Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rebecca's New Hobby

I wanted to find a way to include Rebecca in my Holiday Candy Making Mania.  Julia is now 15 and Queen of all Things Hard Candy, and Rebecca at 10 needed to find her own fun way to be involved.  So I took some of my old hard candy molds which turned out to be a little impractical, either too large to eat or to complicated to pour, and let her use them to make painted chocolates. 

This is something that she can do on her own safely with the microwave, and she turns out beautiful and tasty additions to our holiday assortments.  It is moderately messy, but some scrubbing is a small price to pay for these fancy treats.

I purchased some good quality melting chocolate from Sam's Club in milk and white, and 3 colors of wafers from the grocery store.  The candy wafers are made specifically for this purpose.

Rebecca melts 5 candy wafers at a time in the microwave by stirring every 20 seconds until fully melted.  She then uses a paint brush to paint a design directly onto the mold.  She lets each color set before adding a new color.  After she is done painting the mold, she melts the high quality chocolate and pours it over the melted design.  For lollipops she adds a stick at this time.

After allowing the chocolates to set up , she pops them out of the molds. 

Since everybody loves chocolate, she doesn't want to waste any, so with the leftover melted chocolate she makes other treats like chocolate drizzled pretzels or chocolate dipped candy canes.

Rebecca is having a ball making these, and now the challenge is keeping her sisters from eating them all before Thanksgiving even gets here, let alone Christmas!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Easy Potluck Appetizer: "BBQ Smokies"

When considering a potluck recipe, you should always consider the surroundings.  Take into account the weather, the other guests preferences, and the serving circumstances.  You probably wouldn't want to take hot bean soup to a Forth of July picnic for your 6-year old's baton troop, but it might be just the thing for a chilly tailgate lunch with the guys

One of my go-to recipes is one my grandma discovered during her time living in Florida.  She made it for my parents, who passed it on to me.  I have passed it on many times.

BBQ Smokies

1 lb smoked sausage (usually I use "Lil Smokies" the little smoked sausages, but they are a bit pricey, so sometimes I buy a ring of smoked sausage and cut it up.  Today, though, I used some Alligator Sausage that we brought home from our fall vacation)
1 can jellied cranberry sauce
1 jar chili sauce
1/4 c brown sugar
1 T lemon juice

Combine all ingredients except cooked sausage in a sauce pan and heat to melt. 

Stir in the sausage (make sure you cook it first if you use any kind of fresh sausage).

Pour into a crock pot and hold on warm. 

This is really easy and no one will be able to guess your recipe.  Also it appeals to every age and gender group.  I have taken this to tailgates, Easter dinners, bonfires, office lunches, etc.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Anyone can try something new, I like to try old things. This weekend I dug out an old cookbook that used to belong to my George's grandmother, Nona.  I don't know if Nona ever made candy, but this book is full of great illustrations of pre-plastic candy making techniques.  In the book the butterscotch is poured onto greased marble and molded by something called "caramel bars"  then chopped up with a "candy hatchet".  I am once again very thankful for my molds and may "Pam". 

Here is what I did:

2  c sugar
3/4 c water
1/2 c corn syrup

Combine in saucepan and cook to 270F, stirring only until the sugar is dissolved.  Then add:

1/2 t salt
1/4 c honey
2 sticks butter, cut into chunks


Cook to 310F, stirring constanly, then remove from heat.

 After bubbling stops add 1 dram butter rum flavoring oil.  Pour into greased molds.  After setting up, break apart and dust with powdered sugar.

This was really easy and so good!  I am sure I will have to make at least another batch before christmas, and this will undoubtedly continue to be one of my regular candies. 

Note:  I edited this post a few days later to correct some things that caused me to end up with chewy caramels instead of hard butterscotch.  It's good though, so I will post that later!

A Hunk of Meat, a Can of Beer and a Crockpot

You thought this was going to be an X-rated post, didn't you?  Well, now that I have your attention hopefully you will read the rest. ;) There are so many things you can do with this combination!  Just yesterday I threw a pork roast in with a can of beer and cooked them all day.  Then I stringed the pork and added enough of the juice to cover, then put it in the fridge.  Tonight I will reheat the pulled pork, then pour off most of the liquid and replace with Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, and we will have Pulled Pork Sandwiches.  I will freeze the leftovers, and when I thaw them out I will add 2T taco seasoning and maybe some corn and salsa.  Place on a hot tortilla and melt in cheese and you have Pork Quesadillas.  You can also make Chicken Quesadillas the same way, just substitute chicken breast.

If you start with a beef roast, you can add BBQ sauce for Beef BBQ sandwiches, or you can add an envelope of onion soup mix and a tsp of Worcestershire sauce while cooking in the crock pot.  Then you will end up with French Dip Sandwiches.  Or you can make Pot Roast by roast + beer + beef bouillon + carrots, potatoes, onions and celery.  To make gravy, just remove the juice and thicken it with a little cornstarch before serving.

If you start with stew meat, you can make Beef Stew instead of Pot Roast  by just changing the meat and not making the gravy.   Or you can make Beef "Tips" and Noodles by adding mushrooms and bouillon, then thickening the juice and serving over noodles.  If you add mushrooms and onion soup mix, cook, then add sour cream and thicken, you will have Beef Stroganoff. 

I'm sure there are lots of other combinations but that's a start.

Dinner:  Pulled pork sandwich (see above)  Applesauce  and Fried
Baby Potatoes (see previous post)
And the best part is, it was all ready within 20 minutes of when I walked through the door!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hard Candy

Now that November has settled in, I am acknowledging my next obsession.  Candy Making.  I love making candy, perhaps more than eating it.  The foundation of my candy making obsession is Hard Tack.  I remember making this candy with my mom as a kid, and now I make it with my kids, particularly, my middle daughter Julia.  Julia has progressed from standing on a chair as a toddler watching from a safe distance, to being my full partner in the process.  We now make 2 batches at a time and "race" to the "310" temp.  Along with Julia, our process has grown and evolved through the years.  We have gone from trying wacky flavors like cotton candy and pouring onto buttered cookie sheets to a sophisticated system of flavor mixes and breakaway molds.  The end result has been about 10 pounds each of a fruit mix and a spice mix for the last few years.  This year we will be adding a tropical mix, just for fun.

Before we start making candy, we make a chart with all the flavors and colors we plan on using.  That way we avoid duplicating colors within mixes.  For example, Tutti Fruiti is pink, while cherry is red. 

This year's fruit mix went like this:

Blackberry     Blue
Lime              Lt. Green
Tutti Fruiti      Pink (1 drop red)
Cherry           Red
Grape            Purple
Lemon           Yellow
Orange          Orange
Watermelon  Dark Green

We use the Lorann Oils recipe and flavorings with a few modifications.  I was watching Alton Brown the other night and as much as I love him I have to disagree with a few of his points too.  Primarily I adjust the color as the candy cooks, rather than waiting until it reaches 310, and I wait until boiling ceases altogether before adding flavor:

Basic Candy

2 c granulated sugar
2/3 c light corn syrup
3/4 c water

Combine these in a medium sauce pan with a thermometer and stir with a wooden spoon.  The wooden spoon for some reason helps keep the mixture from boiling over while the water boils out.  I didn't believe it either, but it works.  Adjust the color to the shade you want.  Boil, stirring occasionally, until the temp reaches 310F.  This is the hard crack stage in candy making.  There are lots of resources on the web to learn about this, so I won't go into the chemistry/physics.

Remove the thermometer, then allow the candy to stop boiling.  It will still be bubbly, but there will not be new bubbles when you stir when you get to the point we are looking for.  At this point, add the flavoring and stir with a silicone spatula, then pour into a greased candy mold which has been placed on a cookie sheet.

Allow the candy to cool and set, then break apart.  I resisted using the molds for years  because I like my old fashioned hard candy to look rustic, and I broke it apart by hand and this is certainly possible.  But a couple of years ago my friend Heather tried the molds and loved them, so it has been in the back of my mind.  This year I ordered my flavorings directly from Lorann, and they were selling the molds too  so I decided to give it a go.  My review is that they are awesome and cut the process time in half,  We didn't end up with little cuts all over our fingers like we do when we break the candy by hand.  We were able to make 8 batches of candy in about 2 1/2 hours, where before 4 or 5 were all we could manage in an entire day. 

After you break the candy apart, put it in a bowl and dust with powdered sugar.  Then place in a strainer and shake to remove the excess powdered sugar.  Store in an airtight container. It should last about 8 months, or until the humidity gets to high in your climate. 

Also, the leftover powdered sugar has little shards of colorful candy and you can use it for a dusting sugar for brownies or cookies or something. 

All in all, I wish I could say that the satisfaction I get from making this stuff is somehow related to my love of science.  There are certainly lots of interesting chemical and physical changes going on in those sugar molecules.  But really I think it's a more primal love of the shiny glassy colors that gets me.  I may have been a glass blower in a former life, or maybe a crow or a magpie.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trifolate Orange Marmalade or I Swear this is the Last Canning Post for a While

One of the souvineers we brought home from our fall getaway was a small bag of what turned out to be trifolate oranges.  We found these growing in the garden of a historical mansion we were visiting.  The mansion was closed, but these exotic little fruit were perfectly ripe and waiting for me.  A stray docent happened by and told me to go ahead and take some, so I did.   The trifolate orange is a tiny hardy orange that grows on a small tree about 8-10 feet tall with lots of thorns.  It is commonly used for grafting stock and can withstand a certain amount of freezing, which is why we found it growing on the southern Maryland coast. 

In searching for something to do with my found treasures I learned that these are not true oranges, being from a diferent genus in the orange family, and that eating them raw can cause gastric distress.  They are recommended for making marmalade. 

I had never made marmalade before, but I was game to try.  First I used a carrot peeler to shave away the outer portion of most of the rinds of the oranges.  Then I attempted to peel and pulp the little guys.  Turns out they are packed with seeds, and a little juice, and a very little pulp.  So what I did was cut them open and squeeze out the juice and seeds, then put through the food press.  This left me with about 3/4 c of juice that tasted like the result of a mating between a grapefruit and a pine tree. 

Undaunted I decided to suplement my bitter/sour juice with an equal amount of orange juice and the pulp of 3 oranges.  I then chopped the peelings from the trifolates and one of the oranges and combined them with the juice/pulp and boiled for 5 minutes.  This I allowed to sit overnight in the fridge.  I don't know why it needs to sit, but the Ball Blue Book said to, so I did. 

The next day, I boiled the juice/pulp/peels with about a half package of pectin, then added and equal ammount of sugar and boiled for 3 minutes, then packed hot into hot jars and processed 5 minutes in a boiling water bath to seal.   This seems to have gelled, and the result is a very classy slightly bitter marmalade.