Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Willy Wonka I Am Not

I do not cook. Oh, I try and my family gets fed, but I am certainly not known for my cooking. I indulge in foodie blogs, and have grand ambitions sometimes... But my longtime favorite has always been baking. For an absolutely yummilicious blog check out Bakerella.

H adores homemade caramels. We visit my parents, and there is usually a basketful at the checkout of the local market. I purchase a couple, and usually find out that he has been making detours on his own to the market and nabbing some more on the sly...

Last weekend I made a first attempt at candy-making with the Better Homes and Gardens recipe for shortcut caramels. They taste quite yummy, but I have discovered that handling them isn't the easiest. Despite buttering everything (pan, foil, knife, my hands) I couldn't seem to get them to not stick to everything in sight. So - lots of good-tasting caramel, uh blops to eat. Any recommendations from any candy makers out there? I'd like them to look a little prettier, as well as be easier to deal with. Recipe is below:

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup butter
1 16-ounce package (2-1/4 cups) packed brown sugar
2 cups half-and-half or light cream
1 cup light-colored corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla


1. Line an 8x8x2- or 9x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan. Butter the foil. If desired, sprinkle walnuts onto bottom of pan. Set pan aside.
2. In a heavy 3-quart saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add brown sugar, half-and-half or cream, and corn syrup; mix well. Cook and stir over medium-high heat till mixture boils. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Reduce heat to medium; continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate, stirring frequently, till the thermometer registers 248 degree F, firm-ball stage (45 to 60 minutes).
3. Remove saucepan from heat; remove thermometer. Stir in vanilla. Quickly pour the mixture into the prepared pan. When caramel mixture is firm, use foil to lift it out of pan. Use a buttered knife to cut into 1-inch squares. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Makes about 2 pounds (64 pieces).

Shortcut Caramels: Prepare as above, except substitute one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk for the cream. This mixture will take less time to reach 248 degree F (about 15 to 20 minutes instead of 45 to 60 minutes).

Friday, October 17, 2008

We have a Winner!

After consulting the great, the winner of the Yoplait Prize Pack from my first giveaway is #36, Kelly Roncas.

She had this great tip: I like to cut my kids sandwiches in shapes. Dinosaurs are a huge favorite!! For the holidays, we have holiday themed sandwiches. They love peanut butter, so I sprinkle wheat germ on it. They don't know!! It gives them an extra iron boost. I also serve carrots and ranch dip and fruit on the table BEFORE our dinner. Usually, they are starving by dinner time and will pick at whatever is out, just to eat. It works out for both of us: the kids get a snack before dinner to stave off the hungries and I know they got a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables!

Thank you all for joining in!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Christmas in, well October?

While I lament every year the earlier and earlier appearance of the Christmas stuff in stores, (There is an aisle of tinsel-bedecked items hanging out already next to the pumpkins and goblins in my local department store.) it does serve the purpose of kick-starting my hunt for holiday deals and goodness. I will go on record as saying that I can't stand the stores the closer we get to Christmas. The crowds and the jostling and the circling for parking just make me twitchy.

I've already written about great websites like Etsy, and hope to support independent artists again this year to find some unique gifts for those on my list. The site 5 Minutes for Mom, which is just chock-full of resources also lists some interesting Mom-owned stores. Isn't this the best pedal car/fire truck? Daniel still has a thing for fire trucks... My grandparents had a pedal car for us kids when we came to visit in Wisconsin. Nothing so fancy (this one actually pumps water?!) - but we spent endless amounts of time cranking that thing up and down the sidewalks in front of their house. I'll have to see if I can find it - there's a great picture of me sitting in the thing in nothing but a diaper with blond curls flying.

As we swing full force into the Holidays, I'll continue to post websites and deals that I think might be interesting. I'm always on the quest for the perfect gift. And I love recommendations too!

Last Call!

Win a yoplait kids prize pack! Contest ends tomorrow, October 16th at 5pm EST.