Sunday, November 24, 2013

Grandma See. Baller.

One of the worst things about the holiday season is the invitations. It's nice to be asked somewhere to be reminded that you are not alone in this overwhelming life and that people love you and care about you. Also, sometimes your boss has a party and there is free booze. BUT. Being down to your last penny and not being able to bring a hostess gift is an awful feeling. NO, it is not required, most of your friends will tell you and NO, please, don't go to any trouble. You know how it feels when everyone is lining up bottles of Hennesey and amaryllis on the sideboard and you're all Hey! Off-brand vinho verde from Grocery Outlet! Everyone will know and a wilting violet from the dollar store is thoughtful but very Lena Dunham wrapped in green cellophane.
Know what else costs about $2? $3 if you buy a little box and ribbon?


Who ISN'T a Goddamned caramel junkie? If you saw the inside of my mouth you'd think I'd done a bit of  meth at some point but I can tell you that the addiction was Heath bars and Sugar Babies.

After years of failing miserably and buying varying grades of candy thermometer, I had honestly resigned myself to feeling bad every year for paying for something that I KNEW cost nothing to make. It's like sourdough bread. $4 for a really good loaf of a quarter's worth of flour and salt. That See's Candy can charge $20 per pound is crazytalk and those thugs in their little pressed pinafores should be ashamed that a Scotchmallow costs $1.75.

This summer one of my favorite people on Twitter, thepeche , went to one of those little wing-dings that some of you go to and he started talking about this magic toffee that another very nice lady makes.

I trust this man. He had a contest where I won a bunch of fancy chocolate and he knows a lot about Little House on the Prairie.  He seems like a very sensible person who wouldn't act like something unattainable was just a snap, so I thought "Why not?" Except for the 100 plus degree temperature which is terrible for candy-making and explains pralines. I tried it, caring less about the fastidiousness of a thermometer and just watched and applied the tiny bit of food science I know about sugar. IT WORKED.  
This will make a lovely hostess gift. No one will know you are broke. They will only think you are cool as hell for being able to make this little bit of magic yourself.

Recipe adapted with swears and less finesse from Rachel at LaFujiMama .

2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips. Your choice of color. I mix milk and dark and I buy them in bulk so I only have to spend about 75 cents at a time.
Whatever sort of nut remnants from other baking or dried fruits or coconut or pumpkin seeds or whatever. No more than 1/4 cup. This is optional.

1 2-quart stainless saucepan , the heavier the bottom, the better. DO NOT USE NON-STICK
1 slotted stirring spoon, preferably a nice, cheap wooden one that the sugar will come off of, easier, later.
parchment paper or aluminum foil that has been lightly greased. A silicone baking sheet is the best. They even have them at most grocery stores now and they aren't more than a few dollars.

I have the crappiest electric stove ever. It never goes above 3. You do you.

Line a sheet pan (cookie sheet) with whatever above material you have. If it's not a silicone mat it needs to be greased or sprayed. LIGHTLY.  Dollar store has cans of all the delicious flavors. Usually PAM. Don't spend $5 on this stuff at a real grocery. It's all terrible, but very cheap and effective and you don't use it all the time so don't get too creeped out. Nothing "organic" that they turn into aerosol is that great for you, either, so forget those. Sprinkle the little scraps of whatever has been hiding in the corner of the drawer on the sheet and spread them into a square-ish shape.

On low heat, melt the sugar, butter and vanilla together. Stir every minute and a half (approx. the time it takes you to click over to Twitter, read a few, answer one, and click back) for about 20 seconds each time. When it separates, ignore it. it will be fine. When it looks like weird, lumpy paste, do not give up hope. Right here is where those thermometer bastards make their money and you don't need them. Sugar is dependable. If you heat it, it will melt and if you heat it too fast it will burn. So slowly keep heating and stirring and you will be right as a motherfucker when this little program is over. When it starts to brown on the sides, make sure to watch it very carefully. When it really starts to darken, stir, stir, stir and when it's the color of Shemar Moore, turn it off. Do not be distracted by thoughts of Shemar Moore. I have now made this difficult. Leave it there while the burner cools, stir the holy Jesus out of it to smooth it completely and pour it over the nut scraps. Make a "N" motion back and forth and try to fill in all the spaces. When it has cooled for a few seconds, tilt the pan like that board game with the ball you try to keep out of the hole until it's filled.
When it has cooled for one more minute, spread the chocolate chips over the top. Wait for them to melt from the heat and spread the chocolate evenly over the top of the toffee. You can add more nuts now or crushed things like fruits or salts or peppermint. I like more coconut so it becomes a food group.

Let it cool completely and gently turn over the sheet it's on, holding it with one hand to keep it from falling off. Do this over another sheetpan or sheet of paper or foil to catch the nuts. Gently crack the back so that it breaks into pieces, turn these back over, again, GENTLY, and either place them in a nicely lined tin or box or into a large plastic IKEA container that you can hide from your husband.

*If you are new to my blog, I don't take pictures of food because there is a picture of every single food ever made in the history of the world on Google by people who are qualified to do this. I am merely qualified to teach you how to cook.