Turning Up the Heat… Finally!

     This blog suddenly became a slow cooker.
     For a while there it was a short-order cook, slamming out recipes, reviews and food for thought. Over the last few months, though, it went to a simmer. I’ve stewed on so many things to write about and never took the time to do it. My apologies. To make it up to you, I’ll let you read everything for free from here on out. Oh, wait…
     Since I’ve been gone (shout out to Kelly Clarkson), I’ve eaten a lot. The look of shock on your face has to be incredible, I know.
     My promise was to tell you about the potato soup I made, the black bean pizza I concocted and the marshmallows that went from The Barefoot Contessa’s kitchen to mine.
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     The soup was surprisingly good… no canned bases or anything like that. It was creamy, tasty and not as goopy as what you might get from an allegedly home-made mess offered by a chain.
     I’ll be honest, it was a bit greasy from the bacon I used… and my method of making it less John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John and more healthy was a bit weird. I used a paper towel. I set it on the soup and let the quicker picker upper do whaImaget it claims. Try it. Unfortunately, I made the soup so long ago, that the recipe I scribbled down doesn’t make any sense. I apologize!
     The black bean pizza takes me back to Arkansas. There’s a bar/cafe called Common Grounds and their black bean pizza is insanely yummy… black bean dip is the base. It’s topped with chicken, jalapenos, red onion and cheese. This isn’t one of those, ‘Oh it’s OK if you don’t like black beans, you’ll never know they’re in this,’ recipes. You must like black beans/black bean dip, or you’ll hate this.
      I made my own black bean dip – you could use your favorite store-bought version, too. Play with the toppings. Green onions, tortilla strips, a drizzle of sour cream.. all would be good on this pie.
     Now for the marshmallows. My friend Kim asked if it’s really worth it. I mean, homemade marshallows?! My answer is, YES!
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     The kind you get in the store are like styrofoam compared to the homemade batch. To be honest, they are similar in appearance and flavor. Both have a powdered sugar shield. The homemade kind, though, have a stronger vanilla flavor and they’re creamier. They’re not dry. You can’t use them to pack a box of china that you’re mailing to Istanbul. Think memory foam vs. a cloud you just swiped from a harp-playing Angel.
     Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) also makes a toasted almond version. I’ll make those next. I think I might also use almond extract instead of vanilla if I make the plain version again. You could add food coloring, too. How about mint marshmallows? Cayenne marshmallows for hot cocoa? The possibilities are huge! My friend Pam sent me a link to a site that has all kinds of crazy savory marshmallows. You could also use cookie cutters covered in powdered sugar to make star or flower shapes.
Image      Beware, you must have a stand-mixer to make them. It took a long time to whip them.. and my Kitchenaid mixer smelled like it was about to start an electrical fire. It worked hard for its money, uh uh, uh uh.
     Also… you’ve been warned. It will look like a blizzard in your kitchen. The recipe calls for a pantry’s worth of powdered sugar. Even my shoe took a dusting! Image
     The marshmallows were great by themselves, but please try using them for s’mores. This is where the creaminess wins. I made mine in the oven. They were Giada DeLaurentiis’ Italian s’mores.. which use toasted Italian bread (crostini) instead of graham crackers and hazlenuts (or hazlenut spread). I also used chili-pepper infused chocolate for an extra kick. Stack ’em up, put ’em under the broiler for a few. Taste central!Image
     Take the time, make the marshmallows. They’d be great divvied up into some clear bags tied with ribbon. Put them in a basket with a fun-flavored chocolate bar and some graham crackers.. Hello, foodie friendly gifts!
     So here’s your menu, 2 slices of black bean pizza, a bowl of potato soup and s’mores for dessert – it’s cold enough for this comfort food, right?!
     Tip: Make your own whipped cream. Cool whip is delicious,Image but it’s exactly as that commercial depicts it, oil… hydrogenated oil. Not good for you. Redi-Whip is fantastic and so much fun to play with, but read the ingredient list. There’s corn syrup in it. Do yourself a favor: buy a container of heavy whipping cream, throw a metal bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes, take it out, dump in the cream, a tablespoon or 2 of sugar, a dash of vanilla (or almond extract), a dash of cinnamon and whip. You can use a stand mixer, a whisk or an old-fashioned crank mixer. You’ll work off the dessert you’ll be eating. The taste is unlike anything that comes in a tub or a super-powered can!
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