Monday, December 25, 2006

this year's pralines

Last year did not find me making my annual batch of pralines. As if to make up for missing, Momma decided that I would make a double batch this year. Saturday was baking day which included the pralines.

Most of her adult family members received a basket of baked goods including banana nut muffins, chocolate and peppermint spiral cookies, pralines, and some meringue cookies that mostly turned out, though the chocolate and nut versions faired poorly compared to the regular batch. The chocolate didn't quite work how they were expected to, and the nut one? less said the better there, no offense meant to Momma's efforts.

I also made Joy of Cooking's honey cake which is the quandary cake. It's more bread than cake, and it's not altogether bad. I'm not sure how I feel about, though Momma's suggestion that I think of it as bread as opposed to cake might help. I don't know that I'll ever make it again, but it may go in a bread pan next time. Again, I have to admit that I'm not entirely convinced that I don't hate it, so next time we need a cake, I'll keep turning pages.

The pralines are always a pain in my ass. They aren't really hard to make, and again I defer to the JoC. White and brown sugar, baking soda and some buttermilk get melted/dissolved, at which point you add butter, melt and turn the heat up a little. You're supposed to not stir it from now until it hits temperature at which point you throw in pecans and vanilla. This is my all time favorite candy, the one I fell in love with in ice cream as a child. Not too many years ago, debating what to prepare for an annual celebratory holiday with family, I stumbled across this recipe, remembered that childhood love of the praline, and decided they would be my donation.

I've always, before this year, caught the upswell of foam boiling out of the pot before causing any real damage. While the mix comes to temp, you are, according to Ms. Joy, not supposed to stir it. I try to leave it alone, changing the burner heat as needed because I seem to find this block, this point where it's so close to the soft ball stage but just won't damn get hotter. I can always get it almost done, but as it cooks, it foams horribly. As mentioned, this is the year I didn't catch it. It flowed out of the pan and down into and under the burner. The mess underneath cooked into a delightful mess of carbon that isn't getting scraped off for at least another day.

I started a fire in the mess earlier today. I wasn't thinking beyond needing a cup of coffee, Christmas morning, boys want their loot . . . uh FUCK that's a fire! Thinking quick, I grabbed a cake pan laying nearby and flipped it over on the burner.

WooHoo, hero me! Except that the burners aren't somehow sealed off, leaving plenty of air flow to keep the flames going. Thinking the fire had to be out, I flipped the pan off the burner accompanied by a tiny ball of fire as the smallish flames got a new burst of fresh air. I ended up blowing the flames out getting a nose full of particularly acrid smoke.

I won't go through the pain of finishing those damn pralines. From the point at which the foaming ran out of the pot I did everything that I could think of to get the pralines done. I stopped following the recipe. Nothing seemed to be working as all my hopes for pralines got sucked into the fan and out the window along with the smoke from burning sugar and buttermilk.

Eventually, I did indeed finish them. Not following the recipe turned out a praline that, though a little darker brown than usual, was as good as any I'd ever made. They were lovely, and I continued scraping bits of praline out of the pot the rest of the day. This process does leave a messy pan, but a tastier mess you may never find. The pralines cooled and went into zip lock bags which nestled in the baskets with the muffins awaiting Christmas Eve and our trip to see the family.

Every single praline I made, not counting the two that we split between ourselves and the boys, went to family. I have nothing but carbon and partially burnt praline that flowed under the other burner to show for my efforts. They get treats, and I get to scrape.

reading 'bout eating

Momma gave me two books for Christmas, one about Julia Child's years living in Paris and Marseille in France. This is a book I'm looking forward to as Julia is a sort of hero for me. If you don't know more about her than the odd voice and the bottle of wine then you really have no idea what this woman was all about. One could almost think she lead a charmed life and at times she does seem blessed with a lot of right time right place, but she was truly an amazing and hard working person with an amazing story. Pick up the book Appetite for Life if you haven't read it already. It's worth it.

The other book is the one I chose to read first, Anthony Bourdain's A Cooks Tour. I'm not really sure how much I liked this guy based on his tell all book Kitchen Confidential which I've read and enjoyed. I always feared he's was killing a little of the magic of the kitchen, giving away our secrets, making people think it was a job they could do. Then he got his show on television, traveling the world, eating food, drinking the local brews. Who wouldn't want to do that and get paid to do so? How long do I have to wait for my Powerball investments to pay off so that I can travel the world and eat food and drink the local brews. And how could you not like the guy? He tells that monkey Emeril how it is in the real world.

That's the ticket right there. I'll call the Travel channel and suggest my idea, that they pay me and the wife and kids to travel the world looking for the coolest places to take your kids. We won't go and visit the crap places that are designed for kids because they all suck. We'll go to the real places and eat real food. We'll meet old French ladies that make their own cheese and wine and learn how to play the bagpipes on the side of a craggy old mountain and . . . and . . .and . . .

And then we swing back to reality. I'm not saying I'm dissatisfied with my food options, but reading about ol' high rollin' Tony B makes me a little jealous. I'm up to the chapter about his visit to Morocco, one of those cities that would go on my list of places to visit one of these days. We didn't get any meal worthy leftovers from our Christmas visiting. There's a zip loc bag of ham that I've mostly picked my way through. There's an even bigger bag of snack mix and another of Grandma's usual candy/cookie-like things that shouldn't be good but are. I did make a really good chicken pot pie right before the holidays that's stayed hidden, waiting for us to get tired of or run out of Christmas leftovers, which is today.

I guess them's the breaks. I'll dance with the one what brung me and be happy. But one day, all those dollar investments in the big lottery will pay off, and then I'm so out of here. Until then, it's almost time to heat up some leftovers and nibble at the ham some more.