Healthier, Homemade Hot Chocolate and Marshmallows

I love hot chocolate.

I’ve been known to spend a pretty penny on a Starbucks peppermint hot chocolate come Christmas time.  However, I also love to make it at home.

The other day my husband brought home a box full of those packets of hot chocolate from the grocery store.  He wanted to share it with the kids, bless his heart.  I took one look at the ingredients and said, “No way, let’s make it ourselves.”  Among the numerous ingredients (for something as simple as hot chocolate!) were corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, and sucralose.  No thank you.

And who doesn’t love to add marshmallows to their hot chocolate?  Well….. you probably guessed it.  I’m not a fan of the store bought variety.  They usually contain corn syrup, as well.  So….yup!  We made those at home too.  (Funny story – I started making them and my husband thought I was crazy.  I said, “What?  Most people don’t make their own marshmallows?”  To which my husband laughed and said, “No honey. Most people just buy them at the store.”  Well, we aren’t most people! :) Am I right?)

Here are two simple and delicious recipes to make both at home while leaving out all the yucky stuff.  (Note: these recipes DO contain sugar and are still a “treat.”  However, they are still better for you than what you’ll buy in the store.  I’m sure even healthier versions exist on the internet.)
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Homemade Peppermint Bark

I am really excited about today’s post.
I love Christmas.  It is my favorite holiday.
Now that I have children, I am really enjoying making it special for them and creating traditions for the holiday season.  One thing that has become an easy tradition around her is an annual making of peppermint bark.  You can buy shelf-stable peppermint bark - http://amzn.to/1bSTao7 from just about anywhere but believe me when I say that (as with most things) you cannot beat the taste of a fresh, homemade batch.
Check out my recipe below.
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Smashed Potatoes

This week’s Thanksgiving with a Twist post takes on the traditional mashed potato in favor of its distant cousin, the smashed potato.  I have to tell you people…… I have a new favorite in my house.  Check it out.

 
 
Ingredients
Red Skin Potatoes
Olive Oil - http://amzn.to/19qPjgN
Salt - http://amzn.to/1a6neq5
Toppings (butter and sour cream is more traditional for Thanksgiving, but broccoli and cheese is pretty delicious….. you could also do chili and cheese…. the possibilities are endless to be honest.)
Directions
1.  Place potatoes in a pot of water and cover with at least an inch of water.
2.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30-40 minutes.  Potatoes should be tender and easily pierced with a fork.
3.  Remove from the water, carefully dry with a towel and place on a cookie sheet.
4.  Using a towel and the palm of your hand smash each potato by pressing lightly on the potato.
5.  Drizzle each potato with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and bake in a 450 degree oven for 45 minutes.
6.  Remove potatoes, top as desired and serve.

These may sound simple (and they are) but the roasting after boiling makes the texture and taste of these potatoes like no other.  Try them out and let me know what you think.

 

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Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese Crust

Today starts off a short series of posts that I’m doing this month on traditional Thanksgiving recipes that have a little “twist” to them.

I’m hosting the family Thanksgiving festivities this year at my house.  That’s a big deal!  I thought that this series would allow me to do three things:

  1. Practice my skills before the big day
  2. Give you guys some ideas for changing things up from your usual favorites
  3. Finalize my menu for Thanksgiving.  
So, without further ado, here’s today’s “submission” for Thanksgiving with a Twist. 
Sound weird?
Well, it is….a little, but it is also really, really delicious.  The cheddar cheese flavor is subtle and adds a savory element to an otherwise sweet dish.  I loved it, my husband loved it and my kids loved it.  A triple win, if you ask me.  
Also….and here’s the kicker… you HAVE TO make the crust for this pie.  Intimidating?  Maybe.  There are so many tricks and tips to making the perfect pie crust.  If you want to know how to make a perfect, “no-fail” pie crust, check out this post from Fancy Nonsense - http://fancynonsense.com/no-fail-pie-crust-recipe/ .  She’s get all the know-how you will ever need (and some beautiful photos to go along with it.)

Just know this, before making this pie I had NEVER made a pie crust and I was able to do it.  Is it perfect?  Heck no.  Does it taste good?  Heck yes.  

Ingredients
2 1/2 + 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt 
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 sticks of butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup cold water 
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 Granny Smith apples
1 egg, beaten + 1 tbsp water
Directions
Crust
1. In a food processor - http://amzn.to/16BIaHM , pulse together 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 tbsp sugar and salt. 
2.  Add the cheese and pulse until well mixed. 
3.  Add the butter and allow the food processor to run until it becomes a crumbly mixture. 
4.  Add the water 1 tbsp at a time until the dough comes together.

5.  Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead a few times until smooth. 
6.  Divide into two pieces and refrigerate for 1 hour.
7.  Remove from fridge and roll each piece of dough out between two pieces of wax paper. 
8.  Place one crust in a 9 inch pie pan, pierce all over with a fork and put in fridge.  
9.  Place the other crust on a cookie sheet and put in fridge.
Pie
1.  Preheat oven to 400
2.  Take bottom crust out of the fridge, line with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights - http://amzn.to/185sz0D (or dried beans, like I do).

3.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove pie weights - http://amzn.to/185sz0D and bake for 5 more minutes. 
4.  Meanwhile, make the filling by peelings, coring and thinly slicking the apples.  Mix in the remaining flour and sugar.  Then mix in the cinnamon.
5. Remove crust from oven and fill with apple mixture. 
6. Remove top crust from fridge and press to seal the edges. (Be sure to cut vents in the top of the crust.)
7.  Bake for 50 minutes.  When crust begins to brown too much, cover the edges with aluminum foil or a special crust shield. - http://amzn.to/185sD0a  
8.  Let pie cool completely before serving.

What do you think?  Is this something you would try?
        

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Homemade Fun-Size Candy Bars

Are you guys ready for this?

I didn’t know if I was when I started but yeah…I’m glad I went through with it.

Homemade Candy Bars - Snickers Copycat

I did a post on homemade candy corns a couple weeks back and it was a pretty big success (both on the internet and with my family).  So, I thought I’d take on another Halloween favorite – the fun size candy bar (and this one, in specific, is a copy-cat of the Snickers bar).

Before I go into the recipe, I want to make one thing clear.  This recipe contains sugar.  As in refined white cane sugar and quite a bit of it.  This is not a healthy recipe.  This is a recipe to make for your own enjoyment and indulgence.  Can you substitute ingredients?  Yeah, sure, go for it.  Will it turn out right?  I have no idea.  Go for it and let me know how it turns out.  However, the recipe as written?  It is freaking delicious.  So, go ahead, live a little.  Use the white sugar.  (I should put that on a t-shirt…..)

This recipe is a multi-step process and some of the steps aren’t that precise (sorry).  You have to:

– Melt Chocolate
– Make Nougat
– Make Caramel
– Melt Chocolate Again

Step One:  Melt Chocolate

I didn’t do anything fancy here.  Just use a double boiler - http://amzn.to/18eByAZ (or a glass measuring cup in a pan of water) and melt your chocolate or chocolate chips - http://amzn.to/1aDcsvg .  I used about 1/2 of a bag of chocolate chips - http://amzn.to/1aDcsvg for this step.

While the chocolate is melting, line an 8×8 pan with wax paper.  Once the chocolate is melted, pour it into the bottom of the pan and smooth out.  Put in the freezer.

Step Two – Make Nougat 

Ingredients
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups marshmallow fluff (Believe it or not, I used this recipe - http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/homemade-marshmallow-spread-recipe for homemade fluff)
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup peanuts

Directions
1.  Melt butter, then add sugar and milk.  Stir until dissolved and combined well.
2.  Boil for 5 minutes, stirring often.
3.  Remove from heat and stir in fluff (honestly, make it at home - http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/homemade-marshmallow-spread-recipe ), peanut butter and vanilla.  Stir until smooth.
4.  Add peanuts and stir.
5. Take pan out of the freezer and pour nougat layer on.  Put back in freezer.

Step Three – Make Caramel

Here’s where things got interesting (and dangerous!  I have the burns to prove it).  I used this recipe - http://realfoodoutlaws.com/pumpkin-spiced-caramel/ from the blog Real Food Outlaws as inspiration.

Ingredients
4 tbsp butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla

Directions
1.  Melt butter and add sugar.  Stir and cook for a long time.  The sugar will melt and the mixture will turn light brown and the consistency of caramel.
2.  Add cream.  Because the cream is cold, the mixture will become grainy.  Just keep stirring and wait for it to re-melt.  (Also, be careful of splatter.  This is when I got burned.)
5.  Stirring constantly, bring to a boil.  Then remove from heat.
6.  Take pan out of the freezer and pour caramel layer on.  Put back in freezer
7.  Let freeze for 30-45 minutes.
8.  Remove from freezer and cut into “fun-sizes.”

Step Four – Melt Chocolate Again

Melt more chocolate or chocolate chips.  You’ll need a little more for this step than you did for step one.  I used about 3/4 of a bag.  Drizzle and pour over the bars.  Use as much or as little as you desire.

These are amazing and yes, they are worth all the work.  I think I enjoyed them more than I would a normal, store-bought candy bar because I put so much time and effort into them.  Plus, I can pronounce all the ingredients.  That’s always a plus.

If you make them, let me know how it goes.

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Simple, Homemade Pumpkin Ravioli with Butter-Sage Sauce

I love ravioli.

In fact, I love most Italian food but I think ravioli might be one of my favorite.  But making pasta at home?  Not so much.  I mean, I’m sure I could do it and I probably will someday.  But right now in my life?  I don’t think my life right now is up for making homemade pasta.

So when I stumbled upon the great idea of using wonton wrappers to make ravioli, I was sold.  (As an aside, I love the Nasoya brand that most grocery stores sell.  The have just a few simple ingredients, no GMOs and no MSG.  Pretty close to perfect.)

To learn how to make these simple raviolis, check out the directions below.

Ingredients

1 cup pumpkin
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
24 wonton wrappers

1/2 stick of butter
1/2 tsp fresh garlic
1 tsp dried sage - http://amzn.to/1eFrlxH

Directions

1.  Mix the first four ingredients in a small-ish bowl.

2.  Lay your wonton wrappers out.
3.  Place 1/2 tbsp of filling on each wonton wrapper.

4.  Moisten the edges of two sides with a little water.
5.  Fold over (into a triangle, not a rectangle) and press sides together.  (The water should make it stick nicely.)

6.  Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil.
7.  Once the water is boiling, cook each ravioli in the boiling water for three minutes (or a little less).  I work in batches.  I do 4-5 at a time.  I’ve found if you do more, they start sticking together.
8.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the raviolis from the pot and place on a plate to drain slightly.  Do not pile them up on top of each other or they will stick together.
9.  To make sauce, melt butter in a saucepan.  Add garlic and sage.  Simmer until garlic browns.  Pour over raviolis and serve immediately!
10.  Enjoy!

On the other hand, if you’re brave enough to try making pasta at home, here are some cool ravioli makers:

           

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Homemade Candy Corns with *Less* of the Junk

I’m not one of those moms who forbids candy at Halloween.

We go trick or treating (last year was our first year, actually).  We get candy, we eat it (in moderation) and we enjoy it.  But I’m never THRILLED by all the sugar and junk that I’m filling my kids’ belly with (not to mention my OWN belly).

So, this year I was determined to make some of my traditional favorites at home with less “junky” ingredients.  The first thing I tackled was candy corns and I must say, I think they came out pretty good!  And the best part is, I didn’t use corn syrup (which is the main ingredient in most homemade candy corn recipes).

Click below to see the full recipe and DIY.

Ingredients
1/4 cup honey - http://amzn.to/13dp0Ds
1/2 tsp vanilla - http://amzn.to/1bj8VS6
1 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar - http://amzn.to/18ctLlO  or maple sugar - http://amzn.to/H34j8B (if using maple sugar, be sure to give it a whirl in a small food processor or coffee grinder to make it more “powdery”)
3/4 cup tapioca flour - http://amzn.to/19EKsqG (+ a little more for kneading)
Food Coloring (get natural food coloring here - http://amzn.to/11LmCmy )

Directions
1.  Mix your honey, vanilla and melted butter in a bowl.
2.  Add the powdered sugar and mix well until completely incorporated.

3.  Mix in the tapioca flour a 1/4 cup at a time.  It will seem difficult to get it fully incorporated but believe me, it will eventually all mix in.  As you get to the final 1/4 cup, you may need to start kneading the “dough” to fully incorporate the flour.

4.  Split the dough into three equal pieces.  Leave one piece as-is.  This is the white part of the candy corn.
5.  Add two drops of yellow food coloring to one of the remaining pieces and knead until the “dough” is fully colored.
6.  Add two drops yellow and one drop red food coloring to the final piece of dough.  Knead until the dough is fully colored.

7.  Put in the freezer for 5 minutes.  (This makes the dough easier to work with, especially after all the softening that occurs when you knead in the food coloring.)
8.  Remove from freezer and shape each ball into a long (about 1-1.5 foot) rope.
9.  Line your ropes up as shown in the picture and form them into one long rope by pushing the pieces together slightly.

10.  Put in the freezer for 5 minutes.
11.  Remove and cut into triangles.

12.  Enjoy!  My kids love these.  I store them in the fridge to keep them from softening too much.

Do you make candy at home?  What are your favorites?

         

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Flavor Infused Water

I love soda.

There. I said it.

And more specifically, I love Cocoa-Cola Classic.

There.  I said it again.

I’m not proud of this fact but alas, it is part of me.  Nothing beats the tingly feeling of a freshly “cracked” can of coke as it slithers down your throat.

But enough of that.  This post isn’t about Coke.  Instead, this post is about what I’ve been drinking BESIDES Coke.  Because, after all, soda is really terrible for you and I certainly shouldn’t be drinking it.  So, lately, I’ve been drinking really delicious infused water.  What is infused water, you ask?  Well, I’m about to tell you and give you three delicious, easy recipes to start you off.


The three recipes below will give your water a delicious boost and appeal that plain-old water just doesn’t have.  As an added bonus, add a splash or two of sparkling water to the glass and you get to enjoy a little of that addictive fizzy-ness that soda gives you.

Cucumber-Mint Cooler
1 cucumber
1/4 cup-ish fresh mint

Slice the cucumber and put it in a quart-size mason jar with the mint.  Fill with filtered water.  Place in fridge for 24 hours (or so), strain and drink within a week.

Orange-Lime Refresher
1 Orange
1 Lime

Slice Orange and Lime.  Put in a quart-size mason jar and fill with filtered water.  Place in fridge for 24 hours (or so), strain and drink within a week.

Lemon-Ginger Spritzer 
1 Lemon
1 1 inch piece of fresh ginger
Sparkling Water

Slice lemon.  Peel and slice ginger.  Put lemon and ginger in a quart-size mason jar.  Fill with filtered water.  Place in fridge for 24 hours (or so), strain and fill a glass 3/4 of the way full.  Fill the final 1/4 of the way with sparkling water.  Drink within one week.

Have you had flavored infused water before?  What flavors have you tried?

As an aside, there are a variety of cool gadgets you can buy to make infused water.  I’ve found the mason jar to work great but some of these are pretty cool:

Standard, legally required, Endorsement Disclosure: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.