Some Things Seem So Easy

Do you ever think of things that seem so easy, but when you try them they thwart you at every turn?  Yeah, me too. I had seen this recipe for making marshmallow peeps awhile back and wanted to try them –I think I was going to try Halloween ghosts but never got around to it. So, later I thought, “Oh, Valentine hearts, that will be cute and easy!” Oh, I’m so misguided sometimes!

Maybe if you’re a pastry chef.

I’ll just cut to the chase.  I made it work but if you’re going to follow my directions you don’t need the pastry bag and tip.  Unless you just want to try it that way.  Or you’re a pastry chef.

Anyway, it’s Handmade Monday again!  Yay, now THERE is something that works right every time.  🙂  So, after you check out my Heartmallows go check out what everyone’s doing for Handmade Monday! See you there. 🙂

 

Still Playing Catch-up

I thought I would have something ready for today, but I’m still trying to get things back together after having the kitchen cabinets refaced and the holidays over with, so I thought, since most of the Handmade Monday crowd didn’t see what I posted over Christmas anyway, I would give those a little repeat.

The marshmallows were a big hit, so if you missed that, you can find the recipe and directions at Peppermint and Cinnamon Marshmallows.  Very easy, and better than store bought.  Almost everyone who got them said, “I had no idea you could make marshmallows!”

Also, the peppermint trays were fun and easy.  They were all over Pinterest.  You can find my blog on them at Candy Trays.  At least save the idea for next year!

I’m so glad we are getting back to normal.  I should have my kitchen back in order in the next few days, and then can get back to organizing my craft room.  I will take some photos of both and share them, as I think there are some good ideas there also. I’ve really enjoyed finding ideas on Pinterest, if you’re not using that resource, you really should be.  And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask, I’d be glad to bend your ear (and give you an invite)!

And after you’ve finished here, head over to Handmade Monday.  Finally, it’s back up and running.  I know I’ve missed everyone! Holidays are wonderful, but it’s always nice to get back into the groove of normal life. 🙂

Candy Trays


I ran across these cute candy trays on Pinterest and was infatuated with them, as was everyone else, apparently. I thought they would be perfect to give with my marshmallows to my neighbors and maybe bring the goodies I was making for my husband’s office party. So I gave it a try.

Mine didn’t turn out quite as perfect and beautiful as the ones on the original blog. The edges were not really nice and straight, I think maybe my oven temp is not even. Something I now want to check. Then again, I still liked them a lot and had fun with them.

A bigger problem is that they WERE sticky! I suspect it’s a function of living in South Florida where it’s very humid and particularly humid right now (70%). Heck, everything is sticky. I happened to be making marshmallows at the time so I had cornstarch out and had an idea. Why not try dusting them with cornstarch like I do marshmallows? So, I put some on both sides and rubbed it all over and let it sit. Then I wiped it off after awhile. I did this several times and it seemed to work. They don’t end up as pretty and glossy, but it does seem to take the stickiness off, at least for long enough to use them.

I’m not posting instructions here, you can check out the instructions at this blog Tutto Bella. Really easy and quick, and fun (except unwrapping the peppermints). Oh, and I had a harder time finding the green ones.  My green ones were a different brand than the red ones and I noticed they melted at a somewhat faster rate. I checked and the ingredients were different, so if I make these again I will try to find some that are the same brand with the same ingredients. Maybe my results will be a little more consistent. But, still, I was happy and they were fun. You could have kids place the peppermints and then have an adult do the oven part. And if you live in a less humid place maybe you won’t have to mess with cornstarch at all!

Impress Your Friends With –Marshmallows!

Seriously, I never thought about actually making homemade marshmallows until someone gave us some handmade ones for Christmas a few years ago.  They were peppermint flavored and they came from a boutique shop and they were awesome!  From that moment on I thought, “If they don’t only come in a bag from the grocery store, and they can be flavored, and they can taste this much better than the ones I grew up eating, why can’t I make them?!”  So, I finally got serious about finding a recipe that seemed simple enough and getting brave enough to try it.

And guess what?  They’re EASY.  Yes, you heard me right.  EASY.  There are a number of recipes out there on the web, so I picked one from someone who usually makes things that work for me and went from there.  I wanted to add flavors, but I started out with the original basic recipe and didn’t change anything the first time, so that if anything went wrong later I would know that the change was the problem (yes, I am a former science teacher).

However, not to worry.  No problems, easy and impressive.  Messy, but really, nothing really worth doing isn’t messy.  You still have time to make some for a last minute gift that will please virtually anyone, or to serve at your own Christmas or New Years party, or just to make to indulge yourself.  My husband gives them a big thumbs up.  I’ve made at least 4 batches so far.  OK, enough chit chat.  The recipe is at Peppermint and Cinnamon Marshmallows.  Check it out!

 

Happy Birthday Pam

I wanted to make something special for my neighbor who is always there when I need anything. She and her husband never mind picking up the mail or watching the house (or checking to see if it’s just a rat in the attic and not a burglar in the house–thanks Mark!) and we also enjoy spending time finding cool restaurants and seeing movies and things with them. They are that kind of neighbors.

So, I thought I would combine Handmade Monday’s blog and share a favorite recipe. This was my Father in Law’s favorite and I have been making them for so long I can’t even recall where I first ran across it. It doesn’t require very many ingredients, and makes a wonderful gift with very little work. I know most people think candy is difficult to make, and are little intimidated by it, but if you will buy a candy thermometer and just try it, I promise, you will get over that notion and be impressing your family in short order! It will make you a favorite!

Oh, and if you have ever bought these somewhere, I have to say, I think these are better than any I have ever found in a store. But maybe I’m just biased. 🙂 Go ahead, try making them yourself, and see if you don’t think these Pralines aren’t the best you’ve ever tasted!

And don’t forget to go over and check out Handmade Monday when you’re done either. It’s the best collection of crafts! I’m going there myself!

Jets & Eggs –Butter Oh Boy!

My middle son Jordan is probably a better cook than I am.  He is a Foodie with a capital F.  I can honestly say he was born that way. He has always loved food, and was interested in cooking from an early age.  He asked for family recipes as soon as he had his own kitchen and actually made them.  Not only that, he experimented and shared new ones.  Several years ago he decided to make a family recipe that we had made when the boys were young.  It was passed down to us by Jeff’s Mom, and it had been passed on to her by her Mother.  These were an Easter tradition, but he had probably never seen them made because the whole point was to make them without the kids seeing because, of course, the Easter Bunny brought them.

He had some problems with the recipe, and sent the following email out.  It’s pretty funny, at least it had most of us laughing.  I think I know what his problem was, and I’ll explain, plus I will share the recipe and step by step instructions with pictures, so hopefully you can make these without your own disaster.  Read on for Jordan’s details of making Jets and Butter Cream Eggs:

So I really only have half the experiment complete.  Let me explain…

I set out to do two batches of butter cream eggs for Easter.  It had been way too long since I had them, and I was feeling in that holiday spirit.  After reading the recipe, I noted that it called for margarine, not butter.  Being the foodie snob that I am, I couldn’t reconcile why you would use an inferior product in such a rich treat.  Thus, it was off to experts.  Needless to say, Dad does not make enough of these to be an expert, though he did share my enthusiasm for a higher quality treat.  So off to Aunt Jane, the great sage of our family recipes (and in recent years, Granddaddy’s Jet extraordinaire), who suggested that the current recipe may have been altered after Granddaddy’s first heart attack (apparently butter is not exactly good for your heart, and margarine makes a suitable substitute).  She too thought it would be possible that butter would be a better idea than margarine.

With this in mind, I decided to go for the old horse race.  Buy enough ingredients to make the recipe both ways and let my taste buds decide for me.  With thanks and love to Aunt Jane, I promised her a full write-up of my findings (thus the increasingly lengthy e-mail).

Excited by the prospect of fundamentally changing the way our family views one of their favorite Easter treats, I reviewed the recipe, decided to make a double batch of each and headed to the store.  To keep things as equal as possible, I chose Land of Lakes for both the butter and the margarine (thinking at least the quality of ingredients should be the same).  I bought the unseemly large number of bags of powdered sugar (5 bags), and splurged for the really nice bitter chocolate, Sharfen Berger (note that this chocolate is more than 3 times as expensive as the cheaper brand, but is fantastically good).  I was also fortunate enough in my last trip to Henderson to sneak out to Hidalgo’s in Longview (a great Mexican pottery, statue, furniture type store) that actually brings back real Mexican vanilla (like you get from the little shops in Mexico).  It beats vanilla extract from a tiny bottle any day.

Planning ahead, I left out the butter so that it would warm to room temperature (otherwise, creaming would be impossible).  I chose the butter test first (can you tell which one I expected to win yet?).  I started creaming it with the powdered sugar (so far so good), and adding half and half).  This continued…and continued…and continued, until I almost wore out my electric hand mixer.  No matter how much powdered sugar I added, I just couldn’t ever reach the “firm” consistency called for in the recipe.  I had already been adding, and mixing, and adding, and waiting for the mixer to cool down, for about an hour and a half.  After 3½ bags of powdered sugar, I began to think this butter thing must not be working.  I decided to employ the refrigerator to firm up the butter cream mix (which was effective, but time consuming).  After about half an hour in the fridge, I was able to start rolling the mixture into balls (yes, I was making eggs, so ½ of the batch was colored yellow, the other half left white), a couple at a time.  My hands warmed up the mixture pretty quickly, and it was apparent that there was no way this was going to be a clean experience.

After managing about 30 little yellow balls, covered in a white outer layer (this process itself probably took another 2-3 hours), I stuck them in the freezer (it was getting late on a Friday, and I was planning on bringing these with me).  I started melting the chocolate, and brought the eggs out a few at a time to drop into the chocolate.  Between trying to cover the eggs before letting them warm up and melt, and fish the eggs out of the pot with a fork, I managed about 10 great looking eggs, and 20 that looked like they had been made by Edward Scissorhands.  The chocolate covered (if you could really call them covered at this point) eggs were set up in my fridge & freezer on cookie sheets to further harden (I was slowly realizing that these would never be able to be served at room temperature) before transportation to work the following day.

How did they taste you ask?  Fantastic.  Super.  Creamy.  Better than I ever remembered.  However, I am hoping my big flaw in preparation was using too much half & half.  I guess I could have kept adding more sugar, but I was running out of bowl (and this was the largest bowl I had).  With my current batch not going exactly as planned, and few hours left before work the next morning, I opted not to give the margarine Jets a go.  I am thinking a weekend at Aunt Jane’s would provide a little firmer grasp of how the process “should” go before setting out to tackle the margarine method.

So in answer to your questions, sure – butter probably has a taste advantage, but if you don’t know what you should be looking for in the first place, it is probably wise to stick to the recipe as printed.

Aunt Jane – if you give the butter option a go, let me know how they turn out for you.  I will probably make another attempt after I finish off my freezer full of Butter cream eggs, but will try a single batch next time.

Love,

Jordan

Let’s just head over to Cook It and check out how you really SHOULD make then at Buttercream Eggs and Jets.  If you start now you can still have them for Easter morning.

Jets and peeps

Mochi Brings Things Full Circle

Recently we were at one of those trendy yogurt places that seem to be popping up all over the place, with friends. I noticed an interesting topping I had never seen before, and I asked the clerk what it was. He said it was “mochi”. He explained, upon questioning that it was a Japanese candy made from rice flour and offered me a taste. I was immediately in love! Having lived in Japan as a child, it reminded me of the rice paper wrapped candies I remembered but had not had in almost fifty years.

So, I decided that if I could find a recipe, I would attempt to make mochi and if successful, share the experience. Little did I know what an undertaking it would be! My neighbor, Pam, who had been at the yogurt shop with us had a recipe in my inbox within a day, so I thought, this is going to be a piece of cake (or mochi!). Haha! Do I never learn?

I looked at the ingredients. They all seemed pretty benign, and the directions were wonderfully simple. So, when the weekend came around, Jeff and I set out. Sugar, baking powder, vanilla and red food color I had. That left only coconut milk, potato starch and mochiko (glutinous rice flour). I knew I’d seen and actually bought coconut milk and potato starch. And maybe the rice flour was the same as the rice flour I’d also bought before but I wasn’t sure. But even if not, surely the Greenwise market would have it.

Potato starch was easy. Coconut milk a little harder, but, finally I found it hidden on the bottom of the shelf by the ethnic foods in not quite the size can I needed, but close enough. Then it turned out, the mochiko or glutinous rice flour was NOT the same as rice flour. And it was not available at Greenwise. Nor at Whole Foods. Nor the Fresh Market. Or anywhere else. I came home home and went online and read to see what on earth it was. I found some online, but I had to buy $27 worth, and I didn’t even know if the recipe was going to work or if I would like it when I was done.

So, I put a message up on Face Book, to see if any of my friends had any ideas. A couple of them thought they knew of places that might have it locally (Asian markets) and my good friend Deena thought she could get it where she lived and might be able to get it to me.

Then, someone I had known when my kids were small sent me a message on Face Book and said she actually had some she had purchased and not used and would I like her to send me a box? I really thought this was the kindest thing! I said yes, and within a few days, I had a box of Mochiko! All because an old friend saw a need and filled it! Thank you Marsha! 🙂

Find the recipe in Cook It at Mochi.

Sweet Hearts

I got really excited when I ran across a recipe for Sugar Hearts. They seemed easy and I thought it was the perfect project for Handmade Monday. In addition, I could see some practical applications, especially, something to send the boys for Valentines Day. There were only a few ingredients and few steps. Seemed right up my ally!

The only downside was that I was busy Saturday morning and I had to pick up powdered eggs and small cookie cutters so I could have them done, photographed and blog-ready by Monday. OK, no problem. You would think by my age I would know that any time I think no problem, that’s a clue. There will be problems.

But, nevertheless, they are doable, and they are cute.  So, head over do Make It and see how to make your own Sweet Sugar Hearts.

Etching Glass is Easier Than You Think

I’m always glad when something I am a little hesitant to try comes out better than I thought it would.  I love working with glass, but usually it involves breaking it or melting it.  I have wanted to try etching it, but that demands chemicals and that always intimidates me.  Especially if the warning on the container says something like “caution it will burn your skin off!”  So, while I was intrigued by the idea of etching glass, I had put off trying it.  However, I recently ran across directions again and thought, “Why not?”  Besides, I just happened to have some glass etching cream that I bought awhile back because it was on sale and because I must have been feeling brave that day.

I have been mulling over what sort of project to do.  I really thought it would be fun to make storage jars for things like coffee and tea for the kitchen, but I don’t have some nice large glass jars saved so that was out.  I did have a few smaller glass jars, and Valentine’s Day is coming up, so I thought, maybe a Valentine’s project.  That would be easy.  My Cricut has heart shapes, so it was easy to cut out the shapes on sticky vinyl so I didn’t have to cut them by hand.  You certainly CAN, or you could buy them precut, but I have to justify having a Cricut.

Anyway, that is why I did this  Etched Valentine’s Day Treat Jar.

Peppermint Stick Cocoa

I know Christmas has come and gone, but cocoa is always good, right?  And peppermint is always good, and I have a feeling you can make this with any kind of candy anyway (like red hots!).  I made these for my neighbors this year, because I wasn’t up to baking, and I had found this recipe and wanted to try it.  It turned out really cute, and got good reviews, so I’m going to share it here.  I had a little leftover but I’ve run out, so I made more today and made enough to send a batch to each of the boys as well.  A few Christmases ago I gave each of the daughters in law a hot chocolate maker and frother.  I had recently discovered that two of them had been broken when they got them, but no one had wanted to hurt my feelings by telling me.  After a little searching, because Crate and Barrel was no longer  selling them, I found them here.

At any rate, it made me want to send them all some of this really good cocoa mix. And make some more for us.I made a few changes in the basic recipe, which I’ll explain.  The original is good, but I like this a little bit better.  I think you could give this as gifts, or just keep it on hand for yourself and your family.  I’m not sure about making a sugar free version, because I’m not sure if there is a suitable substitute for the chocolate chips.  I assume you could make a lower sugar version with Splenda or your sweetener of choice.  Or, you could just splurge once in awhile.

So, to see what I did, check it out on my Cook It page here.