Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I Love Rock n Roll

One of my favorite pictures of myself as a child was taken in New Orleans when I was 7 years old. My stringy long blonde hair had been in braids for what must have been days, and they had just been taken out before the picture was taken. I am standing with my back against a door, my thumbs hooked in my jeans pockets, my hair huge and kinked into waves from the braids, and I'm wearing my favorite t-shirt with an "I Love Rock 'n Roll" glittery iron-on appliqued to the front. Best pre-adolescent groupie pic ever. Alas, we have no idea where that picture has gone to, so I've settled for the Odd Toddler playing the guitar in his underwear photo. Oh, that we could all play guitar with out toes.

Life in New Orleans came up again this weekend, when I made the New Orleans style Pralines recipe from the 1986 Southern Living cookbook. Making candy, which I remembered while fighting with the dangdest most annoying candy thermometer, is one of my least favorite activities in the kitchen. The Carnivore bought a candy thermometer for me during The Fudge Incident, and I have yet to figure out how to hold the bloody thing in the pan without either burning my hand or dropping it into the hot mixture and thus burning my hand anyway while I try to fish it back out.

I was afraid The Praline Project would be an expensive one, mostly due to the cost of pecans in the store, and the fact that my pecan trees haven't begun their annual carpeting of the yard. It took many tries and a plethora of recipes before I found a fudge recipe that sufficed for us, and I assumed the same thing would happen in this case. After all, with so many different praline recipes to choose from, what were the chances I would pick the right one on the first try?

The day had started badly enough. Odd Toddler was in a particularly cranky mood, and I had a list of annoying chores to accomplish, with a clingy, screaming 30-pounder on my hip, before I could get busy on the pralines. The Carnivore finally, sometime mid-afternoon, noticed my consternation and realized it was in his best interests to occupy the miniature terrorist so I could start cooking. I pulled out all the ingredients and pre-measured everything, nervous about the whole procedure. After accusing Odd Toddler of running off with the candy thermometer again, I finally found it and coaxed it into working.

The whole thing was easier than it seemed at the time. After the second time I dropped the thermometer into the EXTREMELY hot candy liquid, and scalded myself trying to retrieve it and clean the screen off, it stopped working and I completely flipped out. I could see The Carnivore on the porch and I waved out the window frantically, yelling desperately for help. The Carnivore looked askance at me, took the thing apart, and dragged it into the bathroom where I heard him drying out the wires with my hair dryer. After he lectured me fully on what happens to LCD screens when they get wet, and after I hollered about the piece of crap falling into the pot of its own accord, we popped the thermometer back in the pan just in time to see we had reached the right heat and it was time for the next step. I was frazzled over the thermometer issues, and the next step of the instructions had me really nervous.

Amazingly, the rest of this went off without a hitch. Apprehensive, I waited for the candies to harden, staring agitatedly at the too-small quantity. Finally, I picked a piece up and brought it to my mouth, afraid to get my hopes up. I took the first bite.

I nailed it. They were perfect. On the first try, no less. Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of this candy-making business. And now I know what everyone is getting for Christmas.


  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar (I used light brown)
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine (I used unsweetened real butter)
  • 2 cups pecan halves (next time I will use slighly less than this so the candy can stand out a little bit more on its own)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (please don't use imitation vanilla - yuck)
  1. Combine sugar and milk in a Dutch oven (also known as a big, heavy pan); bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 228 degrees.
  2. Add butter and pecans, and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches soft ball stage (236 degrees). {I can only tell what "stage" the candy is at by using a thermometer - I have no idea how to tell what "soft ball stage" is just by looking. More power to you if you can eyeball it on your own.}
  3. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture just begins to thicken. {This takes some serious muscling, and its important to beat long enough that the thickening has just barely begun, but not so long that it gets too thick to be quickly spooned out. I do wish the instructions in the cookbook had been a little more expansive on this point. And on the next one...}
  4. Working rapidly {VERY RAPIDLY, I found}, drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased waxed paper; let stand until firm. {Depending on the size, this will yield between one and three dozen. If storing, wrap individually in wax paper so the candies do not stick to each other.}

Try to not eat too many of these at once unless you have a very high tolerance for sugar. After I ate the first one, and made a flippant comment about how these weren't too sweet, I made the mistake of eating a second one. I nearly yakked. One of these at a time is more than enough for any sweet tooth.

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