Maple Marshmallows

This Valentines Day we did a cheese fondue, and for desert we of course did chocolate. To go in the delicious molten goodness we cut up some fruit, and Melissa made these marshmallows. They are sweetened with maple syrup, and upon entering your mouth, you suddenly realize how stale every marshmallow you have ever eaten really is. This revelation was similar to that of making crackers for the first time.

Maple Marshmallows

I know! How stale are store bought marshmallows? These things took all of 30 minutes to make and melted in your mouth like a puffy cloud of mapley-goodness. They only have 6 ingredients: Gelatin, maple syrup, water, cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla extract. I will admit I totally forgot to put in the vanilla. I don’t think anybody noticed though. Also looking back I really should have buttered the pan better. I thinly coated it and i’m thinking now it should have been like a thick globby coat, because they did stick to the pan a bit when I turned them out on my cutting board. So without further ado here is the recipe for maple marshmallows:

Maple Syrup Marshmallows

  • 3Tbsp gelatin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups real maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tarter (optional, but helps consistency)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  1. Combine the gelatin with the water and set aside.
  2. Heat the maple syrup (and cream of tarter) to 250°. If you do not have a candy thermometer  you can try the water teset this  by dropping the syrup into ice water if it hardens completely its ready.
  3. Watch your syrup vigilantly! Syrup has a tendency to boil over so don’t leave the pan alone even for a second or you will be sorry later! Cleaning up hardened syrup off your stovetop is probably the worst to have to clean up. I’ll have to show you pictures of my stove after I make jam,  eeeek!
  4. Once it reaches 250° remove from heat and slowly pour the syrup into the bowl with the gelatin. This is where having a stand mixture is awesome because you are supposed to be mixing it while you pour it in. If you have a hand mixer you may have to recruit someone to operate the handmixer for you while you pour. Also, be careful as the syrup is really hot! And sugar burns hurt!
  5. Use a whisk attachment on your mixer and start whipping. Add in the salt and vanilla and continue to whip until light and fluffy. After 5 – 10 minutes it will stop expanding and its done. Resist the temptation to put your finger in it, I know its hard, but its still hot.
  6. Pour into a buttered 9 x 13 pan, and remember really butter the crap out of it! Also you can use coconut oil if you want. I did and it worked about the same although I realize now you probably have to use more of the coconut oil then the butter when coating the pan.  Let them set until they are completely cool, or a couple hours. Unless you are making marshmallow fluff and then obviously you can use it as soon as it doesn’t burn the crap out of your mouth.
  7. After they have cooled turn them out onto a well dusted cutting board. I used tapioca starch, but I think just about any type of starch would work fine. Dust the knife or cookie cutters like and start cutting. Some people use powdered sugar to coat them but I didn’t think my kids needed the extra sugar. I’ve also heard that these do well in cocoa but to be honest they didn’t last long enough for me to try that.

Kielbasa Soup

The other day Melissa came up with this recipe out of the blue – it blew me away. It’s a Polish Christmas soup with Kielbasa, potatoes, kale, beans and a delicious broth with a sour flavor provided by red wine vinegar. It’s one of my favorite soups, and by far my favorite way to eat kale.

Kielbasa Soup

Hah I wish I could claim that I made this up, its an Alton Brown family recipe. I like to watch the Christmas specials on Food Network. I feel like they inspire me before my Christmas cook-a-thon. Anyway, so I saw Alton Brown make this soup on TV and as I watched him reserve the sausage on the side, so he could make sure his  bowl had extra. I realized this was a soup for Trevor. I honestly have tried making soup for years for him and all he ever does is whine about how watery they are. It’s gotten pretty old and he likes to claim that he’s never turned his nose up at anything I’ve made, but I know the truth. So I printed it out, bought twice as much sausage as the recipe requires and got to work. As I was cooking I realized that I didn’t have enough chicken broth. My options were to go to the store and get more thus delaying dinner by another 30 minutes or just pretend it was always half as much. I took the second option, opting for the denial option if it flopped. It didn’t. He likes it thick! In fact I think he likes the broth more like a gravy covering chunks of his soup. This soup has become the man meal of all time at our house, he now requests it anytime its cold outside. The kids however have started calling it yucky soup and refuse to eat it at all. They get grilled cheese and irritated looks from everybody around them.

Serves them right.

Smoked Turkey

Most Thanksgivings I deep fry our turkey. But last year my deep fryer died (and nearly ruined the meal) so I thought I would explore other culinary roads this time and got myself an electric smoker. The instant response by our guests was, “It tastes like bacon!”. While not as juicy as deep frying, it was still far less dry than roasting. The smoker is really more of a steamer, so it kept the poultry very moist throughout the long and gentle cooking process – while also bathing it in a generous amount of applewood smoke. I’m looking forward to this being our new tradition.

Smoked Turkey

When Trevor said he wanted to smoke our turkey instead of deep frying it, I was skeptical. The awesome flavor and moistness of a deep fired turkey cannot be replicated in the oven and I was worried that the smoker might be just as bad considering its just another form of dry heat right? Wrong! Our turkey resembled nothing like the smokey turkey jerky I waas imagining. It was moist and I kid you not really did taste like bacon! Hah we’ve beat the system, turkey that tastes like bacon no longer can our family doctor lecture us for the absurd amounts of bacon that we consume. But lets start at the beginning, because this turkey was lucky to ever have made it to our table. Trevor would you like to tell everyone about the turkey freezer fiasco?

Yes, let’s talk about that. First off, this was a specially ordered organic free-range turkey from a local farm where they massage the birds, give them names like “Collin” and let them roam free (slight exaggeration). It was about $50 for a 20 pound bird, and we ordered 2 weeks in advance. When it came in, we quickly picked it up from the local market where we placed the order and brought it home. Now this is a fresh turkey, so it’s never been frozen and we had no intention on doing so either – which meant we were supposed to get it in a brine bag, inside an ice chest, straight away. When I say we, I mean Melissa, but she also means me. So we both left the turkey in it’s box, in the garage, overnight. The next day, while I was at work, she asked me what I did with the turkey. When we realized what we had done, we felt sick to our stomaches. $50 down the drain – poor Collin died for no good reason, and now we were likely to be left with a frozen block of turkey from the kind of farm where the birds have low self esteem and live in squalor. Thankfully for $45 there was one 18 pound bird available at the local market. Disaster averted, but not without a cost.

Yes poor Collin, sigh. Thank goodness the market still had a few birds left so when I called ahead and reserved the second bird I only had to drive there at mach speed to get it in time. When Trevor got back with the bird this time, I took care of everything myself! No more, “sweetheart can you put the bird in the fridge?” garbage. I made my brine and set it up in an ice chest so it could absorb all of the mapley goodness before we cooked it. In the meantime, Trevor and I are still arguing over whether we should buy a new deep fryer or a smoker. I argued in favor of the known and he argued in the favor of something new, typical Melissa and Trevor argument. He won. So he went out and bought himself a smoker telling me what a good deal it was and how yummy the turkey was going to taste all smokey. I just grumbled and rolled my eyes telling him if it sucked he was gonna be eating some turkey jerky sandwiches for a while.

By the night before thanksgiving we were feeling pretty good about ourselves we had got everything ready and our house looked immaculate. We were patting ourselves on the back and relaxing thinking oh we’ll deal with the turkey in the morning it only takes eight hours to smoke right? Oh yes it only takes eight hours to smoke thats true, but the smoker has to be assembled and primed to burn off all of the yucky manufacturing junk before you can smoke anything in it. Of course we got up nice and early to assemble the darn thing and didn’t figure any of this out until afterwards when we were reading the instruction manual. I think Trevor almost cried as we counted up the hours it was going to to take to smoke the turkey and prime the smoker. I cleverly devised a plan to section the whole bird up so it cooks quicker. I got a kiss for being smart and then another for butchering the bird – something Trevor hasn’t yet mastered. Butchering is not one of his strong points but I love him anyways!

Chocolate Lasagna

The first time we made this recipe it was for a dinner party where we attempted to make the main course look like a dessert and the dessert to look like a main course. The main course that our friends came up with was a sausage, mashed cauliflower and gravy “banana split”. Our dessert concoction was chocolate lasagna. The leftovers from dessert became closely guarded, rationed and enjoyed in the following days, and the dish became that of legend.

Legend and something you dared not make again for fear of the amount of weight you would gain lol. When inventing this I tried to recreate the different layers I do with my regular lasagna and thought of replacements that would give a similar look and texture.

We made the chocolate Lasagna out of wide flat chocolate noodles, chocolate mousse, bananas, strawberries, blackberry syrup and whipped cream. The noodles are hand-made fresh noodles and other than boiling them there’s no cooking involved in the entire dish. You assemble the Lasagna as you would a traditional one, building layer upon layer of noodles and fillings. With a thin layer of syrup on the bottom and a final coating on the top, the noodles soak it up and take on a chocolate berry flavor while maintaining a soft texture. The mousse is fairly delicate, so a day in the refrigerator is necessary before consumption. This melding time helps the ingredients congeal and meld together.

We had to create the noodles by hand because we couldn’t find any online. But I am very happy with the recipe we found for chocolate noodles (there are actually quite a few of them out there). It is more of a bittersweet flavored noodle but after the melding with the blackberry syrup they become awesome tasting. The mousse is a really simple no-cook mousse which uses cream cheese and whipped cream for its creamy texture and gelatin for its shape holding. Trevor likes to taste all along the way so he can totally vouch for all of the ingredients lol.

This is one of Melissa’s top two desserts, right there with croisant bread pudding.

Which I am sure we will have to make again and blog about since it quite literally stopped all conversation in the room for about 5 minutes ;D

Pesto Ham and Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato Soup

Melted cheese and pesto goodness

Grilled cheese is great, but today Melissa concocted something that was a welcome departure from the usual compliment to tomato soup. After scoring a ciabatta loaf in the day-old section of a local market, she sliced it in half length wise and slathered one side with pesto sauce left over from last night’s pizza adventure. She added some uncured ham and raw medium cheddar cheese to one side and garlic and olive oil to the other. Less than 2 minutes under the broiler later we had an awesome, and giant sandwich that we then cut into 8 small sandwiches.

Trevor is normally pretty easy to please but some days he is leery of any type of change – today was one of those days. Luckily he was very happy with the difference and Ididn’t have to blow through a whole package of ham in the process.

But really, as awesome as the sandwiches turned out, they are basically just a vessel for the tomato soup, which I like to add a fair amount of Tabasco sauce to. We recently found a source of tomato puree that we like, which makes the soup come together quickly. But this batch featured some fresh basil and garlic as well, which made it taste extra awesome.

My first serving

Trevor and I were both raised with tomato soup and grilled cheese on cold and blustery days, and to this day still love and remember that warm bowl with a gooey cheesy sandwich. The biggest difference however is we won’t use Campbell’s canned tomato soup or American cheese on Iron Kids white bread (because we have standards) but we still want our kids to experience what we experienced.

Getting Aurora to eat the soup is not a problem, she’s addicted to soup-a-hol, of all types. Getting her to eat her sandwich however is a little trickier. She did end up taking a couple bites, but in the end I gladly relieved her of her sandwich.

Aurora is a lot like my little sister Aimee who always loved tomato soup and pretty much any soup my mother plopped down in front of her.

Cadence was much more difficult to please. This photograph was only made possible because of her love of acting. I think she ended up with a cheese stick and some blackberries.

Cadence on the other hand is more like I was as a child – totally in it for the sandwich and probably won’t like tomato soup until she’s a little bit older and her taste buds have matured beyond only liking bland (or sweet) food.

Genuine happiness

Synthetic happiness

Melissa’s Pesto Recipe

  • 1-2 bunches of basil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan
  • handful of nuts, either walnuts or pine nuts
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

In a food processor put all of the leaves from 1- 2 bunches of fresh basil leaves 3-4 cloves of garlic (depending on how much bite you like), about a 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan, a handful of nuts either pine nuts or walnuts work best, a 1/4 a tsp of salt, and 1/4 of a cup of olive oil. You don’t have to grate the Parmesan if you have a wedge just cut a bunch of it off and throw it in. Then you turn it on and let it go if it seems dry add more olive oil, if it has to much bite add more nuts.

The best part of this recipe is you can play with it to get it right how you like it.

Such as doubling, or tripling the garlic. Is quadrupling out of line?

Chocolate Chunk [Pancake] Cookies

A cleaver is an awesome tool for chocolate cutting

Today I fixed our oven. It was simple to do, all I did was connect a loose wire in the breaker box, but given the fact that 2 separate oven repair men failed to figure out the problem I felt pretty good about having diagnosed and repaired it myself. Tonight was one of Melissa’s semi-weekly “girls’ night out” events, so the girl’s and I decided to make a night of baking some cookies. I quickly realized we were out of chocolate chips, but after a quick call to Melissa I discovered the magic of cutting chunks of chocolate off a large brick she had stashed away in a cabinet.

Yes the call went something like this:

“Did you know we are out of chocolate chips?”
“Yes”
“But I wanted to make chocolate chip cookies”
“There is a large block of chocolate in the top cabinet”
“So then I have to make chips myself?”
“Yes”
“Oh, ok”
“Have fun…”

Look! I’m using a butter warmer for warming butter

The next call went about the same and so on and so forth. He called me about 5 times for various ingredients and their locations. It was cute but a bit irritating since I was driving.

A few more phone calls later I had everything I needed and was well on my way. The girls were so excited it was incredibly hard to keep them from eating all the cookie dough. The trouble was, the recipe I used is intended to create chewy cookies. The concept is generally that the cookies have more brown sugar and when you bake them the dough should be cold so they don’t flatten out before they begin to rise.

At this stage everything was still looking good

This recipe also called for creaming the butter by first melting it and then mixing sugar into it with a paddle. Between the melting of the butter and the friction of the creaming, the resulting dough took ages to cool down. We became impatient after playing an hour or so of Zelda, and decided to just go for it.

Ahh impatience, the downfall of a cook.

Aurora couldn’t contain her excitement

At this point the dough was probably not cold enough, but it wasn’t molten sugar anymore either. I gave the girls each a small bowl of the dough to keep them at bay, and I dished out the majority of the dough onto parchment laid onto 2 half-sized bun pans. The girl’s didn’t really have the appetite for cookie dough they thought they would, and returned the bowls only partially eaten within a couple of minutes. I think it’s a good thing that their tolerance for sugar is low enough that they know when to call it quits, but I also suspected that the dough just wasn’t that tasty when not ice cold.

Probably because of the baking soda it has a nasty tang to it. I never like cookie dough with baking soda in it. Yuck!

These cookies left my confidence a bit deflated

Once the oven was at 375ºF I loaded the pans in and returned to playing Zelda. After 7.5min I came to rotate the pans and found the cookies had flattened out considerably. Realizing I had reached the point of no return, I put the fact that I jumped the gun out of my mind and rotated the pans as if all was well. 7.5min later I pulled the pans out and found the cookies were so flat and thin, well – it was comical. The girls passed out before the cookies cooled down. I struggled to brush what cookie dough they had consumed off their teeth before they collapsed.

Well at least they got their teeth brushed but the cookies were more than just a “little flattened out”, they were puddles. Guess he learned his lesson lol.

The cookies are tasty, in an odd sort of way. I’m glad our oven is working now, but I look forward to going back to baking with Melissa’s direct supervision until I’m ready to take my training wheels off.

Coconut Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

With coconut butter at room temp, this is very easy

First off, Melissa and I both really love sprouted whole wheat bread. It’s course texture is just about the furthest thing from the white bread more commonly used for these sandwiches, but we find it to be more flavorful and appreciate it’s nutritional value. It also brings excellent mouth feel when toasted, very crunchy but not hard. It’s courser texture also holds up better to being toasted with a griddle. Most white breads seem to collapse and become saturated if you aren’t very careful during cooking.

I also like to use coconut oil instead of butter. I’m not convinced that there’s much health benefit here, but I do find that it results in a more crisp toast, and the sweet hint of coconut melds very well with the earthy bread and creamy cheese.

These presses are quite handy

Finally, Melissa and I aren’t fans of American cheese, but we do have a special place in our hearts and stomachs for quality medium to sharp cheddar. I find the stronger flavor of the cheese helps it keep up with the sprouted whole wheat bread, maintaining an appropriate balance of gooey, creamy, crunchy and toasty.

Preparation is simple. Coconut oil is very shelf stable at room temperature, which means it’s always at the right temperature for maximum spreadability. I find I can use much less coconut oil than I would butter because of the way it spreads – it reminds me of working with shortening. I apply the coconut oil to the outside of the sandwich only, and use 2 slices of cheddar in each.

If the cheese is oozing a little, you are all set

Once on the plate, I let them rest for a moment while I clean up a bit and put things away, giving the cheese a little more time to equalize in temperature ensuring consistent gooeyness. A quick diagonal slice later and it’s ready to eat.

I highly recommend trying coconut oil in place of butter in other applications. Like coconut milk in place of cow milk, there will be some applications where it’s more effective than others – but in the applications where it does work well, it brings a unique yet complimentary flavor to foods that I always find surprising and enjoyable.

Street Tacos

About once a month, we have a dinner party with some friends of ours, usually employing a creative theme when selecting the menu, and always cooking together as a group. This past Sunday we had 2 couples over for a Mexican food themed dinner, featuring street tacos with home made tortillas. Other dishes included pico de gallo, guacamole, tortilla chips, black beans, Mexican-style rice, corn on the cob, bacon wrapped chorizo stuffed dates, flan, orange cake, and plantos fritos – all made from scratch. To drink we had a variety of Mexican sodas, home made horchata, and even some margaritas. A highlight was the al pastor our friends had marinated ahead of time, which although initially intimidating ended up having the perfect amount of heat.

There was, as usual lots of food leftover, so tonight Melissa heated up most of what was left, made some fresh tortillas, and we enjoyed some of the best leftovers I’ve ever had. We even ate some of the empanadas that Melissa had made in advance and we decided not to cook up on Sunday because everyone was fast entering a food coma and there were still a few courses to go.

My horchata experiments have been successful so far, and I think I will be making it more often now that I realized how simple it is to do.

Horchata Recipe

  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  1. Pour rice and water into a pitcher and add cinnamon sticks
  2. Leave in the refrigerator overnight
  3. Pour pitcher into a bar blender and blend until smooth
  4. Strain through 4 layers of cheesecloth to remove solids, squeeze solids thoroughly
  5. Add coconut milk, sugar and half of the ground cinnamon (more or less of any of these ingredients may be used based on personal preference)
  6. Serve over ice with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon

The result was very refreshing and tasty – I was quite pleased.

Tangled Gingerbread House

Fabrication in progress

The kids ate the candy faster than we could stick it on

I recently took our 3 year old daughter to see Tangled, and she was so excited about it that we decided to make a gingerbread house that looks just like Rapunzel’s tower. Melissa did all the baking, I built the molds and applied the icing. Our daughters were overjoyed!

 

Kitchen Renovation

It’s been a while since we’ve posted to our cooking blog. Mostly this is due to the craziness that occurs when you move. We now live in downtown San Francisco in a two bedroom loft, down from a four bedroom house, so it took us quite some time to get things scaled down and organized well enough to have some free time and energy. A big selling point on the new place was the kitchen, which is very open, features granite counter-tops, and new appliances. Since our last post, I have gotten a little better at cooking some of our family staples such as Alfredo sauce and quiche, while Melissa has been mastering bread making including baguettes and biscuits.

Yes we have finally settled in the move was a way to get more of Trevor’s time. Eating at 7:30 or 8:00 was not really what I would call functional, so this move has greatly improved our schedule around here and I gotta say having a nicer kitchen doesn’t hurt either. My goal with attempting bread was to find and master a handful of go-to bread recipes that would serve as a replacement for store bought bread. Yes I probably am a bit extreme but have you read whats in store bought bread its amazing that stuff EVER molds. Also Trevor never stops talking about the bread in europe and how wonderful it is and how he wishes that they had that kind in the U.S. We have had many conversations where he tries to describe exactly the kind of roll thing that he wishes he could have… but enough about bread thats another post.

Over the last couple of months we’ve been working towards getting organized, and just last weekend acquired a used IKEA shelving unit which has finally provided us with enough storage space in our kitchen that we are no longer keeping kitchen appliances in their original boxes tucked away in storage areas. Now that everything is within reach and subsequently plain sight, it’s likely we will start being more aware of how little we use some appliances while also making more use of others. So far I’m observing that the slow-cooker seems to be collecting the most dust while the waffle-iron rarely cools all the way down.

It goes in phases mainly depending on how lazy i’m feeling. The crock pot is awesome for make-ahead meals and chicken broth. However the crock pot is also very large and I’m not very fond of cleaning it. Wait ’till Trevor tells the story about our first year of marriage and the growth I refused to take care of in the crock pot. I have since gotten much better and never let things get that bad.

At the time when we started this blog, I was busy filling in some of the basic gaps in our kitchen. At that time, Melissa and I both decided we wanted to do a lot of research before making any large investments such as cookware and knives. Nearly a year later, our careful research and the selling of my soda making equipment has culminated in the purchase of a little over half of the All-Clad cookware we intend to acquire. Our initial buys have included a three quart saute, a three quart saucier, and an eight quart stock pot. We also grabbed a Lodge cast-iron reversible griddle that can straddle two of the burners on our cook-top, and a couple of grill presses. Future purchases will include something to the tune of a butter warmer, three quart sauce pan, three quart double-boiler insert and a three quart steamer insert. Aside from a wok, and including the twelve inch cast-iron skillet we already had, once complete our assortment of cookware should provide us with the ability to do pretty much anything on the cook-top we need. Oh yeah, and we got six new commercial-grade aluminum bun pans – which I love!

You know its funny that he loves the bun pans because I do all the baking and all he ever uses them for is bacon. Next time you are so cleaning your own bacon pan. I think that we need something more like a small sauce pan or saucier about one quart a really big stock pot and a ladle. Yes somehow in all of this acquiring that has managed to slip through the cracks and I still don’t have a ladle! I usually use a measuring cup to ladle soup and other things into bowls its a bit ridiculous. I suppose at some point as I’m walking through Sur La Table I’ll be like, “Oh yes! A ladle, I totally need this!” and it will cost me like $10 and I will love and give it a name. Someday!