It's Fat Tuesday! Like many people, when I think of Mardi Gras, I think of New Orleans. I have only been there once, on business, but I remember the food being fantastic. Plus, my fun and crazy Uncle Kenny and his good natured wife Anne live there. "Go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras or the Jazz Festival" is on my list of things I'd like to do someday.
Since I can't get there this year, I decided to make a food that reminds me of New Orleans -- pralines. After a little online hunting, I chose Gale Gand's recipe from the Food Network site. Gale Gand has written lots of cookbooks, had the show "Sweet Dreams" on the Food Network, and appeared on "Iron Chef America" with her business partner, Rick Tramonto (they lost). She and Chef Tromonto actually got their start here in Rochester, at the Strathallan Hotel. And I can't resist mentioning that I met her and she's friendly and down to earth.
I'm always nervous making recipes that mention "soft ball" and "hard ball," but this was pretty easy. The candy thermometer seemed to stall at 220 degrees for several minutes, but eventually it inched up to the desired temperature. I admit that they didn't turn out all that pretty -- while they were cooling, I couldn't help but mentally compare them to doggie diarrhea -- but they actually were yummy. The flavor of the butter cut through the sweetness.
By the way, if you're trying to find something worth watching during the writer's strike, I highly recommend Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. The current episode is, of course, about post-Katrina New Orleans. It's understandably more serious than some episodes but Bourdain always keeps things interesting.
Gale Gand's Pralines
Adapted from The Food Network
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar (I used dark but I think I'd use light next time)
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups toasted halved pecans
In a heavy saucepan combine the sugar, brown sugar, and cream and bring to a boil. Cook on medium heat to softball stage (238 degrees F). This will take several minutes. Add the butter and pecans. Continue cooking until hardball stage (245 degrees F). This will go fairly quickly. Working quickly, spoon large dollops onto a silicone mat or parchment lined baking tray. The pralines will spread and crystallize as they cool.