The Culinary Cyber-Sleuth
by Lynn Kerrigan
Cocoa Prices On The Rise
Cocoa prices are rising by year end due to heavy Japanese and European demand. Seems the Japanese caused a frenzied cocoa buy-out at department stores when a local TV station aired a report that stated a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar may help prevent colon cancer. If you'll be using cocoa to make holiday gifts, get it now.
Good News For Sweet Lovers
A recent Duke University study found that reducing total calorie intake, not reducing sugar, is the key to successful weight loss. "Average, healthy people trying to lose weight do not necessarily have to restrict their sugar intake as long as they lower the amount of fat and the total number of calories they ingest daily." said Dr. Richard Surwit, research director at Duke's Stedman Nutrition Center. Excerpted from On Your Mark, the newsletter of The Sugar Association.
Boardwalk Candy —Sure Shore Sweets
One of the lures of vacationing along the Jersey shore is the miles of boardwalk that stretch through each town allowing visitors to stroll by the sea without getting their shoes filled with sand. In the 50's and 60's—the heyday of the Jersey shore, boardwalk pavilions housed seats, big bands provided entertainment and small specialty food shops catered to appetites heightened by exposure to salted air. Huge, colored water fountain displays stood at the entrance of majestic hotels and danced to piped organ music against a backdrop of dark sky. We'll never see the likes of it again.
Things change. Today's boardwalks are no longer a genteel means of passing a star studded evening strolling arm in arm with one's favored pal. A modernized, carnival-like atmosphere complete with tilt-o-whirls, garish lights, pop music, cheesy games and cardboard tasting fast food are now the main attraction.
Yesteryear's boardwalk shops specialized in homemade candy. Little white bags of fudge, saltwater taffy and peanut brittle provided nourishment during those long summer night strolls. Fudge shops still abound where fascinated, salivating kids of all ages watch creamy masses of candy mixture swirl round large open vats. However, saltwater taffy is mass produced in factories far removed from the ocean. Legend has it this chewy Jersey sweet was discovered by a taffy maker who used water from the Atlantic ocean in his recipe one day. Perhaps this is true. Certainly it's not the case today. Peanut brittle is my Grandmother's favorite. I lived with her in Wildwood during my teen years and if I visited "the boards" with my friends and didn't bring back a box of peanut brittle she sulked for days. (This is still the case today.)
Pulling taffy is an old fashioned art and served as amusing entertainment as well. Taffy pulling parties rewarded its particiapants with sweet treats as well as fun memories. Solo taffy makers permanently attached taffy hooks to their kitchen walls. Jersey saltwater taffy comes in a myriad of flavors like cherry, rum, vanilla, mint and chocolate. What follows is a basic recipe that begs for the addition of your favored extract.
Jersey Shore Saltwater Taffy
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 2/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup salt
Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Stir in the corn syrup, butter, water and salt. Cook the mixture over moderate heat until it reaches 254 degrees Fahrenheit on candy thermometer or until a few drops in cold water form hard balls. Remove the pan from the heat, add a few drops of food coloring and flavoring of your choice. For a batch this size you can use 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/4 teaspoon flavoring oil and about 3 drops of food coloring. Pour the taffy onto a buttered platter. Cool the taffy until it can be handled comfortably, about two to three minutes. If it gets too cool, you can warm it in a 350 degree oven for 3 to 4 minutes. Form it into 1 or 2 balls. Liberally butter your hands, and pull the lump of taffy until it is about 15 inches long. Now double it up and pull again. Repeat until it is light in color and firm enough to hold a shape. Stretch it into a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter and snip off 1 inch bits with oiled kitchen scissors. Wrap each piece in wax paper.
Peanut brittle is simply a mixture of sugar and salted nuts and should be made when the weather is dry. You may vary the nuts. Cashews make a particularly tasty brittle. It keeps indefinitely when properly stored.
Jersey Shore Peanut Brittle
- Butter to grease a cookie sheet
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 6 1/2 ounce can cocktail peanuts
Butter a cookie sheet thoroughly. Cook sugar in a pan over low heat until it is melted and turns a light brown. Stir in peanuts, then pour onto baking sheet. Immediately start stretching the candy by pressing it out with the backs of two spoons. Do not touch with hands. It is very hot. Keep stretching until brittle is no more than 1 peanut deep. When completely cool, break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.
This recipe is a bit more elaborate but the results and taste are well worth the extra steps.
Microwave Peanut Brittle
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup white corn syrup
- 1 cup roasted salted peanuts
- 1 tsp. butter
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. baking soda
In 1-1/2-qt. casserole stir together sugar and corn syrup. Microwave at high 4 minutes. Stir in peanuts. Microwave High 3 to 5 minutes, until light brown. Add butter and vanilla blending well. Microwave at high 1 to 2 minutes more. Peanuts will be lightly browned and syrup very hot. Add baking soda and gently stir until light and foamy. Pour mixture onto greased cookie sheet. (Immediately fill the casserole or bowl with hot, soapy water to ease clan-up time.) Stretch as above. Let cool 1/2 to 1 hour. When cool, break into small pieces and store in an air-tight container. (Large zip lock bags work well.)
I make this fudge as often as once a month. If I don't, I have kids who feign sickness or death bed symptoms due to unmet, ingrained cravings. Doing so also eliminates an eerie, whiney chant for "your creamy fudge, Mom."
Always Creamy, Never Fail, Jersey Chocolate Fudge
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 2-1/4 cups sugar
- 6 ounces evaporated milk
- 1 12 ounce bag semi-sweet chocolaet chips
- 1/2 ounce unsweetened baking chocolate
- 3 1/2 ounces marshmallow cream (about a 7 ounce jar)
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup broken walnuts or pecans (optional)
Combine the butter, sugar and evaporated milk in a saucepan. Bring to rolling boil and cook exactly 6 minutes. While mixture is boiling, put the chooclate chips, unsweetened chocolate and marshmallow cream in a large bowl. At the end of 6 minutes of boiling, pour hot mixture over the ingredients in bowl. Beat with a mixer or by hand until smooth, then add vanilla and nuts. Pour into a pan about 10 x 10 and allow to cool before cutting.
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Lynn Kerrigan is editor of The Culinary Sleuth, a five times a year newsletter for inquisitive cooks. Send ideas and comments to Lynn at[email-address-removed].
(Editor's Note: Lynn Kerrigan is one of those behind-the-scene dynamos who, like the rest of us online, have bridged the gap between food and computers. She publishes the Culinary Sleuth newsletter and has authored several guides on food publications and home-based businesses.)
Copyright 1996 Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.
This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007