Friday, August 19, 2011

Birthday Macarons

Orange Flower Water with Vanilla Bean Buttercream filling
Lavender Vanilla Rose with Vanilla Bean Buttercream filling

Tomorrow I will meet my friend Kimber at our monthly Prairie Women's Sewing Circle and will begin celebrating her birthday early, she reads my blog so she won't be totally surprised, but of course, I will be bringing more than just macarons!

I decided to try some different flavors this time, orange flower water, or orange blossom and an extract I made of lavender, vanilla and rose.  I used a light hand with these flavorings, as too much floral flavor makes them taste like soap, or so my husband says.  The filling is a simple vanilla bean butter cream, so as not to distract or overpower the gentle macaron shell.

Macarons are not difficult, this is only the second time I've made them, and as you can see, they turned out pretty good.  As with anything, you only get better with practice.  Luckily for me I have several friends that love macarons and are more than happy to test!

Here are a few tips that have helped:

1.  Aged egg whites -  3 days prior, I cracked my egg whites into a little bowl, covered it, and kept it in the refrigerator until baking day. 

2.  Room temperature egg whites - several hours before baking, I took out the egg whites to allow to come up to room temp.

3.  Sifting the processed almonds and powdered sugar and discarding the 1/2 tsp or so of coarse almonds.

4.  Mixing everything correctly - Fold gently until the batter falls in a thick, smooth, satiny ribbon from your rubber spatula.  I have read everywhere to be careful not to overmix; only mix 30 strokes, etc etc.  Well, hrmph!  The lavender ones weren't lavender enough so I added a little more color after I supposedly mixed it correctly and had to mix it a whole bunch more.  Guess what?  They turned out just fine.  I think you can undermix more than you can overmix, but don't get all OCD about it, use your good cook's judgement.

5.  Letting them sit for at least 30 minutes before baking - this dries out the surface and helps that ruffley foot form, the sign of well made macaron, and that is our goal.  You should be able to touch the surface of one without anything sticking to your finger.  They can sit out longer than 30 minutes, but it doesn't help them anymore to leave out over an hour.

6.  Letting the filled macarons mature - Put your filled macarons in the refrigerator and let them age for 24-36 hours.  This allows the macaron to balance itself, and correct the texure.  I don't know all the scientific technical explanations, but its part of what helps your macaron taste like it was made by a professional :)

Floral Macarons

3/4 c finely ground almonds or almond flour
1 c powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 c bakers sugar (very fine sugar, finer than table sugar but not powdered or confectioner's sugar)
1 tsp floral flavoring (orange flower water or lavender extract)
food color (1 drop each red, yellow for the pale peach) (2 drops each blue, red for the lavender)

Process together the ground almonds and powdered sugar to a very fine powder, sift into a bowl, then set aside.

Whip egg whites, add baker's sugar slowly,  add floral flavor, then add food color.  Start with one drop of each color and keep adding drop by drop until you are happy with the color. Whip to firm glossy peaks.  If you are using a Kitchenaid, this won't take long.
Add 1/3 of almond mixture and with a rubber spatula, fold into the meringue, add next third after fully incorporating, then the last third.  Keep folding gently until the mixture falls in a thick, satiny ribbon from your spatula.

Use a large round tip in your pastry bag and fill with meringue mixture.  Pipe small circles onto a   flat, parchment lined cookie sheet, leaving one inch space between each one.  Tap gently on the counter to flatten any bubbles, and let sit for at least 30 minutes, meanwhile, heat your oven to 325 degrees.

Bake one sheet at a time for 9 - 12 minutes.  Around the 9 minute mark, check them, they should have formed a foot, touch the top,  if they are firm and not wiggley, cook one more minute, then remove sheet from oven, let cool.  Do not brown, but only you know your oven, so check them often at the 9 minute mark.  When baking the second sheet, keep a close eye on them as the second sheet might cook a little faster and you may have to remove them a minute sooner.

Let them cool on the parchment paper, then gently remove, use an offset spatula if necessary.  Let them cool completely before filling.  The unfilled shells can be frozen!  Then you can magically produce macarons anytime to the amazement of your family and friends.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Filling

1 vanilla bean's worth of scraped vanilla seeds
1 stick butter, softened, room temp
powdered sugar
vanilla extra if desired
pinch of salt

Split and scrape down the length of a vanilla bean, put the seeds in mixing bowl.  Add butter and pinch salt and cream together, slowly add powdered sugar, and whip until fluffy.  Taste and add vanilla extract, this just smooths and rounds out the flavor.  Keep adding sugar until the filling is to the consistency you like.  Spoon into a pastry bag, and pipe onto wrong side of macaron shell, top with another shell.

Let your filled macarons mature in the refrigerator.  I usually allow the filling to set, then put them in whatever container I am gifting them in, and stow in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

Allow chilled macarons to come up to room tempurature before eating.  Or not, if you can't wait :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vintage Tea Pot Basket

I was looking through one of my cookbooks, and it had a chapter on picnics.  One of the picnics was a fall picnic and it had these neat basket that nestled and insulated a tea pot!  I thought how cool!  I didn't know what it was called, didn't know how to search for it.  So time passed and I forgot about it.  Then one day on Ebay, I accidently came across the basket, how I do not know!  Some baskets offered were antique, some vintage, some in good shape and a few in bad.  I finally came across one that was in good shape and affordable, and now its mine.  I just love this precious basket, tea pot and cups. 

Isn't the lining pretty, and everything just nestles so neat and sweet?

I am envisioning meeting my friends in the park on a pretty fall day, stitching, knitting and drinking tea in the autumn sunshine.  Wouldn't that be fun?  Hmmmmm, maybe I should start planning a fall picnic tea party with Kimber and Belinda!

Jam in Vintage Canning Jars

I scored some great vintage jelly jars on Ebay, and took for granted that I would be able to find lids to fit.  I had read online where the large mouth lids fit just right, so I thought I would take a chance.  Of course, I had the jars where the large mouth lids DID NOT fit.  Then I thought some other kind of lids would fit, no dice.  How could I use these?  Where would I find some lids?  So I did a little research about these jars, and what lids were originally used.  These are vintage Kerr jelly jars with the tin lids.  Originally used with paraffin, then topped with the tin lids.  Well, well, well, where would I find tin lids?  And isn't paraffin sealing greatly frowned upon in the canning community?  Holy cow!  I have 16 jars!  I can alot, and just couldn't stand to have these adorable jars not perform their original purpose.

So, I decided that I would make refrigerator jam, no need to water bath, but again how to lid these things?  I gave in and decided to use paraffin.  Vintage jars, vintage sealing technique, and we will just let it go at that.  These jams will be stored in the refrigerator and eaten fairly quickly, so I won't be breaking any canning laws.

I used my raspberry-rhubarb jello recipe for these.  I received very good reviews from friends so I figured they would not mind having some again.  This recipe is so very easy, its almost idiot proof.  If you are new to canning, and don't want to invest alot of money and time, this is the perfect recipe to try, especially if you have some rhubarb hanging around in the freezer.  You don't have to use paraffin to seal them if you don't choose, just use lids and rings, since these are going in the fridge to keep, it really doesn't matter how you top them.

Raspberry Rhubarb Refrigerator Jam

5 c chopped rhubarb
1 - 1 1/2 c raspberries
3 c sugar
1 large box raspberry jello
2 blocks paraffin (Gulf Wax)

Mix together rhubarb and sugar and let sit overnight out on the counter.

Next day, before cooking jam, place a pyrex measuring cup in a pan of water, just so the bottom touches the surface of the water, put two blocks of paraffin in the cup, and bring water to boiling.  These should be melted by the time your jam is ready to put into the jars.

Cook rhubarb and sugar and bring to boil, add raspberries and let boil 12 minutes stirring constantly.  Take off heat and pour into clean hot jars.

When paraffin has melted, pour on top of jam in jars, pour slowly, the wax is hot!  Put about an 1/8 of an inch layer on top jam, ensuring it reaches the edges.  Let sit until it has cooled and turns white.  Then pour another very thin layer on top again, making sure it reaches all the way to the edge.  Let cool until white, and store in refrigerator.

To use, just push on one side of the wax disc, and it should pop up. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Its so chard....Swiss Chard!

You will need:

1 small  potatoes, diced small

1/4 small cippolini onion, diced small

2-3 or more leaves Swiss Chard, sliced thin
2 eggs

2 slices bacon, diced

1 clove garlic, finely diced (optional)

1 large La Tortilla Factory Wheat Tortilla (10 grams of fiber, you need this!)
Shredded Gouda, Cheddar or Goat Cheese crumbles - a few tablespoons

Cook the bacon about halfway, until it starts to let loose its lardy goodness, then toss in the onions and potatoes. Stir and let this cook until the potatoes soften and begin to brown. Toss in the garlic and swiss chard, stir and cook until the swiss chard is as soft as you like and the potatoes are browned. Crack in the two eggs. For sunny side up, cover pan and turn off heat, let sit until eggs are to your liking. For scrambled, make a well in the middle if the pan, crack in the eggs, stir and scramble until you are satisfied.

Place the tortilla on a plate, sprinkle on the cheese then place the potatoe mixture on the cheese. Roll, or eat open face and enjoy!!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer Jams

Blueberry, Strawberry, Peach, Apricot Jalapeno and Strawberry Jalapeno

I do most of my jam making in the summer, as most people do, when fresh fruit is at it prime.  But, the above jams were made with fruit that I had frozen, and even some peppers that I had frozen from my garden last year, and no, time did not dull their sting!

I wanted to try to make an apricot jam using dried apricots, since, in my opinion, we do not get good apricots or peaches here in Iowa.  I may be mistaken, but I have yet to find a native grown apricot or peach that tastes good here, and the grocery store fruits?  Forget it, waste of time and money!
So I gave this apricot jalapeno jam a try.  I definitely used too much jalapenos, plus I left the seeds in, so my batch is burning hot, but real chile heads might really appreciate the flaming heat. 

Apricot Jalapeno Jam

1/2 c finely chopped jalapenos (use more or less, leave seeds in for more heat)
2 c chopped dried apricots
2 c cider vinegar
6 c sugar
3 oz liquid pectin

Combine peppers, apricots, sugar and vinegar in a large non-reactive pan, bring to boil, skim foam, cook until apricots are tender.

Allow to cool 2 minutes, mix in pectin, stir well, pour into jars, seal and water bath process 10 minutes.

For the strawberry jalapeno jam, I wanted to use that flex batch pectin, the one where you only use the amount you need for the amount of fruit you have.

Strawberry Jalapeno Jam

4 cups total of crushed strawberries and jalapeno peppers (1/2 c peppers is very hot!)
7 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp cider vinegar (because I ran out of lemon juice!)
5 c sugar
4 1/2 tbsp flex batch classic pectin

Combine berries, peppers, lemon juice, vinegar and pectin, mix well and cook on high to a rolling boil, add sugar and once again cook to a rolling boil, boil hard for 1 minute and take of heat.  Skim foam.  Pour into jars, seal and water bath process for 10 minutes.

The rest of the jams are just classic powdered pectin recipes for blueberry, strawberry and peach.  The blueberries were picked at a local berry farm, and the peaches are from Georgia, ordered for me by that same berry farm, and they were the juiciest, sweetest, biggest peaches I ever had the privilege to have.   Happily, all my jars jelled and sealed!