Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Bother? 2012 - Pickles

There are a few Why Bother challenges this year that I was not looking forward to.  Pickles was on the list of those that I was dreading.  It's not that I don't like pickles, or that I'm afraid of them, like one of my pickle-phobic coworkers (yes, seriously).  I was a little apprehensive about the process of pickling and preserving. 

I was well-prepared with canning cookbooks, mason jars and a huge pot.  The cookbooks courtesy of my fascination with jams, jellies, pickles and all things canned last year.  The jars and elephantine pot complements my mom, who was storing them in her basement for twenty years (they're vintage Bell mason jars!).  All I had to do was dive in and get to pickling.

Once I read a little bit about preserving and determined I wouldn't get botulism from homemade pickles (botulism tends to be found in low-acid preserved foods, pickles contain a lot of acid!), I read on and made a list for the spice store.

Did you stock up on spices last week when we made ketchup and mustard?  Well, you'll need those spices and a whole bunch more.  Mustard seeds, dill seeds, whole cloves, whole allspice, cardamom seeds.  The list is long on this one, unless you can locate pickling spices.

After searching several stores, I found pickling spices at Fairway.  If your grocery store isn't well stocked, I would suggest heading to Penzey's online.  They've got everything. 

Between my three canning cookbooks, there were fifteen different cucumber pickle recipes!  That's not even including the other vegetables and fruits that you can pickle - asparagus, green beans, pineapple, peaches, beets, garlic and plums.  The pickling section was extensive.  I chose to go with refrigerator dill slices and preserved bread and butter chips. 

If you want to make pickles, be sure to set aside a few hours.  Just like making ketchup last week, this was a bit of a process.  Between preparing the jars, making the pickling liquid, preparing the cucumbers and finally canning the veggies, you'll be in the kitchen for at least two hours.  The results though, are beyond anything I've had from the store.

The dill slices, my refrigerator pickles, came out crunchy, full of flavor and slightly sweet.  The bread and butter chips have been amazing on our turkey burgers, and straight out of the jar.  I don't see myself making anymore cucumber pickles any time soon, I have a pretty good stockpile in the pantry and fridge!  I do find myself leafing through the cookbooks, trying to decide what to pickle next!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Island Sides

The past few days have been feeling more Caribbean-like up here in the northeast. I stepped off the train this morning and was greeted by a hot, humid gust of Long Island wind. Not only is the morning heat very reminiscent of the islands, these afternoon thunderstorms are too!

There is just one big difference between enjoying Caribbean weather while on vacation and suffering through it on a regular day. I try to look presentable when going to work where I don't even bother with mascara on vacation. This humidity is making my hair straightener work overtime! Even after ten minutes with the iron, all of my hard work is undone upon opening the front door!

Luckily I have an appointment at the salon this weekend, where I will cut several inches off my hair. This will make it lighter and easier to curl. The straight-haired days of winter are over. Time to embrace bouncy curls once again! (Which means its also time to confuse my male coworkers with my ever changing hair.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Paradise Chicken

Since I shared with you an island drink yesterday, I thought that today I would tell you a little bit about that island.  St Kitts, home of Ting, is part of the Caribbean country including its neighboring island Nevis.  Boyfriend and I spent a week there a few years ago and loved every minute of it.

If you are looking for a quiet island with lots to do, this is the place to book your next vacation.  Boyfriend and I were drawn to St Kitts with its promise of lush rain forests, clear blue waters and monkeys!

Yes, monkeys!  The monkeys that live on St Kitts are not naturally from the island and were brought there by the French as pets in the 1600's.  Now they abound in the rain forests and you can even find them by the beaches, drinking your cocktails.  (Enjoy a laugh and google drunken St Kitts monkeys!)

You should definitely judge your vacation location depending on its lack or abundance of monkeys.

We also spent a good portion of time hiking through the rain forest and walking through Basseterre.  We ate locally made ice cream in the port during the day and barbecued chicken on the beach at night.  There was always an abundance of empty beaches with calm water for snorkeling and wave-filled beaches for the acrobat in your family.

We lived on chicken while we were on St Kitts.  The many different beach huts we frequented all offered their delicious poultry options.  For our Caribbean dreams menu, chicken had to be the main course.  I chose a dish with heat, traditionally found on St Thomas.  If you're not a fan of spicy foods, just remove the habanero pepper!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Caribbean Dreams

It's the unofficial start of summer here in the United States!  Memorial day weekend marks the beginning of weekends at the beach, late nights over the fire pit and long bike rides in the sun.  To celebrate summer, boyfriend and I threw a dinner party for our friends with the warm weather in mind.  While the northeast won't be greeted with tropical weather this weekend, we soon will be basking in heat and humidity.

Traditionally, boyfriend and I head to the Caribbean right around the time we get sick of winter.  This means that come February, we are packing up our suitcases with bathing suits and sunscreen, getting ready to escape the snow and clouds.  Whether it be a trip on a cruise, sailing from island to island, or a week at a beach side resort, wiling away the hours lazing on the beach.  It doesn't matter where we go, as long as it's warm!

We never wind up just sitting and relaxing of course.  If you know us, you know that boyfriend and I cannot sit still for very long.  On our trips to the islands, you might find us snorkeling, hiking, rappelling, zip-lining or canyoning.  Our day-long adventures lead us to be extremely hungry come the end of the day!  The best way to finish your day in the islands is eating at a beach side hut, enjoying food prepared by locals.

Along our travels throughout the Caribbean, I have picked up a number of local cookbooks.  Since we only travel south once a year, I wanted to be able to remember that vacation feeling while at home.  It was from these cookbooks that we planned out Caribbean dreams dinner party for our friends.

In order to unofficially start summer here in New Jersey, we enjoyed a dinner from the islands!  The food took us island hopping from Key West to St Thomas.  Drinks and desserts brought us from St Kitts to Grenada.  We journeyed all over the Caribbean sea in a single evening!  Throughout the week, you can take the same trip we took and today we begin with drinks.

While I was still a Postdoc, boyfriend and I took a week long trip to St Kitts.  While the island is an excellent place for hiking, snorkeling and monkey sighting, it is also home to Ting.  During our week on St Kitts, we probably drank a few dozen bottles of Ting.  A sparkling, tangy grapefruit soda, Ting is bottled on St Kitts (originating on the island of Jamaica!) and is a favorite local drink.  If you're looking to enjoy your vacation a little more, pour in some rum, for Ting with a sting!

Stop by all week for the rest of our Caribbean dreams dinner and take a trip of your own!

Drinks - Ting & Ting with a sting - St Kitts

Appetizer - Coconut Shrimp with mango-lime yogurt - Key West

Main - Paradise Fowl - St Thomas, USVI

Sides - Hot Lulu - Cayman Islands
         - Island Salad - Dominica

Dessert - Traditional Chocolate Cake - Grenada (I'm not going to share this recipe quite yet, because to be honest, it wasn't that good.  Straight from the cookbook, this cake came out bitter and oily.  Totally not blog-worthy!)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why Bother? 2012 - Ketchup & Mustard

With Memorial day weekend just a few days away, it's time to get to making our toppings for hot dogs and hamburgers!  Don't put away your car keys just yet, you may still need to make a trip to the grocery store! 

I was on the fence about making my own ketchup and mustard.  I mean, they cost about a dollar.  Two dollars if you want to buy organic ketchup.  Would it really be worth the time and effort to make my own condiments?  Yes and no.

First, in order to make your own condiments, you need a well-stocked spice cabinet.  Celery seeds, cumin seeds, whole yellow mustard, whole cloves, cayenne pepper, the list could go on.  If you decide to make either of these recipes, be sure to check your cabinet thoroughly and make a list. 

You'll need to head to a grocery store or spice market that has a large spice selection.  Penzey's spices is a great store with just about everything you'll need.  You can also order online and you'll have your spices in a few days.  Whole Foods had a smattering of spices that I needed and I filled in the remainder at Fairway (a popular tri-state area grocery chain).  When I thought that I had them all, I realized I was missing celery salt and had to make a last minute trip to Pathmark.

I decided to make honey-mustard, since I already had plain yellow mustard and Dijon mustard in the fridge.  It was simple enough to make.  Just combine all of the ingredients and let it sit overnight.  In the morning, pour it all into your favorite food processor and pulse the heck out of it.  It smells amazing.  How does it taste?  Mine came out super spicy!  The reason?  The freshly purchased mustard seeds.  Those little guys really pack a flavor punch.  While it doesn't have a distinctly honey flavor, it will be amazing on hamburgers and hot dogs.

I put off making ketchup until just last night because I couldn't find the time to make it.  The process is simple enough, you just have to have enough time to allow the tomatoes to reduce and reduce and reduce.  It took a long time.  Complaints came left and right about how weird/bad it smelled.  The boiling vinegar made my eyes tear up.  Sure, I got some tasty ketchup out of the process, but it took a long time.  Maybe make this on a lazy Sunday.  Personally, I'm going to just buy organic ketchup when I run out of my own!

There we have it.  We can make our own condiments!  It's up to you as to whether it is worth the price of all of the specialty spices to have homemade ketchup and mustard.  I think I'll try a few different mustard flavors before hanging up my condiment hat.

Stay tuned for next weeks final installment of BBQ food - pickles!  Then we'll see how all of these homemade foods do near the grill.  How will homemade ketchup and mustard pair with my own refrigerator pickles?  Will I be overwhelmed with flavor?  Will I eat all of the pickles before they make it to the burger?  Will I even put them on a burger?  We'll find out!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Morel Risotto

I wanted to take a minute to thank you all for helping out with my bake sale benefiting Relay for Life.  With your help, we were able to raise over $350 for the cause!  Thank you so much!  I'm very excited to take part in the Relay this coming June.  Now, to celebrate our successful fundraiser, I've made you a fancy dinner.

They're so weird looking!

According to my mother, I have spent 26 of my 30 years on this earth going to school.  I started pre-school at the sweet age of 3.  Blonde with ringlet pigtails, I headed off into the world to learn my ABCs and 123s.  Apparently I wanted to go to school the year before because my brother was going and I was jealous. 

I always liked school.  I liked learning, taking tests, doing homework and bringing home good grades.  When I got a good report card we went to the toy store and I got more Barbies.  High marks = more Barbies.  That's some good math for a little girl.

As I continued through high school, the Barbie brides fell away and I simply realized my nerd potential and kept up my good grades.  I don't think it would surprise you if I said I took advanced placement chemistry and placed in the top of the New York State Chemistry challenge.

I spent a year in college, trying to pretend that I wasn't a big old nerd.  I was a photography major!  I spent hours learning about shutter and aperture, shooting roll after roll of film and wandering blindly through the color darkroom.  I wasn't a nerd, I was an artist!  Unfortunately, I was doing better in my calculus classes than I was in my art classes (I am not a painter).  Come sophomore year, I switched majors and the rest is history (or a story for another time!).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Watson's Sponge candy Winner!

From the comments left of my Sponge candy giveaway, there are a lot of Buffalo ex-pats that miss their sponge candy!  I can definitely count myself among them!

In the end, there were 47 comments and chose...

Comment number 32!  Which was...

bflogurl!  Did not so randomly pick out a former Buffalonian as the winner?  We'll never know! 

Okay bflogurl, send me your details to wildeinthekitchen (@) hotmail (dot) com and I'll have Watson's send you your big box of sponge candy! 

Weren't the winner?  Head over to Watson's and buy a little bag for yourself.  Personally, I'll be ordering two big boxes.  One for bflogurl and one for ME!  And I'm not planning on sharing...  (bflogurl, it's up to you whether you share your winnings!)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

WITK Bake Sale for Relay for Life!

The WITK bake sale for Relay for Life has concluded! 
Thank you everyone for bidding!
It's time for the WITK Bake Sale for Relay for Life!  All I can say is thank you to the bloggers and friends that have come together to deliver an amazing bunch of treats.  If you are looking for more information about the cause, check out this post of mine from a few weeks ago!

Be sure to check where the bakers are shipping to!  There are even a treat or two for my friends in the UK & Canada!

Here are the details...  The bake sale will run through Friday at 11:00pm eastern standard time. Each item has a starting bid of $15 and can be bid up in $1 increments.  All bids should be e-mailed to me, no bids left in the comments section will be counted. Be sure to include your bid as well as which item you are bidding on!

Bids will be updated through the course of the day as I recieve new bids.

Winners will be e-mailed on Saturday, May 19 and will be directed to the Relay for Life Website to post their donation/bake sale purchase.

Bakers will then make & ship their delicious treats and mail them to the winners within 7 days!


Tennessee Tea Cakes from Morgan @ Being the Secret Ingredient 
(Shipping to the US)
Current Bid - $40 from Tara

Earl Grey Tea Cakes from Lynn @ I'll Have What She's Having
(Shipping only to Canada)

Chocolate Chip Brownies from Jenny @ BAKE
(Shipping only to the UK!)


1 Dozen Big, Fat, Chewy Multichip Cookies from Erin @ The Spiffy Cookie
(Shipping to the US)
Current bid - $30 from Stephanie

Maple Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from Steph @ Steph's Bite by Bite
(Shipping to the US)
CURRENT BID - $40 from Tara

Chocolate Brownie Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Roasted Macadamia Nuts from Chung-Ah @ Damn Delicious
(Shipping to the US)
Current bid - $15 from Cindy

Vegan Pumpkin Orange Cake/cupcakes from Cindy @ Cindy's Recipes and Writings 
Winner can choose to have a cake or 1 dozen cupcakes!
(Shipping to the US)
Current bid - $15 from Marisa

Oatmeal butterscotch coconut cookies from Missy @ Mrs. Maki Cooks
(Shipping to the US)
Current bid - $21 from Marisa

Coconut filled brownie cookies from Heather @ Bake, Run, Live
(Shipping to the US)
Current bid - $15 from Marisa

Chocolate chip Snickerdoodles from Heather @ Bake, Run, Live 
(Shipping to the US)
Current Bid - $15 from Heidi

Trail Mix Cookies from Heidi @ Young Grasshopper
(Shipping to the US)
Current Bid - $15 from Molly

Yours will look like this, except without the bite mark! 
2 Dozen PB&J Mallomars from Me!
Peanut butter Cookie with your choice of grape, raspberry or strawberry marshmallow!
(Shipping to the US)
Current Bid - $20 from Tania

1 Loaf Povitica Bread from Me!
(Shipping to the US)
Current Bid - $15 from Heidi

1 - 8x8 slab Peanut butter Bars from Me!
(Shipping to the US)
Current bid - $15 from Marisa

1 - 8x8 slab Coconut Brownies from Me!
(Shipping to the US)
Current bid - $32 from Marisa

1 batch Pomegranate-Blueberry-Concord Grape Marshmallows from Me!
(Shipping to the US)
Current bid - $15 from Marisa

Good Luck and Happy bidding!

Don't want to bid on tasty treats, but still want to donate to Relay?  Stop by my personal page and you can do just that.  You can also leave me a message too! :)

Let's all Relay for MORE BIRTHDAYS!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blueberry mallomars

We're getting so close to the WITK online bake sale for Relay!  Therefore, I've been a little busy and have just a few pictures and thoughts for you today...

What have I been making in the preparation for the bake sale?

Let's just say there is a lot of sugar involved...

And some more sugar...

But you won't be seeing these tomorrow, I ate them all...  What you'll be treated to is a similar mallomar, only with a traditional Americana twist.  That's right, a peanut butter and jelly mallomar. 

Be sure to stop by tomorrow for the bake sale round-up!  You'll be able to decide what you want to bid on when the sale starts Thursday morning at 6:00 am, EST!  There will even be some items especially for my friends in the UK and Canada!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sponge Candy FAQ

Over the past year I have gotten many, many questions about my Buffalo sponge candy recipe.  I thought it was about time to do an FAQ, to hopefully alleviate any concerns that you might have about making this tasty treat!

First, while the recipe seems a little tricky, I have had tons of people e-mail me about their successful batches of sponge candy.  This is totally something a home cook can take on, with a few simple tools...

1. A properly calibrated candy thermometer - Is your candy thermometer calibrated?  Easy way to check.  Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Stick your candy thermometer in the boiling water.  At sea level it should read 212 F.  If you are above sea level it will read lower (Denver about 202 F).  If your thermometer reads a little off, you'll be okay.  If it is really far off, it might be time to get a new one.

2. Sifter/sieve - You must sift your baking powder before adding it to the sugar syrup.  I didn't do this the first time and was left with big pieces of baking soda in my candy, non-delicious.

3. Parchment paper - For lining your pan.  Parchment paper is great because it's non-stick and won't melt.  It makes for easy removal of your candy from the final pan.

Sponge Candy FAQ's

Q: Do I have to use light corn syrup?  Can I substitute honey, invert syrup, glucose syrup, golden syrup?

A: Candy-making is like science.  You have to put in the correct starting materials to get your desired product.  Our correct starting materials are sucrose and glucose.  The correct mixture of these two sugars gives the desired final texture of the candy.  Change the starting materials and you will wind up with a completely different product.

After testing this recipe over and over, with several different liquid sugar sources, I have come down to the some conclusions about each choice. 

Honey - never replace corn syrup with honey in these kinds of candies.  Honey will burn when you take it up to the necessary 300 degrees.  Trust me, I tried.  I had to leave the windows open for days.

Invert Syrup - A mixture of fructose and glucose, derived from splitting a sugar molecule into its two components.  The final candy product using invert syrup never hardened up and was a gooey sticky mass.

Glucose Syrup - Yes!  This is the one product that I have found to have the same properties as corn syrup.  Found in pastry shops, art supply stores and specialty grocery stores, glucose syrup is your go to product if you want to steer clear of corn syrup.

Golden Syrup - Common in Britain and Australia, I have had limited success with this product.  A form of inverted sugar, this product is a mixture of fructose and glucose.  You won't get the exact same flavor as traditional sponge candy, but if it's all you have access to, it's a good choice.

Q: Why don't you use vinegar in your candy recipe?

A: Everyone has seen the volcano trick.  Baking soda plus vinegar equals bubbles.  Did you know that baking soda will break down and produce bubbles if you just heat it up enough?  It's called thermal decomposition.  Above 160 degrees F, baking soda will gradually break down and produce CO2 without any acid present.  We add the baking soda when our sugar syrup is about 280 degrees F.  This high temperature leads to a rapid decomposition of the baking soda and gives us our airy candy.

2 NaHCO3 + heat → Na2CO3 + H2O + CO2

Q: Why do you use gelatin in the recipe?

A: The gelatin acts to thicken the sugar syrup and form a matrix within the candy.  Once we add the baking soda to the gelatinized sugar syrup, the baking soda begins to break down and form carbon dioxide.  As the baking soda decomposes, it absorbs heat and cools the sugar syrup.  As the syrup cools, the gelatin begins to set, trapping the CO2 bubbles in the candy.

Q: Why isn't my candy as airy as traditional sponge candy?

A: First I would like you to enjoy a video of the head candy-maker at Watson's make a batch of sponge candy.  Did you notice how large a batch that man was making?  Personally, I don't have a bowl that large.  I also think boyfriend would have a problem with me turning the apartment into a science lab.  The trick to Watson's airy candy is that they only use the inside of the huge candy disk.

Using power tools, they remove the outer layer of candy.  This outer layer is denser than the inner layer because it has settled and some of the air has been pressed out.  Take a look at your next batch and you'll see that the inside of the candy has more air bubbles than the outer layer.

Q: How should I store my sponge candy?

A: To answer this question, you need to ask yourself one thing - Is it humid today?

If it is at all humid in your area, I would suggest coating the sponge candy in chocolate as fast as possible.  It will pick up moisture fast and turn into a sticky mess.  If the humidity is low, you can probably get away with keeping it uncoated, but in a zip-top bag.  Never, ever, ever put your sponge candy in the fridge.  Fridges are full of humidity!

Q: Does this really taste like Violet Crumble or Crunchie bars?

A: Yes.  I have personally had a Crunchie bar and can say that my recipe tastes a little smoother and is a bit easier to eat.  I fed this candy to a New Zealand friend of mine and they made the comparison with Violet Crumble without me saying anything.  So, if you've moved to a country without these candy bars, now you can make your own.

Did I miss any of your questions?  I'd be happy to answer them and keep adding to this post!  Just send me an e-mail at Wildeinthekitchen (@) hotmail (dot) com and I'll get to answering you right away!

Now, on to our second Candy Month Giveaway!!! 

Are you one of the unfortunate souls that have never had the opportunity to try Buffalo sponge candy?  Sure, the stuff we make at home is pretty good, but it's not Watson's.

The lucky winner of this giveaway will recieve a 2-pound box mixed boxed (dark and milk chocolate) of Watson's original sponge candy!  Yum.

Image via Watson's Chocolates

The Watson's giveaway is open from May 10th- through 11:59pm May 16th. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!  THANKS FOR ENTERING!  This time it's going to be a very simple one to enter, two ways to win!

1. Leave a comment here and tell me what candy is a local favorite in your hometown (or your house)!

2. Tweet about the giveaway and leave a comment here saying you did so.  (Feel free to add more exclamation points to use the full tweet character limit)

ex. I just entered to win two pounds of Watson's sponge candy from @WildeKitchen !!!

Good Luck!  And if you aren't the lucky winner, I hope that the tips I've shared with you today will help you make your own batch at home.

Sadly, Watson's can only ship to the contiguous 48 states. Their sponge candy is very delicate and prone to melting in hot climates! So this giveaway is open to those living in the lower 48. This giveaway is sponsored by me!

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