Monday, January 2

New year

What a wonderful year 2011 was. And I look forward to so many new prospects; where I will be surrounded by new friendships and supported by old ones. I was lucky as a duck to chime in the new year, with Jill in town; my first visitor since my move to Omaha!
 frosty windows in the wintertime
and dear friends in Omaha
Before the new year, I was lucky to spend much time at home. I relished in the season of winter; spending most days sleeping in and staying in my pajamas through the evening hours. As winter will hold a special place in my heart forever, I especially appreciated the connection I have with the kitchen through these cold, dark months. The warmth that radiates from the stove heats my body and my soul. It is a connection that I nurture as much as I can, as the warmth from cooking sustains me through winter.

This year, I have spent much time exploring the world of candy making. For the past several years I have been making caramels with my Poppa's recipe. It is a treat that I have spoken of before, but cannot be under-praised. My Poppa's caramels are of a quality unmatched by many other sweet treats, and they are especially delightful during this time of year. Earlier in the year, I explored the spices of gingerbread and came up with a new caramel; the gingerbread chew. It was a hit, and it spurred my further exploration of other tasty treats! This winter, I made three new caramel chews: chai, maple and hot cocoa. Of the three, I am most pleased with the chai chews. Though this is not to say that there won't be more of the others in the future. Rather, it seems that some perfecting needs to take place before sharing the latter recipes. However, I am happy to share my new recipe for chai caramel chews!

Also, it should be noted that if you are hesitant to make candies or caramel chews because you don't have a candy thermometer, please don't let this stop you! You can pick a thermometer up for close to 5 dollars at most every supermarket or grocery store. And it will be 5 dollars well spent.
From left to right: hot cocoa, gingerbread, chai, maple, plain 'ol caramel
Chai Caramel Chews
4 cups of white sugar
1 quart of white corn syrup
1 pound of butter
1 quart of half and half cream
1 tablespoon of green label tea
1 tablespoon of red label tea
6 green cardamom pods, crushed
2 teaspoons of ground cardamom
Sea salt

1. In a small sauce pan, brew teas and cardamom pods in the half and half cream. Don't boil, but heat until the cream is a dark hue with the brewed tea. Strain the tea leaves from the cream and discard. 

2. Place the sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream and remaining cardamom in a large, heavy bottom saucepan. The pan should be at least 8 quarts or larger. Heat over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. 

3. Continue boiling while stirring until the mixture comes 247 degrees (medium-hard ball stage), approximately 1 hour.

4. Remove from heat and pour into a well buttered 9x13 inch cake pan. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or so of corse sea salt. When thoroughly cooled (a few hours; be patient!) invert the pan and remove the caramel onto a cutting surface. Cut the caramels into long 1 inch strips with a buttered pizza roller. Then cut the strips into 1 inch squares. Wrap them in waxed paper and share with your friends.

Happy new year and happy sweet treat eatin! 

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