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April 2, 2011 / laughinglivingloving

Little Lemon Meringues

I discovered the fabulous blog Food In Jars two weeks ago, and decided that this year, I want to start canning pickles and jams and jellies and all sorts of yummy things.  After happening on some good looking Meyer Lemons at the co-op, I started with her recipe for Lemon Curd, and was beyond excited when I finished and heard the seals on the jars pop!  I opened the first jar this morning and had some on my yogurt.  Ah, yum.

In case you didn’t click through to the recipe, lemon curd takes six egg yolks.  Which left me with six egg whites in need of a purpose.  Enter Joy the Baker.  Meringues!  How could I have not thought of it?  When I started making homemade ice cream last summer meringues were one of my favorite things to make with the leftover whites, but I never thought to add lemon zest.

I’m SO glad I found Joy.

Meringues!

Pile o' meringues

For the meringues, you need:

2 egg whites

pinch of salt

2/3 c sugar

zest of one lemon

1 teaspooon vanilla

Place the racks in the center and upper third of your oven and preheat to 200°.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Start with the eggwhites in the bowl of your stand mixer, using the whisk attachment.  Beat at medium speed until the whites get foamy.  Add your pinch of salt and turn the speed to medium high.  Gradually add the sugar and let the whites whip until you get firm peaks – with my stand mixer, it takes six to seven minutes.  If you’re using a hand mixer, it will probably take closer to ten minutes.  Then fold in your lemon zest and vanilla.  Using a piping bag or a small spoon, make your cookies using about 1tsp of the white mixture per cookie.  Cookies won’t spread or puff while baking, so you can place them close together, but try not to let them touch.  I used a piping bag with a star tip, but I have less than stellar piping skills and the pattern didn’t really last.  I got around 50 cookies out of my batch.

Bake cookies for two hours at 200°.  Yes, two hours.  The low and slow baking allows the meringues to cook all the way through and get dry and crumbly (desired in this case) without burning.  Allow to cool on the pans.  They should peel right off the parchment.  Keep in dry, airtight storage, if you can keep from gobbling them all up in one sitting.  Not that I did that, or anything close to that.

Joy suggests sandwiching two of these together and filling it with lemon curd.  I tried lemon curd as well as raspberry jam, and while delicious, it was more work than I wanted and it would complicate storing them.  But I certainly recommend giving it a try as you’re working through the batch.  You know, one or two at a time.  Not the whole thing at once.

March 30, 2011 / laughinglivingloving

Motivation

Or, the lack thereof.  Seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately.

For the second year in a row, I am training for the Broad Street Run, a 10 mile race in Philadelphia the first weekend in May.  Prior to beginning training last year, I had never been a runner.  Oh sure, I did track one year in Junior High because my mom forced me to.  But I threw shot, so I got out of most of the running.  And I had to do running drills for various other sports teams, but I never ran just to run.  When we had to run a mile for gym class, the other girls and I walked it.  I was always the slow one on the basketball court (but man could I scrap for the ball – there was a reason my 6th grade coach nicknamed me Bruiser).

I can’t recall how I found out about Team Philly last year, but suddenly running didn’t seem like such an awful idea.  I decided to prove to myself and to anyone else that I could do it.  I have a bunch of friends who have always waxed poetic about running, how it clears their heads, keeps them in shape, and somehow just seemingly makes them better people (my words, not theirs).  I wanted to see what this was all about.  I knew the opportunity to train with a coach, and as part of a team, would go a long way in helping me stick with it and not injure myself.  And it worked!  I made it through nine weeks of training, and when I finished my ten miles in just under two hours and twenty minutes, I cried as I crossed the finish line.  It was an amazing sense of accomplishment.

Fast forward to this year.

Somehow, I just can’t get motivated to keep up with the training like I did last year.  It’s so much easier to say, oh, I’ll just do that short run tomorrow, I have x, y and z I want to get done tonight.  And then tomorrow comes, and it’s the same story.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still training.  I’d be an idiot not to, after I paid my Team Philly membership, my race entry fee and bought my new running shoes.  But the drive isn’t there.  Something’s missing, and I’m not sure what.  Is it that I don’t have to prove it anymore?  I did it last year, I know I can do it.  I set two goals for this year’s race: to run the whole 10 without stopping to walk, and to finish under two hours.  I want to be motivated.  I just can’t seem to find it.

It’s spilling over into other areas of my life too.  It has been so hard to be productive at work for the last few weeks.  At first, I blamed it on the weather getting quite warm, and all I wanted to do was be outside.  The next week, I could blame it on the gross, cold, wet, drizzly weather all week.  But now?  It’s still sticking around, and it bothers me.  While I’m not crazy busy right now, I certainly have plenty of things I can get done.  But it’s so much more fun to play on facebook, or read forums that I follow, and look up new yummy recipes and food blogs.  I’ve done better the last two days, but it has really been a struggle.

At home, everything is piling up around me.  I have ridiculous back-issues of magazines because I have too many subscriptions and not enough time.  My laundry sits in the basket, clean, until I’ve worn pretty much everything out of it.  Shoes are alllll over the place.  Dishes are piling up in the sink (I did a round tonight, loaded up the drying rack til it couldn’t hold any more, and the sink is STILL full!  How does that happen?).  Water glasses cover the end tables and coffee table.  And let’s not get started on the dust bunnies that seem to be multiplying like, well, rabbits.

I am hopeful.  I recognize that this is a problem, and I want to be better.  I want to be more productive, I want to get things done.  Now I just have to get the motivation to fix my motivation problem.

March 23, 2011 / laughinglivingloving

Heaven, in two bites

Chocolate DippedBeer Flavored. Homemade.  MARSHMALLOWS!

Finished Mallows, sitting on the counter, waiting for chocolate to set

Adapted from: The Kitchn

This makes a small batch. It could probably be doubled easily, you’d just want to use a 8×8 or 9×9 pan instead of a loaf pan. This also makes a much denser marshmallow than I’ve made before, and I think it’s because it doesn’t have egg whites in it. I’d like to try another batch incorporating the egg whites to see how that changes things. I also want a try a batch with a better dipping chocolate, as I feel like this one is a little too thick and sweet, but I used the candy pieces I had on hand. Still delicious!

First, let a beer of your choice go flat. You can open it and leave it sit out til it goes flat on its own, or be impatient like me and use an immersion blender with a whisk attachment in it every 10 minutes or so over the course of a couple of hours. I don’t recommend using anything hoppy here – a nice dark, chocolate-y, coffee-y stout will be delicious. I used Sam Adam’s Chocolate Bock, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how much the flavor comes through. It’s really, really important that the beer is flat, or darn close to it.

Lightly oil the bottom and sides of a loaf pan and dust with powdered sugar til it’s thoroughly coated. Shake off excess powdered sugar.

Mix 1/3 cup (2.5oz) of the flat beer and 2t vanilla extract. Pour over 1 1/2 T (just under .5oz) of unflavored gelatin in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk by hand a few times around to get the lumps out. Leave it to bloom while you get the syrup ready.

In a large saucepan combine 1/4 cup (2oz) flat beer, 1/2 cup + 2T (5oz) light corn syrup, 3/4 cup (6oz) granulated sugar and a pinch of salt. You’ll need some kind of candy thermometer – a clip on one is best, but you can use a probe or an instant read as well, your hand might just get a little warm over the boil. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. It’s going to foam. A lot. Keep an eye so it doesn’t boil over. When the thermometer reads between 225° and 230°, let it boil for about another five minutes. The temp should reach 240°-250° – don’t let it go over 250°.

Put the whisk attachment on your mixer, and turn the speed on low. Very, very carefully pour the sugar mixture slowly down the side of the bowl. When all the mixture is in, turn the speed to high and let it whip for 8-10 minutes. It should get thick and glossy, like a meringue. It will still look sticky as it thickens – because it is. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Do NOT try to scrape all of the mixture out of the bowl. Marshmallow is sticky, dangerous stuff and it will get EVERYWHERE. If you are going to attempt to scrape it, use a silicone spatula preferably coated with a bit of vegetable oil.

Give the mixture about a minute to settle into the pan (give it a little wiggle to help it along, if you’re impatient like me), and dust the top with powdered sugar. Leave it out, uncovered – or if your house is like mine and that’s not an option, lay a paper towel loosely over the top – for approximately 12 hours (I left mine out for closer to 24 and it was just fine). After it’s set, run a small knife around the edges and turn it out onto the cupboard or a cutting board. You might have to pry it out a bit – don’t be scared, just don’t use a sharp knife to do it. I use a butter knife. Now get out your long, sharp knife, and dust it with a bit of powdered sugar. Cut the marshmallow brick into cubes; I got I think 18 cubes a bit over an inch on each side. The easiest way is to set the knife on top and press straight down – do NOT try to saw back and forth. You’ll just make a mess. If you find the knife sticking, dust a little more powdered sugar on. Toss the cubes in more powdered sugar until all sides are coated, and shake off the excess.

Melt milk chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave. Don’t overheat the chocolate or it will seize, i.e. what chocolate does when it dies. If the chocolate feels a little thick, stir in 1t of vegetable oil. Dip the top half of each marshmallow in the chocolate, letting the excess drip off. You can try coating the whole marshmallow, but it gets a little unwieldy and I feel like the chocolate gets overwhelming. Set on wax paper, marshmallow side down, to let the chocolate harden.

Voilà!

Heaven in two bites. One if you've got a big mouth!

March 19, 2011 / laughinglivingloving

The Snot Test

I have always been a seasonal allergies suffer-er.  I remember going to sleepaway camp, loaded with antihistamines to unload on the nurse when I got there.  Suffering through softball games on a diamond next to a field in August.  At age 10, not really understanding why it felt like my face might explode off the rest of my head.  To be fair, I had it a lot better than the girl up the street who had to go get shots every week and couldn’t play outside for a couple months out of the year because her eyes would swell up like grapefruits.

They say your body cycles every seven to nine years, and your tastes might change, you might go from being an early bird to a night owl, and even your allergies might change.  It makes sense to me, as once I aged into high school, the allergies seemed to subside a bit, only requiring over-the-counter treatment instead of prescription.

Then.

The summer I turned 21 (a multiple of seven, I will point out), I moved to Louisville, KY for the summer, to work that season for Kentucky Shakespeare Festival.  What I was painfully unaware of is that the Ohio River Valley is apparently one of the worst places in the nation for those with seasonal allergies.  I had been there about three days when I called my mom, convinced I was so sick I was going to die.  And without missing a beat, the first thing she said to me when I stopped to take a breath in between whines was “What color is your snot?”

I was taken aback.  “I don’t know, mother, I’m not in the habit of looking at my tissue after I pull it away from my nose.”  I was disgusted.  I mean really, what could this possibly have to do with anything?  Was she trying to distract me from thinking about dying?  Why on earth was she curious about the color of my snot?

“Well, if it’s green or yellow, you’re sick.  If it’s clear, it’s allergies.”

This floored me.  I had never heard of such a thing before.  So I put mom on hold while I went to blow my nose.  (I probably didn’t actually put her on hold, I probably just dropped the phone, so she had to listen to my snot honking.  Sorry mom.)  “It’s clear!  I’m not dying!”  I was elated.

Mom, while happy for me, was understandably less enthusiastic.  This was common knowledge for her.  “Great.  Get yourself to the drug store and pick up some allergy medicine.  You’ll be fine.  Call me later.”  I rushed out to Target, probably without even pulling a brush through my hair, picked up the brand mom recommended (after all, she was a GENIUS in my eyes at this point), and within three days I was back to normal.

I still bring up this conversation with my mom every so often.  Whenever I start to feel sniffly, I do the snot test.  And of course, I have to let her know the results.

“Great.  This is my legacy to my children.  The snot test.  I’m so honored.”

Sadly, I failed the snot test this morning. Time to go call mom.

March 14, 2011 / laughinglivingloving

Welcome!

Welcome to my little corner of the internet!  I’ll be using this space to track and show you some projects – training to run a 10 mile race, brewing (and drinking) beer, various baking and cooking experiments, craft projects, and anything else that might be catching my interest at the moment.  All are welcome here, but spam/hate/other ignorant comments will NOT be tolerated.  I have no patience for trolls.  Please share your feedback, and your results if you try a project you see here!