Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Divinity: Candy-making with the Grandparents

I'd like to introduce you to my grandparents: George and Virgie. They are incredible; they defeat the laws of nature. George is 93 and Virgie is 91. I am very lucky to have them so close, all of my life. I wanted to share a family recipe with you - one of our Christmas candies that Virgie makes: Divinity. We made two batches, their traditional way - by hand, and my lazy way - via stand mixer. This is the recipe card. It's gotten some ware over the years, but it's still in good shape. It's in Virgie's perfectly scripted handwriting. We begin with the eggs. Here, George is separating them. You will need two egg whites. Be sure that no yolk gets mixed in. Set aside until after the sugar syrup is prepared.
In a heavy/sturdy pan - like this one, that's as thick as bones - combine a half cup of water, a half cup of light corn syrup, and 2 cups of sugar. Heat until boiling, stir until a rolling boil begins. Reduce heat to med-high and set a timer for 7 minutes.
Here's when you get to check the sugar mixture to see if it's at the right stage - hard crack or hard ball stage. Spoon a little of the sugar into a bowl of cold water. Please be careful not to get the sugar on yourself. It will burn worse than fire.
This is an indication that the sugar isn't to hard crack stage yet. After you drop the hot sugar into the cold water, fish it out. If it strings from your fingers, this is soft crack. Keep on boiling.
Virgie likes to test OFTEN because she gets to sneak a taste of sweetness. This woman is a fiend for sugar. Sugar is to diabetics as crack is to crackheads. Oh, Grandma.
Eureka, the hard crack stage. You will know that the sugar has reached the appropriate stage when you pull it out of the cold water and it's solid like hard candy. Virgie taps it on the edge of the bowl to verify, and then promptly "hides" the test piece in her mouth. Now, take the pan off of the heat, and find those egg whites. On the left, you'll see George whipping the egg whites with his preferred hand mixer. I am partial to a stand mixer. Whip your egg whites until they leave stiff peaks.
For those of you working by hand, get your friends and neighbors. You'll need them and their muscles. First, stir in a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Once that is incorporated, gradually (or have someone gradually) pour the hot syrup into the egg mixture while you or your stand mixer whips and whips and whips. After the whipper's arms get tired, have someone else take over. It helps if someone else holds the bowl during this aggressive, whipping action. Don't scrape the pan - the sugar left in the pan is at a different temperature. Just let as much drip out as possible.
Whip until the mixture is thick, shiny, and smooth. You can test to see if it's at the right consistency by dipping out a spoonful onto some wax paper. If it stands on it's own and drys fairly quickly, then it's perfect!
This was our first test. It was too runny and never set up. If this happens, just keep whipping. Be careful not to over whip because it will ultimately become crumbly - no good.
When it's at the right consistency. WORK QUICKLY. The divinity dollops will harden very fast.
This is the work of my brother, my dad, and I. We do not have the skilled hands of my grandma. When she dips them out, they have smooth edges and a curl on the top.
After they are cool and dry, you can store them in an air tight container. They make great gifts and look fancy on a platter of sweets.
And as always, the cooks get to lick the paddle. Happy holidays to you and your family.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fan Mail!

This might be the coolest thing I've ever seen.
Today Karli and I got a strangely shaped package. I opened it up to find a super-cool, handmade sign made by uber-fan, Sue B. I mean, this thing is awesome. So many colors and fabrics. It says, "Happiness is a Hot Cookie" for goodness sake! (Notice the wooden spoons that say "Yum!" It's all about the details!)

And she put our logo on the back!
Thanks so much, Sue! You rock!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Karli's Holiday Wish List

Recently my husband and family have been asking me what I would like for Christmas. I am so fortunate to have the most wonderful husband, family, home and business that I was having trouble thinking of anything I truly needed. Then I started browsing my favorite website - ETSY!!! - and discovered a ton of things I would love to have. There is something about handmade goods that makes my heart so happy. I just wanted to share with you some of the lovelies I will be putting on my Christmas wish list:

The Bordeaux Blooming Band from Backwoods Belle ($18). I have had the pleasure of working next to the lovely Aubrey of Backwoods Belle and she is the sweetest person with the most beautiful headbands, pins and bobbies. I love this bordeaux color because it can go with almost anything and makes a bold statement.This 8 x 10 whisk print from Studio Mela ($20). I love the whimsical nature of the print, the color palette is perfect and it reminds me of what I do for a living.

Leather Poppy Wristlet from Sakura Urban ($75). This wristlet is a little bit girlie, a little bit tough just like me. It is made to perfection right here in Indianapolis out of the finest Italian leather and lined with limited edition Japanese fabric. It is a truly unique purse that will definitely have your girlfriends talking.

Japanese Yuzu lotion from Oliba ($10). I fell in love with Oliba's Japanese Yuzu organic goat's milk soap at Renegade in Chicago and am so excited to find they have my favorite scent in a luscious body lotion. I like the Japanese Yuzu scent because it is similar to grapefruit and smells super fresh without overpowering you.

Pincushion ring from Art Nest Shop ($10). This is about the cutest thing I have ever seen and a PERFECT gift for any crafty people in your life. Art Nest Shop sells them in a number of colors and fabrics that it is so difficult to choose a favorite.

The Austin bib necklace from Miss Ruby Sue ($200). This necklace is TO. DIE. For. It is constructed out of dupioni silk, vintage pearls, ribbon, tulle and a one-of-a-kind vintage brooch. I would love to wear this necklace with a simple black dress and heels to a New Year's Eve party.

Floursack towels from Nourishing Notes ($20). A set of two hand-screen printed towels featuring various kitchen utensils in bright red and gold. These adorable towels would brighten up any kitchen.

Summer at the Faire 8 x 10 print from Lupen Grainnen ($30). After watching the short-lived show Carnivale I have become obsessed with all things vintage carnival themed. This photo from Lupen Grainne's etsy shop honeytree is perfect!

Finally, I would LOVE to have The Missy from Little Houses ($110). I like that it comes in different colors and that you can wear it different ways depending upon your mood. I definitely think that if I do not get this for Christmas I am going to have to get it for myself.

I hope you get everything on your list whether it is full of handmade goodies or more intangible wishes like peace on earth.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Imbibe Review

So long time no blog. My apologies. This holiday season has about run me through. While we are mostly experiencing success, it comes at the cost of exhaustion and ignoring spouses, friends, and family. I have yet to do any Christmas shopping for my loved ones, and I'm feeling a bit hopeless at the thought of it. I hate that part of this holiday - the commercial part. Yes, it's great to give gifts to those when the feeling is right: you see something that reminds you of someone, so you buy it and give it to them. That sense of flow doesn't happen for everyone you give presents to. The whole part about, "Well, who's left on my list to buy for" is downright annoying and defeating the purpose of the season. Just because you didn't see the perfect item for someone doesn't mean that you don't think of that person or stopped loving that person. It just means that there's not a crummy piece of consumer schite to represent your adoration for them.

And you're thinking, Sarah, what the jiminy does this have to do with food? I know, I'm sorry. Ignore that little tiff. I'm here to give you my review for a cute little bar downtown. I don't know when my editor will get back with me about it or if it will even make it to the paper, but we'll see I guess. Here you go.

"Imbibe: The new home of classy and casual.

Blink and you’ll miss it. Sandwiched between the Smokehouse on Shelby and the entrance of the Fountain Square Theater you’ll find Imbibe: a bar that hints of old time glamour; showcasing “classic cocktails”, Deco décor, and an intimate dining space that seats 16.
Bartender Brain Jones, (who reminded me of John Cusack) was very personable; inquiring about our taste in music so that he may play it for us. “The atmosphere changes with the crowd,” he said. Imbibe’s vibe reflects it’s occupants, making the bar accommodating to all ages of of-age drinkers. The bar is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5pm until the late-night folks filter out.
Craft beers are moderately priced around $4 and cocktails average $7.50. I tried the Sidecar - Brandy, Grand Mariner, and fresh lemon juice with a sugared rim - quoted to be the “perfect cocktail.” (Need I say more?) These cocktails are not for the weak. My date ordered a traditional Martini which was dry, lip curlingly dry. They are tastefully poured with a heavy hand.
The menu at Imbibe is simple- only appetizers and a soup of the day. Composed by Chef Matt Schwartz, the menu is a smattering of items from the Shelby Street Café and the Smokehouse on Shelby. Some of the offerings are sophisticated like the Smoked Salmon and Trout Plate. (They smoke everything in house.) Old pub standards such as Smokehouse Wings and Pulled Pork Sliders are also on the menu. My foodie accomplice and I shared a Beer Battered Shrimp Basket with the signature Raspberry Chipotle sauce, a generous order of beef Brisket Sliders with sweet BBQ sauce (home-style like mom would make), and a cup of house made chicken noodle soup. Tender tongues beware of the chipotle. It’s REAL chipotle. Appetizers range from $8 to $11, with a Wing and Beer Special for $23. The White Russian or the Chocolate Martini is a sweet way to end the meal. In fact, I suggest it."

Thanks for reading. I'm on to another assignment - a french cafe in Carmel.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Linzer Cookie Remix for Good.Food.Stories

Linzer Cookies - The Belle of the Ball of All Christmas Cookies
Attention hard-core bakers or those wishing to make an impression. These German holiday cookies are for you. They are tasty and down-right beautiful, but take some patience and a common, yet uncommonly used ingredient. First of all, I'd like you to meet Maike and Nadia, my fun and adorable German friends.

Maike and I have been friends since high school, when she was an exchange student. We happened to be neighbors to boot. It's been a handful or so years since that year, and she's brought back a new friend almost every time she has come to visit. This time she brought her best friend, Nadia. And Nadia, who had caught word of my passion for cookies, brought her mother's Christmas cookie recipes. (Commence Snoopy dance now.) She brought nine recipes in fact. Nadia became a life long friend immediately.

Presenting the odd ingredient: hard boiled egg yolk. When Nadia told me to start boiling some eggs, I thought she was hinting that it was lunch time. Nope. I was dumbfounded. I don't know what the purpose is. Texture? Flavor? (But you can't taste them in the cookie.) I'm so confused and in awe at the same time.

See them in there, beside the raw egg, butter, sugar, and almond meal. Crumbled, hard-boiled egg yolks. I'm still in amazement.

This is a double layer cookie, so roll the chilled dough out thinly - less than 1/4 of an inch. I cannot emphasize enough, chill the dough! Chill it, roll it out, then chill it again. Put it in the freezer if you have to. The dough is very delicate and tears/warps easily.

We used a large round cookie cutter for the base and a small heart cutter for the top layer. (You'll see.) Take your time on this, they'll only turn out better. I might add that it is wise to bake the top cookies separately from the bottom cookies because they cook at slightly different times. The "holey" cookies cook quicker. So keep an eye on them while they bake.

Here, Maike is slathering the bottom layer with warm jelly. We've loosened up the jelly in a small pan on the stove top, so that it's nice and runny. No lumps for these beauties.

The top layer gets a heavy coat of powdered sugar. Do this before putting them on the bottom cookie. We don't want to hide the jelly.
Now, play the match game. Find a top cookie that fits it's appropriate bottom cookie. Theoretically, they will all fit together perfectly, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way. Dough stretches, cookies warp in the oven, stuff happens. It's best not to worry about it.
Last, fill the holes to the brim with more jelly. They look rather nice like this. An impressive cookie for very much loved, appreciative cookie eaters.
I hope you give this cookie a try. They are truly a triumph and induce "Ooos" and "Ahhs".
Linzer Cookies
Note: Germans measure all of their ingredients by weight. It's actually way more accurate than our cup system. If you don't have a scale, just go to any store where kitchen supplies are sold and pick one up. They aren't very expensive, and it's a nice tool to have around the kitchen.
250g. flour
250g. ground almonds
250g. sugar
250g. softened butter
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2 hard boiled egg yolks crumbled
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground clove.
Mix all ingredients together until just combined, and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough to ¼ inch thick. Cut with circular cookie cutter. Using a small cookie cutter (about 1 inch wide.) cut out the centers of half of the cookies. Bake on a greased sheet for 10 minutes. Let cool. Heat jelly until warm and runny. Pour and brush on a small amount of jelly to the whole circle cookies. Sprinkle the cookies (ones with the hole in the center) with powdered sugar. Place the powdered sugar cookies on top of the jelly covered cookies. Fill the hole with jelly and let the jelly set up. Share and enjoy!

Happy Holidays from Sarah and Karli of The Hot Cookie.