Sunday, October 28, 2012

Peppermint Marshmallows

Let me start out by saying that I kind of hate marshmallows.  Really, unless they are in cocoa (and I prefer whipped cream anyway) or in s'mores (there is no better substitute in s'mores) I stay far away from them.  I even prefer Scotcharoos (not made with marshmallows) to traditional Rice Krispie Treats (made with marshmallows).  So, why on earth would I learn to make marshmallows?  Well, really, it is because I am hoping that we will someday be able to throw a beautiful s'mores party for all of our friends and/or family (like the ones we've all seen on Pinterest) and how much more impressive and fun is a s'mores party with homemade fun flavored marshmallows?

I have been making marshmallows for a little over a year now.  I make them in all kinds of flavors, vanilla bean, chocolate, banana, orange cream, toasted coconut, apple, and peppermint.  You can make them in pretty much any flavor you can think of (and that you can get extract or flavoring oils in).

In case you've been living under a rock, hurricane Sandy is heading towards the east coast (where I happen to live right now), and bringing with her lots of wind and rain...and much cooler temperatures this coming week, so it's looking like hot cocoa weather and these peppermint marshmallows are excellent in hot cocoa. Plus, I was going through my pictures on my laptop the other day and Punk saw this picture:

Homemade peppermint marshmallows top hot chocolate on a stick.  Great for gift giving and super yummy.

He immediately asked if I would make him some "red square marshmallows".  I told him I would make them as soon as I could.  I then realized that I didn't have gelatin (which is strange, because I usually DO have it, but since we moved I hadn't picked any up yet).  Punk eats these out of hand, I love them in cocoa, it works out for both of us.

So, tonight I made yummy marshmallows and thought to myself when I taste tested them as I was putting them in the pan "Man, if people knew how easy and how yummy homemade marshmallows were, it would put Jet Puffed right out of business."

What you need:

A stand mixer with a whisk attachment (please don't try to do this with a hand mixer it will likely blow out your mixer).
A candy thermometer (again, don't do this without one, marshmallows are candy, they need to be cooked to a specific molten lava-esque temperature you can't guess at this)
A saucepan
9x13 pan
Cooking spray (I use regular Pam)

3 small envelopes of unflavored gelatin (I've never used flavored and, no, I wouldn't recommend it or try it)
1 cup of very cold water (divided)
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
flavorings of choice (for peppermint I use 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract)

"Marshmallow Dust"
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Empty your three envelopes of gelatin into the bottom of your stand mixer bowl.  Add 1/2 cup very cold water, stir together and set aside.  In a saucepan place 1/2 cup water, 1 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup corn syrup, and 1/4 tsp salt, stir together and place over medium to medium-high heat.  Clip candy thermometer to side of saucepan.  Cook to 240° stirring occasionally.**

While you are waiting for the mixture to reach 240°:

Mix your corn starch and powdered sugar together (I call this "marshmallow dust" and just keep a container of it in my baking stuff).  Spray your 9x13 pan with cooking spray and coat with "marshmallow dust" (just put a few table spoons of the mixture into the pan and bump the pan around until your pan is coated then shake the rest out), you will need some of your marshmallow dust to coat the top and sides of your marshmallows after they are cut so don't use it all here!

Place your whisk attachment into your mixer.  Once your sugar has reached 240° turn your mixer on it's LOWEST SETTING and SLOWLY add your molten sugar mixture into your mixer with the gelatin (you won't get it all out, that is okay, don't try to get every drop, just pour it until it won't pour anymore, you don't want to risk touching this ish).  Once all of your sugar is in the bowl cover your mixer with a towel (so it doesn't splatter) and turn it up as high as it goes.  In a few minutes (my mixer takes about 5 minutes, but less powerful mixers can take longer, up to 15 minutes) you will have white, fluffy, luke warm, marshmallow yumminess.  When you have a white fluffy mixture you can add in your flavorings and any coloring you might want to use and mix them in using the mixer thoroughly.

Now you want to take a spatula sprayed with Pam and put your fluffy yummy marshmallows into the prepared pan.  You aren't going to get every bit out, it's okay, that's the part you just sacrifice, get what you can out and move on.  Once you have your mixture in the pan you want to wet your hands a little (yes YOUR HANDS they are often your best tool in the kitchen) and use them to smooth your marshmallows into the pan, if your hands stick they aren't quite wet enough.  Once you have the marshmallows smoothed out set them aside for about an hour.  Then you want to sprinkle the top of your marshmallows with marshmallow dust.

Wait at least four hours (I usually just wait overnight) then you can cut your marshmallows however you like. I am fond of just cutting mine into 1" squares using my pizza cutter, but you can use cookie cutters if you want to make fun shapes.†  After you have cut your marshmallows dust the cut sides with marshmallow dust to keep them from sticking.

These are NOT like store bought marshmallows, but they will last almost as long.  I've had them stay good in a ziplock bag for over 6 months.  They make a great addition to a cocoa gift for friends, neighbors, or co-workers.  And since you took all the time to make marshmallows don't feel bad giving store bought cocoa!

**240 degrees is MOLTEN HOT, please do not touch it, please do not let your children anywhere near it.  I do this when my kids are either in bed for the night or taking a nap, I just can't risk them grabbing this off the stove.

† If you use cookie cutters don't throw away the scraps, cut them into funky shaped mini marshmallows and dust them with marshmallow dust to use in your cocoa or let your kids eat them out of hand like I do!

Due to lots of requests for this recipe I'm going to post this blog before I take pictures of the marshmallows I made tonight, but I'll add in pictures tomorrow (or as soon as Sandy lets me!).

Punk is going to be so happy to see these in the morning!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fat Mints

I made these:

last weekend when I was asked to bring a "treat" for Relief Society.  I ended up getting three dozen more than I needed, so those were sent to work with Bobby on Monday.

A lot of cupcakes:

They are dark chocolate cupcakes (probably my favorite recipe I make, it's a great base cupcake for all kinds of yummy frostings, toppings, and fillings), with a creme de menthe Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, garnished with half a Keebler Grasshopper cookie.  They taste just like a cupcake version of the Girl Scouts' Thin Mints (thus "Fat Mints").

Never made a Swiss meringue buttercream before?  Think it sounds too complicated?  You are so wrong, it's an extremely forgiving frosting, it's very stable, can be flavored with anything (flavored oils like I used for these, extracts, fruit purees, nut butters, the sky is the limit), colors well (I didn't color these), keeps well, and pipes beautifully.

So here's the recipe for a standard Swiss meringue buttercream, try it today!

6.25 oz (by weight) egg whites (separate your own eggs, don't use the egg whites only in a carton) this is about 5 eggs
1 cup sugar (use the regular granulated stuff)
1 pinch salt
1 lbs unsalted butter room temperature

Put about an inch or two of water in the bottom of a saucepan (use one that allows you to use your stand up mixer bowl on top of it snugly as a make shift double boiler) and bring to a low boil, turn down to a simmer.  Place egg whites, sugar, and salt in your mixer bowl and place the bowl on top of your saucepan.  Whisking constantly bring mixture to 150-160 degrees.  YOU MUST WHISK CONSTANTLY or you will get scrambled eggs and that is not what you are looking for.  I brought my mixture to 155 degrees (some sources say 160 must be achieved for food safety, I had sources that said 150 was sufficient).  Once your temperature is achieved remove bowl from heat and put into your stand mixer.

Using WHISK attachment whisk egg white mixture on high to stiff peaks.  This should take at least 5 minutes, possibly longer (some say as long as 10 minutes).  At this point you want to make sure your meringue is not too warm, it should be room temperature, if it isn't, let it sit for a few minutes until it comes down to room temperature.  Switch from your whisk attachment to your paddle attachment and add in your softened butter one cube at a time (cube=quarter pound or 1/2 cup) while running your mixer at it's LOWEST SPEED, seriously, have a teeny bit of patience here and use the lowest speed, get all of your butter in there.  At this point your mixture is likely to go through several stages as the eggs and the butter emulsify to become pure yumminess.  First your mixture is likely to look soupy and loose, keep mixing.  Then it's likely to look curdled and yucky, KEEP MIXING.  This could take 10-15 minutes, just keep your mixer going on its lowest speed, soon you will get a smooth, creamy, light, lovely, yummy frosting.

Once you get the perfect fluffy frosting add in your flavoring.  Use whatever you like!  Just add your flavors slowly and taste until the flavor is perfect!  For my creme de menthe frosting I used about 2 tsp of my homemade vanilla extract and 21-28 drops of creme de menthe flavoring oil (oils are much stronger than extracts, if you are using them be super careful not to over do it).  I have also made a peanut butter version in the past that used 3/4 cup peanut butter.

This frosting can be kept in the fridge (well covered, you don't want it to pick up fridge funk flavors) for up to two weeks or frozen for a few months before use, just bring it to room temperature on the counter and re-mix with paddle attachment on low speed until it comes back to fluffy goodness before you use it.

I would not suggest using this frosting for any application that will be sitting in the sun for very long.  There is a high butter content in this and they will melt in the heat for too long although this frosting holds up fantastically at room temperature and this frosting SHOULD be eaten at room temperature.

Tell me what flavor Swiss meringue buttercream you would make and what cake/frosting flavor combination sounds yummy to you right now!

I'm thinking an apple spice cake with a caramel sauce and white chocolate frosting sounds divine, fall is in the air here for sure!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Cups with Celery Blue Cheese Relish

Ever have a recipe just wander around in your mind and never really work it's way out?  Well, I've had this one going on for a LONG TIME.  The other day Bobby emailed and said that we would be attending a "Hail and Farewell" (my first) in a couple of weeks.  The invite says "bring an appetizer or dessert to share", so I decided it was time to get this recipe out of my head and see if it works.  It does.  I don't know if this will be what I take to the party but I'm glad I figured out that this works and is yummy so that I can make it again and so that I could share it with you!

There are pictures with this recipe, but they are courtesy of my phone so they are not excellent quality, I think you can see what's going on though.

What you need:

Pre-baked mini phyllo cups (my box had 15 and since I was just making them to try this was enough)
2 stalks celery, cleaned, dried
1 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 cup bottled blue cheese dressing (use the stuff in the refrigerated section, I used the WalMart brand)
3 Tablespoons whipped cream cheese (cold)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cooked shredded chicken
1 Tablespoon cream cheese (whipped is fine)
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup of Frank's Hot Sauce (more to taste)

How to proceed:

Pre-heat oven according to directions on your phyllo cups.  Dice celery very small (almost a brunoise).  Put celery in a bowl and add in red wine vinegar, toss to coat.  In a separate bowl combine dressing, 3 tablespoons cold whipped cream cheese and garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.  Pour dressing over celery and stir to combine.  Add chicken to the bowl you made your dressing in (no need to clean it) add in cream cheese and butter, microwave 30 seconds, stir, if needed microwave another 30 seconds and stir again, you want the chicken, cream cheese, and butter to be well combined.  Add in the hot sauce, stir, taste, add more hot sauce if desired.

Place phyllo cups on a baking sheet, fill each with chicken mixture (enough to fill, but not over fill the cup).  Bake according to package directions (mine said 5-8 minutes).  Remove from oven and top each cup with a generous helping of your celery "relish".  Serve immediately.

These were super easy and super yummy.  Even my two year old Bug liked them...of course he will kind of eat anything...My husband liked them too and he's more picky (and doesn't really like blue cheese like I do).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sad Sick Little Punk, a Brother's Love...and a Super Funny

So, if we are Facebook friends you already know that my Punk has been sick and if you don't care to hear the details you can skip past the picture to the funny at the end (it involves the word "penis" don't read it if that might upset you).

Punk and Bug have both been battling a stomach bug for over a week now.  This past Sunday Bug was especially cranky and lethargic most of the day so I decided to take both kids into the ER (our only option since I hadn't taken the time to change our Tricare yet).  I took them in, three and a half hours later a doctor had squeezed both of their bellies (while they were running around the exam room) and prescribed them some Zofran for the nausea and sent us on our way.

Both kids seemed to be doing much better on Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday morning we got up and Punk was sick again, throwing up, diarrhea, and he was in A LOT of pain.  I had switched our Tricare by then so I called and made an appointment for Punk to see a doctor.  We went into the doctor and the doc took a look at Punk, he was crying and in pain, he wouldn't let the doc touch his belly at all so she went and consulted with the pediatrician.  They decided that he needed to have a CT on his stomach to see what was going on and that would mean that he had to have an IV hep-lock placed to give him meds for the CT scan and to draw blood for testing.  Things were a little crazy after that for a few minutes.  I called a friend to come help with Bug and got a hold of Bobby so he could come take over with Bug and make sure I didn't loose it...

While they were putting in the hep-lock Bug was in the room.  Punk was crying and screaming, I was holding him down (I'm his mommy, I do the holding down and the comforting whenever doctor's appointments turn sucky) and Bug couldn't see anything that was going on but he was standing next to me trying to get to the bed and to Punk to see why he was crying.  Bug started crying too.  When it was all over Punk said, "I'm worried, mommy, I'm very worried!", I said, "What are you worried about, Punk?", he responded through his tears, "I'm worried about Bug, he's crying."  Such a sweet little boy, going through a scary situation himself and worried about his baby brother because he is crying.  I picked Bug up where they could see each other and they both calmed down pretty quickly...the whole day Bug wanted to be as close to Punk as he could get whenever there was a down moment...ah, brotherly love.

Extremely long scary (for me) story short.  Punk had what is called mesenteric lymphadenitis.  Essentially the lymph nodes surrounding his intestines were swollen, it's not serious and can happen after a bout of "stomach flu" especially in children and adolescents.  It goes away with a little time and the pain can be managed with over the counter meds (Tylenol and Motrin).  The doctor wanted to see him again today just to follow up.

Punk woke up this morning happy, no vomiting, very little diarrhea, with a seriously ridiculous hungry man appetite.  We went to the doctor where Punk was released, just rest until he's back to 100% and make sure he stays hydrated.  Keeping him hydrated should be no problem at all since the mere mention of the "thing in his arm" (the hep-lock) is enough to get him to down an entire bottle of Gatorade...

Here is a couple of pictures of my sick little Punk and his IV, he slept a good part of the four and a half hours we were at the doctor yesterday, these were taken after the CT not long before we got to go home.

Okay, now for the funny.  As I was putting Punk into the car today after his doctor's appointment he grabbed his crotch.  I said to him, "Do you need to go potty?" (he just went in the office right before we left), he responded, "Mom, I need to fix my penis because it's not how I LIKE it."  He then proceeded to "adjust", then he said to me, "Okay, my penis is better now, you can buckle me."  Seriously?  Who is this boy?  Why did I think it was such a good idea to teach him the appropriate words for everything? Why did I teach him that he could tell his mommy anything?  And is he always going to make me laugh so freaking much?  I love that kid...