Friday, December 25, 2009

Chocolate Banana Cream Dessert

Our wonderfully warm Christmas morning fire

Before the gift opening

Wow, all I can say is Wow! As Wubbzy would say, "Wow, Wow, Wow!"

This was such a huge hit around here. Go get the stuff, go make this. Make it right now. Believe me, I am NOT exaggerating how unbelievably good this.

My father-in-law, who is not one to gush, deemed it the "best dessert I have ever had." I am still basking in the glow of the compliment.

I will not take credit for this one. Here is the recipe. Thanks to Bakerella! You ROCK!

Note: I made this with Trader Joe's Instant Chocolate Pudding. The combination of the whipped cream, chocolate pudding and bananas (not to mention the lemons I pinched from the neighbor's Meyer lemon tree) is to die for.

After photo of the living room

Mr. Smith scored big time points by getting me retro green juice glasses

During the gift opening

I hope everyone has a wonderful, safe holiday! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Forty Four Years Ago...

My parents on their wedding day, September 1965

Forty four years ago, there was a young couple. They had just gotten married in September, so they were celebrating their first Christmas as a married couple.

They did not have much money. He was in graduate school, she was working as a secretary (they still used that word back then) to support them both while he finished his schooling. Actually, they had no money.

Money was very tight, so she would need to work over the holidays and they would not be able to go home to their families for Christmas.

The wife was having a hard time with the idea of not being with her parents and sisters for Christmas. She was just 23 and this would be her first Christmas away from home. She was pregnant with their first child already.

Her husband told her that they would not be able to afford to have a Christmas tree, so that made it a little sad. She cried when he told her. It didn't really feel like a holiday at all.

It was cold as she walked home from work, a little sad at the thought of no tree, no family and no decorations.

When she got home, instead of an empty apartment, she found a Christmas tree, fully decorated, set up by her new husband to surprise her.

She cried when she saw it.

The young couple was my parents. The thought of my father going out, while my mother was at work, makes my eyes well up.

He got the tree. A real tree. He went to Woolworth's and bought the ornaments and lights. He probably broke the budget buying that 88¢ (!) box of 12 ornaments. He dragged the tree home, used their only knife (ruining it) to trim the stump to fit into the stand. He spent the afternoon decorating the tree before her return home.

It is probably the most romantic thing I have ever heard of my father doing. It is just such a grand gesture, completely out of character and so sweet.

It is my favorite Christmas story. I think of it every year when we get the ornaments out and start to decorate the tree. I like to imagine them that way, young and broke and making do with what they had. I like to think about how hard they have worked, everything they have accomplished together.

A few of the ornaments have survived all of our moves, all of our Christmases, all of our pets, all the hospitalizations, illnesses...everything. It says so much about their marriage, their commitment to each other and their children and now grandchildren. There are a few cracks, but it's still here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Great Cream Butterscotch Debate

The Famous Baby C, always wear your sunglasses to cover puffy eyes!

Long ago and far away, John and Josephine Lander owned a general store. It was located in Lucinda, Pennsylvania. Lucinda, to this day, is no bustling metropolis. It is one of those places you miss if you blink while driving through. It is not a place that you would choose to visit. In fact, getting out of there is probably one of the smartest things my grandparents ever did.

John and Josephine were both of German ancestry, as were most of the occupants of Lucinda. These were pretty humorless people and they had a pretty tough existence. They were lucky enough to own the town store, but that also meant everyone worked in the store. Since they sold candy in their store, Josephine would make homemade candy for the family each Christmas and Easter. This tradition was carried on by her daughter, Hilda (my grandmother).

My father and his two sisters have all continued family tradition. By carrying on the family tradition in their own ways and putting their own stamp on it, a debate has raged for years over who makes the Cream Butterscotch correctly. Susan's is very shiny and smooth. Patrick's is grainy and hard. JoAnna's is very creamy and soft. Perhaps their end product says something about their different personalities? You bet your ass it does!

Well, this year I entered the fray. I have attempted to make the candy previously, but have had little success. I made Cream Butterscotch with my grandmother Hilda that never got firm. It was more like pralines. It tasted fine, but was not the right consistency. Hilda, ever the queen of passing failures off as successes, deemed it taffy-like and wrote me a note of encouragement. She suggested leaving the candy alone for a while to watch a show that Peter Jennings was doing on education in the United States (yeah, this was in the 80s, but it turns out the sentiment was correct).

We had an old fashioned candy thermometer that looked like a thermometer for a farm animal. It had a clip on it that was wildly undependable and could result in all kinds of disasters (molten sugar is REALLY HOT and REALLY DANGEROUS!).

When Mr. Smith and I got married, someone gave us a gift card for Williams Sonoma. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Money to spend on cooking stuff! Yippee! One of the gadgets I bought was a digital, programmable candy/oil thermometer. I have used it for oil and now for candy. It has a clip that is much more reliable and it is far more exact, so you are not guessing at what the temperature is of your candy/oil, which can be a dicey affair.

I can not emphasize enough the importance of a good candy thermometer. My grandmother would tell you that she made candy for years without one. I would tell you that Hilda was and still is the master of selling cooking flops as innovations. Some day, I will tell you the story of the Butterscotch Pie Incident.

Having the right thermometer will take the guesswork out of making the candy. I am the type of person that is really really upset if I screw up a recipe. It bugs me for days and I obsess over it. I feel the need to make it again to prove that I can't be deterred by a failure. I might have a problem in this area.

Lander Cream Butterscotch Candy

1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup evaporated milk

2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
nuts (optional)

Boil sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, and evaporated milk until it reaches 235° (or soft ball stage). Let the mixture cool, stirring it occasionally to check the consistency. As it cools, it will begin to thicken and become more creamy-looking. Once you see this beginning to happen, you need to stir it until it lightens in color and thickens. Keep stirring until you feel like you are about to die, that is just about when the candy is ready to scoop (I would recommend one of those tiny scooper-deals, you know what they are. Get the smallest one, I believe it is 00 size, whatever the hell that means. It will give you the right size consistently, which is what you want).

Go ahead and scoop it out into individual pieces and nestle a pecan or walnut on top while the candy is still slightly soft. You can put the candy onto wax paper, but I prefer parchment paper.

Now, if you decide to eat some of the candy while it was still warm, that would be perfectly understandable. After all, you might be tired from all that stirring and need a little snack. Just be careful not to get caught!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fudge, More Fudge, Butterscotch and Potato Candy

Mr. Smith and I met when I was 38 and he was 37. We were both set in our ways, we still are, quite frankly. Over the course of the last 4.5 years, we have found ways to resolve most of our differences. Some of them just have to remain unresolved. There are certain topics we can't discuss (for example, if Abraham Lincoln was a good president or a traitor. Also our arguments about O.J. Simpson have been known to clear rooms of all other occupants).

Doesn't he just creep you out?

One of the things that we will never agree on is Alton Brown. Mr. Smith loves his show on The Food Network. I believe he belongs on The Science Channel or SciFi, but most certainly NOT on The Food Network! I will not refer to it as a cooking show, since he so rarely cooks.

Mr. Brown (I usually refer to him as Anus, much to Mr. Smith's chagrin. I tell Mr. Smith that Alton's real name is Anus, but he had to change his name because no one would buy a cookbook from some guy named Anus Brown. I think I am funny. Other people do not) does little skits, cutesy junk with the camera and too much science for a cooking show. He is annoying in the extreme and I hate him.

Before I met Mr. Smith, I had never even heard of this clown. Now his science geek ass is clogging up my TiVo. To the tune of 200 GB of his idiotic show. I can feel my hackles go up every time I am looking for one of my shows and have to scroll past this endless list of his blathering shows on how to buy a deep frying apparatus. BORING!!

Mr. Smith is religious in his devotion to this fool. I, on the other hand, wish his show would get cancelled and he would be silenced by some tawdry scandal involving hookers and drugs. Alas, he will not go away. In fact, they keep rolling him into more and more shows. He does ads for grape juice and has cookbooks, he pedals grape juice for Pete's sake!

Now, as if all of that weren't enough, he is plugging his latest book in Family Circle.

I noticed this recipe and was interested. Not because it is my arch enemy, Alton Brown, but because I am always interested in good biscuit recipe.

So, as a little surprise for Mr. Smith, I made these to have with our roasted turkey and gravy the other night.

I have to tell you, they are better than I thought they would be. I may even consider replacing my old, tried and true biscuit recipe. These are light and fluffy, worth a little extra work.

Okay, so now, I am officially a complete loser. It has taken me so long to post this that I actually caved in and used another one of this chucklehead's recipes.

Don't get me wrong, I still can't stand him. Nothing has changed in that department. He is a pretentious windbag.

So, at Mr. Smith's request, I made Alton's Chocolate Fudge. I have always found it a bit redundant to say Chocolate Fudge, but that is just like Alton, isn't it?

Here is the recipe.

A warning here: Candy making is not for the faint of heart. As my belovedly blunt Aunt JoAnna said, "It is bullshit. Too much work and not enough in the way of results." You can embark on the little endeavor, feeling pretty confident, feeling sassy, like you have the world by the tail. Then the weather isn't just right, or you are an idiot and you use condensed milk instead of evaporated milk (okay, that was just me) and the whole thing turns into a cinder block. It can be really heartbreaking. Maybe I am just too sensitive to failures, another thing I need to work on...great!

Over the last several days, I have been bitten by some kind of candy-making bug. I do not recommend it. It is really time consuming, tiring, and as my Aunt JoAnna said, "Not very rewarding." Sure, you get the satisfaction of that little "WOW" factor when you tell people that you went all Martha Stewart and made your own candy. But two hours of stirring for about 20 pieces of candy, to quote JoAnna, is "Bullshit."

This week I have made four batches of Cream Butterscotch (recipe coming soon), three batches of Fudge (two different recipes...don't ask) and one batch of Potato Candy (also, recipe on the way). I can't even tell you why I am doing this, but I seem unable to stop myself.

Mr. Smith LOVES the Alton Brown Fudge (of course) so now I probably be stuck making it all the time. I have to admit, it is really pretty good. Mr. Smith would like me to use it to frost a cake. We will have to see about that one.

A little extra something extra to consider for your fudge (or any chocolate recipes, for that matter) King Arthur Espresso Powder. Gives it a little something extra that is just wonderful.

Back to the kitchen to churn out more candy!