Smarter Than Pancakes

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Evolution of the S’more – Part I

Filed under: chocolate marshmallows,Desserts — shaye3 @ 12:08 am
Tags: , ,

Ok, so it all started innocently enough. It was a confluence of events that got the ball rolling. I had been reading about homemade marshmallows on one of the cooking sites that I frequent. The people were raving about how wonderful they are! I had decided to try them. (But we’ve been busy and I have an irrational fear of anything that requires a candy thermometer, so I hadn’t gotten around to it.)

Then, I was watching an episode of Good Eats, and lo and behold Alton made homemade marshmallows. (Of course I can do it if I’ve watched Alton do it! He’d never steer me wrong!)

Then, Renae from Renae du Jour posted about s’mores without chocolate bars. It seems they went camping, and to save space they took Fudge Stripe cookies to use rather than the traditional graham crackers and Hershey bars. I, of course, picked up some Fudge Stripe cookies on my next shopping trip and we tried them. (They were tasty, but I must be a purist because they were definitely not s’mores to me.)

Then, shortly after that, I was talking online to my friend Jane, who introduced me to yet another iteration of the s’more that sounded delicious–but that I’m not going to share just yet.

After all that, I started thinking about my whole anti-processed food bent and decided to find a recipe for homemade graham crackers. The evil plan forming in my head was to try my hand at making entirely homemade s’mores. (Ok, maybe not entirely homemade. I have no plans to learn how to conch my own chocolate–so I picked up a six-pack of Hershey bars. More on that later.)

Friday night the adventure started! I looked up Alton’s recipe for marshmallows, gathered my ingredients, and embarked on this journey!

First, a gratuitous picture of my lovely assistant Linus–and his lovely assistant Ducky…Linus and Ducky

With my trusty assistant at my feet, I gathered my ingredients…

(Please note that my light corn syrup is NOT the hfcs laden Karo brand. I found the hfcs-free Griffin’s brand at Big Lots and stocked up.) 😉

I combined equal parts powdered sugar and cornstarch to prep my pan for what I’d been told is the stickiest substance on earth.

After my pan was ready, I threw the gelatin in some water in the mixing bowl to bloom and then it was time to face my fears with the candy thermometer.

(Here is where I deviated slightly from Alton’s recipe. I had read a review somewhere about how homemade marshmallows are too soft to toast on a stick, so instead of the 240º that the recipe recommended, I took it up to 248º because that was the temperature that was recommended by another cookbook. This might have been where I left the tracks with this first attempt.)

After that, I poured the hot syrup into the bowl with the gelatin mixture, and started the 15 minutes of whisking. (Kids, don’t try this without your trusty stand mixer!)

I started it out on low until it got thick enough to not splash out and coat my entire kitchen, but after just a few minutes on high it actually started to look like marshmallow fluff! (Sorry about the blurry.)

After that I scraped it out into the prepared pan, and sprinkled more of the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture on top so it could dry out over night.

They were seriously not kidding about that whole “stickiest substance on earth” thing. Here’s what my mixer bowl looked like after I had scraped out as much as I could. Fortunately, it cleans up easily with a little hot water.

The next morning, I used a pizza cutter and cut the slab-o-mallow into individual squares. We tasted them immediately; and Steve, Simon and I all agreed that they tasted exactly like bagged marshmallows that you can buy at the grocery store. I wasted all of that effort for grocery store marshmallow replicas. Arrrgh!

I was sure that the people on the recipe site weren’t raving about grocery store replicas, so I decided to try another recipe. Since I already have a whole batch of plain marshmallows, I decided to make a variation of a recipe that one of the recipe site people had posted–in chocolate this time. Oh. My. Gosh. The chocolate marshmallows were amazing! They’re lighter and fluffier, yet when you bite into them they’re almost creamy somehow. Half of the batch is gone, and I just cut them this morning! This amazing recipe is the one I decided to post for you–

Highly Addictive Chocolate Marshmallows
Serves 1 (Ok, it makes a whole gallon-sized zip-top bag of marshmallows, but you’ll eat them all.)

Pan Prep:

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 Tbs cocoa powder


4 packages gelatin (1 oz. total)

1/4 cup cold water

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp almond extract

1/2 cup boiling water

1/2 cup cocoa powder

Sugar Syrup:

3/4 cup water

3 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Start out by combining the cornstarch, powdered sugar and cocoa powder. (This will become vital later when you’re trying to deal with the sticky marshmallow mixture.) After you’ve mixed it, oil or spray a 9×13 cake pan, and then using a small strainer sift the mixture over it to coat well. Dump the excess powder back into the bowl to use later, but be generous with the amounts of oil and dust in the pan or you’ll have a hard time getting your slab-o-mallow out of the pan later.
  2. Next, in your mixer’s bowl, dump the contents of the four packages of gelatin, the quarter cup of cold water, and the extracts. Stir it so that all of the gelatin will get wet. (I recently found out that gelatin won’t work if you don’t “bloom” it before you use it—which just means getting it wet with cold water before you add hot water.)
  3. Now you need to boil half a cup of water and mix in the half cup of cocoa powder. It will make kind of a thick chocolatey syrup kind of thing. (But don’t be fooled and taste it. Sugar free chocolate is not as good as it smells and looks.) Once it cools down, add it to the mixing bowl with the gelatin and the extracts.
  4. Now comes the scary part with the candy thermometer. (Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I don’t know why I had such a mental block about it because I didn’t have any problems at all!) In a small saucepan—preferably with a heavy bottom—combine the 3/4 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Stir it to combine, and then put it over medium high heat. First the sugar will melt, then it will start to boil. After it starts to boil, keep an eye on the thermometer and pull it off the heat when you get to 240°. (You don’t have to worry about brushing the sides of the pan with water or anything because there is enough corn syrup in there that crystals won’t be an issue. If you didn’t have the corn syrup, you’d have to worry about sugar crystals screwing everything up.)
  5. Using the whisk attachment, turn the mixer on low. While the mixer is running, pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. (Be sure to pour it onto the side of the bowl and let it run down. If it hits the whisk it could splash up and either give you an extremely painful burn or at least make a sticky mess.) Leave it on low for a minute so it can thicken up a little before turning it up to the very highest setting. (Again to keep it from getting all over your kitchen.) Once you have it on high, let it whip for about twelve minutes.
  6. After it’s whipped and fluffy like marshmallow cream, use an oiled rubber spatula to turn it out of the mixing bowl into your prepared 9×13 pan. After you’ve smoothed it out the best you can, use your little strainer to sift more of the powdered sugar mixture on top of the whole batch. Leave it uncovered for several hours—overnight if possible.
  7. The next morning, flip it out onto a cutting board and use a pizza cutter to cut it into squares. (As I cut, I just took the cut edges of each square and dipped them into the powdered sugar mixture to keep them from sticking together.)
  8. Store them in an airtight container. (I hear they’ll keep for up to a month, but they won’t last that long.)

Stay tuned for my next addition to the s’more saga when I try to make homemade graham crackers!!


Friday, June 27, 2008

Chik’n and Apple Curry (Vegan)

Filed under: Chik'n Apple Curry,Main Dishes,WW Points — shaye3 @ 7:03 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday was my mom’s 76th birthday, so we brought her over from the nursing home. We also invited my eldest sister and her fiancé to join us for dinner. I had asked Mom what she wanted for her birthday dinner; but she couldn’t think of anything but chocolate cake so I had to think for her. I tried to make all of her favorites; so I made bbq ribs, my great-grandmother’s recipe for German potato salad (that has a lot of bacon and bacon grease), fried green tomatoes, sliced cantaloupe, and of course–chocolate cake. (Not the healthiest, but she gets so sick of the institution food at the nursing home, and I gave her a really good salad earlier in the week.)

After all of that heavy food last night, I’ve felt like I’ve had rocks in my stomach. I decided that for lunch today I’d make something much lighter and meat free. I didn’t actually figure out that it was potentially vegan until I was figuring out the nutrition information so I could calculate the WW points.

I found the original version of this on an internet recipe site, but decided today that I wanted to make it meat free. It turned out really well, if I say so myself! This is another one of those recipes that I can usually make from food I already have no hand. (I LOVE recipes that don’t require an extra trip to the grocery!!)

Chik\'n Apple Curry

Chik’n and Apple Curry

4 Servings – 10 WW Points per serving

1 tbs olive oil

8 oz. Chik’n Strips (I used Morningstar Farms Meal Starter Chik’n Strips)

2 tbs butter (To make this vegan, replace with another oil.)

2 ribs celery , chopped fine

1 large onion, chopped fine

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 granny smith apples, cored and chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 tsp curry powder (or to taste)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cumin

2 tbs flour

14 oz vegetable broth (I used Kroger brand canned broth.)

4 cups cooked basmati rice

  1. Heat oil over medium heat, then throw in chik’n strips and stir fry until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. Add 2 Tbs of butter (or other oil if you’re going vegan) and cook celery and onion over medium low heat until softened.
  3. Add the garlic and apples and cook 5 minutes more.
  4. Add bell pepper, curry, cinnamon and cumin and cook 1 minute.
  5. Stir in flour and cook over moderate heat 3 minutes.
  6. Add broth and simmer for 15 minutes, then increase heat and boil sauce 3-5 minutes, or until thickened slightly.
  7. Add the chik’n strips and taste. Add salt and pepper if required. (Be sure to taste first because there’s a lot of sodium in the fake chicken and in the broth.)
  8. Serve over rice. (Garnish with chopped fresh parsley if you have some. I didn’t.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Procrastination…with a side of Egyptian Edamame Stew

Filed under: Uncategorized — shaye3 @ 8:04 am

Hey friends! I figured I should make a quick post just to let people know that I haven’t been washed away by flooding or blown away by midwest tornadoes. I’ve just been swamped with things like house guests, class reunions, and this past week was vacation Bible school at our church so my mornings were spent there, and my afternoons were spent writing daily newsletters for it. By the time the week was done, I was so burnt out on writing that I didn’t even want to think about writing a blog post.

Besides that, I haven’t actually been cooking. I feel like crap because of all of the processed foods we’ve been eating, too. Yesterday we helped my husband’s niece paint her nursery in anticipation to our new grand-nephew’s arrival next week, and we ate Pizza Hut for lunch and Applebee’s for dinner. (And before you start reading “grand-nephew” and think we’re older than God, just know that Steve and I are both the bonus babies in our families, and we both have siblings who were born in the 1950s.)

I actually have cooked a few times, but no where near as frequently as I should have been. I told Steve last night that I’ve actually gotten out of the habit of cooking! (I hate it when that happens.)

Last weekend was my high school class reunion, and I had some of the visiting reunion people over for a cookout on Saturday. Because a few of my friends are vegetarian, I made a recipe that my friend Claire gave me last spring. I didn’t think to take pictures, but just trust me that it’s colorful and delicious! It’s fast, tastes really fresh, and has lots of protein–especially if you serve it over quinoa.

Egyptian Edamame Stew (Serves 4 as a main dish)

16 oz. frozen shelled edamame (About 3 cups if you aren’t using frozen.)
1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large zucchini, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (I throw in a sprinkle because we’re spice wimps.)
28 ounces diced tomatoes (I use one can and drain it about halfaway.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (I frequently skip if I don’t have it on hand.)
3 tablespoons lemon juice (Please use fresh.)
cooked couscous or quinoa

  1. Boil your edamame in a large pan of water for about 5 minutes, then drain and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, saute your onion in the oil for about 3 minutes.
  3. Throw in the zucchini, and cook for another 3 minutes more.
  4. Add the spices and tomato, and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  5. Put the cooked edamame back in and cook for a minute or two until it’s warmed back up.
  6. Remove from the heat and add the cilantro and lemon juice.
  7. Serve over couscous or quinoa.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Embarrassingly Easy Summer Dinner

Filed under: Uncategorized — shaye3 @ 12:02 am

Ok, so my local Marsh store had green beans, new potatoes AND smoked sausage on sale this week. That meant I had to make the nameless meal that we have several times every summer.

The beauty of this recipe is that there are no rules. Use as much of the ingredients as you want. If your family LOVES beans, use tons of beans. If you’re all over the potatoes, knock yourself out! Simon has been known to pick out all of the pieces of smoked sausage, so I have to make sure to add plenty for him.

The whole recipe is foolproof, so do whatever you want!

First you take your fresh green beans, give them a good wash, snap off the stem ends and break them into somewhat evenly sized pieces. Throw them into your dutch oven or other lidded pot.

Then you scrub your new potatoes, and if they’re big you should cut them in half or quarter them. Throw them in the pot with your beans.

Then you take your smoked sausage, slice it into coins of whatever size you’d like, and throw them in on top of the beans and potatoes.
Next add enough chicken broth (canned or homemade, what do I care?) to almost cover. Or heck, add it to cover if you want. The broth tastes amazing at the end so you’ll drink it.
Cover it and let it simmer until your potatoes and beans are as tender as you’d like them to be.

That’s it. That’s the whole recipe. It’s good hot. It’s good at room temp. Heck, when it’s really hot outside we’ve been known to eat it cold.

(Btw, I know that smoked sausage is seriously processed food, but sometimes I just don’t care.) 😉

You like me…you REALLY like me!

Filed under: awards — shaye3 @ 12:01 am

Last month, Nikki over at Canarygirl nominated me for a “Blogging with a Purpose” award. I am truly honored, and would like to pass it on by nominating the following blogs:

Jessica at The Delish
Ann at Velvet Lava Cafe
Renae at Renae du Jour
Abby at Confabulation
Nina at My Easy Cooking

Then last week, Elle at Elle’s New England Kitchen presented me with an “I Love You This Much” award. I’m so thrilled that she thought of me, and would like to share the love with these folks:

Kelly at Logan-Lexi-Love-Life! (One of my oldest and dearest friends.)
Lauren at This Mom’s World! (My beloved niece.)
Jen at Jen’s Blog (One of my imaginary friends and favorite traveling companions.)
Deb at Doing it Sly Way! (Another imaginary friend and marathon telephone partner in crime.)
Jenn at Imatjen (My new Vox friend.)

Special thanks to Nikki and Elle for the awards!!

I also want to thank all of the bloggers that I nominated for sharing themselves with us.

I also really, really want to thank everyone who reads my blogs. I still can’t believe that people would read the stuff I write, and even thought I’m not always the best at responding to comments, I’m ALWAYS thrilled to death to get them. Thank you!!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Veggie Garden Sundays

Filed under: gardening — shaye3 @ 3:45 pm

Ok, since you guys started this journey with me, I thought I’d start posting weekly updates on my little veggie garden.

When we last visited my back yard, I was getting ready to plant my seeds. I don’t know if I shared it with you guys or not, but I found out that our soil has a fungus called Verticillium Wilt. That stuff is kills all kinds of plants including several kinds of trees, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, several herbs, and rhubarb. At first I realized that my mint was turning black and dying when we started drinking a lot of mojitos. It was getting harder and harder to find mint in my herb patch that didn’t have black on it. Then I noticed that my rhubarb was all turning yellow and dying. That’s when I started doing some research in my handy-dandy Rhodale’s gardening book, and found out that it has probably all been caused by this fungus. I’m not at all happy about it. I think I’m going to take out the rhubarb bed and put in some asparagus. The rhubarb has been there for decades, but I can’t help but think we’d get more use out of the asparagus anyway.

We’ve had nothing but thunderstorms since the day I planted. I haven’t even had a chance to transplant my bell peppers or marigolds. Hopefully it’ll dry out soon so I can get back in there since my bell peppers already have blooms and my marigolds are seriously starting to outgrow their containers. For now, I haven’t even walked into the garden far enough to weed because the whole thing is so muddy. Because of the wilt, I decided to plant my eggplant in containers, but the seeds haven’t germinated yet so I didn’t take a picture. My carrots are still holding out, too. I hope that all the hard rain didn’t wash my poor carrot seeds away, but I’ve heard that carrots can take a while to germinate so I guess I’ll wait. I decided to chance my tomato plants in the ground with the wilt, so everybody keep your fingers crossed. Two of my tomatoes didn’t make it through the storms. My “Early Girl” got broken off completely, and another one bent enough to worry me.

Here are my transplanted tomatoes. I’m going to have to replace the one on the bottom that broke off. (The maple seed helicopters appreciate the nice soil in the bed, too. I have about a million tiny volunteer maple trees that I need to get out of there.)

Here are my rows of little green beans and edamame

Here are my summer squash hills. I had four, but something happened to the one in the upper left corner. If you look further up from that, you can see the Creeping Charlie weeds that are threatening to come down and take over the whole plot.

My original plan called for two rows of carrots, but I ran out of seeds after one row, so I put green onions in the row closest to the tomatoes. They’re just starting to come up. (This picture is blurry because they are almost invisible to the naked eye and my camera didn’t want to be that close.)

I need to weed and get the rest of my plants planted, and I also want to start some spinach seeds in containers before it gets too hot. (What am I saying? It’s supposed to be 90° today. Gah!)

And that is the fascinating tale of the first week of my garden!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes with Fake Buttercream Frosting

Cupcakes AGAIN? Yes, I happen to like cupcakes! And these cupcakes remind me of the Hostess cakes of my youth–only better because they’re from scratch!

My father-in-law is up visiting us from Charleston, and he reminded me that we completely missed his birthday last month. Last night we all went over to my husband’s niece and her husband’s house for dinner, so I asked fil what kind of cupcakes he’d like to have for his birthday cake. He chose chocolate, so here you go!

Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes with Fake Buttercream Frosting
(makes 24 cupcakes with a little batter left over)

2 cups cake flour (I weighed and used 260 grams)

3/4 cup cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

2 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup butter, melted (2 sticks)

4 large eggs

1 t. vanilla

3/4 cup water

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and line your cupcake pans with papers. (Only preheat to 325° if you have dark pans. One of my pans is non-stick, and they always cook faster in that pan than in my shiny pan.)
  2. Sift all of the dry ingredients (flour through salt) into a large-ish mixing bowl.
  3. Put all of your liquid ingredients (buttermilk to water) in another bowl and combine well.
  4. Mix your liquid ingredients into your dry ingredients, and then continue to mix on medium for about three minutes.
  5. Fill your cupcake papers. (I used my new, handy-dandy ice cream scoop so mine would all be the same size.)
  6. Pop them into the oven, and bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick poked into the middle comes out clean. (Rotate the pans if your oven has hot spots and don’t overcook them or they’ll dry out.)
  7. When they’re done, take them out of the oven and cool them on racks. (The longer you leave them in the pans, the longer they’ll continue to cook and also possibly dry out.)

For the frosting:

1 cup butter (Since this recipe uses a whole pound of butter between the cake and the frosting, do yourself a favor and go out and get a new box of the freshest butter you can find. If your butter is freezer burnt or has absorbed odors from your fridge, you’ll really be able to taste it in this frosting.)

5 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 tsp salt if you use salted butter–throw in a little more if you use unsalted butter

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp lemon juice (NO fake stuff from the plastic container! Use fresh squeezed or you’ll be sorry.)

1 Tbs. milk or cream (I used half-and half.)

  1. Throw your butter into your stand mixer and beat until it’s creamy. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, let it come to room temperature before using a hand mixer.)
  2. Gradually add your powdered sugar (or you’ll wear it.)
  3. After you’ve added about half of the sugar, throw in the liquid ingredients, then add the rest of the powdered sugar and mix well.
  4. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk or cream. (Or half-and-half as it were.)
  5. Use this to frost your completely cooled cupcakes.

Stick them on a plate and take a picture for your blog. . .wait, that’s just me. 😉

The reason I call this “Fake Buttercream” is because REAL Buttercream is much more involved, and there are several versions that you can make. This one is tasty and much easier, so that’s the way I went.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Behold the Croquette!

Filed under: Salmon Croquettes — shaye3 @ 8:49 pm
Tags: ,

Salmon Croquettes

And you thought it was going to be a GOOD picture. Hee!

I was talking to some friends about my lack of mad photography skilz, and they had several good suggestions for me. One of which was to switch from Snapfish to Flickr. I have to say that Flickr has some lovely editing software. Hopefully, someday soon my photos will look less and less like crime scene investigation photos. (Unless you’re into Dexter–then you LOVE my pics!)

While we’re all waiting for my photography skills to improve, here’s my recipe…

Salmon Croquettes
(Makes 12 smallish ones)

4 slices of bread (I used Aunt Millie’s 100% Whole Wheat)

1 small onion, quartered and sliced thinly

1 can of salmon, drained (Wild caught is vital. Red is best, but pink works just fine.)

1 egg

the zest of one lemon (preferably using a microplane zester and only getting the yellow part)

1 tsp dried dill weed (more or less to taste)

1 tsp salt (to taste)

a few grinds of pepper (also to taste)

1 cup seasoned, dry bread crumbs (I think mine are Italian)

  1. Rip your slices of bread into three or four pieces each and send them for a whirl around your food processor until they’re crumby. Pour them into a medium bowl and set them aside.
  2. Throw your sliced onion and egg into your food processor, and whirl them until the onion is minced.
  3. Add your drained salmon, lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper; and whirl until it’s all smooth.
  4. Use a rubber spatula and scrape all of this mixture into your bread crumbs and then mix it all together.
  5. Put the dry, seasoned bread crumbs into a shallow dish to use for coating.
  6. Using your handy-dandy ice cream scoop (or a big spoon if you really wanna) scoop blobs of the salmon mixture into the breadcrumbs and coat. As they’re coated, smash them down a little and put them on a plate.
  7. Get out your skillet and pour in a thin coat of canola oil across the bottom. Heat to about 350°. (I use my electric skillet, but I imagine a medium heat would work fine.)
  8. Place your croquettes in the hot oil, and cook on one side until it starts to brown a little. Flip over and cook until the other side is the desired shade of golden delicious.
  9. Take them out and serve.

This is a total comfort food meal for me. My mom used to make “salmon patties” all the time when I was a kid. Tonight I served them with mac & cheese and green beans. Just like my mom would have done!

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