Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Try this at home

Caramels, specifically Ina Garten's sea salt caramels, have been on my To-Make list for a long time. It was a great way to spend the morning, interspersed with working on decorating a gingerbread house.

First, boil a little water, corn syrup and water.

Wait until it gets "a warm golden brown." That was the worst part of the recipe...what does that mean? I let it get much darker than this...but I wouldn't dare take my eye off of it by that stage to take a picture! Sugar is NOT forgiving.

Then add warmed cream with melted butter and a little salt. It bubbles up like lava...lovely smelling lava.

Then cook until it reaches the firm ball stage. Candy thermometer required, and since you can buy them at the grocery store for $5, I don't resent that at all.

And then pour into a parchment lined pan and cool. Be wary of licking any drips until it cools down...because 248 degree sugar does NOT taste good, no matter how much cream or butter is added. Sadly, I speak from experience.

Sprinkle with flaked salt and cut into squares. Wrap in parchment to make pretty little bundles. Perfect for giving away as Christmas gifts. I've already made caramel popcorn and chocolate dipped-marshmallows to give away to friends, Russian tea cakes and dark chocolate truffles to give to co-workers, so I suppose I'll save these for actual Christmas gifts for family.

I made two separate batches. The first batch turned out a little crunchy. Perhaps I let the sugar syrup get too brown before adding the cream or put it too early in the fridge. I didn't intentionally do anything different with the second batch, but I did boil it a few degrees past firm ball (accidentally) after adding the cream and waited until it was really cool to put in the fridge. Maybe it shouldn’t be put in there at all.

I dipped the crunchy ones halfway in chocolate, as compensation for the texture! The second batch was gloriously soft and chewy, easy to cut after a short while in the fridge. Wonderful.

Ina Garten's Fleur De Sel Caramels

• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
• 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan (or loaf pan) with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over 2 sides.

In a deep saucepan (6 inches diameter by 4 1/2 inches deep) combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. Don't stir - just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end!

In the meantime, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, set aside and keep warm.

When the caramelized sugar is a warm golden brown color, slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel - it will boil up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (it's hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.

When the caramels are cool, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel, cut into 24 pieces. Cut parchment papers in 6 by 4 1/2-inch squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

My 2nd annual gingerbread house. I am not a decorator...but I throughly enjoyed the process. Hopefully, it will not suffer the same fate as the last one...slowly picked bald by a scavenging husband. An electric fence may be erected around this one, if necessary.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

White Rock (Half) Marathon

Last weekend, Casey and I ran in the White Rock Half and Full Marathon. I did the Half, not very quickly, as running while 5 1/2 months pregnant makes frequent potty-o-let stops necessary, but I was just happy that I was able to be out there and still running.My dad came out to watch us, which was really fun. I also saw a few friends running or spectating too, which was really fun. I love that people brave the cold to stand out there and cheer.

Casey did the full marathon and had a great race with a really good time, 3:36.

In other news, the baby is doing great. I feel him move all the time now, which is really fun. It's like a little "Hi, mom" each time I feel him. It's so much more concrete now that we know the gender and can call him by name. We've got the baby room all cleaned out and the crib is up, even though that's about all we have. I went with my friend, Amy, to Babies R Us, so she could tell me what I need to to register for...and what to do with it! Seriously, it's a huge learning curve. Casey's actually been doing a lot of reading and research too, like on monitors and furniture, which has been awesome. He was the one pushing to get the baby room cleaned out, but we even ended up cleaning up the other two extra rooms, donating/chunking a lot of stuff, and putting other things on Craigslist. It's awesome getting rid of the clutter.

I've also been baking too. I got an early Christmas present from dad of a new mixer and immediately made Russian Tea Cakes and yesterday I made some Dark Chocolate Truffles and Swirled White/Milk Chocolate Bark, most of which will go to school as gifts or for Christmas parties.

There's just one more week of school before Christmas break, and the last day is the Faculty talent show...so really just four days of teaching...and on Thursday I'm giving a test...and reviewing on Wednesday...so really just two more days of active teaching until Christmas break. Can you tell I'm ready? I love the holidays and can't wait for more time to bake! :-)

Friday, November 26, 2010


Alchemy was an ancient practice focused on the attempt to change base metals into gold. Or this case, popcorn into caramel corn.

The base metal, freshly popped corn. Not from a microwave bag. Way more fun to make, btw.
Turned into...GOLD! I am an alchemist.

To make your own absolutely delicious gold, follow the recipe below.
And package them up as gifts, to spread the wealth!

Moose-Munch Remake, aka Golden Caramel Corn
(adapted from www.afarmgirlsdabbles.com)

5 to 6 qts. popped corn, from 1 c. unpopped white corn
1 c. butter
2 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 container mixed nuts
1/2 bag chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 250°.

After picking out any unpopped kernels and hulls, spread freshly popped corn in two large, shallow sheet pans. Put in the oven to keep warm and crisp.

Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Place on medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue to boil to the firm ball stage (248°), about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Syrup will foam.

Take popped corn from oven and pour hot caramel mixture over it, in a fine stream. Sprinkle over nuts. Stir with two wooden spoons to mix well. Return to oven for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring and scraping up caramel from pan bottom every 15 minutes.

Drizzle chocolate over the cooled caramel corn while it is still in the pans.

Cool and serve or store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Happy Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving began as usual, with the Turkey Trot, an 8-miler through downtown.
We look sleepy because it's early. The weather was cold and windy but generally great running weather. Casey ran with me, which was fun. My favorite part is looking up at the big buildings downtown while running through them and coming back across the Trinity River bridge, back into downtown with this amazing view of Dallas.

We then had family Thanksgiving at our house. My parents brought two smoked turkeys, my mom-in-law did the mashed potatoes and gravy, my sister & brother in law made the dressing and salad. So, all I had to do was the dessert, vegetable and bread. My kind of gathering.Yes, I photographed the food. I felt like my grandmother, who every year made the family pose around the loaded table, salivating through our posed smiles. At least this is drool-free.
There was cranberry sauce too. As a child, I would sneak canned cranberry sauce straight from the can. I am not ashamed.
If you look closely, Dad's cup says "Cindy." Cindy is my mom-in-law. Just thought I'd point that out.
My mom, actually playing nice and posing for a picture.
Dustin is excited about turkey.
And the lovely floating cheesecake that Casey was sweet enough to photograph for me. Yummy. It's a shame the leftovers didn't last past dinner. Must make more dessert next time.
And, of course, the after-Thanksgiving football and nap. I think Aubrey was savy to Casey's picture taking, though.

It was a good day.

Homemade Marshmallows

Every Christmas, Williams Sonoma sells the best marshmallows ever. They come individually wrapped and are "homemade." They make hot chocolate sublime. But, they cost about $1 each. So, I thought, I can do better than this.

So, I did. Alton Brown can give you the recipe, but they're just gelatin, sugar, corn syrup and water. Soak the gelatin, cook the syrup, add the syrup to the gelatin in the mixer and mix and mix. Pour onto a powdered sugar/cornstarch lined pan. Top with more powdered sugar/cornstarch. Let set. The absolute hardest part is cutting them, as they stick to everything until you roll them in powdered sugar.

The flavor is just the same as you'd expect from marshmallows, but the texture is much softer. Nice. And when dipped in semi-sweet chocolate, divine.

Sadly, though, as much as I liked the marshmallows, my stand mixer did not. It has departed this world. Now I know what I want for Christmas!

Next project: Homemade Moose Munch! (Aka Carmel Popcorn)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Indiana Jack

It's a boy!

Yesterday, we had the 19 week sonogram, and the baby's a boy. They measured everything and we got the blood test results back too, and everything's normal, and we're really happy. It was amazing to get a glimpse at our little person. He could even see that he had hiccups! It was darling. Our precious baby boy is due to arrive April 12th or so...and I can't wait to meet him, to watch him grow up, to see the man he grows up to be. What a privilege I get to be part of helping form a human being! And I'll always be his mother, and he'll always be my son. Wow. How challenged and exciting!

P.S. Yes...we're planning an Indiana Jones theme for the baby room. Why not? I have had to make a stand on no bull whip on the baby room, though. Little boy + bull whip just has to equal trouble, sooner or later!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nice Day

We had a nice Saturday yesterday. The weather was perfect for running, so we both went to the lake. Had great runs. Then, I went to do my Elevate reading at White Rock Coffee. Pumpkin latte, fall weather, good reading. Excellent start to the day.

Casey then got to test drive a Ferrari. The dealership contacted the law firm and offered to let them test drive the California. Boys like that kind of stuff.

After that, we went to our house builder and picked out EVERYTHING. So many choices. Tile, carpet, paint, fan blades, door knob color, shutters, siding color, base boards, molding, etc. We went through more finalized plans, which were awesome. It's going to be so nice...whenever it gets built. We'll get the financing early next year. The contractor said it would take 5 months to build, but I'm sure there will be delays and lots of set-up stuff before they actually start building. But it will be great once it's done. :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October: State Fair & Columbus, Ohio

October is a very special month here in Dallas. The State Fair of Texas! Casey and I start looking forward to the fair in August. Love, love, love the fair. We cruise all the (free) expositions, get every free sample we can, pet all the animals at the petting zoo, see the prize animals, and try a few fair foods. We have so much fun, we usually need to go twice, which we did.
My fair goals this year: see a cooking demonstration and the butter statue, eat a funnel cake, see a prize turkey and a llama, and pet a baby pig.

Casey apparently had the goal of kissing a camel. The same camel that bit him last year because he "wanted to feel its lips." He's obviously not one to let a setback like that deter him.
The first time we went, we went with my parents, and I got to do almost everything I wanted. I saw a chef make venison chili with chocolate sauce and do a slam poem, both of which were good. We shared a corny dog and a funnel cake and petted every little goat within reach. But no baby pigs. I was seriously disappointed. We saw Boris, the fattest pig at the Fair, but I wanted to pet a baby pig!

So we went back with our lifegroup.
This is me, very happy. I could pet the baby pigs. They were so cute and so soft. I petted their ears, noses, tummies and chinny chin chins. I went back for more. Hog heaven!
We walked around the fair some more, watched the pig races (Jean Claude VanHam won) and some games on the Midway, and had cotton candy. The picture shows just the bottom half of it! I definitely needed to brush my teeth after that, but it was so worth it. I love the fair. And no, we did not try the fried beer. I have more respect for beer than that, even if I can't drink it for a while.

I also got to visit my best friend from college, Megan, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She's made lots of trips back to Texas in recent years, and I visited her in Boston, but I had a good reason to visit her now, she just had a baby! Little Annabelle is two months old, and absolutely precious.
It was really fun getting to hang out with Megan and catch up. The weather was much cooler up there, and we got to enjoy some things they don't have in Dallas. Like Jeni's amazing ice cream (I had dark chocolate and spiced pumpkin), Greek fast food, and backyard fire pits. We roasted the hugest marshmallows I've ever seen. It was toasty, melty s'more goodness.
This is me, again, very happy. I could I stayed like that all day long...but unfortunately, she got hungry. She was hungry, a lot! I was also very informative, as a mom-to-be, to see a few days in the life of the parents of a newborn. Very hard to complete tasks, but full of happiness. Megan and Corey absolutely adore that little girl. It made me very excited to meet our own little person. April is a long way away!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Big News!

I'm pregnant! Officially, today, 12 weeks.You can see the baby's right hand, and the thing sitting out of the tummy is the umbilical cord. We should find out the baby's gender in mid-November.

Last week, we got to hear the heartbeat, which was really fast and strong, 162 beats a minute, and then had an ultrasound to determine the due date, April 12th.

I'm really thankful that we've made it this far without any problems. Other than some fatigue, I'm feeling fine, and apparently, the next trimester will be even better. I really have gotten off easy so far. My doctor said that my fitness and exercise would probably help, since my blood sugar stays pretty steady, I shouldn't have too much nausea, which I haven't. I've kept running, and I'm going to try to do the 1/2 marathon in December. I have no idea if that will be possible, but the doctor said it would be fine. In my opinion, healthy mom, healthy baby...so I'll try. :-)

Anyway, we're really blessed and happy and can't wait to meet our little person. It's so long to wait!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I've got a golden ticket....

A few weeks ago I sent out customized versions of these:To celebrate both my graduation Aug 13th and my 29th birthday Aug 25th, I threw myself a Wonka party. It was fun to plan, and if I do say so myself, the party was a total success.

There was, of course, lots of candy.
From every angle. :-)
The meal part of the party was my tribute to Violet Beauregard and the gum that turned her into a blueberry. I made tomato-basil soup ("It's hot and creamy! I can actually feel it running down my throat!"), and roast beef (well, slow-cooker brisket) and baked potatoes with sour cream.
Like this balloon Tom made me:
Too cute!

There was fizzy lifting drink punch, Wonka cake:
And a chocolate "waterfall":

And for one last treat, the guests got to sample lick-able wallpaper:
Christy tries the lickable wallpaper
Linnae sampling a plum.
Kristin tries a lemon.
Travis goes an alternative route.

All brought to you by Veruca Salt. ;-)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Some random shots from Paris

"It's big!"-Casey. Notre Dame, up close.
At Shakespeake and Co, an English-language bookstore in Paris. A very cool hangout. Upstairs are books only to be read on site, not for sale, and a piano to play. Two French kids were playing and singing. It was great. This picture is in imitation of one taken by my friend Bronwen, 10 years ago. How things change, but stay the same!
Mmm...roasting chickens with potatoes cooking in all those dripping. French food is good!
I love that one's called "WHY NOT." Hysterical.
Macabre, perhaps, but she's one of my favorite French authors. She wrote "Gigi."
Pere Lachaise cemetery, both beautiful and creepy.
Casey, taking a break at the Perducet tomb.
Coffee in France. So much better.
Pastries! And I was I good girl and didn't get one of each...just a couple!
Balzac is not my favorite of Rodin's works. You'd feel the same way if you had to read two of his novels and do two oral presentations in two weeks.
Mummified cats at the Louvre. For you, Aubrey. ;-)
Trekking up the stairs to the Sacre Coeur for one of the best free views in Paris.
A fantasy of a confectionery at Montmartre.
Our uber-compact apartment. We bumped our heads a fair amount.
We spent a lot of time in the metro. Not the prettiest part of the city, but useful.
The last night, we staying at a hotel walking distance from the Eiffel Tower.
By the end of our stay in Paris, it was so familiar, I felt like I could easily live there and blend in, becoming a seamless part of busy Paris life. But we were ready to go home, where there's room! Our house feels so spacious. And our puppies are here. They were so happy when we got home. Good puppies. =)