Friday, December 12, 2008

Chaotic Candy Capers

For years one of my Christmas traditions has been to make lots of homemade candy. It is something that my family and neighbors have come to expect from me. And I enjoy making candy. I usually make items like mint flavored bon bons, chocolate fudge, cream cheese mints, caramels, various chocolates, and pretzels dipped in white chocolate. I then give most of this candy away to neighbors, friends, ward members, the mailman, etc.

One year when I was swamped directing\writing a Christmas musical for the community, I decided to cheat and pass around bottles of pop instead. I bought it when it was on sale and came up with a cute little card to stick on each bottle that said something about "Popping in to wish you a Merry Christmas!" I even attached a nice bow to each pop bottle that was delivered. The repercussions were ugly. "But you always make candy," I was told repeatedly, as sad puppy dog eyes conveyed disappointment.

So I've tried to stick to this tradition, since most people seem to enjoy my candy creations. They might not feel that way this year, however. In all honesty, I was forewarned. My mother told me that when one begins to age, one loses the ability to cook masterpieces. "You end up leaving out important ingredients, or you add in something you shouldn't," she confided one day. She went on to tell me that her mother, my grandmother, and one of the best cooks I've ever known, had shared this secret in her later years. Since that time, my mother has found it to be sage advice.

Still, I've persevered, and for the most part, I've been able to cook in a confident manner. There have been a few glitches here and there, mostly when I'm trying to impress people, but I digress. Incidentally, I've decided that's just Murphy's Law. Your best recipes go to crap whenever you try to make them for someone else, or when you've been asked to create something for a dinner party, etc.

This year I decided to try my hand at a new candy recipe, one that involved yummy ingredients like white chocolate, Craisins (I use the orange flavored variety), almond slivers, Rice Krispies, and your choice of things like M & M's, chocolate chips, etc. When I purchased the needed ingredients for this adventure, I found to my delight, colorful white chocolate chips that were swirled with red and green. I envisioned making up this white almond bark candy with lovely red and green swirls running through it. Certain I was on the verge of a candy masterpiece, I began excitedly mixing things together upon my return home.

First, I melted the white chocolate in what I thought was a microwave-safe glass bowl. (Eventually, you'll see the error of that line of thinking.) It melted without a hitch. Then I added the Craisins, the almond slivers, the Rice Krispies, and finally, the beautiful red and green swirled candy. And at first, it looked wonderful as I stirred. I was listening to Christmas music at the time, and it seemed like a perfect holiday moment. Then things went very wrong.

Years ago, in grade school, if I had been asked what happens when you mix the colors red and green together, I could have answered without a hitch. I seem to have forgotten that knowledge in my old age. To my horror, the mixture turned an interesting shade of brownish grey with a green and red streak here and there. Hoping it would look better after it set, I didn't bother trying to fix it with food color. Instead, I hurriedly pulled out the cookie sheet I had shoved inside the freezer compartment of my fridge earlier, and poured the candy mixture into it. I spread it out evenly, crossed my fingers, and stuck it inside the fridge to hasten the setting up process.

Several minutes passed, but it didn't help my poor batch of candy. When I pulled it out later to break it into pieces, it still resembled something made out of Play-Doh, and not the attractive colors, either.

Deciding all was not lost, I hurried back to town to buy more colored chocolate chips. I was making this candy for a special YW party that we were embarking upon that evening. I knew our YW would not be attacted to grey\brown candy pieces. But thinking I could remedy the situation, I found and purchased more red and green white chocolate chips, then I sped homeward to start a new batch.

The first thing I did was to separate the green and white chocolate chips from the red and white chocolate chips, setting them into small bowls for safe-keeping. I had already decided the girls would probably like red swirls in this white candy, so I set the red and white chips next to the other ingredients I would be using to make this batch.

I carefully cut up another package of white almond bark into my trusty glass bowl. Since the first batch had melted inside my microwave without any problem, I didn't even give it a second thought as I set the second batch inside and set the timer for two minutes. I then called my mother to tell her about the funny first batch of candy. We had visited for a few seconds when a loud bang caused us both to drop the phone and duck for cover.

My eyes widened as I saw the mess inside of my microwave. The glass bowl had exploded into several pieces. I carefully opened the microwave and viewed the damage. Then I picked up my phone and told my mother what had happened. She laughed and gave me one of those, "I told you so," lectures, before I began cleaning this huge mess.

Envision if you will, a large glass, orange-colored bowl, one I've had since Kennon and I were first married, (it was a gift at our reception), shattered beyond recognition, with goopy white chocolate covering everything. And it was not only all over the pieces of my beloved bowl, but all over the microwave, too. Good times. ;) I was puzzled. I've used this bowl for years, and I've never had any problems with it until this spontaneous combustion moment.

Needless to say, it took me a loooonnngg time to clean up the resulting mess. Then I started over, again. Good thing I had purchased 3 packages of that white almond bark stuff. I selected a newer bowl and cut up the almond bark and placed it carefully inside. Then I offered a quick silent prayer for success, and bravely tried the freshly scrubbed microwave again.

This time, all went well and the white chocolate melted just fine. I mixed in the other ingredients, saving the red and white chocolate chips for last. And when I mixed them in, it was glorious . . . at first. Then as the chips melted, I relearned yet another important color scheme lesson. White mixed with red equals pink. And this wasn't an ordinary pink. It looked like Pepto-Bismol gone awry.

Silently grieving for this final batch of candy, I set inside of the chilled cookie sheet, knowing there wasn't a thing I could do to remedy the situation. By then, it was too late to try for another batch, and I was out of white almond bark.

Later, when I broke it into pieces and set it on a plate, my husband arrived to sample my creations. He didn't seem to mind the bright pink color and loved how it tasted. He even ate some of the grey-brown variety and proclaimed it delicious. I sampled both myself and realized it really did taste wonderful. It just looked bad. Very bad. Embarrassingly bad. I must've looked crestfallen. My husband said something about using this candy as an object lesson.

"Teach the girls that you can't judge a book by it's cover, or candy by it's color," he comforted. Having worked with the YW for lo these many years, I knew that wouldn't fly, but I didn't have much choice. We were putting up the ward Christmas tree that night, and then scurrying off to the YW's room to share favorite Christmas stories and Christmas treats. We started this tradition last year and the girls had asked to do it again this year. So I was stuck.

There was one bright side; a few days before I had made up a batch of caramels I was planning on using for the plates my husband and I will take around to our hometeaching (yep, I'm his partner) and visiting teaching (yep, I'm still a visiting teacher, too) families. The caramels had turned out great, aside from the fact that they were a little soft. I hadn't cooked them quite long enough, silly me. But if you kept them inside the fridge, they didn't stick to the wax paper. I figured I could keep them stored inside the fridge at the church, and just bring them out when we were ready to share stories and treats.

Long story short, the caramels were a hit. So much so, I returned home with only 5-6 caramels out of about 30 pieces. I brought home nearly every one of the almond bark candies. Sigh . . . Not one girl went near that candy, even when I explained what had happened. My advisor picked up a piece and nibbled on it, to show her support. She even smiled and told me how delicious they were. I think she was pleasantly surprised. =) At least, that's what I told myself later in an attempt to cheer myself up.

No worries, I will continue to make Christmas candy. But I will be watching myself carefully to avoid cooking boo-boos. The next batch of caramels will be cooked the correct amount of time. I will watch the fudge like a hawk until its completion. And I may even attempt another white almond bark creation, only this time, I'm using M & M's. They're supposed to melt in your mouth, not in your melted white chocolate, or so I'm told. ;) I'll let you know how that turns out.

And to show true Christmas Spirit, I'm now going to share one of my favorite candy recipes (not the almond bark thing). Here is my recipe for fudge that always turns out. Knock on wood . . . and maybe you'd better throw some salt over your shoulder. ;) Enjoy!

Quick Chocolate Fudge

One 12 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips------1 Cup sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp. Butter--------------------------------1 Cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Melt the chocolate chips in a double-boiler on medium heat. Mix in butter and melt together. Add condensed milk and stir until glossy. Remove from heat and add chopped walnuts if desired. Pour into a lightly greased (I use cooking spray for this) 8x8 sqare pan and place inside the refrigerator until firm. Cut into serving pieces and serve either chilled or at room temperature.

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Tory said...

Cheri, I loved this! It was a joy to read and nice to know that I am not the only one who messes up in the kitchen! I wish I was your neighbor to receive some of your yumminess!

Cheri J. Crane said...

Hi Tory,

Always good to hear from you. =) How are things up your direction? And I wish we were neighbors, too. Think of all the fun we would have. =D

josie said...

hi, i am josie (ipsen) grover formerly of bear lake. I just read a post about your pioneer hertitage and seems we share a common ancestor. just wanted to thank you for some stories you shared and also wanted to let you know i left a comment on the post about thomas grover. i am also curious if you know of any source i can read about him.
loved this cookie story as well. i am fairly young and i mess up 1 of every 2 recipes i attempt. i think it is hopeless for me.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Hi cousin Josie. =) [Incidentally, this means you're also a cousin to Tory above. She's one of my cool cousins who is also descended from Thomas Grover.]

A good source to read is Susan Easton Black's book: "Who's Who in the Doctrine & Covenants." Hopefully you can find it in a local library. And I just looked and you can buy a used copy in good condition at Type in Susan's name, then go to the 3rd page of her books that are listed. There are three pages about Thomas Grover inside this book.

I've also found neat stories about him by typing his name in a "Google Search" online. And there is a family history book about him, but I'm not sure where you can get a copy. When I head to Utah this weekend, I'll ask around and see what I can find out. =) Thanks for stopping by and keep in touch.

Cindy Beck said...

I feel so much better now, knowing that it's my age that's causing the fiascos in the kitchen! :) I thought maybe I'd fried my brain somehow.

Oh wait ... brain fried ... aging ... guess it's the same difference. :)

Glad to see I'm not alone ... although I am sorry you had so much trouble getting the candy to work.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Me, too, Cindy. ;)