Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Homemade Marshmallows

Toasted marshmallows are the essence of summer.  Roasted over a campfire and eaten plain or in a s'more, they're simply delicious.  This past weekend, a bunch of us went camping on Assateague island, and I just knew I had to try making marshmallows from scratch for the occasion!

The trip itself was great (despite being cut a day short due to a nor'easter).  Falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing, bare feet in the sand, wild ponies, lots of sun, puppies, and a great group of friends - nothing beats it!

There was lots of cooking too.  For breakfast we whipped up some shake and pour pancakes, over the course of the weekend we ate a full 5 pounds of Polish kielbasa a, and there were lots of hot dogs, hamburgers, and (of course) s'mores.

My favorite, of course, were the marshmallows.  And truth be told, there weren't even that difficult to make!  To start, pour 3 1/2 packets of gelatin over 1/2 cup of cold water in a large bowl (the bigger the better).  Don't stir it!  And set it aside.

In a medium saucepan, mix the remaining 1/2 cup of water, the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt together.  Cook it over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved.

Using a candy thermometer and without stirring, turn the heat to medium high.  Let the mixture come to a boil and wait for it to reach 240 degrees.  This took about 15 minutes for me.  It will start to bubble, then get extremely foamy, and then shrink down into a clear liquid.

Once you've reached your 240 degrees, remove the sugar mixture from the heat and pour it over the gelatin.  This is what you'll turn into marshmallows.  At first, the concoction will foam up as if it's a living thing, and from now on, you're pretty much dealing with a white version of The Blob that will try to overtake anything it touches.  Stir The Blob until the gelatin is dissolved.

Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer if you have one (a stand mixer is immensely easier, but a hand mixer is definitely manageable - it's what I used), beat The Blob on high speed until it is fluffy, white, and stiff.  With a hand mixer this should take you about 10-14 minutes, depending on how powerful the mixer is, and should only take about 6 minutes with a stand mixer.  Note how The Blob overtook my entire beater - but don't worry, it wipes off easily.

In a separate bowl and using clean beaters (cold beaters that have been sitting in the freezer are helpful here, but not necessary), beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

Mix the egg whites and vanilla into The Blob until just combined.

Prepare a 13x9 inch baking pan by greasing it and coating it with confectioners' sugar.

Pour The Blob into the prepared pan.  Don't worry if you can't scrape it all out - the mess that you'd create is not worth getting every last drop!  Plus, you can lick the bowl later.  Sprinkle it with 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar and refrigerate until it's firm to the touch, for at least 3 hours.

Once the marshmallows (they're much more manageable now - no more Blob!) are firm, remove them from the baking pan by holding the pan upside down over a cutting board and gently pulling the marshmallow out.  Also, don't wear black clothing while you do this, unless you're wearing an apron (I learned this one the hard way).  Using a greased pizza wheel or butcher knife, cut the marshmallow into 1 inch cubes.  Toss them in the remaining confectioners' sugar so they don't stick to each other.

Now light the match and start up that campfire, because these marshmallows will be begging you to roast them!

Homemade Marshmallows
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla

Pour 1/2 cup cold water into a large bowl or an electric mixer, sprinkle with gelatin, and let stand.  

In a medium saucepan, mix 1/2 cup cold water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt.  Cook over low heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved.  Increase the heat and bring to a low boil.  Without stirring, cook until it reaches 240 degrees, then remove from heat.

Pour the sugar mixture over the gelatin and stir to dissolve gelatin.  Using a hand mixer or the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, beat on high speed until fluffy, white, and stiff (about 10-14 minutes for a hand mixer and 6 minutes for a stand mixer).  

In a separate bowl and using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  Mix the egg whites and vanilla into the marshmallow mixture until just combined.

Prepare a 13x9 inch baking pan by greasing it and coating it with confectioners' sugar.  Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan and spread evenly.  Sprinkle with an additional 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar.  Chill until firm, uncovered, for at least three hours.  

Once the marshmallow is chilled, remove it from the pan by holding the pan upside down over a cutting board and gently pulling the marshmallow out.  Using a greased pizza wheel or large knife, cut the marshmallow into 1 inch cubes.  Toss the cubes in the remaining confectioners' sugar.   Store at room temperature or chilled in an airtight container for up to one week.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Homemade Oreos

With the early arrival of warm weather on the east coast, summer activities have started early in DC, and I couldn't be happier.   Rooftop drinks, camping, and hikes through the Arboretum have been some recent (and future) weekend activities, with more plans made all the time (it's going to be a busy summer!).

This past weekend, we celebrated our first BBQ of the season, complete with corn hole, grilling, kegs of Yuengling, and margaritas.  In fact, I had so much fun that I forgot to take any pictures, so you'll have to use your imagination.

I'm always looking for a crowd pleaser at these sorts of events, so of course I volunteered to bring dessert and dmade Deb's homemade oreos.  Always a hit (and quite impressive, if I do say so myself), these cream-filled cookies are the perfect balance of crunchy and sweet to remind you of the original.  Yes, they're full of butter and sugar, but I guarantee that at least one person will be asking, "Who brought the Oreos??"

To start, make the cookies (then you'll make the filling while they're baking).  In a food processor, blend together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar.

Mix in the butter and blend until well combined.  If you don't have a food processor, cut the butter into the dry mixture with a pastry blender or two knives.

Add the egg and pulse to blend.  The dough will slowly come together and eventually form a ball.  If you don't have a food processor, use a hand or stand mixer to blend the egg into the dough.

Drop the dough by rounded half teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet.  This makes a small cookie, similar to the size of a real Oreo.  Feel free to make them bigger if you like!  But we warned, they're very rich.  Once you've dropped them on the cookie sheet, roll each into a cute little ball using the palms of your hands.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 9 minutes.  If you want a softer cookie, bake them for 1 minute less.  When they're done baking, remove them from the cookie sheet immediately and put them on a rack to cool.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  You'll only need four ingredients: butter, shortening, confectioners sugar, and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and shortening with a mixer.

Gradually mix in the confectioners sugar.  And do it slowly!  Or else you'll find yourself with a kitchen covered in white powder.

Next, add the vanilla and beat the filling for several minutes, or until it's nice and fluffy.  Using a butter knife, spread about 1-2 tablespoons of filling on half of the cookies.  Don't be shy about loading it up!  I was very frugal with it at first to make sure I had enough, but ended up with a lot left over.  So go crazy!  These were some of the earlier ones -

Top each cookie with another to make a sandwich.  Chances are, all of your cookies won't come out identical, so try to match up cookies of similar size and shape.

Then serve those babies up, and enjoy!  And make sure you save a couple for yourself, because they'll be sure to go quickly!

Homemade Oreos
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, May 2007
Makes 25-30 sandwiches

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa (unsweetened Dutch process is recommended)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Make the cookies.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a food processor or using a mixer, blend together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Add the butter and mix until small crumbs are formed.  Add the egg and blend until a ball of dough is formed. Drop the dough by rounded half teaspoons (or full teaspoons for larger cookies) onto a greased cookie sheet and use the palms of your hands to roll each into a ball.  Bake for 8-9 minutes.  Place on rack to cool.

Make the filling.  Using a mixer, whip together the butter and shortening until fluffy.  Gradually mix in the confectioners sugar until incorporated.  Add the vanilla and beat for 2-3 minutes more, or until the filling is fluffy.  

Once the cookies are cooled, assemble the sandwich.  Using a knife, spread 1-2 tablespoons of filling on a cookie and top with another.  Repeat until this has been done for all the cookies. Store in an airtight container.     

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easter Weekend

A fun little film about Easter weekend in Connecticut.  Full of family, lakes, puppies, pancakes in the backyard, easter eggs, mountains, cocktails, and hors d'oeuvres.  It's always nice to be home!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kick Ass Quinoa

I'm guest posting today over on my sister's blog, Feather Spirit

Ruth has a fantastic blog focused on creativity, soul, nature, and self-care where she has created  a wonderful "sanctuary" to share her ideas.  I've definitely learned a thing or two (or many!) from the girl, and I'm sure you can, too.

Today I wrote about my approach to food as fuel and shared my favorite quinoa recipe, which has been forever dubbed "Kick Ass Quinoa."  It's full of flavor as well as nutritious, and the perfect salad to transition you into warmer weather. 

Come check it out!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cherry Blossom Brunch

I did it!  This weekend, I successfully completed the Cherry Blossom 10 mile race!  

I've always been an avid gym-goer, but , despite multiple attempts, have never been a full out "runner."   Nor did I really have any desire to be a long distance runner.  In fact, the idea was horrifying to me.  Placing one foot in front of the other for mile after mile, left with nothing but your own thoughts?  No thank you.  However, as time went on something started take root within me.  To spend time outside, create new self-discipline, and work toward achieving something bigger than yourself started to look more and more attractive.  While I always loved my reliable Zumba classes, I valued the idea of training toward a goal.  

In January I signed up for the Cherry Blossom and the accompanying training program.  It started out simply enough, with short running times and lots of walking breaks.  In no time at all, I found myself finishing 3-4 mile runs.  After that, I completed a distance that was my new personal record.  And then I kept breaking it the record.  And again.  It felt great!  Finally, I completed my last long run before the race - 8 miles.  All of the hard work and time that I put into training had been for a purpose, and it was here.  Having stuck to the training program, I had confidence I could complete the distance.  

And complete it I did!  I finished just under my goal time without taking a single walking break.  The runner's high I experienced afterward was reward enough in itself.  

But then there was the Cherry Blossom brunch.  The whole point of running 10 miles at 7:30 am on a Sunday (well, not really, but a great perk!).  Some of my very devoted friends woke up quite early for a weekend to meet me at the finish line, and we feasted on bloody marys, pizza, burgers, and beer at Gordon Biersch.  

There were even magic tricks - 

When I arrived home (for a bath and a nap, of course), there were these beautiful flowers waiting for me, courtesy of my amazing family.

When's the next race??
site design by designer blogs