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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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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Cream Cheese Mints

cream cheese mintsRecently, during a thorough cleaning of the refrigerator, we discovered a package of cream cheese tucked in the back of a drawer. Does this ever happen to you? Luckily, it wasn’t a container of moldy leftovers, but rather some creamy goodness. As it was nearing the end of its life, I decided to use it in a recipe for cream cheese mints from allrecipes.com.

One thing that I certainly appreciate is that there are an endless number of recipes available online. By doing a quick search for ingredients, you can often find a recipe that will utilize what you have on hand. Some websites even specialize in providing personalized recipes based on the ingredients that you enter. Being frugal does mean being creative, but it’s nice to find just the perfect recipe every now and then.

Making the mints, I found that the mix came out a bit wetter than described in the recipe. I thought briefly about adding more powdered sugar to the bowl or putting it in the refrigerator, but I admit I was impatient. I scooped up the sugary dough into a plastic bag and cut off the tip. Grunting a bit as I carefully squirted out perfect lines of mint, I turned over the bag to my husband, who quickly made thick lines with crazy swirls. Not exactly like what we saw in the picture, but it would do.

tasty cream cheese mintsAs the mints seemed to be too wet to “dry” as I read in the recipe, I simply put them in the freezer. Letting them harden completely proved a bit difficult for both of us, and so we tasted them early. Not exactly pretty, but definitely delicious!

Doing a quick search on the internet such as I did to find the mint recipe can yield tasty and frugal treats. When so much food gets thrown out each year by American households, making sure that every scrap of food is used up and enjoyed is a positive goal for any home. And when the result is as tasty as the mints? Why wouldn’t you do it?

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