Thursday, March 24

Broken - {Butter Pecan Ice Cream}

Unable to find a seat, I braced my shoulders against a wall of my friend's studio apartment. After greeting me with a hug at the door, he'd quickly planted himself on the couch, draping his arm around a quiet-looking girl I'd never met. Suddenly aware of my situation, I conducted a quick scan of the remaining faces, coming to the realization that I didn't know anyone besides my friend.

Although I like meeting new people, I was a little uncomfortable. I couldn't decide how to stand, where to look or what to do with my hands, becoming increasingly antsy as the seconds ticked by. I had had the misfortune of standing with my back to the television - which everyone else was watching - when I entered the room, and wasn't sure if I should reorient myself or strike up a conversation with the girl in front of me.

So I shuffled my feet. Awkwardly.

Each pair of eyes was entranced by the screen. My friend's guests stared as if it were a chest of riches, everyone greedily consuming the fortune of visual occupation within. So they all watched.

All but one.

I'd been painfully aware of his gaze since I entered the room. His penetrating stare began when I entered the room and hadn't faltered since. Feeling insecure and claustrophobic, I avoided his eyes and twisted to lean on my left shoulder. Finally deciding that I, too, was more comfortable watching the TV than standing in silent defiance toward the crowd, I settled into my new stance. A veil of comfort swept over me, but it was brief; out of the corner of my eyes I saw him lift himself swiftly from the couch, then step in my direction.

A quick glance granted that his face was painted not with interest and attraction, but with complete curiosity. Panicking, I took stock of myself, desperately trying to discern any abnormalities making themselves known on my clothing, hair or face. Looking down at my shoes, I recollected that I had brushed my teeth before coming over, that my shirt was stain-free and that I was completely comfortable with the way my hair looked.


Still spinning, I realized that a second pair of shoes had entered my periphery. I sheepishly focused on his all-black Converse, then traced connected limbs upward to meet his face.

It was too late.

I was scared.

"Hey. Uh... This is probably going to sound strange, but... Have you ever broken your nose?"

I didn't respond. I stammered, but that hardly counts.

"I don't mean to be rude," he allowed, "but I just noticed that your nose slants to the left. Kind of. Just a little - honestly, it's hard to tell - but I was just curious, you know. It seemed like it might be a good story."

Two years ago I would have been appalled by this "exchange," stunned into a hurt silence and in need of escape. It would have stayed on my mind for weeks, haunting my every day and filling me with nose-related insecurity.

But that day, I laughed. He was serious, but he was just trying to make conversation, which was comforting. "No, I've never broken it, but I know it's crooked," I said confidently. "No one's ever mentioned it to me, but trust me: I'm a girl. I've noticed" I finished with a smile, aware that he appreciated my explanation, and we continued talking.

The conversation was a warm blanket in the room of cold strangers, but I was distracted with my own thoughts while we spoke. I used to really hate my nose, but it's stopped bothering me because I've learned to embrace all of my "imperfections." I'm not skinny, I'm not the smartest, I have terrible fashion sense and I've got a bit of a dirty mouth.

But I'm happy - and lucky - to say that I truthfully like myself the way I am. Crooked nose and all.

So, stranger, I'll take your lighthearted remarks about my appearance in stride.

You just better be ready for me to tease you right back.

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If you're interested, my friend Jordan posted an interview with me earlier this week on his amazing blog, Kitchen Karate!

Butter Pecan Ice Cream adapted from Epicurious
Makes about one quart.
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 c (135 g) pecans, roughly chopped
2 Tbls butter, softened
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c (213 g) packed light brown sugar, divided
2 c (473 ml) milk (Whole is recommended, but I used 1/2%)
2 c (473 ml) heavy cream
7 egg yolks
3/4 tsp vanilla

Place the chopped pecans in a pan over medium-low heat and cook, tossing frequently, until you can smell the nuts and they are lightly toasted. Remove from heat and quickly stir in the butter and salt. Set aside to cool.

Put 1 cup (142 grams) of the brown sugar, the milk and the cream into a medium saucepan. Begin cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, place the remaining 1/2 cup (71 grams) of brown sugar in a large bowl with the egg yolks. Whisk until ribbons form, keeping an eye on the cream. Just before the cream mixture begins to boil, use a ladle to add about 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) of the hot cream to the egg yolks and whisk immediately to combine. Pour the egg yolk and cream mixture back into the saucepan and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened. A good test to see if it has thickened enough is to dip a spoon into the custard, remove it and run your finger from the top of the spoon to the bottom. If the line from your finger floods over, keep cooking. If not, it's done!

When the custard has thickened sufficiently, remove it from the heat and pour into another container. Allow to cool slightly, then press plastic wrap over the surface and refrigerate overnight.

At this point your nuts should have cooled to room temp, so put them in an airtight container for later use.

After your custard has cooled completely stir in the vanilla. Pour it into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions. Just before putting it into the freezer to set up, stir in the buttered pecans.

Friday, March 18

Bully - {Granola Bars}

Before I begin the story part of my post, I want to share a sweet deal with you guys from the awesome people over at www.littleoakfarms.com. I recently tried their products and was seriously impressed!

So, what do they sell? Honey - but better. Imagine all of the wonderful qualities of honey, but then add the taste of cranberry, plum, or passionfruit to the mix. What results is a luxuriously thick mixture of fruit and honey, conveniently stored in a squeeze bottle that I challenge you to make drip (seriously, the bottle never gets sticky - I love it!). I find that each flavor is a perfect companion (often times more perfect than just honey) to yogurt, oatmeal and vanilla ice cream, but the applications don't stop there. Imagine it in sauces or marinades for that little extra something I know I'm always after. Or stay true to the sweetness and add some to smoothies, cookies or cake.

Can you tell that I'm having fun considering all of the possibilities?

Another thing I love about their honeys is that they contain two ingredients: honey and fruit concentrate. There's nothing questionable about it - what you're eating is the real thing, and it's easy to tell.

So, if you're interested in trying this wonderful stuff for yourself, check out the catalog on www.littleoakfarms.com and use "whiskkid" as the promotional code for 25% off of your purchase (the CranHoney's my absolute favorite, in case you were wondering)!

Oh, and I'd like to say that I'm not making money off of these sales, so please don't feel exploited. The family was generous enough to send me an assortment of their products in the hopes that I could help them come up with recipes (not that they need a lot of help - if you want to check out their recipes, click through to their blog) to use them in. I loved them all so much that I wanted to make sure that I got to share them with you. I hope you like them as much as I do!

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When my first class on Mondays and Wednesdays ends, I quietly return my notebook, pencil and calculator to my backpack. From their resting place over the seat back, the sleeves of my hoodie slide easily up my arms, preparing me for the chill to come. As I shake my hood to straighten it over my back, my more hurried classmates rush down the lecture hall's central pair of staircases.

I always take my time at my seat, preferring not to get caught up in the initial mad rush for the door. From a distance, their behavior is humorous; despite the frantic nature of the throes; the shifting mob becomes increasingly more organized once the floor level has been reached and a single-file line is formed to exit the building. Those who once slung their bags recklessly over their shoulders to intimidate now stand with shoulders forward, confined to their space in line.


And so it is that I intentionally slog through the process of preparing for the walk to my second class; carefully unwinding the cable for my headphones while I observe absentmindedly. Generally speaking, buy the time I've slipped in my left ear bud the crowd has subsided, and I take the first step toward the door.

Outside, taking note of the density of the sidewalk's population just 20 paces ahead, I try to imagine why certain individuals from the crowd are in such a hurry. Surely, I know, most of them are simply eager to leave class. Another portion, I assume, probably has to make it across campus for their next class. But what of the rest?

I ponder the thought for a moment, considering all variables that affect the average student's day-to-day life, before arriving, quite suddenly, at my conclusion.

It hits me like a punch to the gut. And then it twists, and it grumbles, and it growls, and it begs -- and I realize:

I'm hungry.

And so are they.

Now, I eat breakfast every morning (I think I've professed my undying love of cereal in the past), but something happens just before 11 almost every day. I just want something. Perhaps my stomach feels as if it desires a reward for sitting so patiently and politely through class? And honestly - if that's the case, who am I to deny it? So, every Monday and Wednesday, I stash a granola bar in my bag for that special time in the morning when hunger creeps up on me from behind and sucker punches me in the gut like a grade school bully.


And then I can fight back.

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By the way - the highlights for the Sweet Treats class I co-hosted on the TheMotherhood has been posted!

Granola Bars adapted from Alton Brown
These bars are crisp and have a tendency to flake thanks to the oats, but they are wonderfully chewy and just the thing I need to get me through the day. I'm going to cut the dried fruit down to one cup next time, but use your discretion for all the mix ins. This recipe is very adaptable, and also very resilient. Double wrap sliced bars in plastic wrap and store in the freezer, allowing to defrost before eating. Oh - and be sure to save the crumbs for yogurt! Makes 12.
Printable Recipe

2 c (180 g) old-fashioned or quick oats (not instant!)
1/2 c (118 ml) raw sunflower seeds
1 c (90 g) pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 c (118 ml) wheat germ,
1/2 c (120 ml) CranHoney
1/4 c (35 g) brown sugar
2 Tbls (28 g) butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c(184 g) dried fruit (I used a combination of cranberries, blueberries and raisins)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and line a 8 x 8 baking pan. Set aside.

Spread the oats, sunflower seeds, pecans and wheat germ on a baking sheet. Place in oven and toast for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, combine the honey, CranHoney, brown sugar, butter and salt in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the brown sugar has completely dissolved and remove from heat. Add the vanilla.

When the oat mixture is toasted, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300F. Pour the oats and dried fruit into the saucepan with the honey and mix to combine. Turn mixture out into your prepared 8 x 8 pan and press FIRMLY to even out the bars. Bake for 15 minutes and allow to cool completely on a rack.

Remove bars from pan and place on a cutting board. Cut in half for two 4 x 8 rectangles, then halve each piece for four 4 x 4 squares. Cut each square into 3 bars. Wrap each bar with plastic wrap and place in an airtight container. Freeze to maintain freshness, and take out a bar whenever you need a boost.

Sunday, March 13

Sweet - {Milky Ways}

The trip into town was a long one by bike, but D and I found ways to justify it. Without helmets or supervision, he and I peddled out there many times each summer, often in search of something sweet.

I can't remember how long it took us to reach that liquor store, but it seemed like hours. Which, now that I think about it, is probably largely due to the fact that I knew the road too well. Each curve and landmark we passed prompted visions of the ones that remained, leaving me eagerly counting them down to the last. There was that one tree, the hill with the sketchy guardrails - oh - and the house with the porch over the garage. The images seem fresh in my mind even now, but the clearest is that of the last. Excited over the thought of finally making it to our destination, I loved reaching the home stretch. That uncommonly straight bit of road edged on either side with a low-lying shrub and cattail-infested swamp. It was raised enough to offer up a nice view into town, flat enough to allow for serious speed and seemed like the finally attainable light at the end of the tunnel. I savored that stretch until the very end, comforted by its familiarity and meaning as it led D and straight onto the lone sidewalks of Main Street.


We were finally there, and I was ready to claim my prize.

D and I kicked the stands on our bikes as if to scare them into staying put and left the sidewalk behind for the cool interior of the shop. D, as I remember, headed straight for the candy cigarettes, Warheads and bubblegum, but I had different interests. With a pocket full of mixed change, I passed the numerous displays of candy and chose, instead, to explore the freezer case near the deli counter. I sorted through the cones and novelty treats (anyone else remember those nasty foot-shaped abominations on a stick?) quickly, standing on tip-toe to reach the box of over-sized popsicles in the back. They were all I ever wanted when we made it to town, and they were all I ever bought.

Truth be told, I've never thought of candy - particularly candy bars - as enticing. Although I do remember the last candy bar I ate (curse you and your candy bowl, H!), I can't remember the last one I bought. Even as a wee one during Halloween, I always found myself more excited about eating my Grandma's meatballs (the retro ones with the grape jelly - yum!) at the end of the night than eating a hole through the bag of sweets I had collected. So what's my beef? I think it's just a matter of practicality. If I'm going to spend money on something sweet, I want it to be interesting and refreshing - not weigh me down like a brick. Which, come to think of it, is really what a candy bar is, isn't it? There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but the chocolate on top of sugar on top of more sugar is just too much for me.


I appreciate it the work and thought that goes into it and even the idea behind it all, but... I'm not buying.

Anyway, with our selections in hand, D and I emptied our pockets for the cashier and went on our merry way. He with his package of who-knows-what crinkling between his fingers, and me with a popsicle the size of my arm fitted in my hand.

Those were the days.

Milky Ways
Even though I don't like candy bars, I couldn't stop myself from trying to recreate them at home. I think these are pretty accurate, and they're very good, but I could only handle a bite at a time!
Printable Recipe

Nougat slightly adapted from Cupcake Project

2 c (398 g) sugar
2/3 c (156 ml) corn syrup
2/3 c (156 ml) water
2 egg whites, room temp
2 oz (57 g) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1/8 tsp salt

Line and grease an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Put the sugar, corn syrup and water into a pan over medium-high heat and cook until the sugar dissolves, swirling the pan occasionally. Once the sugar has dissolved, stick a candy thermometer into the pan and cook, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 260F (127C).

Meanwhile, pour the egg whites into a non-plastic mixing bowl. When the sugar gets to 250F (121C), begin beating the egg whites on medium speed. You should get soft peaks.

When the sugar syrup reaches 260F, remove the pan from the heat. Turn the speed on the mixer up to high and slowly pour in the sugar syrup, being careful not to pour it on the beaters or on the side of the bowl. After all of the syrup has been incorporated, continue beating on high speed for about 5 minutes, or until the egg whites are shiny, white, and stiff.

Turn the mixer down to medium and add the melted chocolate and salt. Beat for about a minute, scrape down the sides of the bowl (the nougat will be very thick) and beat until smooth. Pour into you prepared pan and spread it into an even layer. Cover and allow to set at room temp overnight until completely set.

Once set, remove the nougat from the pan and cut it in half with an oiled knife, giving you two 4 x 8 pieces. Cut each half into eight slices, being careful to keep cut slices together because you will be putting them back in the pan. You will have 16 bars.

After cutting, line the pan again with parchment and oil the sides. Put the cut nougat back into the pan and set aside. Prepare caramel.

Caramel
This caramel is solid enough to handle, but it will run if left to set for an extended period of time. Because of this, it is important to dip the bars in chocolate as soon as you can after cutting them for a second time.

1/2 c (100 g) sugar
1/2 c (118 ml) corn syrup
1/4 c (59 ml) water
3 Tbls (43 g) butter, room temp
4 Tbls cream

Place the sugar, corn syrup and water in a medium pan. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally to help dissolve the sugar. Cook until the syrup is amber colored (however dark you'd like), then remove from heat and quickly whisk in the butter and cream, being careful as it bubbles up. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is no longer so hot that it will burn. Pour over cut nougat and allow to set 3-4 hours.

Remove caramel-covered nougat from the pan and peel away the parchment paper. Re-cut the bars by flipping the mass over, caramel side down, and cutting along the lines. Set aside, caramel side up, and prepare the chocolate for dipping.

Dipping

Cut bars
15-20 oz (425 - 567 g) chocolate or chocolate candy melts

Cut a sheet of parchment to set the dipped bars on. Set aside

Chop the chocolate (if using candy melts, don't worry about it) and place in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir frequently to melt evenly and prevent burning. Once the chocolate is completely melted, pour it into a dish suitable for dipping (I used a sandwich-size plastic container). Dip each of the bars individually using a fork to turn. Be sure to tap the handle of the fork multiple times on the side of the container to help thin the coating of chocolate. Place on parchment to set.

Store in an air-tight container at room temp.

Sunday, March 6

Slick - {Browned Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream}

In this onslaught of snow, the speed limit signs annotating the shoulders taunt me. Covered in thick, heavy snow, their displays of paired fives and zeros are obscured, much like the view five feet from my hood. I know how fast I could be driving down this winding road, but, considering the conditions, even the 35 mph that I'm cruising at seems excessive. I let off the gas, resisting the urge to tap my brakes, and ease the nose of my car into one of many curves that - in normal circumstances - make this road my most favorite of all to navigate.

But now, icy and rigid, it's more annoying than anything.


The once-smooth pavement, necessary for flying around the curves as I so love to do, is unfamiliar in these conditions: uneven and crackly under the tires. The contradicting giving and resisting of ice and snow cause subtle but jarring drifting, haphazardly corrected with twists to the left and right along with careful taps on the gas.

My knuckles, smartly buried in thick gloves, are, without doubt, white with strain.


The drifting makes me feel like I'm in a boat; continually cresting waves and endlessly waiting for the inevitable catch and subsequent fall of the troughs. I become more tense with each calculated twist of the steering wheel and strained rotation of the tires, waiting for something unexpected to come my way while maintaining a placid wide-eyed face. Ever on the lookout for trouble, I stay far from the shoulders and favor the center of the road, weaving precariously to the right only for hill-climbing and [increasingly rare] oncoming cars.

The trip was stressful and took significantly longer than normal, but after pulling into my driveway without any truly mentionable troubles to be told, I was left feeling accomplished. I have driven in bad weather before, of course, but last night really stuck out in my mind for some reason. Perhaps driving in such conditions isn't terribly impressive and isn't the best example for this thought, but I was happy simply to know that I'd been able to take care of myself. The fact that I'd done just fine without help is a part of growing up that I really like. Discovering that I can do so many things on my own without help or problem is extremely liberating.


I always look forward to figuring out what else I've got in me!

Browned Butter Cupcakes slightly adapted from The Little Red House
This is a dense cake with a delicately sweet taste. They're perfect for a crowd. Makes 2 dozen.
Printable recipe

1 c (237 g) butter
2 1/2 c (355 g) flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 c (397 g) sugar
4 eggs, room temp
1 c (237 ml) milk, warmed in the microwave for 20 seconds
1 tsp vanilla

Place the two sticks of butter in a pan with tall sides and melt over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until foaming lessens and dark brown flecks form in the bottom of the ban. Continue cooking and stirring until the butter itself has taken on a nice brown hue and smells nutty. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temp. This should result in 3/4 c (177 ml) of browned butter.

Preheat oven to 350F and prepare 2 cupcake tins with liners. Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat sugar and eggs until thickened, about a minute. Add milk, browned butter, and vanilla, stirring just until combined.

Add half of the dry mixture and beat until just combined. Repeat with the second half.

Divide batter amongst liners and bake for 18-22 minutes, until tops are springy to the touch or a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.

Cool tins on a rack for 2-3 minutes before carefully removing the cakes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate Buttercream via The Little Red House
This frosting is awesome because it's quick to make and it's not too sweet. Definitely a new favorite! Just as a note - it dries to an almost fudge-like texture.
Printable recipe

5 oz (142 g) good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger bittersweet)
1/2 c (118 g) butter, room temp
3 c (468 g) powdered sugar
2 Tbls baking cocoa
4-8 Tbls milk

Melt chocolate in a double boiler and allow to cool to room temperature. Beat in the butter until creamy, about a minute. Sift in half of the powdered sugar and all of the baking cocoa, then beat until thickened and mostly combined, adding 2 Tbls of milk to loosen. Add remaining sugar and beat until combined, adding up to 6 Tbls more of milk until desired frosting consistency is reached.
Slowly beat in milk 1TBS at a time until you reach desired consistency.

An Announcement: Cooking Connections

I cannot believe that I forgot to mention this in my post yesterday! I am really excited to share this announcement with you!

I’m co-hosting an upcoming class in the Web’s first-ever virtual cooking school, Cooking Connections, and I would love for you to participate! Here’s a little info about what's happening...

When: This Wednesday, March 9th, at 1 PM Eastern

Where: TheMotherhood. This is the link to the page where the class will be held, and you can find the registration page for the class here.

What: The class I am co-hosting is called “Sweet Treats,” and will be hosted by two very talented bloggers: Julie Mastbrook of Mommie Cooks and Kristen Doyle of Dine and Dish. They, along with us co-hosts, will be sharing our best resources for finding sweets, sweet snack suggestions and recipes for when we’re craving just a taste of sugar and dessert recipes with kid-friendly instructions so your children can help you whip up delicious creations!

The class is sponsored by ConAgra and hosted by TheMotherhood.

I truly hope to see you there! I feel that this is something you guys will really be interested in and I'm looking forward to chatting with you and the other hosts.

And who are these lovely co-hosts to which I keep referring?

Cheryl Sousan of Tidy Mom
Kristan Roland of Confessions of a Cookbook Queen
Bridget Edwards of Bake at 350
Monet Moutrie of Anecdotes and Apple Cores
Dennis Littley of More than a Mountfull
Kim Kopp of Quit Eating Out
Naomi Robinson of Bakers Royale
Robyn Stone of Add a Pinch
Rebecca Spivack of Let It Marinate
Cate O'Malley of Sweetnicks
Faith Gorsky of An Edible Mosaic

We'll all be together, this Wednesday (the 9th!), on this page, talking to YOU about sweets. Sounds wonderful, right?!?

Have a lovely week!