Friday, March 22, 2013

Easter Treats

I love Easter treats.   Easter candy is my favorite holiday candy! It’s pretty and pastel and chocolatey too.   Jelly beans, sweet tarts, chocolate bunnies, peeps, chicks and bunnies, Cadbury cream eggs, robin eggs (Whoppers but candy coated and speckled), chocolate dipped coconut and peanut butter eggs, just to name a few.  The list goes on and on.  Cadbury mini eggs are at the top of my list.  (In case you don't know these: they are really yummy chocolate "eggs" coated with a candy shell.  The shell is matte, which for some reason is a lovely feature. ) 

I have been thinking about coconut nests and wishing that I could make some coconut macaroons in nest-shape, holding these Cadbury eggs for Easter.  I tried a few recipes and, after 3 batches and lots of coconut-eating, I think I got what I was hoping for and am ready to share the recipe with you.  

The nest: I tried a couple of different nest recipes, because the first ones I made felt a little goopy and they oozed some condensed milk when cooking - which made them stick to the parchment, ugggh.
see the ooze?

So, I tried more coconut, which worked somewhat but then I found a recipe that was similar but called for an egg white.  I liked it better and the egg white seemed to bind it together.  It's such a simple recipe and so lovely.

The chocolate: I tried a variety of methods of adding chocolate and here’s what I discovered: 

IDEA 1: I tried some with the bottom dipped in melted semi-sweet chocolate 
RESULT: they were delicious but the mini chocolate eggs fell out at times and the chocolate melted in your hands (as the chocolate was a little tacky to the touch) 

IDEA 2: I tried some with a tiny smear of melted chocolate in the nest to secure the eggs
RESULT: without the bottom dipped, they didn’t feel chocolately enough. However, they solved the problem with the eggs falling out.
IDEA 3: I tried some with a big blob of melted chocolate in the nest to secure the eggs
RESULT: they didn’t mess up your hands, the eggs stayed in, but the one complaint I got from my testers was that candy eggs were “stuck” in the chocolate and you couldn’t lift them out to eat (they had to be eaten with the nest).

IDEA 4: So, I thought maybe ganache instead of melted chocolate would solve that issue, as it doesn't harden.  I added some cream to the chocolate and made a small batch of ganache and filled the nest with that before placing the eggs
RESULT: the eggs were removable, the chocolate was yummy and no chocolate got on your hands. I think it's the winner.

(If you want to go without chocolate, I tried some plain and filled with jelly beans. These are cute and fun for non-chocolate people, but the jelly beans easily fall out in transportation. So be prepared.

Also, I saw a recipe with Nutella filling the nest.  I know Nutella is all the rage, but I really prefer to stick to the semi-sweet chocolate.  But if it's your crave, then I think it would work well). 
The ganache

So…here it is.
   It is really so simple and yet so lovely and festive! 

2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg white
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt
4 cups sweetened coconut
1 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
egg shaped candy

Preheat oven to 325 ˚. Line a baking sheet with parchment. 
In a large bowl, stir together sweetened condensed milk, egg white, vanilla extract, and salt.  Stir until combined.  Add in the coconut and mix well.

Scoop batter in 2 Tbsp portions on prepared pan.  Form the cookies into the shape of the bird nest.  Make sure your well is deep and the edges are high.  Press down the center with your thumb.

Bake cookies for 12 minutes or until they become slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and press the center of the nests again.  Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes until set.  Remove with spatula. 
Meanwhile, make the ganache by mixing the chocolate chips and cream in a microwave safe bowl.  Stir together and cook in microwave at 30 second increments, stirring in between until fully melted and well mixed.  (If it seems too thick, add a tad more cream, if too thin, then add more chocolate chips). 
Place a spoonful of the ganache in the nests and place a few candy eggs on top.  
Let set.  (If you want to speed this along, you may refrigerate them). 

These can be made and stored in an airtight container for 3 days or so.  
Makes about 12 nests. 

simply stir together the few ingredients

and make piles with DEEP nests 
hands are necessary

You want them to be well built nests, so that they are deep enough, have high enough walls, and yet messy enough that they look like nests.  [Think of the way people are styling their hair with "messy buns".  It's that natural, organic, and intentionally free form.] Like-a-bird-built-it style / not a mass-produced-with-a-cookie-cutter style.  

bake til dry and toasty. 

I put a couple in little bags to take to Lucy's teachers today for a Spring Break "happy".

IF YOU DON'T LIKE COCONUT AND ARE DISINTERESTED in Coconut Nests...what about this??

 I know some people abhor Peeps.  I like them. I admit it. I especially like when the package has been opened and they get a little stale.  

Yes, I know they are just fluffed up sugar, dipped in sugar.  But they are PEEPs! And they are an Easter tradition.  

At Target today, Asher and I saw this crazy gimmick: a lollypop-o-peeps! 4 peeps stacked together on a stick.  A little insane.

Last year my kids and I dipped some peeps in chocolate.  Even better than peeps, we decided, were chocolate-dipped peeps!

We just melted some chocolate chips and dipped the peeps in and let them dry until hardened. 

some family members got a little out of hand with the dipping

IF YOU ARE NOT INTO COCONUT AND REPULSED AT about Growing Spring Grass for a centerpiece??

We also did a really fun and SUPRISINGLY successful planting of a patch of Spring grass last week.  My mom told me about doing this and asked if we wanted to try.  She gave us some wheat grass seed that she bought at a health food store.  We soaked them in a bowl of water overnight and then the next day we planted it.  We filled a tray with potting soil.
We generously spread seed over the entire surface, in a concentrated manner. 

We covered it with a thin layer of soil and watered it.

and in 7 days, look what we got!

In one week we got a crop of very fun, very green grass! We are going to put some eggs in it once we dye eggs this week for a springy decoration.  (We might have to mow it with some clippers soon).

I am starting to plan my Easter Lunch for our hodge podge of people, as is our tradition.  
If you have ideas of what you are cooking for an Easter feast, share your ideas! I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Banana Pudding

Last week I found a list I had written about 6 months ago of “things to post on the blog”.   I realized that I could mark most of them off of my list because I have since blogged about them. I had this moment of panic and thought, 
“Oh no, am I at the end of the road?  Have I posted all of my recipes?  Have I run dry?”
And then I started thinking of all the things I haven’t yet posted.  Banana pudding was the first item I put on the list.
 “I haven’t written about Banana Pudding!?” I thought, “It’s a classic!”
Then within the next few minutes, a list of about 35 recipes followed, not to mention all of the new things I am sure I will come across in the coming months that I will want to blog. 

(This moment reminded me of the commercial for DirecTV where the man reaches the end of the internet…do you remember that?  As if, you can ever reach the end of the internet, or ever reach the end of recipes and stories to write about.)  

So, the journey continues.

This past week, Dave was out of town for 7 days and at about day 4, and this pudding was on my mind.  It had been on my mind, since I had added it to my blog list last week.  I was seeking comfort from the long and hairy days of managing the house of 3 kids and a dog alone, so I made a batch.   Lucy and I had fun making it, and licking the bowls. She then wanted to take some to her teachers at school… which we did.  And they asked me for the recipe when I picked her up from school.  We also gave a container of it to a friend (who then emailed me later that week to ask for the recipe because she had devoured the container we had given her).  This was confirmation that I needed to post about this Banana Pudding.

There are two main camps of Banana Pudding Recipes. Some people prefer the warm, baked, topped with meringue banana pudding.  I call it Granny Banana Pudding.  My friend, Amy, makes the Granny kind.  And she makes a splendid version… that she learned from her Granny, obviously. 

Others people choose the cold, whippy, layered banana pudding. I call this one Fluffy Banana Pudding.  People tend to be opinionated, and often times narrow minded about their banana pudding.  I see the greatness in both types.

I learned Banana pudding making from my mom.  She always made the fluffy kind, though different versions, with an array of ingredients over the years. We’ve had varieties made with sour cream, sometimes with cream cheese, other times with sweetened condensed milk.  You really can’t go wrong with any of these.  

The other night when we were digging into bowls of pudding, Lainey said, “This tastes different than the pudding at the school cafeteria.” To which I replied, “Because it IS different.” She said, “I like this a lot better.” I said, “There is a reason! This recipe has sweetened condensed milk, sour cream, pudding, bananas, vanilla wafers and freshly whipped cream.” 

It is light and fluffy and yet rich and creamy.  It is easy to make and though it doesn’t last long (with bananas as an ingredient), that never seems to be an issue at our house.  It goes fast.

Notice the pudding hanging off of Lucy's chin.  We're classy here at the Hunt house.

Big smiles!

Fluffy Banana Pudding
Serving Size: 16  
An action shot- making the pudding
1 can sweetened condensed milk 
  3 cups milk
  2 (6- serving size) instant vanilla pudding and pie filling
  1 cup sour cream (or more)
  4-6 bananas
  1 box vanilla wafers
  16-ounces Cool Whip or fresh whipped cream (sweetened to taste)

whipping the cream
1. In large bowl, combine milk, pudding mix until blended.  Add sweetened condensed milk and sour cream.  If it is still too sweet, add a little more sour cream.  Mix until well blended. Chill 5 minutes.

2. Spoon 1 cup pudding mixture into trifle bowl.

3. Top with one-third each of vanilla wafers, bananas, pudding mixture and whipped cream. Repeat layering twice, ending with pudding mixture.  Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with vanilla wafer crumbs. Chill. Store leftovers, covered in refrigerator.


and layering
crumbled wafers on top because that's what my mom has always done
and it's pretty!

Ready to eat!

 P. S. I wanted to give a warm welcome to any of you that popped over to Cup-A Cup-A via the (in)courage book study! I’m so glad you stopped by.   I hope you will stick around and find some inspiration and recipes! 

P. P. S. If you have no idea what in the world I was talking about in my P.S., I had the honor to help with an online book club of Richard Foster’s great book, Prayer with my friends Angie Smith and Jessica Turner, who lead the Bloom book club through (in)courage. (If you are curious, you can follow this LINK to see it.)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad is a personal thing.  I think there are as many recipes for chicken salad as there are personalities. They range from savory, to nutty and fruity, to pickle-y, to curried, to sweet, to smooth, to chunky... you get my point.  My favorite bought Chicken Salad is from Bread and Company.  They actually have 3 types: Curried, Honey Walnut and Almond Tarragon.  I like them all, but Honey Walnut is my favorite!   They have this amazing artisan cranberry walnut bread.  Their chicken salad sandwich, made with that bread is called the "Iroquois".   It's super special.  In fact, during my third child's labor and delivery, when I was trying to find a "focal point" to help me deal with my pain, I thought of an Iroquois Sandwich and Fruit Tea from Bread and Company.  I know, kind of ridiculous.  My focal point was not Hawaii, or some beautiful beach, or a sunset, or the sight of my sweet baby on her way, but a chicken salad sandwich.  Call me a realist.  I think I was focusing on the immediate reward that I imagined could actually be at the end of this anguish.  And it worked.  And she popped out, and my in-laws went promptly to Bread and Company and fulfilled my dreams with my focal point-lunch!  

So, I guess you could say I have a strong connection with Chicken Salad.  The good news with making it, is that you can't go wrong and you really don't need a recipe.  You just need some good ingredients and some test-drives to find the way you like it. 

For me, the key ingredients are: Mayonnaise, Chicken (of course),  grapes (or other fruits are good too), honey, nuts, a little lemon juice, salt and pepper.
I sometimes add chopped celery, and onion - depending on who my eaters are. 

I like a thick, smooth chicken salad. Some people prefer cubed or chunked chicken.  
If you like a smoother, creamy chicken salad, then I have a trick for you that I just learned this past year – use a stand mixer to tear/smooth the chicken!  In a matter of seconds, the chicken goes from hunks, to pulled, creamy chicken! (Thank you, Casey, for this great tip!) 

This recipe really isn't a recipe.  To those who love a recipe with exact measurements, this might drive you a little crazy.

1. Cook your chicken.  
You can roast it: brush with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt and ground pepper, place on a baking sheet and roast it in a 400˚ oven until done.
You can boil it: place your chicken in a pot of boiling water with some large chunks of onions (and celery and carrots if you want). 
You can crock pot cook it: A great tip that came from Connie via her mother-in-law is to place your frozen chicken breasts, and chunks of onion (and carrots and celery if you want) in a crock pot and cook on low until the chicken cooks to pulling-apart tenderness.  It is moist and tender. can start with a rotisserie chicken.  Just tear off the meat you want to use and you are set. 

Cook your chicken, by the method of your choosing, then chop or dice if that's your desired outcome, or put in the mixer for a creamed effect.  

2. Then, add Mayo.  People are crazy-devoted to their mayo.  Have you experienced this?  Some are Hellman's-purists, some are Miracle Whip people, some are low-fat, some see that as an abomination.  And then there are Duke's fans.  Regardless, mayo is key in Chicken Salad.

I add some lemon juice (start with about a teaspoon) to the mayonnaise and then I add it by the large spoonfuls and mix between additions to ensure that it is creamy enough but not gloppy with mayonnaise.

3. Salt and Pepper to taste. Obviously.

4. The personality: And here is where the road diverges and you must make your decision about spices: tarragon, honey, onion, curry.  You have to choose.
And "mix ins": Raisins, grapes, sliced almonds, toasted pecans, walnuts, pickles, chopped celery, chopped onion.  And those of you who love measurements in recipes, I am sorry, there really can't be, since you don't know exactly how much meat you will have, or how creamy, nutty, flavored you'll need it.  

Keep refrigerated after preparation.

I have wondered when to post about chicken salad, pondering which season is the most chicken salad-ish.  I think it is a good summer meal, cold and yet hearty. Lovely on a bed of lettuce, or with a tomato,  or scooped on a pineapple boat.  It is a great spring picnic item.   But it's on my mind because I have eaten it twice in the past few weeks.  Nashville weather last week was warm and springy and this week it was blistery and flurrying.  So, really this can be an anytime dish.

This is the pineapple trick that my mom taught me.  She has served this at ladies lunches before.  It is delicious and lovely .  Chop the top off of the pineapple.  Quarter it.  Shimmy a sharp, long knife between the outside skin and the fruit to separate it from the skin, starting on one end and working all the way around the piece.  Slice the long hard core piece away from the top, making it flat instead of pointed. Slice in thin slices.  For the fancy zig zag effect, just gently push the pieces with your pointer fingers.

Then plop a big scoop of chicken salad on top and you are ready to have a luncheon.

I'd love to hear your favorite methods, ingredients, ideas for Chicken Salad YOUR Way!