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Archive for February, 2011

Okay, so since I have to go back to work tomorrow (sniff), I decided that I have to try and cram in as many things as possible that I wanted to do over vacation but left until the last minute, including:

1. Visit my friend K—- and her new baby (which I wasn’t putting off, per se- but I had that nasty cold for so long and I didn’t want to spread it to a newborn.)

2. Actually step on an exercise machine at the new gym and burn a few calories (I did go pick up my keytag yesterday, so that’s a start.)

3. Tackle the French macaron.

I have been intrigued by macarons for a while now- they’ve been a staple in French bakeries forever, and they’re starting to eke out the cupcake as the new trendy bite size dessert in metropolitan areas. Up until recently, the macaron was not something that home bakers even attempted, but thanks to new cookbooks shedding light on the process of macaron making (and lots of online tutorials), they are getting made more and more at home.

By the way, they are still pronounced ‘macaroon’ but I think are generally spelled the French way to avoid any confusion with the coconut cookie that is a distinctly American creation. French macarons have nothing in them but sugar, almond flour and egg whites (oh, and a tiny bit of vanilla extract and food coloring.) If you read a recipe for them, it’s an extraordinarily fussy little cookie. Because you’re essentially working with a meringue, you can’t even think about making them on a humid day. The egg whites are supposed to be separated and then aged for 24 hours at room temperature to get rid of some of the moisture. After the ingredients are folded together, you pipe little uniform blobs of the batter onto parchment paper and then have to let it rest for 15 minutes so it will develop the trademark smooth top and ‘foot’ on the bottom.

I received a little macaron cookbook for Christmas and have been toying with the idea of making them for a while. The recipe was for a lot of cookies, though- and I didn’t want to separate 8 eggs and have the whole thing be a waste if it didn’t turn out right. I researched online about using Eggbeaters Just Whites- which is made only of egg whites but is pasteurized, so I wasn’t sure how that would affect the recipe. In the end, I actually used a recipe in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, only because it was for a smaller amount of cookies. Martha’s recipe didn’t mention anything about aging the egg whites or letting the cookies rest before baking. It also recommended baking for 20-22 minutes, whereas the macaron book suggested only 14.

So, I didn’t bother with the egg aging. I just separated my eggs and got to work.

Confectioners sugar mixed with almond flour. Almond flour is 10 dollars for 16 ounces. Damn!

Next I whipped up the egg whites, sugar and food coloring.

Fluffy pink meringue about to be folded into sugar/almond flour mixture.

Notice that I didn’t say I put in the vanilla.That is an important detail later. I piped them out onto the parchment and started to let them rest. Then I realized that I forgot the vanilla, which was only 1/4 of a teaspoon and could have probably been left out. Regardless, I scraped the macarons off of the parchment, back into the bowl and stirred in the vanilla. Now the whole mixture had lost most of its volume and I was sure I would be left with failed macarons. But I pressed on.

I re-piped them onto fresh parchment and put them in the oven. They didn’t seem to do much for a while (and I’m pretty sure I piped them too close together) but they were staying smooth! They were developing feet! It was a miracle!

Fresh from the oven.

I am fairly certain that they were a little underdone, but they looked so pretty! I filled them with Nutella because I didn’t feel like making ganache.

So pretty!

Then I got cocky and decided to try another batch, only this time I was going to use those questionable pasteurized egg whites. I don’t think that was a good idea. They did seem to form peaks when I whipped them, but for some reason they came out lumpy and gross looking. I also tried to make them purple, but they ended up looking more gray. So if you wanted to make a cookie for a theme party, say… rocks from the quarry for a Flintstones theme, or dryer lint for a Suzy Homemaker theme, or even hairballs for a cat theme, then pasteurized egg whites are the way to go:

Fugly macarons. They still taste good, though.

Since I wasn’t sure how successful this whole venture was, I also made a batch of sure-fire oatmeal cookies (also from Martha’s Baking Handbook, which happens to be an awesome book.)

I think the verdict on the macarons is that I would definitely attempt to make them again, but fresh eggs are the way to go. Maybe I’ll even take the time to ‘age’ them properly next time.

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It’s 10:30 in the morning and I’ve had my coffee and breakfast sandwich. I knit a few rows on the afghan and have been flipping between reality tv on Bravo and the third hour of Today with Hoda and Kathie Lee. It’s dreary and raining outside and I know it’s going to be a challenge forcing myself to shower and do anything today. I really have to get to that darn gym.

Normally today would be the type of day for making a big old pot of soup, but I actually have the stuff to make lasagna, which I bought yesterday before I knew the girls wouldn’t make it for dinner. Coincidentally, they arrived after dinner time, but neither had eaten- so it was a good thing I had those tasty ravioli leftovers. The brownies also turned out well. They were a little cakier than I hoped, and I think they needed a little more chocolate flavor (the recipe only called for 6 ounces of chocolate) but the peanut butter made up for it. Maybe next time I’ll add some chocolate chips to the batter to make them a little more chocolaty.

I bought the ‘no boil’ noodles for the lasagna, so we’ll see how that turns out. I should probably get started on that now so I don’t have to do it later. I need to accomplish something or this is going to turn into one of those ‘lost’ days, when you blink and suddenly it’s 6:00 and you’re still in your pajamas. It’s days like today that make me kind of wish I had a fireplace. I do have a fake one on the Wii… but somehow it doesn’t quite cut it. Alright. Time to get my lasagna on.

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My week of February break is quickly drawing to a close, and when I think about what I’m going back to next week it gives me a little bit of the agita. It’s basically full speed ahead until the end of the year… which I guess is a good thing, because it will be July before I know it and I’ll be neglecting the blog again in favor of sitting by the pool.

Today really felt like a vacation day, because everything I did was fun. I started out by meeting friends for what was initially supposed to be brunch (though I don’t know where we were going to find brunch on a Thursday other than a diner, and even then it wouldn’t involve mimosas and bloody marys) and ended up being lunch at a local Mexican place. I went with some of my friends from work and it is always so nice to get a chance to hang out with them totally outside of school. Everyone is so much more relaxed. So anyway, we had a very nice time. I didn’t have to be home right away, so my friend D—– was going to get a manicure afterwards and invited me to come along. That sounded like a good idea to me, as the last time I had a manicure was some time back in October. We actually ran into another friend at the nail place who had the same idea. So at this point of the day: Lunch, check. Pretty nails, check. The only other thing I really needed to do (besides finally show my face at my new gym… which I still haven’t done. Tomorrow, I promise!) was to deposit a couple of checks at the credit union. D—– had to go too, so we drove over together.

Now, next door to the credit union is this Chinese massage place (no jokes, please) that D—– had been to once before on the recommendation of another colleague. Apparently, other than the pressure point/chi-related massage, they are also the place to go for sport massage. I wasn’t initially going to go in, but my neck and upper back have been bothering me for the past couple days and I’m in between chiropractor appointments, so I decided to go in. I opted for the 30 minute massage since I just wanted him to focus on my back. Now, I’ve had traditional Swedish massages before and I always was under the impression that I could handle a lot of pressure. Ha. In walks this tiny little man, and at first he is barely touching my back. So I’m thinking, “Oh, great. This is totally a waste of money.” Suddenly he started yanking on my limbs and twisting them around. Then he proceeded to go to work on my neck so intensely that my eyes were starting to water. It was definitely not a relaxing experience. Luckily the ‘extreme torture’ portion of the massage didn’t last too long, and the rest of it was pretty tolerable. He did, of course, notice that my left side was much worse and so I mentioned that I play the violin. He kind of chuckled and went, “Ahhhh…” and I think that’s when he decided I needed the extra painful massage.

I have to say, though… my neck and back do both feel better, so maybe there is something to his methods. D—– didn’t seem to have any problems with her masseuse. She had a nice, relaxing experience.

Since it’s Thursday, it’s Grey’s Anatomy night. Last week we ended up not getting together, so it was still my turn tonight to host. Normally I don’t get home until 6:30 at the earliest, so I was looking forward to being able to actually make some food for myself and the girls rather than ordering Chinese food. Well, it so happens that both friends won’t be able to come over until almost 9- so no need to make dinner. Rats. I did have a request for a baked good, preferably involving chocolate and/or peanut butter, so I found a recipe in the Martha Stewart Cookies book for chocolate peanut butter swirl brownies. I’ve never made them before so I’ll let you know what the consensus is after we’ve eaten them. They look pretty good, though:

For my dinner, I had a package of fresh ravioli from Trader Joe’s made with Parmigiano and arugula. I had leftover mushrooms and fresh spinach, so I sauteed those with a little bit of garlic and olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flake. Oh, I also used a little white wine. At the very end I threw in some fresh basil and chopped fresh mozzarella. I tossed in the ravioli and sprinkled with a little bit of Romano cheese.

It was super yummy, and I’m glad to have leftovers.

When the girls get here I’ll cut up the brownies. I also have some of my favorite cheap champagne chilling and some fresh strawberries left over from fondue night.

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New bed!

After waiting patiently for the duration of the four hour delivery window, I called the transport service and they said that the driver got caught in traffic (yeah, right) and wouldn’t be there until 5:30. Well, they got here at 5:45 and at least they were pretty quick putting the bed together. Here it is:

I think it looks good! I was a little worried that it would be too big, even though I saw it in the store and the size was fine. What do we think?

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Sunday I drove down to my brother’s house so I could go on a quest for the perfect bridesmaid dress for his wedding. His fiancee was nice/laid back enough to give us a color and let us choose our own dresses, so it was fun- trying on lots of dresses. This is the one I went with. Apparently David’s Bridal is now guilty of vanity sizing- because the last time I checked, I wasn’t exactly fitting into a size 6- let alone in a formal wear store where things traditionally run small. But fit into the size 6 I did, miraculously. Hopefully it will need to be taken in a little bit by the time of the wedding. Did I mention that I still haven’t made it to the gym to pick up my key tag and free tee shirt?

Anyway, once we were back from the bridal appointment, we decided to order pizza and wings from the pizza place down the street. It never occurred to me why I didn’t eat wings during my childhood… but it could be partially due to the fact that NJ wings are not great. Now, I’m making a blanket statement here- I’m pretty sure that I did see Aaron McCargo on the Food Network touting the virtues of some wings in Cinnaminson, NJ, but who knows what a person from Buffalo would say about those Jersey-style wings. Stick to cheesesteaks ¬†and panzarottis, Aaron.

It is also possible that the Sal’s pizzeria in Mt. Holly just has really crappy wings. My dad says that you should never order pizza from a place called ‘Sal’s’ because every town has one, so how good could it be? He may be right. The first thing I noticed about these wings was that the blue cheese dressing was conspicuously absent, despite early protests from my brother that they came with it. Upon closer inspection, the blue cheese dressing proved unnecessary, because there was little to no sauce on these wings at all. I think they were fried, but not particularly crispy, and they were sitting in a shallow puddle of nondescript liquid. The first wing was downright disappointing but by the fourth or fifth I just gave in to their mediocrity.

The next morning on my way home, I stopped at McDonalds to get an egg Mcmuffin, no meat:

I’ve always found the McDonalds muffin to be superior to the Dunkin Donuts variety, since they use a whole egg rather than a pasteurized scrambled hockey puck. But I digress. As I was ordering my muffin, I thought to myself… “I should see if I can get a Shamrock Shake. This might be my only chance. I don’t want to waste it.” And yes, I was able to have a mint flavored shake with my breakfast. You know you’re in NJ when you can not only get a Shamrock Shake but you can obtain one before 10:30 am. It felt wrong, but so good at the same time. I did politely decline the whipped cream and cherry topping, as I prefer to experience my Shamrock shake the way God intended. It’s bad enough that it was in a clear cup and I could see the little pool of green flavoring at the bottom that hadn’t been properly mixed in and made my first few sips taste like toothpaste.

My trip to New Jersey was capped off with a trip to the gas station for cheap full-service gas and a shopping spree at Trader Joe’s. All in all, a short but eventful journey to the Garden State.

Today I taught a make-up lesson, got my bangs trimmed, got my taxes done (I’ll be receiving a refund for the first time in years- three cheers for buying a house!) went to Target and attempted to pick up a refill on Eartha’s prednisone. When I got to the vet they told me that Eartha was due for a visit before they would refill the prescription. Le sigh. So I get to bring her in tomorrow. Joy. Get the butchy rawhide gloves ready.

Tonight I’m going to ‘fondue’ night at a friend’s house. I’m in charge of the dessert fondue, so I got some stuff to dunk in it and I figure I’ll just make a chocolate ganache and add in some liqueur. Nothing too fancy. The thing I really want to try before the vacation is over is macarons. I’ve got a couple different recipes and I have also been looking online to see if it is possible to make them using pasteurized egg whites- because that would be sooo much easier than separating all of those eggs. Any thoughts?

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So, a while back I was obsessing about what kind of bed to get- right now my mattress and box spring are just on the standard metal frame that comes included… no headboard or anything. I wanted to get something that looked more like a piece of furniture, because my bedroom is kind of, well, under-decorated. I was mainly looking at metal beds because I figured that the wooden frames were too expensive and bulky. Today I went to the same clearance center where I bought my couch and in ten minutes I had purchased a bed. Wanna see it?

I’ve always liked sleigh beds but they tend to be on the giant side, and my bedroom is kind of long, like a boring beige shoe box. A bed with a big frame or a high footboard would just be too much. This one seemed to be about the right size, and I think it will go nicely with my dresser. It was a little more than I originally anticipated spending, but I think it’s also a nicer bed than I thought I was going to get. It was the first thing the sales guy showed me and I thought, ‘Yup. That works.’ It should be shipped to the store by Monday and I can have it delivered on Wednesday. Yay! I’ll be one step closer to having a properly decorated bedroom.

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This afternoon I found myself at the supermarket before dinner, without a list. As we all know, this leads to impulsive shopping. One product I saw in the international aisle was this:

I was not compelled to purchase.

Luckily, my impulses were mostly limited to some Cadbury mini eggs. (Apparently, the day after Valentine’s day is when the Easter candy goes out. Last year I waited until Easter was actually imminent, and every store was out of Cadbury mini eggs. Damn.) I also bought a bunch of cream cheese products. You may ask what prompted me to stock up on cream cheese… well, there was this really nice looking cookbook that was free with the purchase of four Philadelphia brand products. So, I got a couple blocks of cream cheese (always good for dip or frosting), a pack of single serving cream cheeses, and a container of this new and mysterious stuff called ‘Cooking Creme.’

I got the impression that the cooking cream was meant to be sort of an quick Alfredo solution… most of the serving suggestions showed it with pasta, or spread on a pizza. I picked up a container of the ‘Italian herbs and cheese’ variety. I probably would have stuck to the ‘original’ flavor, but the Italian one was all they had. The serving size is 1/4 of a cup (I think there were 4 servings per container) and there were 9 grams of fat per serving- so not nearly as bad as traditional Alfredo sauce. Also, I liked that it didn’t involve making a roux and stirring milk for what seems like an eternity (especially on a week night when I typically get home at 6:30.)

When I got home, I put on some water to boil and got to work slicing half an onion and chopping some garlic, both of which I tossed in a pan with a little olive oil. I had a couple of tomatoes that needed to get used, so I blanched those, removed the skin, chopped ’em up and threw them in also. I also had a bag of chopped spinach in the freezer, so I microwaved that and threw it in with the other vegetables and a little white wine. When the pasta was al dente, I drained it, threw it back in the pot with the ‘creme’ and dumped the vegetables on top. I stirred it up and heated it through and this was the result:

I sprinkled a little Romano cheese on top and it was actually quite tasty! I definitely would go with the plain flavor in the future- just because the Italian seasoning tasted a little bit like a Laughing Cow cheese wedge or something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Generic ‘herb’ flavor. Better to get the plain and season it yourself, I think. Well, now that dinner is done, I think I’m going to clean up and do some laundry. I have another college friend visiting this weekend. (one of the nice things about having a new, bigger place- lots of people want to visit!) Maybe I’ll also get some work done on the afghan that I have been neglecting for the last week. I don’t want it to take 8 years to finish like the last one!

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