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!) 😁

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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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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

Vegetable Gardening Season has Arrived!

For those of you who follow my blog, you may remember that I got the gardening “itch” way back in March and as a result I planted spinach and beans in my tiny vegetable garden on St. Patrick’s Day.  The spinach (a veggie that actually likes to grow in cold weather) has done great and I have been able to use it in several recipes including my Trader Joe’s style Eggplant Parmesan and my Herbed Spinach and Feta Pizza (coming soon!).  The beans were less thrilled about being planted in the winter and have taken their sweet old time coming up, but now that May has arrived they have suddenly taken off and are starting to look like real bean plants.

It’s amazing what can grow in 10 days! Garden on April 15th (left) and April 25th (right).  You can see the spinach in the front and the beans in the back.

Matt and I enjoy listening to Mike McGrath’s organic gardening show “You Bet Your Garden” on NPR (the archived podcasts are great entertainment for long car rides) and we’re trying to take some of Mike’s advice to improve our garden this year.  According to Mike, a good “yard waste compost” (a mixture of shredded fall leaves and nitrogen-rich green matter that has had time to break down to a soil-like consistency) makes the best mulch and also provides great nutrition and disease control in the garden.  We’ve been religiously composting our kitchen scraps all winter and now that it’s getting warmer out we’re hoping to start seeing some fresh compost in our spin bin composter soon!

Potted cherry tomato plant that has been “mulched” with partially composted shredded leaves to retain moisture.

I have several plants around the patio in containers, including two cherry tomatoes from my neighbor, a planter with chives, marjoram, marigolds, and a day lily, a combo of sweet and chocolate mint, and a serrano pepper plant.  I’ve been really impressed with the brightly colored orange, red, and yellow marigolds so far — they’ve been blooming continuously for a few weeks and have a lovely fragrance.  Apparently they repel insects so they’ll come in handy when our summer mosquitoes arrive!

Chives, Day Lily, Marjoram, and Marigolds on the patio

Now, back to those beans…  When I planted them in March I imagined having fully matured bean plants by now so I planted them across the entire back half of my garden.  Since the bean plants are clearly not ready to sprout beans anytime soon and I want to plant my basil in that same exact spot, I decided to transplant the strongest beans to my new strawberry patch.  Apparently beans and strawberries are “companion plants” so I figure that they will enjoy cohabitating the same small strip of my ever-expanding garden.

The transplanted bean plants are now scattered throughout my new strawberry patch.

Perhaps the most exciting additions to our garden this year are our two upside-down tomato plants.  I know that the whole upside-down growing gimmic is a bit of a fad and I’ve read lots of criticism about it on the internet, but after having a giant tomato plant take over my garden last year with its long, snarled branches and watching its tomatoes sit on the ground and get eaten by bugs, I decided that hanging plants sound pretty promising!

Hanging tomato plants with thyme and parsley.

Rather than purchasing the tupsy-turvy type of hanging tomato bags, we selected two large galvanized buckets from Home Depot and Matt drilled holes in the bottoms for the tomato plants to feed through.  When it came time to actually plant the tomatoes, we lowered the buckets to below eye level and Matt held each plant at the proper height (burying the stem up to the first true leaves) while I carefully added soil-less potting mix.  We topped off each bucket with herbs (thyme and parsley) and then covered the surface with partially composted leaves from our compost bin.  I’ll be interested to see how these plants do over the next few months!

Close up of the bottom of one of our hanging tomato plants: We threaded pieces of an old t-shirt around the base of each plant to hold the dirt in and drilled holes around the perimeter of the buckets for drainage.

Overall, I think I spent about 12 hours working in the garden last weekend and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of vegetable gardening season all winter and I am so excited that it’s finally time to start planting!  What are you planting in your garden this Spring?

Mint plants on April 15th (left) and May 5th (right).

Related posts:
Gardening Update – One Month Later 4.17.12
Gardening… On St. Patrick’s Day! 3.17.12