Saturday, December 18, 2010


My mom's favorite candy is English toffee, with nuts, without chocolate. Many years ago, when I was still in college and Theresa still made zines, we got a Christmas gift of incredible toffee and the recipe that went with it from a zine friend of Theresa's. I have made it at least 20 times, and only once did it fail me...and the best part is, you don't need a candy thermometer! I'm going to share this recipe with you all. Which makes me kind of sad, because now I can never again impress you with a gift of the best toffee you ever had. Once you know how easy it is, you won't be impressed anymore. Oh well...

To make one small batch of toffee (you can double it successfully):

1/4 cup water
1 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sliced raw almonds (sliced is very important, because their thinness lets you spread the toffee super-thin, and if you don't do this, my mom will complain.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bar dark chocolate (any size will work)

Grease a large cookie sheet, or better, line it with parchment.

In a wide, flat-bottomed pan at least 2 inches deep, cook the water, butter, and sugar over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon (which will turn into a toffee lollipop for you to enjoy at the end). From this point, it will be 15-45 minutes until the toffee is done cooking--I don't know why it's so variable, but it is! I usually set a timer for 45 minutes so I don't freak out about the time, and then pay careful attention to the visual clues that are part of this recipe.

If sugar crystals form on the sides of the pan, wash them down with a pastry brush dipped in water. Don't worry too much about this. After a while, the sugar will start to turn brown, then turn coarse and chunky. This means you are almost done. Add the vanilla and almonds. After a few minutes, the chunky sugar will liquefy again. (If it doesn't, sprinkle in a very little bit of water, maybe one tablespoon.) You can judge when the toffee is ready by the color, which at this point is darkening rapidly. As soon as the toffee is a deep golden brown, immediately take it off the heat and pour it onto your prepared cookie sheet. You will probably want a brave and careful friend to help you with this. Make sure it's someone you trust because that sugar is extremely hot and will burn you terribly if it gets on you! Don't try to taste it--I mean it. Do not put the spoon in your mouth until it's completely cool!

Tilt the sheet and use the spoon to spread the toffee as thinly as possible. Then, quickly, take the chocolate bar and rub it over the top of the hot toffee. The heat will melt the chocolate in a very thin layer, which gives you the perfect ratio of thin, crisp toffee to thin, rich chocolate!

Put the toffee in the fridge or freezer for a little while, until it hardens, then break it into irregular pieces. I wish I had a picture to share, but I don't.
So instead, I will share a picture of a recent house dinner, made by Jenn. She invented Brussels Sprout Sushi--or really, onigiri. Apparently, according to the internet, no one has ever blogged about that particular dish before, Each of those rice balls contained a whole, spicy Brussels sprout, cooked to delicious Korean-flavored tenderness. Aren't they pretty? Also, tasty. I would eat them again for sure.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Miracle of Hanukkah

"Hmm, it looks like we only have nine Hanukkah candles. So if we light one the first night, we won't have enough left for the rest of the 8 days. What should we do?"

Although I saved all the candles on display instead of lighting them, today (day after the last day of Hanukkah) I discovered three more boxes of Hanukkah candles in my candle drawer! It's the miracle of the candles that burned for eight days when there were only enough for year, I will actually light them.

And why was I looking in my candle drawer? Because I was making my yearly batch of recycled candles! They always end up being red and green, because my favorite store-bought candles are a red one that has a vanilla-cinnamon-flowers sort of holiday scent and Pacifica Fig, which is green. My friend Colette wanted to make candles, so I busted out the votive molds, wicks, and a ton of burnt-out candle ends and empty candle jars, and, like magic, one 28-ounce-can of warm wax scraped off the kitchen floor later, a bunch of new candles to use and give away.

I was going to write out directions, but there are plenty out there, so I'll just add my personal tips:

*Use a big steel can, like from 28 ounces of tomatoes, inside of a small saucepan, as a double boiler. Make sure the wax in the can is at a higher level than the water in the pot, so the can is heavy enough to not tip over.

*Unsplit disposable wooden chopsticks are excellent for holding the wicks up while you pour the candles. You can see one in the photo--just slip the wick in between the two sides of the chopsticks without splitting them all the way apart.

But hey, how is our homestead project going? Well, some good news: Dan's blackberry freezer jam is so amazing that it transports us back to summer every time we eat it, to those bright, neverending afternoons when Dan would show up on his bike with scratches up and down his arms and a gallon jug of fresh blackberries, still warm from the sun. Also, pears picked in October and persimmons and kiwis picked in November are still ripening. We stuck some in the fridge and have been taking them out gradually so we have an ongoing supply. It's working perfectly. You can see them here alongside one of Dan's famous Dutch Babies, which happened to be served with five kinds of homemade jam.

OK news: most of the Long Keeper tomatoes ripened, and we ate them. They were mediocre. Some of them turned all the way red and got somewhat sweet and flavorful, but several spoiled before ripening and some were still sour and a little bitter after they turned red.

Not-so-good news: the greenhouse isn't doing a great job of keeping things alive all winter. That hard freeze at Thanksgiving was really unfortunate, because it's been warm enough since then, but only a few lettuces, a pot of arugula, and my friend Rob's lemon tree are still hanging in there, and those mainly because I brought them in the house when it froze. However, it's still warmer than outside and nicely wind- and rain-proof, so I think it will be great for starting plants in the early, early spring...which is almost here!