Sorry about the long absence. Our household manage to contrive to have company or to be on vacation for nearly every weekend in the month of May. As a result we got almost nothing crafty or home-related done for the entire month. So to feed your withdrawals, here’s a quick look at carbonating your own homemade soda.

The first thing you need is a flavored simple syrup. We made a pineapple mint syrup by macerating pineapple with sugar overnight and then cooking the syrup with mint. We had also made a blueberry lemon syrup through a similar method. Once you have your syrup, you want to funnel it into a clean glass jar.

This shows just the syrup in the jar. You want to dilute the syrup 1:2 with water, so your soda isn’t overly sweet. I had about 3/4 C syrup, so I added about 1 1/2 C water.

This is with the water added. As you can see, we didn’t have enough syrup to make a full bottle of liquid. You can leave the rest as open air space, it will not hurt the soda. Once you’ve done that, you want to add a TINY pinch of active dry yeast. This will react with the sugars and cause the carbonation. The next part is patience. It has to sit in a room temperature place for at least 24 hours, and up to 3 days. The yeast will keep reacting, so you shouldn’t leave it longer than that. We learned this the hard way. We left ours about 4 days, and it was kind of off the radar. Rachel went down to the kitchen, heard a funny hissing noise, and not thinking, opened the blueberry over the sink. She then spent the rest of the morning cleaning up blueberry soda off the ceiling, walls and floors. So really, don’t leave it longer than 3 days.

Once your three days are up, you can pop your soda in the fridge. This will slow down the yeast reaction, but not stop it entirely, so you still need to drink the soda you’ve made within a few days. The amount shown above is probably 2-3 standard glasses.

Also, if you want to look fancy, but not mess with your own carbonation, you can always make your syrup and add it to carbonated water. This is actually the method we use much more often as we usually have soda water around, and it’s less likely to make a mess if you forget about it.

 

Fancy Soup

February 28, 2012

My New Year’s Resolution this year was to cook one new recipe every week. I haven’t necessarily posted lots of this here, because, frankly, reading about someone making fish sticks just isn’t that interesting (I didn’t say it had to be a fancy or exciting recipe, just something I’d never made before). However, I did get a little fancier a couple of weeks ago and made french onion soup. Now soup is generally just not that interesting of a food to talk about. You stick some stuff in a pot, usually with some broth, and let it cook for awhile. French onion soup, however, is like a alchemical transformation. Also, it’s something that had never occurred to me to make at home-it just seems like a restaurant thing, with cute oven-proof ceramic soup bowls. To tackle this challenge, I more or less used Alton Brown’s recipe, available on the Food Network website here.

To start with, you need lots of onions. The recipe says 5 onions, but I modified this recipe slightly based on comments from the website. So we had 5 lbs of onions, which was about 6-7, I think. You slice the onions into thin rings, which is the most labor-intensive part of the whole process, and start to brown them in a little butter. 5 lbs of onions is a lot. It looks like this:

This is the first time I thought maybe I had read a number wrong. This looks like a lot of onions. But you just cook them, and cook them, and cook them. And then you get this:

After that you keep cooking the onions down until they’re brown and caramelized. You then add in some wine, broth and some herbs in a bouquet garni. You’ll see that I didn’t actually have whole stems of herbs or cheesecloth for a traditional bouquet garni, so I just stuffed some herbs in a metal tea ball and winged it.

 

While all that is going on, you make some toast. Rachel cut our toast into fancy rounds, but as long as it  fits into your bowl it’s fine.

 

When your soup is done, you put the toasts in the soup, crunchy side down.

 

Top it with cheese (we used gruyere) and stick it under the broiler for a few seconds. It’s important to make sure that your bowls are heat-proof. If not, they can explode when you heat them under the broiler.

 

Delicious!

So anyone who knows the two of us, knows that fluffy, meringue-based candy is apparently the way to our hearts (marshmallows, anyone?). So with that in mind, and two days off in a row, I decided to try to make a homemade version of the Holy Grail of meringue candies-nougat. I started off with this recipe, which is honey-almond flavored.

Nougat starts off a lot like marshmallows, but unlike marshmallow, you don’t use the magic of gelatin to make it set up. Just the magic of egg whites, which, really, are pretty amazing. The big difference in the set up was that I added honey to the sugar and corn syrup in the simple syrup. This gives me the honey part of the flavor, and allowed me to use up an old, sugared, bottle of honey I had lying around. 

That came to a boil just like any other syrup, and at the same time I was beating two egg whites to stiff peaks. The idea is that one’s egg whites reach stiff peaks and one’s syrup reaches 251 degrees (remember 241 for those at Denver altitude) at the same moment. My timing wasn’t great, so I ended up bringing the eggs up a little fast and hard, which may have been one of my issues in the end. Once you get to this magical point, you take a 1/4 cup of hot syrup and slowly add it to your meringue. Now it’s a hot syrup meringue.

At the same time, or if you’re more organized than I was, a little before this, you should toast the nuts you want in your final candy. I went with all almonds because it’s what we had on hand. The original recipe also calls for pistachios and walnuts. The original recipe also wanted whole nuts, but I thought that might be a little unruly, so I did a rough chop on the nuts as well.

The whole time you’re doing all of these other things, your syrup continues to cook until it reaches 315 degrees. This is the beginning of a whole lot of mixing, and the transformation from egg whites and syrup to candy.

As you can see in the picture the syrup is a nice golden brown color  at this point. You want to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch. Once it’s at the appropriate temperature, slow your mixer way down, and drizzle the syrup into the meringue mixture which should be at stiff peaks. The syrup is so hot it will kind of melt your meringue, but turn the mixer back up, and let it run until the candy starts to hold it’s shape again. While that mixture is re-inflating, you can grab the rest of your ingredients.

 

This particular recipe is flavored with vanilla and almond extracts (2 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp almond), a pinch of salt to bring out the flavors, and butter. Once your mixture is re-inflated, stop the mixer and add in your last ingredients. You’ll notice the butter makes the mixture shiny and opaque like taffy. From here you’re going to beat it some more, until you get a ribbon when you lift the beater out of the mixer. This texture, is like taffy, but a little softer. From here, you stir the nuts in by hand, and then spread in a well-oiled baking pan.

As you can see, this is where my experience got a little interesting. Once I had the nuts in there, it started to set up fast, and it was very hard to spread. I didn’t even manage to get it to cover the whole bottom of the pan, and I don’t seem to have the quantity of candy that the recipe suggests that I will. I suspect that my timing was a little off and some of the sections involving mixing could have been done a little more slowly and gradually. However, the taste is good, as I can attest from licking the bowl, so that gives me hope and little more preparation for next time.