Categories
Eat Snacks

Aunt Marcey’s Old Fashioned Hard Tack Candy

Old fashioned hard tack candy is a holiday family favorite. The vibrant flavors and marvelous colors delight any age and makes a perfect hostess gift!

I always know that Christmas is drawing near when my sister Marcey gets into old fashioned hard tack candy mode.

She is an old fashioned hard tack candy making guru.

For as long as I can remember in the weeks leading up to Christmas, she has been like a mad scientist in her kitchen whirling around clanking cookie sheets, gathering dozens of tiny glass viles filed with a plethora of scented oils and flavorings. There are pounds of sugar, bottles of corn syrup and did I mention hammers and screw drivers?

Yes, I said hammers and screw drivers.

This year we decided to make it a family affair. My mom, my girls and I got together for a hard tack candy making extravaganza. I am now armed with pounds of colorful, brilliantly flavored candy that I have divided into sweet little Ball glass jelly jars to give as Christmas treats and hostess gifts. Thought you might like to do the same.

Here’s the skinny on how we like to make it.

You’ll need food coloring and scented vials (or drams) of oils and flavorings.

You can find them in your baking isle (some stores still keep them in the pharmacy like they did in the old fashioned days).

I just love these little vials. Aren’t they sweet?

My sister hoards them like they’re going out of style.

O.k. she shares them but she collects them all year round to insure that she’ll have enough of her favorite flavors.

There are two different types of candy & baking flavorings. There are *oils* and there are *flavorings*. We have found that you’ll need 2 of the flavoring vials and 1 of the oil vials in each batch. (With the exception of lemon…you’ll want to use 2 lemon oil vials to ensure the proper lemon-y tongue tantalizing zing).

Once you’ve got all of your flavorings and colorings in a row you’re ready to make your first batch! Remember  how I mentioned my sister being a mad scientist? While I jest…it isn’t too far from the truth. Making this candy IS a science. Which to be honest makes me break out into a cold sweat. So I’ve kidnapped my sister and all of her years-of-candy-making-trial-and-error-wisdom to help me write this post.

Grab a saucepan, a wooden spoon (not a plastic spoon) and set the stove to medium heat.

You’ll begin by pouring sugar,

light corn syrup,

and water into a pan. Next attach your candy thermometer to the side of the pan and make sure that it isn’t touching the bottom.

Stir constantly until all of the sugar has dissolved. Takes about 15 minutes so make sure you’re fully caffeinated before you begin.

Once sugar is completely dissolved set your spoon down and let the heat take over.

Allow mixture to come to a boil. It should look like this…

A happy rolling boil.

Watch the candy thermometer as the mixture continues to boil,

until it reaches 260°.

Then the excitement begins! Time to add some color and pizzaz.

 

Add one teaspoon of food coloring to the boiling pot.

Again, don’t mix with a spoon.

Let the boiling do the mixing.

Now you’ll want to pay very close attention to the temperature.

The minute you see it reach 300° it’s time to take it off the heat, (some people test the candy mixture consistency in cold water to see if it’s ready but we just go by the candy thermometer).

Now grab the flavoring or oil that you want the candy to taste like. My girls wanted to confuse the taste buds of our recipients so they mixed up the color/flavor combinations. (Yes, our lemon flavor was red).

Allow the mixture to stop boiling before adding the flavoring. Note: My sister has learned that it is imperative at this point in time to carry the pot outside before adding the flavoring to the candy mixture because it will smoke profusely (and smell divine) but be careful not to inhale the vapors. Back in college my sister’s dear friend and candy making cohort went into a full blown asthma attack AND they set off the smoke alarm. Not exactly the way they wanted to spend the day. *Hi Amy!*

Once outside add the flavoring and stir.

Isn’t that purdy?

It’s a good idea to divide and conquer while making this sweet treat. Time is everything and remember it’s a science.

While someone is mixing in the flavoring, if possible, have someone else spray the pans with cooking spray or spray them yourself beforehand so that they are ready to go. You don’t want the candy to harden in the pot.

My sister uses non-stick pots and pans for her candy making and she has found that 9 x12 cake pans work the best.

Note: You may want to use old pots and pans or buy some inexpensive ones because they do take a beating.

So quickly pour the mixture into the cake pans.

Dividing the batch into 2 cake pans insures the right thickness for your candy-eating-enjoyment.

Let the candy sit until it is completely cool on the counter top (not the fridge), to ensure that you will get a hard crack not a sticky crack.

This is where the hammer and screwdriver come in. One of my sister’s expert tips – THIS is the very best candy breaking technique and it’s FUN TOO!

Grab a clean screw driver and hammer. Take the pans of candy back outside, (trust me on this) and place the screw driver in the center of a pan…

Give it a whack!

This is very therapeutic and gratifying. Feel free to wear safety goggles for the full mad-scientist effect. Just a thought.

Continue whacking until you’ve got as many pieces as you see fit.

You will have a few flying pieces but it’s worth it.

You may need to take a little break from time to time and do a little bonding.

Nana and her granddaughters. *sniff*

Check out this gorgeous sheet of molten sugar.

Is that nifty or what?

Don’t these look like little emeralds? Seriously. I may just have to make some jewelry out of them…

but I’ll have to remember not to wear them when it’s raining.

Ignore me.

So the next step is the cerimonial coating of the candy with powdered sugar  Once again my sister has a very specific technique for this.

Grab a gallon plastic bag that zips. Vedy important. Zips and stays zipped. Write the flavor of the candy on the bag. Especially if you’ve mixed up the flavor to color combination.

Sprinkle in a heaping tablespoon, no more than a heaping tablespoon, of powdered sugar.

Then pour the broken pieces of candy into the bag.

Make sure to leave the teenie tiny pieces behind. They get sticky and messy and almost sandlike. Totally takes away from the beauty of the candy and its magical glass-like effect.

I’m sure that Chihuly would agree.

Gently roll the bag around with the bag zipped,

until you’ve got an even coating of powdered sugar on all of the pieces.

Don’t you just want to reach in and grab a handful?

Can you guess what flavor this is?

Cinnamon! HA! And it’s SO YUMMY!

I must admit that this candy making business is really enjoyable once you know what you’re doing. The flavors burst, the colors are gorgeous and it really is some great old fashioned fun.

Hope you give it a try.

Wishing you and yours a Christmas full of sweet memories!

~Wenderly

Categories
Desserts Eat Inspire Musings

Nana’s Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies are a tradition to last the test of time. Decorated with colorful icing and sprinkles, weather eaten or hung on the tree, will warm everyones heart.

Ever since I was a wee little nipper, sugar cookies dressed with icing have been a Christmas time tradition.

My sister, Marcey, & I would put on our little aprons, push up our sleeves and bake our little hearts out.

We would adorn our family tree with the cookies that we had baked and decorated along with candy canes, bows and strings of cranberries & popcorn that we had strung by the fire…

…dressed in our matching stretch & sew outfits that mom had so lovingly made for us.

Just kidding, we didn’t always sit by the fire.

I can still remember the thrill of unwrapping the precious cookies from past years. We would eagerly tear their tissue paper cocoons open and hang them on the tree. The cookies became a growing collection…a connection of the past to the present – an ongoing documentation made of sugar and flour and each precious year frozen in time .

These memories will be forever baked into my sappy nostalgic mind and my sister’s too. We still remember those special moments as if they were yesterday. Marcey can probably remember the time, temperature and exactly which stretch & sew outfit we happened to be wearing. I can still remember the colors of the icing, how many dragees I snuck into my mouth and what outfit I painted onto each cookie.

We both have the minds of an elephant. It can be both a blessing and a curse.

In honor of nostalgia, I decided to rally the troops for a day of memory making, baking, icing, decorating and just plain fun.

My mom, sweet baby sister and darling little *ahem* (they’re taller than my sister) girls couldn’t wait to get started. It doesn’t take much to create a day full of sweet confections and memories that will last a lifetime.

Just gather some sugary bobbles to decorate with,

cookie cutters and baking sheets,

paintbrushes for painting the icing onto the cookies,

and straws for making holes in the cookies to thread ribbon through.

Our day started with Nana and Sweet Cheeks diligently

making the icing.

Sassafrass got busy making the cookie dough.

After the dough chilled, we all took turns rolling,

and cookie cutting.

Nana was in charge of making the straw holes in the tops of the cookies before they went in the oven.

And then after the cookies cooled…

the creativity began.

Paintbrushes make a fabulous tool for applying icing to your cookies.

My sister has Celiac Disease so she wore rubber gloves to ensure that she didn’t absorb any gluten.

Perhaps next time we’ll make a gluten-free version as well.

Imaginations can run wild with a rainbow of icing and a few sprinkles at your finger tips.

A little ribbon tied through a cookie can make a most adorable ornament.

And a day spent in the kitchen making a big ‘ol mess with those you love can make a most lasting memory to enjoy for years to come.

What are you waiting for?

Go bake some memories!

Warmest holiday wishes to you!

~Wenderly

 

Categories
Eat Inspire Soups & Salads

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup served in a Carnival Pumpkin

Serve some spicy butternut squash soup in a carnival pumpkin for a festive start to a holiday meal! It’s a darling presentation that will impress any guest!

See that darling little carnival pumpkin up there holding a delicious creamy & spicy butternut squash soup?

Just between you and me…it took moments to prepare.

Don’t tell anyone.

Sometimes it’s just necessary to dazzle without all of the hassel. Especially for the holidays.

You may already know this about me, but I’ve got a pumpkin problem -as in, I seem to collect a plethora of pumpkins every fall and every fall My Yanni says, “what on earth are you going to do with all of these pumpkins?”. And I say, “um, decorate our house with them and look at them and love them and call them George.”  He just rolls his eyes and smiles and pats me on the head in that you’re-such-a-cute-little-Wenderly way. Well this year I decided to actually do something with them. I decided to use them as darling little soup tureens. I had originally planned to roast the pumpkins & make soup with them. However, once roasted, they lost their sweet shape and there was so little flesh inside that I decided it would be easier to just embellish a store-bought soup.

Hence the dazzle without the hassel.

This is what I did. I collected a few of my cute little carnival pumpkins,

washed them with soap & water and patted them dry.

Then I cut off the tops,

and scooped out all the seeds. You may want to cut a slice off the bottom if the pumpkin isn’t sitting level. You don’t want the soup to spill.

Next I warmed up my favorite  store-bought squash soup.

Added crème fraîche for some extra decadence and creaminess,

sprinkled in some crushed cayenne, cumin and curry for some added spicy, earthy, warm flavoring.

Not to mention gorgeous color.

Next, I poured the soup into the carnival pumpkin, sprinkled a tiny bit of the cayenne, cumin and curry on top,

and added one more small dollop of creme fraiche for good measure.

Now if that isn’t the sweetest (and easiest) way to serve soup and dazzle your guests then I don’t know what is.

You can even keep the soup warm until your guests are seated.

And then peek-a-boo…

soup is served.

Enjoy!

~Wenderly

 

Categories
Eat Holidays Sides

Creamy Parmesan Vegetables

 

Ever since I can remember, these gorgeous creamy Parmesan vegetables have graced the table for every holiday.

Thanksgiving… Christmas…Easter…you name it, creamy Parmesan vegetables are there. They are that good. They are the quintessential side. They have the taste, texture and flavor that truly compliments any dish, but in our house it has become the sacred side served only at the holidays.

One year my mom actually “forgot” to make them on Thanksgiving. I can still remember standing in her kitchen with my mouth hanging open, as tiny beads of sweat gathered on my forehead and the beginnings of a panic attack set in.

NO creamy Parmesan vegetables?

That’s…that’s unacceptable! It can’t be Thanksgiving without creamy Parmesan vegetables.

I’ll never forget the silence that fell over the room. The deep mourning that emanated from each family member. My mom was flabbergasted, almost entertained by the drama that had just unfolded before her. “Really? You all love them that much?” she asked in amazement. With a twinkle in her eye and swat of her wooden spoon, she had creamed Parmesan vegetables put together in no time.

I remember being in awwww of my mom that day. How could she magically just whip up this coveted, delicious dish so quickly? I never did ask and she never did tell. I guess that I’ve always just enjoyed not knowing.

Until this week.

This week I decided that it was time to learn all of my mom’s deep dark secrets. I have raided her recipe box. I’ve already had a fabulous flop of a French Silk pie that will haunt me until I get it right, but the creamy Parmesan vegetables?

Perfection.

Now I know why she was able to whip these up on a moments notice. This is a secret too good not to share!  If you’re looking for a fabulous last minute side dish, this is it!

These are the ingredients: frozen mixed vegetables, half & half, butter, onions, Parmesan cheese and flour.

And Beau Monde seasoning.

And salt and pepper.

Begin by melting your butter.

Add the onions and saute until translucent.

Sprinkle in the flour.

Mix vigorously until it is all incorporated.

Let me just tell ya, it’s starting to smell like a party now!

Slowly pour in the half & half while stirring constantly.

Add in your thawed and cooked mixed vegetables…

pour in the Parmesan cheese…

then add your Beau Monde seasoning and salt & pepper and give a good stir.

That’s it.

Now I know, for a fact, without a doubt, that this dish will never be missing from any of my holiday tables. And who knows?

It just may make an appearance weekly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make a second batch…

Wishing you & yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wenderly

Creamy Parmesan Vegetables
serves 6-8

1 pkg (24 ounces) frozen mixed vegetables
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups half & half
1/2 teaspoon Beau Monde seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Cook frozen vegetables as directed on package; drain and set aside. Melt butter in a dutch oven; saute onion until translucent (about 5-10 minutes). Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of flour in stirring vigorously until incorporated. Next slowly add cream, stirring constantly over low heat until thick. Add drained vegetables & seasonings; stir in Parmesan cheese. Cook 5 minutes more and serve!

Enjoy!