Eating My Way Through the Holidays! Sweet Celebrations: Peanut Butter Fudge! Once a year, my mother would send me a batch of her homemade peanut butter fudge. And, truthfully, I seldom shared it. Not because I was selfish, because it was THAT good! Now that she is no longer able to give me that glorious care package, I have assumed her role for others. The baton has been passed so the family tradition continues. Every peanut butter-lover should try some for yourself. One bite of this melt-in-your-mouth creamy fudge may lead you start a tradition to “Pay it Forward”.
PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 cup natural peanut butter, creamy
1 teaspoon vanilla
7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
Combine butter, sugar, and milk in a 2-quart pan. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling over medium heat for four minutes. Stir constantly to prevent scorching. Be sure to scrape sides as well. Remove from heat. Work quickly stirring in peanut butter until completely melted. Add marshmallow creme and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into greased 9″x13″ pan. Cool at room temperature; cut into squares.
When a fellow blogger encouraged me to share my love of gift-wrapping in a “How To” post on my blog, I couldn’t resist! Supplies are simple: satin ribbons, decorative boxes, colorful berries, gift tags, quirky embellishments, and framed photographs. Put them all together and you have a captivating gift-wrapped package that will have your friends and family adoring its beauty rather than trying to sneak a peek inside. Place the the gifts under the Christmas tree or on the fireplace hearth to spread excitement as well as anticipation of an upcoming event. Decorated packages become “Instant Décor”. Interesting boxes can be found anywhere all year long. Often greeting cards, scented candles, exotic fragrances, and luxury beauty products are packaged in unique and vibrant boxes. It’s a shame to discard them after opening when you can go “green” and give them a facelift as a phenomenal package for someone else. Satin ribbon is classy and elegant, in my opinion. Choose polka dots, geometrics, or muted tones. Make single or multiple bows. Angle cut the ends to create a nice finish. Incorporate any embellishment such as a sprig of rosemary, a pine cone, a branch of holly, or an interesting ornament. Let your creativity shine! Sometimes I attach a gift tag, other times I take a snapshot of the recipient and put it in a miniature frame. Who doesn’t love seeing photos? Afterwards, the frames hang on the tree as memorable ornaments. Just be sure to include the date on the back for reminiscing years later. Whatever you design, have fun and be creative. Anything goes!
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Zebra Almond Bark! Isn’t it funny how things get their name? Almond Bark doesn’t even contain nuts. Seriously. I guess, technically, there is a popular candy coating people believe is white chocolate, but isn’t. It’s made with vegetable oil and often artificial flavors. It was used originally to be melted into chopped almonds to make Christmas candy that people went crazy over. So, although I borrowed the name “almond bark”, I actually preferred to use white chocolate chips instead. The ingredient list mentioned cocoa butter and natural extracts, which sounded more appealing and taste better, in my opinion. Whatever you choose, we’ll still refer to it as “almond bark”.
ZEBRA ALMOND BARK
2 cups premiere white chocolate morsels
1 cup mini chocolate chips
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat white chocolate morsels on High for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave at 30-second intervals until morsels are melted and consistency is smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Spread thin. In another microwave-safe bowl, melt mini chocolate chips the same way, stirring until no lumps remain. To form “zebra” stripes, drop tiny spoonfuls of dark chocolate into the white chocolate. Take a cake tester and create a swirl pattern by dragging the dark chocolate outward into stripes. The more random the design, the prettier it looks. Place baking sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes to set. Remove pan and break Zebra Almond Bark apart into pieces. Store candy at room temperature.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Traditional English Toffee! So often we have those cherished childhood memories of homemade candy and cookies that accompanied holiday celebrations. They stick with us for life. I can remember being in eighth grade and determined to replicate a batch of my mother’s English Toffee. I waited for her to go into town and then pulled out her secret recipe. You know, the ones scratched on a 3.5”x5” card. More often than not, they showed a list of ingredients with instructions that simply said, “Bake at 350° for 30 minutes”. Let’s face it, that’s pretty vague compared to what we explain nowadays. As you can imagine, I melted the butter along with the brown sugar and stirred. And stirred. And stirred. So how come it wasn’t turning into this crisp crunchy texture of rich golden butter that fueled my addiction? What could I possibly be doing wrong? There was nothing written on the card to correct this runny, gooey mess. Alas, I scraped it all into the trash, washed the pan, and plopped myself at the kitchen table with my Algebra book. She walked in, smiled, and never said a word.
TRADITIONAL ENGLISH TOFFEE
1 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Butter a baking sheet. Spread pecans in a single layer in the center. Heat butter and brown sugar to boiling in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. Boil over Medium heat, stirring constantly, for 7 minutes. Immediately spread mixture over pecans on baking sheet. Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot mixture. Place a cookie sheet over pan until chocolate chips are melted. Spread melted chocolate over candy. Refrigerate until firm. Break toffee into pieces.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Krispy ‘Mallow Bars! Remember when you were a kid and your lunchbox treats made all the other kids envious? Well, this quick and easy dessert bar has the same effect. Chocolate-lovers appreciate the crunch of miniature M&Ms as much as marshmallow-lovers crave the sugary sweetness. Some say it’s the best of both worlds.
KRISPY ‘MALLOW BARS
3/4 cup M&M miniature chocolate candies
3 tablespoons butter
7-ounce jar of marshmallow creme
6 cups of crispy rice cereal
Spray a 9″x13″ pan with nonstick oil. Set aside. Melt butter, over low heat, in a 2 1/2 quart pan. Do not burn add marshmallow creme. Stir until melted. Remove from heat. Working quickly, add rice cereal. Stir until rice is completely coated. With buttered hands, or wearing disposable gloves, press mixture, gently but firmly, over candy in pan. Cool. Cut into bars. Serve candy side up.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Eat More: Upscale Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse! Americans have this uncanny obsession with chocolate and peanut butter. Some even crave it often. It may be the creamy sweetness of cocoa blended with the saltiness of roasted peanuts. Who knows? Whatever the reason, the allure is undeniable. Throw in vanilla pudding and whipped cream showcased in a parfait glass for eye appeal. It all adds up to an easy, upscale dessert that makes an everyday experience extraordinary. I find small juice glasses an appealing portion-control guide.
UPSCALE CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER MOUSSE
16-20 Miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, wrappers removed and candy chopped
1/3 cup peanuts
1/2 cup chocolate fudge sauce
1 3.4-ounce package Vanilla Instant Pudding and Pie Filling Mix
1 3/4 cups light cream
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup whipped topping
1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips
Choose 4-6 glasses or cups, depending on portion preferred. Divide peanuts equally between glasses. Layer with 1-2 dollops of chocolate fudge sauce. Set aside. In a chilled bowl, empty contents of pudding mix. Gradually add 1/2 cup light cream, beating on low speed with a hand mixer. Mix until well blended. Add peanut butter and beat until creamy. Gradually add remaining 1 1/4 cups of light cream. Beat on low, increasing speed as it incorporates. Continue beating for 3 minutes. Pudding will thicken. Gently fold in whipped topping to create air bubbles. Next, fold in chopped candy, reserving a few pieces to use as garnish. Spoon pudding into glasses, layering over fudge sauce. Garnish with candy chunks and mini chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? All the Buzz: Pig Candy Bacon! If you ever needed a reason to eat candy for breakfast, permission granted. This marriage of brown sugar, spices, and hickory smoked bacon is the best idea since sliced bread! You’ll want to choose thick bacon to hold all the seasonings. Line a pan with foil despite the fact a rack is used; it just makes clean up that much faster. If you don’t….well, let’s just say the other people in your house won’t be waiting around for you. Once the glazed sweetmeat is taken out of the oven, all bets are off. The line forms here.
PIG CANDY BACON
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon wasabi powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons chili powder
8-10 slices bacon, thick cut
Preheat oven to 350°. Mix brown sugar, black pepper, wasabi powder, cayenne pepper, and chili powder in a deep baking dish. Add bacon, one strip at a time; toss to coat well. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean up. Place a wire rack on pan. Lay bacon strips on rack in a single layer without overlapping. Place baking sheet one setting below top rack in oven. Bake 30-45 minutes, or until crisp. There is no need to turn the bacon. Carefully remove pan from oven. Let caramelized bacon cool slightly before transferring with a tongs to parchment paper.* Serve as a breakfast companion, appetizer, or snack.
* The second time I made Pig Candy, I pierced them with bamboo skewers after they were baked and they were spot on!
Eating My Way Through the Holidays! Festive Foods: Unicorn Holiday Bark! Everyone remembers a childhood of mythical creatures, especially the unicorn which resembled a horse with a pointed horn spiraling out of its forehead. Some believed it had magical powers in addition to being a symbol of purity and grace. Only a virgin had the power to tame the unicorn, according to art from the Middle Ages now hanging on museum walls. Today the thought of unicorns make us happy. Perhaps they represent childhood dreams, or wishes, filled with hope for a future. It should be no surprise that pink swirls of white chocolate and candy glitter in sparkly hues appear in food to further those good feelings. Think of Unicorn Holiday Bark for your next festive occasion. Kid-friendly, husband-approved.
UNICORN HOLIDAY BARK
2 pounds white chocolate chips
Food coloring of choice
1 tablespoon rainbow sprinkles
1 tablespoon glitter sprinkles
1 tablespoon candy pearls
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Depending on how many colors you choose (I used 3), place 1/3 cup white chocolate chips per color in separate microwave-safe bowls. Warm on Low setting for 15 second intervals in microwave, stirring often. Continue until chips are melted. Add food coloring to desired tint. Hint: One drop of red will produce a pastel pink. Prepare tinted chocolate first before finishing with the remaining plain white chocolate. Once the white chocolate is melted, spread it onto the baking sheet. Smooth into an even layer, approximately 1/4” thick. Working quickly, dot tinted colors over the white chocolate in a random pattern. Take a wooden skewer, or toothpick, and drag it through the colors creating swirls. Next, scatter the rainbow sprinkles, glitter sprinkles, and candy pearls on top. Refrigerate baking sheet for 30 minutes, or until firm. Once set, break the bark into pieces, reserving a curved edge for the unicorn’s horn. Let the magic begin!
Eating My Way Through the Holidays! Festive Foods: Nonpareil Thumbprint Cookies! Ask my husband what his favorite candy is and without hesitation, he’ll respond “Nonpareils”. Think about it… dark chocolate buttons sprinkled with tiny beads of white candy. And they’re French! With today’s recipe, the nonpareil takes center stage crowned over a dark chocolate thumbprint cookie as rich as a brownie. Dusted in powdered sugar, it’s just the right size for nibbling.
NONPAREIL THUMBPRINT COOKIES
2 cups flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup powdered sugar for rolling
Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a small bowl. Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, add yolks, cream, and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture just until combined. Roll balls using 1/2 tablespoon sized scoops of dough. Roll each ball in powdered sugar. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Press gently in the center to form an indentation. Bake 10 minutes or until set. Remove from oven. While cookies are warm, place one nonpareil in the middle of each cookie. Let cool before transferring to wire rack.