Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chocolate Meringue Cookies...?

I made these meringue cookies for Christmas and it's taken me this long to get up the courage to admit that I don't know if they're a success or a failure. They were NOT like the meringue cookies that I had last year that inspired this endeavor. Yet, they were delicious and did not give me food poisoning. I think this is one of those cookie categories that every one expects something different when they make them. So... 80% success?

First, and most importantly, I did not have the patience to try piping these babies. When I was mixing the batter it became quiet clear how many it was going to make. What you see above is HALF of what the recipe made, after I'd given a bunch away to relatives.

Secondly, the cookies reached perfection after several days rather than a mere 8 hrs overnight. Between how big I made them and the humidity in NC... yeah. They were always good, but after about four days they were perfectly dried all the way through. Which, I think, makes them perfect for gift giving, because by the time they get to the recipient, they're perfect and still have weeks left of shelf stable storage. I assume. Mine vanished faster than that!

I followed the directions and you might want to go to her page for the blow-by-blow, but here is the overview. Consider HALVING the recipe:

2.5 cups sugar
4 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch-processed)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
8 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt
6 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted

Let's Do This:

  1. Preheat oven to 225*F and and for the love of all that is good, don't forget that parchment paper for your cookie sheets. I had 4 sheets going in rotation in the oven.
  2. Combine sugar, cocoa and cinnamon in a bowl; set aside.
  3. Whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add the salt and whisk at high speed until soft peaks form. A stand mixer is best for this if you want to keep your arms from falling off.
  4. Slowly add the sugar/cocoa/cinnamon mixture on medium speed and then increase speed to high and continue whipping until stiff peaks form and the meringue is glossy. Some people also add cream of tartar at this point. Maybe 1/2 tsp. I did! With a rubber spatula clean the sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is fully incorporated. This  step takes forever and a day. 
  5. Use a large spoon to plop the mixture on the cookie sheet. The smaller they are and the more space you leave between them, the faster they'll dry out.
  6. Bake for an hour and 10 minutes and then turn the oven off. Let cool in the oven for one hour. At this point they should be pretty sturdy and not too collapsible in the middle , but if they are turning dark brown, remove them anyway. Remove from the oven and transfer the meringue cookies to a wire rack to continue cooling. If you have sheets to rotate, put the new set in now and turn the oven back on for an all-day experience. Leave overnight so that the cookies will dry out completely.
  7. Cookies should be stored in an airtight container and will keep for a week or so, if in theory you do not eat them all before then!

Sorry I didn't get an in-progress pictures! It was night time and too dark in my kitchen, and I was expecting an embarrassing failure. ;)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Food Coloring, Round 2: Icecubes

When we did the food coloring experiment (here), we froze the water in ice cube trays afterwards, but it wasn't any good for consumption, what with bits of paper towel and dust from being left out over night.

I saw the lovely pin linked above, where you can read about her boy painting afterwards as part of the lesson. But, see, the last experiment was so much work compared to how much my boy got out of it. I mean, he's only three years old. So one day when the kids were in the bath, I had an idea.

Bathtub + ice cubes + white plastic bowl = no mess.
We took it slow and used blue and yellow for a couple of nights in a row, then moved on to the other secondary colors. C really got it this time and was telling me that yellow and blue make green. The kids loved it. They fought over the ice cubes and the one year old tried to eat them. Sniff. It was a beautiful thing.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cookie Sheet Literacy Letters

Just a quick note this week to say that these are pretty cool. My kids love magnets but sometimes they need to sit in a chair at a table for school time. These sheets work ok with the larger letter sizes, too. Just make sure you have enough ABC sets or it will look like this:

Y_U don't say?

We've extended this idea to other worksheets that had large spaces for the child to write, and flash cards. We also like to do things like pattern recognition and, well, let's just say that I own a hot glue gun and craft magnets... ohmergerd I just saw a picture of a jigsaw puzzle with magnets on the back of each piece.

Is your child obsessed with magnets?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

S'mores Cookies

Today's Episode brings you...
Our first Epic Fail!

Here is what it is supposed to look like:
If you want to know how to make them, click above.

This is what ours looked like:
But it IS still a cookie.

1) Our first mistake was when I wrote the recipe down on a handy note card, but only wrote the ingredients. Me: "It is a cookie. I read the directions. How hard can it be?"
Looks easy, right?
2) Our second mistake was when we forgot to pull out the butter to soften. We tried to nuke it but somehow failed at that, too. Oh, and I think we used marsh mellows that were a size too big.
Nothing could possibly go wrong from here.
3) Lastly, when we checked these babies, we laughed so hard that we couldn't take them out of the oven for an extra five minutes, so not only did they look hilarious, but they were over baked and - alas - had to be consumed quickly before they hardened.

Are you guys baking under the influence again? I'd better confiscate.
I think this is a wonderful pin if you don't suck at following directions. I made this recipe as a cookie "cake" twice - for my mother's birthday and my sister's birthday, which are only a few days apart. That's right. My sister loved my mother's cake so much that she wanted the exact same thing less than a week later. I followed the same recipe, but placed it in a casserole dish and placed the cookies touching each other. They puffed out and up and filled all the gaps. If you make it this way it takes closer to forty minutes to cook and you can prick it with a toothpick in the non-chocolatey bits to test it.

You can also try simply leaving the top graham cracker off. Ours popped off and slid away:

Another alteration you can try is to stick a peanut butter cup in the middle. Or probably any kind of candy that you like. The peanut butter cups turned out better for us because they are smaller and don't have a tendency to fall apart while you are smashing cookie dough around them.

I dare you to try it and send us pictures!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Crispy Cheddar Chicken

Because crispy is hard.

4 large chicken breasts
2 sleeves ritz crackers
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 cup milk
3 cups cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp dried parsley
1 10 oz of cream of chicken soup
2 tbs sour cream
2 tbs butter

1. Grind up the ritz crackers. You can use a small food processor, or place them in a plastic bag and smash them like the Hulk.

2. Pour the milk, cheese, and cracker crumbs in three separate bowls and line them up in that order. You are creating yourself an assembly line, folks! Add the 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8th tsp pepper into the cracker crumbs and stir. Spray a 9x13 pan to complete your assembly line.

3. Get ready to work with raw meat! Cut each chicken breast into three large pieces and set all the pieces in the bowl of milk.

4. Press each piece into the cheese, and then press into the cracker crumbs, then the casserole pan. Yep, it's going to make a cross-contaminating mess. Your cracker crumbs are going to be kinda cheesy by the end but that is all a part of the diabolical plan.

5. Sprinkle dried parsley over the chicken.

6. Cover the pan with tin foil and bake at 400* for 35 minutes. Remove the tin foil, bake another 10 minutes, or until the edges are golden.

So, confession time. We didn't bother with the sauce. If you try it, let us know how you like it. We thought it was great without!