Vanilla Taffy

I have never posted this recipe. It is a family recipe that is so special to me. It may mean nothing to anyone else – probably will not. But this is one of those handed-down recipes for something not many people make at all … and there is a story to it.

My mom made this every winter, not every Christmas because this recipe depends on the weather. There has to be low humidity and in the South that usually will only happen sometime between late December and late February. So this did grace the Christmas Eve party on occasion -yes, but there was no guarantee. It is North Florida after all. We oftentimes wore shorts on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This was a recipe from my mom’s mom, Daisy, and my mom would describe how Daisy made it in the winter* and then to get the taffy hard they would toss it in the snow. We never were able to do anything like that, but it is kind of cool to understand where a recipe really comes from.

To be honest, I have never seen a recipe like this. Most people, when they think of taffy, think of salt water taffy which is soft,  but this is not. We (me and the Boy) have taken to calling it crack because when you pull it right and put enough air in it, it gets opaque and, well, looks like crack – at least the kind I have seen on Cops  (read: have no practical experience in the real stuff, but from TV, I can totally see it).DD_9068

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla

Necessary – candy thermometer – not kidding. Necessary.

Place sugar, water, corn syrup, and cream of tartar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Then cook without stirring until candy thermometer reaches 266 degrees.

Remove from heat and add vanilla and butter and stir until dissolved. Pour onto sil-pat lined baking sheet. When still hot, but cool-ish enough to pull, pull small bits in cords until opaque – you will burn at least your thumbs, but probably a couple of other fingers in the process. Twist into ribbons and lay on wax paper-lined baking sheet. When hard, break into pieces (just drop on baking sheet and see what happens) and wrap in cut waxed paper, or if you want to be fancy, wrap in pieces of parchment. We used waxed paper growing up, but I have taken a liking to parchment in the last few years.  

*They also butchered a pig each winter. Something I completely understand, but an not likely to be involved in.

2016 – Tomato Soup with Spinach and Mozzarella

Cookie Cutters

I do not have a lot of things from my mother, but these she gave me these cookie cutters years ago. I do remember them from when I was a kid. They are cookie cutters in the shapes of suits of cards – heart, diamond, club, and my favorite, a spade.

My aunt was just two years older than my mother and the third to the last girl born – there were eleven children in the family – my mom was the last single girl born at my grandmother’s age of 41 – yes, that wasn’t really a sentence in the proper sense of things. So, my aunt was born when my grandmother was 39 and we won’t even mention the twins that were born after my mom when my grandmother was 44.  I just do not understand being married at 16 and having kids into your 40s. That was a very different time – I get it, but that just seems wrong.

Either way, my aunt and my mother would love to play cards – gin rummy. My aunt would come down from North Carolina and there were cards or scrabble every night at the kitchen table in our little house. They tried to include me, but I just do not have the brains for cards. I wish I did, but …. I did love to sit there and listen to the two sisters talking.  They were so much alike, but I am so glad that my mother left North Carolina. It made our lives so much easier growing up in Florida away from such a rural situation in North Carolina. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy visiting North Carolina. I did, especially when we would bring home a full cooler of Revels BBQ – the stuff that heaven is made of. No, I am not exaggerating.

As we enter the beginning of sugar cookie season –  yes, it is a real season in my mind anyway, I thought I would share my cookie cutters. I have no idea how old these are, but they have been in my life as long as I can recall – that means they must be pushing an age I would rather not say.  I have other cookie cutters that I have purchased, but these are a sentimental favorite of mine. They remind me of my mom and my aunt and gin rummy and my inability to play cards.

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Another Card Company Created Thing

I cannot stand created holidays. By this, I mean the following: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Administrative Assistant’s Day, National Bosses’ Day, etc. etc. blah blah blah. Groan.

Mother’s Day in particular is annoying because it falls so very close to my own birthday. To be honest, lots of women have babies, it is not exactly difficult. Yes, I am that person. But a made up holiday for Mother’s Day just has never worked for me.

I have just deleted this post again and again, but it keeps coming back up. I find these “holidays” offensive along with all the other made up ones. I am very aware that this post will not engender any goodwill whatsoever. But there it is.

My mother always got offended when I talked about the made up holiday. Really offended. But I sent the stupid card and told the Boy to never get one for me. He texted this year, “Happy Hallmark Holiday” which was just the best. Sometimes he is WAY TOO MUCH like me. Sorry Boy, no, not really.

Now in anticipation for “Fathers’s Day” I am not sure what to do.

I wrote this before the Dad died. Yep – that is a bit of a mess. But not really – he was not a fan of created holidays either.

Butter usage – by month – April 2016

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars – yep

2 April –  8 Tbs – Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars (for Heather)

9 April – 8 Tbs – Salted Crispy Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies

11 April – 2 Tbs – Everyday Orzo (once again amazing!)

13 April – 8 Tbs – Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

16 April – 12 Tbs – Buttermilk Bundt Cake with Lemon Glaze – don’t do this

17 April – 7 Tbs – Italian Cream Cake

21 April – 8 Tbs – Lemon Ricotta Cookies – don’t do that either, do this

28 April – 12 Tbs – Brown Sugar White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

30 April – 5 Tbs – Mac and Cheese My Mom’s recipe, as such which I will say again – just do it. Really. Not kidding.

30 April – 8 Tbs – Brown Sugar Pecan Scones

78 Tbs = 9.75 sticks = 39 ozs = 2.4375 pounds

Not great, but not a ringing endorsement either. And from what I can gather my May does not start out any better. Crap.

 

Mac n Cheese – the best ever

This is another no recipe thing – but in the tradition of Michael Ruhlman – it is a ratio –
though I am not good at math. There it is. My mom made the best mac n cheese ever. We never had anything out of a Kraft box (ugh — so gross). I do think I picked this up my osmosis (cannot believed I spelled that correctly on the first go – woo hoo!). I really don’t remember paying that much attention to how my mom made it, but I knew how to do this by instinct  – again, in my head it was osmosis.

So this is a total ratio thing, but to me the easiest way to tell someone how to make it is to show them how to make it. It can be a little vague otherwise. This was the subject of one of the early Wednesday Cooking School nights for the Boy. It is one of his favorite things, not surprising, since it also one of my favorite things. It is also vegetarian, which means I had it in the freezer while waiting for him to be born and I remember distinctly that I had some the night I came home from the hospital with him.D&D_1397

I have this lovely ceramic dish from Portugal (I did not go there to get it, but did buy it from a store in Durham, NC) and it is a pretty dish and I bought two because of that. But here is where the ratios come into play. No matter what dish you have, to make mac n cheese for whatever sized dish you have measure out dry pasta* in the dish to about the half way full. Once you cook the pasta, then it will fill the dish — see, a ratio – who knew from math? But I knew that before Ruhlman (still love you guy).

Now here is the next ratio – fat to flour – also knew this before Ruhlman. I always prefer to have more cheese sauce than I need, so for my pan (need to measure and figure out how big that dang this is). I start with 4 Tbs of unsalted butter, which I melt over low heat and then add basically the same amount of all-purpose flour and a bit of salt and pepper. Then cook the flour for a minute or two, stirring the whole time. It  would be a good thing if you had taken your whole milk out prior to starting this and I probably should have said that before now. But as long as you add the milk a little at a time, it will be okay. Some people warm the milk in a sauce pan, but my mom never did, so I don’t either.

Here’s the thing – when you first start adding the milk it will look like a clumpy mess with the butter mixture. You really are making a light roux and then you are going on to make a bechamel sauce sort of. Anyway. Use that whisk to eliminate lumps, but pretty soon you need to switch to a good spatula (Get it Right spatulassee this link, and this one, then there is this one, and .. well you get it.)  because you don’t want the milk to scorch on the bottom of the sauce pan – that would be a disaster (i.e. start over – no other choice, nope none).

So again, this is where it is where it is so much easier to show than explain, but the ratio, is about the same amount of cups of milk as butter – in this case 3 1/2 to four, but add a bit at a time. Let simmer over low heat and let thicken over time.

Then the cheese comes into play. In my case, always extra sharp cheddar, white or yellow, your choice, but once the bechamel thickens it is time to take it off the heat and add the grated cheese, setting aside a bit to put on the top. Add the cooked pasta (you did that already, right? Dumped the pasta you measured in the pan into a nicely salted pot of boiling water and cooked until al dente) to the sauce and tip into the baking dish, top with a little extra shredded cheese and cover with foil. But in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5 – 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

You need to let it cool a bit before diving in, but that is a necessary thing.

So to you from me – My Mom’s not-recipe for the best homemade mac n cheese.

*I typically use penne or rotini, but elbow is good too. Some pasta that will hold the cheesy goodness of the sauce.