kitchen toys part 2–adventures in cotton candy

For nearly 10 years, the Minnesota Pork Producers have asked me to edit and format 15 or so chef recipes for publication in their annual Taste of Elegance cookbook. Part of the MPP’s annual meeting, the Taste of Elegance brings local high-end chefs together to show off their talents in creatively cooking with pork.

The book is distributed at the Taste of Elegance event, where each chef serves up samples of his or her contest entry to everyone who happens by. A lot of pork is eaten that night. Each chef has a booth and each year the chefs get more creative with their set up. My favorite so far is Chef Peter Christensen’s booth at this year’s event. Chef at Woolley’s Restaurant in nearby Bloomington, he tripped his booth out county fair-style, complete with cotton candy. I enjoyed his bourbon-cured pork loin and amazing smoked peach ice cream. But the runaway hit for me was his bacon cotton candy.

The concept seemed simple and even cheeky, but I was absolutely enamored. This was brilliance. Cotton candy is pure sugar and can be sweet enough to make your teeth ache. Bacon is salty and rich–the perfect balance for sweet. Combining the two made for an amazing taste experience. Chef Peter was kind enough to send a bag home with me and I enjoyed it throughout the next couple of days whenever I needed a hit of sublime. (As amazing as I found bacon cotton candy, I could only eat a bit at a time as it was extremely rich.)

Knowing I needed more, I committed to making cotton candy at home. The Internet made this a real possibility; I did a bit of online research and ordered what looked to be a good, affordable home model. (I stayed away from the brand whose reviews mentioned that it “spontaneously combusted.”)

My oldest daughter had a slumber party soon after the machine’s arrival and making cotton candy was on our agenda that night. What a blast. Something about the swirling sugar floss just seems so ethereal and magical. Fun. Like you can’t stop smiling fun. The home models make much smaller servings than the machines you find at fairs, so a cone or two won’t blow anyone’s healthy-eating intentions. (Did I mention that it’s just plain fun to make?)

Chef Peter was a prince to share his bacon cotton candy recipe with me, though I have yet to make it. His advice to “use an area that you can easily clean (garage or open area)” makes me think I need a bigger stretch of time for the project than I have available right now. But making bacon cotton candy is absolutely on my list.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to whip out the cotton candy maker for birthday parties, sleepovers, rainy days, and whenever else smiling is encouraged.

spinning a cotton candy web

homemade cotton candy!

the ice cream photos and a cotton candy teaser

We threw my daughter a 6th birthday party last Saturday, complete with cupcakes, cotton candy, and homemade ice cream. The weather cooperated, which meant the 16 guests (had a few last-minute invites) had the run of the backyard. The kids wiped us out of dollar-store prizes playing carnival games; they also ate heartily. I had high hopes that the baby carrots and red grapes would be popular, but they were merely nibbled on. When the cupcakes, ice cream, and cotton candy finally made their appearance, they were quickly gobbled.

I promised photos of the ice cream (which was indeed amazing), so here are two.

ice cream gets a kick

homemade vanilla ice cream on a dipped and sprinkled sugar cone--divine

We also made cotton candy for the kids, which was a huge hit. I love my cotton candy maker and was thrilled to have it on hand for this party. It makes reasonable-size cones, using only 1 tablespoon sugar (yes, cotton candy really is pure sugar) for each. But it’s still the light, fluffy cotton candy floss you find at carnivals, fairs, etc. I’ll leave a teaser photo here, then share my cotton candy maker story next post. (It involves bacon, so please come back for it!)

cotton candy magic

getting ready to party

Tomorrow we celebrate my youngest’s birthday with her friends. Ten 6-and-unders in our backyard (if it rains, we’re toast) playing circus. We’ll do games, cotton candy, cupcakes, and homemade ice cream. (Will also set out bowls of carrots and grapes to satisfy the Nutrition Police in me.)

My cotton candy maker gets mention in a previous post. I’ll put another kitchen toy to good use at the party: our “soccer ball” ice-cream maker. Anyone who has tried homemade ice cream knows how amazingly creamy and sweet and rich it is. There’s no comparing it to store-bought.

My parents introduced me to homemade ice cream early on. Back in the day, we’d take turns turning the handle on our hand-crank churner to make a batch of ultra creamy, pale yellow (used egg yolks freely in the pre-salmonella days), and heavenly vanilla ice cream. Fast forward to 2012 and it’s easy to find affordable electric ice-cream makers; they make amazing ice cream in under an hour with very little effort from the “cook.”

Why, then, do I make ice cream by running around kicking a ball for nearly 30 minutes? A lot of work, yes, but it’s a fun party activity for kids–they seem to have endless energy. It’s a good way for grown-up kids to make ice cream, too, as you work off some of the calories you’ll be inhaling when the ice cream is done.

Here’s how it works: Ice cream ingredients go in one end of the ball; ice and rock salt in the other. The lids are sealed, then the ball is kicked, tossed, and rolled for 10 minutes or so. Next, it’s break-time as the frozen cream mixture is stirred to mix and fresh ice and salt are added on the other end. The lids are resealed and it’s another 10 to 15 minutes of shaking, etc. before the ice cream is ready to enjoy.

Tonight I have ingredients, equipment, and a recipe, but the final product has yet to be made. I’ll post pictures of the ice cream and cotton candy in the near future. But now, I need to get some sleep. I’ll need to be well-rested when the circus-goers take over my backyard.

ice cream waiting to be made

Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

No eggs in this recipe. Think of the fun you could have with stir-ins: cinnamon, mini chocolate chips, colored sprinkles, crumbled candy bars, crushed cookies, fresh fruit.

  • 2 cups heavy cream*
  • 1  cup whole milk
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

In bowl, combine all ingredients until blended. Transfer to ice-cream maker. Continue according to ice-cream maker instructions.

*The original recipe called for 1 quart cream, but this ice cream was way too rich. I played around with types and ratios of dairy and this is what I like best. Half-and-half (even fat-free) can also stand in for the whole milk.