each mini cheesecake with the strawberry topping.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Made From Scratch: Marinara Sauce

Back in my vegetarian days, I used to joke that I was really a "pastatarian" as pasta with marinara sauce was a mainstay in my dinner plans. Prepackaged pasta + jarred pasta sauce = a super simple (and quick!) dinner after a long day at work.

What I didn't realize back in the day was how simple it really is to make marinara sauce from scratch. Sure, you could make up a batch and let it simmer for hours on the stovetop, but when you're crunched for time, all you need is 20 minutes to make a simple marinara sauce that is full of flavor. And, not only does this mouthwatering savory sauce taste delectable, but as it cooks your kitchen will be filled with the most tantalizing aromas. With a delicious recipe that's so incredibly simple, I don't think I'm ever going back to the jarred stuff.

Marinara Sauce (printer-friendly version)
makes 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, finely diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 heaping tablespoon)
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), drained and juices reserved
1 bay leaf
sprig of fresh thyme
spring of fresh oregano1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste 

1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened and translucent, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
2. Add in the whole peeled tomatoes, lightly crushing them with your hands as you add them to the pot. Stir in the bay leaf, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, and salt. 
3. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until thickened.
4. Remove the bay leaf and any stems from the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the sauce with pasta and serve. 
5. Any leftover sauce can be refrigerated for up to two weeks. 

(adapted from this recipe from The Kitchn

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