November 30, 2012

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude: I'm Melting!

Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly(ish) feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I am not an expert, but I do enjoy talking about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food.  Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. After all, this is not meant to be an homage to 9 1/2 Weeks.

Recipe Index can be found here. 

Yesterday, I mentioned that I was hoping to make peppermint bark this year.  In 2005, at Average Jane's annual cookie exchange, she broke out a container of peppermint bark made by her step-mom Jerry.   I don't think I had ever had peppermint bark before or perhaps, it was because I had never had amazingly AWESOME peppermint bark before.  It was a perfect mix of regular chocolate and white chocolate....a hint of creamy....the tiniest bit crunchy......with just the right amount of peppermint, without it being cloying,.  Whatever the case may be, I never, ever forgot that peppermint bark and when I asked Celeste for the recipe the following year, she dutifully shared.  She also casually made an off-hand comment that Williams-Sonoma made something similar in quality.

Enter the next few years......  yes, I have bought Williams-Sonoma peppermint bark and yes, it is awesome but at $26.75 a POUND, I felt like such a righteous ass spending such money on it. I don't even pay that much for my preciously stinky cheese.   This year, I am no longer in the mood to fork over the greens (Sidenote: If you have not seen the Hater's Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog, get thee over there, STAT.  Seriously, why are you still here, reading MY drivel?)

You're still here?   Anyway!  All of these years, I have been frightened by Jerry's peppermint bark recipe. It smacks of baking and I envision an Armageddon of chocolate running in rivers throughout my kitchen, taking children and pets as hostages in its wake.    Gentle Reader, THIS is one of the many, many reasons why I am not a serious food blogger.  I am intimidated by MELTED CHOCOLATE.  However, I am determined I can conquer my molten confectionery nightmares.

THIS year, I am melting some goddamned chocolate.

Jerry's AMAZING Layered Peppermint Crunch Bark

17 oz. good-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Baker's), finely chopped
30 red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies, coarsely crushed (about 6 oz.)

7 oz. bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons whipping cream
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract

Turn large baking sheet bottom side up. Cover securely with foil. Mark 12 x 9 inch rectangle on foil. Stir white chocolate in metal bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water) until chocolate is melted and smooth and candy thermometer registers 110 degrees Fahrenheit (chocolate will feel warm to touch). Remove from over water. Pour 2/3 cup melted white chocolate onto rectangle on foil. Using icing spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.

Stir bittersweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture in long lines over white chocolate rectangle. Using icing spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate in even layer. Refrigerate chocolate until very cold and firm, about 25 minutes.

Rewarm remaining white chocolate in bowl set over barely simmering water to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet chocolate layer; spread to cover. Immediately sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints. Refrigerate just until firm, about 20 minutes.

Lift foil with bark onto work surface; trim edges. Cut bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Using metal spatula, slide bark off foil and onto work surface. Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections and each section diagonally into 2 triangles. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Chill in airtight container.) Let stand 15 minutes at room temperature before serving.

*Jerry says to make sure each layer is as thin as possible for best results.

Note: I will update this post with pictures and/or other notes.  Hopefully, the pictures will not involve a crime scene.

November 29, 2012


This year, I am going to totally make the Christmas Season my bitch.   For me, the season is all about activities, not shopping.

First off, is decorating -- I am lagging a bit behind Pseudodad, who tried to lay a guilt-laden decorating smackdown on me, but I am working on it:

Folks, don't bother trying to out-decorate your gay neighbors.

Each year, I try to come up with a fun list of activities for the holidays.  I am not much of a shopper anyway and I really do not want my kid's holiday memories to consist of me dragging them through various stores.   And I have a hard time with crowds (I am already dreading the Nutcracker crowd).  Therefore, most of the activities are low-key or involve us just sitting at home and doing things together.  Our dining room is already a mess of paper and holiday-themed stickers.  I don't expect to clear off the table until Christmas morning, right before hosting dinner.  

Anyway, this year's Christmas Bucket List includes the following:
  1. Decorating a gingerbread house which may or may not include a glue gun.  In the past, I would make this whole venture SO stressful as I attempted to make it the Best Ever Gingerbread House Ever.  Now?  I let Team Chaos be in charge.  The house will most certainly end up sporting with half of the candy provided as The Team will inevitably sneak pieces down their greedy gullets as they decorate while I pretend to not notice.  Yes, it will be hideous, but I have learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gingerbread Bomb. 
  2. Reading books -- we have so, so many delicious holiday books.  What are YOUR favorite holiday books?  (I was thinking of writing a separate Literally Literary post for this -- should I?)
  3. The Festival of Christmas Trees that is happening this week in Lawrence, KS -- a yearly tradition with my mom and sister Jill.
  4. The Holiday Luminary Walk at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.  We love the Arboretum and I always forget about the Luminary Walk -- THIS is the year I finally remembered with enough time to schedule it in.
  5. The Gingerbread Festival that is happening this weekend in Lawrence, KS.  I love, LOVE Gingerbread houses.  Another activity I tend to forget about until the date has already passed.
  6. An after school visit to the Bass Pro Santa.  We used to visit the Crown Center Santa, but with my kiddos in school now, there is no way in hell I am braving Crown Center on a weekend.
  7. A few special night-time neighborhood drives to see holiday lights in our pajamas with lukewarm cocoa.  We will be sure to thumb our noses at Pseudodad and his husband as we peel the tires out of our driveway.
  8. A visit to the Union Station to ride the Holiday Spirit and to view the model trains (again, after school to avoid the weekend crowds.  Shudder)  (Sidenote: Imagine my shock when I Googled "holiday spirit at the Union Station" and one of MY videos popped up as the #2 result.  Whoa.)
  9. A flurry of Romanian/Hungarian Kifli making that will take up a full day.  I am definitely making Christmas Crack and I may add some Peppermint Bark to the tradition.  I have a stellar recipe from Average Jane that is just as good (and certainly less expensive!) than the one you can buy at Williams Sonoma.
  10. Attending Average Jane's cookie exchange -- a tradition I look forward to every year.  Tucking in with some cheeseball concoctions and mulled apple cider with some of my favorite friends is definitely one of the highlights of the holiday season for me.
  11. Taking Anjali to see Handel's Messiah at the Kauffman Center this Saturday with my step-mom, sister Maureen and brother-in-law Brian.  I bought these tickets months ago, I am SO PUMPED.  This event was impossible to get tickets to last year because it sold out in August (yes, AUGUST.)  
  12. Taking Anjali to see The Nutcracker at the Kauffman Center next week (yes, Arun bowed out of both the Messiah and The Nutcracker this year.  He's already expressing a little regret, so I hope Manoj makes the most of Daddy/Son time with him.)
  13. Taking my babies to see Toys in Babeland, errr.... Babes in Toyland which is put on by the Blue Springs City Theatre.  (This past summer, we saw Willy Wonka put on by the BSCT and I was really impressed with the quality of the production.)
  14. Decorating gingerbread cookies.  I usually just buy a tub of dough, but I am thinking of venturing into homemade versions.  Ideas?  This recipe looks good, maybe less spicy though.  I was thinking I could make a big batch, then we could make a few cookies here and there. (Sidenote: My Norpro pastry mat gets a helluva lot of use this time of year.)
  15. Movie viewing!!  Need I say more?
  16. Christmas cards!
  17. Snowflakes!!  Next to making paper flowers, I love, love making snowflakes.
What are your favorite activities during the holiday season?   What am I missing here?

November 9, 2012

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude: Liquid Courage

Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly(ish) feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I am not an expert, but I do enjoy talking about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food.  Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. After all, this is not meant to be an homage to 9 1/2 Weeks.

Recipe Index can be found here. 

Remember the tea kettle - it is always up to its neck in hot water, yet it still sings!  
~Author Unknown

A teacup from my Great-Grandmother Courtney's set.

For years, I have drunk herbal teas.  Rooibos is my favorite and I am still clinging to the last bits of a vanilla, lemongrass and rooibos mix that I cannot replace since my regular tea shop went out of the business.  In the past, I have never encountered a hot cup of black tea that I liked.  Oh sure, I've been brewing black loose leaf tea for years, but that was for my Chai-Spiced Iced Tea or to make a milky, Indian chai..... not for hot "White People" tea.  My past experiences have been that hot, black tea was bitter and gross.  Of course, upon reflection, I am remembering the tea I had tried was in bags and came without milk or sugar.

Teacup and teapot, both from the Brits shop in Lawrence, KS.  
The other side of that cup says "It's like no cheese I've ever tasted"  which makes this the BEST CUP EVER. Obviously.

However, I had a weird epiphany yesterday.  Why not try hot black tea with the loose leaves?  So, as a quick experiment, I boiled some water in my water kettle and measured out 2 teaspoons of loose leaf for my 16oz pot.  When the kettle whistled, I poured it over the loose leaves and let it steep for 5 minutes.  Then, I splashed some milk and a bit of sugar in and....... WOW.  That was AWESOME.     Milky....smooth.  And most certainly, not bitter.

Of course, I immediately went out to Facebook to share this life-changing discovery.  My friends made recommendation and I now have a variety of other teas to try (I cannot WAIT for my next trip to Brits).  Also, hands down, the best response to my revelation came from the lovely, yet highly sarcastic Faiqa:
I'm a little taken aback by your update. It would be like reading, "So, I took a spoonful of peanut butter and then, you're not going to believe this, but then I put *jelly* on the bread and it was FANTASTIC."
Yes, I will still drink coffee and maybe, this will just be a short-time fad.  Except, I really don't think so.  In the meantime, I am going to try drinking only tea for the next week.  And the very best part of this tea thing is that unlike coffee, I can have tea in the afternoon, or even  in the evening.  

So.... I guess I am a tea drinker now.   Maybe.  Probably.


Bonus Tea Quote: 
Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.  
~Billy Connolly

I will never again look at a tea cozy the same.

November 8, 2012

O'er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

Arun's Presidential ballot from school with a bonus photobomb from Lucy.

Arun came home from school and proudly declared that he had voted.  When I asked him for whom he had voted, he replied, "I voted for Romney because Obama already had a turn."

Spoken like a 1st grader, eh?

I did gently explain why I was voting for Obama and I went out of my way to NOT make him feel bad.  Sure, I am crass online, but I do have standards with my own children, limited they may be.   However, I had to deliver the harsh truth to Arun that many of the policies that some Republicans support are in direct contrast to the needs of immigrants such his own father and to the needs of the LGBT community such as our neighbors and other loved ones.  Some of them are downright racist.

Someday, I will explain to him why I had to leave the Republican party. I will explain to him that I used to vote Republican until the party morphed into something unrecognizable and ultimately, unconscionable for me.  I will explain to him why I am a Libertarian and why that means that I have to switch back and forth between the Democratic and Republican parties, even when I am not completely comfortable with either choice.  And perhaps by then, the Republican party will have brought it back to something closer with which I grew up.  Something that I can believe in again.

Yes, I will explain all of this to him.  Someday.

In the meantime, I just want him to be my sweet 7 year old little boy with his simplistic worldview that includes taking turns.

November 2, 2012

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude: Keepin' It Real With Frosting

Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly(ish) feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I am not an expert, but I do enjoy talking about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food.  Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. After all, this is not meant to be an homage to 9 1/2 Weeks.

Recipe Index can be found here. 

As claimed in the past, I am not much of a baker.  It really, really stresses me out and as such, I normally buy cupcakes for birthday parties.  Hands down, these Super Mario Brothers' cupcakes from Tabby's Treats that we bought for Arun's 5th birthday remain my favorite. They were awesome to look at and they were simply delicious (the original post is here.)

However, this year, Arun begged and begged for me to bake cupcakes at home.  And..... so I did.  I used a box cake mix but really wanted to try my hand at making the frosting from scratch.  Turns out?  Frosting from scratch is ridiculously easy and the result is creamy and amazing. AMAZING, I tell you.  I let Team Chaos lick the beaters and after the first lick, they were hugging my legs exclaiming "Thank you, Mama for making this.  THANK YOU!!!!"

Alrighty then.  Frosting from scratch it is.

How did I make it?  I just used the simple recipe on the back of the box of the confectioner's sugar.  In fact, I still have it memorized -- take 1 pound of confectioner's sugar, a stick of butter, 1/4 cup of milk and a teaspoon of vanilla.  Then beat it with a mixer.  I just have a handheld - there's nothing fancy going on here, folks. 

And that was IT.  In less than 5 minutes, I had frosting from scratch.  Hand to Zeus, I will never, ever buy the canned stuff again.

I will probably do a few more of these "Keepin' It Real" posts.  For example,  I am adamant about finding a recipe for ranch dressing spices so that I can stop buying the Hidden Valley Ranch packets (they are so expensive and filled with tons of ingredients I cannot even pronounce).  I use those packets for roasting all sorts of veggies and it seems self-defeating to sprinkle that stuff on a healthy, fresh veggie, right?

And now, I am asking YOU for help.  What do YOU swear by when it comes to making things from scratch?  Challenge me!  I am up for it.