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Friday, July 31, 2009

one hot, happy, gooey mess

so, i mentioned before that i'd slaved over a new recipe for spinach lasagna the other night for dinner - and then ended up going out for chinese food instead. d-oh!

and then we went to universal studios and had yummy garlic chicken from versailles the next night. so that meant that dinner on wednesday was all assembled and ready to pop into the oven and serve! i guess it all works out in the end, huh?

i've never made this stuff before, and the recipe called for a homemade batch of b├ęchamel sauce. and nope, i sure didn't know what the hell that was either until i made it. such a fancy name for butter, flour, milk, and salt & pepper!

the assembled pan sat in the fridge until i was darn well good and ready to bake it. and when it came out of the oven, it was all bubbly and gooey and delicious.

but i have to say - this dish is SUPER rich. the teen said it was amazing, and the hub devoured his serving but declined a second. "i feel like i need to run ten miles to work that off," he said. the only thing i could say to make him feel better about it was "um, i used fat-free half and half and reduced fat cheeses?" heh.

so about the cookies i made yesterday - OMG. they're so scrumptious. as i mentioned, my buddy ssinca dangled this link in front of me like a carrot for chocolate-marshmallow cookies. much like OG mallomars, they're bites of shortbread cookie topped with homemade vanilla bean marshmallow and dipped in chocolate. drooling yet?

i started with the cookie dough. it was simple enough - flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon, eggs, etc. pretty basic. i shaped it into a disc as directed, wrapped it up, and let it chill in the fridge for an hour-ish. i sprinkled some flour onto my countertop and got to work.

now, you guys know that i'm seriously lacking in kitchen equipment these days, with most of it in storage. so when i needed a 1.5" round cookie cutter and my little juice glass wasn't little enough, i got creative.

what IS that, you ask? why, it's a lid for one of the bean's milk containers. yup. resourcefulness at its best!

i cut and rolled, cut and rolled, finally giving up and putting the rest of the dough back in the fridge. while the recipe said it would yield about 2 dozen cookies, i ended up with...sixty.

while they cooled on a rack, i got to work on the marshmallow topping. i mixed up the sugar, corn syrup, and water and set it to boil.

once that was done, i dissolved gelatin in some water, added it in, and then got to work whipping up a couple of egg whites. once they were nice and puffy, i tackled the next step - splitting and seeding a vanilla bean.

i've never worked with a whole vanilla bean before. i also always assumed they were crazy expensive, but once i was suckered into this recipe, i had to buy some. and i was happy to find them at my beloved f'in sleazy for a lot cheaper than i expected - there's 2 beans in that bottle for a whopping $3.99.

i busted out a paring knife to slice it in half lengthwise, and then used the sharp tip to scrape out the goods. kinda looked like dooky until i hit it with my mixer, and then it just looked like a bowl of goopy, melty vanilla bean ice cream.

and here's where i missed a crucial step - i poured the goo into a ziploc bag (since, of course, i didn't have a "real" pastry bag) without whipping it again. i was even thinking, "wow, this marshmallow sure is goopy. how on earth is it going to set properly?" oops. and being a lazy ass, i opened that bag up, stuck the beaters inside, and hit the button.

big mistake.

it was going great - for about 3.75 seconds. and then a corner of the bag got caught in the beaters. plastic soon became twisted all around and between them, and in no time there was a hole somewhere in the bag, spewing liquid marshmallow all over the counter. i freaked out, briefly considered starting over, and then decided that i didn't want to waste that precious vanilla bean.

i yowled for backup, and the teen scurried right over and helped me scoop the spilled 'mallow into a bowl - you know, like i should've done in the first place. it was sticky and gooey everywhere, and i managed to unravel the bag from the beaters and squeeze the stuff into the bowl. i don't even think i lost that much after the fiasco. times like that i wish i had a video camera in the kitchen. i'm willing to bet it would've been high-larious.

i pulled myself together, grabbed the mixer again, and picked up where i'd left off. after a couple of minutes of furious mixing at top speed, it was finally the right consistency and i poured it into a whole new bag.

taking a tip from other bloggers who'd tackled this recipe, i decided to smear some peanut butter and some nutella on a few of the cookies before topping them with the marshmallow.

i cut a hole in the corner of the ziploc and got to work piping the goo onto the cookies. they look nothing like the recipe i was copying, but i didn't care. i'd managed to sample a bit from the beaters, and WOW. homemade marshmallow goo is so, so, so delicious.

the marshmallow required a couple of hours to set up and solidify enough to be dipped into the chocolate, so i placed my little cookie army on the table and headed back to the counter to clean up the residue left behind by the marshmallow/mixer disaster. what a freaking mess.

the chocolate glaze was simple - a bag of semisweet chocolate chips melted in a pyrex bowl over simmering water, with a little vegetable oil mixed in.

drop, flip, shake.

the bean might have stuck her paw into a cookie or two. and then scurried underneath the table to hide. "what chocolate, mom? i don't know what you're talking about."

it was tough, but i managed to twist the teen's arm and get her to test one out, too.

i ended up running out of chocolate (even after dipping into my emergency chocolate chip stash), but it was okay - i still had a shitton of completed cookies. the teen helped me in marking the peanut butter and nutella versions, so that it was easy to tell which was which. sprinkles = nutella. powdered sugar = peanut butter. plain = well, plain.

because it was silly humid outside and we'd opened the windows to give the a/c unit a break, the chocolate just flat-out refused to harden. so before i headed off to bed, i rearranged the contents of my fridge and stuck the racks in there. and the next morning, they were perfect. and ridiculously yummy.

not wanting to gain 130432804382 pounds from 60 delicious cookies just chillin' in the house, i decided to share them with some friends i was meeting for happy hour. i dressed them up in white candy wrappers, placed 3 in white candy boxes, and put them in a cooler bag with an ice pack.

a full post is coming, but suffice it to say that the girls were quite happy with their little sweet surprises. hey, it ain't a party without favors.

the million dollar question: would i make these again?

and the answer: yeah, i would. it was super time-consuming, rather labor-intensive, but the steps were simple and actually rather fun. and the end result is totally worth it. not to mention, homemade marshmallows are no longer a daunting task in my eyes. i'm looking forward to fall/winter - for lots of reasons, but one being that i plan to make just the marshmallows, pour them in a pan, and cut them into squares to put in hot chocolate.

mmmmmm. won't that be divine?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

psh, who am i kidding?

i can't go on hiatus. i'm too addicted to this freaking blog to stop for any length of time, unless we're off on vacay or something. and even then, i've figured out how to post with the iPhone. heh.

i suppose you could say that i'm 126% committed. wouldn't you agree?

i think i was just in a funk the other day. i didn't want to be in the office, i knew the teen and the bean were having fun at home, and i wasn't feeling my typical happy self. what a difference a day makes, though, huh?

and what a day it was! when i left the office after my grueling four-hour shift, i headed straight home, did not pass go, did not collect $200, scooped up the girls and MIL, and used our annual passes for this place:

i just have a few teaser pics to share, because i'm in the midst of whipping up a batch of these, courtesy of a link from my friend ssinca. i have quite a comical story to tell about the process - and i'm not even completely done with them yet! oh, man. i sure hope they're worth the trouble.

so, back to universal studios. it was butt ass hot out there, and so the bean and i took advantage of the curious george-themed waterplay area and got drenched:

and then we hopped into a photo booth and took these:

i love my teen.

we ended our afternoon of fun enjoying a delicious dinner at versailles. mmm, garlic chicken.

before we left, the teen took the opportunity to snap this:

ah, it's good to be back. after my one-day blogging hiatus. dahahahahahaha!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

i'm such a follower.

everybody else is doing it, whether out of boredom, lack of free time, what have you.

what the hell am i talking about?

well, i was thinking last night that my posts have been pretty stinking boring. i mean, the most exciting thing i had on tap for reporting today was the fact that i'd made a spinach lasagna from scratch, went to target with MIL and the bean, and ended up going out for chinese food instead.


maybe it's time to take a break and see if life gets more exciting. blogging hiatus?

we'll see.

Monday, July 27, 2009

toffee triumph!

i couldn't stand it.

i just wasn't okay with the thought of remaining unsuccessful at the whole toffeemaking thing. it was bugging the hell outta me, and i finally gave in to my ridiculous irritation and tried out a different recipe. besides, all i needed was a good toffee recipe - i could just toss in bacon bits at the end of it.

but the teeny-tiny pessimist in me couldn't bear the thought of wasting more precious bacon. so i cooked up a smaller portion and assembled the rest of the ingredients for the candy - and i cut the recipe in half.

but as i started stirring the concoction over medium-high heat as directed, it just looked wrong. so i dove back into the fridge, dug out the stuff, and measured out the rest of the ingredients to make a full batch, praying for good results this time.

and as the butter melted and i stirred the mixture with a whisk, i was encouraged by the fact that my concoction was actually turning into that beautiful, rich toffee color. yay!

at last, my thermometer read 300, and i quickly shut off the heat, mixed in my paltry little pile of bacon bits, and poured it out onto my baking sheet, lined with a silpat (plus a piece of wax paper underneath for good measure).

the stuff was like molten freaking lava. i heeded the recipe's advice not to lick the spatula for fear of melting my tongue right out of my mouth, and let the toffee cool for a few hours. and when it had finally hardened and cooled to room temperature, i smashed it to pieces and put it all into a ziploc bag.

i am pleased to announce that this recipe was most definitely a winner, and it's really very tasty. i may very well mix up batches of this stuff to give as gifts this christmas - although i'll probably go a more traditional route and dip pieces in chocolate and/or sprinkle it with chopped nuts.

however, i also have to confess that while the flavor of this stuff is truly magnificent, i prefer the soft gooeyness of the bacon caramels. toffee is hard and crunchy, and i guess i'm really not a huge fan of feeling like my teeth are going to break into pieces as i munch on a treat. heh.

the bean has some really awesome sideswept bangs. look at this:

if i hadn't proven time and time again to myself that bangs are a huge mistake on me, i'd totally be tempted to go out and get this look for myself. seriously, it's just so cute on her! although it makes her look super grown-up. yikes.

speaking of the bean, i busted out a dress for her to wear to church that's been tucked away for a long ass time. it was a gift from one of our showers, and being a size 3T, i remember thinking "holy crap, it's gonna be forever till she's big enough to wear this."

well, forever is here.

it's still a little big, but fits pretty darn well for the most part. yikes x 2.

after church, we hit up CPK with the ILs for some lunch and then spent some time walking the mall in an effort to suck up free a/c. too bad for us - either there were just too many other folks with the same thought there, or the mall was trying to conserve energy, because it just wasn't all that cool in there. oh, well. we spent some time in the disney store, where the bean made a couple of new friends, and walked into a few other shops and then gave up and went home - where we knew for sure that it would be cool.

the teen snapped this with her phone:

and in no time at all, it was time to hop back in the car and head over to the grandparents' for dinner. the bean happily showed off her new toys, and she and her sister had a blast playing together.

i went outside to chat with FIL, who was manning the BBQ, and drooled over the yummy chicken he was keeping watch over.

the bean watched us through the window.

as always, dinner was full of fun, laughter, and yummy food. it was a lovely way to cap off a quiet, rather lazy weekend.

on to monday! yay.

squeezing in all the sightseeing

this was our NYC home for a whole week: it was one of only a few hotels that i could find that offered two beds in a room rather than, say, ...