Calling all Cream Lovers

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We have a surplus of cream. By surplus, I mean more than a quart. My mother-in-law is visiting us for a few days while Calvin is on spring break from school. We usually plan for a certain amount of indulgences while she is visiting, ranging from homemade desserts to a trip to the doughnut shop. To prepare I made sure we had a ready supply of butter, along with a pint of heavy cream. Then our neighbors called and asked if we wanted a little cream and some broccoli that they couldn’t eat before they left for vacation. Of course I said yes. Her definition of a little cream turned out to be a full pint, plus part of another one.

I am looking for ways to use up the cream. So far I have thought of cream scones, chocolate mousse, cream over oatmeal and cream in our coffee. I need more ideas. Send them my way. We just might make one or two. Or three. And then we’ll eat some steamed broccoli. That should counteract all the cholesterol and fat from the cream, right?

Almond Tuiles, Crème Brûlée and Kitchen Torches

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Last week was Calvin’s spring break from school. I took the week off from my current babysitting job, and since I am in a (very long) freelance writing lull, I was footloose and fancy-free too. Rich’s mom came to visit for the last half of the week and we had our usual butter bacchanalia, with a bit of sugar thrown in. Rich was able to take Friday off, so we had a nice long weekend of family time. As I mentioned in Monday’s post, Rich’s dad opted to skip the trip north in favor of Florida sunshine and warm weather. He really was the smart one, given our huge snowstorm on Sunday. But he missed out on our snowy day apple crisp and all the other goodies too.

We had a nice mix of homemade creations and bakery treats. We managed to get to Pint Size Bakery just in time for their salted caramel croissants (kouing amann by another name). Our discussion of them while we were in line even inspired the man in front of us to buy one. The lady in front of him joined in the conversation with the comment that they were so good that they made her eyes roll back in her head. High praise for sure. They were just as tasty as we remembered (though I don’t think we had any eye rolling) and I am now inspired to try making them again. This time I’ll make smaller ones, and work on not over caramelizing the sugar.

We also picked up a few frangipane muffins from Pint Size, and they were as fabulous as we remembered. I am going to have to tweak my recipe for blueberry almond muffins a bit to try and duplicate the texture of the frangipane muffins. Oh, the baking experiments that are going to go on here!

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On the home front, we made garlic bread with homemade bread. Or rather Calvin made garlic bread and we all happily ate it. Mary and I made almond tuile cookies and we all made almond crème brûlée together. That one was Calvin’s request and I’m not sure where he got the idea (maybe from our mutual Food Network “Chopped” habit?).

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I have never made crème brûlée, and it showed. I have certainly not mastered the kitchen torch. We had everything from burnt sugar to barely melted sugar to flaming brown sugar. We tried both brown and white sugars to see which worked better – in my hands, neither. I wasn’t totally happy with the custard base either. It had enough whipping cream and egg yolks in it that it should have been fabulous, but it was just ho hum and too sweet to boot. I will be tweaking and trying more recipes before I post one to share. And my torching technique needs work. If you have any tips, please share. Or if you have used the broiler successfully, tell me how. We tried that too and it was no more successful than the torch.

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But, aesthetics aside, we had a great time playing with the torch and we managed to avoid catching anything (except for the brown sugar) on fire. The tuiles were the successful experiment of the week and I will be posting on them soon. They are much easier than they look and we are all sad that they are gone. We are also sad that Mary went home. But we will be seeing both my in-laws in a couple of months, which really isn’t long to wait. Just enough time to perfect my torch skills!

Homemade Candy Hearts

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I can’t believe that I took the time to make candy hearts this weekend. I am the woman who avoids making cut-out cookies at all costs, runs from the room if anyone suggests decorating said cut-out cookies with icing and uses her rolling pin only for making cinnamon rolls, tortillas and pie crust. I own only a few cookie cutters and sometimes they go years before I pull them out.

I saw a post on making candy hearts on the blog Emmy Cooks. She got the idea and recipe from cakespy.com. I showed it to Calvin and he jumped on it. We planned to do them over the weekend, while Rich was out of town for work. They actually were a lot more fun to make than I thought they would be. I even made a run to Michael’s to get heart cookie cutters (actually fondant cutters, but they were cheap and were small enough for making the candies) and food color markers for writing. Minus the run to Michael’s, the whole process took about an hour, before the drying time. And it was a fun, if sticky, hour.

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I am not going to swear off buying candy hearts, but I will make these again. They are a fun group project – producing tasty hearts with a texture similar to pillow mints. They are sweet, since they are largely powdered sugar, and lightly flavored with vanilla, almond or mint (three separate flavors, not mixed). I followed Emmy’s directions to use a few drops of flavoring and coloring. The flavors are very subtle. I think next time I will use about an eighth of a teaspoon, or a little more, per quarter of the batch.

I took Emmy’s notes to heart (ha!) that the recipe made a lot of candies. I cut the recipe in half, though that meant using only half of a package of gelatin – not sure what I’ll do with the other half. Maybe I’ll try making a batch of pillow mints when the hearts are gone. Our half recipe made 157 (we counted) hearts of various sizes, which were quite enough for us. Feel free to make a double batch if you are feeling crazy industrious.

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Download or print recipe here.

Candy Hearts
Makes 150+ assorted hearts

These take way more powdered sugar than you will believe. Buy a two-pound bag and you will have more than you need. Get two bags if you are doubling the recipe. Only double it if you want a kitchen full of hearts.

¼ cup water
half of ¼ ounce package of unflavored gelatin (about 1½ teaspoons)
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
3-4 cups powdered sugar, plus more for kneading and rolling
food coloring
assorted extracts (I used mint, almond and vanilla)
food color markers

Mix water, gelatin and corn syrup together in a small bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds on full power and then stir again. Pour into a mixer bowl and add 1 cup powdered sugar. Mix well, scraping down the sides. Keep adding powdered sugar, a cup at a time, until the mixture forms a soft dough. You will just be thinking it will never work when it will all come together.

Sprinkle the counter with powdered sugar and turn dough out onto it. Knead dough a few times until it is less sticky and smooth. It will feel like smooth, satiny clay.

Divide the dough into as many parts as you want colors or flavors. I did four colors and three flavors – green and mint, pink and almond, white and blue with vanilla.

Cover the dough you aren’t working with. Add about two drops of color and about 1/8 teaspoon of flavoring extract to a ball of dough and knead and mix until the color is evenly distributed. You can do this on top of parchment, waxed paper or plastic wrap if you are afraid the color will stain your counter. Your hands might get a little stained, but it washes off pretty easily. Repeat with all the dough.

Once all the dough is colored and flavored, start rolling it out, one portion at a time. Keep the remaining dough covered to keep it from drying out. Roll the dough to between ¼ inch and 1/8 inch. Cut out with heart cutters and set on parchment or waxed paper lined baking sheets to dry. Reroll scraps and cut again.

Let hearts dry for 24 hours, uncovered. Once the hearts are totally dry, write messages on them with food color markers. Store in an airtight container for virtually forever.

Fondue Friday

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There is a reason everyone who got married in the 60’s got a fondue pot for a wedding present – fondue is fun and relatively inexpensive entertainment – at least when you do it yourself. We figured out a few years ago that we like to have fondue more often than we can splurge on the restaurant version. Cheese fondue makes for a nice date night at home, or a fun family dinner when the cold winter winds are whistling past the windows and the same old dinner options seem ho hum. Sure, it’s a lot of cheese for one meal, but you aren’t going to do this very often, so celebrate the gooey cheesiness. And yes, there is wine in it. I figure that the kiddo gets about a quarter cup of wine, if that, in his serving.

For a while we had a fondue pot that used sterno cans to heat the pot. It was hit-or-miss at best – the sterno would either go out for lack of air, or it would burn merrily with that special sterno hiss and pop, getting the cheese too hot. I do have to say that the layer of browned cheese in the bottom was quite tasty, though. We never dared to try chocolate in it. Browned, toasty chocolate just isn’t the same as browned, toasty cheese.

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We finally got around to buying an electric fondue pot and wonder why we waited so long. The interior is nonstick, which is really nice for cleanup, and we can control the heat to the nth degree. No more sterno fumes or frustrated sessions with matches and dying flames. And sadly, no more browned cheese on the bottom. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

Cheese fondue has so few ingredients – they all need to be high quality. Make sure the wine is one you would actually drink, though you don’t have to go expensive to get good wine. And don’t even think of using American-style Swiss cheese in this. I get my Gruyere and Emmenthaler in the imported and specialty cheese section of my regular grocery store – no need for a trip to a specialty cheese store.

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Get (or make) good bread that has some flavor and isn’t Wonder Bread soft. I like to make Middle Eastern flatbread and use that. The small loaves have a lot of crust, which helps you keep your bread cubes on the fondue fork – less fishing for lost bread in the cheese. Make the whole thing a party and get the family, or some friends, together to make the bread that you are going to dip. The flatbread comes together in little more than an hour, which you can count as entertainment for your party or family night.

We also dip apples, and sometimes potatoes. You could branch out into blanched broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, if you like. When we do potatoes, I buy waxy red potatoes since they are firm enough to stand up to the whole dipping process. Mealy white potatoes fall apart when you try to spear them with the fork.

Chocolate fondue will have to wait for another time. For now, get the cheese, bake or buy the bread, and start dipping.

Download or print the recipe here. 

Cheese Fondue
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4 as a meal, 8 as an appetizer

If you don’t have a fondue pot, you can make this on the stove and serve it right out of the pot, or transfer to a crockpot set on high.

½ pound Jarlsburg, Emmenthaler or other strong Swiss cheese, shredded*
½ pound Gruyere cheese, shredded*
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
pinch nutmeg

*Don’t use Kraft, or other typical American-type Swiss cheese.

Dipping options:
1 medium loaf good quality French bread, cut into large cubes (or 2-4 loaves Middle Eastern flatbread)
2-3 apples, cut into large dice
1-2 large red potatoes, cooked and cut into large dice (see Note)

Note: For best results, boil potatoes whole and unpeeled until just tender when pierced with a fork. Cool slightly, then peel and dice. If you cook the potato too long and it won’t stay on the fondue forks, use a spoon to drizzle cheese over the potato pieces on individual plates.

In a bowl, toss cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. In a fondue pot (use the manufacturer’s recommendations for settings) or in a saucepan over medium heat, bring garlic, wine and lemon juice to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the wine. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, sprinkle top with ground nutmeg.

Serve at once with dipping options of choice.

Any leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated, though the fondue won’t be as smooth. I have used the leftover mixture in scrambled eggs and they were fabulous.

Family Reunion Fun

I thought I should do a post on the family reunion that I alluded to several times in last week’s posts. I could use the words from church newsletters and society pages and say a good time was had by all, though the grammar check is practically yelling at me for that phrase. Everyone did have a good time, to put it in a more grammatically correct way.

We wished more of the family could have made it, especially those that were missing because of health issues. But everyone was there in spirit. Our next big get-together will be my cousin’s wedding in October when more of the family should be able to come.

I come by my love of cooking honestly – there were mountains of good food. Garden squash, zucchini, green beans and tomatoes. Ham, smoked pulled pork, pork tenderloin (it seemed to be a porky weekend), broccoli salad, pasta salad, peaches, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, corn on the cob (a lot of corn on the cob), beer, wine and a wonderful sangria with every kind of beautiful fruit we could think of to add. In addition to the whole wheat bread, zucchini muffins, chocolate chip cookie bars and chocolate oat bars I made, there were Sally Lunn muffins, corn muffins, brownies and angel food cake.

Lest we sound like complete gluttons, all of this bounty was spread out over four days. There wasn’t much physical activity to burn off the calories, though. We pretty much sat around and talked, with a little bit of movement when the conversation groups mingled, or it got too hot to sit outside and we moved inside.

Three generations sharing good food and family stories – what more could you ask?