Monday, December 17, 2018

Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Divinity

When I was a kid, my family used to have candy making days around the holidays. We'd go over to my Grandma's house, or an aunt's house, divvy up the roles and duties, and make big batches of fudge, divinity, sugar cookies, rice crispy treats...all the yummy sugary things. And then everyone would split them and take them home.  Well, after all the fun I had with my friend Amy and our gumbo-making adventure, we decided that WE would have a candy-making day!

We decided on divinity, and pralines.  Today's post will talk about the divinity, and the praline post will go up later this week!

Now, I have my Grandmother's recipe for divinity, but Amy was wanting to try a recipe from Sucre in New Orleans that looked super-yummy.  (For those who want it, I've shared my grandmother's recipe at the bottom of this post.)  The main difference between the recipe we tested is...Jello. My grandma always made "Jello divinity".  Called such because... you guessed it... it has Jello in the recipe.  Since divinity base is just vanilla flavored, using Jello is an easy way to add flavor--my Grandma always used cherry Jello.  Divinity is one of those finicky candies that really needs to be made on a day with very low humidity (preferably <50%).  Adding gelatin helps ensure that the candy sets up properly, and helps it to dry faster.  

To be honest, I'd never had NON-cherry flavored divinity. So I was interested in testing out Amy's recipe.  And we were completely delighted with the results.
4 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 cup light corn syrup
3 egg whites, room temp (tip:  I made scrambled eggs for breakfast that morning, so I used the 3 egg yolks in that--no waste!)
1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin (we added this to the original recipe, to expedite drying)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup candy cane bits (I used crushed Starbrite mints)
16 oz bag dark chocolate (63% or higher) for melting 
Optional toppings: pecan halves, crushed peppermints
also need - parchment paper

First, I cannot reiterate this enough--you need a LOW HUMIDITY DAY. Below 50% is ideal.  My weather app said we had 60% on the day we did this and that worked out okay.  But part of the divinity process is letting it dry out--and if the air is too humid, that won't happen, and you'll have a sticky mess on your hands.

In a large non-reactive pot (stainless steel, glass, enamel, ceramic), combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup. Then heat to 250*F.  Don't stir until 2/3 of the mixture has melted and become transparent.  Once you hit this point, you can put your egg whites in a stand mixture and beat them until stiff peaks form.  (Timing can be tricky, so it helps to have a second person to manage this.)  Use a candy thermometer to keep constant watch on your sugar/mix temp (or a probe-type thermometer affixed so it's not touching the bottom or sides of the pan).
Once you're at 250*F, add the gelatin to the egg whites, and then slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the egg whites while beating at a low speed (another reason a stand mixer is a must for this).  The syrup will "cook" the egg whites in the process.  Keep the syrup in the center of the bowl--if you get syrup on the bowl it will form crystals instead of combining with the divinity.  Increase the mixer speed to high once all the syrup has been added.and continue to whip until the mixture cools and looks slightly glossy.  
Then fold in the vanilla and the candy cane bits, and then you can either put it into a piping bag (FYI, this stuff is SUPER STICKY, like making marshmallows), or just drop it by spoonfuls onto the parchment paper.  If you're feeling fancy, drop some extra bits of candy cane onto the top, or top with some pecan halves.

Now...chill out.  Or go make pralines.  Because it's gonna be about 3 hours before these guys are dry enough to do anything with.

BUT...once they're dry, you can get ready to dip them!  Put the chocolate bits into a microwave safe bowl, nuke for 1 minute, stir, and then nuke for another 30 seconds or so, and stir again.  Use a small spatula (or your fingers) to dip the bottoms of the divinity one at a time into the chocolate, and then use the spatula to lift them out and place back on the parchment paper.  
Let set until chocolate is fully hardened. (They'll cool faster if it's cool in your kitchen. We generally keep our house around 68*F in the winter, but on this particular day, we did a self-cleaning cycle on our oven, so the kitchen was at about 74 degrees...I had to open a window to get the temperature to drop so that the chocolate would finally harden.)

We had some extra chocolate left over at the end, so we also tried dipping a few of the pralines, and made some pecan clusters.
Once fully dry, store in an airtight container.  This recipe made a BUNCH, so I divvied most of them up as gifts for my coworkers.

Grandma's Divinity
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup karo syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 egg whites, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 small package of Cherry Jello

  1. In 2-quart saucepan combine sugar, corn syrup, water and salt. Stirring constantly, bring to boil over medium heat. Without stirring, cook over low heat (small to medium bubbles breaking across surface of liquid) until temperature on candy thermometer reaches 260°F or small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water forms a hard ball which doesn’t flatten until pressed, about 40 minutes.
  2. In large bowl with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Beating at high speed, gradually add hot syrup in a thin, steady stream. DO NOT SCRAPE SIDE OF SAUCEPAN. Continue beating at high speed until mixture begins to lose its gloss, about 3 minutes.
  3. Reduce speed to low. Beat in vanilla. Continue beating at low speed until mixture holds a peak and does not spread when dropped from a spoon, about 8 minutes. (If mixture becomes too stiff for mixer, beat with wooden spoon.) Immediately stir in nuts.
  4. Working quickly, drop mixture by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper* Let stand until set. Store in tightly-covered container.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

So up to this point (yes, 10 years into this blog) I have only ever shared recipes for "shortcut" gumbos--i.e, gumbo using an instant roux.  Because honestly, that's what my life demands most of the time.  Real, true, made from scratch gumbo starts with a roux, and takes about 2-3 hours to make.  And when you're a working mom, that's a time commitment most of us don't have on a weekday.  And making a roux means standing by the stove, stirring for about 40-45 minutes, so if you've got a busy weekend, it can be hard to fit then as well.

BUT...I did it.  With the help of my friend Amy.
Amy & I met through a friend, who basically said, "hey--you used to live in Louisiana, and Amy's from Louisiana.  You should meet."  So we did, and thank goodness.  Amy is one of the sweetest people on the planet, full of Southern hospitality and a big, beautiful laugh.  Her family hails from Napoleonville (aka "up da bayou"), and Amy was gracious enough to let me help her make her mama's gumbo recipe.  (She was also gracious enough to let me borrow her camera, after I left mine at my house.)  

1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
1.5 cups chopped onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced bell pepper
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
4 bay leaves
1 lb andouille or smoked sausage (Johnsonville New Orleans style sausage works well if you can't find andouille)
1 lb raw chicken, cubed
1 Tbsp cajun seasoning (or to taste)

To accompany:
cooked rice (white or brown, about 1/2-1 cup per person)
potato salad
French bread
green onions

First up--clear your schedule for about 2 hours.  Amy says her mama would always say, "if you need something from me you better ask now, because I'm gettin' ready to start the gumbo."

Step 1 - ROUX
Many recipes vary on ratios, but ours calls for a 1:1 ratio of oil to flour.  In a large cast iron pot, heat the oil over medium heat, until shiny but not smoking.  Then stir in the flour.  Some folks use a whisk, but depending on your whisk it can be really hard to get the corners of the pot.  So Amy recommends a flat bottomed wooden spoon.  There is such a thing as a "roux spoon", but really, any spoon or spatula with a flat edge will work (or a flat whisk would probably be perfect). (Note: if you're using a cast iron pot, don't use a metal spoon.) 

And most importantly: KEEP STIRRING.  YES. THE WHOLE TIME.  (Amy & I tag-teamed this stage.)
Set a timer, counting up from the time you add the flour.  This is just a reference, because in general, it's going to take about 40-45 minutes to get from white to the beautiful chocolate brown you want for gumbo base.  You'll go through stages:  blonde (which would be a perfect place to start for a alfredo or bechamel sauce), cafe au lait... 
Which is why it's handy to have a cup of coffee while cooking.

...peanut butter, and then finally to dark chocolate.  

Amy has this article in her recipe binder that makes a good reference (particularly the "bless your heart" on the last one).  
This was really helpful for me because I tend to get nervous and jump off around the "peanut butter stage"--which won't ruin your gumbo, but it also won't have the same depth of flavor you get from a chocolate roux.

Step 1a - Heat the other things
You're going to need hot water and hot chicken stock later.  These need to be hot or they'll cause the roux to break when you add them to the main pot.  So go ahead and get these going on your other burners so they're ready to rock when you are.

Step 1b - Cook Sausage
In a small skillet, while the roux is going, brown your sausage.  Once cooked, transfer it to a bowl to wait. 
Step 2 - Add Veggies
Amy had prepped all the veggies before I got there, so we piled them in together and dumped 'em all in once we hit our chocolate roux stage. 
These will need to soften with periodic stirring for about 10-12 minutes (so this is a good time to sit with a cup of coffee and flip through old issues of "Louisiana Cooking" or coffee table books with tasty sounding recipes).
Note:  Amy's recipe didn't call for okra, but you can add it if you like.  You would cook about 1 cup of sliced okra in a separate pan (called "stringing", it removes much of the sliminess from the okra), stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Though, Amy told me she's always been told not to use okra if you're cooking in cast iron because the okra will turn black.  So...there you go. You've been warned.

Step 3 - Add Sausage (okra if using), Chicken Stock, Hot Water, and Bay Leaves
So ideally, here you want your main pot, water, and chicken stock to be as close to the same temp as possible.  If your roux is hot and you add a bunch of cold liquid, the roux will break.  Conversely, if your roux mixture is starting to cool down and you add stuff that's too hot your roux will also break (but should come back together as it simmers).

Once that's all in the pot, simmer for about 30 min - 1 hour.

Step 4 - Add Chicken & Cajun Seasoning
Seems pretty self-explanatory.
Then cover and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  You can let it simmer longer than this--the flavors will only get more rich and delicious.
Serve with rice, green onions, potato salad, sweet tea, and French bread...and plenty of good friends!
The beautiful Amy!

Her mama's recipe is even kiddo-approved!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Hush Puppy Muffins

The Hubs whipped these up the other night to accompany some fish tacos (is it still a taco if you use a lettuce leaf)?  They're a nice healthier alternative to fried hush puppies, but still with that yummy hush puppy flavor.

1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg
1/3 cup skim milk
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped ( suggest half white onion, half green onion)
2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp parsley
olive oil in a mister (or olive oil spray)

Heat the oven to 350F.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well. 
Line a muffin tin with paper wrappers (because we are all about easy cleanup), and then lightly spritz the muffin papers with olive oil (this helps prevent sticking to the muffin wrapper, and also seemed to help the part inside the wrapper get crispy as well).
Divide the batter equally among 12 muffin cups,and then lightly spritz the tops of the batter with olive oil as well. 
Bake for about 12 minutes or until brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  

Serve warm with fish....tacos? Lettuce wraps?  Whatever.