Hand-pulled dragon’s beard cotton candy? I guess I really will do anything for my kids

Dragon’s beard candy.

I hadn’t heard of this confection until last week, when one of my kids insisted I watched a how-to video they’d seen on YouTube.

“It’s like hand-pulled cotton candy,” they explained as they searched for a video to show me. The most popular one appears to be Inga Lam’s video for Buzzfeed, which was uploaded in April and already has more than 4 million views.

As you know, I’m a big fan of taking on YouTube-inspired projects with my kids, from homemade slime to Angry Bird cupcakes. (Those Jell-O cookies were kind of gross, though.)

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The bright (and not-so-bright) side of making Jell-O cookies

The host says she grew up seeing this candy in Hong Kong and had always wanted to try it. Through her trial-and-error, I knew we’d need a lot of cornstarch and that we couldn’t heat the candy to over 270 degrees. (Her first attempts, where the rings broke apart as she pulled them, looked like the sugar had gone too far into the soft crack stage, which is between 270 and 289 degrees.)

We found a few other videos to add to our research and then set out to make this delicate, ultra-sweet, bird’s best of a treat.

Taking a cue from Clifford Endo of Eater, who posted his how-to video in September, we added blue food coloring to the water and added a splash of vinegar to the pot. We used 500 grams sugar, 1 cup water, a splash of vinegar and 3-4 drops food coloring. As everyone always points out, don’t stir the sugar and water mixture as it heats, although to be totally honest, I didn’t follow that rule for a long time and didn’t notice much of a difference in the caramels and other sugar-based sauces and candies I’ve made.

We didn’t stir the pot this time and watched carefully as the temperature climbed to the 220s, where it stalled, and then inched closer to 270. We pulled the candy from the heat at about 268 degrees and let it cool slightly before pouring into silicon molds and a nonstick mini muffin pan.

The silicon molds were bigger and the candy took longer to cool, but the blue discs of sugar in the mini muffin pan were ready to pull in about 30 minutes, when they were warm enough to still stretch, but cool enough to handle easily and start to hold their shape.

This is where the fun began. We each took a small disc of sugar and poked a hole in it with our fingers. Then, slowly and steady, we started to pull the candy into a larger loop, twisting like an “8” or an infinity look once the circle was about 6 or 8 inches in diameter. The idea is that you gently pull and twist the loop 14 times, which gives you more than 16,000 tender strands of sugar.

As the videos demonstrate, this technique takes a while to master, but our first dragon’s beard candy was actually the best one. We enjoyed using the smaller discs to practice, but if you want the full “beard” effect, you can use a larger quantity of the heated sugar mixture. Many people online use doughnut mold so the sugar already has a hole in the middle.

We crushed up some peanuts, which is how these dragon’s beards are usually served, and the whole package was fun to eat. We ran out of steam to pull all of the sugar mixture we’d made, so I’m glad I cut the original recipe in half. Will we make these again? Maybe, especially if we’re looking for a hands-on project on a rainy day.

But in reality, my kids watch enough YouTube tutorials that there will probably be another project they’ll suggest soon, and, fully aware that we only have so many summers left with this kind of play, I wouldn’t trade these random mom-kid experiments for anything.

What summertime food projects are you working on with your kids?

RELATED: Joanna Gaines’ daughter has a summer baking business — what would be yours?

Here is a mint lemonade to brighten your lemonade stand

 

 

 

On Texas Independence Day, embrace your love of Whataburger at new Capitol Visitors Center food exhibit

Did you know the Poteet Strawberry Festival started in 1948 as a way to encourage World War II veterans to get into farming?

That’s one of the many Texas food factoids you’ll learn at a new food exhibit at the Texas Capitol Visitors Center called “A Diverse Blend: Celebrating Texas Food,” which is open until Sept. 30.

The Texas Capitol Visitors Center has a new food exhibit open until Sept. 30. It’s a small but informative exhibit, but this free, two-floor museum itself is an excellent alternative to the Bullock Texas State History Museum, which can be overwhelmingly crowded. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

But why wait until September? Today is Texas Independence Day, a widely accepted day to proudly proclaim Texan heritage and the state’s sprawling, if complicated, history, and although the Texas Capitol Visitors Center isn’t as comprehensive as the Bullock Texas State History Museum, this free museum near the southeast corner of the Texas Capitol has enough exhibits to keep a family entertained for at least an hour or two.

RELATED: Eight things every Texan should know on Texas Independence Day

What’s the most Texas dish to celebrate Texas Independence Day?

The Texas Capitol Visitors Center is located on 11th Street in the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The food exhibit is particularly fun. Curators set up the space to look like a kitchen, with a table in the middle of the room, an old fridge, oven and cabinets to showcase early kitchen tools, historical cookbooks and recipe cards. On the walls, you’ll find lots of quick pieces of info about the state’s food festivals, agricultural history and even the food companies that call the state home, including Whataburger and Blue Bell.

If the Bullock is too busy this weekend, or you’re looking for a less-intense (or free) place to learn about Texas history, including its foodways, this is the place to do it. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Here are some more photos from my recent visit.

RELATED: ‘Come and Take It’: Lone Star celebrates Texas Independence Day with special cans

 

Austin restaurants pay market fees for local farmers, ranchers amid chilly sales

The owners of Odd Duck and Barley Swine know that this time of year can be rough on local farmers and ranchers.

Farmers and ranchers at the SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown and Sunset Valley didn’t have to pay booth fees in January, thanks to a donation from Odd Duck and Barley Swine. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Unlike many areas of the country where farmers markets shut down over the winter, our local markets operate year-round, but that doesn’t mean they are busy year-round.

That’s why, for the second year, the restaurants have paid the booth fees for all the farmers and ranchers at the Sustainable Food Center farmers’ markets downtown and in Sunset Valley. The donation of more than $4,500 paid the booth fees for 63 farmers and 49 ranchers for the month of January.

 

“We’re so appreciative of Odd Duck/Barley Swine’s support of the SFC Farmers’ Markets and vendors,” Joy Casnovsky, deputy director of SFC, said via email.  During this tough time of the year, not having to pay booth fees can be the difference between a farmer or rancher making a profit at a market or not.

RELATED: Restaurants scheduled to open in Austin in 2018

Tales from the top: Bryce Gilmore’s blueprint for success

Bryce Gilmore is head chef and owner of Barley Swine at 6555 Burnet Road in North Austin.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Chef/owner Bryce Gilmore and his team have long been dedicated shoppers at the Austin-area farmers markets since he first opened a food truck in 2009.

“It’s our way of saying thank you to all the farmers for their hard work, especially when the challenges of the winter can result in less produce available to bring to the markets,” Gilmore said via email. “I figured it’d be nice for them to not worry about the booth fee when they have less to sell along with fewer customers shopping at the market.”

 

How do you cook octopus anyway? Use high heat, mind the beak

I’ve been a fan of octopus since I lived in Spain, where it is used in several traditional dishes.

In Galicia in the Northwestern part of Spain, you’ll find thick tentacles sliced into thin discs and coated in olive oil and paprika, often served with potatoes. In other places, you’ll find baby octopi or a few single tentacles sauteed in olive oil and garlic or grilled until the ends coil up and have a nice crisp.

These baby octopus have been prepped — by removing the hard center where you’ll sometimes find a beak — and are ready to cook. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

When I tried to recreate octopus at my apartment in Southern Spain, I often used a canned octopus preserved in its own ink. It sounds terrible, but that deep purple fried octopus and rice became one of my favorite home-cooked dishes during my year there.

Until earlier this week, I’d never worked with whole baby octopi, but thanks to the newly opened H-Mart, I got the chance. After searching the internet for cleaning instructions, I removed the hard(ish) center — there weren’t any actual beaks in these — and any membranes I found in the head. Taking the European route, I soaked them in a marinade made with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. (If you watch the livestream where I demonstrate this, you’ll see I also used a lemon powder I made recently with dried lemon peels.)

My kids were really worried I was going to choke on the suckers, which have been known to cling to an eater’s throat.

RELATED: Why Austin’s new H-Mart is a ‘grocery shopping game changer’

When it’s not raining, I’ll try these again over a hot grill, but with our wet weather, I decided to simply cook them in a hot cast iron skillet. I’ve found that you really want some high heat here to cook them quickly and try to get some caramelization on the suckers and the tentacles.

Because they are small, you don’t have to dip them in a pot of boiling water, which is what you might have seen instructed for larger octopus.

Cooked octopus will curl up at the ends and have an even density throughout the flesh. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The quick stint in the marinade was enough to season the octopi thoroughly and the oil meant I didn’t need to add any to the pan. After about 5 to 7 minutes over a high heat, most of the octopi were cooked through. The thicker ones needed a little more time.

I served these baby octopi with fresh Japanese-style noodles that I also picked up at H-Mart. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

After they were all cooked, I chopped them into smaller pieces and cooked up a package of fresh Japanese noodles I also picked up at H-Mart. I didn’t use any typically Asian seasoning, though, so I stuck with olive oil and garlic salt when I served it.

During the livestream yesterday, several people commented about the ways they cook octopus now or grew up eating it. If you have techniques, seasoning suggestions or tips, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

 

This homemade harissa paste from America’s Test Kitchen seasons everything

Just when you think there are no new recipes or cooking techniques, America’s Test Kitchen comes in with a surprise, like blooming spices for this harissa-rubbed lamb in the microwave.

Many Americans only cook lamb around Easter, but you can use any number of cooking techniques and spices to prepare a special meal any time of year. This version from America’s Test Kitchen is rubbed with the Middle Eastern spice mix harissa. Contributed by Daniel J. Van Ackere

This dish is from one of the company’s new books, “How to Roast Everything: A Game-Changing Guide to Building Flavor in Meat, Vegetables, and More” (America’s Test Kitchen, $35),” which shows how you can build flavor by roasting everything from chicken, beef and pork roasts to broccoli, potatoes and peaches.

After rubbing this boneless leg of lamb — or a pork or beef roast or even chicken breasts — with the homemade harissa paste, you’ll brown the outside of the lamb before finishing in the oven to a juicy medium-rare. I recently made harissa potatoes using a dried harissa mix, but you could find many uses in your kitchen for this oil-based harissa paste.

In another genius step, the editors then toss cauliflower florets with the pan drippings and roast them until they are tender and browned. When mixed with carrots, raisins, cilantro and toasted almonds, the cauliflower makes a side that’s perfectly paired with this North African-inspired lamb. If you can’t find Aleppo pepper, substitute 3/4 teaspoon paprika and 3/4 teaspoon finely chopped red pepper flakes.

Harissa-Rubbed Roast Boneless Leg of Lamb with Cauliflower Salad

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground dried Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
Salt and pepper
1 (3 1/2‑ to 4‑pound) boneless half leg of lamb, trimmed and pounded to 3/4‑inch thickness
1 head cauliflower (2 pounds), cored and cut into 1‑inch florets
1/2 red onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus extra for seasoning

Combine 6 tablespoons oil, garlic, paprika, coriander, Aleppo pepper, cumin, caraway seeds and 1 teaspoon salt in bowl and microwave until bubbling and very fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring halfway through microwaving. Let cool to room temperature.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Set V-rack in large roasting pan and spray with vegetable oil spray. Lay roast on cutting board with rough interior side (which was against bone) facing up and rub with 2 tablespoons spice paste. Roll roast and tie with kitchen twine at 1 1/2-inch intervals, then rub exterior with 1 tablespoon oil.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown lamb on all sides, about 8 minutes. Brush lamb all over with remaining spice paste and place fat side down in prepared V-rack. Roast until thickest part registers 125 degrees (for medium-rare), flipping lamb halfway through roasting. Transfer lamb to carving board, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest while making salad.

Increase oven temperature to 475 degrees. Pour all but 3 tablespoons fat from pan; discard any charred drippings. Add cauliflower, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to pan and toss to coat. Cover with aluminum foil and roast until cauliflower is softened, about 5 minutes.

Remove foil and spread onion evenly over cauliflower. Roast until vegetables are tender and cauliflower is golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring halfway through roasting. Transfer vegetable mixture to serving bowl, add carrots, ­raisins, cilantro, almonds, and lemon juice and toss to combine. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Slice leg of lamb into 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve with salad. Serves 6 to 8.

— From “How to Roast Everything: A Game-Changing Guide to Building Flavor in Meat, Vegetables, and More” (America’s Test Kitchen, $35)

Paint a hippo at the farmers market this weekend

Hippos will be at the SFC Farmers’ Market at Sunset Valley this weekend.

This is one of the hippo sculptures that people at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market can help paint this weekend. Contributed by Hippo.com

Not just any hippos, of course. These are life-sized art hippos, ones that look like they are halfway submerged under the ground, from the Austin-based artist Faith Schexnayder.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, you can help paint them at the farmers market at 3200 Jones Road in Sunset Valley. The following Saturday (Feb. 25), the hippos and painting party will move to the downtown farmers market at Republic Square Park from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s part of a launch for the Austin-based insurance company, Hippo, which is opening its second headquarters downtown.

The hippos will be auctioned off to benefit the Special Olympics of Texas.

From the archives: In love, wield your words like a sharp kitchen knife — carefully

Editor’s note: This story originally ran for Valentine’s Day 2011. For date night that year, my ex and I took a knife-skills class, and I wrote about it, finding parallels between love and knowing how to properly use a knife. We aren’t married anymore, but I still like the story. It has some helpful knife tips, but also some observations on love and trying to make it in a marriage. For what they are worth. PS: I’m still using that $130 Wusthof.

Love cuts like a knife, but don’t use your kitchen knife to cut paper. Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

They say love cuts like a knife, but anyone who has ever been married knows that it’s words, not love, that are required to get the proverbial dinner on the table.

But words are also what can do the most damage. The sharper they are, the swifter the cut, and if you don’t use them right, you’ll eventually draw blood.

To learn a little bit about using knives — both metaphorically and literally — as they are intended, I took my husband to a knife skills class at Whole Foods Market’s culinary center just a few weeks before Valentine’s Day.

Keeping a kitchen knife sharp can be tricky, especially if you don’t have the right sharpening tools. Addie Broyles/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Slicing a mango and bringing up the fact that your husband still hasn’t gone to get the car registered both require a delicate handling to pull off without doing any damage. There’s a right way to go about it that is both careful and intentional, and a wrong way, in which you hold the knife at the wrong angle and, in a split second, set the whole night off course. (Let’s just hope stitches aren’t involved.)

Instructor Jay Cusick quickly settled the score on one long-running issue between us: Knives and wooden utensils don’t belong in the dishwasher.

“Look down the blade at what you are about to cut,” Cusick tells the dozen or so students who have gathered around a large kitchen island. Not what you have cut or what you’d like to cut next. Focus on the consequences of your actions. Right. Now.

“Let the knife do what it is supposed to do.”

In 2011, Jay Cusick was a teacher at the Whole Foods Market Culinary Center, where he taught a knife skills. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Choosing the right tone is like choosing the right knife, and there is a time and a purpose for all kinds: the quotidian butter knife (an off-the-cuff “What’s for dinner?”) and the electric knife that only comes out once a year (the grave “We need to talk”). “Many knife injuries occur when laziness induces us to use the knife at hand rather than the correct knife for a job,” the class handout explains.

And then there is the chef’s knife. The everyday sturdy-handled silver workhorse that you can’t cook properly without but that needs proper maintenance to do its job. The day-to-day exchanges you have with your partner around which your lives rotate: planning vacations, paying bills and yes, figuring out what’s for dinner.

Chopping the knife up and down like a jackhammer is not what a chef’s knife is for. You are supposed to slide your knife through whatever you’re cutting, leaving the tip on the cutting board and pushing the blade back and forth, back and forth, dragging the tip of the knife on the wood. You should be able to glide the blade through even a hard sweet potato without too much pressure or force.

If you find yourself pushing too hard, your knife needs attention, and there’s a big difference between honing a knife and sharpening it.

It’s natural for a knife blade to curve to one side or the other after heavy use. By using a round steel rod at home, you can bring the still-sharp knife blade back to center and keep on cutting. But eventually, the blade in fact becomes dull and the only way to sharpen it properly is to take the knife to an expert who spends all day putting fresh edges on tired blades. (You can use a whetstone or electric sharpener at home, but both require a certain expertise.) But because sharpening a knife eventually whittles down the metal, you can only sharpen a knife so many times before it is worn beyond use.

The more frequently you hone your knife with a round steel rod at home, the less frequently you have to take it in for a big adjustment.

Over the past five years, Ian and I have done a lot of honing on our relationship. With two young kids and a still relatively new marriage, we’re constantly adjusting ­– in knife terms, realigning — how we handle even minuscule tasks like who takes out the trash and how socks should be folded. If we go too long without giving proper care and attention to our marriage, it just gets harder and harder to figure out how to get back on track.

Cusick tells us what a marriage counselor might tell a troubled couple: It’s not in class where you’re going to perfect your skills; it’s at home. Every grapefruit you cut into segments for breakfast, every slice of bread you saw off a French loaf for a sandwich, every onion you dice for dinner, you have to be aware of your technique and your tools.

And you don’t learn to turn a spiky pineapple into perfect cubes after one lesson. Proper knife skills take time to develop. “You have to make a correct attempt at it over and over again until the muscle memory sets in,” Cusick says. If your garlic isn’t perfectly minced one day, by all means don’t give up garlic altogether. “With time, practice and confidence, your speed will increase, but you do not need to look like a TV chef.”

Every person will grip a knife in a slightly different way, Cusick says, and inexpensive blades will get the job done, but it isn’t pleasant to use them. Treat yourself to a serious, well-made chef’s knife ­– I finally bit the bullet and bought a $130 Wusthof last year -­- and you’ll reap the reward for years to come.

Get one that feels right when you hold it. Then work with it in a way that maximizes comfort, control and safety while minimizing fatigue. Sound familiar?

 

Royal Blue Grocery expanding to downtown San Antonio

Austinites who spend any time downtown are so familiar with Royal Blue Grocery that we take it for granted.

A wine and flower selection sits just beyond on open door at one of the Royal Blue Grocery stores downtown. Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There are seven Austin locations of these small specialty stores that carry tons of local products and lots of quick and ready-to-eat options for people looking for a meal, a snack or a last-minute ingredient needed to make dinner.

Today, the San Antonio Express News broke the news that Royal Blue will be opening its first location in downtown San Antonio later this year. The company already has two locations in Dallas.

Royal Blue Grocery in downtown Austin. Contributed by Royal Blue Grocery

The 2,500-foot store, which won’t open until September, is under construction in the Savoy Building on Houston Street. “We are not a substitute for a full-size grocer, but we are the three trips in between for one or two things,” Royal Blue owner Craig Staley told the Express News.

All the love: Former Dai Due baker teaching classes, planning brick-and-mortar shop

Abby Love, the former baker for Dai Due, is having a good Valentine’s Day.

Abby Love is the bread baker and pastry chef, formerly of Dai Due, who is now teaching baking classes as she prepares to open her own bakery, L’Oven. Contributed by @abbyjluv

After leaving the lauded Manor Road eatery last year, she’s been teaching classes and making partnerships with other food businesses around Austin, including a special chocolate sourdough with Confituras last weekend. (The classes have been selling out quickly, so keep an eye out for tickets if you want to snag one.)

Abby Love is a Louisiana native who moved to Austin in 2013 and opened Dai Due, the lauded restaurant on Manor Road. Contributed by @abbyjluv

The bread baker and pastry chef easily met a crowdfunding goal for L’Oven, a brick-and-mortar operation she has in the works, but in the meantime, you can catch her teaching classes at various locations around Austin.

RELATED: Barton Springs Mill turns ancient grains into fresh flour

Dai Due’s mission and execution make it one of Austin’s best restaurants

Love’s hands-on baking classes are already popular. Contributed by @abbyjluv

From the about page of her site: “She will bore us with science. Because making good bread is often about understanding the building blocks of your loaf. Be prepared to learn baker’s math, think about the structure of a wheat kernel, and use words like “enzyme” and “protein” for the first time in maybe decades.”

The Louisiana native, who moved to Austin in 2013, is also hosting private classes and pop-ups, which you can learn about at lovenbread.com.

Willie, Beyonce make their macaron debut, thanks to this Austin baker

[cmg_anvato video=3934576 autoplay=”true”]

Macarons aren’t quite the bakery trend they were just a few years ago, but one Austin baker is making macarons that tap into another trend: Kawaii, the Japanese term for super cute.

From anime to Hello Kitty, you already know this style of cute. It’s the kind of adorable that makes you squeal, or in 2018 terms, squee.

For her company, OMG Squee, Austinite Sarah Lim is mashing up both of these trends to create ridiculously charming macarons, often in the shape of recognizable pop culture icons and characters, including Queen Bey and our own Willie Nelson.

RELATED: Chocolate makers in Austin talk about their craft 

LISTEN: What is ‘bean-to-bear’ chocolate? Let’s ask top chocolate writer Megan Giller

These Willie Nelson macrons are from Austin baker Sarah Lim, who sells her OMG Squee treats at two farmers markets. Contributed by @squeeclub

Macarons — the French almond-and-egg-white cookies, not the shredded coconut macaroons — are notoriously fussy to make, but Lim has mastered the fine details required to make a macaron look like David Bowie, Prince or an angry kitty.

WATCH: Go inside Amy’s Ice Creams’ chocolate-covered strawberry factory

Valentine’s Day treats from OMG Squee. @squeeclub

Here’s how she made the Beyonce macarons for Valentine’s Day:

 

Lim sells these treats at the SoCo Farmers Market (1511 S. Congress Ave.) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and the HOPE Farmers Market (412 Comal St.) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. If you want to try to snag some before the big day tomorrow, you can email her at omgsqueeclub@gmail.com.

RELATED: Where to buy Austin-made chocolates for Valentine’s Day