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Friday’s Fab or Fail: More About Xylitol Candy…

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I’m a big fan of doing things once and doing it big enough that I don’t have to think about it for a while.  You know, kind of the point of this blog.  So, I had the bright idea this summer to expand my candy making to a bulk sized endeavor.  The small batches were a big hit, but time intensive.  I don’t have tons of spare time to be standing around in my kitchen watching sugar boil (as I’m sure many of you can relate to!) so bulk is the way to go.

Home-made Xylitol CandyThe original recipe was 1 cup of water and 1 cup of xylitol.  Bring to a hard boil for 12 minutes (or 310*F) and tada! Candy!  That seemed to work well for the small batches.  There were always some candies that didn’t harden, and some of them turned out a bit crumbly, but no one really cared much.  So, I increased my recipe by 4.

Well, let’s just say that this plan didn’t really come together how I envisioned it.  First of all, it took f.o.r.e.v.e.r. for the xylitol to come to the right temperature.  Then, I discovered that you don’t add flavoring to candy when it is at temperature. Bad idea!!!  The difference in temperatures cause the intended mix to spatter and it can burn you!  DON’T DO IT!  Don’t worry – I’ll tell you the safe way to do this in a minute. The third issue that occurred with my bulk attempt is that some candies hardened beautifully, some never hardened, and some were like crystal shards – not really what one expects when one thinks of HARD candy…  It was quite mysterious, and obviously needed more thought.

I started playing around with the xylitol candy recipe (as I do, when things don’t turn out just how I want them) and have discovered that the original recipe I linked to isn’t the best way to make it. The original recipe used xylitol and water, and then boiled off the water to make the candies. After much research, also known as reading candy cookbooks (yum!), I decided to skip the water as an ingredient altogether.  As it turns out the wide variety of textures in my bulk candy experiment were because of the various amounts of water in the solution.  The really crumbly candies were poured first, and the hard candies were poured at the end when the water had finally boiled off.

So, to make your xylitol candy, you will need to slowly melt some xylitol in a small pan. In this case slow is better – so you don’t burn the xylitol before it melts.  When the temperature reaches “hard crack” (which is about 310*, or if you drip some into cold water, it forms threads that will crack when you try to mold them) pour the xylitol into your candy mold, or drip it onto parchment paper and let it harden.

As I said earlier, DON’T add the flavoring when the candy mixture is at its hottest – it will spatter and burn you! Wait for the xylitol to cool some (to about 270* or so) before adding the flavoring. You will still have plenty of time to take advantage of the fluidity of your candy before it hardens.

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Tuesday Tips – Making a Plan

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My family has recently moved.  A pack-all-your-things-and-move-across-the-country type of move.  There are several things that happen when you move: You lose all your good hunting grounds for allergen-free foods, your kitchen gadgets end up in boxes marked “office supplies – storage room”, and your routine is lost.  It’s like discovering food allergies all over again!

One thing I have neglected on working on is The Meal Plan.

I have a love-hate relationship with plans in general, but I grudgingly admit that The Meal Plan has helped simplify dinner for me.  When I don’t work on The Meal Plan, my days are filled with unpacking, trying to start up a business, juggling appointments of all kinds, playing with my toddler, getting the bigger kids to and from school and suddenly … the witching hour hits where everyone is hungry and cranky and I’m looking at my kitchen in amazement because there is nothing ready to eat.

The Meal Plan.   The Forgetful Professor

There are many great things about having one. You know in advance what ingredients you need.  You can buy in bulk to cook (or freeze) ahead which can save you money.  You can start your dinner in the crockpot in the morning and let it simmer all day and be ready when you are.  You can post it prominently so complainers can get it over with, and all others can eagerly anticipate the glorious mouthwatering food that you can create.

But seriously.  The Meal Plan helps me because I am more like an absent-minded professor working on the big ideas of life, and having The Meal Plan charted out and in place is like having someone follow me around reminding me to pick up my socks.

Now I have many grand ideas about how to meal plan.  Right now I’m working for a 2 week rotation.  I’d love to expand it a little further, and possibly rotate seasonal meals through as well (potato salad in the summer time, for instance.)

I would love to hear what works for other people though.  Especially in attempting to tame food allergy cooking.  What works for bulk and batch cooking?  Do you have a month’s worth of meals you can work with?  Have you tried once-a-month cooking?  Do tell!

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep looking for my crockpot.  Maybe it’s in that box labeled “shed – tools”…

Where it Began

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Cover of "Once-A-Month Cooking"

Cover of Once-A-Month Cooking

As the mom of a child with multiple food allergies, I know just how much work it is just to prepare dinner.  When I was pregnant with my second child, I knew something had to change; I simply could not cook every single day while caring for a toddler and an infant!  Having heard of people who only cooked one day each month, the idea intrigued me.

Soon, the perfect opportunity to try the idea presented itself.  The women at our church wanted to get my recipes so that they could make allergen-free meals for the family after the baby was born.  So sweet, but I do not trust anyone to cook for us.  There are so many hidden ingredients in food that could trigger an allergic reaction for someone in the family.  I suggested that in lieu of a traditional baby shower, the women gather at the church to prepare food for after the baby’s arrival.  The planners agreed and a date was set.

I am the type of person who loves to plan, so I started making my lists and spreadsheets.  (Yeah, I’m totally a geek, too!)

First, I had to pick and type out recipes that I thought would freeze well.  I picked five entrees, two side dishes, and three gluten-free, egg-free baked goods.  I figured that if we did triple batches of each recipe, it would be about a month’s worth of lunches and dinners for our family.  Then I had to add up the ingredients.  I discovered in a hurry that it is a bit challenging to add 1 ½ cups of onions to three onions and know how much food to purchase!  Finally, after quite a bit of math, I had a list of all of my ingredients.  After comparing the list to what I had in my pantry, I made up the shopping list.  I probably spent ten hours just doing the planning.

Whew!  At this point, I handed off my list to the shower organizers, and they did the shopping.  When the day arrived, we had two eight-foot tables full of ingredients.

About fifteen generous women came to the event, and we spent all afternoon cooking in both of the church’s large kitchens.  After about five hours, the task was complete, and everyone was exhausted.  I was so grateful to have my freezer so well stocked, and I knew that there was simply no way I could have prepared that much food all at once by myself in my small kitchen.  It was plain that once a month cooking was not an option for my family.

That is why we started Food Allergies on Ice – to find a allergy-free cooking solution that actually works so we can all get out of the kitchen and get back to spending time with our families.  Join us on our journey!

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