Wednesday, January 30, 2013

february resolution

Sigh. Where did the month of January go? I blinked a few times, and it's now time to flip that first page of the 2013 calendar. But oh, what a fun month it was! Blissfully enjoying the freedom of a lighter schedule at work, the weeks have been filled to to the brim with fun memory makers.

clockwise from upper left:
(1) You know that you and your friends are mature adults when a Saturday night of fun equals dinner out and then back to the house for a riveting game of Life. Even better, I won, handily. ;-)
(2) Despite getting the flu shot at the start of the season, I, like seemingly 98.9% of Americans, fell victim to the dreaded flu. Medicine of choice? Spicy homemade a Virginia Tech mug, of course.
(3) Highlight of the month = a whirlwind visit from one of my dearest friends. April and I went to med school together but 350 miles now tragically separate us. LOVED having her back in Virginia for a couple of days!
(4) Having April here called for some serious skying and Face Time with our circle of friends. Oh to have Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Mississippi, and California closer together!
(5) One of the best aspects of living in Northern VA? The amazing diversity of cuisine. A delicious Afghan meal AND the company of great girlfriends? Sweet!
(6) My roommate is getting married in June, and our group of friends decided that a surprise bachelorette party was in order. Knowing her love for peanut butter and chocolate, deciding what to bake for dessert was not a difficult venture. P.S. Look for the recipe soon! :)

Not pictured: the treadmill. Oh yes, remember that pesky little January resolution to run at least four days a week? Well, I'm proud to say, "mission accomplished." Despite a week of the flu, blustery cold weather, and the predictably overwhelming gym crowds of the new year, I managed to put some serious miles in at least four days a week. (Hint: Motivation is never an issue when you have the anticipation of wearing a bikini on the Hawaiian beaches in just a few weeks AND the reward of some girl talk in the gym hot tub with your gym buddy/close friend at the end of every workout.) Now I'm not signing up for the NY marathon just yet (and any serious runner would surely laugh at my jogger's pace) but I am pleased say that both my speed and distance steadily increased over the past four weeks...which is no small accomplishment for a girl who would love to claim an allergy to running. In fact, I think I might just keep it really is a bit addicting. :)

And alas, it's now time to welcome in February...and choose a new resolution. Oh, I tried to choose a really creative one on the heels of January's predictable, stereotypical one...but I'm sad to say I failed. Let's hope for creativity in March.

So, without further ado, February's resolution: drink 8 cups of water a day. I know, I know. So unoriginal. But, trust me, it's needed. Working in a hospital all day, it's not unusual for a twelve hour shift to end with me having drunk nothing more than mere sips all day. Oy vey. Time to change that! 28 days. 64 ounces of water. Game on.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

springy, fluffy marshmallows

In the spirit of full disclosure, I've never been a fan of marshmallows. Sure, they're fun to roast over an open fire - dancing a tango with the flames in an attempt to garner the perfect glob of toasty brown exterior and molten fluff interior. And, of course, they're a prized member of the golden trio needed to produce a good s'more, joining forces with graham crackers and chocolate in perfect harmony.

But, outside of those exceptions, marshmallows do nothing for me. In and of themselves, they don't have much flavor other than that of...sugar. Furthermore, I find their texture to be rather unpleasant - shouldn't a food whose primary ingredients include sugar and corn syrup simply melt in your mouth without requiring endless chewing??

Those opinions all changed, though, when I finally realized what marshmallows really should be. While the store-bought bagged version offers little more than a tough, flavorless, processed product, homemade marshmallows are, in a word, divine. Bursting with all the goodness of pure vanilla extract and unbelievably tender in texture, they're impossible to resist.

Bonus, they're not hard to make, either. Needing the perfect recipe to accompany the homemade graham crackers for my dear friend's wedding way back in November, I turned to the ever reliable Deb for inspiration. And trust me, I'm never going back. In fact, I'm already looking forward to finding another excuse to whip up a batch - possibly swapping out the vanilla for other flavorings and endless possibilities... :)

Springy, Fluffy Marshmallows
Yield about 96 1-inch cubed marshmallows

About 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 white or reconstituted powdered egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla (or 1/2 of a scraped vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons almond, coconut, or mint extract)

Oil the bottom and sides of a 15 x 11 x 1-inch nonstick baking sheet and dust to cover with confectioners' sugar.

In a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup of cold water and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan or Dutch oven set over low heat, cook the granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and additional 1/2 cup of water, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium and allow to boil, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the sugar mixture over the gelatin mixture, stirring until dissolved.

Beat the mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about 6-10 minutes. 

In a separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters, whip the egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Add the whites and vanilla to the sugar mixture and beat until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan (it will be sticky and messy!) and spread into an even layer. Sift 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar evenly over the top. Chill, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours or up to one day.

Run a thin knife around the perimeter of the pan and invert onto a large cutting board. Lifting up one corner of the pan, use fingers to loosen the marshmallow and ease it onto the board. With a large knife, trim the edges and cut into 1-inch cubes. Sift the remaining confectioners' sugar into the now-empty pan and roll the marshmallows through it, coating all 6 sides, before shaking off the excess.

Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

potato galette

If your family is anything like mine, there are some parts of a holiday menu that are nonnegotiable - certain staples that better show up on the buffet line or protests will fly. We're certainly not all that original in our house. In fact, we even repeat quite a few items from our Thanksgiving line-up on the Christmas menu - certain side dishes are are just too special to enjoy throughout the year but totally worthy of savoring on that special day in both November and December.

That being said, it's always fun to throw in one or two new dishes on those special occasions - to not only enjoy the hunt for the perfect recipe(s) in the days leading up to the big event but also mix up that predictable buffet line. And this, my friends, was this year's Christmas addition.

Super easy to throw together, it may just be the perfect galette technique. It came together in minutes and tasted amazing. The perfect combination. In fact, it was too good to wait until the next holiday to make and will most definitely be making a follow-up appearance in my kitchen in the very near future.

Potato Galette
Yield 6-8 servings

2 1/2 pounds (5-6 large) Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and sliced 1/8 inch thick using a mandoline slicer to ensure even thinness
5 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary leaves (optional)

Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and preheat the oven to 450°.

Place the potato slices in a large bowl and fill with cold water. Using your hands, swirl to remove the excess starch then drain in a colander. Spread the slices onto kitchen towels and dry thoroughly.

In a large bowl, whisk together 4 tablespoons butter, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Add the dried potatoes and toss until thoroughly coated. Place the remaining tablespoon butter in a large heavy bottomed 10-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet and swirl to coat. Place one potato slice in the center of the skillet then overlap slices in a circle around the center slice followed by outer circles of overlapping slices. Gently place remaining sliced potatoes on top of the first layer, arranging for uniform thickness. 

Place the skillet over medium-high heat and cook until sizzling and potatoes around the edge of the skillet start to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Spray a 12-inch square of foil with nonstick cooking spray then place the foil, sprayed side down, on top of the potatoes. Place a 9-inch cake pan on top of the foil and fill with two cups of pie weights or dry beans. Firmly press down on the cake pan to compress the potatoes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. 

Remove the cake pan and foil from the skillet. Continue to cook until the potatoes are tender when a paring knife is inserted in the center, about 20-25 minutes. Return the skillet to medium heat on the stove-top and cook, gently shaking pan until the galette releases from the sides of the pan, 2-3 minutes. 

Off the heat, place a cutting board over the skillet. Carefully invert the skillet and board together and lift the skillet off the galette. Using a serrated knife, gently cut into wedges and serve immediately.

From America's Test Kitchen 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

january resolution

                                                               (source unknown)
"A new year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other." - Author Unknown

Yes, it's that time of year again. That time when people around the world resolve to better themselves in defined ways - creating a list of ideals in which they currently fall short but will surely measure up to in the coming year. Oh, you know the common ones. Lose weight. Exercise more. Eat healthier. Spend less money. Invest more in family and friends. -- All noble pursuits, of course. Though quite often difficult to achieve for 365 days...

A few years back, my dearest friend Caitlyn and I resolved to address various shortcomings in our lives (that is, the precious few that she and I have ;-) and challenge ourselves to betterment in matters great and small. She was living in Boston at the time and I in Blacksburg, VA. One in the midst of a new job - the other beginning a new chapter of education. Eager to bridge the miles between and the differences in our worlds, we had the grand idea of creating monthly resolutions - a fresh goal on the first of every month to gallantly commit to achieving in the coming 30 days. They varied from month to month, ranging in significance but each unique and original.

Sadly, for whatever reason, the concept fizzled after a year. Ahhh, but this month, my friends, at the beginning of a fresh year, the time has come to bring the tradition back. Now living near each other in Northern Virginia, I'm not-so-secretly blissfully excited to let the fun begin. :)

But, alas, what resolution to choose for that import first month?? Such pressure to make it a good one - to set the bar high for expectations of future months! And oh, did I try to come up with that perfect choice.

Sigh. I dreamed of creativity and uniqueness, and instead I fell victim to stereotype. You see, like most January 1st resolution makers, I too feel the need to make better use of that ol' gym time. Oh, but I have an ulterior motive. You see, I'll be lounging on the beaches of Maui, HI in (gasp!) 42 days, and, like any gal, the vision of bikinis immediately comes to mind. Oh motivation, indeed.

So, resolution #1: run at least 4 days a week. Now this may not seem like much of a challenge to some people, but let me assure you, it is for me. An ever-enthusiastic walker, I hate running. When I walk, I enjoy every step and my mind wanders the gamut of imagination and to-do lists. When I run, I think about how much I hate what I'm doing at that moment. Oh my, am I setting myself up for a fun month. ;-)

And don't worry. I'll let you know how it turns out...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

icebox potato rolls

It's no secret that I'm a sentimental gal - the kind that keeps every sweet cards she get in the mail...cherishes family traditions...mourns those "last time I'll ever [fill in the blank]" moments...and captures every special moment with friends on film for future review (all the while saying, "You'll thank me for this later!" ;-). So, while we've already established the fact that I love church cookbooks, it goes without saying that this one holds a special place in my heart.

First, it's a recipe that was submitted by a dear friend of my parents - the wife of the pastor who married them 30 years ago. Not only does Annie make amazing yeast rolls, but she's also known for her phenomenal pies...and ever-present sweet smile.

Second, it's a recipe my mother has been making for years - her go-to pick for every holiday and company gathering. Piping hot from the oven, they can always be counted on to show up in a towel-lined basket at her dining room table for such special events.

And if those aren't reason enough for me to want the recipe for my own kitchen, the perfect taste and tender texture certainly are.

Sentimental or not, I'm sure you'll agree.

Icebox Potato Rolls

1 cup warm milk
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup boiled, mashed potatoes
2 packages yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 eggs
5-6 cups flour

In a small pan set over medium-high heat, warm the milk until just beginning to boil. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water. Add the milk followed by the potatoes, shortening, sugar, and eggs. Add the flour and salt, starting with 5 cups of flour and using up to 1 additional cup until the dough is no longer sticky.

Cover and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 5 days.

Roll the dough out to an even thickness, about 3/4 inch thick, on a floured surface. Using a biscuit cutter or cup, cut out rounds in the desired size. Place on a greased pan and allow to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days or frozen for later use.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

purposeful celebration

In homes around the world, today holds the promise of so many cherished traditions. The excitement of gift giving and receiving. The reunion of family and friends from far and wide. The expectant hope for snow flurries and subsequent dreams of Bing's White Christmas. And, yes, the devouring of gourmet meals and tasty treats.

Amidst all of these wonderful memory-makers, though, is a truth far more sacred. Set aside to celebrate the holy birth of Christ here on Earth, Christmas is most importantly a day of thanksgiving and reverence - for Christ's sacrifice and salvation.

And so, my friends, I hope this day is full of all the goodness of the season in your hearts and homes. But, between the wrapping paper and bows...Christmas ham (or turkey, if you please) and endless baked traditions and antics, I hope you'll take some moments to reflect on the greater meaning of this most special day.

Merry Christmas, y'all!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

fudge brownies

Remember those fabulous wedding cake fillings I posted about way back when? You know, before pumpkins and butternut squash got in the way?? At the time, I promised a follow-up recipe to make with any leftover mocha, Nutella, or raspberry goodness...and then I just left you hanging. My most sincere apologies.

When looking for a new brownie recipe to accompany these flavors, I knew that Deb wouldn't let me down. Almost fudge-like in their denseness and chocolatey richness, these bad boys are pretty near perfect on their own. Top them with a dollop of any one of the fillings, though, and they're somehow even better. Either way, they're pretty life changing.

Fudge Brownies
Yield: One 8x8 pan

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8x8 square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, extending it up two sides of pan. Butter the liner. Set aside.

In a medium heat-proof bowl set over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple of unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. Whisk in the sugar, then eggs one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in the flour until fully incorporated and then scrape batter into a prepared pan, spreading out until even. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool before cutting into desired size bars. May also be frozen prior to cutting for cleaner margins.

From Smitten Kitchen