Merry Christmas! (And a Quick Recipe)

Christmas KatnissI know that many of you are rushing to finish your last minute holiday preparations, but I wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas this year.

And if you’re needing a quick homemade gift or just a dessert for the family, here it is:

Quick Pecan and Marshmallow Holiday Bark

If you have mini-marshmallows, then you’re ahead of the game! Otherwise, cut a bunch into pieces. Mix the cut marshmallows in with chopped pecans (or any other type of nut you have on hand) to prevent the marshmallows from sticking to each other. Then melt chocolate and mix with coconut oil just to make the chocolate last a bit longer. Combine that chocolate-y goodness in with the marshmallows and pecans and spread into a greased pan. Cut when firm and eat!

I will be having a quiet day at home this year, but I hope that you enjoy your holiday.

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Chocolate Caramel Popcorn, or Salvaging a Failed Kitchen Experiment

Chocolate Caramel PopcornDuring one of my daily Facebook-ing sessions, I happened to see a recipe for caramel chocolate bark posted on a company’s website. It looked so easy that I thought I must try it for the holidays. Easy, sweet, and awesome! What could go wrong?

Well, it was ok, but it wasn’t great. And it certainly wasn’t worth serving to others. My husband gladly ate the result, but what to do with the remaining caramel?

Google search to the rescue!

We have plenty of popcorn kernels in our pantry, and so I decided to give this recipe a try.

I used the basis of the recipe and made a few changes based on what I had on hand.

I popped the popcorn and mixed it with two handfuls of chopped pecans as well as a small handful of small chocolate morsels. The caramel was poured over this mixture and put in the oven as specified in the recipe. From here, the only change I made was stirring the mixture every 5 minutes while it was in the oven.

The result? Honestly good! Very gooey and delicious, with the right amount of crunch from the nuts. My only possible change for making it in the future would be to sprinkle a bit of salt over it at the end. Sweet and easy, perfect for the holidays!

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Graham Cracker Toffee Crunch, or Overcoming Fears in the Kitchen

Graham Cracker Toffee CrunchDoes anyone else have those dishes that you just avoid making…

Mine would be anything related to homemade caramel or toffee. Yes, I have my own kitchen fears, those dishes that seem to loom larger than life, just taunting me with my own past mistakes.

Back when I was a teenager and fresh out of home-ec class, I decided to take upon myself the task of making dessert for a special dinner when my father’s boss would be visiting. Yes, indeed-y, I was determined and courageous.

I found this delectable recipe in a magazine that involved making homemade caramel, which was absolutely necessary for the recipe. My mother encouraged me to do a simpler dessert, but I wouldn’t listen. No sir, I was confident in my ability. So we gathered the ingredients, and I set to work about an hour before dinner was to begin.

You can probably guess how this turned out, right?

I burned everything. It was awful…I mean, awful. And living in a rural community, we couldn’t just run out to a grocery store or a bakery. My mother hurried to prepare something else while I stood dejected.

I suppose I learned several valuable lessons that day, but I also developed a fear of those sorts of dishes that would last quite awhile. I never wanted to smell that awful burnt smell again, so I just avoided making those dishes. A good plan, for awhile.

But lately, with the onset of middle age and just a ton of shake-ups in my personal life, I decided to give it a try again. I’d been seeing a recipe for Graham Cracker Toffee Crunch floating around the internet. As we had an unused box of graham crackers in our kitchen, I thought this would be a good time to face my fears.

To the kitchen! Honestly, it was pretty much all bravado. I felt more like the following quote from The Princess Bride:

Miracle Max: Have fun stormin’ da castle.

Valerie: Think it’ll work?

Miracle Max: It would take a miracle.

I was careful, very careful. And you know what? It turned out just fine. No awful burnt smell, no dejection. It was a quick and easy cooking experience, and it used up some old graham crackers, so frugal too.

Would I make it again? Yes, I sure would. I think it would make a quick and easy treat for the holidays. And we all need easy and yummy treats for the coming months, right?

Plus I can say that I made it, despite my fears. I stormed the castle of toffee and came out alive.

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Treats for the 4th of July: Chocolate Peanut Butter Mocha Powerballs

choco bites

Have you ever just needed to make something yummy? Perhaps it was all of the talk of the holiday on Facebook, or maybe it was simply a craving for chocolate. No matter the reason, I had to make a sweet treat today for my honey and me.

While the sky’s the limit when it comes to treats and possibilities, there were some conditions. With such a hot day outside, it had to be a no-bake recipe so that I didn’t heat up the house too much. Second, it had to use ingredients we already had around the house. And finally, it would have to be quick as I am working today. With the internet at my fingertips, I knew I would find something, though.

After much searching and finding other awesome recipes, I finally found Chocolate Peanut Butter Mocha Powerballs. This recipe had everything I wanted and needed–caffeine, chocolate, oats, and a little sweetness. These would power us both up and give us energy to get through our day.

My choices for the recipe were as follows:

  1. Maple syrup for the sweetener
  2. Whole oats
  3. Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Coffee

Generally, with the choices above, this was a fairly frugal recipe as we already had everything on hand. Plus, purchasing oats and cocoa in bulk helps quite a bit in the long run. The two main ingredients that were expensive would be the maple syrup and the Starbucks. As honey can be purchased in bulk and stored easily, this might have been a better choice to make this recipe a bit more frugal. However, I was feeling lazy and so grabbed the syrup.

With the help of my trusty little food processor, I was able to mix these up rather easily. To make them a bit fancier, I gave them a good coating of cocoa before putting them in the fridge.

These treats pack quite the punch! They are not very sweet but rather have a dark chocolate sort of taste. The flavors mix well and make a perfect treat for afternoon coffee. They are filling, and so I would recommend making these a bit smaller. Still, they are a cool, chocolate-y treat for a hot July day.

A Tale of Two Cookies

oatmealscotchiesMy husband and I are pretty much opposites in every area. Whether it is the choice of favorite science fiction show—Star Trek is the best!–or our favorite pastime, we seem to have differing opinions on most anything. Perhaps opposites do attract, and if so, we seem to be the confirmation of this saying. Our love has sustained us throughout almost ten years of marriage. Our personalities do make it difficult, though, when it comes to eating cookies.

Take, for example, the recipe for my latest cooking adventure, Oatmeal Scotchies. I found that our oven required a greater cooking time than that listed in the recipe. And the result? The cookies spread out and were quite chewy, with almost a sugar glaze on the bottom of the cookie. When I did my initial taste test, I feared that the entire batch was a loss. My husband, though, found them extremely tasty, stating that they were “perfect.”

As a contrast, my favorite cookie is this recipe for sour cream cookies. I suppose that the label, “Old-Fashioned,” would be a hint that this would be my idea of a “perfect” cookie. Light and fluffy with a hint of sweetness, this cookie is soft and cake-y. It is wonderful with coffee or tea, and it is certainly the antithesis of the oatmeal scotchies and their chewy texture.

So what are we to do? In order to maintain my own girlish figure, I tend to lean toward making those desserts preferred by my husband. The coconut oil chocolates satisfy my need for sweetness while still staying within the bounds of my fairly loose diet. However, I may make my favorite cookies every now and then. “Everything in moderation” is my personal motto when it comes to eating and other activities. And that includes the best cookies around, my husband’s opinion notwithstanding.

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Pumpkin Pie Reeses

pumpkinpiereesesWith just a tad of pumpkin left in a can, I needed just the right recipe to use it. Luckily I had found the recipe for Pumpkin Pie Reeses on Pinterest. It seemed like the perfect thing to make on a Sunday afternoon—using up the last of my pumpkin with a bit of sweetness for my honey. Well, that was the plan, at least.

My husband, who has enjoyed the coconut chocolates that I have made in the past, thought that these candies tasted “off.” He—the man who normally likes dark chocolate, even up to 80% cacao—scrunched up his nose and hesitated to respond when I asked how he liked them. I knew he didn’t want to hurt my feelings, and so he just wouldn’t give me an opinion other than the initial impression.

I tasted them and found them to taste like dark chocolate—not my favorite, but still fine. My assumption is that perhaps they weren’t sweet enough, or maybe just not the right combination of flavors for him. They may grow on him with time, but I always like to see a happy hubby when he’s eating my sweets.

Here are some possible suggestions if you make this recipe:

  • Use real chocolate instead of making the coconut chocolate for these goodies.
  • Add more sweetener to the chocolate and the filling.
  • Use this recipe for the coconut chocolates instead.

All in all, I had hoped that he would love this dessert, but it doesn’t seem like that will be the case. There will be more desserts, though, and always another chance to make him a happy hubby.

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Getting Fancy with Chocolate

gettingfancywithchocolateMy poor honey has had quite a week so far; I therefore wanted to treat him a bit with something sweet. As you may remember, I mixed up some coconut oil chocolates awhile back. Not to repeat myself, I wanted to fancify those chocolates, making them extra special. I wound up with three varieties to delight the taste buds of both my husband and myself.

First, you might notice that the candies are in different shapes. I indulged in silicon molds for our chocolates so that they would come out a bit nicer. Another benefit is that by using various molds, you can provide your family with an easy clue as to the type of candy they are eating. I used two molds for this batch today—one pumpkin and one flower.

As my husband loves candied ginger and coconut, I decided to sprinkle those two ingredients in the bottom of each mold and then pour the chocolate over the top. Although the finished candy wasn’t without some bubbles and lumps from the ginger and coconut, they taste great. Both ingredients seem to complement this type of chocolate, adding a new dimension to the flavor of the candies.

coffeechocolatesMaking the above chocolates, I began to wonder about coffee. Could I add coffee to the candy? I couldn’t not try it, and so I prepared to make a new batch. As an experiment, I added instant coffee to the coconut oil and honey as they were melting. I’ll admit that the mixture looked awful at first but began to smooth out through careful whisking. And the result? Oh, my! They are wonderful! The candy tastes like a dark chocolate that is infused with coffee, and they melt in your mouth. Too, they pack quite a punch with the caffeine in them.

All in all, this attempt to fancify the candy worked wonderfully. This recipe—on top of being simple enough for even me to make—is obviously very adaptable and so can be altered to fit your family’s tastes. For those of us who can’t afford to visit an expensive chocolatier, this is a frugal way to make candies for your own family.

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Almond Chocolate Freezer Fudge: Love Calories

almondchocolatefreezerfudgeSometimes I go a little crazy and make an expensive dessert. I suppose I could excuse this in that it did use up some chocolate that has been lying around on the shelf for a bit. Too, it could be considered energy saving in that I didn’t need to heat up the mixture. However, I would say that this recipe is mainly “love calories,” those calories that bolster our family’s morale in the midst of frugality.

The ingredients make this recipe expensive. I used SunButter due to the sensitivity of my husband’s daughter to peanuts. While that certainly made it an appropriate dessert for her, it sure was expensive. Also, I was concerned in that once mixed with the other ingredients, the butter did not “pour” as the recipe said, and so it seemed as if the fudge would certainly fail.readyforthefreezer

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the fudge did not fail, but rather tasted wonderful. Despite the lack of sugar in the batter itself, it was very sweet, but not overly so. If you’re wanting to introduce your family to whole foods desserts, then this might be a good place to start. Both my husband and his daughter readily ate the fudge and never complained.

Perhaps it’s good for me to go crazy every now and then. My family sure enjoys it!

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Cookie Wars: Autumn Edition

cookiewarsautumnThere is a war going on in my household. It is a cookie war. Yes, dear friends, I have learned an important lesson this week, one that might prove instructional for others. When your family members express their desire to become healthier, take this with a grain of salt when choosing recipes to make. Their desire for a healthy lifestyle may be less strong than the pull of their sweet tooth, thus producing a cookie war, one that can potentially cause dissension within the ranks—and lots of healthy cookies for you to eat.

pumpkinspicebreakfastcookiesIn an effort to keep breakfast a bit simple and healthy, I decided to make Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Cookies. This recipe not only utilized ingredients already stocked in our pantry, but it also featured the key ingredient for fall, pumpkin. And who doesn’t like pumpkin around this time of year? Too, the recipe seemed very healthy and packed full of nutrition.

When looking at the recipe and the use of whole wheat flour, I decided to take a chance that my freshly ground soft white wheat could be used in the batter. Rather than go with my usual half and half rule in regard to using whole wheat flour, I used a whole cup. I excitedly mixed these babies up and cooked them to perfection. The texture was soft and very nice; the sweetness was light and not overpowering. The smell of pumpkin and spices in our kitchen was heavenly. I personally couldn’t wait for coffee and cookies the next morning!

The reaction among my family members was less than enthusiastic, however. My husband remarked that they could have used more sugar, and his daughter frowned as she ate her breakfast. I admit that I was perturbed. I had found a cookie that could be eaten for breakfast, and they didn’t approve. Well, I decided I would show them who could bake up something sweet.

instantoatmealpacketcookiesSome time in the not so distant past, my husband decided that he would buy a couple of boxes of instant oatmeal packets so that we could have an easy breakfast. A few of these packets were used, but most languished in the box, forgotten like an old rag. Well, I wanted to remedy that situation. Enter the Instant Oatmeal Packet Cookies. These cookies seemed like a solution to all my problems in the cookie realm. They used up some old ingredients and provided my family with a super sweet cookie.

Mixing up the batter, I realized that it was a bit dry, and so I would recommend possibly adding a bit more milk if you find this to be the case in your home. However, the cookies themselves had a great texture and were sweet as could be. I couldn’t leave it at that, though. I whipped up a batch of Maple Cinnamon Glaze just to add a final punch to the cookies. And yes, that definitely took them over the top in the sweet department and was a perfect addition to the dessert.

The final verdict? If you have a family like mine, you might want to begin healthy cooking a bit more slowly. A cookie battle is never pretty. We all know who the winner will be—the glazed beauty with the sweet goodness. I’ll keep eating my pumpkin cookies, though, and tuck away this learning experience for future examination. For husbands and kids, sweet is everything when it comes to cookies.

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Comfort Food

comfortfoodFor various reasons, today has been a difficult one for me. Worrying and irritation left me with a lot of nervous energy. Although I could handle that surplus in a less healthy manner–eating my way through an entire package of Oreos, for example–I decided to focus on making some comfort food for my honey and me. This seemed the more positive path, and certainly less calorie laden.

velveetanbiscuitsFor lunch, I made something quick, Grilled Cheese Pull-Apart Rolls. Coming from the South, I particularly enjoy anything with biscuits. Too, it was frugal in that we had some biscuits and the remains of a loaf of Velveeta to use up. So, for both reasons, this recipe was a win. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time appreciating it. First, the rolls took a lot longer to cook than was listed in the recipe itself. This led to a super-heated house and a sweating honey. Also, the Velveeta was a little overpowering in its gooey-ness, and so the biscuits were difficult to even enjoy. Still, they made an easy lunch that filled us up.

homemadejuniormintsTonight, I decided to mix together some Homemade Junior Mints. As a kid, my favorite candy at the movies was Junior Mints. If given the choice among all the different varieties available at the movie theater, I always chose those small little mints. This recipe, therefore, was a natural for my own comfort today. This homemade version is certainly healthier and less sweet, but it was still enjoyable. It also did not require specialized equipment or a stove, and so very appropriate for a warmish evening. They turned out quite good and have brought back some great memories.

So, perhaps I didn’t get my Oreos, but I can say that I still got the comfort I needed. I provided my husband with a filling–if not exactly healthy–lunch, and we have a tasty treat for the next few days. Most importantly, I only ate one Junior Mint.