Food and Holidays
|ï¿½2009 Courtney Grant Winston|
Marshmallow Peeps, those sweet, explodable treats, are the quintessential Easter-basket filler.ï¿½ Though the Just Born Peeps will satisfy sugar craving-kiddies, homemade marshmallows are a fit for a foodie's basket.
Chef Alison Barshak has been making her own version of the classic marshmallow chicks, which she dubs Peepers, at her restaurant Alison at Blue Bell and the newly-opened Alison two.ï¿½ Barshak got interested in the many variations of the pillowy puffs when friend Eileen Talanian published her book Marshmallows: Homemade Gourmet Treats (Gibbs Smith).
"Last year when Eileen's book came out," says Barshak, "my whole kitchen did a marshmallow cocktail party and paired them with wines and passed hors d'oeuvres. We did ancho chili marshmallows, red wine fluff and apple marshmallows in bacon and cheese sandwiches.ï¿½ Everyone like the savory marshmallows best."ï¿½ For Easter and Passover sweets, Barshak makes more conventional dessert marshmallows, flavored with Meyer lemon, raspberry and vanilla bean.
Marshmallows make appearances in more than just Easter baskets this time of year. "Everyone is always looking for ways to make Passover desserts taste good," says the chef. "You can't use dairy, and the rules are kind of complicated.ï¿½ The more processed the food is, the less likely it will conform to kosher laws.ï¿½ Marshmallows work because you're making your own syrup with sugar, instead of using corn syrup.ï¿½ I taught a kosher class in New York, and did a lot of research on kosher desserts. Marshmallows are great, because you can get kosher gelatin. Eileen's book does fluff frozen like a semi-freddo with no dairy or gelatin that is amazing."
But are marshmallows hard to make?ï¿½ Barshak doesn't think so. "You have to do it all at once -- once you start you have to finish it, and you have to realize you're going to get really sticky. That's just the way it is.ï¿½ It's not more difficult than anything else.ï¿½ I think it's fun!"
If getting covered in sugar sounds like your idea of a good time, click over the jump for Alison's method to make Peepers at home, adapted from Eileen Talanian's book.ï¿½ After all, homemade marshmallows "taste so much better than store-bought," says Barshak.ï¿½ "They're softer, and have a cleaner flavor.ï¿½ We flavor ours with Meyer lemon juice and raspberry, and they just taste like spring to me."
Alison at Blue Bell, 721 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell; 215-641-2660, alisonatbluebell.com
Alison two, 424 S. Bethlehem Pike, Ft. Washington; 215-591-0200, alisontwo.com
Housemade Chick Peepers
Recipe courtesy of Marshmallows: Homemade Gourmet Treats by Eileen Talanian
As used by Chef Alison Barshak, Alison two & Alison at Blue Bell
For Marshmallow Syrup
For the syrup:
1 cup water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Make the heavy syrup first. Place the syrup ingredients in a small heavy sauce pot over medium heat and stir mixture with high heat spatula. When the mixture starts to boil, cover sauce pan for a few minutes. Remove the lid and insert a candy thermometer increasing to high until the mixture reaches 240 degrees. Do not stir as this will cause the mixture to crystallize. Remove from heat and let cool. (Note: you can substitute light corn syrup for marshmallow syrup in the Marshmallow Base recipe if you don't have the time or inclination to make this syrup.)
For the Bloom
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin
For the Marshmallow Base
3/4 cups water
1-1/4 cups marshmallow syrup
1-1/2ï¿½ cups Granulated cane sugar
Colored sugar for coating the peepers
powdered sugar, cornstarch, or a mixture of the two for coating
Piping bag fitted with 3/8-inch plain decorating tube
3-D food coloring tube and food coloring
First, make the Bloom: Stir the water and vanilla together in a measuring cup. Place the gelatin in a small bowl and add the water mixture, stirring with a fork or small whisk until perfectly smooth.
Next, make the Marshmallow Base: Place the water, marshmallow syrup, salt and sugar, in that order, into a 4-quart pan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Then place a lid on the pan and boil it, covered for 2 minutes. This step is essential in order to eliminate sugar crystals on the side of the pan that may cause the marshmallows to crystallize.
Remove the lid, insert a candy thermometer, and continue boiling until the thermometer reaches 250 degrees F. Do not stir the mixture once the lid has been removed. Remove the thermometer and gently stir in the bloomed gelatin.
Pour the batter into the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Beat it on high speed for 10 to 12 minutes, using the wire whisk attachment or the paddle beater. It will take a little longer to beat with the paddle. You can cover the mixer with a clean kitchen towel for the first 3 minutes to avoid splattering hot liquid on yourself.
At first, the marshmallow batter will look very watery; as it beats, it will become thick, white, and glossy, and will increase in volume by two- to threefold. If desired, use a small amount of food coloring to make colored peepers.
For the Peepers
Prepare a surface by spraying it with oil and lightly wiping it, or by generously sprinkling it with a coating mixture. Holding the piping bag so the tip is at a 45-degree angle to the surface, pipe a mound, then push the bag back and up to form a neck, giving a slight extra squeeze to form the head. Dip the finger and thumb of your free hand in water and pinch off the end to form the beak, gently pushing it down, if necessary. Sprinkle with colored sugar and allow to cure overnight, or allow them to cure for a few hours and coat them with your favorite coating. You can place the coating in a bag with some of the peepers and shake it to coat them. Be sure to brush off excess coating.
Use a 3-D food-coloring tube to paint eyes onto the peepers. Pack them in gift boxes and tie with pretty ribbons.
Pink will always be in fashion for cherry trees. The brilliant pink blossoms begin to show their colors in Philadelphia in late March, with larger, lighter-colored flowers blooming through April. The Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia heralds the coming of spring with events as diverse as sake tastings, martial arts demonstrations, kodo drumming and dance, Japanese film screenings and traditional tea ceremonies. (See the full schedule here.)Many of the events take place in Fairmount Park, where a dense concentration of cherry trees reside.
This Sunday, April 5 is Sakura Sunday, the centerpiece of the festival. The outdoor event is Philadelphia's own o-hanami, the Japanese tradition of revelry beneath the cherry trees. The Horticultural Center in Fairmount Park will host an array of entertainments, including live music and dance, origami, calligraphy and crafts stations, kimonos and Japanese art vendors, a Japan-America food court, a cherry tree planting ceremony and tours of Shofusu Japanese House and Garden. Admission is a suggested donation of $5.
Once visitors have reveled under the trees and learned a few things about Japanese culture, they might develop an insatiable craving for shumai, sushi and noodles. Download the Dine Out Japan coupon here to receive 20 percent off your meal at 11 local Japanese restaurants, including trendy karaoke bar Yakitori Boy and petite BYO Umai Umai. The deal runs from April 19-23.
Visit jasgp.org/cherryblossomfestival for more information.
|Chocolate-Carmel Matzoh Crunch|
A heathen baby like myself cannot, in good conscience, write anything worth reading about Passover foods. Not only are the kosher rules more stringent during Passover (which begins at sunset April 8 and ends at nightfall on April 15 this year) but certain foods are absolutely required. Instead of some Wiki-informed prattle, here is a loving roundup of links to writers who know what the hell they're talking about, and local events worth attending.
- The wonderful Zoe Bakes blog features three desserts for Passover, including Coconut Haystack Macaroons, Chocolate-Caramel Matzoh Crunch, and three different Fruit Jellies.
- Chabad.org provides this informative list and recipes for the traditional Passover foods, including explanations of the meanings and allusions inherent to the Seder meal.
- For the uninitiated, eHow provides a simple explanation of how to conduct a Seder on the first night of Passover, and suggests resources for more detailed directions.
- Serious Eats comes up with A Beginner's Guide to Passover Coke and suggests where to find sodas sweetened with sugar, since corn syrup is banned under the "no grains" stricture of the holiday.
- If your favorite thing to make is reservations, Foobooz rounds up five spots serving traditional and twisted takes on the Seder in Philadelphia.
- Last year, Dianna Marder wrote a great article in The Inquirer on the book Pesach For The Rest of Us: Making The Passover Seder Your Own by Marge Piercy, and interviewed several Philadelphia Jewish chefs and restaurateurs.ï¿½ Marder also includes recipes for Cinnamon Roasted Lamb, Mizrachi Charoset and Alison Barshak's recipe for Chocolate Matzoh.
- If you are disinclined to prepare your own Seder but can't afford the luxe restaurant versions,ï¿½ join the free, campus-wide Seder at Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, 8 p.m. on Wed., April 8. Everyone is welcome to partake in matzah, wine, a full dinner and learn about the traditions of Pesach.
|Who got da baby?|
King Cakes, traditionally served only between Twelfth Night (January 6) and Mardi Gras day (the "fat tuesday" before Ash Wednesday) date back to the pre-Christian religions of Central Europe. From GumboPages.com:
It was customary to choose a man to be the "sacred king" of the tribe for a year. That man would be treated like a king for the year, then he would be sacrificed, and his blood returned to the soil to ensure that the harvest would be successful. The method of choosing who would have the honor of being the sacred king was the King's Cake. A coin or bean would be placed in the cake before baking, and whoever got the slice that had the coin was the chosen one.
Bloody awesome, right? Like many pagan traditions, Christian leaders realized they could not root out such practices, choosing instead to co-opt them with new, Jesus-approved meanings. GumboPages again provides enlightenment: "Catholic priests were not predisposed to human sacrifice, so the King's Cake was converted into a celebration of the Magi, the three Kings who came to visit the Christ Child."
The first French settlers to the New Orleans brought the tradition of the King Cake with them, consuming the pastry during Carnival — indulging in the sugar and fat that would be verboten during the austere Lenten season. Since then, King Cakes have become a common sight in Louisiana offices and classrooms every Friday during Carnival. Since the 1950s, a small plastic baby has become the most common trinket baked into the cake, rather than the original bean or coin. Whoever finds the baby in their slice of cake brings the cake for next week — not nearly as onerous as being the blood sacrifice for next year's successful harvest.
The modern King Cake is a coffee-cake type dough, sometimes filled or iced, rolled out into a long rope, shaped into an oval, and then twisted into a ring. The purple, green and gold colors of Carnival are applied to the cake in colored sprinkles or sugar.
GumboPages provides a link to Emeril Lagasse's King Cake recipe, as well as stern warning that you MAY NOT eat King Cake before January 6 or after Mardi Gras day. If you've got a craving for a piece of pastry that could have a tiny plastic baby in it, better get baking ... all of the ghosts of pagan sacrificed kings come to rattle their chains at those who flout the sacred rules of Carnival.
|Photo | Michael T. Regan|
Meal Ticketers: Where are you going out to eat/drink for the Big V? Any secret spots or deals to share?
Me? I'll be heading to Osteria. Let's hear where you're going in the comments!
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