Friday, December 24, 2010

Almond Toffee and Stock Picking

We have pretty simple Christmas's in Leisa-land.  None of us needs anything; none that we know need anything; and plenty of people who we don't know have great needs.  We like to focus on the latter group.  However, for the people we know and love, I like to give a gift from the kitchen.  In past years it has been a cycle of  cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning, cookies, or homemade candy.

At a nearby salvage store, I stumbled upon some terrific items.  I don't go there very often, but I elected to take a peek before going on a foraging mission to other stores.  My, my, my!  First, I found a 10 3/4" ScanPan.  I picked it up and said, "Wow, what a great pan!"  It had a $20 price tag on it.  I bought one.  They also had some great 2 qt Rubbermaid food service containers.  My idea, then, germinated from seeing this great deal on these containers (2 for $3.99--they are @ for $12-13 at Sam's).  They are fabulous in the kitchen.  I decided that I would use these utilitarian containers to house almond toffee.  I also found some other wonderful things to assemble as a great gift bag.

Upon returning home, I Googled the ScanPan.  The cheapest I found it was for $132.  I went back the next day and bought the remaining 5 pans.  Such a deal!  One goes to a trading friend, one to my Stepmom/Dad, one to my sister, one to a neighbor, and then an extra one.  It is one of the finest  fry pans I have used--and the coating is ceramic titanium, not Teflon. Beautiful balance and superior cooking performance--though non-stick, it sears! I may just KEEP the extra one.

Now to my candy making saga.....   It has been quite a long time since I have made candy. Like most baking endeavors, 'stuff' needs to be precise--most particularly method and temperature.  I should have known that a recipe that said "You don't need a candy thermometer; the almonds will tell you when your toffee is ready, because the skins will pop."   Cranberries do that, so I didn't suspect these instructions.  After two failed batches, I not only suspected, but I indicted the recipe, sent it to jail and threw away the key.

Clearly I was in need of a time out to reflect and to research.  Like most things that you are researching on the internet (cooking, stock picking, who to marry, when to plant tomatoes) there are many, many ways to approach your objective with a thread of universality.  Even temperature so as to not 'shock' the mixture (which causes the butter/sugar to separate) and do not attempt on a humid day seemed to be two important threads.  Most importantly, these were the two things that I could pinpoint as problematic and this was confirmed by my abysmal success to failure ratio of 1:2.  Was it more humid than I thought?  or was I just a toffee-making dunce?  Likely a bit of both.

For a couple of failed attempts, I was able to grind the failure into the most decadent ice cream/cereal topper you can imagine.  You CAN make a silk purse out of a sow's ear it seems.  There were two batches that literally just had to be thrown away--but one of those could have been ground up.  I was too desolate with my back-to-back failures to be creative at that point.  One of my failures included leaving out 1 whole cup of sugar.  Funny thing, it still turned out great, just not as dense. Anyway, the cost of my ingredients in my failures were still less than had I taken a cooking class.  (Rationalization is a great thing!). 

I have MacGyver-like tendencies.  Because temperature is so important, and most candy thermometers are clunky and hard to read (plus mine will not clip to my pot side), I used my digital thermometer--the one with the probe and the snaky metal.  If you don't have one, you should!  To keep it fastened to the pan, I have a nifty Trudeau spoon clip that was gifted to me last Christmas.

There is quite a bit of stirring required in making this toffee.  A wooden spoon yields a mean blister to hands unused to such work (mine!).  The probe needs to be out of the stirring thoroughfare. This little clip held the probe in just the right place.  I wrapped the lead wire a couple of times around the top to keep it snug against the pan and at the right depth and connected it to the body.  I placed the body in a small glass bowl so I could easily see the read out.   A nice little gift for the cook in your life.

I melted a mix of Valrhona milk and Guanaja bittersweet chocolate feves and then brushed them over the surface with a silicon brush.  Just a very thin layer to not compete with the toffee.  I took a picture of it for you.  Interested in the recipe, I succeeded with?  You can find it here.

So happily, I've compiled a bag of needful things:  spicy brown mustard, Pompeian Red Wine Vinegar, Indalo Extra Virgin Olive oil, Chinese Detox Tea, Praline Topper, and Almond Toffee and a 2 qt Rubbermaid refrigerator box.   A very nice combination of things that will nurture the body! I made gift tags from my souped-up Santa picture of Lucy! It is nice to remember this special girl who will be gone 4 years this January.

The best gift is to give something of yourself to another:  time, love, compassion--and a helping hand when needed to those in need. We did all of those things, to include helping my daughter sponsor a family at her school in great need.

This is my tree with Wyatt underneath from last year. Because of my many failures at Almond Toffee (but those failures were overcome!), this might be the only tree I see!

I wish you the best for the Holidays and for the New Year.

P. S......What does any of this have to do with Stock Picking?!  Read, research, do, fail, reflect. . . rinse and repeat. . . read,  research, do, cut your losses, take a sow's ear, make a silk purse, build your skills, build your confidence, use the right tools, improvise when you have to, and above all.......don't burn yourself.

There truly is nothing new under the sun, and the same threads run through all of our endeavors--no matter what we do.