Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Visit

Happy Feast of the Visitation!

This is my favorite image of the Visitation, painted by Carl Bloch. St. Elizabeth is so joyful and welcoming I just want to hug her myself! And the Blessed Mother's veil is so transparent and light-filled... just like her soul which magnifies the Lord.

Today would be a great day to visit a friend, don't you think?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to Make a Strawberry Pavlova

It has been said that Pavlova, an Australian a New Zealand meringue dessert, is one of the hardest desserts to make well. Of course that meant I wanted to try it.

All said and done, if you're comfortable working with meringue, it's super easy. If you're not, it's a little intimidating but utterly doable!

I happen to be terrified of meringue. I can't tell by looking at it if I'm at the soft peak or stiff shiny peak stage, so I did a few searches and found this picture guide to be extremely helpful. If your meringue cracks (like mine did) or deflates, it's still delicious and beautiful. Add a little more whipped cream and call it good.

This is a light, relatively cheap dessert to make. Go ahead and try it for Pentecost this Sunday! If it flops, you're only out 4 egg whites, some sugar, and a few minutes of work. If it succeeds, you've got a beautiful heavenly puff of confection that is sure to impress even the most discerning epicure.

Strawberry Pavlova
Inspired by: What's for Lunch, Honey?

For the meringue
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Kirsch (optional)
For the filling
  • 1 pint strawberries (or any fruit/nut/chocolate!)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whipping cream 
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch (optional, replace with 1 tsp. vanilla)
  • 1 Tablespoon apricot or orange preserves or jam, thinned with water (optional)
For the meringue

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Draw a circle approx. 8" in diameter on a sheet of baking paper. Place, pencil-side down, on a baking tray.

  2. To make the meringue, whip the egg whites (in a stand mixer, with a hand mixer, or with a whisk) to soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, occasionally scraping down the side of the bowl. Once all the sugar has been added whisk for another 2-3 minutes until stiff peaks form. The mixture should be thick and glossy. Make sure the sugar has dissolved completely and the meringue is not grainy. Add the cornstarch folding gently with a spatula, then pour in the vinegar and the kirsch and fold through.

  3. Spoon the meringue onto the baking paper and using a palette knife shape into a circle using the penciled mark as a guide. Pull the meringue upwards around the edge to create furrows, which will support the sides of the pavlova. Make a well in the middle, which will hold the filling. Make sure the base of the meringue is not too thin.

  4. Turn the heat down to 210° F and bake the for 1 ½ hours until the pavlova is dry and crisp. Turn the oven off and leave the meringue in the oven, with the door ajar until cooled completely – 4 to 5 hours. Do not remove the meringue from the oven when it is still warm as it will cool too quickly and may crack and collapse.

  5. Slide the pavlova onto a plate and spoon the filling into the center.
For the filling
  1. Wash and hull the strawberries.

  2. Whisk the whipped cream, vanilla, and sugar until stiff and fluffy. 

  3. When ready to serve, fill the meringue with the whipped cream, arrange the strawberries over the top and brush with apricot preserves to make them shiny. Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Countertop Choices

I'm kind of jumping the gun on making this decision (considering we're not even remotely ready to build our dream house), but kitchen dreaming is in full swing and I'd like your input.

I've only ever been around Formica countertops, and I actually like 'em. They're cheap, sturdy, virtually indestructible, and I think they've come a long way since the bright yellow of the 60's. They're starting a new line called "Ideal Edge" that hides the dead-giveaway brown mark around the seams, and they've got a pretty convincing stone look, too.

That said... who doesn't dream of real marble, butcher block, granite, soapstone, quartz, and all the other gorgeous counters?

Considering how much time and effort is spent in the kitchen, higher end countertops might make it into our low-budget house, if they're worth it.

So what kind of countertops do you have, and do you like them? How heat/stain/scratch resistant are they? Any tips, advice, or comments?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Organic Pest Control: Joke's On Me

Determined not to have my entire garden decimated by the mysterious pest, I mixed up a lethally spicy concoction of jalapeños, habañero peppers, raw garlic and water. Supposedly if you spray the spicy slurry on the leaves, the bugs, birds, and beasts will leave your precious produce in peace.

Besides clogging the nozzle of my spray bottle, it seems to be working quite well. I positively doused everything but the lettuce, because, after all, I wouldn't want the trick to backfire (so to speak).

A few days later, Enter, Stage Left: this tantalizing recipe.

"I have pea shoots!" I yelled to my laptop. "I have walnuts, and Parmesan. I even have mint!"

Excitement got the better of me.

You can see where this is headed, of course.

"Delicate," they said. "A burst of intense pea flavor," they said.

I think the salad was good. I'll let you know when my tongue is extinguished.