3/31/15

Homemade Mini French Macarons (alternate spelling: French Macaroons)



Just in time for Easter, I made these tiny little bite sized French Macarons (alternate spelling macaroons - both are used).  These are not the coconut macaroons, but a little crisp, light meringue bite with a bit of filling in the center.  Although many people find these difficult to make, and bakeries charge $2 per cookie, I am not sure why.   I currently live in the deep south where humidity levels are high, we had a rain storm the morning I made these and yet, they turned out perfectly for me.  In addition to that, I found they baked up perfectly (if not a little bit too high actually, as my batter was quite thick - I'll add a bit of liquid next time to flatten them out), but I had no sticking problems either - using just a basic non-stick parchment paper.

Because of our high humidity levels, I filled them and froze them until this Sunday.  They froze beautifully and my husband and I took a few out last night to enjoy - they were perfect in every way and thawed quickly, not losing any of their taste or texture.



Macarons  (Macaroons)

1 c confectioner's sugar
3/4 c almond flour
2 egg whites, room temperature
pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 c superfine granulated sugar
optional: 1-2 drops food color and 1/4 t flavor extract

Mix the confectioner's sugar and almond flour very well either by pulsing in a food processor until combined or using an electric stick blender or electric whisk, etc. It should be mixed very well and quite fine.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add a drop or two of food color if you are using it, a drop or two of flavor extracts if you are using them, and the superfine white sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip if you have one, or if not, leave the round 1/2 inch opening of the bag or the white plastic piece you would normally put a tip on, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Drag the pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks.

Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Option one:  Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees.

Option two:  If you bake a constant 300 or 325 without adjusting the temperatures, it takes about 17 minutes to bake crisp.  I tested both ways and found both to work for me.

Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)

Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling of your choice. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months.


****NOTES****
  • I use Honeyville Blanched Almond Meal Flour - which is incredibly expensive and has gone up $10 per 5 lb. bag in the last 1 1/2 years alone as they get to be more popular in gluten free baking.  I hate having to purchase it, but for baking flour-free cakes, cookies, pastries and more, it's the best quality I've found.  I use other brands or non-blanched for quick breads and recipes where the white color or the fine texture isn't as important to the finished product.  Sometimes I order direct from their site, other times I order through Amazon with other products I need. 
  • I put the eggs and the almond flour out on the counter the night before so both would be room temperature when I made them. 
  • I never use 'fresh' eggs for anything as I've found eggs that are 1-2 weeks old work best in almost all recipes and are the 'secret' to perfect hard boiled eggs every time.
  • My oven is conventional and/or convection.  I use the convection setting for them although I'm not sure if it's necessary. Because I used the convection setting, I didn't have to rotate my baking sheets while baking.
  • I baked one batch following the above directions and a second batch at a constant 300 degrees for 17-18 minutes.  Both turned out equally well.
  • I rarely buy or use white sugar and I did not have superfine sugar on hand so I used my stick blender (like a mini food processor) to grind up regular white sugar a bit.  You can use your mini food processor for that.  Don't over blend or you'll get powdered sugar. 





Sifting the confectioner's sugar and almond flour (I used a whisk)

Separating the eggs

A nice stiff peak

My least favorite part: folding in!

I did not use a tip but left the hole open

Tiny little thumbnail sized meringues

A nice dry crisp bite

A nice shell with a chewy center - perfect!

The batter was a bit thick so they puffed up more than I expected



You might also be interested in;
Non Stick Parchment Paper
Blanched Almond Meal Flour, 5 lbs.
KitchenAid 5-Speed Hand Blender
Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender with Whisk and Chopper Attachments


 






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3/25/15

Pastel Easter Tye-dyed Bars

From my files - saved with this recipe so I could see what they look like, but it's not my picture.
Back in 2013 I posted this idea.  Later, I made these bars and I'm not sure I posted those photos or not.  These are from the original 'idea file' I had back then. (I saved the pictures in my files for that 'visual' instruction. I didn't save any instructions - just the photos.)

These are perfect for an Easter get-together - so cute! 
  • You can see the idea is to choose 3-4 colors and pipe lines down your baked and cooled cookie bars. 
  • Cover with clear plastic wrap.
  • Press them very gently through the plastic to join them at the edges.
  • Remove the plastic.
  • Using a skewer, knife or other item, drag lines through the frosting from top to bottom.
  • Cover with plastic again.
  • Using your finger, draw down the scored lines to blend the edges again, blurring the lines and giving it a tye-dyed effect.

I hope the instructions make sense to my daughter or anyone else that may stop in to use some of the idea's and recipes on my site-collection.  You can use them on any bar cookie, but the simple sugar cookie style recipe is below the photos as it's a basic and easy recipe to use.










Sugar Cookie Bars

1 c butter
2 c sugar
2 t vanilla
4 eggs
5 c flour
1 t salt
1/2 t baking soda

In a large mixing bowl cream butter, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy and smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Sift dry ingredients together and add to sugar mixture in small amounts. Mix batter until all flour is incorporated. Press into a 9X13 or 11X17" pan. Bake in 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

Frosting

1 1/2 c butter, soft
2 t vanilla
6 c powdered sugar
1 t salt
3 T light corn syrup

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add vanilla and salt then one cup powdered sugar at a time, scraping down sides until well blended. While mixer is running on medium-high speed add in karo and beat frosting until light and fluffy. Makes about 5 cups frosting.
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Drying foods - Diving into Dehydrating (I just got a Weston Food Dehydrator)


I'm super excited about a couple new small appliances I got last weekend.  One of which is a small food dehydrator!  (The other is a meat slicer!)  Both of these items are things I've borrowed at one time or another over the years from my parents, but my husband saw them on sale at Lowe's (the hardware store) almost 40% off so I got BOTH! 

The dehydrator I got is the Weston Food Dehydrator - which is the 4-tray version.  They have a larger 10 tray version I'll link to at the bottom of this post but for me, a 4 tray is fine for now (Lowe's has Excalibur's, Nesco, etc. And has large, heavy duty dehydrators too!  For me, this small one is good to start.  IF I find I use it a lot I may invest in a larger model.)  Although many people use the FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System for storing their dried foods, I do not own one so I'm going to be using mason jars and other air tight containers with oxygen absorbers.

Over the next week or two I hope to share many recipes and hints for dehydrating as I try out my dehydrator.  For this first post, I thought I'd share some basic information on drying your own foods - from The National Center for Home Food PreservationThe Center was established with funding from the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods.


Packaging and Storing Dried Foods

Dried foods are susceptible to insect contamination and moisture re-absorption and must be properly packaged and stored immediately. First, cool completely. Warm food causes sweating which could provide enough moisture for mold to grow. Pack foods into clean, dry insect-proof containers as tightly as possible without crushing.

Store dried foods in clean, dry home canning jars, plastic freezer containers with tight-fitting lids or in plastic freezer bags. Vacuum packaging is also a good option. Pack foods in amounts that can be used all at once. Each time a package is re-opened, the food is exposed to air and moisture that can lower the quality of the food and result in spoilage.

Pack food in amounts that will be used in a recipe. Every time a package is re-opened, the food is exposed to air and moisture that lower the quality of the food.

Fruit that has been sulfured should not touch metal. Place the fruit in a plastic bag before storing it in a metal can. Sulfur fumes will react with the metal and cause color changes in the fruit.

Dried foods should be stored in cool, dry, dark areas. Recommended storage times for dried foods range from 4 months to 1 year. Because food quality is affected by heat, the storage temperature helps determine the length of storage; the higher the temperature, the shorter the storage time. Most dried fruits can be stored for 1 year at 60ºF, 6 months at 80ºF. Vegetables have about half the shelf-life of fruits.

Foods that are packaged seemingly "bone dry" can spoil if moisture is reabsorbed during storage. Check dried foods frequently during storage to see if they are still dry. Glass containers are excellent for storage because any moisture that collects on the inside can be seen easily. Foods affected by moisture, but not spoiled, should be used immediately or redried and repackaged. Moldy foods should be discarded.

Conditioning Fruits

The moisture content of home dried fruit should be about 20 percent. When the fruit is taken from the dehydrator, the remaining moisture may not be distributed equally among the pieces because of their size or their location in the dehydrator. Conditioning is the process used to equalize the moisture. It reduces the risk of mold growth.

To condition the fruit, take the dried fruit that has cooled and pack it loosely in plastic or glass jars. Seal the containers and let them stand for 7 to 10 days. The excess moisture in some pieces will be absorbed by the drier pieces. Shake the jars daily to separate the pieces and check the moisture condensation. If condensation develops in the jar, return the fruit to the dehydrator for more drying. After conditioning, package and store the fruit as described above.

Determining Dryness of Vegetables

Vegetables should be dried until they are brittle or "crisp." Some vegetables actually shatter if hit with a hammer. At this stage, they should contain about 10 percent moisture. Because they are so dry, they do not need conditioning like fruits.


NOTE:  I found a great list showing preparation and drying times of various foods available about half way down the document at: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_dry_fruit.pdf









I got my Weston dehydrator at my local Lowe's.  You might also be interested in;

FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System
Ball Jar Heritage Collection Pint Jars with Lids
Oxy-Sorb Oxygen Absorbers for Food Storage
Weston 10-Tray Food Dehydrator









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3/19/15

Homemade Coleslaw - much like the KFC style







Coleslaw is a salad consisting primarily of finely-shredded raw cabbage and dressed most commonly with a vinaigrette or buttermilk salad dressing.

You can use a sugar substitute of your choice instead of sugar and if you do not have buttermilk, you can sour 1/4 cup milk with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar and let it set for a couple minutes until you see it get thick or use buttermilk powder.

Also, if you want to skip chopping the cabbage, you can buy the cabbage/carrot mixture pre-packaged at the store to equal about 6-7 cups of shredded or finely chopped cabbage.  It will be dry at first mixing but after it chills for 2 hours it will have formed its own juice.  Stir well and serve cold.


The Best Cole Slaw

1 head finely chopped cabbage
1 medium carrot, grated
1/3 c granulated sugar (optional: sugar substitute equivalent)
1/4 c buttermilk
1/2 t salt
1/2 c mayonnaise
1/8 t pepper
1/4 c milk
1½ T white vinegar
2½ T lemon juice


Combine everything but the cabbage and carrot and whisk until smooth. Add the cabbage and carrot. Chill 2 hours and serve.





I used Ideal natural sweetener, buttermilk powder and almond milk. I've also used Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar instead of white vinegar.  The substitutions are up to you!

Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar Organic Raw -- 32 fl oz
Saco Powdered Buttermilk, 12-ounce Can
Ideal Sweetener No Calorie 10.6 Oz 6 Packs






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Gearing up For Garden Season - Above Ground Deck Garden Kit (My only option right now)


The start of the growing season in my above ground kit - the tomatoes went on to be almost 8-9 feet tall!



Over the course of our marriage we started out with apartments and rental homes, followed by owning 5 different homes thus far.  Over all that time I've had no garden, small container gardens, traditional gardens and above ground gardens.

In our current home, we have no area of land or yard that is flat, nor do we have actual 'soil' down here in the deep South like we had in the Midwest and the North.  Even if I had a flat spot of land, we have only 1/2" of clay or sand before we hit rock as we live on the side of what is basically a mountain. 

My options in this home is to spend time and money building up an above ground garden with wood structures; but because of the nature of my husbands job and our willingness to always relocate, I don't want to invest money or energy into something we don't need when there are other options for the time being.

The first summer we lived here we put in a flat 2 foot wide area of landscaping in the backyard against a hill that starts right off the deck.  I planted a 'garden' of sorts there the first year until we put in shrubs that Fall (you can see it in the background of the photo below).  I had peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic and more! 

Last year I was setting myself up to simply 'container' garden on the deck when I came across a kit at my local Sam's Club while shopping for groceries.  It seemed like the perfect answer to my garden spot dilemma. 

It was a composite material kit with boards, corners and connectors.  It was 8" high and if you wanted, you can stack two or more kits to make a deeper bed.  It was lightweight, durable and weather resistant.

I do not know if Sam's Club will be carrying them again this year but they are available on Amazon and you can view them here:: Greenland Gardener 8-Inch Raised Bed Double Garden Kit

I put a thick, heavy duty plastic under mine when constructing it as it was on my deck and not on the ground.  If you have an area of the ground you can put it on, that would be optimal.  We just don't have that option with our current yard.




In addition to this area I transplanted some of the strawberry plants from the landscaped area to containers - where they are still healthy and happy!  I'm also adding 2 more large containers on the deck this year for potatoes and carrots.

If you have just a little space.. please consider planting your own goodies.  It takes very little time or work and yet the feeling of accomplishment you get from growing your own foods is incredible - as well as healthy since you know exactly where your food came from and what chemicals were(n't) put on it.


 

    Greenland Gardener 8-Inch Raised Bed Double Garden Kit

    Product Description
    Raised garden bed with dimensions of 42-Inch by 84-Inch by 8-Inch high. Product has a patented corner system. Made from recycled plastic and wood. Product does not require any tools to assemble, assembles in minutes.
    • Made from recycled plastic and wood
    • Will not rot
    • Patented corner system









    You might also be interested in;
    Suncast 48-Inch by 18-Inch 6 Panel Tiered Resin Raised Garden Kit
    Heirloom 100% ORGANIC Vegetable Garden SURVIVAL Seeds, 50 Varieties, LIFETIME SATISFACTION GUARANTEE! NON-GMO, NON-Hybrid,9500+ Seeds!
    Heirloom Organic Garden Vegetable Seeds NON GMO Easy Growers
       








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