Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sunday Sweets – Peanut Brittle (EPIC Fail)

Seriously?  What is it these days?  I can’t seem to get a dessert recipe to work this month!  First it was the Rock Candy debacle, and now I can’t even handle a 3 step recipe for Peanut Brittle…  I am so looking forward to Baseball season starting, not that Spring Training isn’t fantastic, but I want to embrace the wonder of an all American summer tradition.  I think part of why I’m so hyped for this year’s baseball season is that it was my dad’s favorite time of year, and I miss him terribly, so enjoying something that brought him so much pleasure will make me feel closer to him.  Eh, but enough of the sappy self reflection, and on to my most recent kitchen disaster…  I was craving Cracker Jacks, the nuts are my favorite part, but I couldn’t find any around here.  So, in my mind I went from sugary caramel coated popcorn with a few candied peanuts mixed in to sugary candied peanuts, and that brought me to peanut brittle.  I found, what I thought was, an easy recipe on Pinterest.

It’s a Martha Stewart recipe, and I’ve had great success with those in the past, but that was not the case with this one…  First I gathered my ingredients: 1 1/2 cup of peanuts, butter, vegetable oil, 2 cups of sugar, and 1/2 cup of water.

Peanut Brittle Ingredients

Then I generously greased a jelly roll pan (a cookie sheet with sides) with the butter and coated an offset spatula with vegetable oil.

grease the pan   oil the spatula

Then I set them aside, while I made the sugar base for the candy.  I measured out my 2 cups of sugar and put it in a medium saucepan.  Then I added the half cup of water and a pinch of salt.  I stirred it once to combine (I think that’s part of where I messed up.)  Next I cooked it on high for 3 minutes.  It was supposed to have turned brown, but that didn’t actually happen to mine.  I think I should have left the sugar to brown and not mixed it at all before turning on the burner.

2 cups of sugar   half cup of water   a pinch of salt  initial 3 minute cooking time

Once the 3 minutes had passed, I stirred the pot occasionally and let it “simmer” for an additional 10 minutes.  Mine actually looked more like it was boiling, and it still didn’t turn anything like the amber color the recipe described.

looks like boiling to me

After 10 minutes, I added the peanuts.  I stirred the mixture to coat the nuts thoroughly, and dumped the concoction onto the greased cookie sheet.  I turned around to put the pot down and pick up the spatula, and the entire thing had turned into an immovable lump of hardening sugar and peanuts.  It looked like a sugary pile of … well, I won’t go there, but you can see for yourself.

sugary pile of...

Needless to say, it didn’t move.  There was absolutely no spreading it out.  I even tried heating the cookie sheet to get the lump to warm up and spread out.  No such luck!  Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?

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Snapshot Saturday – Alice

Our final Disney Character in this series is Alice!  (Only fitting after we enjoyed our Mad Hatter Potions on Thursday!)  Another fun character dining experience at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort.

Alice

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Quest to Read Them All – Original Sin

My next stop on my Quest to Read Them All is another Going Out of Business find.  I went a little overboard during those days, and it has served to broaden my literary horizons, just like this quest is serving to narrow my future selections.  This week’s book is Original Sin by Beth McMullen.

Original Sin

I went into this read very optimistic.  I like spy novels.  I’m a big fan of chic lit.  I’m a sucker for a good thriller.  I breeze through a intriguing whodunnit.  So how could this book go wrong?  I’ll tell you how.  The flow was terrible.  It bounced around so much that it was hard to keep track of who was a bad guy and who was a good guy, never mind who was actually in the scene.  I liked the premise of the book, “retired” spy Lucy (code name: Sally Sin – hence the title) is now a stay-at-home-mom with an Eco-friendly hedge fund manager husband and a young son.  Until her arch nemisis from her days as Sally Sin returns from the dead and her old boss needs her to capture him.  No if the book worked from beginning to end, or even wove the flashbacks in more smoothly I would’ve liked it better.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy some of the characters, and wasn’t intrigued by the unanswered questions surrounding Sally’s past.  I think I might even have to brave the disconnected flow of the writing to check out the next Sally Sin novel, To Sin Again.

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Thirsty Thursday – Mad Hatter Potion

I’ve been feeling very Disney recently!  So, when I needed a group drink for a Disney screening party I went with a recipe I found on Pinterest a while back, called The Mad Hatter Potion.

It was an interesting recipe, and sounded like it would taste yummy.  I gathered the ingredients: a bottle of white wine (I went with an inexpensive sweet white wine), 1 cup of orange juice, 1/4 cup of sugar (I added some extra to rim the glasses), 1/4 of brandy, 1/4 of blue curacao, 2 cups of club soda and ice.

Mad Hatter Potion Ingredients

First, I poured the wine into the pitcher.  Then I added the orange juice, sugar, brandy, and blue curacao.

Start with the Wine  Add the Orange Juice   Add the Brandy   Add the Blue Curacao   Add the Sugar

I stirred the mixture to combine the ingredients and dissolve the sugar.  When it was well mixed, I put the pitcher in the fridge to chill.  The recipe suggests 2 hours, but I left it to cool while I finished setting everything up for the screening party.  (We were having a Disney movie marathon!)

Chillin' in the Fridge

When everything was nicely cooled off, I removed the pitcher and the club soda from the refrigerator.  I added the club soda to the mixture by pouring it gently down the side of the pitcher like the recipe instructed.

Add the Club Soda

When all of the ingredients were combined, it was time to rim the glasses with sugar and fill them with ice to serve the yummy punch.

Rim the glass   serve over ice

The final drink was really very delicious!  I might have to make this again…

Mad Hatter Potion

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Counting Down Until Opening Day!!!

Baseball (and softball) was an integral part of my childhood.  No matter how much my mother wanted us to be nerds (and she tried really hard to make that happen… maybe someday I will tell you about having to do workbook pages all summer long instead of getting to go play with the rest of the kids in our neighborhood), my dad made sure that each of us held a special place in our hearts for his favorite sport and arguably the best franchise in baseball, The New York Yankees.  I was a bit of a rebel in the mid ’80’s and pretended to be a Mets fan, but my true Yankee nature won out in the end.  For the last several years, we have been making an annual pilgrimage to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Florida for a week of Yankee Spring Training ball, but I just couldn’t do it this year.  I was terrified that I’d spend the entire time in tears, because my dad wasn’t with us, so I chose to spend Spring Training imagining him sitting with “The Boss” in the stands critiquing the current roster and recalling or rehashing all of the legendary moves of the past.  However, I couldn’t forsake the anticipation of the season completely, so I decided to pay homage to it with a welcoming symbol right on our front door.  I got the idea for a great wreath on Pinterest:

The pin connected to a giveaway that has long since expired, so I decided to try and make my own version.  I gathered my materials:  I found wire I thought would work to form the wreath, 12 old baseballs (I got mine at a local flea market last fall), ribbon to give it some personality, and a drill with a 5/8″ bit.

baseball wreath supplies

Once I had all of my supplies, I headed out to the garage to drill holes in the individual baseballs.  This is harder than you might think, there’s some mighty strange stuff inside a baseball, and it varies depending on the brand of the ball.  I secured each individual ball in a bench vise and used my cordless hand drill to make my holes, but you could also use a drill press if you happen to have access to one.

Drilling the ball   look at all that junk

Once all 12 balls had a hole, I cleaned up the mess and brought everything inside.  When I got inside, I started stringing the balls on the wire.  I tried coaxial cable first, but the wire was too thick, so I switched to thermostat wire from Home Depot.  I though that was going to work perfectly, but we’ll get to that later.  I started by threading one ball onto the wire and making a loop out of the wire at the base of the ball.

make a loop to close the wreath

Then I added the rest of the balls to the wire.  When I got to the end, I threaded the end of the wire through the loop I made earlier to close the wreath.  I left the end open, so I could add the bow and create a hanger to secure it to my door.

attach the 2 sides of the circle

Next I made the bow for the wreath.  This is a skill I’m going to have to work on, because I have to admit that my bows are a bit sad.  I used 2″ wide navy ride and 1″ white ribbon and tied loopy bows out of each.  I made the navy one larger than the white one, and placed them one on top of the other.  Then I took a 4″ piece of 1/2″ wide navy ribbon and wrapped it around the center of the stacked bows.  I then threaded the bows onto the wire I left sticking up before, and knotted the 1/2″ ribbon around it to secure everything together.

big blue bow   little white bow   stacked bow   all piled up together  attach it to the balls

Now that the bow was on the wreath, I made a final loop out of the wire to hang the entire thing on the door.  I made a circle and wound the wire around itself to make it secure to hang.

make the hanger

Now it was ready to hang on the door!

NY Yankee Themed Baseball Wreath

Then I actually hung it up, and it turned into an oval instead of a circle.  Grumble…  Next year, I’m going to have to change the wire to something that will hold it’s shape better.

Wreath on the door

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Tasty Tuesday – “Copy Cat” Broccoli Cheese Soup

It’s amazing!  I actually found this week’s Tasty Tuesday Recipe someplace other than Pinterest!  I found it in an old issue of Food Network Magazine (Jan./Feb. 2010).  What on earth was I doing going through old magazines?  Well, as you know, we just recently moved and I’m in the middle of setting up our new house.  I’m currently working on the Craft Room/Office and that’s where I keep all of my supplies and reference materials.  (I should really look for bookcase ideas on Pinterest…)  Ahh, but I digress, I have a huge pile of old magazines that I’ve been meaning to go through and clip some idea, recipe, or article out of, and now seemed like the right time to actually complete that project.  It was quite successful.  I went from a 4 foot stack of magazines (that’s 4 boxes if anyone’s wondering) to a much more manageable 6 inch pile of clippings.  Next step is to put away the clippings, but that can wait until the rest of the room is set up.  What was I talking about?  Oh, yeah where I found this week’s recipe…  It was in that pile of clippings that Gwen say the recipe and asked me to make it…  So this week I made a homemade version of Panera‘s Broccoli-Cheese Soup!

This recipe did require a bit of shopping, but not much.  I gathered my ingredients: 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 1 small onion, 1/4 cup flour, 2 cups half-and-half, 3 cups chicken broth, 2 bay leaves ( I left these out), 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (I use a microplane and a whole nut, but you can substitute dried), 4 cups of fresh broccoli florets, a handful of baby carrots, 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (the recipe only calls for 2 1/2 cups, but I added a bunch more), salt and pepper.

Broccoli Cheese Soup Ingredients

Start by making a roue.  To do this melt the butter in your soup pot, then add the onions and soften them.  Next whisk in the flour.  Once that’s combined completely (it looks almost like a paste) gradually whisk in the half-and-half until everything smooths out and it looks silky.

melt the butter  soften the onions  whisk in the flour  now the half-and-half

Once the cream sauce (I think that’s what constitutes a Bechamel sauce) is smooth and well combined, add in the chicken broth, nutmeg, bay leaves, salt & pepper.  Let it come up to temperature and then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 20 minutes or until it’s really thick and creamy.

add the chicken broth  grate in the nutmeg

After the base is ready, it’s time to add the veggies.  While you are letting the soup thicken, cut up the broccoli and carrots, so that they can just go right in the pot when it’s time.  Add them to the pot and let them simmer for about 20 minutes or until they are tender.

add the carrots  now add the broccoli

After the broccoli is nice and soft comes the fun part.  You get to blend the soup.  There are several ways to do this, but I love my immersion blender and look for any reason to use it.  You could also take the soup out of the pot and run it through a food processor or the blender.

liquify the broccoli

Once the broccoli is pretty well smoothed out (no large chunks, just those yummy green floaties), it’s time to melt in the cheese!  (oh, on a side not, next time I’m going to reserve a couple of pieces of the softened broccoli to add back in, so that they are in the finished soup.)  Add in the cheese, whisking to melt it completely over medium heat.  The recipe says you can add up to 3/4 cup of water if it’s too thick, but I didn’t have that issue.

Cheesey Goodness!

Time to serve!  I ladled it into a regular sized soup bowl and had enough for 5 servings.  I also garnished it with some shredded cheese and served it with a crusty baguette on the side.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

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Sunday Sweets – Rock Candy

I have always liked Rock Candy!  It was a fun “science” project as a child, with a yummy treat as a reward.  I’ve also seen the candy used as a fancy sugar substitute for coffee and dessert at swanky restaurants.  As you might imagine, I was very excited when I found some at the Main Street Confectionery at Walt Disney World.  As I was planning my Easter dinner for this year, I stumbled across a recipe on Pinterest for Rock Candy that I just had to try…

Thankfully I tried it out well in advance of the holiday, because it was an epic failure!  I got together the materials I needed, Sugar, water, a clean wooden chopstick, a clothespin, and a narrow glass.

rock candy supplies

The directions have you set up the clothespin and chopstick first, but as I learned if you do that, you’ll only have to take it apart later.

clothespin and chopstick set up

Next I tried to supersaturate the water with sugar.  It’s a time consuming and inexact process.  (This is also where I think I messed up.)  You heat the water on the stove and slowly add sugar 1/4 cup at a time stirring until it dissolves totally before adding more.  I think I added too much sugar to the pot of boiling water.

boiling water  sugar floats when saturated

Once you have the sugar solution mixed, add it to the narrow glass jar.  Dip the end of the chopstick in the solution and then into the unused sugar to give the crystals purchase to adhere to.

put the sugar solution in the jar seed the stick for better crystal adhesion

Once you’ve added that extra boost of sugar, put the chopstick back in the jar and set it all aside for 3-7 days.

set it aside to crystalize

The crystals in my rock candy matured too much.  They solidified completely in the bottom of the jar.  My experiment was an epic failure.  I’m so going to have to do this over again.

2 days in  6 days in remove the remaining sugar water my failed rock candy

 

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