Monday, May 9, 2016

Ascension Thursday: Neapolitan Meringue Cookies

  I hope everyone had a wonderful feast of the Ascension! This feast celebrates the return of Jesus to heaven forty days after his resurrection. It is a solemnity, and so accordingly we should make it a day of celebration and festivity!  Traditionally Ascension is celebrated on a Thursday, exactly forty days after Easter Sunday, (and is a holy day of obligation by the way). However, in the United States and a few other countries the feast gets moved to the Sunday after. It does make remembering to go to church on Ascension day easier, and it also gives a little wiggle room for when to have your Ascension celebration. I just hope the reason that it got moved in the U.S. wasn't because people thought Americans were too lazy or too apathetic to make it to church on a Thursday!

   One of the traditional ways to celebrate the Ascension is to have a picnic, and this year in Michigan the weather was just perfect for it! I just love getting to eat outside, so I particularly like this way of celebrating.  I think preferably the picnic is supposed to be on a hill to represent being close to heaven, but we're pretty flat here in this region of the mitten state.

To keep the minds on all things heavenly the menu usually consists of some sort of poultry, for their ability to fly up into the heavens, and a light and fluffy dessert, reminiscent of heavenly clouds. For the main course I made my new favorite chicken dish that I learned from watching "The Kitchen" on the Food Network. There aren't many shows that I make sure I watch every week, but on Saturdays at eleven o'clock, I almost always know what I'll be doing! This roasted chicken dish includes a side of carrots and potatoes, and is made on a single sheet pan, so clean up is pretty easy. It's full of wonderful flavors like lemon, rosemary, and thyme. My son's favorite part is the crispy chicken skin. You can find the recipe here.

Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla
 For the dessert I knew I wanted to do something with meringue. I mean what is more light, fluffy, and cloud like than meringue? I decided to go with a baked meringue cookie. The first time I encountered the meringue cookie concept was in my high school foods class. We made a chocolate chip version. I absolutely loved the idea, but personally I thought the chocolate chips weighed down and overpowered the meringue. I continued to experiment with the idea adding in my own flavors. Sadly, I lost my recipe folder from class, so I've been searching for a good recipe for meringue cookies. I think these ones turned out pretty well.

Making a meringue is super simple. The vanilla version has a mere five ingredients. And as a bonus, it happens to be dairy, grain, and fat free. One meringue cookie is only about 10 calories, so they're a great way to have a sweet treat without feeling too guilty about it. In addition to vanilla I also made strawberry and chocolate. Since I didn't use any food coloring, the visual difference between the three wasn't too striking after they were baked, but they sure were full of flavor and absolutely delicious! Meringue is a great blank canvas for lots of flavors, so feel free to experiment!
                                                                                    When piped in pretty design, they would also make a great decoration for cakes and pies.

Meringue Cookies

3 large egg whites
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
dash of salt 
2/3 cup sugar

For strawberry: freeze dried strawberries
For chocolate: cocoa powder

Combine the egg whites, vanilla, cream of tartar, and salt. Beat on high until foamy.

Gradually add the sugar, about a tablespoon at time, beating until dissolved after each addition. Continue beating until you reach stiff peaks.

Now is the time to add your flavors if you wish. I divided the meringue into thirds. I left one as it was for vanilla. In another third I folded in a handful of crushed freeze dried strawberries. In the last third I folded in about a tablespoon of cocoa powder.

Pipe or dollop the meringue onto a  baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Bake at 250 degrees for 40 - 45 minutes. Turn off the oven, but leave the meringues in for 1 more hour. Take them out and let them cool. They can be stored in an airtight container. Enjoy!

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