Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy New Year!

Sadly, no food posts this week. I spent the past two weeks traveling, eating, visiting with family, working and trying to get over a rather nasty head cold. But I am about ready to put my order in for the archival supplies that I'll need to preserve Ida Mae's Cookbook so I thought I'd share the process with ya'll.

The first question I asked myself was, How are these recipes going to be used? Am I going to be referring to the originals and need them in a binder so that I can flip through them? Or instead will these be more of an archive that can be accessed when needed? I am thinking that it will be more of the second since I have plans to make typed copies of the recipes for my own use and to send to all the family. Since that is the case, I'm going to go with a nice archival box, with folders to separate the various types of recipes from one another (since they aren't in any sort of order currently) and then put the individual pages into plastic sleeves.

I went through the stack of recipes and took note of what size paper the recipes were written on. The sheets varied by size, but the majority of them were 8x10 or smaller. There is a wide variety of plastic sleeves available on the market and it can get rather confusing. "How different can one plastic be from another?" you might ask, and that's an excellent question.

All plastic is formed of similar materials, but the process in which they are put together and manufactured determine the quality of plastic that is produced. When looking for plastic to use for archival purposes, look for ones without fillers, plasticizers, chlorine, or sulfur. PVC (polyvinyl chloride), PVDC (polyvinylidene), PVA (polyvinyl acetate), acidic polyesters, polyurethane foams, chloroprene (such as Neoprene®), urea formaldehyde panels (such as GatorFoam®) are NOT suitable for use in archival projects because they can emit gas that can damage the materials that are contained within them. Polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene, acrylic, and inert polyester films and sheeting are better materials to use for archival projects because they are chemically stable and thus inert. We like inert :)

There are a lot of plastic sleeves that are available at the big box office supply stores that claim to be "acid free" or "archival quality" or even "PVC free" but if you can't verify what they are made of, I wouldn't use them. Avery make several various sheets that -are- made from Polypropylene (PP), which are alright to use, but if you're looking for top-quality, I would go for a Polyethylene (PE) product since PE is chemically superior to PP.

It's also important to consider the weight of the plastic sleeves. Most archival quality sleeves begin at 2mil and go up from there. Old style sleeves were made by using some sort of adhesive to bind together the edges. These... aren't really the best for long term storage because over time the paper/photo will slide down into the adhesive. What you want are sleeves with edges that have been sealed using heat. There are two varieties, edge sealed and intermittent sealed. Either should be fine for a home-archival project.

There is a lot of other considerations to make, like where these will be stored, what the relative humidity will be, how often will they be handled, what the temperature will be, what range of temperatures and humidities will the documents be exposed to? The answer to most of these questions for this project is "I don't know". I can't account for how these documents will be handled in the next 5-10 years, especially if they are not in my possession, so I have to just plan for the worst and hope for the best!

So, supply-wise, I think I will need...

1 half size Document box
10-15 Folders
100 Plastic Sleeves-- 8x10, PE if they aren't too much expensive
pencil for labeling folders and pages

Since I don't need 100+ folders, I'm going to go with a family archival kit from Gaylord. This will give me all the basics, and I'll just have to add on my plastic sleeves. If you have a need for more folders though or a larger box, it might be more cost effective to put together your own selection of box and folders.

Hopefully I'll get the supplies in soon so I can get to work! I also hope to have a new recipe up this week, we will have to see how fast I can get rid of this cold!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bourbon Balls

The Holiday Season comes around and people tend to get kind of crazy. Because of this, my family has brought the Kentucky tradition of Bourbon Balls to our own offices and friends here in the South. We figure that even if you can't take the crazy out of the workplace, at least you can temper their crazy with boozy treats.

Bourbon Balls are a Kentucky tradition and this recipe comes from my mom's side of the family. There are several tricks to perfecting them, like having your butter at room temperature and soaking the chopped pecans overnight in bourbon. Letting the nuts soak overnight really packs a punch in the final candy, which are NOT for the faint of heart. I actually managed to get permission to serve these to my 12th grade english class for a grapes of wrath project and I was rewarded with some rather impressive faces at the first bite. I am pretty sure that I am still remembered by classmates for that incident…

I'd also recommend that you prep your cookie sheets before starting to mix these up. Once you get rolling your hands will get a bit gunky and you don't want to have to be constantly washing your hands to get more wax paper out. We use a small cookie scoop to get a larger ball, but I tend to enjoy them more when they are a little bit smaller and can eat it all in one bite. Also, do NOT skip the freezing/refrigeration step! You'll be tempted to, but if you skip this step you'll be left with chocolaty bourbon ball goo in your double boiler, tasty to be sure, but much better poured over ice cream instead of served on a tray of candy. 

You also might have a bit of leftover chocolate, don't toss it out! You can toss some coconut or nuts in it and make haystacks, or dip pretzels in it! 

In any case, enjoy responsibly~!

Bourbon Balls

Makes about 5 dozen

1/4 Cup Butter (unsalted)
2 Pounds Confectioners Sugar
2/3 Cup of Bourbon
1 Cup Chopped Pecans, plus halves to top the balls with
12oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 sq inch of Paraffin (or until it looks right)

Chop a cup of pecans and soak overnight in bourbon (make sure that bourbon covers nuts completely.) Next Day, drain the chopped nuts and reserve the liquid. In one bowl cream the butter with one pound of confectioners sugar. In a separate bowl, mix nuts and one pound of confectioners sugar. Top off the bourbon that you saved from the nuts so that it makes 2/3 cup and add to the nut and sugar mixture. Mix the butter/sugar mixture into the bourbon/nut/sugar mixture. Roll tablespoons of this final mixture into small balls, place the balls on wax paper lined baking sheets and refrigerate or freeze for at least an hour. In a double boiler melt the chocolate and paraffin together, dip the balls into the chocolate, place them back onto the wax paper, and top with a pecan half. Let set and enjoy!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Peanut Brittle

two of the more uniform pieces of brittle, ready to be eaten

Growing up I didn't eat a lot of peanut brittle, (mostly because I associated it with the gross green boxes that were sold door to door by the kids in band) but peanut brittle is one of my Grandpa's favorite treats, and I was able to find a recipe of Grandmother Stipp's so I decided to give it a try for the Holidays.
You might notice that the corner of the recipe is torn off, so I had no idea how many cups of sugar the recipe called for. It looked like it could be anything from three to five cups, so I decided to split the difference and go for four. I found that it did not take 10 minutes for it to come back up to crack stage after adding the peanuts. I also found that pouring this out onto a silpat lined baking sheet or a cold marble slab made it easier to handle. Make sure to have enough surface area to pour out onto! To crack the sheet of candy, I used a wooden mallet, but the back of a spoon would also work!

A batch makes a lot of brittle, it fills up a gallon sized bag pretty well. I chose to go for lightly salted un-roasted peanuts, similar to cocktail peanuts. Since the recipe doesn't call for a certain temperature, I got mine up to 300*F which is at the low end of the hard crack range. There is a bit of wiggle room though, and yours should be just fine as long as it stays in the 300-310 range!

Next time I might experiment a bit and try using almonds or cocoa nibs instead of peanuts. I could also see little chunks of brittle being extra delicious covered in chocolate!


Peanut Butter Brittle

4 Cups Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Corn Syrup
1 1/3 Cups Water
2 Cups Peanuts
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Vanilla

In a large pot combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water, stir to combine and bring up to 300*F/ Hard Crack Stage. Add in butter and peanuts, stir to combine and bring mixture back up to 300*F/Hard Crack Stage. When you reach 300*F, take the pot off the heat and add a teaspoon of baking soda and a teaspoon of vanilla, stir to combine and pour out onto a silpat sheet, cookie sheet, or cold marble slab. Wait until mixture cools, remove candy disk and crack into bite sized pieces. Store in a cool, dry place and enjoy!

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Plain Caramels
There are few things in this world as simple but decadent as caramel. In my family Christmas means making candy, and what we make the most of is caramel. I can remember opening up the caramel tin and sneaking handfuls of the wax-paper wrapped goodies to eat all day long. Before I had even finished the last one in my pocket, I would be back at the tin again, fishing out the biggest pieces.

I actually have been using this recipe on my own for years, although I have never had a chance to see the original and I still have yet to find it in the cookbooks. My Mammaw (my Great Grandmother) was always the one that made Christmas candy, although her daughter, my Nana (my Grandmother) was the one who took on making caramels and fudge about 15 years ago. When my Mammaw died several years ago, I took on making several on the Christmas candies for the family. Even when we moved to the South, we still managed to get enough cold days each year to go through several quarts of heavy cream, dozens of pounds of sugar, and enough pecans to keep a squirrel fat through a long winter.

The Caramel recipe listed below is the one that I use. It will yield around 200 thumb sized pieces of caramels. I make them on a full sized Jelly Roll pan, but if you have a nice deep cookie sheet, that would also work, as would halving the recipe and using a 9x13 pan or fourth-ing the recipe and using an 8x8 pan. Never make these on a rainy day as it seems to tamper with the chemistry.

It helps if you have a few people to help you wrap the caramels. So get some folks together, make a few batches, and then wrap caramels until you can't feel your fingers :) Awhile back I got tired of cutting rolls and rolls of wax paper into squares and found six-inch wax paper squares online, mine are made by norpro and come in boxes of 250. (These are different from the usual burger patty sheets!) They are really nice to have, but you can get 4 wrappers per square foot of wax paper on a roll, and end up with about 300 pieces for about half the price of the pre-cut.

Finally, use actual butter to butter the pan. Seriously. You will regret using pam or some other oil as it will mess up the flavor of the caramels. I had a friend try to make these with pam once, and they tasted like an oil slick. Just use real butter, your tastebuds will rejoice and all will be right with the world.



3 cups of sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
3 cups of karo syrup
1 quart of heavy cream
1 pound of Pecans
A tablespoon or so of butter
An accurate food thermometer or a glass of ice water to test the syrup in

Butter your pan and then place nuts in bottom of pan. For a full batch, I recommend using a full sized Jelly Roll pan or large and deep cookie sheet. Add the sugar, brown sugar, karo syrup, and half of the cream to a large stock pot, bring this up to 232*F, that would be between thread and soft ball stage. When you reach 232*F, slowly stir in the remaining cream. Bring up to 242*F, or right before firm ball stage, and pour into pan. Let set in a cool place, cut, wrap, enjoy!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ginger Bread

Shuffling through my Great- Great- Grandmother's recipes I found two different recipes for Ginger Bread. It seems like I rarely see it anymore, even around the holidays, as most folks seem to think that Ginger Bread means cookies with frosting and red hots. Not that there's anything wrong with gingerbread cookies, but Ginger Bread seems a lot more homey to me than Gingerbread cookies

Mattie Stipp Weathers' Recipe
The recipes are similar, and I have no idea where one of them originated, although the other is attributed to a Mrs. Sam Weathers, whose given name was Mattie Stipp, sister in law to G-G-Grandmother Ida Mae. The three Stipp siblings (William, Mattie, and my G-G-Grandfather John Bowen) inherited farmland from their parents, Benjamin and Sallie, and lived one right after another near what is now Iron Works Rd outside of Paris, Kentucky. My father talks frequently about going out to the farm to work when he was growing up, and even today, what his regrets most about living in the suburbs is the lack of acreage to grow things.

Ida Mae's Recipe

While both have the ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, molasses (Sorgum) and baking powder that you would expect, they vary in the amount and types of liquids added to the batter. You might also notice that they both fail to mention what sort of pan to bake the ginger bread in, in addition to temperature and length of time. I guessed that 'Moderate oven' would be about 350 (always a good guess, right?) and a quick call to my Nana (Grandmother) confirmed that a cake pan would be the best bet, I opted for a 9x13. If your pan isn't non-stick, you might want to butter and flour the pan.

I decided to go for the second recipe, mostly because it had a few more directions written out and any recipe where booze is involved can't be too bad, right? Hopefully I'll be able to make Mattie's recipe soon (I doubt that this cake will last too long as i've already eaten a good portion of it myself!) I opted to make Ida Mae's Ginger Bread with soy milk instead of regular milk, subbed in Gluten Free Flour for the regular, and decided to go for the Brandy instead of coffee. The result is a light cake, richly spiced with a kick of brandy to go along with the tingly sensation from the ginger. It isn't too sweet, so you can easily eat a lot of the cake. My Nana remembers eating this with whipped cream or a brown sugar sauce, but it's also pretty great to just snack on by itself!


Ida Mae's Ginger Bread

1 stick of butter
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup Molasses
2 Tablespoons Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1 Cup Milk (warm)
1/3 Cup Brandy or Coffee
3 Eggs, Beaten
3 Cups Flour
1 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 Orange, Juiced
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda dissolved in tablespoon of water

Sift flour together with Cream of Tartar, set aside. Beat eggs until thick and light, set aside. Cream butter and brown sugar together, add molasses and spices, mix well and add Milk and Brandy/Coffee. Alternate adding flour and eggs. Add in orange juice and mix well. Finally, add in Baking soda and beat until light. Bake at 350* for 25-30 minutes in a 9x13 inch pan.