The Ups and Downs of Homemade Peeps

Homemade Easter Peeps

When I was younger, I always wanted to like Peeps — they were so cute and colorful and looked so festive it was hard not to want to bite their little heads off. But even as a kid, I’d get halfway through the pack and lose interest. They just weren’t as delicious as their bright candy colors made them seem. (They were still better than Cadbury Eggs, with their creamy yolks that still give me the creeps, but a far cry from my favorite Easter candy, mini-Whopper Robin Eggs.)

And yet, this year I became obsessed with making my own. After all — homemade marshmallows are infinitely better than store-bought ones, so it would seem that homemade Peeps would follow the same logic.

I did some recipe and technique research before I began, which led me to trying out Alton Brown’s recipe for marshmallows. Normally I am a big proponent of Martha Stewart’s recipe, but it seemed like as good a time as any to try something new. (Personally I still find Martha’s recipe to be fluffier and sweeter, but feel free to use whatever recipe you like best.)

If you are a newbie at marshmallow making, make sure you have a candy thermometer that is calibrated and that actually works (mine broke and I ended up having to test for the soft ball stage using a cup of water. Effective but not very fun). Also prepare yourself for the mess, especially if you try to color part of your mixture like I did. Imagine yourself in a stringy web of sugar — it gets everywhere!

And in hindsight, dying the marshmallows was pretty silly. The sugar covers them anyways, I was just experimenting.

Pink and White Marshmallows

Pink and White Marshmallows. They look unassuming but managed to put up quite a fight.

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Homemade pupusas turned me into a greedy food hoarder…

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

In the past few years I’ve gotten really into pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish. They have taken over my mind and made me do things like brave a rather shady looking pupuserie that shares its parking lot with an even shadier looking porn store. (Totally worth it, by the way.) I’ve also eaten pupusas from a few food carts around town. Each pupusa journey ended in happiness, but the more I ate, the more determined I became to make them myself.

Finally last Saturday, after spending the morning googling recipes, I decided the time was right.

I picked up a huge bag of masa (I’m envisioning tamales, tortillas and endless pupusas in my future) and some queso fresco. I decided to skip making the typical pupusa accompaniment, curtido (a pickled or fermented cabbage salad), since I had some homemade pickled veggies to use up. I also had some braised beef that needed a good home and so the project was a pretty affordable one — always a good thing when you don’t really know what you’re doing!

But regardless of my inexperience, by following the recipe and instructions from The Kitchn carefully, my pupusa adventure was a delicious success.

Masa!

Masa!

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Pork fried rice finds perfection, Pok Pok style

Khao Phat Muu (Thai fried rice with pork)

Khao Phat Muu (Thai fried rice with pork)

I’ve made a decent amount of fried rice in my life. On this blog alone, I’ve posted it three times — once made with farro, once with potato chips and again with pork and pineapple. And each time it’s delicious, but I’ve always felt like the seasoning wasn’t quite right. Often it would taste a bit flat and so I’d tinker with it — adding more and more things and then it would have too much soy or sesame or lime and yet somehow it would still lack “oomph.”

That all changed when I cooked my second recipe from the Pok Pok cookbook — Khao Phat Muu (fried rice with pork). Next to the fried egg salad, this is probably one of the easiest recipes in the book which brought it to the top of my “must make” list.  More encouragement came from a girl at work who kept telling me it was the best fried rice she had ever eaten.

And once I took a bite, I totally agreed. It was spot-on fried rice perfection and the best part was the amount of ingredients and fiddling is kept to a minimum. Simplicity is key — as is the great unbeatable umami flavor.

While I still think you should buy the book, I’ll give you a rundown on the basics of the recipe.

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The week that I stuffed my face with homemade bread…

Meatball Sandwich on Homemade Bread

Meatball Sandwich on Homemade Bread

A bit of a confession: I can be strangely intimidated by certain culinary projects. Sure, I’ve made pasta by flicking water on semolina flour and I make my own dim sum, but other fairly simple things can make me stop in my tracks — like making bread from scratch.

In fact, it’s been since culinary school (back in 2001) since I’ve made bread on my own — with the exception of last year’s surprisingly successful English muffins. In general though I leave bread making to the professionals, which means I buy a lot of bread.

And while regularly baking bread is one of those things I’ve always wanted to do, I tend to chicken out when things like yeast, knead and rise come up in recipes. It just seems like too much potential for failure.

But with my combined resolutions to try new things and to attempt recipes suggested by WordPress friends, I decided it was finally time to get off the pot. I started with a recipe for French bread, posted by my friend Liz of Food For Fun.

Happily the recipe is straightforward and easy to follow, even for someone nervous about baking bread. It does take some forethought though since the dough needs to be started the day before.

After it’s spent the evening in the refrigerator, let it come to room temperature.

Making French Bread

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Homemade Quince Paste: Making cheese plates happy

Homemade quince pasta

While I often tell my husband that the last thing we need is another cookbook, I’ll admit I didn’t put up too much resistance when he offered to buy me a copy of America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. I had flipped through it briefly at the Book Larder in Seattle and was immediately smitten.

It’s got recipes for just about everything you can imagine: bacon jam, corn chips, yogurt, beer, fresh chorizo and so much more. Really, it’s almost overwhelming.

But I knew at once what recipe I would try first, seeing as I had five quince staring at me from the kitchen counter. My husband had bought them at the season’s last farmer’s market and we had yet to do anything with them (I could practically sense them judging me). It was time for them to meet their maker become delicious quince paste.

Since I had a weekend plan to cook with my friend DB — we were making candied orange peels and Parisian gnocchi — I figured one more culinary project couldn’t hurt. And the good thing about the recipe, besides the fact that it’s pretty fool proof, is that it’s easy to do while doing other things.

Quince paste is also great for holiday gift giving so if you’re a total procrastinator or have a cheese lover in your life, consider giving them a wedge of this. It’s a great accompaniment to a cheese plate and also will last for up to 3 months in the fridge. Hard to beat that!

Start by cooking the fruit down until tender, puree, strain and cook a second time with sugar. Pour into a pan lined with parchment paper and allow to cool. To get the exact recipe, order a copy of the cookbook! To see a fairly similar one online, click here! The main difference is that ours doesn’t have any vanilla and we passed the puree through a fine chinois to get rid of any lumps before cooking it with the sugar.

Cooked quince -- cored but unpeeled

Cooked quince — cored but unpeeled

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Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Meringue in the wild!

Like many new projects I tackle on a whim, these peppermint meringues were found on Pinterest. They were just too pretty too pass up and I happened to have egg whites left over from making ice cream for Thanksgiving (we made a goat cheese ice cream and a straight up old-fashioned vanilla — both were awesome!). I decided it was a perfect time to use them up and cross a cookie off my holiday “must bake” list.

Meringues are super easy to make and I can totally, absolutely appreciate a cookie that you can let bake for two hours and not have to think about. In fact, the only things you have to worry about with meringues are having any fat in the egg whites when you whip them (bad news) or over/under whipping them. Happily, I avoided both of those issues and my cookies turned out pretty darn adorable.

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

I like to do different sizes so people can have “just a nibble.”

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

It’s like a meringue mountain range!

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