When the weather outside is frightful, make peppermint patties!

I woke up last Saturday morning and looked outside to find every tree branch, pine needle, and berry encased in a layer of wet, glistening ice. The 5K I had planned to run had already been postponed until Sunday, so Matt and I decided that we didn’t need to brave the slick roads and instead would spend the entire day at home baking holiday goodies.

I kicked off the bake-a-thon at 10AM by making blueberry-lemon scones for breakfast.  Matt and I then baked a double batch of sugar cookies before launching into the day’s big project: homemade peppermint patties. The goal was to make enough patties to share with our neighbors and friends, and 12 dozen chocolate-dipped treats later I think we succeeded!

Peppermint patties are surprisingly easy to make. Just combine peppermint extract, softened butter, corn syrup, and lots of confectioners sugar. Form this “dough” into balls and press the balls into discs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Coat with melted chocolate and, voila! You now have homemade peppermint patties! If you’re feeling extra creative, add some green food coloring to the filling or sprinkle the freshly-coated patty with chocolate jimmies. (But a note of warning… don’t get so excited about your batch of green-filling-patties that you totally forget to put the peppermint extract in. I might have done that on my fourth and final batch. Sorry to any neighbor who bites into a green one and realizes that it just tastes like buttercream candy instead of peppermint!) 😁

1561-peppermint-patties

Homemade Peppermint Patties
(From Butter With a Side of Bread; makes about 3 dozen patties)

You will need…
1/2 stick (1/4 c) Butter, at room temperature
3 cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Peppermint Extract (adjust to taste; we liked this amount)
1/3 cup Light Corn Syrup
2 cups Dark Dipping Chocolate (we used Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Melting Wafers, yum!)
Green Food Coloring to make the filling green (Optional)
Chocolate Jimmies for Sprinkling (Optional)

Directions:
In a stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar, peppermint extract and corn syrup. Mix for a few minutes until the filling forms a thick, paste-like consistency.  Break off small pieces of filling and roll into 1″ diameter balls. (They will look deceptively like mozzarella balls at this point.) Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and use your fingers to flatten them into discs. Freeze the discs for at least 20 minutes before attempting to dip them into the chocolate. The harder they are, the easier they will be to dip!

Melt the chocolate according to package instructions. We used a double boiler which kept the chocolate at the perfect consistency as we dipped batch after batch of patties. Use a fork or a special chocolate-dipping tool like these Wilton candy dippers to dip a frozen patty into the chocolate. Coat both sides, tap off any excess chocolate, then transfer the coated patty to a parchment-lined tray. (Or, if you’re making a quadruple batch like us, just cover your counters with wax paper and line up the patties there!) If using jimmies, sprinkle them over the patty immediately after you coat it.

Allow the chocolate to harden completely, then transfer the patties to an airtight container. Share them with friends or save them all for yourself, your choice! 😄

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Homemade Moose Munch

237 Piper Claus

Merry Christmas! Matt and I spent four of the last six evenings with our families enjoying big, yummy dinners. Piper spent the week looking out the window for the UPS truck… it’s almost like she knows where presents really come from. Smart pup!!

Today we’re unwinding from the holidays with nothing to do except watch a few episodes of Sons of Anarchy and the Eagles game. Sounds like a good Saturday to me!! While the Eagles battle the Redskins on NBC I’m trying to catch up on some long overdue blog posts, starting with this one for a holiday treat that’s perfect for sharing.

052 Caramel Corn

Every year Matt and I make some sort of home made treat for our families and neighbors.  Past holiday goodies include chocolate-dipped coconut cookies, candied nuts, and mint chocolate bark and this year we wanted to find a recipe for something similarly festive, delicious and easy to make in bulk.

After a little online research we settled on homemade “moose munch,” aka caramel corn covered in dark and white chocolate. Matt and I first made caramel corn a few years ago so we were already familiar with the basic concept: pop the corn, boil the caramel, toss with the popcorn and bake for an hour with regular stirring breaks.  Easy enough!

Moose Munch (Chocolate-Drizzled Caramel Corn)
(Adapted from Brownie Bites)

Ingredients:
18 cups popped popcorn (3 bags of light butter “healthy” microwaved popcorn)
2 cups mixed pecans and peanuts; roughly chop larger nuts if desired
3 cups Brown Sugar, firmly packed
2 1/4 cups Butter (4 1/2 sticks)
1 1/2 cups Light Corn Syrup
1 tablespoon Baking Soda
12 oz. Dark Chocolate Melting Wafers (we used Ghirardelli)
8 oz. White Chocolate Melting Wafers (again, Ghirardelli worked well!)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 250°F. Spread the popped popcorn out on several rimmed baking sheets and/or casserole dishes. The more shallow the layers the better, so try to use the maximum number of trays for your available oven space. Sprinkle the nuts throughout the popcorn.

In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup. Melt the butter and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the baking soda.  (Warning: baking soda causes the mixture to expand, so make sure you’re using a large saucepan!)

Pour the warm caramel over the popcorn, distributing evenly between the multiple pans. Use tongs or a spatula to toss the popcorn well until it is evenly coated in caramel. Bake the popcorn for 60 minutes, pausing every 15 minutes to stir each tray.

When the caramel corn has finished cooking, spread the hot popcorn in a single layer on parchment paper. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before proceeding with the chocolate.

044 Caramel Corn

Melt the dark chocolate wafers in a double boiler. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the cooled caramel corn with a spoon or fork. Wait 10-15 minutes for the dark chocolate to set, then repeat this process with the white chocolate wafers. Allow the finished moose munch to cool completely, then break into chunks and transfer to gift boxes, bags, or a cookie tin. Save a little for yourself and share the rest with your friends and family!

079 Caramel Corn

…and here’s one more gratuitous Piper pic to finish off the post. I took several photos of her in front of the tree and now that Christmas is over I’m looking for any chance I can get to share them!! 😄

115 Christmas Piper

Peanut Butter Brownie Bites

Still don’t know what you’re going to bring to that holiday party this weekend?  Try these super simple and delicious bite-sized peanut butter brownie bites!  They’re made using a regular boxed brownie mix (because being homemade doesn’t mean that it has to be labor intensive) and then topped with melted peanut butter and chocolate chips.  Yum!!

Peanut Butter Brownie Bites r

Matt and I made these for a party last weekend and they were a hit.  We actually overheard someone exclaim “Ooh! These brownie things are REALLY good!” and, since no one really knew who brought what to the potluck Matt and I just exchanged a happy glance from across the room, acknowledging our boxed brownie mix success.  We will definitely make these again!

Overhead Peanut Butter Brownie Bites

Peanut Butter Brownie Bites
(makes 30 bites; recipe adapted slightly from Family Friendly Frugality)

You will need…
1 boxed Brownie Mix (we used Betty Crocker Supreme Triple Chunk!)
Brownie Mix Ingredients (in our case, 1/4 c Water, 1/3 c Vegetable Oil, & 1 Egg)
3/4 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
Mini Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325°F and lightly grease a 24-ct mini-muffin pan.  Mix up the brownie batter according to the mix’s instructions, then spoon batter into the muffin pan until each cup is about 3/4 full.  Bake for approximately 14 minutes, just until the centers of the brownie bites have set.  A toothpick inserted into the center of a bite should come out slightly coated in batter.  Remove from the oven and allow the bites to cool for 15 minutes.  Carefully extract the brownie bites from the muffin pan and repeat the above process to finish baking the rest of your batter.

Line up your cooled brownie bites on a large tray or cutting board and gently press the center of each bite down to create a well.  Microwave the peanut butter for 30-60 seconds until melted, then spoon a small amount in the center of each bite.  Top with chocolate and peanut butter chips and, if desired, an extra drizzle of peanut butter.  Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Brownie Bites l

Apple Crisp

It’s October, which means that mornings are starting out clear and cool, evenings are getting darker sooner, leaves are changing colors, and we finally closed the windows in our bedroom (but don’t worry, the heat won’t be on for another few weeks!).  You know what else happens in October??  APPLE CRISP SEASON!!!  Yes, it’s officially the best time of year to enjoy warm, cinnamon-y baked apples with a sugary, spice-filled topping and a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream on top.  YUM!!

Apple Crisp

Matt’s dad visits up state New York every fall and inevitably returns with dozens of freshly picked McIntosh apples.  When we were at Matt’s parents’ house last weekend we loaded up a big grocery bag full of apples and then set about finding an apple crisp recipe worthy of the season.

Like many of my favorite recipes, the recipe below is from our trusty cookbook, The New Best Recipe.  I can’t stress enough how fantastic this cookbook is.  It has detailed, easy to understand instructions, long intros about how and why the authors chose certain ingredients or cooking methods, and tons of illustrations.  Not that you really need an illustration for apple crisp, but that feature has definitely come in handy for some of the more complicated recipes that we’ve attempted.

Apple Crisp

With this back story in mind, it should come as no surprise that this recipe for apple crisp turned out perfectly.  The McIntosh apples melted into a flavorful, applesauce-like filling and the firmer Granny Smiths held their shape and gave the crisp a good texture.  There’s just the right amount of tart lemon to offset the sweetness of the apples and the topping was absolutely delectable.  In fact it’s making my mouth water right now just looking at the photos!!! 🙂

Apple Crisp (serves 5-6, from The New Best Recipe)

For the topping…
6 tablespoons Flour
1/4 cup Light Brown Sugar, packed
1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Salt
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted Butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup coarsely chopped Almonds, Pecans, or Walnuts (I used sliced almonds)

For the filling…
3 McIntosh Apples, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
3 Granny Smith Apples, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon Grated Zest and 1 1/2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/4 cup Granulated Sugar

Vanilla Ice Cream

Directions:
Start by making your topping.  Combine the flour, sugars, spices and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Blend for a few seconds to mix.  Add in the pieces of butter and pulse the food processor 10 times for 4 seconds each.  Don’t overmix the topping.  Accordingly to the original recipe, your topping will first look like dry sand, then like coarse cornmeal.  Add in the nuts and pulse again 4-5 times for 1 second each.  Refrigerate the topping for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling, combine the apples, zest, lemon juice and sugar in a large bowl and mix well to coat the apples.  Use a spatula to transfer the apple mixture to a 9-inch deep dish pie plate (make sure to scrap the sides of the bowl to get all of the sugar and lemon flavor!). 🙂

Sprinkle the chilled topping evenly over the apple mixture.  Bake the crisp in a preheated 375° oven for 40 minutes, then increase the heat to 400° and bake for another 5 minutes until the topping is golden brown.  Remove the crisp from the oven and allow it to cool slightly for 10-15 minutes or as long as you can wait… it will smell GREAT at this point!  Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

1171 Apple Crisp

Peach and Blueberry Crumble

Back in June Matt and I were on a fruity dessert kick. We made apple and blackberry crumble for my mom and stepfather, strawberry-rhubarb crisp for the entire crew at the hunting camp, and, my favorite, peach and blueberry crumble for Matt’s parents. I would have shared these delicious desserts on the blog as soon as we made them, but I’m pretty sure our family members would have killed me if I asked them to sit around waiting for their dessert while I arranged the scoops of ice cream “just so” and took photos for 10 minutes.

So, with the best blogging intentions in mind, last night Matt and I made a batch of peach and blueberry crumble for ourselves just so I could take all the photos I wanted (the things we do for the blog!).  🙂 We used fresh peaches that had been ripening on the counter all week (they smelled SO GOOD!!) and this mouth-watering dessert came together in about 30 minutes plus baking time.

Peach and Blueberry Crumble 1

One note about peeling the peaches – in the original recipe Ina Garten suggests immersing the peaches in boiling water and then putting them in cold water to make the skins easier to peel off. We did this the first time we made this recipe (while Matt’s parents looked on) and the boiling water “trick” didn’t seem to have any effect on our peach skins at all (it just made a mess of my kitchen!). So, this time Matt just peeled the peaches normally and the recipe worked out just fine.

1133 Peach Crumble

Peach and Blueberry Crumble (from Ina Garten / The Food Network)

Filling Ingredients:
6 to 8 Ripe Peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced into wedges
2 tablespoons Lemon Zest
2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 cup Blueberries

Topping Ingredients:
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup Light Brown Sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 lb. (1 stick) Cold Unsalted Butter, diced

Vanilla Ice Cream

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F.   Combine the peaches, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and flour in a large bowl and mix gently until the dry ingredients are completely dissolved. Fold in the blueberries. Allow mixture to sit for 5 minutes, then spoon into ramekins. (We used 2 ramekins and spooned the rest into a larger baking dish.)

Combine the topping ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed for 30-90 seconds until the topping is crumbly. If desired, use your fingers to press the mixture to your preferred level of crumbly-ness (I liked the even texture that came straight out of my mixer.) Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filled ramekins.

Place the ramekins on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 50-60 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 15-20 minutes before serving with a big scoop of ice cream on top. Enjoy!

Magic Mint Chocolate Bark

Peppermint Bark was one of the first recipes that Matt and I ever made together.  I remember the experience clearly… we were home from college on winter break in my mom’s kitchen and we slaved away over a double-boiler for what seemed like hours until our dark chocolate and white chocolate mixtures reached the perfect level of melted-ness.  Then we layered the chocolates (making sure to give the dark chocolate time to set before adding the white) and topped our masterpiece with crushed candy canes.  The resulting bark was decadent and well worth our time, but it was not easy to make!

Fast forward to present day…  It’s now quite common for Matt and me to spend an hour or two in the kitchen making dinner on a weeknight so that peppermint bark no longer seems like such a daunting task.  Nevertheless, we still jump at the chance to make easy recipes every now and then.  That’s where this Magic Mint Chocolate Bark comes in.  This delicious, fancy-looking bark literally took about 6 minutes to make and no double boilers required!

Magic Mint Chocolate Bark

I first saw this recipe when Anne from UniHomeaker.com posted it a few weeks ago.  I immediately decided that we had to make this mint chocolate bark ASAP.  Check out Anne’s post on this chocolately treat… she used crushed pretzels in her bark and it looks delicious!

Magic Mint Chocolate Bark

** Magic Mint Chocolate Bark **

(recipe from the back of the Nestle Toll House Dark Chocolate and Mint Morsel bag)

You will need…
Two 10 oz. bags Nestle Toll House Dark Chocolate and Mint Morsels
1 handful Roasted, Salted Almonds, roughly chopped

Directions:
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and pour all of the chocolate and mint morsels onto it.  Spread the morsels so they are all touching and arranged in a single layer.  Place the pan in a preheated 325°F oven for 2-3 minutes or until the morsels look wet and shiny.  Remove the pan from the oven and immediately swirl the chips together using the end of a butter knife.

Distribute the almonds evenly over the swirled chocolate.  To help the almonds sink into the bark, raise the pan about 3″ above the counter and drop it back onto the counter.  Repeat this process a few more times.  Refrigerate the bark for an hour or until completely cooled.  Break into pieces and store in an airtight container in the fridge.  Enjoy!

Magic Mint Chocolate Bark

Caramel Corn with Honey-Roasted Peanuts

Last weekend our neighborhood had its annual Fall bonfire party.  The food was potluck-style so we initially decided to celebrate the season by making Thai Pumpkin Soup.  Then the weather took a crazy turn and it ended up being 85 degrees and humid (very unusual for October in Pennsylvania!) and we quickly realized that no one was going to be in the mood to eat soup.  So, at the last minute we changed course and made a nice summery Mediterranean Quinoa Salad instead.  We didn’t want to be too healthy though, so we supplemented our potluck offering with some delicious homemade caramel corn!

721 Caramel Corn

This was our first time making caramel corn and I was amazed by how simple it was.  Granted, it was a bit labor intensive (we had to stir the popcorn every 15 minutes for an hour and a half) but there were no fancy candy thermometers or gadgets required.  Just a wok, some popcorn kernels, butter, sugar, corn syrup and honey roasted peanuts… easy!

We referred to our go-to Asian cookbook, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, for instructions on how to pop the popcorn in our wok (it’s a great way to season a wok!) and I used this recipe  Leite’s Culnaria for the caramel recipe and baking instructions.  We threw in some store-bought honey-roasted peanuts to kick the recipe up a notch and I would say that our homemade caramel corn turned out pretty perfect.  I think Matt would agree… he couldn’t stop eating it even as I was trying to take this photo!  🙂

738 Matt steals some caramel corn

Caramel Corn with Honey-Roasted Peanuts (adapted slightly from Leite’s Culinaria)

You will need…
1 cup uncooked Popcorn Kernels, divided
Peanut Oil
1 1/2 sticks Butter
1 cup Brown Sugar, packed
1/3 cup Light Corn Syrup
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 cup Honey Roasted Peanuts

Directions:
Pop the popcorn kernels.  To do this in a wok, heat approx. 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in your wok over medium heat.  Put 3-4 kernels in the wok and cover.  (For easier clean up, wrap the inside of your wok lid with aluminum foil!)  When the test kernels in the wok pop, add in approx. 1/3-1/2 cup of kernels and re-cover.  (If test kernels don’t pop, slowly increase the heat until they do, then add in the other kernels.)  Shake the wok over the burner to keep it moving as the kernels heat up.  In a few minutes the kernels will start to pop.  Keep shaking until popping slows down, then carefully tilt the cover open and transfer the popped corn to a large baking dish.

Repeat this process with the remaining kernels until all of your popcorn is popped.  You may need to use multiple baking dishes to hold your popcorn… you’ll be stirring it later so it’s better to leave some extra space!  Add the honey-roasted peanuts to the popcorn and place in a 200°F oven to keep warm.

How to pop popcorn in a wok

Prepare your caramel by heating the butter and sugar over medium heat.  Add in the corn syrup and salt and bring to a boil.  Allow the mixture to boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After 5 minutes, remove the mixture from heat and carefully stir in the baking soda.  Remove the popcorn from the oven and pour the caramel mixture evenly over the popcorn.  Mix well with tongs (don’t worry if every kernel isn’t coated at this point, though) and return the popcorn to the 200° oven.

Bake the popcorn for 1 1/2 hours at 200°F, stirring and tossing thoroughly every 15 minutes.  Allow the popcorn to cool before eating (if you have the willpower to wait!).  Enjoy it immediately or store it in an airtight container for as long as it lasts (which won’t be long… it’s delicious!).

Stirring the caramel corn

Above: Caramel Corn during a stirring break.  Below: The finished product!

Caramel Corn