Milk Chocolate and Almond Butter Cups

Milk Chocolate and Almond Butter Cups

Are you ready for the holidays?  My holiday is long gone, and I am still not ready.  Today my plan was the take the day off and catch up on some stuff – but unfortunately the weather got in the way, and with the girls only at school for 3 hours – I was not all that productive.  We woke up to snow, and in Seattle, that means either no school, or a 2-hour delay.  Ok – so instead of working on my stuff, I want to help all of you.  It is the season of giving, and whether you want to make something or buy something – I am offering up suggestions.

If you are in the market of buying – here are my top 5 all time favorite kitchen gadgets:

1)  Oxo 1/4 cup Measuring Cup

2)  Extra-large Spatula

3)  Ice-cream Scoop for Cookies

4)  Immersion Blender

5)  Silicon Pastry Brush

Now – if you are like me, and like to make treats for friends and neighbors – here are my top 5 favorite gifts from the kitchen:

1)  Mulled Cider Jelly

2) Basic Tomato Salsa

3) Chocolate Truffles

4) Vanilla Bean Caramels with Fleur de Sel

5) Rocky Rods

Now – I will be honest – I love all my jams and jellies like children – they are all special in their own way – but I choose one that I thought was just a little extra special.  Seriously though, you can’t go wrong.  And now I have one more to add to that list for next year – the Milk Chocolate and Almond Butter Cups that we made at The Pantry Holiday Gift Making class – with kids.  These are definitely an extra special treat – and for those people allergic to peanuts – have no fear – they are even better made with almond butter.

So – hang in there, just another few days to go – but you have an entire weekend to all your last minute shopping and baking.  HAVE FUN!!!

Ingredients

  • 4 ½ ounces (1/2 cup) creamy almond butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounces) butter, soft
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ounces (1/2 cup) powdered sugar
  • 1 pound milk chocolate

Preparation

Combine the almond butter, vanilla extract, butter, salt and powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Mix well.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave (30 second intervals and stir) or a double boiler.  While the chocolate is melting, line a mini-muffin pan with 36 wrappers.  Place 1 teaspoon of the almond butter mixture on top of the melted chocolate then cover the almond butter with more melted chocolate.

Place the pan into the refrigerator to set.  Store the almond butter cups in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Makes 2 dozen.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Milk Chocolate and Almond Butter Cups

Milk Chocolate and Almond Butter Cups 2

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Apple-Cranberry Jam

Apple-Cranbery Jam

Someone needs to shake some sense into me.  A wise man once said, “If it is worth doing, it is worth overdoing.”  Yes, I often feel like those are the words I live by – particularly this time of year.  If you look into my pantry right now, you would completely agree with me.  We are on the final countdown to Thanksgiving – but that is not the only thing going on in our family at the moment.  We are about to embark on the Trifecta of holidays – Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and my younger daughter’s birthday – yes, all on the same day.  She could not be more excited.  Me, well, I would rather spread the cheer, but it is what it is.

I got back from another adventure, only to be thrown right into the birthday celebrations.  Last week was not my best international travelling experience when it came to sleeping.  For some reason almost every night between 2:30 and 3:00am, I decided I had slept enough, and it was time for my body to wake up.  I was exhausted. Three hours of sleep a night is not nearly enough for me – I can get away with it for a couple of nights – but then I really turn to mush.  The good news – I was finally able to sleep on the airplane – I was just done.  I couldn’t take it any longer.

Aside from birthday baking this weekend, I had to get one last batch of jam in before I call it quits for the season.  With Thanksgiving coming right around the corner, I decided to try out a new recipe from Food in Jars using cranberries and apples – both which I found at the farmer’s market this weekend.  This jam is mighty delicious – and so versatile.  I could see this on a peanut butter sandwich, as well as a turkey sandwich.  Oh, and on a bagel with cream cheese – it would make it sing.  So – as you are preparing for your Thanksgiving feast – why not make a batch of this.  And if you really want to make your guests happy, give them a small jar as they are leaving.  Again – this is the time of year where people tend go a little overboard – and my philosophy is, if you can over do it now, then you can rest later.  Is it later yet?

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of peeled and diced apple (approximately 5-6 large apples, 1/2 inch dice. Use a softer apple like a Golden Delicious. Firm apples won’t cook down as well.)
  • 4 cups of whole cranberries
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced

Instructions

Combine the apples, cranberries, sugar and water in a large pot (use a big one, this jam will bubble) over high heat. Bring to a boil, skimming off the foam that develops on the top of the fruit. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the cranberries pop and the apples soften.

Add the lemon zest and juice and simmer until the liquid in the pot begins to thicken (because both apples and cranberries are naturally high in pectin, you won’t need any additional pectin to help this jam set, as long as you cook it until thick and syrup-y).  If you like a smoother jam, now is the time to use an immersion blender.

Ladle into prepared jars, wipe rims, apply lids and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Label nicely and distribute to those you love.

Makes about 4 (1-Pint) Jars.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Apple-Cranberry Jam

Cocoa Nib Pecan Shortbread

Pecan Shortbread

We made it – the kids are done with school, the gifts have been delivered, and now we can sit back and relax.  It’s amazing how this year I really thought I was doing everything ahead of time with all the jam sessions, but I was still scrambling up until the last week.  So – I am hear to write about one more delicious gift from the kitchen – knowing that some of you out there may be looking for just one more thing.
I have never been a huge nut person when it comes to baking – I love eating nuts as snacks, but I like my baked goods pure.  I omit the nuts in my banana bread, as well my chocolate chip cookies.  Even when I bake with peanut butter, I always use creamy.  Heck – I prefer creamy peanut butter just about always.  So – when I saw we were making these Pecan Cocoa Nib Shortbread at The Pantry’s Holiday Gift Making class, I was a little hesitant.
Well – this recipe was different – it really needed those nuts – and the secret?  Chopping those nuts up into really small pieces. It made all the difference.  Basically the nuts were not only used for flavor, but just a hint of texture.  Oh, and the cocoa nibs?  Out of this world.  If you don’t have cocoa nibs though, just chop some high quality chocolate up into small bits.
Now – if you have kids – I highly suggest these – although this recipe is also extremely easy.  You will just have to help with the chopping.  Now go get moving, and hopefully you can carve out some downtime as well this holiday.

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ ounces pecans
  • 8 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 2 ounces whole wheat flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces butter, soft
  • 5 ounces sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa nibs

Preparation

Toast the pecans in a 325 degree oven (300 convection) for about 8 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool until cook enough to handle.  Chop into small pieces.

Whisk together the flours and the salt.  Set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar on low speed until smooth.  Add the chopped pecans and cocoa nibs and mix until just incorporated.  Add the flour mixture and mix on low until just incorporated.

Roll the dough into logs and chill for several hours.  Slice into cookies and chill until ready to bake.

Bake at 350 degrees (325 convection) until browned, about 16-18 minutes.

Makes about 30 shortbread cookies.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here: Pecan Cocoa Nib Shortbread

Espresso Marshmallows with Dark Chocolate

Espresso Marshmallows

I have to say, I have been putting off this post for a few days now.  Friday’s news really hit a little too close to home for me.  On Friday, it was bad enough learning about what happened – in the state where I went to elementary school.  But Saturday, when I learned that it was two first grade classrooms, it was a little too much to swallow.  My younger daughter is in first grade, and I just can’t imagine what a nightmare those poor families are living right now.  I tried to stay away from the computer all weekend – and we didn’t have the television on except for football on Sunday – but today I couldn’t avoid it any longer.  It was hard enough leaving the house knowing my kids would be at school today.  I got to my office and just cried.  I wanted to call the schools, and make sure they were going to start locking the doors during the day – but I decided they would get many hysterical calls today, and I wouldn’t add to the chaos.  This is just part of the world we live in, and it makes me sick.  We have to enjoy every minute we have – especially with our little ones.  My heart goes out to all the people suffering from this horrendous tragedy.  I hope we can look back at this as the event that changed things in this country.  We can always hope.

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Last week I took a Holiday Gift Making class at my favorite community kitchen – The Pantry.  It was awesome, although I really didn’t need any more edible gifts.  I have about 80 jars of jam I made this summer and fall…  It was really fun, and I came home with 12 more nicely wrapped gifts from the kitchen.  As if that wasn’t enough – my older daughter asked when we were going to make our annual holiday pretzels.  Seriously?  Did we need more treats – of course we did, how could a holiday season go by without making those?  So – on Sunday afternoon, we got out the supplies, and the girls and I hammered out another 7 bags of gifts.  I swear we could go into business at this point.  Does anyone need any?

These marshmallows were one of the treats we made at the class last week – and what an incredible treat they were.  I was snacking on them the entire time.  There were not the easiest of the holiday treats, but they were definitely worth the trouble.  Be careful if you make these with kids – they need to watch you pour the syrup into the egg whites.  They will have great fun decorating though!

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/4 cup instant espresso
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 ounce powdered gelatin
  • 14 ounces sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 1/2 ounces egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • good quality dark chocolate for decorating

Preparation

Mix the cornstarch and powdered sugar together.  Prepare a 9×13″ pan by greasing it lightly with the vegetable oil.  Dust it with half of the powdered sugar mixture and lightly shake off any excess.

Mix together the vanilla bean seeds and sugar.  Rub with your fingers until the seeds are incorporated into the sugar.  Mix the water and vanilla sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir in the instant espresso until it is completely dissolved.  Transfer to a bowl and place in the fridge until thoroughly chilled.

When the coffee is chilled, slowly sprinkle the gelatin on top, stirring it in to keep it from clumping.  Place this over a pot of hot water to melt the gelatin, stirring occasionally.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup and 3/4 cup of water in a pot over low heat.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Stop stirring and bring to a boil.  You want the syrup to eventually reach 260 degrees.  When the syrup reaches 240 degrees, begin beating the egg whites until they begin to look like meringue.  The goal is to get the egg whites to whip up at the same time the sugar syrup reaches 260 degrees, adjusting the speed of the mixer as needed.  Once they are stiff and syrup is at 260 degrees, begin slowly pouring in the syrup while continuing to beat the whites on medium high-speed.

If needed, re-warm the gelatin mixture and then pour it into the meringue.  Continue whipping until the marshmallow mixture is glossy, tripled in volume and doesn’t visibly have steam rising from it.  Immediately pour into the prepared pan and quickly smooth the top flat.  Let the marshmallow sit, uncovered, for at least 3 hours at room temperature.

Dust a work surface with the rest of the sugar cornstarch mixture.  Run a knife along the edges to loosen the marshmallow and turn out onto the surface.  Cover with a layer of powdered sugar and rub in with your fingers.  Cut the marshmallow up into squares and toss the squares in the powdered sugar mixture.  Decorate the marshmallows with the melted chocolate.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here: Espresso Marshmallows with Dark Chocolate