Hippie Easter Eggs

eastereggs

The last time I made Easter eggs was something like 30 years ago, so yeah, it’s been a while.

When I was a kid, mom always busted out the PAAS, and we would spend a pleasant afternoon dunking hard boiled eggs in bowls of neon color. Sometimes we would get fancy and add a pattern or two in crayon, but usually we just dyed them a single color and called it good.

That stopped sometime around when I turned 10 (so that makes me nearly, ahem, 40!)

Things have clearly changed since then. I see now that PAAS has rolled out a whole new product line. Check out the bedazzled version, and the monster truck one. Next up, egg tats. Oh wait, that already exists.

PAAS even has an app, in case you want to go digital with your creations.

And if you really want to get crafty, Martha Stewart has a veritable library of egg decorating ideas, including these fabulous gilded eggs that would totally go with these cashmere bunnies.

The hipsters are also apparently in on the action.

I found all these options a bit overwhelming for my first egg dying session after a very long hiatus and briefly considered abandoning the whole thing.

But I knew little dude would absolutely love the whole Easter Egg thing, so I resolved to give it a go.

In the end I decided to go the hippie route and dye my eggs au naturel, with vibrantly hued veggies and spices.

There are all sorts of guides out there, but the two I relied on most were from Martha Stewart, for the overall how-to, and Bon Appetit, for the actual dye recipes.

The first matter of importance is whether to go with hard-boiled eggs, or blown out. I think we all know the answer to this one – hard-boiled. Who wants to bother with sticking a pin gingerly through each end and blowing out a bunch of raw egg? Way too much effort. Hard-boiled eggs are a lot easier to make, and then you don’t have to worry about lunch for a while.

The second matter of importance is whether to boil your eggs in the dye, or let them soak in the cold dye. Boiling the eggs in the dye apparently yields more brilliant colors, but these days I have a super short attention span and would probably end up with a bunch of rubbery eggs if I tried to manage 4 pots of boiling water at once. For the sake of simplicity, I went with the cold soak.

Once that was decided, the rest was pretty straight forward.

Since there are just 3 of us, I figured we would do a dozen eggs in 4 different colors, so 3 eggs of each color.

There’s a whole cornucopia of tantalizing dye recipes out there, using all sorts of interesting ingredients.

It was tough to narrow down, but due to the aforementioned attention span issues, I thought it prudent to limit my colors to just four – blue, yellow, pink and green.

As it turns out, the Bon Appetit version was a perfect fit for my specs. Not only did it include my chosen colors, but the recipes yield just enough dye to fully submerge 3 eggs (at least in theory, more on that later). Also, since the green dye is actually made of 2 other colors (yellow and blue, natch) you only have to make 3 dyes, then mix 2 to get the fourth.

So here is what I did:

-Boiled a dozen eggs. I went with white. Stored them in the fridge overnight until I could make the dyes the following day.

-Made the dyes. See recipes below. For the beets, I went rogue and used about a cup of the beet stalks instead. I just couldn’t bear to part with the beets. Big mistake. More on that later. Also, I accidentally simmered the red cabbage and beet stalk dyes at too high a heat. For my beet dye, I started with 3 cups and ended up with 1 1/2 cups, which just baaarely covered my 3 eggs. Same with my red cabbage dye, I started out with 4 cups and ended up with 2 ½ cups, which was not nearly enough.

-Strained the 3 dyes, then measured 1 1/2 cups of each into 3 separate containers (I used recycled spaghetti sauce jars). By design, I ended up with extra red cabbage and turmeric dye. To get the green dye, I had planned to mix 2 cups of the red cabbage and 1/4 cup of the turmeric in a separate container, per the Bon Appetit instructions. But I only had 3/4 cup of red cabbage left over. Oops. Luckily I had some extra turmeric, so I improvised and mixed in 3/4 cup of turmeric to get my 1 1/2 cup of dye. The resulting mixture did not look green at all.

-Gently placed 3 hard-boiled eggs into each container.

-Stuck them in the fridge and totally forgot about them until the following day. When I finally retrieved them from the fridge, they were definitely done. I thought the dye would stain the shells, but instead they were covered with a sort of funky, cold patina. Some were splotchy, others had white spots where the shell rested against the glass. The shells were a bit soft, from sitting in the vinegar I think. I made the mistake of rinsing one off, and the color came right off! So I decided to take Martha’s advice and gently shake the dye off and let them dry on a wire rack. The colors turned out fantastic! Except for the beet stalks, that is. The dye itself was neon pink but the eggs came out a muted brown. I tried to save them by soaking them a little longer with the peels leftover from roasting the beets, but they only got the faintest bit of blush, and I was ready to be done at this point. But the red cabbage turned the eggs a vivid turquoise, the turmeric produced a beautiful gold and the two combined made a jewel-like emerald green!

All in all, not too shabby, despite all the unexpected twists and turns. But they did turn out to be waaaay more work than I anticipated, even though I tried to keep it simple by limiting the palette and the quantity. I think next year I’ll just take the easy way out and get this.

Hippie Easter Eggs

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Pink

2 medium beets, coarsely grated

3 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar

3 cups water

Combine beets, vinegar and water. Simmer for 30 minutes, then strain into a large bowl. Let eggs steep in solution for 30 minutes for a delicate light pink, or up to 4 hours for a deeper red.

Blue

2 cups chopped red cabbage

¼ cup distilled white vinegar

4 cups water

Combine cabbage, vinegar and water. Simmer for 30 minutes; strain into a large bowl. Steep eggs in dye for at least 30 minutes. Different cabbages will yield different shades.

Yellow

2 teaspoons turmeric

3 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar

3 cups water

Bring water to a boil; add vinegar and turmeric. Let steep for 10 minutes. Add eggs and let steep in solution for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.

Green

¼ cup yellow dye leftover from above

2 cups blue dye leftover from above

Combine the two dyes. Let eggs steep in solution for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours. For a deeper green, combine ¾ cup yellow dye and ¾ cup blue dye.

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Dead Easy Whole Wheat Biscuits

biscuit

It was hubbie Lee who first introduced me to the joys of biscuits.

Being a Southerner, he was accustomed to biscuits of all kinds, the best being those made by Mamaw, of course.

In the early days of our courtship, he cooked me a batch of his “bachelor special,” which consisted of green beans and stewed tomatoes on a Pillsbury biscuit.

I don’t know if it was his culinary prowess, or the addictive nature of that poppin’ fresh dough, but I was hooked.

Thereafter, if we ate in on the weekends, chances were high that breakfast would feature a canister of biscuit dough, fresh from the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

Then at some point I got around to reading the list of ingredients. Nothing too surprising I suppose, but definitely a whole lot of things that Mamaw never would have used.

Things like partially hydrogenated soy bean oil, propylene glycol alginate, mono and diglycerides, TBHQ and the like. Albeit in very minute quantities, but still. It just seemed unnecessary for something that is basically flour, fat, liquid, salt and baking powder.

It was this line of thinking that eventually started me down the path of baking.

Except for the random boxed mix over the years, I had virtually no experience in the fine art of baking. The learning curve was steep.

It was years before I worked up the courage to try biscuits, and then it turned out to be sort of a bummer. All the recipes I came across involved cutting chilled butter or shortening into flour, which I found tedious and messy and kind of annoying.

Ok I know, first world problems, but I guess I wanted something sort of like Bisquick, that I could just throw together whenever I got the hankering for biscuits, but you know, without all the trans fat.

So I gave up on biscuits for a time and focused my culinary efforts elsewhere.

Until a year or so ago, when I came across a recipe for these cream biscuits on Serious Eats. They had just two ingredients, self-rising flour and whipping cream! Ok yes, self-rising flour has salt and baking powder in it, so technically four ingredients. But no butter! At least in solid form. It was actually in there, in liquid form, hidden in the whipping cream.

What this meant was no irksome cutting of butter into flour. All you had to do was give the ingredients a quick stir and boom, instant biscuit dough.

Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit! (Or don’t. It’s up to you.) Finally a biscuit that could roll with my lazy ways.

I had to try them right away, and I was sold. It took a couple of tries to get the hang of them, and a little experimenting with flour types. Eventually I found another version of cream biscuits on Cook’s Illustrated, which is now my go to recipe. Of course they are not as good as Mamaw’s, but we have officially retired the Doughboy.

Dead Easy Whole Wheat Biscuits

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Recipe Notes: The original recipe calls for White Lily, self-rising flour, which they do not sell around these parts. So I tried a few different flour types. All purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour produce a fine, if rather delicate biscuit. White whole wheat flour, on the other hand, makes for a much sturdier biscuit, which is ideal for stuffing full of all sorts of goodies, our preferred mode of biscuit consumption. The dough is rather wet, and sticky. If it misbehaves too badly, add a bit more flour. These are easy enough that I usually just make a half batch for immediate consumption. But one of these days, when I have a bit of free time, I plan to make a double batch, cut the biscuits, freeze them on trays, then store them in a ziplock until needed. I, for one, don’t always have whipping cream on hand, but I recently discovered shelf stable whipping cream from Trader Joe’s, which does the trick quite nicely. I’m going to stock up next time I go!

2 cups white whole wheat flour plus extra for the counter

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Instructions

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Stir in the cream with a wooden spoon until dough forms, about 30 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gather into a ball. Knead the dough briefly until smooth, about 30 seconds.

3. Shape the dough into a 3/4-inch-thick circle. Cut biscuits into rounds or wedges (for biscuits, use a biscuit cutter, for wedges, simply cut the dough circle into wedges like a pizza). Place rounds or wedges on parchment-lined baking sheet. (The baking sheet can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 hours.) Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking (although I never do this step and they turn out just fine).

Chocolate Guinness Tofu Pudding

chocolate guinness

Back before baby, when I was a busy busy working gal, I was not the sort to get all crafty when holidays rolled around (except for Valentine’s). Far from it. Most of the time, I worked right through them, especially for the lesser, B list holidays (ahem, Presidents’ Day).

But even for the big holidays, my efforts were decidedly lackluster. Let’s just say there were many a hastily scrawled coupon for Christmas gifts over the years.

But now that I am a mom, I am trying to make an effort to celebrate the holidays in all their cheesy glory, for our little dude.

He gets so excited for holidays, especially if any sort of cake is involved.

When he noticed all the leprechaun decorations at the grocery store, I resolved to come up with some sort of Irish feast to celebrate.

But, never having actually celebrated said holiday, let alone cook for it, I was at a loss as to what make.

So I poked around the internets for inspiration, but the luck of the Irish was not with me. I found a whole of lot recipes for Irish soda bread, which seemed nice enough, if rather dull.

Of course there were all sorts of recipes for corned beef, which I learned is not even a traditional Irish dish.

But more than anything were recipes featuring Guinness or whiskey, because apparently the Irish are fond of drink.

I did love the sound of Nigella’s chocolate Guinness cake, which she describes as “magnificent in its damp blackness.” Damp blackness, you say? I was intrigued.

However, to my chagrin, I am not a big fan of Guinness stout, even though I am a wee bit Irish. I might partake of a pint once in a blue moon, but I didn’t really want a whole six pack of the stuff sitting around. Plus I didn’t want to make a whole cake that our little dude couldn’t eat.

Nothing else sounded all that appealing, and I briefly considered scuttling the whole thing.

But then, whilst wandering around the grocery store, I spotted a sixer of Guinness black LAGER, and I thought “Leaping leprechauns! Now there is a fine drink, to be sure.”

Neither I nor the hubbie are much for stout, but lager? Well, that is a different story, laddie!

The stout version is a little too much for my taste, too rich, too filling, if pleasingly creamy. But the lager is fantastic – crisp, slightly bitter, frothy. It might be my new favorite drinky-drink.

With that discovery, the wheels started turning, and all of the sudden chocolate Guinness tofu pudding popped in my head.

I make this easy chocolate tofu pudding all the time, but for special occasions, I bust out this slightly fancier version from The Minimalist.

For St. Paddy’s Day, I thought, why not nix the Mexican flavor and sub Guinness black lager for the liquid?

So I did just that and a fine time was had by all. Except for little dude, he had a fine time but with a Guinness-free version.

Chocolate Guinness Tofu Pudding

Adapted from The Minimalist
Recipe notes: The cool thing about silken tofu is that it turns incredibly smooth and creamy when you give it a good whirl in the blender or food processor. Plus it has a relatively mild flavor, which makes it a wonderful base for puddings with a strong flavor, such as chocolate. Not that I have anything against eggs or milk, but they can be a bit finicky when making pudding or custard. Well, if you are me. I have been known to accidentally scramble eggs when making custard. The tofu is pretty much foolproof. The recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman, but I changed it a bit to work with the package size of the tofu I normally buy, which is Mori-nu. It comes in 12 ounce blocks, whereas The Minimalist recipe calls for 16 ounces. It seemed weird to use 1 full 12 ounce block, and a mere 4 ounces of another block, leaving a random 8 ounces for some other use. So I adjusted the recipe to use a single 12 ounce block. (It turns out Nasoya makes silken tofu in 16 ounce blocks, but I have never come across this product in grocery stores). Also, The Minimalist version calls for 8 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, which is basically two full bars of chocolate. That is a little over the top for my budget (and girlish figure) so I dialed back the chocolate a bit too, to just one full bar. This pudding is nice and chocolate-ly, with a subtle, malty finish. And since I went the Guinness route, I thought hey, why not break out the whiskey too? It’s a party over here, and you’re invited. So I found this recipe for whiskey whipped cream, from Pioneer Woman. And to complete the caricature, a bit o’ green, in the form of homemade sanding sugar, from The Sweet Adventures of Sugar Belle. To make an alcohol-free version (and gluten-free to boot), replace the Guinness in the pudding with water, and omit the whiskey in the whipping cream. To make this vegan, skip the whiskey whipped cream entirely, oh and use vegan sugar and chocolate, natch.

½ cup sugar

½ cup Guinness stout or lager

4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

12 ounces silken tofu

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1. In a small pot, combine sugar with Guinness; bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Take off heat and add chocolate. Cover and let stand 5 or 10 minutes.

2. If you have an immersion blender, add tofu, vanilla and salt to the pot and blend until smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, put chocolate mixture in a blender or food processor, add tofu, vanilla and salt and blend until smooth. Divide among 2 to 4 ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Whiskey Whipped Cream

Adapted from Pioneer Girl

1 cup whipping cream

4 teaspoons whiskey

4 teaspoons sugar

In a cold bowl, beat whipping cream until it starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add sugar and whisky, and beat until soft peaks form.

Green sanding sugar

Adapted from The Sweet Adventures of Sugar Belle

Green gel food coloring

Sugar

Put however much sugar you want in a ziplock bag, add a drop of food coloring, close the bag and work the coloring into the sugar. Add more food coloring for more intense color, as desired. Pretty cut and dried, but do check out Sugar Belle’s post on this, the details and photos are the bee’s knees!

Whole Wheat No Knead Bread Recipe Fail

A whole lotta brown.

A whole lotta brown.

So I totally reached a new level of nerdom – I called the King Arthur Flour baking hotline for help.

I was desperate. It was my first go at whole wheat no knead bread and while it looked nice enough, it tasted weirdly…tangy. More like sourdough, with a sort of chemical finish. Not what I was going for at all.

What I was going for was a nice, soft sandwich loaf, sweetened with honey, from Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, via the King Arthur Flour blog. I’ve had my share of bread disasters in the past, but the recipe seemed easy enough, so I gave it a try.

I love the idea of baking our own bread, but traditional breads seem just a little too fiddly for the chaos around here. Many breads require a period of kneading, then rising, then kneading again, then rising again, often on a strict time table, which is tough to stick to when you have a two year old running around. Can I get a what what?

So I was pretty much resigned to buying our usual bland, squishy loaf at the supermarket, until I came across abin5, somewhere in my internet travels. For the first time, making bread from scratch on a regular basis actually seemed doable.

It combines the flexibility of no knead bread and the efficiency of baking in bulk.

Like the loaf that started the no knead craze, this one depends on a long rise to develop flavor. The cool thing about no knead breads is that the rise, though long, is often quite flexible. The dough for the whole wheat loaf above, for instance, can stay in the fridge for up to seven days, and some can stay in there up to two weeks!

They can handle a little neglect, which is what I look for in a loaf of bread.

But what really sold me on the abin5 breads is a neat little trick – instead of making just a single loaf, it has you make enough dough for multiple loaves. You bake one right away, and keep the rest in the fridge, ready to go, until needed. Then you just lop off a chunk when you need a fresh loaf and throw it in the oven. It saves you a bit of work.

Anyhoo, I followed the directions pretty closely, but I substituted Fleischmann’s RapidRise yeast for the saf instant yeast recommended on the King Arthur Flour website. I figured they were roughly equivalent. Boy howdy, was I wrong!

After my nerdy call to the King Arthur baking hotline (the baker I talked to was suuuuper nice by the way), I learned that RapidRise is really intended for just a single, short rise, after which you throw it in the oven. It is definitely not intended for a 2 hour rise at room temperature and an overnight rise in the fridge. And in my case, the initial rise at room temperature was more like 3 or 4 hours, because I, umm, kinda forgot about it.

(Incidentally, I did some scouting around on the web and found some confusing info on yeast. For the most part, there are three types of yeast – fresh, active dry and instant. Instant yeasts do not need to be dissolved in liquid prior to using, they can be added directly to the dry ingredients. There are all kinds of instant yeasts, including bread machine yeast and pizza yeast. RapidRise, which is made by Fleischmann’s, is also considered an instant yeast, but it’s like instant yeast on steroids, the rise is powerful and aggressive. I noticed Red Star has something called Quick Rise, not sure if it behaves the same as Fleischmann’s RapidRise, but the website does caution against use in refrigerated or frozen dough baking. The kitchn and Wikipedia actually put rapid rise yeasts into their own category, though it’s not clear if anything other than Fleischmann’s RapidRise falls under that category. To make things even more confusing, the King Arthur Flour website notes that while it used to be that you had to dissolve active dry yeast in liquid first, the way it is processed now allows you to skip that step, apparently you can add it directly to the dry ingredients. Sheesh.).

So my dough was over fermented by the time I baked the loaf, and even more so by the time I baked the second loaf about three days later. The first loaf was sour, but not unpleasant with a goodly smear of butter. The second loaf, however, was vile, so I chucked it. Fail!

I do plan to try again, but with the saf instant yeast recommended on the King Arthur Flour blog. (And how is the saf instant yeast different than all the other instant yeasts out there? Not totally sure, even after all that digging around I am still a little confused, but it worked for King Arthur, so hey, that is good enough for me. I thought about substituting good ‘ol active dry, since that is the easiest to find, but I’m kinda chicken after my last experiment so it might be a while before I work up the courage to do it). Of course, we live out in the boondocks and none of the stores around these parts carry the stuff, so further tests are on hiatus until I get me some.