Refrigerator Pickles

Our garden has developed an interesting habit…at random intervals (with little to no warning), it will produce a cucumber the size of my forearm.  But just one.  This may or may not have something to do with a proliferation of weeds hiding under the cucumber leaves, obscuring cucumbers of smaller stature.  Maybe.  Regardless, when faced with a cuke (or two) of giant proportions, I turn to refrigerator pickles, for three reasons:

  1. They’re dead easy.
  2. They’re fast.
  3. They’re delicious.  And did I mention easy?

The great thing about fridge pickles is that there’s a tremendous variety of brines you can make, and you can really focus on the flavor instead of making sure the acidity is proper and safe for long-term storage (which should be a main concern if you’re canning pickles). Think of refrigerator pickles as more of a salad, if you will.  Take some poetic license!

I whipped up a batch on Monday before work, in fact, just to get my newest super-cuke percolating.  (See?  Fast!)  If you have a food processor with a slicing blade, the pickles can be assembled in under 5 minutes.  If not, you’re only as slow as you can slice!

For this batch, I added some red onion from our CSA, a pinch of dill seed, and a solid pinch of lovage-infused salt (also from our CSA!).  I use a standard fridge pickle brine (for sweet pickles) that consists of 1 T. salt, 7/8 c. vinegar, and 1-1/4 c. sugar per pound of cucumber.  You simply mix the cucumber and any other mix-ins you’re adding (thinly sliced onions and garlic are a great addition, but so are peppers and herbs!…think about 1 cup mix-ins total per pound of cuke).  Then mix up your brine (if you need a little more to cover, just mix up another batch in the same proportion).

Combine everything in a large bowl (make sure the bowl is NON-REACTIVE!!!  use ceramic or glass, but NO metal!).  Weigh down the cukes with a small plate, loosely saran-wrap the bowl, and let it sit on the counter overnight.

my sophistocated pickle-making apparatus: bowl + plate + saran wrap

my sophistocated pickle-making apparatus: bowl + plate + saran wrap

The next day, pack the pickles into jars if you like, top up with brine, and put in the fridge.  You can also just leave them in the bowl, but you’ll want to make sure it has a lid or your fridge will smell…pickle-y.

Since they’re quick-brined and not meant for long term storage, use the pickles up within a couple weeks.  And, if you’re like me and the garden keeps randomly producing new cucumbers, save your brine and keep using it!  A batch of brine can totally be reused to pickle once or twice!

Brine-tamed cukes & onions!

Brine-tamed cukes & onions!

Porketta

I have to admit that I’m a bit…wary…of Minnesota cuisine.  I mean, a region that churns out cookbooks based entirely on Campbell’s Cream of Something Soup?  That is responsible for the existence of Spam (and proudly houses a Spam Museum, no less!)?  That puts pretzels, fruit, AND cream cheese with jello, then calls it a side dish?  Eek!  I have just cause, I tell you!  Granted there are a few exceptions, but even those generally require some minor tweaking before they’re edible…take tater tots…plain or in “hot dish”?  No thanks.  but dressed up in Parmesan cheese and truffle oil?  Now we’re getting somewhere!

So when I hear that something is a “traditional” local food, I admit, I cringe a bit inside.  Said food is immediately suspect.  Maybe I’m just a snob (quite likely) or maybe you had to grow up eating tater tot hot dish (also quite likely) to really appreciate the finer points of the Minnesota palate.  But every so often, something surprises you.  Every so often you try something new and decide, right there on the spot, that it simply MUST happen in your kitchen as soon as humanly possible, because it’s that awesome.  And every so often, that pile of awesome on your plate is a Minnesota delicacy.

We tried a new brewpub for brunch last weekend with friends.  It’s mainly a smokehouse joint, so most of the offerings were of the smoked meat variety (though, also, intriguingly, they offer smoked egg salad).  A pretty inspired menu, in retrospect, and something that not a lot of places around here are doing.  One of the items on the menu was a Porketta sandwich.  While I’ve heard of “porchetta” (the Italian de-boned, herb-stuffed roast whole pig), I’d never heard of “porketta”, and the menu described it as an Iron Range specialty (the Iron Range being the far north bits of Minnesota).  One of our friends hails from those parts, and he waxed poetic about the awesomeness that is porketta.  (If you want to read more on the background that what I have to say, check out this article from the folks at ATK, who also went in search of porketta, but didn’t have the luxury of being in the same state to start with!)

Porketta, it turns out, is an artifact of Italian immigrant cuisine.  Back when the Iron Range was a profitable place to be, lots of immigrants flocked there for work (being from a mining town out West, I know all too well what that means…culinary free-for-all as immigrants try to take beloved family recipes from “back home” and cook them using an entirely different set of ingredients)!  Turns out that “porketta” is an adaptation of “porchetta”…it’s not the whole hog (though it is generally de-boned).  It’s a highly-seasoned, butterflied pork shoulder roast that is slow cooked till it falls apart, is shredded, and then, traditionally, is served as a sandwich.

I was too skeptical to order the Porketta sandwich myself at brunch, but thankfully my hubby was not such a party-pooper, and I managed to sneak a bite or two.  It was a conglomeration of juicy porky goodness, a bit of spiky garlicky kick, and caramelly sweet fennel flavors, with just a dash of bitterness from (I think) parsley.  It was genius.  One of the best pork sandwiches I’ve ever tasted.  And it absolutely needed to happen in my kitchen this week.

Naturally, the restaurant doesn’t provide too much in the way of ingredient listings or descriptions, so I went based on what I remembered it tasting like…it’s a basic pork roast, so how hard could it possibly be?! (OK, yes, basically I winged it!).  I knew it needed LOTS of fennel and garlic flavors, tempered by a bit of bitterness and a bit of sweet.  I also knew I wanted to cook it in the crockpot (I do dearly love a dinner that essentially cooks itself).  Armed with those requirements, I picked up a 3-pound boneless boston butt roast and a couple bulbs of fennel, and set to work.

For maximum flavor-absorption, I butterflied the roast so I had more surface area to season.  Then I mixed up a seasoning goo (sort of like a rub, but, well, goo-ier).  I used olive oil, fennel seed, salt & pepper, fresh chopped parsely, and very finely minced garlic.  I spread about half of this mixture over the outside of the roast, then flipped it and spread the rest inside.  Then I chopped up half a fennel bulb (probably about a cup chopped…it was a BIG bulb!) and set that in the very center.

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I rolled the roast up around it, and plopped the whole works in an oiled 3-quart crock pot insert.

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I let it marinate overnight in the fridge, then added a couple glugs of good white wine before setting it on to cook the next morning.

I hadn’t actually planned to blog about this, but it was just too awesome not to…ooh, just look at it stewing away!!  Incidentally, your entire apartment/house/yurt/what-have-you will smell amazing as this cooks!

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I strongly recommend you make this!

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 Porketta

Ingredients

  • 3 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 4 T. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 T. freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 T. fennel seed
  • 1/2 c. chopped parsley (flat leaf)
  • 1/2 fresh fennel bulb, finely chopped
  • white wine or water

Optional (for gravy…but when is gravy ever really optional?!)

  • 2 T. flour
  • 1/4 to 1/2 c. white wine or water

Instructions

  1.  Butterfly the pork roast (slice in half lengthwise to within about 1-1/2 inches of the uncut edge).  Open the roast like a book, and slice a bit more in the center if needed so it lies flat all the way across.  Lightly score the meat in a cross-hatch pattern to maximize surface area for seasoning.
  2. Combine olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, fennel seed, and fresh parsley in a small bowl.  Mix well.  Spread half the seasoning goo on the outside of the roast, then flip and spread the remaining goo on the inside (the scored side).  Spread the chopped fresh fennel in the right half of the inside (scored) side of the roast, spreading out to within a half inch of the edges.
  3.  Fold the left side over the right (close the book!) and carefully pick up the roast and set it in an oiled 3-quart slow cooker insert.  If you like, you can tie the roast with cotton kitchen twine (I rely on the smallish slow cooker to keep the roast together, but if you want absolute certainty or are using a larger pan, by all means tie it up!).
  4.  Let the roast marinate overnight in the fridge (up to two days).  When ready to cook, splash about an inch of good white wine in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Cook for 6-7 hours on low.  (Alternately, you could roast it at 325 for probably 2 to 2-1/2 hours…I don’t have an exact time since I use the slow cooker, but since you managed to find this recipe, I’m confident you can look up a cooking time chart and figure that out, too!).
  5.  Once cooked, carefully transfer the meat to a large plate and shred.  Set aside while you make the gravy.
  6.  To make the gravy, pour the drippings out of the slow cooker insert and into a wide, shallow pan (a 10- or 12-inch skillet works marvelously for this).  Heat skillet over medium high heat till liquid is simmering.  In a small bowl, combine the flour with a few spoonfuls of the heated drippings, whisking to remove any lumps.  The mixture should resemble runny paste.  Once mixture is lump-free, whisk into the rest of the drippings and cook at a simmer, stirring constantly, for 4-5 minutes, till thickened.  Add wine (water works, too) to achieve the desired consistency (I add about 1/4 cup, but the amount will vary depending on how much drippings your roast gave you).  You will want to taste-test to make sure the gravy doesn’t taste “floury” (if it does, cook it a bit longer).
  7.  Serve the hot meat in open-faced sandwiches on good bread.  Serve the leftovers hot or cold on buns.

Have you ever been surprised by local cuisine?

Summer Abundance

We’ve all been there, right?  Strolling through the farmer’s market grinning like a fool, arms aching from the gajillion pounds of peppers, tomatoes, and corn we’ve just scored for a pittance.  No?  That’s just me?  Well, OK.  That was definitely me a couple weekends ago, at any rate!  I scored a dozen ears of corn, 5 pounds of organic roma tomatoes, and 2 pounds of red bell peppers for a mere $10!

I had big plans for all this stuff, and I knew it all had to be used up before the next weekend because we were heading for Wisconsin Dells for the weekend (and anytime I am out of town for a few days, I like to have the fridge pretty well cleaned out so I don’t come home to an icebox full of ick!).  A daunting task, but I figured we could do it!

Well, the week got busy and we made only a small dent in our massive pile o’ veggies and then, suddenly, it was Friday night and we still had a mountain of tomatoes, peppers, and corn despite our best efforts.  A plan B was definitely called for!

I decided that the peppers and tomatoes would make a very nice marinara sauce if I threw them in the slow cooker with some garlic and Italian seasonings and let them stew for a few hours on high.  Then I could puree the mix and freeze it and have a bunch of pasta sauce ready to go!

One teeny weeny slight snag with this plan: my immersion blender has recently met its demise, and while I have a replacement on order, it hasn’t arrived yet.  The only logical solution was to scamper over to the best kitchen store in the metro and acquire a food mill.  Yes, yes, perfectly logical!  Perfectly!  John took a bit of convincing, but once I mentioned it could live in the canning kettle and would not just sit out when not in use, he was game!  (Someday, I will have a kitchen that fits more than just cups and plates.  Someday.)

So we filled the 6qt. slow cooker almost to the brim with the veggies, added spices and a few tablespoons olive oil, and let it cook for 4 hours on high, stirring a couple times so nothing stuck to the bottom.  Then we ran the sauce through our shiny new food mill (which worked slick as a whistle!!). When we were done, we had a lovely bright sauce cooling on the counter, and a pile of tomato and pepper skins to pick out of the mill.  Easiest. Sauce. Ever.  I sort of can’t believe I have survived without a food mill so long.

So that solved the tomato and pepper problem, but I still had a giant bag of corn staring up at me.  I decided to deal with it Saturday morning.  I thought about making corn chowder to freeze, but that would have required a trip to the grocery store, and I was feeling pretty lazy, so I decided to freeze the corn for future use.

I settled on frozen corn two ways: niblets and mini-cobs.  Niblets are awesome for thawing out as a quick side or adding to soup (either as a vegetable, or as thickener), while mini-cobs are great for griling or soup or any time you want tiny cobs of corn!

Now, before we proceed, let me tell you where I sit on the great “to blanch or not to blanch” fence.  I do not blanch corn before freezing.  You can, if you want.  But if you use the corn within 2-3 months, there’s no advantage to blanching.  If you plan to hold onto the corn for posterity, blanching it will help preserve the color and flavor so it will last for 3-6 months in the freezer.  So there you have it.  I plan to use this corn before thanksgiving, so no blanchy.

I have some sneaky tricks for freezing niblets.  The biggest trick is getting the corn off the cob!  For this, I use a mixing bowl with a non-skid bottom (or put a wet towel down on the table under your bowl…you don’t want any skidding as you’re sawing the corn off the cob with a giant knife!).  Then, flip a ramekin upside down and place it in the bottom of the bowl, like so:

This gives your knife room to maneuver.  Stick your ear of corn nose-down on the ramekin, and saw the corn off the cob. Be careful not to shave cob into the bowl (it’s edible, but a bit chewy!)  Use a large knife (I’m using an 8″ chef knife here…you want to have some substantial length to leverage, it’s just easier).  Soon you’ll have a bowl full of niblets!

Once you get all the corn off your cobs, you’ll want to fish the ramekin out of the bowl, then run your hands through the corn in the bowl to break up all the sheets (they look cool, but the tighter you can pack your bags, the less freezer burn you risk…plus it’s fun, and any silk you may have lazily missed picking off the cobs when you shucked them will stick to your hands!  double win!).

Then pack the niblets into ziptop bags!  I like to measure about 2 cups per bag because that’s about what John and I will eat in one go as a side dish or adding to soup or whatever, but if you know you’ll need at least 4 cups at a whack, measure 4 cups to a bag.  I find each ear of corn yields about 3/4 cup of niblets.  Suck as much air out of the bag as possible, and be sure to label it with the date!  Presto!  Frozen corn!  Use it the same as you would use store-bought frozen corn, but feel all awesome because you made it from scratch!

Mini-cobs are even easier to freeze than niblets!  Just cut each cob into 4 equal chunks (usually I trim the ends because the kernels can be a bit wonky), pack into bags, suck out the air, and label!  (And freeze, of course!)

And there you have it.  So next time you adopt way more corn, peppers, and/or tomatoes than you can quickly use, make marinara and frozen corn!

And, a bonus for making it to the end of this post?  You get to see the wonky siamese twin corn!!

Prime Pickles!

Is it odd that the thing that most excited me about the first batch of pickles in 2012 is that we canned a prime number of cucumbers? (127, if you were curious!). Yeah, I think my mathly-inclined friends are rubbing off a bit…

Anyhow, the farmer’s market had fabulous looking itty bitty cucumbers (like the size of my pinky finger or smaller) for $15 a bucket (about $2.75/pound), so we decided to liberate a bunch and make pickles. Walking past the herbalist’s stall and smelling the fresh dill wafting on the hot breeze might have played an important role, too…I always love the different smells at the market, but sometimes I do get a bit carried away!

So we acquired fresh dill and a short ton of baby cukes, picked up some vinegar and jars on our way home (seriously, where do all the jars go?) and got down to business. I should also say, this was the day we decided to make currant jelly and shrub, so it’s not like our afternoon docket was empty. But there’s always room for pickles, no?

I washed the little cukes and sliced off both ends…I started out doing this with a paring knife, but then I remembered I have a small microplane blade on the side of my box grater that would do them much faster (and at much less peril to my fingertips!). Stroke of genius, that.

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Once the cukes were washed, it was time to make the brine and pack the jars. The brine was a simple 1:1 ratio of water and white vinegar with a bit of salt and sugar added. Once that was all in the pan and heating up, I started filling the jars.  One head of very fragrant dill apiece, plus a half-teaspoon of pickling spice (Penzey’s blend…it’s quite tasty), plus half a teaspoon of dill seeds (not all the dill heads were seedy yet, and I wanted DILL pickles!).  A few jars also got dried peppers added just to see how they’d come out!

Once the spices were in, John & I packed the cukes in as best we could.  We had slightly more cukes than the recipe called for (OK, about 2.5 times by weight), so we got 10 pint jars and one half pint once all was said and done.  We poured the brine over them (we’d done a triple batch figuring we’d need it, but I bet we could have gotten by with a double batch b/c we ended up throwing quite a bit out that didn’t get used).

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Once the jars were packed and brined, we popped them into the water canner to process for 10 minutes and poof! Done!  I’m really excited to see how these turn out (I think we’ll crack the half pint in a few weeks just to see, though we do need to finish up a few jars of last year’s pickles before we go crazy and make a bunch more.  That, or annex more storage space somehow…)

We missed out on the baby cukes last year, so this was the first time we pickled whole cucumbers…I’m curious to see if anything is different (texture/flavor-wise) compared to slices!)

And, of course Herbie the cat likes to be part of what’s going on.  Or oversee his human underlings…we’re never quite sure which it is…

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Crumble for two!

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I do love summer fruit, and I’d be lying if I said that pie isn’t one of my favorite summer treats. The problem is, with just the two of us, a pie lasts a loooooooong time. And by the time it finally disappears, I find it has usually overstayed its welcome. Or maybe I just prefer fresh pie? Whatever the case, I have solved the conundrum! I was strolling through the local discount junk emporium and found an adorable little blue square Le Crueset baking dish, about four inches on a side! Just perfect for a small pie or crumble!

Crumble is really easy to make, even in miniature. And it’s really quite forgiving. Don’t have this fruit or that spice? No problem, plow ahead and I promise you’ll love the results anyway.

Crumble For Two

  • 1 c. quartered cherries
  • 1 c. blueberries
  • 1/2 c. sugar (more or less, to taste)
  • splash lemon or lime juice (optional, skip if you don’t have a fresh lime/lemon)
  • pinch allspice
  • pinch salt
  • 1 T. cornstarch
  • 1/4 c. quick oats
  • 1/6 c. flour
  • 1/6 c. brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 2 T. butter

Combine cherries, blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Toss well and let sit so the fruit juices come out. Stir in allspice and cornstarch.

In another bowl, mix remaining ingredients till a crumbly mixture forms.

Pour berry mixture into baking dish, then top with crumble mixture. Press down a bit.

Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 15 – 20 minutes, till berries are bubbly and topping is golden.

Cool on a wire rack before serving.

The Soup to End All Soups (for now)

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with soup.  When I was small, I famously told my mother “I hate ‘toup’ and I don’t like ‘tew’ either”…I have yet to live that down!  But in the intervening 20-some odd years, I have learned that I do, in fact, like soup, and even stew, but I’m awfully picky.  No cream of condensed concoctions need apply, or processed food ingredients, for that matter.  I like soup, but made of whole, fresh ingredients, from scratch, with wuv.  Which means that sometimes I spend hours making the perfect stew (boeuf bourguignon, I’m looking at you!).  And sometimes I want soup, but don’t want to make soup.

But sometimes.  Sometimes, I am inspired in spite of myself!  Take last night…I didn’t really want to make soup.  I had every intention of just making sausage & potato hash for dinner, but then, some sweet potatoes snuck in, and brought carrots with them.  And the kale showed up and wanted in on the action.  And suddenly nothing sounded better than creamy, veggie studded, chorizo and kale soup.  So that’s what I made (considering I was already partway there, it wasn’t hard, and took less than 40 minutes total).  And it was filling and delicious and creamy and everything a spicy sausage soup should be!

Sausage & Kale Soup

  • 3/4 lb. fresh chorizo sausage, uncased (I prefer spicy, but mild will also do nicely)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 small red potatoes, diced (1/2″ cubes)
  • 1 garnet yam, diced (also 1/2″ cubes)
  • 4 medium carrots, diced (1/2″ cubes…see a pattern here?)
  • 4 tsp. beef bullion base
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups chopped kale (bit size pieces)
  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream

Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat.  Add the chorizo and crumble.  Let cook 5 or 6 minutes to render fat while you chop veggies. 

Add onions and carrots to sausage and cook about 4 minutes.  Stir occasionally so nothing scorches.

Dissolve bullion base in some of the water, then add potatoes, yams, bullion, and remaining water to the pot.  Be sure veggies are amply covered by liquid, add bay leaves, and cover the pot.  Simmer for 10 minutes, till potatoes and yams are beginning to get tender. 

Add kale and stir into soup, cover the pot and cook an additional 10 minutes.  Make sure kale, potatoes, and yams are all tender and cooked to your liking; if not, cook a little more. 

When veggies are cooked, remove soup from flame.  Scoop out a cup or so of the broth and temper the cream (mix cream into the broth you just scooped out slowly so it heats up gradually and doesn’t curdle) then add tempered cream back to the main soup pot: pour slowly and stir well while adding. 

Ladle soup into bowls and enjoy with  some crusty bread.

This soup is loosely based on all the Caldo Verde recipes that have come before it in my kitchen (sausage + potato + greens + cream = soup), but this is a little bit ddifferent, and I blame the carrots and sweet potatoes for imparting little nuggets of sweet surprise that those other soups do not have.  Not that I won’t make Caldo Verde in a heartbeat, but, it’s a different soup.  And for now, this is my favorite soup.

Homemade Peppermint Marshmallows (sans corn syrup!)

I gave up on marshmallows a couple years ago.  I made the mistake of looking at the ingredients on a marshmallow bag one day in the grocery store and it was amazing what all went into those little puffs–it was scary stuff, folks!  Then I discovered, if you do manage to find ‘mallows that don’t have tons of mysterious goo in them, prepare to lose an arm and leg in the checkout line, because they are not cheap, kids.  Plus, am I the only person who thinks store-bought ‘mallows taste just a teensy bit like fluffy sawdust?  For something with such gooey pillowy promise, I expect them to taste better than cotton balls!  So I just sort of gave up on marshmallows (not that they were an integral part of my life or anything, they were nice in cocoa, good for the occasional s’more and whatnot).

Then, a few months ago, I found myself craving marshmallows.  I wanted to make krispie treats, cocoa, s’mores, and mallow-stuffed caramels with a vengeance, but alas! store-bought marshmallows would not do!  So I put out the call for a homemade marshmallow recipe, and luckily for me (and now you!), the internets delivered and pointed me toward this lovely recipe.  I followed the recipe and made valentine heart marshmallows and they were fabulous!  Flavorful, fluffy, easy, and fun to make, kids!  And I used them for cocoa, and krispie treats, and s’mores…all fabulous.  And that was about as far as I took it.

A few weeks ago, I was cruising around pinterest (yes, that great time suck of the 21st century) and ran across a pin of some Martha Stewart holiday marshmallows…peppermint and red swirl marshmallows, no less!  (Which pretty much guaranteed that I had to try them…what’s better than a marshmallow?  A pretty, peppermint flavored marshmallow, of course!)  But I didn’t really care for Martha’s recipe (yes, I disagree with the almighty M!), so I returned to the recipe I’d used before, but tweaked it a bit.

The main tweak I made was in the flavorings.  The original recipe calls for honey and vanilla, which makes for a delicate, floral, honey/vanilla flavored mallow.  But I wanted peppermint!  The peppermintiest peppermint I could make! So I replaced the honey and vanilla with peppermint extract.  And then doubled the amount of peppermint extract after taste testing the mallow.  I also added some food coloring and a brief swirl session to get the festive red swirls that Martha Stewart’s recipe boasted.  Easy peasy.  In the end, I ended up with what, in my humble opinion, are the perfect peppermint marshmallows!

Homemade Peppermint Marshmallows

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp (13g) knox (unflavored) gelatin
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp honey (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
  • 8-12 drops red food coloring
  • butter and/or cooking spray, as needed

Method

  1. Prepare your mallow pan.  If you want 1/2″ to 1″ tall mallows, use a rimmed 9×13 cookie sheet.  If you want 1″ – 2″ mallows, use an 8×8 baking pan.  To prepare the pan, spread with a thin layer of butter (or spray with cooking spray, but make sure it’s not olive oil flavored!); be sure to coat the sides, too!  Combine cornstarch and powdered sugar and dump about half of it into greased pan, then tap it around till bottom and sides are well coated.  Tap excess back into the bowl of remaining cornstarch mixture–you’ll use it later.
  2. Bloom gelatin in 1/2 cup water in the bottom of your stand mixer bowl (don’t make these without a stand mixer–your stirring arm will fall off long before the mallow is properly whipped).
  3. Combine sugar, water, honey (if using), and salt in a 2 qt. saucepan.  Bring to a boil and heat, stirring occasionally, to firm ball stage, about 240 degrees F.  Use a candy thermometer unless you’re experienced at testing candy stages.
  4. When your syrup hits firm ball stage, remove from heat, turn on your stand mixer on low (with the wire beater attachment attached) and slowly pour your sugar syrup into the running mixer.  Don’t spill–your syrup is HOT and will burn you!
  5. Once all the syrup is added, beat for a minute to mix well, then crank the speed up to high and let it beat until light and fluffy and mallowy.  This can take anywhere from 8-12 minutes, so be patient!  Add your peppermint extract and whirl everything around for another minute to mix well.
  6. Grease a spatula and coax mallow out of mixing bowl and into your prepared pan.  Spread evenly (or you’ll have unevenly tall mallows, which is not the end of the world, by any means!).  Drop red food color every few inches over the top of the mallow, then using a toothpick or bamboo skewer, swirl the surface of the mallow around to spread the red color into swirls.
  7. Let mallow set up for 3-4 hours before cutting into individual marshmallows.  When you’re ready to cut, butter a sharp knife (or cookie cutter, if you want shapes) and sprinkle a bit of your cornstarch mixture on a cutting board.  Using a sifter or mesh strainer, sprinkle the rest of the cornstarch over the top of the mallow (this will keep it from sticking to your fingers).  Gently pull the mallow out of the pan (don’t worry if you have to tug on it, it will regain its shape once out of the pan).  Cut into desired shapes, being sure to dust the cut edges with more cornstarch mixture so they don’t stick together.
  8. To store, keep in a sealed container (or plastic bag) on the counter for 2-3 weeks (if they survive that long!) or freeze for up to 2-3 months.

The only downside of making your own marshmallows is that you are essentially detonating a sticky, powdered sugar-spewing bomb in your kitchen.  So, you know, have some hot water and good dish soap handy for the cleanup!  Not bad if that’s the worst part of it, eh?!  So whip up a batch and enjoy a celebratory cup of cocoa crowned with your very own peppermint marshmallows!