Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Flickr: A Great Way To Procrastinate When You Should Be Writing An Essay

Jesus and MosesHoly Moses, I finally uploaded my Halloween photos to flickr.
"Timely," you say sarcastically.
(Apologies to Shannon.)
Hey, I've been busy.
Plus, this is still part of a class project, and some of those photos are just too cool for school.
(James Dean is always a relevant link.)
Did I mention how much I hate writing essays?
Maybe I should start my St. Patrick's Day set.

Monday, November 27, 2006

From The Mailbag: Fairy Food Recipe

fairyfoodBetsy K. emailed the Dish in search of a good Fairy Food or Sponge Candy recipe.
Also called Angel Food Candy, here are the most common ingredients:
•Corn Syrup (light or dark)
•White Granulated Sugar
•Baking Soda
•Semi-sweet Chocolate (chips or bark)
Used less frequently:
•Brown Sugar
•Paraffine (my mother hates this stuff)
From the Familyfun.com recipe file, here's Marsha From New London's Recipe For Angel Food Candy:
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon baking soda
8 oz. chocolate
1. Cook the vinegar, sugar, and corn syrup over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves.
2. Continue heating without stirring until it reaches the hard-crack stage (hard brittle threads) or 300 degrees on your candy thermometer. (If you're sick of people asking, "How on earth did you manage to break another candy thermometer?", here's a handy Candy Temperature Chart.)
3. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Stir well.
4. Pour into ungreased 8x8 inch pan, and let spread on its own.
5. Let cool.
6. While cooling, melt your chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat. (I prefer a double boiler. If you don't have one, use a pan and metal bowl to melt your candy. Make sure the sizes don't allow for splash back into the smaller, melting bowl.)
7. Lay out your non-stick paper. Don't use cheap wax paper, it sticks to everything. If you want to be sure, use parchment paper. (There are some interesting comments on this subject at Say La Vee, where they talk about Silpat, which I've never tried with candy.)
8. Break your cooled candy into chunks, and dip in the melted chocolate.
9. Place on non-stick paper until the chocolate hardens. Store in cool place. Avoid using the fridge if possible.
Watch out for quick temperature changes which causes surface moisture.
This results in sugar and fat blooms.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

What else but pumpkin pie and whipped cream could be numbers 1 and 2. Is it because a combination of autumn vegetable and dairy is considered health food in Wisconsin? Have pumpkin pie and whipped cream become our wafer-thin mint?

Thanksgiving Day
bulldog2) Whipped Cream
It's a dessert topping, a floor wax, a party favor, and the best thing to happen to a pumpkin since someone scraped out its insides and chucked it in a pie. I remember first discovering Cool Whip at a Kohl's grocery store when I was a kid, then eating an entire tub of it while waiting for the Park St. bus. I thought it was ambrosia, and didn't know how easy whipped cream was to make. I've seen recipes calling for either confectioners' or granulated sugar. I'd think the powdered would blend well, and the granulated would taste better; this whipped cream recipe from Grandma's Cookbook doesn't specify. It's best to chill the bowl and beaters before using. So we're looking at heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla, then beating it until you see soft peaks. Or was it Twin Peaks?

piewhippedcream1) Pumpkin Pie
According to whatscookingamerica.net, pumpkin pie dates back to 1621. (They are now saying, btw, it's time to start on Christmas cookies.) Pilgrims filled a pumpkin with milk and honey and tossed it in hot ashes. Why does this remind me of camping trips with the Prestigiacomo's? Another time, another story. Meanwhile, have a slice or twelve, and surf these pumpkin pie recipes from Chiff.
bulldog flickr photo from bulldog1
pumpkin pie and whipped cream flckr photo from Lenna!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Countdown: The Other Pies

Once you've devoured just enough turkey for leftovers, it's time for pie. But which pie? Should you start with the Thanksgiving co-star, the hearty pumpkin, or is it best to work your way to the top, much like this countdown?

Day Four
pecanpie4) Pecan Pie
I've never thought much about baking a pecan pie because it was another one of my mother's monster dessert specialties. Like the pumpkin, pecan pies beg for real whipped cream, but in a southern accent. Now that I give the recipe a second look, it appears to be pretty simple. There are variations which call for either dark or light corn syrup, 3 or 4 eggs (4 eggs!), and here's one from a New Orleanian that calls for brandy. That leaves you with butter, sugar, vanilla, pecans, and the crust. I've been down the why-not-just-get-it-from-the freezer-aisle road, but it's second rate. Crusts are tasty, quick, and easy to make. The best ones have few ingredients (flour, butter, water). There is a strong distaste for an undercooked pie crust in my family, so I usually pre-bake. Did you know that baking a pie crust sans filling is called blind baking? This recipe for a pecan pie and crust uses an ubaked crust, and doesn't specify brown or white sugar. I'd use brown. I notice they put sugar in their crust, too. This pecan pie recipe for left brainers, pre-toasts the pecans, and has a table at the bottom which reminds me of every math major I've met.
3) Apple, Sweet Potato, Coconut Cream, French Silk
For some reason, four of my other fav pies, blueberry, strawberry, strawberry rubarb, and peach, don't show up at our regular holiday feasts. Is this a summer pie thing? We'd still welcome the appearance of a Perkin's lemon or key lime pie if they'd only keep making them. Can you get more summer than that? Apple is the all occasion pie. The little black dress of pies. It's a classic, and in season whether or not it's fall. This apple pie recipe talks about how the apples will shrink. I don't do much more than make the crust, peel and cut, add sugar, butter, and cinnamon, then bake until it smells right. I don't use nutmeg, but may squeeze in a bit of lemon. Remember, if you haven't almost overfilled your pastry shell, you may end up with another dessert entirely. Sweet potato pie probably needs to be made by someone who grew up with it. Not many in the fam will eat it unless they think it's pumpkin pie. I keep sneaking it into the mix just to be subversive. What I've tried tastes like a poor cousin to pumpkin, but I'll keep trying it from time to time in search of the real deal. I find coconut cream pie intrusive, yet irresistible. I'll take it fresh or frozen, chilled or room temp. French silk is decandant enough for any major holiday. You can have it with wine. It's one, like key lime, that can go graham or flour crust. Here's a french silk pie recipe that calls for 4 eggs. Serve chilled with defib paddles.
flickr photo from hirosan

Monday, November 20, 2006

T-Day Countdown: Chocolates And Nibbly Bits

Numbers 6 and 5 are all about platters of chocolates and your bowled food group. We used to call it "company food." As in the only time we see this stuff is when we have company.

Day Three
chocolate6) Things That Are Easy For Me To Take Home
One of the beauties of Thanksgiving is that people want you to empty their fridge. For students, writers, artists, or anyone who's lined their pockets with Saran Wrap at a buffet, this is your time to shine. I can fit a seven course meal in three Baggies and a storage container. And remember, Baggies keep food tasting as fresh it sounds. The sound of all those nibbly bits as they slide into muliple plastic bags is music to my ears. One of my favorite things to go is the honey roasted nut. Peanuts, pecans, cashews, or almonds, load me up. Honeyed nuts are candy, snacks, study food, something else to eat with beer, and often, dinner. What can I say about chocolate in a paper cup that can't be said by this photo from the Lake Mills wine and chocolate tasting.
5) The Other Nibbly Bits
We're not talking Beluga or Japanese finger food, but something to do with your hands because this isn't an episode of Ab Fab, and you can't smoke in the house already. The classic nibble is some form of Chex mix in a bowl, which of course nicely tranfers to a plastic bag of any size. If it requires popping a lid or tearing open a bag, you're on the right track. You might want to avoid the cheese based munchy in some cases, such as your stand alone Cheetos type puff, although crunchy may be a key ingredient in your party mix. It's hard to go wrong, even if you walk into a PDQ blindfolded, which we here at the Dish don't recommend.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thanksgiving Countdown: Hard Candy And The Mother Of All Cheesecakes

Weighing in at numbers 8 and 7, are dishes full of high grade hard candy, and my mother's mammoth cheesecake.

Day Two
hardcandy8) Homemade Hard Candy
No candy sits in a dish like hard candy. And there's no hard candy like homemade hard candy. Even if clove or horehound isn't your thing, you can't go wrong with these squares or pillows from James J. Chocolate. In my family, if it smacks of licorice or toffee, it won't make it through the day. Here's what I stock up on: Brown Sugar Cinnamon, Lemon Butter, and Anise. I recently noticed that James J. has Lemon Drops and a dark colored Butterscotch which I'll try soon. My favorites, the Brown Sugar Cinnamon and the Lemon Butter, are full-flavored, and at the same time delicate in a way you don't find in common store brands. Good homemade shop candies tend to give way to a mouthful of teeth in a way that would make your dentist plotz.
7) Mother Cheesecake
The last time I saw my mother's cheesecake was on a Papa Phil's dessert menu. There was no mistaking it. This brick of sugar, cream cheese, butter, graham cracker, lemon, and cherries was one of my mother's holiday calling cards. A very large, evil, calling card. It was made in the heaviest of CorningWare, and there had been jokes of baking the mass in something even larger. Like our '76 Cutlass. The slices were as subtle as a wheel of cheese, and must have stood 3.5, 4 inches high. It was no coincidence that the ristorante sharing this madness belongs to my godfather. I've never attempted to make it, not many have, but I gain ten pounds every time I look at the recipe. In deference to the days of yore and lore, we have some manner of cheesecake for almost every holiday. Coincidently, my sister was insisting we get a pumpkin cheesecake from Papa Phil's for Thanksgiving. And so it begins. Try and stop me from picking up a cornucopia made of and filled with chocolate tomorrow.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sweet Thanksgiving Countdown: Cut Out Cookies and Torrone

Turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, something cranberry, good bread, and real butter. All Thanksgiving must haves. But what of dessert?
Over the next five days we'll be dishing up our Top Ten favorites.

Day One
10) Cut Out Cookies
After much trial and error, this Land O' Lakes butter cookie recipe is the only one I use. It allows for extra flour when the chilled dough starts sticking to everything, and uses orange juice for a touch of fresh flavor. Besides, my cousin works there, and gives me free butter. If you missed baking headless horsemen for Halloween, there are always turkeys and evil pilgrims to be baked and decapitated for Thanksgiving. Guest dependent of course. It's also a great excuse to take stock of your cookie cutters and decorations before the Christmas baking season begins.
9) Torrone
I'm Italian, enough said. No? Torrone is a chewy honey and almond nougat candy my grandpa kept around his restaurant so he could pretend to get mad at us in Italian when we stold it. Any self respecting Italian Groceria will have it, and if they don't, turn around and leave. If you're heading east, keep driving until you hit Brady Street. Closer to home, the best place to go is the Fraboni's in what remains of Madison's Greenbush Neighborhood. And they still have the best subs in town. (If, however, you're looking for a decent cannoli, I'd head to the Gino's Deli on Verona Rd, where they make them fresh to order.) For a nice selection of torrone online, this candy site out of the UK is pretty impressive. How many times have I said that. If you're looking for the torrone I grew up with, you can find it online or at Frabroni's by the piece or box.
flickr photo from roboppy

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Making Chocolate Covered Pretzels If You Had Your Own Chocolate Factory

Longtime employee Carol shows us how they cover things in chocolate at the James J. Chocolate Shop candy factory.
In case the sugar groupies hovering around the belt scare you, Laurie Jarnigo says they go through, inspect, and clean everything.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

In The Kitchen With James J.

startingangelfoodJames J. is happy with the move from Watertown to Lake Mills. They have the space they need, are closer to the other candy store in Madison, and of course, home. The Lake Mills chocolate factory is their central kitchen, and is housed in two large rooms accessed from a friendly looking hallway (the woman's bathroom there has Barbie wallpaper), and from behind the candy counter.makingcandy
This James J. Chocolate Shop looks about the size of the one that burned down on University Avenue in August of 2005, and even has a souvenir or two from the old shop. (See the rolling pin candy cutter with the black handle.)
candythermometerJim uses copper pots and marble tables along with these cool cutters to make his candy. The latest acquisition is a caramel candy cutter that was sitting next to piles of fairy food during their chocolate and wine tasting event. Laurie Jarnigo says they only make fairy food, aka angel food, devil's food, or sponge candy, from October through April or May.
Did you know few places actually makechocmolds chocolate, but use the chocolate they get from chocolate makers to fashion their own molds and candies? James J. and Oregon's The Chocolate Caper are candy makers, Scharffen Berger is a chocolate maker.
The arsonist caught coming out of the Jarnigo's candy store got five years. Their chocolate shop on University had been there for 17.
makingangelfoodThe new place by Mallatt's on Monroe Street somehow managed to open two weeks before Christmas after the late summer fire. And since some of us have become spoiled by handmade James J. canes, sugar plums, anise, and lemon butter candy, it opened just in time.
This is what naked fairy food looks like. It immediately takes the golden blog shape after pouring out of the copper kettle. cooledangelfood

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Trip To The Chocolate Factory

Jim Jarnigo, aka James J., makes the golden insides of his chocolate covered fairy food in a copper pot. The husband and wife candymakers, Jim and Laurie, opened up their chocolate factory Monday night to benefit the Lake Mills food pantry. There was a huge stack of this irresistible stuff waiting for us along with teaming platters of dark and milk chocolates. Jim had just added the final fairy food ingredient, baking soda, to make it froth and rise. This is what makes the fairy food candy airy, similar to what creates the bubbles inside peanut brittle. The sweet mass took on a life of its own once set to cool on the marble table. (See photos in the entry above.) As for the shots of the ceiling at the end of the video, did I mention there was free wine?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Candy Lover's Hot Chocolate

hotchocolateIf you're lucky enough to have any leftover Halloween chocolate lying around, here's a great recipe for hot chocolate that uses candy, instead of powder or syrup. If you forgot you had some stashed, take it out of hiding, and put it in the communal pot, you miser.
A Hot Chocolate Recipe From Scharffen Berger
6 ounces 70% Cacao Bittersweet or 62% Cacao Semisweet Chocolate
1 quart milk, your choice, why not splurge with whole milk
Break up the chocolate and put in a small saucepan. Melt with one cup milk over medium low heat.
Stir constantly (very important when making candy).
Turn heat up to medium after chocolate has melted. Add rest of milk, whisk rapidly. Don't let boil.
Can be served with whipped cream (c'mon use real whipped cream) and liquor. My favorite is brandy. This is a Wisconsin candy blog, after all.
Any chocolate can be used. You can substitute your favorite type of chocolate, mine is Scharffen Berger or James J. milk chocolate. I started making hot chocolate this way last year when I discovered that homemade James J. Chocolate cornucopias (which are solid chocolate stuffed with candy) made a great centerpiece for the Thanksgiving dessert table. Somehow there was leftover cornucopia, so I followed this recipe and have been spoiled ever since.
flickr photo by timoni