Kitchen Witchin’: Magic Shell

Remember this stuff?

ProdAdminImage.ashx
Image via smuckers.com

It was truly magical when you were a kid, wasn’t it? I remember watching, eyes wide with awe and wonder as we squeezed that liquid goodness over ice cream and, almost immediately, it became another form of chocolate-y goodness you could crack with a spoon and crunch between your teeth.

Then, there was that time in college one of your friends bought it for erm… off label purposes only to discover, much to her disappointment, it didn’t harden at all at human body temperature?

What? Only my friends did that? Fair enough, we were mostly humanities people, we didn’t know any better. Pays to always have a chemist in your crew though I have been warned never to play pool with physicists.

I honestly didn’t give much thought as to how the various “shells” transformed until decided to introduce it to my kids. I made my own because I didn’t particular want them eating paraffin wax, food grade or no. I’m a tox nurse and I’m well aware that a little bit of wax isn’t going to hurt anyone, but if I wanted to eat it, I’d recycle those used birthday candles, thank you very much. Some commercial grade products have already replaced the wax with a plant based oil (Carvel, for example, has done this per Chowhound.com. Smuckers, the grocery store brand I see most frequently, declined to discuss their proprietary blend which makes me think they’re either still using wax or some sort of soylent something), but then you have to stand in the aisle and read ingredients and one kid is making a break for some sugar based Star Wars cereal and the other has decided to teach himself to juggle with the eggs…

The chemistry behind the wax and oil emulsifiers is essentially the same, which is why it’s easy to substitute the later for the former. Provided you use the right kind of oil.

You ready for me to lay the science down? Here we go:

Chocolate is the other constant (there are other flavors but why screw with a classic?) in the various ice cream shells. Chocolate, by its nature, contains a fair bit of fat, milk more than dark, but even dark has a goodly bit. Why is the fat already in chocolate not sufficient for our shell purposes? I’m taking a leap here, but after some research, it seems to me that shell needs the additional emulsifier for two reasons: 1) the fats native to chocolate are are of the more stable sort and don’t change phase easily or quickly enough for the shell to be fun rather than an eternal waiting game and 2) chocolate doesn’t have enough emulsifiers to add “tenderness” to, well, itself. Chocolate melted on its own does change state but it eventually dries out and get lumpy and/or gritty. The additional emulsifier in magic shell, much like the cream in ganache, keeps it it from dehydrating and congealing.

Per Paula Figoni’s How Baking Works, oils are, “any lipids that are liquid at room temperature,” (pg. 215). Oils are usually vegetable based (canola, corn, olive). Most are liquid at room temperature. Tropical oils (coconut, palm, etc), however, are solid at room temperature but melt quickly and within a relatively small temperature window: solid at 70 degrees F, liquid at 74.

image via http://www.foodgroove.co.uk/info/?p=75
image via http://www.foodgroove.co.uk/info/?p=75

 

Chemically speaking, all oils are trigylcerides: three fatty acids attached to a three-carbon glycerol molecules. Fatty acids are made up of carbon chains that have anywhere from four to twenty-two carbon atoms. Saturated fatty acids are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms (they can’t hold any more) which means all of the carbon bonds in the molecules are single bonds. Unsaturated fatty acids contain carbon atoms that are not fully saturated with hydrogen; carbon atoms that are not saturated form double bonds in order to maintain structural integrity. Double bonds create stronger atoms, stronger atoms create stronger molecules and stronger molecules create stronger substances. Due to the aforementioned, double bonds are also more difficult to break and if you want to split them to force a change of state, you have to use more energy than you would to break a single bond.

That’s why coconut oil, which is high in saturated fats, is frequently used as the emulsifier in Magic Shell; single bonded as it is, it can be broken down from a solid to a liquid with very little expenditure of energy – or just a four degrees of heat. The bonds reform with a proportionately small drop in temperature, allowing the shell to harden almost upon contact with a frozen dessert (or an ice cube if you’re just testing for funsies).

image via science-all.com
image via science-all.com

When I made my shell, I subbed olive oil because that’s what I had around. Coconut oil is a little spendy and I was hesitant to shell (heheh) out for a whole container; oils do go bad and odds of that happening before I used the whole container, even a small one, were good. Because vegetable based oils are lower in saturated fat, and thus carry double bonded carbon atoms, however, it takes more energy, and hence a greater temperature differential, to force a phase change. It worked, to an extent, but it was really cold in my house at the time, cold enough to solidify even the olive oil, which meant I had to re-melt every time I wanted to use the shell (which eventually lead to dehydration and grittiness) and then the kids had to wait a good five minutes from application to re-shelling. And, as we all know, things are only magical when instantly gratifying. They thought it was cool, but not as cool as I’m sure they would have if it had been essentially immediate.

Lesson learned.

Yay for books!

Yay for chemistry!

Yay for Chef In Training for posting the recipe I happened to see!

Yay for shell!

How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science is by Paula I. Figoni. It was originally published in 2004 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. I have used, quoted from, and now purchased the 3rd edition, originally published in 2010. I’d be happy to share.

Have other cooking or baking questions? Shoot me a line. I’m always looking for new topics.

 

Teenager Aims to Un-Junk Junk Food with Unreal Candy

Unreal candy comes in five varieties, including Candy Coated Chocolates. Image: Unreal.

I’m a candy geek. I know in today’s healthified world, it’s not proper to say such things. But, I do love me some Twizzlers, M&Ms, and even the occasional filling-pulling Mary Jane. I know these things aren’t good for me. Some are downright awful. However, there’s a relatively new company out there named Unreal, and they’re applying different methods and familiar ingredients in an effort to un-junk some of our favorite junk foods.

Now, it’s a bit of a stretch to use the words “candy” and “healthy” in the same sentence. “Healthy candy is an oxymoron,” says Adam Melonas, Unreal’s co-founder and chief innovation officer. “Candy is candy.”

It’s true that each Unreal product has both calories and fat, so there’s no miracle at work here. However, the Boston-based company has made it a mission to eliminate all of the unrecognizable, unacceptable ingredients from its products. In other words, the company is cutting out most of the stuff that you’d find filling out today’s candy section.

Even more impressive, Unreal was the brainchild of Nicky Bonner, who came up with the idea for the company at the ripe age of 13.

It all started a few years back, after a fruitful Halloween haul. “I went trick-or-treating one night, woke up, and half of my candy was gone,” Nicky says. “My dad took it.” Like many parents, Michael Bonner didn’t like the idea of so many chemicals at Nicky’s disposal. Determined to show his dad that candy wasn’t so bad after all, Nicky did some research. “It was the only time in my life that I had to say he was right,” he says. Nicky then decided that there had to be a better way.

With Michael’s help, Nicky talked to doctors, food scientists, and several other experts all over the world. He also spoke to Adam, a renowned chef.

“I’m not sure how many chefs you know, but generally we take ourselves very seriously. This kind of threw me off-balance at the beginning,” Adam says. “However, it was literally seconds after we started speaking that I knew that this was no ordinary 13-year-old child. The power that existed within the message he was spreading; it was very contagious.”

Nicky had an idea to create an indulgence, without all of the bad stuff. “We wanted it to be made out of all real ingredients, less sugar, no artificials, ” Nicky says. “All good stuff and none of the junk.”

Adam Melonas sourcing ingredients for Unreal in Equador. Image: Unreal/Casey Neistat.

Currently, Unreal offers five types of candy using real ingredients — stuff you’d actually recognize and would be able to pronounce. The lineup includes options that are similar to a few of the candy classics. There are Candy Coated Chocolates, Candy Coated Chocolate with Peanuts, a Chocolate Caramel Nougat Bar, a Chocolate Caramel Peanuts Nougat Bar, and Peanut Butter Cups (Nicky’s personal favorite). To keep the costs down, it’s not 100-percent organic. That said, Unreal promises to deliver its products without the use of corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors and colors, or even GMOs.

Adam says that coming up with Unreal’s lineup was a bit of a science project. The staff went through thousands of recipes, as well as testing on Nicky’s friends and countless others. “It would make your head spin if you understood how we went through 18 months on roasting peanuts,” Adam says. “Selecting the right peanuts, roasting the perfect roast on the peanuts; it sounds like the most inefficient or unskilled process you could imagine. It was literally that level of detail to give the people what they want.”

Another important part of the experimentation process involved reducing the amount of sugar in every product. Adam says that at one point, they actually took out so much sugar, it stopped tasting like candy. “Sugar on the market today is the greatest possible filler because it’s the cheapest possible ingredient,” he says. “We did the opposite and put in protein and fiber. However, we will never call it healthy or a healthier candy. The aim of the company and the aim of the mission was merely to give people a better alternative.”

Unlike some of those candy companies using faux ingredients, there’s no secret to Unreal candy. “We got back to basics,” Adam says. “We used real ingredients and it sounds cliché — but we used ingredients that your grandmother would recognize.”

My husband, 6-year-old son, and I tested out some of the Unreal lineup and were pleasantly surprised. While it doesn’t have the same level of sweetness as our old favorites, it also doesn’t have that toxic taste. It also includes a hearty dose of fiber, which makes having less of the candy a lot more satisfying.

Unreal just launched a year ago. The company is working on wider distribution, as well as making better candy. Adam says that each Unreal product is a project that’s never complete. Nicky is also very involved in day-to-day operations, in between his home-schooling and all of the other normal responsibilities of a 16-year-old. Besides the actual candy, Nicky is always thinking about the company’s potential and new innovations. He says that he hopes to expand the Unreal line to sodas and snack foods in the near future.

Unreal makes candy that’s very similar to some of your old favorites. Image: Unreal.

Unreal candy is currently available across the U.S. Check out the company’s website for a list of retailers.

Subscription Box Review: Candy Japan

Sample Candy Japan package.
Sample Candy Japan package. Good thing I took a picture because it’s all been devoured now.

Here’s the thing: I am crazy about Japanese candy. Ask GeekMom Kristen: Last time she made a trip to Tokyo, I all but pushed an empty suitcase on her. Fortunately we are complete kindred spirits in Candyland, and upon her return she loaded me up with all the sweets I crave but can’t get easily. Japan has Grapefruit Mentos, you guys. And craaaaazy flavors of KitKat. Pear! Purple Sweet Potato! Matcha-Green Tea! And–my absolute favorite, despite its unfortunate name–Calpis, little chewy yogurt-based candies that are to die for. Oh, and Puccho! Also chewy, with bizarre gummy bits and tiny, fizzy mini-candies embedded in them. It’s hard to go back to plain old Starburst after a Puccho encounter. (Oh how I suffer.)

So when I heard about Candy Japan, a twice-monthly subscription service bringing you THE MANY DELECTABLE CANDIES OF JAPAN, yeah, they had me at hello. And when I discovered that each shipment includes a description of all the candies, I was even more enthusiastic. That’s the one hitch with my penchant for foreign sweets: inscrutable labels. Sometimes you find yourself chomping down on what you thought was going to be lemon and it turns out to be flavored with fishpaste. (True story.)

Squid-flavored candy is where I draw the lline
Squid-flavored treat, now with more fishpaste! Image source: Candy Japan.

To make sure you know what you’re sinking your teeth into, Candy Japan emails you a brief and entertaining description of each item: Gokigen Yogurt: Strangely packaged sheets of something soft and white. Tearing one open you can find a new way to enjoy yogurt.”

(More yogurt candy! Confectioners of Japan, you complete me.)

The company is run by a young couple who thought up this brilliant way to share their favorite sweets with foreign friends. Bemmu and Nachi sent me pictures of their homegrown operation–cartons and cartons of candy overtaking their little flat. Twice a month, they mail subscribers as much candy as will fit in a standard Japanese envelope. (See example above.) If you’re looking for a unique gift for someone with a sweet tooth (like, say, me), Candy Japan is a scrumptious choice.

Price: $25/month. Each month includes two envelopes full of candy.

Review sample provided by Candy Japan.

Father’s Day Gift Guide 2013

Father and Son \ Image: Redboy Kliq
Father and Son \ Image: Redboy Kliq

Welcome to this years Father’s Day Gift Guide. Geeky dads can be a lot of fun to shop for, so lets get the ball rolling on our picks this year.

IMAX tickets to see the Man of Steel – IMAX is a really cool viewing experience and the only way my husband and son will be seeing The Man of Steel on June 14th. $17 and up

CafePress Star Trek Merchandise – For the dad who loves Star Trek (and the child on a budget), CafePress has some great ideas. With everything from the original series to Next GenerationVoyager, and Deep Space 9, there is something for every Star Trek dad. $3.99 and up

Continue reading Father’s Day Gift Guide 2013

Eat Like a Geek: Peppermint Toads

IMG_0679

My daughter recently had a Harry Potter themed birthday party. The festivities of the day are for another article, but part of the Honeydukes gift bags were homemade Peppermint Toads.

My husband and I are foodies. Why do something food related halfway when you can do it right? This includes candy recipes that call for those Wilton flavored discs that are used as candy coating. Why make candy if you are going to use those? Continue reading Eat Like a Geek: Peppermint Toads

It's A Hop Easter Giveaway!

Hop BlueRay
Hop on BlueRay / DVD

One of the holidays where movies tend to disappoint me is Easter. Other than the Charlie Brown Easter special, nothing has ever really caught my attention.

Last year, a new Easter movie with updated jokes and a great beat was released. Hop became an instant favorite with my family. The story centers around EB Bunny, the future heir to the Easter Bunny mantle. Unfortunately for his dad, EB is more into rock and roll than chicks and chocolate bunnies. Eventually, EB leaves home to pursue his dream of becoming  a rock star drummer. While on his quest, EB meets Fred (James Marsden), an unemployed slacker with no goals of his own. While on the run from the Easter Bunny, royal guards (a.k.a the Pink Berets), and EB and Fred help each other discover the importance of family through a series of encounters and mishaps.

As the movie ended, my son was up dancing to the end credits theme, “I’ve Got Candy.” I asked him later what his favorite part was, and in reply he said, “Watching the little bunny with his shirt off playing the drums.” My husband said he found the Knight Rider plug and Star Wars jokes entertaining. Personally, I got a kick out of watching the actor I have come to know as Cyclops run around with an animated bunny. Overall, I think I can safely say that Hop has earned its place on my family’s holiday movie shelf as our favorite Easter movie. I can also say I will never look at jelly beans the same way again.

Would you like a copy of Hop for your home? Well, today is your lucky day!

In the comments, tell us your funniest Easter memory for a chance to win a Hop holiday prize pack! We’ll announce the winners on Tuesday morning, April 3rd.

Two (2) winners will receive a Hop Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) and a copy of the Hop Nintendo DS Game.

Prize Pack valued $60 ea.
Giveaways open to US Mailing Addresses Only.
Giveaway courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Official Film Overview:
From the makers of Despicable Me comes an all-new comedy about candy, chicks and rock n roll! He was destined to be the Easter Bunny, but all he wanted to do was rock! When teenage E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand) leaves for Hollywood in pursuit of his dream to become a rockstar drummer, he meets Fred (James Marsden), an out-of-work slacker with his own lofty goals. Together the two encounter a series of hilarious mishaps and misadventures and in the end help each other recognize the importance of family.

Now available on Blu-ray & DVD.

Nintendo DS Game Info

  • Wacky Weapons. Battle through legions of chick workers and the highly trained Pink Berets with an arsenal of fantastical candy-themed weapons – including chocolate super soakers, gumball shooters and cotton candy cannons.
  • 3D Movie Locations. Play through actual 3D locations from the film – from Hollywood all the way to Easter Island!
  • Rockstar Mode. Help E.B. realize his dreams of becoming a famous rock ‘n’ roll drummer in Music Mode.
  • Mini Games. Snatch moving bunny targets, go bowling for candy and embark on an epic Easter egg hunt!

A copy of this product was provided for review purposes.

Would Bacon By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?

ThinkGeek Bacon-Palooza, Image: Nicole Wakelin

It’s sort of a universally accepted fact that bacon is one of the best foods known to mankind. No other food garners quite the same level of fanatic devotion and adoration. As a result, it’s been incorporated into all sorts of recipes in an effort to create the ultimate bacon experience. I am guilty of adding more bacon than required whenever it’s called for because, it’s bacon, why not? I thought I was really living on the edge when I bought a bacon chocolate bar. This was at a little specialty shop in Boston and I walked out clutching my treasure, ready to fend off the masses who would obviously kill to have this for themselves.

I sat down on a bench and unwrapped my treasure thinking of all those shows you see on TV with people savoring weird foods. I decided to follow their lead and started with the aroma. It smelled like chocolate, which, although a wonderful smell, did not hold the promise of bacon. Then I cracked a piece off and looked at what I was about to eat. I saw teeny tiny little bits of bacon. Teeny. Tiny. This did not make me happy but I popped a piece into my mouth anyway. The chocolate was as good as it smelled, but the bacon was barely noticeable. I had just paid nearly $10 for a chocolate bar that did not live up to my expecations. The bacon was a lie.

Months later, I purchased a Talking Bacon plush from ThinkGeek. You press his side and he says “I’m bacon.” It was what my daughter wanted for her birthday more than anything. Yes, I was equal parts thrilled and scared. Bacon plush has been a big hit with every child in our neighborhood. He went in for show and tell and I had half a dozen parents contact me to find out where they could get him. Talking Bacon is the man!

One afternoon, my daughter’s friend, James, was marveling at the wonder of  Talking Bacon and asked where I’d gotten this amazing creation. I told him and then loaded up the site so he could see it for himself. It’s fair to say that his eyes bugged out of his head when he saw the assortment of geeky goods on the screen. Bacon popcorn! Bacon gumballs! Bacon jelly beans! I don’t think he could have been more excited if I’d told him school was cancelled for the rest of the year.

When his Mom came to pick him up, I told her that he might be asking for a bunch of bacon stuff, and then did the obligatory “Oops, sorry, I kinda set you up there. My bad.” apology.  She rolled her eyes, looked at her son, and told him she was not buying him a bunch of bacon stuff. He looked sullen. He gave her a masterful pout. He even made his lip quiver. No luck. So, James turned his charms on me. Me. Keeper of all things geeky. Writer of geeky stuff. Player of video games. I was his only hope.

I put this off for months, thinking he’d forget, but every single time I saw him, he asked if I’d gotten the goods. My answer was always “Not yet.” Then he showed up for a playdate with my daughters in an Angry Birds shirt which he proudly wore and, I thought, I just had to help this burgeoning little geek in the making. I contacted ThinkGeek.

And because ThinkGeek is so cool, they sent me a whole box full of bacon goodness. I was excited to try these bacony treats, but a little nervous. Unlike the bacon chocolate bar with barely discernible bacon, the whole box smelled like bacon when I opened it. Popcorn, gumballs, jelly beans, lollipop. Where to start?

I opened the tin of  Bacon Gumballs. They sure smelled like bacon. And they were a brick red color that looked like bacon. I decided it was best to have something to drink handy, like when my kids are forced to try something new, just in case the flavor killed me. I put it in my mouth and it was bacony. I chewed it and holy overwhelming bacon flavor! I didn’t think it was possible but it was actually too much bacon. I made it through maybe half a dozen chews before I had to spit it out and chug half a glass of milk.

My kids found this hysterical.

I moved on to the Bacon Beans. I’d learned from the gumballs and had a glass of milk actually in my hand as I popped a jelly bean in my mouth. I chewed, and chewed and, bacon explosion! Out with the jelly bean, down with the milk.  This left the lollipop and the popcorn. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but, I persevered and went for the Bacon Lollipop. Again, milk in hand, I gave the lollipop a few licks. It was tasty! It was sweet and had just a hint of bacon and, I liked it, I really liked it. My kids now wanted to try it but I told them they had to have a jelly bean and a gumball first. They declined.

Once the husband was home, I decided it was time to pop the popcorn. You know how, in an office, someone can pop popcorn on the other side of the building and you can smell it? Yeah, well I think my neighbors may have smelled the Bacon Pop right through the walls of my house. It smelled like the gumballs tasted and I was, um, terrified. I held my nose, grabbed a new glass of milk, and tried a few pieces. And then a few more. Another bacony success! If you can get past the overwhelming aroma, the darn stuff actually tastes really good.

So, in my quest for bacon I found two tasty treats in the lollipop and popcorn, and two that didn’t quite cut it in the gumballs and jelly beans. They are, however, the perfect thing to keep at your desk, luring in unsuspecting co-workers. Trust me, it’ll be good for a laugh. I even conned the kids over for a playdate yesterday into giving them a try and the looks on their faces, absolutely priceless. They did not like, except for one girl who liked the gumballs. She’s either exceptionally brave or crazy. I’ve yet to decide.

Ah, but what about the boy that started it all? What did James think? Well, oddly his Mom, who is a good friend, hasn’t responded to the texts I sent her about the bacon stuff. She must be really busy because she couldn’t possibly be ignoring me. I’m going to continue testing this on the neighborhood kids, but not to worry. Next time I see James I’ve saved a whole pile of bacon flavored tastiness for his geeky little heart.

Thanks to ThinkGeek for sending me (and James) all this bacon goodness!

Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science: Day Three

Unconventional holiday traditions are fun for the whole family! So far this year, my family has celebrated Hanukkah by launching rockets indoors and constructing small boats in order to sink them. Today we’re delving deeper, into the very language of science. That’s right; it’s math time.

Roger Bacon said, “Mathematics is the gate and key of the sciences. … Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of this world.” After today’s celebration, my son says, “Mmm, delicious math!”

The instructions for this experiment are simple (materials are in bold):

  • First, open a small bag of multi-colored candies.
  • Count the candies, and note on a chart how many candies were in the bag.
  • Sort candies by color and note on the chart how many candies you have of each color.
  • Repeat several times! (We opened eight bags, one at a time to avoid mixing candies.)
  • For fun, chart total candies, average candies per bag, and percent of each color.
  • Translate your data into a bar graph, line graph, and pie chart for easy comparisons.
  • Analyze and discuss your data before devouring the samples!

Holiday Children’s Books

Image: http://us.penguingroup.com

My daughter loves having books read to her and she even likes “reading” books herself. We have a great number of books partly because I inherited a bunch of books from my childhood along with getting many books as baby shower gifts. But one area our library was lacking was holiday books. But that was remedied when I got the chance to review several holiday books. I read each to my three year old and she liked them all. But there were some she liked better than others.

Listen to the Silent Night was a sweet story of the night of Jesus’ birth. It showed that it wasn’t quite a silent night as  there were all kinds of noises. My daughter enjoyed this book because of the animals. For me, it was a very easy read with a great story showcasing the meaning of Christmas.

Strega Nona’s Gift was probably my least favorite of all of these books. This was because there are a lot of words that I had trouble pronouncing. But it was a good book as it highlighted some of the lesser known holidays and my daughter seemed to enjoy it.

A Christmas Tree for Pyn is a sweet story about a little girl name Pyn who wants a tree for Christmas. It was one of my favorites as the search for a Christmas tree brings Pyn and her father closer than they ever have been before.

Grace at Christmas is a story about sharing. Grace has to open her home to a family who can’t get home for Christmas. At first, Grace doesn’t like this idea but she finds that she makes a new friend and has the best Christmas ever. It was a sweet story but I think it may have gone over my three year old’s head a little.

The Twelve Days of Christmas is the holiday song in book form. The illustrations in the book are beautiful and the text is just pretty much the same as the song. It was strange for me to read the words instead of singing of them.

Hansel and Gretel is the age-old story of the children who find a house made out of candy. While I knew this story, I had forgotten how violent it was. I was a little afraid that it was going to give my toddler nightmares, but she didn’t seem to and she liked the story.

The Scrawny Little Tree was one of our favorites. It is the story of a poor little boy who saved up his pennies to get a Christmas tree. He loved his tree so much that it grew bigger. This story really touched me and it touched my daughter as well. She still talks about Christmas trees that “grow bigger bigger”.

Mr. Men – 12 Days of Christmas is a cute story about Mr. Muddle who can never get anything right. He comes up with a plan to give gifts on the 25th of every month to make sure he doesn’t miss Christmas. It’s a cute story and one of my daughter’s favorites. When given a choice, this is one of the books she always picks to have read.

The Gingerbread Girl Goes Animal Crackers is my daughter’s favorite out of all of these books. It’s the story of the Gingerbread Girl as she chases down a box of Animal Crackers and tries to save them from being eaten by a fox. It’s a really cute story but the singing is the reason that my daughter loves it so much. When the Animal Crackers get out of their box, they run wild and sing a song. Then each different Cracker animal has a song as well. Since it said they were singing, I just started singing as well. My daughter loves it and it is a very fun book because of this.

All in all, we really enjoyed reading these books. They cover a lot of different aspects of the holiday season and any would be a great addition to your child’s library.

Note: I received copies of these books for review purposes.

What to Do With All the Candy?!

Image via flickr user amarand agasi

If you are like us, you now have tons of Halloween candy haunting your house. So to avoid eating it all, it is time to get creative, which is just what the folks at Mint.com are doing. While the blog is typically about finances, they have some fantastic, frugal ideas of what to do with all that sugar ranging from selling it to your dentist to decorating canned pears. So much better than eating it, right?

Cue The Imperial March: The Death Star Pinata

We have been busy at our house preparing for the galactic event that is our kid’s birthdays. Geekette will be turning 7 and little bro will be hitting the big one, all within 6 days of each other. How we did that I will never know, but my mom and her dad were born on the same day and my husband and his dad were born a day apart. Must be genetic. At any rate, as our theme is the original Star Wars movies, I have had to make pretty much every decoration we have. This year, big sis decided she wanted a pinata. I found several good pictures of death star pinatas on the web so I set to  work.

IMG_5232-300x292
I just saw that spot I missed. Sigh. Image Jennifer D.

Things you need to make a planet destroying space station:

I purchased a soccer ball pinata at a local craft store. It was covered in this weird tissue paper that was fluffed out so I proceeded to tear that all off. The death star is definitely NOT fluffy. Once it was pretty much denuded of tissue paper, I filled it with candy left over from Halloween. This step is very important. In my zeal to get the thing painted I nearly forgot to put the goodies in it. That would have been an epic fail.

Once the candy was inside, I pulled the area closed as best I could, put masking tape over the hole and spray painted it with a flat gray spray paint. Another important step, be sure you are standing up wind while spray painting. I let that dry for a couple of hours and then, using my illustration as a guide, I attacked it with a black sharpie. I had thought about using a paintbrush, but my hand is just not that steady and I was worried I would screw up the details. Which I would have. Remember, it doesn’t have to look perfect because it will ultimately be destroyed thus saving the galaxy. Unfortunately it is too late for Alderaan.

Valentine’s Cupcakes With Leftover Candy Canes

I’m not the biggest candy fiend, so every year I end up with candy canes left over after Christmas. Valentine’s is the perfect way to get rid of them. Of course, now that I have two kids of candy-eating age, I expect to have to hoard candy canes for this purpose.

It’s quick, too. All you have to do is arrange miniature candy canes in heart-shaped pairs on a silicone baking mat and put them in a 275-300°F oven. In about ten minutes, they’ll soften, and you can squish the ends together to seal the hearts. If they’re not quite ready, stick them back in for a few more minutes. I’ve also read that at about 350°, you can melt them into solid, flat hearts.

Sweets For Your Sweetie: Homemade Truffles

Image Flickr via user justmalia

While living in California, one of my friends would hold an annual truffle party every year in early December. She would invite several friends over, provide the chocolate truffle base, and have us bring various toppings such as almonds or cocoa. We all had a wonderful time making and rolling truffles over a glass of wine and much chatter. As the chocolate holiday is rapidly approaching, what better way to say I love you than homemade  truffles? They are fairly straight forward and super delish!

Homemade Truffles

1/2 lb. milk chocolate, melted
1/2 lb. dark chocolate, melted
1/2 C. heavy cream, scalded (60 seconds in the microwave)
1/4 C. liqueur or 3 teaspoons any pure extract flavoring
Dark, light, or colored chocolate for coating (I use the chocolate candy melts you can get at craft stores)

Melt chocolate in double boiler or follow directions for microwave melting on package. Be careful not to let water drip into chocolate or it ruins it. Combine milk chocolate, dark chocolate, scalded cream, and liqueur or extract. Beat until well mixed. Refrigerate until solid. Remove from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Chocolate should be fairly solid. Shape into balls. Dip into dark or light chocolate coating. Set onto waxed paper. Sprinkle with favorite topping. Let set until coating hardens. Store in sealed container.

Some tips:
* I usually mix these up and refrigerate overnight.
* Pouring your truffle base into a round container makes it easier to make balls later.
* Depending on the extract or liqueur you use, the chocolate may end up being a bit soft. In this case, you roll it into balls and then pop it in the fridge again for a few minutes to help it solidify. Then you can dip it in the coating chocolate. If it gets too cold, the dipping chocolate will crack after it dries.
* You will get messy and it helps to wash your hands after awhile or the truffles start to stick to you.
* Kids can help with the rolling part. Older kids with the dipping part.
* I use a cookie dough scoop to help shape the truffles. They come in various sizes but I wouldn’t go any bigger than a tablespoon otherwise you will need a gallon of milk to drink per truffle.
* I use a fork and toothpicks to dip. I drop a truffle in the dipping chocolate, swirl around until covered, and then slide the fork underneath. I then tap the fork on the side of the bowl to help remove excess chocolate and use a toothpick to slide it off the fork. You can also buy fancy chocolate dipping tools.
* You can purchase cute candy boxes and candy liners or mini cupcake liners to make your truffles look fancy.

I haven’t tried all of these flavors, but have found them various places. Our favorites are kahlua, peanut butter, peppermint, and cherry. Experiment with the flavor combinations. Add more or less of the liqueur or extract. Be creative and use your imagination, after all chocolate goes with almost everything!

Flavor Suggestions:

Peanut butter (1/4 C.)
Kahlua- can substitute 1 teaspoon instant coffee
Creme de menthe- can substitute 3 tsp. pure mint extract
Amaretto- can substitute 3 tsp. almond extract
Peppermint
Cherry Almond
Grand Marnier
Irish Cream
Rum and vanilla

Toppings:
Chopped peanuts
Slivered almonds
Chopped cherries
Crushed peppermint
Coffee bean
Cocoa
White chocolate drizzle
Confectioner’s sugar

Put Your Candy Leftovers to Good Use with Candy Experiments

A snapshot of the brilliant science experiments by Loralee Leavitt at CandyExperiments.com

If you’ve already followed Jennifer’s advice about dealing with your Halloween haul and you still have candy leftover, perhaps it’s time to donate that candy to science. Candy Experiments is a fabulous website full of fun, easy science experiments you can do with all sorts of leftover Halloween candy.

Did you know that you can detect the acidity of a candy by dissolving it in water and then adding baking soda? Watch what happens:

I’m eager to try these experiments, but there’s only one hurdle. As my science-loving 5-year-old put it, “I’m way more interested in eating my candy than I am in science.” Sigh.

(Found via Teach Mama, who actually got her kids to try it.)

After the Halloween Haul: What To Do With All That Candy?

Image: CC by Matt McGee via Flickr

After the trick or treating is over, the decorations stored, and the costumes have been put away, we are left with one thing: tons of candy. We limit our geekette’s candy to one to two pieces a day, if that. The best thing is, she kind of self-limits. We have the candy sitting out in a plastic bag on the counter but she rarely asks for a piece. She forgets it is there.

So last year, round about August when another Halloween was rapidly bearing down on us, we found ourselves with a two gallon baggie full of candy. I started hunting around for something to do with it.

Turns out, there are quite a few options. Here are some things you can do with all that candy. The best part is most of the ideas can be turned into quality family time. Be sure and contact places to make sure they are accepting donations and keep in mind some Halloween candy has holiday specific wrappers so they may not be good to use for other holidays, or may expire.

  • Blue Star Mothers: our local chapter takes candy donations and put them in care packages for the troops overseas. Check with your local chapter and see if they take candy donations.
  • Ronald McDonald House: find your local chapter and see if they are accepting donations. Many of the kids and their families that are staying here don’t get to go trick or treating.
  • Local children’s hospital or nursing homes: head over to your local children’s hospital or nursing homes and your kids can reverse trick or treat. Rather than knocking on doors asking for candy, they can knock on doors and give it to the residents. They can even get some extra wear out of their costumes.  Be sure and check with staff at the facility and get the OK before going.
  • Separate the items into plastic baggies and save for presents for teachers or others to whom you would like to give small gifts. You can decorate the bag with ribbons or a fancy paper tag.
  • If you are into cooking, save the candy bars to make candy bar pies or use them to top brownies or add them to cheesecakes for the holidays.
  • Save it for your child’s birthday pinata. That way the other kids get to take most of it home.
  • Make Christmas decorations. Use the particularly colorful candies and either string them together for a candy garlandor hang them with fishing line from the tree. You can also glue them to a foam wreath or Styrofoam tree shape to decorate your house or use them to decorate a gingerbread house.

These are just a few ideas to get your started. What do my fellow GeekMoms do with your candy haul?

Candy Corn: Demon Confection or Harmless Fun?

IMGP4389W.jpg-1I really hate candy corn. Growing up in a family with a seemingly insatiable sweet tooth, hating any candy, let alone such a classic symbol of pure unadulterated sugar love, was a capital crime. Come Halloween we’d dress up and lumber over to my Grandmother’s house to meet the rest of the cousins for some hardcore trick or treating in Nana’s upscale neighborhood. I remember scrambling in the front door and making a beeline for the living room, anxious to see what delicious candy she’d chosen to set out.

Every holiday, every year, our Nana would set out tiny bowlfuls of colorful candies placed strategically around the house, in key snacking locations.  Christmas featured rows of Andes mints and mini candy canes. Easter was Cadbury Eggs and pastel peanut M&Ms. At Thanksgiving she’d mix it up with some roasted nuts, and if we were lucky, caramels. But Halloween was always dangerously unpredictable for a kid with extreme candy prejudices. Would this be a Reese’s and M&Ms year? (Oh Please!) Or would those glittering crystal bowls be filled with my dreaded flavor nemesis, the Candy Corn? Talk about Halloween Horrors!

Originally created in the 1880s by Wunderlee Candy Company, candy corn was designed to imitate, well, corn of course. (What was up with boring candy back then? Who thought making a corn shaped candy was a great idea?) Its primary ingredients are sugar, corn syrup, color and binders. The original recipe was considered a “mellow cream” — a type of candy with a marshmallow flavor.  In fact, they achieved this flavor by throwing marshmallows into the slurry as they cooked it. This slurry was then poured into molds using a three pass method, to create the  tricolor that is candy corn’s signature.

Now while this is the official recipe, I think anyone that grew up in the 60s and 70s is likely to agree with me that at some point, a major component of that recipe, was replaced with wax. In fact personally I think the recipe was revised to just corn syrup and cheap wax. How else do you explain the pale “wax bloom” present on the hard coating of most candy corn kernels? Combine that with the crumbly cheap

crayon texture, the persistent orange finger stain of candy corn addicts, and the ability to write on paper with the bitten off ends of these things, and I think we have very good reason to suspect that all the candy corn of the past century was really manufactured by a defunct crayon company looking to unload some cheap product. And I’m not alone in my candy corn conspiracy theories! (VIDEO)

For many, candy corn has become as familiar a marker of Halloween as pumpkins. My friend, artist Ash Evans tweeted to me: “Candy corn is like the kid your Mom made you invite to your party. Nobody really wants them there, but it is required.” She’s got a very good point. Candy corn sticks around because it hits all the right nostalgic notes with people. It’s only available seasonally, which means we don’t get jaded by the sight of it the rest of the year. In fact, its presence in the stores signifies the beginning the winter holidays, and triggers warm and fuzzy childhood memories.

For years I’ve conducted an informal poll on the nature of candy lover’s relationships to candy corn. And my research has borne out the nostalgia over taste hypothesis. Do people love what candy corn symbolizes? Yes. Do they actually EAT the stuff? Not necessarily. When pressed to consider the question, I’ve found very few people who actually admit to liking the way it tastes.

Shockingly, one of the rare exceptions I’ve found is, alas, my own daughter. While she’s definitely inherited the family sweet tooth, I’m happy to report she exercises restraint, and has a discerning palette. Well, I should say she usually has a discerning palette. Her love of candy corn is clearly a tragic lapse in good taste. After I got over my initial shock to the horrifying revelation, I of course quizzed the little candy traitor thoroughly.

“Why do you like it!” I demanded.

“It’s fun! It’s colorful! It’s Halloween!” she shamelessly declared.

I suspected as much. My own daughter has been thoroughly brainwashed by the candy corn Illuminati. “But what about the texture? The taste?” I cried.

“Mom!” she rolled her eyes. “You can’t just eat any brand! Brach’s is the best!” Why? Well, my daughter reports, it the only brand she’s found that has a “flavor”.  In fact Brach’s now has many “flavors” of candy corn aside from the original. Somehow that feels like cheating.

Ugh, what’s a mother to do? The Candy Corn Demon has come after my own kin! Next thing you know she’ll be joining that candy corn lovers group on Facebook.

Maybe I’ll just make a Facebook group of my own. (Insert maniacal laughter here).

Enhanced by Zemanta