Monday, December 16, 2013

Homemade Marshmallows

My little people LOVE marshmallows.  Plain, roasted, in hot cocoa, big, small it does not matter.  They want them... all.

I am not a huge lover of marshmallows.  I like them roasted and that is about it.  However, I am a huge fan of cooking challenges and making my own marshmallows fit the bill.  I found a recipe in an old, old cookbook I have and on a cold and snowy Friday night, decided to give it a try.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  The difference is huge.  Store bought marshmallows are spongy and pebbly on the outside and taste... well, just sweet.  Homemade marshmallows are smooth and pillowy.  Like a memory foam mattress.  Dense, but soft.  I used a really nice vanilla in mine, so they have great flavor and smell wonderful.  I also dipped a few in bittersweet chocolate just for fun (those are my favorite). 

I discovered the key to painlessly making your own marshmallows is preparation.  If you follow my directions, you will have a full pan of marshmallows setting up in under 15 minutes.  One additional suggestion is be sure to wash your dishes immediately after you are done, so you aren't stuck trying to scrub away stuck on marshmallow in the morning.  Other than that, these are simple and fun to make.  Maybe fancy some up and give them as gifts for the holidays?

Homemade Marshmallows
2 c. granular sugar
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1-1/2 c. water, divided
4 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin (this is equal to 4 packets or 1 box)
2 egg whites
1 tsp. flavoring, I used vanilla, but you could use peppermint or almond
1 c. powdered sugar for dusting the marshmallows to keep them from sticking
Butter and liberally dust a 9"x13" pan with powdered sugar.
Combine granular sugar, corn syrup and 3/4 c. water in a large saucepan.
Pour remaining water (3/4 c.) in a small saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over the top.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Turn heat under sugar mix to medium high and begin to heat, stirring constantly.
At the same time, turn heat under gelatin to low and whisk occasionally until gelatin melts.
Heat sugar mixture (syrup) to hard ball stage (250-265 degrees).
Once syrup is at the correct temperature, take off heat and whisk in gelatin.  This will foam up.
Pour this mixture into a measuring cup to make pouring easier.  Set aside.
Whip the egg whites on high until they form soft peaks.
With the mixer running, slowly pour in the gelatin mixture.  This will continue to fluff up and become glossy and smooth.
Keep beating until mixture is very stiff, but still pourable.
Spread in prepared pan and allow to set up at least 8 hours or overnight.
Once set, flip marshmallows onto a powdered sugar dusted counter.  You may need to use a thin spatula to gently loosen the marshmallow sheet from the pan.
Using a sharp knife, cut into desired shape, dusting all sides with powdered sugar as you go.
Don't forget to dip some in melted chocolate and hide them on the high shelf in the pantry!


Friday, December 13, 2013

The Real Story-Microwaving Ivory Soap

Microwave a bar of Ivory soap they say.  It will be cool they say.  It puffs up and becomes moldable and fluffy they say.

So I did.

"They" exaggerate. 

It does in fact expand.  A lot.  Like on the walls and door of my microwave, a lot.  And it is not easy to clean up, because...

It is neither mold-able nor fluffy so no little hands can enjoy playing with it (Not to mention the fact that it is still soap.  Foul tasting, eye burning soap.  I kind of didn't think of that when I decided this was a great idea.).  It is brittle.  You touch it and it disintegrates into soap dust.  Teeny, tiny soap dust that sticks to your hand or the surface it is on if you try to brush it into a pile so you can clean it up.  Unless...

You try to wipe it up with a damp rag, then it turns into soap paste that again, sticks to everything and is now foaming.

Now, I have a pile of soap dust:

My only option was to convince my three year old it was "snow soap:.  It was a pretty easy sell because, well, he's three and still believes what I tell him. So, I ever so gently, picked it up and put it in a Ziploc bag to use at bath time.  Worth the effort it took to clean soap expansion overflow off my microwave?  No.  But it could have been a much less painful process if I knew then what I know now (isn't that true of most things?).
Learn from my experience and if you want to try to make your own "snow soap"  cut a bar in half, put it on a disposable plate and microwave it for 1.5-2 minutes.  That should solve the overflow problem and you can dump it right off the plate into a baggie keeping the soap dust to a minimum.  If you breed little scientist who want to know why the soap "explodes"  there is a great explanation here .  Happy mess making!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

And the Winner is...

If you are up to date, you know that my family had a cookie exchange this weekend.  You also know that in my family, a little competition is considered healthy so we turned it into a contest to see who had the best cookie.  Unfortunately, we all made copious amounts of cookies and flaked out on making the official winning cookie decision.  However, I am prepared to announce my favorite cookie of the day, AND I will share the recipe with you (season of giving right?).

You will be thrilled to know the recipe for my unofficial winning cookie is simple (only four ingredients) and even (spoiler alert family members) no-bake so it is a great way for kiddos to help with the holiday baking.  Once you make these crunchy, chewy, peanut buttery cookies I promise you will make them over and over.  We do!

Special K Cookies
1 c. granular sugar
1 c. Karo syrup (white)
1 c. peanut butter
4 c. Special K cereal
Place cereal in a large mixing bowl.
Heat sugar and Karo in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it comes to a full rolling boil (this means it is boiling so hard, it does not stop when you stir it), stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and add peanut butter, stirring to combine.
Pour over cereal and mix well.
Roll into balls and place on wax or parchment paper to cool.
Store in an airtight container.
***Don't know what Karo syrup is?  It is corn syrup, you want the light version for this recipe.***
***For an extra twist, melt some chocolate chips in a baggie, snip off the tip and squiggle over the top of the cookies.  Yum.***

Monday, December 9, 2013

Chewy Lemon Cookies

Tis the season... for cookie baking!  As we discussed yesterday, the ladies of my family enjoyed a cookie exchange over the weekend.  I already shared one of my cookie contributions, and today I will share another.  These will lead up to my announcement of my favorite cookie of the party.  I know you are dying with anticipation.  One. More. Day.

Chewy Lemon Cookies
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 tsp. lemon zest (I used more)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice (I probably used more, I just squeezed some in)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar
Cream butter and sugar. 
Mix in vanilla, egg, lemon zest and juice.
Combine dry ingredients (except powdered sugar) and stir into butter mixture until just combined.
Roll into heaping teaspoon sized balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 9-11 minutes.
Cool, then dip tops in powdered sugar.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pecan Lace Sandwich Cookies

This morning the ladies of my family got together for brunch and a Christmas cookie exchange.  Back in the day, my mom and her sisters would bake and decorate cookies together.  I remember these parties and how fantastically fun they were.  I wanted to resurrect this tradition, but baking cookies together seemed a little lengthy... and messy.  I decided to host a "Christmas Cookie Munch and Brunch".  Everyone brought a brunch item and a batch of cookies.  To encourage participation, I made it a competition (my family is competitive in a healthy, fun sort of way see more on that here ).

I was not disappointed.  Not only did everyone bring their A-game, they brought multiple games.  We had so many freakin' cookies.  We had biscotti (three types to be exact), wedding cookies, eggnog cookies, chocolate chip cookies, gingerbread, macadamia nut cookies, scones and more. 

Over the next few days, I will share my cookie recipes with you and I will announce my favorite cookie of the party (not that it matters because we baked too many cookies and flaked on the contest).  So get out your parchment and baking sheets and lets go!

Pecan Lace Sandwich Cookies
These are almost a cross between a cookie and candy.  They are light and crispy, and were a big hit at the brunch.
1/2 c. pecans, toasted and cooled
1/4 c. flour
4 Tbsp. butter
6 Tbsp. packed, dark brown sugar
1/4 c. dark corn syrup
2 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 tsp. heavy cream
pinch salt
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
Process nuts and flour in food processor until only small pieces of pecan remain.
Combine butter, sugar and syrup in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and whisk in pecan mixture, vanilla, cream and salt.
Drop by the scant teaspoonful onto parchment lined baking sheets, at least 3" apart (these cookies spread A LOT).
Bake at 350 degrees until cookies are no longer bubbling, 5-7 minutes.
Let cookies cool on baking sheet 10 minutes, then transfer parchment sheet to counter and cool completely.
Spread 2 teaspoons chocolate onto cookie bottoms and gently top with another cookie.
Let chocolate set before serving.
***Adapted from a recipe by America's Test Kitchen***

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mommy Moments

Do you remember the first time you saw snow?  Don't feel bad if you don't, I can't either.  I will however, remember the first time my little guy saw snow, and that is a sweeter memory anyway.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cinnamon Scented Ornaments

I grew up with a Christmas tree that was decorated with homemade ornaments.  Some were paper, some were clay, some were made of yarn, but they were all made by my sister and I.  It may not have been able to grace the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, but it was beautiful to us.

Now that I have my own children, I realize just how special that tree was, especially to my mother.  All those years I thought it was all about my sister and I and showcasing decorations we made.  I thought my mother hung them every year the same way we hang refrigerator art... to let our children know we are proud of them and their accomplishments.  While I am sure that was part of it, I can now say that it is so much more. 

I now have my own "homemade tree".  Every year we hang ornaments my daughter made when she was three.  When I see them, I remember her chubby little hands and her baby tooth filled smile.  We have ornaments she made of beads and ornaments she made of felt.  I have hand prints covered in glitter.  Each one has a memory of my child's life firmly attached to it.  Whether it was made in school as a surprise, or made together, each one is special and irreplaceable.  So, you will never walk into my house and find an immaculate tree, covered in coordinating bulbs and ribbons.  You will find however, the most beautiful Christmas tree in the world.

Cinnamon Scented Ornaments
I made these ornaments with my kiddos last year and they had so much fun.  They make your house smell AMAZING and they are so sweet (Not in the eating way, in the cute way.  Don't try to eat them.  They would be terrible.) and simple to make.
What you need:
1 c. cinnamon
3/4 applesauce (maybe more if the dough is too dry)
1 Tbsp. glue
rolling pin
cookie cutters
drinking straw
baking sheet
What you do:
Mix together cinnamon, applesauce and glue, adding more applesauce if needed.
Roll dough out to about 1/4" thickness.  Don't roll it too thin or your ornaments will be fragile.
Cut dough into shapes using cookie cutters.
Make a hole at the top of each ornament with the straw.  Don't get to close to the edge or you will not have a sturdy loop for your hook.
Place shapes on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in a 200 degree oven for about 2-1/2 hours, flipping every 30 minutes.
You can also allow these to air dry, but it will take a few days.
Once dry, loop a hook through the hole and hang on your tree!