The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent…

The calendar says it’s Summer but the weather here is San Francisco is a little too brisk to even consider wearing shorts or running through the sprinklers.  I’m pretty used to it after spending four summers shivering through Fourth of July fireworks and craving heart soups instead of light salads while the rest of the country basks in sun.  But having spent my whole childhood sweating through 100 degree temps, hosing myself in the backyard and laying on top of the comforter listening to the hum of the air conditioner at night, I still find myself checking the weather expecting to see the optimistic sun graphic in the ten day forecast.

It’s around the end of June that I start craving real Summer.  I head down to Manteca to get my 15 minutes of relentless heat (all I can really handle before I’m pining for the cool breezes of SF) under the guise of visiting my parents.  I convince Roem to take a Zipcar across the Golden Gate to warmer pastures; intent on getting my monthly dose of Vitamin D.  Sometimes though, it all gets to be too much.  I need some time on a beach without wearing a sweatshirt.  I need the freckles across my nose to return in all their spotted glory from winter hibernation.  I need a good excuse to read trashy books without hiding them behind more studious covers.  I need sun in 12 hour cycles.

So last month, Roem and I discussed some possible summer destinations on our rather meager vacation budget.  I originally had my heart set on a European adventure but quickly decided that spending $1,500 a plane ticket for a 9 day trip just wouldn’t work for us.  Even with visions of freshly baked baguettes, runny stinky cheeses and glorious picnics in Provence, I couldn’t justify it.  We tend to budget our trips based on a daily price tag, so $3,000 in airfare over three months wouldn’t be inconceivable at $33 a day, but $333 a day is way over our daily price point.  Unfortunately, due to increased gas prices, extra flight surcharges and a decrease in capacity from the airlines, flights this Summer are more expensive than ever.

I am not a patient person by nature but I took a deep breath and waited. When you are working with a small budget, it’s never a good idea to have a single destination in mind because in the end your budget will pick the location.  So I compulsively checked airfarewatchdog.com for possible sales and read every blog online looking for deals.  I included previously dismissed locations like Hawaii, the Carribean and even a few locations within the continental US.  And finally a few weeks ago, I came across cheap tickets to Mexico that were $450 inclusive of taxes and fees bringing us to a reasonable $100 per day flight budget.

Street food near the bus station in Playa del Carmen.

You may recall that last year for our honeymoon, we traveled to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.  The only destination we traveled to in Mexico on that trip was Playa del Carmen and, while beautiful, it wasn’t really our style.  It was perfect for our relaxing, luxurious honeymoon but we still yearned for the more authentic side of Mexico we only caught glimpses of during that trip.  For this trip, we consulted the well traveled foodies over at Tacolicious for some advice.  They showered us with recommendations for beautiful guest houses, amazing resturants and great off the beaten track attractions.  It wasn’t long before our flight into Mexico City and out of Puerto Vallarta was booked for the first week of July.

Our itinerary will include a few days in Mexico City, then a bus to San Miguel de Allende, another bus to Guanajuato, and an overnight bus to Puerto Vallarta with our final destination being Sayulita.  It’s a full itinerary but with our main objective being to stuff our faces with as many street tacos, fresh seafood and authentic mole as we can find, I think we will be in good shape (or not, based on aforementioned taco consumption).  So any thoughts/suggestions/admonishments for us?  Have you been to these locations?  And most importantly, where do you recommend we eat?

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Casa (hold the) Saltshaker

Let me start by saying, do not trust Google Maps with directions to Casa Saltshaker.  The email confirming your reservation gives you precise instructions to the apartment where you will be dining, so please make a note of it.  Otherwise you will end up across town at a dead end street in a scary alley on a barely lit sidewalk looking to place blame on your partner when you are already 15 minutes late.  And catching a cab in this desolate part of the city is hit or miss, mostly miss in our case.  You’ve been warned.

We finally arrived in Recoleta, sweaty, harried and stressed.  Roem squeezed my hand on the way in and I squeezed back, our apologies offered and accepted before walking into a room of strangers.  The rest of the diners were gathered on the patio, drinking complimentary cocktails with freshly squeezed juice with nicely balanced acidity and just the hint of vodka on the back of your throat.  I took a gulp of mine before I acknowledged the other diners standing in an awkward throng, nervously smiling and haltingly asking one another questions at all the wrong intervals so their voices overlapped.

I felt a twinge of nervousness as Roem and I jumped into socializing, determined to bring this awkward dinner party together.  It was an eclectic group of people from all over the world, mostly English-speaking couples.  One thing I’ve heard is not to attend a closed door restaurant expecting to meet Argentinians, most likely you will meet other travelers like yourself.  This was definitely the case at Casa Saltshaker and we were surrounded by American and Australian accents.

The night was seasonably warm with a light breeze and it was a nice treat to sit out on a veranda and relax.  The apartment was very small but filled with eclectic international treasures, beautiful art and overstuffed bookcases with literature, cookbooks and magazines.  My innate curiosity was definitely satiated – I even saw Argentinean toothpaste and soaps in the bathroom.  The place looked lived in and the kitchen looked a lot like our rented BA apartment.

As we moved to the dining room for dinner I noticed there were two table set up: a long one with 8 seats and a smaller, child-like table for four.  I caught Roem’s eye and we made a beeline for the larger table as we saw this slightly obnoxious Irish couple commandeer the smaller one.  All the guests seem to be very interested in food and wine, but no one was particularly snobby about either.  The couple across from us were the stereotypical and much maligned American travelers.  They talked too loud, swilled wine with the wrong course, and discussed Argentineans with a slightly condescending tone.  When the only Argentinian in the room sloshed coffee onto the husband’s arm at the end of dinner, he caught my eye and we shared a private smile.

Photo from Casa Saltshaker found here.

The menu celebrated Morocco’s Day of Independence and used Argentinian ingredients with spicy and elusive Moroccan influences.  Our first course was composed of two salads. The first had fava beans sauteed with garlic, cumin, lemon and sprinkled with cilantro and the second contained grilled eggplant and bell peppers lightly sauteed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, chili pepper and some other Morrocan spices that gave it some warm heat.  Argentinian food tends to be mild and very lighlty spiced so this bold and dynamic dish was a welcome treat and the fava beans were a burst of spring in the middle of November for this North American girl.  The two salads were plated on a long dish and were served fresh, homemade pita bread that soaked up the flavors and had a lovely chewy bite.

The first course was served with Codorniu Maria Brut Rosado which is a light, crisp sparkling wine from Spain that tastes of freshly ripened berries with a heady nose of strawberries.  The bubbles are not too aggressive which lets you really taste the dry, fruity grapes without the sharp stinging carbonation that sometimes ruins pink champagne for me.  It paired nicely with the char on the eggplant and the fresh, bright, complex chew of the fava beans.

Photo from Casa Saltshaker found here.

The second course was a chunky chickpea soup that had pieces of celery, onion and tomatoes in the  fragrant broth with rich spices like ginger and turmeric complete with a sprinkle of cilantro and parsley.  Unfortunately, the soup was a bit disappointing with overcooked chickpeas and thinly flavored stock.  It really didn’t have that kick I was hoping for and the texture was off for me.  I really missed the richly balanced, spicy and sour flavor that I crave from Moroccan food.  The soup was paired with A Chardonnay/Viognier blend from Mendoza’s Cuyo Valley that is aged in both oak and stainless steel.  The wine was a light straw color with a fruit forward nose and a tart, dry mouthfeel that develops over the palate as a crisp, bright wine with staying power.  It cut through the mildly bland soup with bravado and really brightened the acid in the dish and enhanced the smoky spices.

The third dish was a vegetable based couscous that looked beautiful on the plate with vibrant onions, carrots, and

Photo from Casa Saltshaker found here.

fennel with plump golden raisin over a nice bed of perfectly cooked couscous.  The vegetables were well cooked and retained some of their crunch in the light, tomato based sauce rich with cumin, cloves, paprika and turmeric.  There was a hint of cinnamon on the back of your throat, perfectly balanced with the more savory elements of lemon, garlic and salt.  The dish was finished with the raisins, some glistening yellow butter for richness and a sprinkle of crunchy almonds that added texture.  The dish tasted good, it was well balanced and flavorful, but I think the spices were still in the background.  It tasted more like something I would make at home with my Americanized Moroccan spice mix and wasn’t something that left me wanting more.  The dish was saved from being ordinary with the thick smear of the hot, spicy harissa paste on the side.

The couscous dish was paired with a Rosé de Sangiovese from the Esmeralda “Rodas Collection” that was bright and fruity but a little thin when the couscous was mixed with the harissa paste.  I really wanted a wine with more body and heft, with maybe a little fruit and bright minerality to elevate the couscous to amazing, but the rosé just didn’t do it for me.

Photo from Casa Saltshaker found here.

The main course was a predictable tagine that is synonymous with Moroccan food and can be sublime.  The seasoning and flavors in the mini tagine was really rich, dynamic and haunting.  You could taste the heat and cinnamon in the back of your throat and it was so good, I really wanted to drink the liquid.  The beautiful pieces of homemade, preserved lemons was the highlight of the dish, perfectly tart and salty with the bright lemon sluicing through the rich sauce and making it sing.

I would have loved to have this tagine with some perfectly cooked lamb or chicken, but it was prepared with fish instead.  I love fish, but the handling of the beautiful fresh fillet was heavy.  It was over marinated, tough and lacked that elusive, tender texture that would have made this tagine amazing.  I ate around the fish and still thoroughly enjoyed the sauce.  The tagine was paired with Lamadrid Bonarda, a varietal I had never tasted before but will definitely look for again.  The Bonarda was rich and spicy with a balanced mouthfeel that tasted of concentrated fruit and mineral notes.  It was perfection with the preserved lemons and the other bright notes of the tangine.

For dessert, we had zucre coco, which translates to coconut sugar.  It was crunchy, crumbly, sand-like sugar cooked

Photo from Casa Saltshaker found here.

down with dulce de leche and coconut.  I love dessert, but even I found the dish to be overly sweet and the texture somewhat off putting.  It was mealy in your mouth before it dissolved and paired with the whipped cream, it just disappeared. The candied kumquat was a nice bitter accompaniment but still couldn’t save the lackluster dish.  Thankfully the course was served with a superb dessert wine from Las Moras that was richly sweet with honeyed notes and a slow burn of minerally alcohol that was completely satisfying after the rich meal.  I was perfectly happy with my glass of dessert wine and skipped the french pressed, lukewarm coffee.

Overall, I think we should have made a different decision when it came to the Closed Door restaurants in Buenos Aires. We chose the staid, well known, and highly reviewed Casa Saltshaker, when we should have opted for one more off the beaten tracks.  The Chef, Dan, was really a lovely person and was cordial and welcoming but it just wasn’t adventurous enough.  I can safely say the rest of the guests had a wonderful time and really enjoyed the food.  I think our expectations were really high and coming from San Francisco, any ethnic food we consumed was probably going to be a bit disappointing.  The other guests weren’t really reflective of the  scrappy, adventurous, up for anything travelers we see ourselves as and it was difficult to relate to them in a real way.

Have any of you tried a Closed Door Restaurant?  What were your thoughts?

 

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Shh! Closed Door Restaurants in Buenos Aires

As a innately curious person, closed door restaurants have always intrigued me with their invite-only reservations and access to private homes.  I love dinner parties, but having hosted my own share of them, I know how much work they are for the hosts.  I love to be invited over for dinner, but I always feel a little bad unless I’m helping serve dinner or sudsing up in the kitchen after dessert.  A closed door restaurant bypasses my sense of guilt and I can enjoy the purely decadent sense of being served cocktails on the patio, eating off someone’s home dishes and browsing their bookshelf when no one is looking.

Buenos Aires is known for their closed door dining scene.  In Argentina, they are called puertas cerradas or “restaurants with closed doors” and they are exploding onto the food scene.  Some are even included in popular guidebooks like Casa Saltshaker, one of the most prominent in Buenos Aires and whose website has a directory of other puertas cerrados in the area and around the world.  Others are mere rumors on travelers lips, not to be discussed unless you know the right people and are willing to pay top dollar for the privilege.  There are also more casual establishments that cater to friends of friends with off duty chefs experimenting with new recipes.

In a city known for its culinary extravagances, dining at a closed door restaurant can be considerably more expensive than a nice steak house or intimate Italian restaurant.  For us, that meant we would have one chance to experience this phenomonan in order to stay on our budget which included priorities such as wine and alajores every day.

The problem was, if I was going to go to one closed door restaurant during my stay in Buenos Aires, I wanted it to be the very best one.  For me, that meant an eclectic, menu that was reflective of the locale, a well edited wine list with some bottles that were unique, and an interesting guest list.  I looked at reviews all over the internet and settled on a short list including:

Casa Saltshaker – The most well known closed door restaurant in Buenos Aires.  By no means exclusive, it is well regarded and the chef, Dan Perlman,  is a highly regarded food writer and reviewer on his website.  He offers a five-course tasting menu which changes daily and is often inspired by historical events.

Casa Felix –  This is another well-regarded closed-door restaurant. The chef, Diego Felix, is internationally acclaimed and offers a five-course tasting menu for up to 12 people every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.  The food is centered around pescetarian cuisine and is reported to be fantastic. Guests are greeted with a complimentary welcoming cocktail on arrival.

La Cocina Discreta – This highly regarded restaurant is sophisticated and sleek, attracting urbane, intelligent travelers from all around the world.  The food is modern without being too experimental and uses exceptional Argentinean ingredients to make classic dishes with flavorful and adventurous twists.

I did not consider Casa Sunae in my first round, but in hindsight, it would have been an excellent choice.   The chef prepares “fiery curries, fresh herbs and exotic spices” that are rumored to be excellent.  This is the place to go when you don’t think you can stomach one more richly marbled, Argentinean steak, huge plate of steaming pasta or lightly seasoned, mildly spiced dishes.

I had narrowed down our choices to include Casa Saltshaker and Casa Felix.  I was pretty set on the latter until the former emailed me to say two seats had opened up that very evening.  My impatience got the best of me and I decided then and there that we would be attending the Moroccan themed meal.

Next up: We get horribly lost, fight and end up a half an hour late to one of the most bizarre experiences in BA.

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The Devil’s in the Details

For Roem’s birthday this year, I had been clipping cupcakes recipes since about December.  He isn’t one of those people that prefer carrot cake or exclusively chocolate flavors; he appreciates cake in all its forms but just doesn’t like anything too “sweet”.  These parameters make it a little hard for me to narrow down the contenders and I found myself vacillating between pink salt and pink pepper cupcakes from Chockylit, an old favorite from Smitten Kitchen or Chocolate Malt Ball Cupcakes from How To Eat a Cupcake.  So basically I couldn’t make a bad decision, but I was having trouble narrowing it down.

Picture from the Wednesday Chef found here.

That was until I read the Wednesday Chef’s beautifully written post about the shimmering memory of an unexpected cupcake.  I was transported by her description of this richly flavored, lightly sweetened, decadently simple Devil’s food cupcake with a surprise ball of light and airy whipped cream filling.  The cupcakes were elegant and chic in their minimalist glory under a glossy layer of ganache.  The recipe was just complicated enough to challenge me with its three bowl preparation, irregular measurements, and chocolate dipping.  The addition of buttermilk in the cake makes it beautifully rich with a light and tender crumb and the frosting technique is nearly foolproof (just don’t throw out the extra ganache because you may smudge one and curse the extra chocolate running down the drain).

The reviews from the birthday party attendees, random guys at the bar and my husband were all glowing and the cupcakes looked as good as they tasted.  They weren’t too sweet, were wonderfully rich and decadent and were reminiscent of a childhood favorite, Hostess Cupcakes.   All in all, I’d say it was success!

Karen DeMasco’s Devil’s Food Cupcakes

You will have extra ganache and whipped cream – please don’t panic.  Grab some vanilla ice cream and make a sundae.  You’re welcome.

For the cupcakes: 
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup cake flour
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners, if you have more than one 12-cup muffin tin. Otherwise line a standard 12-cup muffin with liners and then line small ramekins (if you have them) for the remaining batter.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the cocoa powder and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water to form a paste; set aside.

3. In another bowl, sift together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the brown sugar with the butter on medium speed until they are well combined with no pieces of butter visible. Add the cocoa paste, making sure to use a spatula to get all the cocoa paste into the mixer bowl. Once this is well combines, add the egg and egg yolk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. In three additions each, add the buttermilk and vanilla extract, alternating with the flour mixture.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them 3/4 full. Bake, rotating the tins halfway through, until the cupcakes spring back to the touch and a tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out mostly clean, 20-25 minutes. Invert the cupcakes onto a wire rack, turn them top side up, and let them cool completely.

For the cream filling:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. To make the filling, combine the cream, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed to soft peaks, about 4 minutes. Put the cream into a pastry bag fitted with a small piping tip. Using a paring knife, make a small cut in the bottom of each cupcake, through the paper, to insert the tip of the pastry bag. Insert the tip of the pastry bag about 1 1/2 inches into a cupcake. Gently squeeze the bag while holding the fingers of your other hand over the top of the cupcake. When you feel a slight pressure on the top of the cupcake, stop filling. Repeat with each cupcake.

For the ganache:
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (optional; I didn’t use this)

1. To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a small mixing bowl. Combine the cream and the corn syrup, if using, in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate right away, and stir slowly until all of the chocolate melts and the ganache is silky and shiny.

2. Carefully dip the top of each cupcake in the ganache, tapping gently to remove the excess. Return the cupcakes to the wire rack to let the glaze set up, at least 30 minutes.

3. The cupcakes can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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Birthdays, Breakfast and Biscuits

My Dad looking on about my first birthday at our cabin.

My whole family makes a big deal out of birthdays and we have been known to celebrate Birthday weekends, weeks and even whole months.  We have traditions that are followed every year like a special breakfast of waffles, whipped cream and strawberries and opening gifts at the exact moment you were born.  Of course my sister who was born in the wee hours of dawn follows this rule while I fudge a little considering my evening arrival time.

When Roem and I first started dating, I think he was a little overwhelmed at my birthday ardor.  I asked him weeks beforehand what he wanted to do and what special meals we would celebrate his birthday with.  He would wrinkle his brow and say, “Uh whatever you

Roem turning one with his adorable mom.

want to make; I don’t really care”.  Confused, I would make him the infamous waffles with strawberries and wake him up at 6am to open presents.  He never really seemed to embrace these traditions as he picked at the waffles he later told me, “seemed like dessert” and blearily unwrapped gifts he was barely awake enough to appreciate.

This year, I decided to try to be more laid back about the whole affair.  When he told me he didn’t really care what we did, I gave him a choice between two of his favorite bars where we could meet up with some friends.  I made reservations at a cool restaurant he had mentioned wanting to try and slept in after he rolled out of bed to go on a run.  We’re working out our own traditions and it seems to center around good food and drink, elaborate cupcakes, homemade cards, the company of great friends and a general gratitude we are celebrating another year of life together.

The one thing Roem has weighed in on this year, has been his birthday breakfast.  He said, in no uncertain terms, he would like to enter this new year of life with biscuits and gravy in his belly.  We usually eat pretty healthy diets over here at the WPP household but special occasions require the occasional treat.  And really, there is nothing better than Southern breakfast to celebrate being yet another year older and wiser.

I love making breakfast at home because it’s an economical alternative to a restaurant, especially when I know my breakfast will be just as good.  Maybe even better, when you count in my Blue Bottle coffee brewed with my new Chemex, which runs about $4 a cup elsewhere in the city.  Plus it’s an excuse to stay in your pajamas a little longer, open a few birthday presents and share an illicit cupcake.

Happy Birthday my love!

Biscuits

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425°F. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Using fingertips, rub 3/4 cup chilled butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and stir until evenly moistened. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and gently turn dough over itself a few times until the dough holds together and the dough is about 1 inch thick.  Using a biscuit cutter each biscuit, cut biscuit rounds and place onto a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm.

Southern Gravy

  • One 12-ounce tube bulk pork sausage
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, breaking it up as it cooks into small pieces until well browned about 7 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour over the sausage and cook until flour is completely incorporated, about 4 minutes.

Pour the milk into the skillet and bring the gravy to a boil while stirring gently. Lower the heat and simmer for about 2 minutes and season with pepper.

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If you cooked the gravy while the biscuits were cooling then everything should be ready around the same time.  I usually scramble a few eggs to serve with the already decadent breakfast.   Split the biscuits in half and top each biscuit with some of the gravy and serve immediately.

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Homemade snacks: Marshmallows

For me, the first real sign of Spring isn’t the warm weather, the blooming flowers or even the tiny, baby animals. Living in San Francisco, these are all fickle signs of the weather anyhow.   No, it never truly feels like Spring until the first time I pop in to Walgreens and see a whole aisle dedicated to Spring’s most glorious contribution: Easter Candy.  It’s only then that I really know that Winter is on its way out and sunshiny days are in the future.

I don’t eat much candy anymore, but I still feel a nostalgic pull towards the robin’s eggs in pastel colors you could lick before applying the candy shell as lipstick.   The Styrofoam cartons of chocolate covered marshmallow eggs and cheap chocolate bunnies with sugar button eyes call out to me too.  I steer clear of these now due to their being filled with nasty dyes, hydrogenated oils and other fillers, but I still miss them.  The one thing I always do allow myself is one Cadbury egg because it just wouldn’t feel like Easter without them.   That was before I saw this recipe for Cadbury Brownies and not I’m not sure they are safe around me anymore.

Find the recipe here.

I decided to avert disaster and take on a less sinful treat that still had all the sugar I craved and also heralded the changing of the seasons.  I made beautiful, fluffy marshmallows and every bite into their soft interior through their fine layer of sugar dust reminds me of overflowing Easter baskets and egg hunts.  Even if you’re not a marshmallow fan, give this recipe a try and I promise you’ll be a convert to the real thing.

Vanilla Marshmallows

Tools:
9×13 baking pan
4-quart sauce pan
candy thermometer
standing mixer with a wire whisk attachment

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons (usually 3 packets) unflavored gelatin powder
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup corn syrup
pinch salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Grease your entire baking pan and sprinkle a fine layer of powdered sugar on the bottom and all sides.

To bloom the gelatin, measure the gelatin powder into your mixer bowl.  Combine the water and vanilla in a measuring cup and pour this over the gelatin while whisking gently with a fork. Continuing stirring until there are no more large lumps.

Combine the water, corn syrup, salt, and sugar in a sauce pan stirring to incorporate the ingredients. Place this over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, do not stir.  Cover the pan for 2 minutes once the mixture is at a boil so the steam can wash the sides and the sugar won’t crystallize.

Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the sauce pan and continue boiling until the sugar mixture reaches 250°F.

With the mixer on medium speed, gently and carefully pour the hot sugar syrup into the bowl with the gelatin. The mixture may foam up – just go slowly and carefully. When all the syrup has been added, whip for 10-12 minutes, until it looks like glossy meringue.

When you’re finished mixing, lower the speed to medium and lift the whisk partway out of the bowl so it spins off as much marshmallow mix as possible. Using a spatula, scrape the marshmallow mixture into the pan. This stuff is very thick and sticky, so don’t worry about getting every last bit out of the bowl.

Wet your fingers and smooth the top so it’s even. Let the mixture sit out uncovered for 12-15 hours to set and cure.

Marshmallow Coating
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch

Combine the powdered sugar and cornstarch in a bowl.

Sprinkle the top of the cured marshmallows with powdered sugar mix and turn them out onto your work surface. USing your fingers, gently pry the marshmallows from the pan. Sprinkle more powdered sugar mixture over the top.

Using a sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut the marshmallows into squares. It helps to dip your knife in water every few cuts. Toss each square in the powdered sugar mix so all the sides are evenly coated.

Marshmallows will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several weeks. Leftover marshmallow coating can be stored in a sealed container indefinitely.

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Homemade Snacks: Kale Chips

One of my favorite packaged snacks.

Our continued quest to reduce packaging and waste has been largely successful here in the WPP household, but there are a few things I miss from time to time.  One is salty, savory snacks that come laden with flavor (and sodium) and are usually the first thing I reach for after a long day at the office.  I like things that crunch and have lots of flavor that pair well with an icy, crisp and refreshing beer.

I’m not completed deprived though, as Roem fulfills my request for warm, freshly fried tortilla chips from the restaurant where he works at least twice a week.  I love the chips, but my ardor is dampened when I see the grease leaking through the paper bag after a

day or so.  I realized what I needed was an easy go to snacks that was crispy and satisfying, but not completely calorically deficient.

I had come across a few kale chip recipes about the time I unpacked the 8th bundle of kale in as many weeks from my CSA box.  I had already stir fried it, added it to stews and baked layers into a vegetable lasagna, but I swear it was multiplying.  The first time I attempted the chips, the kale was limp and soggy with just a few crispy curly tendrils.  I realized the key to this snack was starting with really dry kale, that was then lightly oiled and abundantly seasoned.  Feel free to add in some spicy chili paste, ancho chili powder, curry seasoning or anything else you want to experiment with to taste.

Kale Chips

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt

Directions

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
  2. With a knife or kitchen shears, chop the thicker stem off towards the bottom of the bunch.  Tear the remaining leaves into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.
  3. Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 15 to 20 minutes.
These kale chips are the perfect mindless snack that is actually good for you.  I promise, you will even convert those that look at kale chips as an abomination to all others carrying the “chips” name.  They are light and crispy with good flavoring and their only drawback is they aren’t sturdy enough for dip.
Quick Tip: Stick a few kale chips in your food processor or spice grinder to make a really elegant dusting powder for popcorn, mashed potatoes or the beginnings of a crust for grilled meat.
Next Up: Homemade Corn Nuts

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