Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hot Chocolate & Homemade Marshmallows

Last week was absolutely frigid here in New York City.  I know, I know, it's January - it's supposed to be cold!  Mike LOVES the winter, embraces it like the true New Yorker he his.  I, on the other hand, happily hailing from below the Mason-Dixon, see nothing enjoyable about weather that freezes your face on the walk to work, so you arrive in a busy lobby not realizing your nose has been running for two blocks, balancing bags, gloves, hats while trying to find your building IDs, all while in a winter jacket that restricts full range of motion.

But I do enjoy an afternoon cup of hot chocolate on days like these.  I enjoy the simple process of steaming the milk on the stove, whisking in the dark chocolate, ladling it into two mugs, and adding a homemade marshmallow that begins to melt just slightly upon contact with the warm liquid.  I enjoy delivering the treat to Mike, watching him smile, sitting down next to him and clutching the mug close for warmth.  That first sip - the sip with the most perfect ratio of hot chocolate to melty marshmallow - is all it takes to begin to warm my bones once again.

Recipe from Molly Wizenberg

I found this recipe just after I graduated college and it yields the most perfect marshmallow every time.  You'll be surprised just how easy it is to make your own marshmallows and how much your hot chocolate or s'mores will improve because of them. Just remember to work quickly, but very carefully as the syrup is very hot!

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup cold water, divided
3 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup potato starch (or corn starch)
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil. Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray.

Pour 1/2 cup cold water into bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.

Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240ºF, about 8 minutes.

With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.

Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with wet spatula. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.

Stir potato starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13x9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab. Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture.

Makes 2 servings

You can use whatever type of chocolate you prefer, but I love the combination of a bittersweet chocolate with the sweetness of a homemade marshmallow.  I always keep a box of Guittard 72% on-hand, as it is formed in wafers so I do not have to worry about cutting up the chocolate prior to adding to the warmed milk.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate, cut into shavings (if not using wafers)

Over low heat, warm milk in a small saucepan until just beginning to simmer and bubbles form at the edge of the pan. Whisk chocolate into warmed milk until smooth and velvety.  Divide evenly between two mugs.  Serve with a homemade marshmallow.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Baked Huevos Rancheros

"Hue-vos Ranch-eros" Mike slowly enunciates to me, his inflection indicating that I am expected to repeat the phrase back to him. But it rolls off my tongue in some strange combination of Spanish and French, thanks to six years spent learning to converse with Parisians. Mike rolls his eyes, smiling slightly as he grates the cheese and I return to stirring the quick, barely spicy tomato sauce that is the base of this breakfast dish.

Soon it is time to begin assembling and Mike works quickly behind me, arranging the tortilla chips (always blue in our house) in the perfect order after I have placed a bit of the sauce at the bottom of each cast iron gratin dishes.

Despite my inability to pronounce the name of the dish without a French dialect, Mike will soon be scraping the bottom of his dish to ensure he gets every bit of tomato and runny egg yolk scooped onto a crunchy chip.


Adapted from FOOD & WINE
Serves 2

I like baking this dish in individual cast-iron servers so each person has their own little meal. This makes the perfect amount of food for two hungry people at brunch, but it can easily be doubled to serve four. If it's late enough in the morning, Mike and I also like to mix up a little batch of margaritas to get the day started right!

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 small red bell pepper, finely diced
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups tortilla chips
4 large eggs
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeños, garlic and oregano. Season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring, until lightly browned, 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Spoon the sauce into 2 individual, shallow baking dishes and arrange the tortilla chips around the sides. Crack 2 eggs into each dish and sprinkle with the cheese. Set the dishes on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the egg whites are set and the yolks are still runny (or cook longer if you like a harder yolk). Serve right away.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Banoffee Pie

Our Sunday nights have been a little brighter these past two weeks with the return of Downton Abbey. Mike and I were late to the game with this show and last winter we spent our evenings catching-up (binging, would actually be more accurate) on the first two seasons, complete with gin and tonics in hand.  We were both even a little depressed for a few days once we finished season two - such a long wait ahead of us!  The third season has already been so much fun to watch, with plenty of drama, zippy one-liners, and Mary's wedding.  And can we talk about poor Edith?  I couldn't stop crying for her last week! What a nightmare!  

As much fun as the drama is upstairs, I am equally, if not more so, drawn to the personalities of those downstairs, which is probably because I have no traceable line of royalty in my English ancestors (I'll continue to hold out hope for the Scottish side).  Unlike the formal, massive dinner table upstairs, every time they show the servants eating dinner or enjoying a cup of tea, I just want to pull up a chair and sit around their long communal table.  And I imagine Banoffee Pie, an old English dessert layered with gooey toffee, ripe banana slices, and whipped cream, would be something happily shared among the servants on a rainy evening with a big pot of tea.  


Adapted from Gail Simmons for My Last Supper
Makes 1 9-inch pie

This recipe calls for making your own toffee, but you can easily substitute a good-quality store bought version to reduce the preparation time.  Better yet, make your own dulce de leche on a lazy afternoon and keep the cans stocked so you can whip this dessert up on even the shortest of notice.

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
8 ounces chocolate wafer cookies, broken into pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of table salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 large bananas
1 pint heavy cream

  • Remove the labels from the can of sweetened condensed milk and place on the bottom of a large stockpot.  Fill the pot with water, completely covering the can, then cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  When the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and boil for 3 hours, keeping the pot covered.  Be sure to frequently check the water level: the can should be covered by water at all times and the pot should never be allowed to boil dry, otherwise the can may explode.  Remove the can from the water and allow to cool completely at room temperature before opening.

  • In a food processor, pulse the cookies until fine; transfer to a bowl and whisk in the sugar and salt.  Add the melted butter and stir until coated.  Press the crumbs over the bottom of the pie plate and up the sides.  Refrigerate the crust until firm, about 30 minutes.

  • When the crust is chilled, remove from the refrigerator and spread the toffee over the base of the pie crust. Peel and slice the bananas into 1/4-inch thick rounds, then arrange on top of the toffee.

  • In a large mixing bowl, whip the cream until it holds barley stiff peaks.  Spoon the whipped cream evenly over the bananas.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Grammie Lyford's Pancakes

Our train pulled into Penn Station just after 10 PM on New Year's Eve.  Battling the throngs of party-goers had not been anywhere in our original plan for the evening, an evening we had looked forward to spending quietly at home with friends, a thoughtful dinner, and a few bottles of bubbly.  But life had different plans for us that evening and we quietly trudged towards the 6 train, bypassing people not much younger than ourselves in sparkly, barley-there outfits.  We were exhausted and hungry.

By the time we returned to our apartment, any place we could have hoped to pick-up a quick bite was closed for the night.  Our refrigerator was stocked with food, but all for time-consuming meals I had planned to leisurely put together on my days off.  "How about pancakes?" I asked wearily.  Mike nodded his approval as he removed his tie.

Soon the sounds of butter sizzling as it hit the hot griddle filled the tired silence and the smell of pancakes quickly engulfed our apartment.  We sat across from each other with heavy eyes, comforted by the familiar taste of fluffy pancakes, smeared with softened butter and sweet maple syrup.


Makes 8-10 pancakes

This is my great-great grandmother's recipe and, in my very biased opinion, it is the best pancake recipe in the world.  The recipe is a great base for any variations you might wish to try - chocolate chip and blueberry are family favorites - and you just add your additions to the batter right before cooking.  But on most weekend mornings, there is nothing more comforting than a big stack of plain pancakes with pure maple syrup.

2 eggs
1 1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for griddle

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and the milk.  In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until blended.  Stir in melted butter to create a smooth batter.

Warm a griddle over medium heat.  When griddle is hot, melt a bit of butter over the griddle.  Scoop batter into desired size and cook until bubbles begin to form.  Check to ensure the cooked side of the pancake is golden-brown, then flip to finish cooking on the other side.  Serve immediately.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Get Ready to Update Your Bookmarks!

Last week I talked about my goals – both personal and professional – in the new year and, after a very productive weekend in front of my amazing new computer, I am attacking them!  Granted, many of my business goals are overarching and will continue to evolve over time.  But I am starting to get to the point that I think I might need to sit down again in a few months, dream bigger, and list a new set of goals for the year!

That leads me into talking about my first big change of the year; a decision that I have wrestled with making over the past few months.  After seeking the advice of my go-to businessman (my hubby to be!), talking with other bloggers, and talking with other photographers, it all came down to trusting my gut.

I started Dolcetto Confections four years ago to document my nights at pastry school with my target audience being my family.  It has evolved over the years to include recipes and, most recently, has been a place to showcase my photography. I began to realize last year that there were many times I would refer someone to my blog to see my photography, but that referring them to a blog about my kitchen adventures did not really make the most business sense.  And as I began to truly recognize my passion for photography, I was not so faithful in putting up what I was actually cooking and baking.

So starting today, there will be two blogs.  If you are one of those people who keeps checking back here for me to finally post a new recipe, keep your browser pointing right here.  Dolcetto Confections will be returning to the original purpose of being a recipe blog.

And if you are one of those people who like following my life and photography, I invite you to follow me at  And I will be sure to let you know whenever there is a delicious recipe waiting for you on Dolcetto Confections!

I hope all of this makes sense – though writing it out makes it seem far less complicated than I had imagined.  And, as always, thank you all who keep checking back to this space for updates.  You put a smile on my face every day!  

Friday, January 4, 2013

2013 Goals & Photos from a Summer Day on the High Line

Just four days into 2013, I already feel a bit behind and a little worn out.  I’m finding that it doesn’t help one bit to sit and think about how rested, accomplished, and in-control I had expected to feel upon returning to work after a full week off.  Sometimes life likes to remind you, in a very big way, that no matter how much you plan or how many to-do lists you make, you are rarely in control.

So, I’m a few days behind, but I wanted to put my goals for 2013, both personal and professional, in writing.  I want to hit the publish button on this post and feel like I am accountable to more than just myself for actively trying to work towards these goals.  One thing these past few days have reinforced in me is that life is far too short to not go after your dreams, not matter how impossible they might seem on the cusp of that first big jump.      

When 2012 began, instead of an actual list of goals, I had one phrase that kept repeating itself over and over in my mind: "Be kind to yourself."  That became my goal for the year ahead, recognizing that I had developed an alarming tendency to be quite harsh on myself.  There were definitely moments when I failed at this, but with each passing month, I started to be easier on and kinder to myself.

Similarly, this year there is a phrase – somewhat an extension of what I worked towards last year - that resonated with me as soon as I read it on Emily Ley's site:  "I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection."  So fitting.  This is a tall order for any perfectionist, but is a much healthier way to approach life.  It’s time to realize that though I might wish and think that I can do it all, I just can’t – and that doesn’t mean I am a terrible wife (to be) or person.  Some days I just need to give myself credit for the things I am already doing, besides being part of a family, I’m also working full-time, planning a wedding, launching a business, and gearing up for a potential move – and those are just the big things!  So maybe it’s time that I stop trying to make everything just perfect, maybe it’s okay if the laundry is a little (okay, a lot) overflowing and the dishes are piling up in the sink.  It will all get done, maybe not as soon as I want, but it will all get done.

On the professional side, I have a long list of goals of where I would like to take my business over the next year:

Make it viable.
Though just in the start-up phase, I aim to make my photography business a viable part-time job by the end of the year.  The other goals are all smaller parts of making this overarching goal actually happen.  In addition, I need to file everything to ensure my business is set-up to protect everyone involved.

Complete branding.
This goal is intentionally a bit vague.  To save money, I will be responsible for all of my initial branding, which I need to complete and be aware enough to update as needed.  Eventually (whether this year or further down the road) I want to invest in a designer to truly perfect my branding.

Update website.
This goal is also a bit vague, because, while I have a few ideas of what I would like to do with my website/blog, the truth is that I am not exactly sure.  I need to talk with other people in the field and then just trust my gut enough to make whatever changes I need.  What I know right this moment is that I am not motivated to update my current website, which is potentially hurting my business.  So I either need to make myself motivated or find a new system that works better.

Blog consistently.
This might seem a little strange given the lateness in this post, but I need to create a consistent schedule for blogging, Monday through Friday.

Invest in my business, smartly.
Mike is definitely the voice in my ear on this goal, as he is the biggest proponent of spending money to make money.  But as an emerging photographer, I sometimes feel completely overwhelmed about all of the investments that seem to be part of taking a business to the next level – top notch equipment, website, blog, packaging, and workshops.  Since I am just at the beginning, I will need to pick-and-chose which investments will help me bring in the most business.

Network with area photographers.
I’m not sure why, but this is one of the scariest goals to me!  It wasn’t even until last month that I would admit to some of our family and closest friends that I was starting my own photography business!  But I’ve realized you can’t just put up a website and a blog and hope that people flock to you to have you capture their day.  It’s time to meet some people who do this successfully for a living, learn from them, and create some meaningful relationships. 

Second shoot a wedding.
This goal completely relies on the previous, because it’s tough to second shoot a wedding if you don’t know any photographers!  I have shot some portions of wedding days, but never from the beginning to end and never under the continuous time constraints of the day.

Staring out at 2013, I feel a mix of emotions - excited, anxious, scared - about everything that lies ahead. It promises to be a year of adventure and new beginnings!

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