Friday, December 11, 2015

On marshmallows

I can't help but roll my eyes when I read an article or blog post about making marshmallows and the author acts like store-bought, mass-produced marshmallows are the food of the devil or even the devil himself (or herself as the case may be), while home-made ones are the one true light - your express elevator to all things that are good and pure and morally right.

This misunderstands the two kinds of marshmallows.  Store-bought ones are not some sad-sack, evil-imbued version of homemade ones.  Homemade marshmallows are completely different from store-bought, and I think it would do us good to appreciate both. The former is better in flavor, and gives you the control in making them like whatever catches your fancy at the moment.  These are confections to be enjoyed on their own.  The latter is better in texture! It is perfect for baking and melting.  I've never had luck in using those small batch homemade marshmallows in goodies like crispy rice treats or smores.  And when one wants a small hit of deliciousness in candy form, a store-bought marshmallow generally isn't the way to go.

Unless you are my son.

Each year, I try to make a holiday batch of homemade marshmallows.  But that doesn't seem likely this year - I'm just not ready to tackle the fussiness of it all.  So I decided to kick of  this year's holiday goodie season with marshmallow pops using the store-bought kind - stick one on a stick, coat in chocolate, then roll in nuts, sprinkles or coconut for a hit of flavor.

When Max was informed of our afternoon plans of marshmallow pop assembling, Max was joyous.  He was so happy that marshmallows were involved!

But then he seemed a bit confused.  And intrigued.  What did it mean that we were doing something to the marshmallows? Then I realized -  to him, these puffy treats were actually perfect on their own. While turning them into dressed-up pops made for a nice afternoon, he could have done without it.  Apparently, he likes them for all the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

On icebox cakes

The allure of the ice box cake lies in its assembly.  It is more than the some of its parts.

It isn’t necessarily quick to put together.  And it sits overnight in the fridge to soften, so it isn’t something that can satisfy a sweet tooth instantly.

But once one gets into a rhythm - layering the cookies or crackers, spreading the cream, arranging the fruit, an inelegant flick of the wrist to drizzle on the chocolate, and then starting the whole thing again - the time can pass rather quickly (admonishments to Max to stop eating all the ingredients, not withstanding).   The cookies.  The cream.  The fruit.  The chocolate.  

And all that repetition lets your mind wander.  Back to those days when an icebox cake would sit in my mom’s fridge.

It was the kind of cake that necessitates sticking a fork right into the pan and taking a bite.  Just one.  And then enjoying that bite so very very much that you need another one.  And another.  Until you realize that you should have just cut a piece of it out, but really, this way feels so much naughtier.  Those surreptitious bites taken when no one was looking brought such joy. 

And eventually my reveries and my assembling come to an end.  Then the whole thing sits in the fridge and melds together into cake, it becomes so much more than the cookies, the cream, the fruit, and chocolate.  Try the ingredients on their own, and you may find the cookies to be not super flavorful, the cream perhaps too flavorful, and the fruit – well, you know fruit.  But together, they sing.

27 chocolate wafer cookies ( I made my own, but feel free to use store bought)

6 ounces blueberries
16 ounces strawberries
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon dried lavender buds

1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon heavy cream

8x8 pan

In a bowl, gently mix together the berries and lemon juice/zest.  Over gently heat, warm the 1 cup of cream with the lavender buds.  Once warm, take off heat and then refrigerate. Once that cream is nice and cold, whip that lavender cream with the remaining cup of cream, sugar, and vanilla until it holds together and is wonderfully fluffy.  With either a double boiler or carefully in a microwave, melt the chocolate with the 1 tablespoon of cream.  

Cover the bottom of the pan with cookies ( I got about 9 on each layer).  Then assemble - a layer of cream, then a generous sprinkle of berries, then a drizzling of chocolate.  Repeat until the pan can't hold anymore layers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

On gelatin

We sometimes get it in our heads that a certain once loved food is no longer fit for consumption.  Perhaps reminding us of finicky childish palettes that we want to appear to have outgrown, perhaps it falls too much under the rubric of "processed," a most vague word indeed, and as we all know now, we are supposed to embrace also-vague-descriptor of "natural." Perhaps it we truly devoured too much of it that we no longer can stomach the thought of eating it.  Perhaps we associate it with a bout of sickness.  Sometimes, sadly, our taste buds truly no longer welcome the taste. But I suspect this happens less often than the former scenarios.

I think jello fell under the first reason for me, I am ashamed to admit.  A food that was once beloved, relished for its fun shapes and molds, an edible expression of the love of my mom (and Grammy!), a festive treat to be fit and cast into any possible celebration. And I abandoned it under the guise of being too grown-up for it.

But eventually our cold hearts thaw.  A gap forms in the landscape of our food palates.  We acknowledge that we are missing out on one of life's precious gifts.

And so I found my way back to the patient, waiting, loving embrace of fruity gelatin.  Here I basically turned a fruit smoothie - with mangoes, strawberries, citrus, and either a banana or another mango, sweetened with just a bit of agave  - into a delight of my childhood.  it may have taken awhile to return, but I'm now here to stay.  A fact that pleases Max and Molly.

1 mango
1 cup strawberries
juice from 1 tangerine
juice from 2 small meyer lemons
1 large banana or second mango
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 packet unflavored gelatin

Remove flesh from mango and hull strawberries.  Blend the fruit and juices together with an immersion blender. Then bring to a gentle boil in small pot.

In medium bowl, sprinkle 1/2 cup cold water with a packet of unflavored gelatin.  set aside for 5 minutes.  Pour fruit mixture over.  Stir to dissolve.  Pour into 8x8 baking dish and refrigerate.  Cut into squares or get fancy with some cookie cutters!