Are you willing to have a bit of old-fashioned fun for Valentine's Day?
You could start by making a great collection of homemade valentines. Or perhaps you still want to create that stunning Valentine box that you never got around to making in fifth grade. You know -- the one that looks like an upright piano, or how about designing one to look like a vintage milk delivery truck. Just because your children are no longer in school does not mean that you shouldn't take time to create a very unique and attractive Valentine center piece.
Besides, when the times comes and your heart has been taken above and your children are cleaning out the closets, they will be very impressed that you made a papier mache shaped bus -- complete with a heart shaped grill!
Charles Repnow is a freelance writer who lives in Rugby. His column appears alternate Wednesdays in The Minot Daily News.
Really everyone should create a Valentine box related to their profession. Yes, I can say that I have designed a Valentine box that looks like a camera (you could not believe what developed after that.)
If you are not into being creative with a scissors, construction paper, glue and glitter, perhaps you should stroll into the kitchen when you can cook up a few Valentine treats. If you are out to help create world peace, solve complex problems, and help eliminate rust spots on lace tablecloths, a good place to start is by making homemade candy. You won't have to work terribly hard to create great candy if you understand just a few candy-making principles. Please don't worry about the extra calories that candy can dish out either. You'll be liberated from the belly bulge and hip packers through the wonderful exercise you will receive from lifting heavy kettles, twirling your whip, and running to hide your new creations from eager tasters so that you will have some left for Valentine's Day.
Know the rules
Last summer while attending and scouting a rummage sale, I picked up a very good candy-making tip from Arlyne Rothschiller. I noticed she was keenly checking out several pressure cookers that no longer worked. Upon striking up a conversation with her, she shared with me; bless her soul that timeworn pressure cookers recycle handsomely into candy kettles because of their heavy bottoms. They give such even heat, and that is precisely what one needs to help prevent scorching. I raced around the loaded trailer and snatched up the last one and said, "Thank you, Arlyne!" Consider this the Rule No. 1 in making homemade candy.
Much of my candy making has revolved around fudge. Fudge is one candy my Mom made utterly without any trouble. Mom also shared with me that when making candy with milk products, use a large pan because the milk will make the candy cook up high -- which is a good thing. That is Rule No. 2. Rule No. 3 was a difficult one for me to obey -- Do not bother stirring candy that does not need it; it may make the candy grainy. This is especially true for fudges.
In my testing to making fudge, I have come to realize that in many recipes, butter and margarine can be used interchangeably. Some products such as SmartBalance can be used with success. I do know that caramels and toffee need butter. An easy way to remember which to use is to remember this simple rule: when butter is chiming in most of the flavor, then use butter. If the taste of the candy for example is pineapple, cherry, orange, chocolate, or even peanut butter, then margarine or other butter substitutes can be used.
Another gem of information that I would like to pass on is this: Candy made with milk products will cook with a residue on the bottom of the kettle; so candy must be stirred while cooking to prevent residue from sticking and scorching. Now if you will bear with me, I am about to share with you that cooking does have a political flanks.
You have just been told that milk products do stick -- I am not sure if that means they are right or left. However, when making candy, we can go with another party that is the exception to sticking. That product is heavy cream or frozen liquid non-dairy coffee creamer. They will not cause sticking, do not need to be stirred, and best of all, the candy will taste richer. I have often replaced milk in candy recipes with heavy cream or non-dairy products and have been most pleased.
So there you have my theory on candy making. I certainly know there is much more to it than this, but this is a good place to start. This Valentine's Day surprise someone with a sweet Valentine and a bit of homemade candy.
Here are two recipes that the Repnows will enjoy on Valentine's Day. One involves stirring; the other does not!
An attractive and delightful fudge that can be made year around.
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 8.5 oz. crushed pineapple and juice
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
24 large marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
Combine sugars, pineapple and juice, milk, corn syrup, salt, and butter in a 2-quart heavy kettle. Cook to 238 degrees, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add marshmallows and vanilla. Mix together to melt marshmallows. Beat until mixture becomes heavy and creamy. Add nuts. Spread in a buttered 8-inch square pan. Cut into squares when cool and firm.
Mexican Orange Fudge
I first sampled this fudge at a candy store in Denver. They were nice enough to give me the recipe.
The color of this fudge is golden and rich in flavor which is achieved by the caramelizing of the sugar.
3 cups sugar, divided
1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup non-dairy liquid coffee creamer
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Melt 1 cup sugar in a heavy 3-quart kettle, stirring constantly so it does not burn. Very carefully, add boiling water, stirring to mix. Add remaining sugar, coffee cream, and salt. Place over medium heat and stir until all ingredients are blended together and mixture boils. Cook to 238 degrees without stirring. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. When lukewarm, beat until candy loses its gloss and holds its shape. Fold in grated orange rind, extract and nuts. Spread in a buttered 8-inch square pan. Cut into squares.