Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Day Hot Chocolate Bar

We had a great time with Tyson's family on Christmas day.  I got lots of cute pictures of the nieces and nephews, but the SD card we had in the camera malfunctioned and erased them all.  So sad!  That means you'll have to do with the recipe for Hot Chocolate and no photos.  Darn!

My nieces and nephews LOVED this hot chocolate.  I hope you do, too! I'll include amounts for both a small batch of hot chocolate and for a large batch.  The instructions are the same for both.  I adapted the recipe from a recipe found here:, but I altered the sugar content and the preparation instructions.  Enjoy!

Hot Chocolate (Small Batch)
1/3 cup unsweetened Cocoa (I used Dutch Processed)
1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup boiling water
3-1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup half and half

Hot Chocolate for a Crowd
1-2/3 cups unsweetened Cocoa (I used Dutch Processed)
2-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1-2/3 cups boiling water
1 gallon  milk (I used 2%)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp vanilla
4 cups (2 pints) half and half

1.  Combine cocoa, sugar and salt in a saucepan with a whisk.  Stir in the water and cook on low.  Bring to a boil and boil 1 minute.  (For your own chocolate milk sauce like Hershey's, stop here and refrigerate the syrup in an airtight container.  It will last for a few weeks.)

2.  Slowly stir in the milk and cook on medium, stirring constantly.  Cook until very hot, but not boiling.  It is important to constantly stir the milk to prevent it from burning on the bottom of the pan.

3.  Remove pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and half and half.  The half and half should cool the mixture down to the perfect drinking temperature.  Serve in heat-proof cups.

We served this hot chocolate with several toppings.  I got the idea from my friend Tamra Dobler.  She serves her hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream, crushed peppermint pieces, toffee pieces, caramel bits, mini chocolate chips, marshmallows, etc.  Just line the cups of a jumbo cupcake pan with tissue and fill each cup with a different topping.  The kids and adults had lots of fun customizing their cocoa.  Hope you do too!

As mentioned in step 1, you can cook the cocoa, sugar, salt and water, then cool it and put it in a clean bottle in the fridge.  This syrup can be used to make chocolate milk, served on ice cream, etc.  Basically, it can replace the good 'ole Hershey's syrup.  I was thinking of trying to make it with Splenda or Truvia because the sugar free versions of chocolate syrup you can buy in the store are kinda gross.  I'll let you know how it turns out!

My mom made a new recipe this year called Pecan Brittle.  I'll post that recipe soon!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

White Bean and Kale Soup with Smoked Sausage

The temperature is dropping and I had some small white beans to use up.  So... Soup!  This weekend, I spent Saturday with my good friend Tamra and her family.  Amelie and I played 'fishing' over the back of the couch with a jump rope, and Peyton and I played peek-a-boo.  It was so much fun playing with the kids!  I brought the soup over for lunch and Tamra made pitas from scratch.  Both were yummy!

I'm sorry to say that I forgot to snap a photo before we ate the soup.  Just trust me-- its good.  White beans in a flavorful chicken broth with bright green kale, celery, carrots and smoked sausage.  Warms you right up!  Here's my recipe.

White Bean and Kale Soup with Smoked Sausage
8 oz. white beans, rinsed and picked over
smoked beef sausage (I used Hillshire Farms)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz. low sodium chicken broth (The kirkland brand from Costco is REALLY good)
1 tsp dried basil
1 bunch kale, stemmed and chopped

1.  Place beans  in a pot with enough water to cover by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil, then put the lid on and let them sit for an hour.  Drain.

2.  Cut the sausage in slices (rounds), then cut each round in half (half-moon shape).  Fry over medium-high heat in a soup pot in 2 batches.  Remove to a bowl and place in the refrigerator.  The frying should take about 5-7 minutes per batch-- you want the sausage to render its fat and get slightly brown.  Don't worry about the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.  Brown bits = flavor! :)

3.  Place the onion in the pot with the fat from the sausage and saute until slightly transparent.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in about a cup of broth and scrape up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  Add the rest of the broth, carrots, celery, and beans.  Sprinkle dried basil over the broth.  Bring to a slight boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

4.  After 30 minutes, add the sausage and stir.  Add water if necessary as the beans will soak up liquid as they cook.  Cover and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes.

5.  Add the kale, remove from the heat, and replace the lid.  Let stand for 10 minutes, then stir in the kale.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

6.  If desired, you can add 1/2 cup cream at this point to make it a bit more creamy.

Enjoy!  Here's to snowballs, snowmen and steamy bowl of white bean soup!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Vanilla Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Frosting

'Tis the season! Tomorrow, we are having a hot cocoa party at work. Everyone is encouraged to bring a treat to share. I decided that I'd bake up some good Vanilla Sugar Cookies! My mom made these cookies every year when I was young. We'd make them for Christmas and Valentine's Day. So much fun! The cookies are super soft and the buttercream frosting is to die for! I remember that we'd have to make a double batch of frosting and give the extra to our neighbor, Annie. She'd eat the frosting by the spoonful. :)

I got the idea for the Reindeer Cookies from a Martha Stewart web page. I made them using the gingerbread man cookie cutter! The face is chocolate frosting, the nose is a red-hot, and the eyes are white chocolate chips dipped in chocolate frosting. Cute, eh?

I just love snowmen. They are one of my favorite winter things. These little guys have mini m&ms for eyes, and a combo of mini m&ms and red hots for buttons. Snowflakes are fun to decorate as well. The sugar makes them sparkle!

Some stars and Stockings...
Candy canes and stockings. The frosting I was using for the stripes was a bit tricky to work with.

Arranged on a platter, they look pretty good! Here are the stars, trees, stockings and reindeer.

And my FAVORITE photo of the cookies-- candycanes, snowmen and snowflakes. :)
Please enjoy these treasured family recipes!
Vanilla Sugar Cookies
1 cup shortening (do not use butter flavored)
1 cup sour cream
2 cups sugar
2 lg eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
6 cups all purpose flour
1. Cream shortening, sour cream, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and blend well. Add the vanilla and stir to combine.
2. Whisk the baking powder and salt into the all purpose flour, then slowly add to the sour cream mixture, a cup at a time, beating well after each addition. The dough will be very stiff, but shouldn't be crumbly. I like to add just 1/2 cup at a time after I've added about 3/4th of the flour. Pat dough into a container, cover with a lid, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or at least overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
4. Cut the dough into 4 sections and roll one section at a time on a well floured surface to a thickness of 1/4-inch. Place the dough in the fridge when not being rolled. Use 3-5 inch cookie cutters to cut the cookies and carefully place on the cookie sheets. If the dough sticks to the counter, use some unflavored dental floss to slide underneath the dough (between the dough and the counter).
5. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes-- do not overbake or the cookies will be dry. The cookies should be barely lightly browned on the bottom. Let stand in the pan for a couple minutes, then remove the whole sheet of parchment to a wire cooling rack.
6. Store in an airtight container on the counter to keep the cookies soft. Frost when cooled to room temperature.
Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
5 cups powdered sugar
3 to 5 Tbsp Milk
1. Cream butter and shortening in a stand mixer or with electric mixer until well blended, stopping to scrape down the bowl a few times. Add in vanilla and mix well.
2. Add the powdered sugar, a cup at a time, beating well with each addition. After adding the 3rd cup, add a Tbsp of milk. Alternate the sugar and milk until all the sugar is added. Add an additional 1 to 2 Tbsp milk if needed to reach spreading consistency.
3. For cookies, remove a couple scoops to a smaller bowl for coloring if desired. Be sure to stir well after the addition of food coloring to ensure a streak-free frosting.
This frosting may be spread on top of cookies or placed in a pastry bag for piping onto the cookies. Finish decorations with candy and sprinkles. Let sit out for a few hours or overnight before stacking in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper for storage.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

While looking through some blogs, I came across a recipe for White Chocolate Pomegranate Cookies on TwoPeasandTheirPod. The recipe looked great, so I decided to give it a try.

The results were wonderful! I have a new favorite Christmas cookie. The outside is crispy and the inside is soft and chewy. Give it a try!

White Chocolate Pomegranate Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 lg eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups old fashioned oats
12 oz white chocolate chips
1 cup pomegranate arils
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla, whip well.
2. Add baking soda, baking powder, and salt to flour; mix well. Slowly stir into the butter mixture. Stir in the oats and white chips by hand.
3. Form 1 tbsp dough into a ball using your hands. Flatten into a disc. They should look like this:

4. Press 5 to 6 pomegranate arils into each cookie. They should look like this:

5. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (mine took 12 minutes and I roated half way through). The edges should be slightly brown. Don't worry if the middle doesn't look done-- it is. Let cool for a few minutes on the pan then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Happy Holiday Baking!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chocolate Dipped Gingerbread Biscotti

I saw this recipe on and just had to try it. The recipe was for Gingerbread Biscotti and I made it even better by dipping it in chocolate. It is just perfect for this time of year and would be wonderful in a gift basket to a coffee lover.
I had never made biscotti before. I have to admit that I had some doubts in the beginning, but everything worked out just fine. As long as the biscotti are cut while still warm, the loaf won't crumble to bits on you.
Here's the recipe from with adapted directions:
Gingerbread Biscotti
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used Canola)
1 cup white sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
2-1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1. Stir together flours, baking powder and spices. Set aside.
2. Stir together the oil, sugar, eggs and molasses. Whip for about 30 seconds.
3. Slowly add the dry mixture into the wet mixture. A very stiff dough will form. Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and grease a large cookie sheet (or line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray with oil like I did).
5. With well greased hands, remove 1/2 of the chilled dough from the bowl and pat it into a ball. With your hands, lengthen the ball into a roll that is about the width of the cookie sheet. Place on the prepared sheet and pat down to a loaf that is about 1/2 inch thick.
6. Repeat with remaining dough. You should be able to fit both loaves on one baking sheet. If not, just put the rest of the dough back in the refrigerator until you are ready to shape it.
7. Bake the log for 25 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool about 10 minutes on a wire rack.
8. Place the baked loaf on a cutting board and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices with a very sharp knife. Arrange on cookie sheet, cut sides up. Bake an additional 5 to 7 minutes per side to make the biscotti crunchy (I baked them for 7 minutes).
9. Cool to room temperature before coating with chocolate.

Chocolate Dipping:
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided

1. Place 1 cup of the chocolate chips in a microwave bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir well, then microwave an additional 20 seconds. Stir until smooth.

NOTE: I used mini chocolate chips because that was all I had on hand. Regular chocolate chips may take an additional 20 to 40 seconds to melt.

2. Spoon a bit of melted chocolate onto one side of the biscotti and spread into a thin layer using a small spatula or the back of a spoon. Let cool, chocolate side up, on parchment paper.

If you would like, sprinkles, shredded coconut, or chopped nuts could be added while the chocolate was still wet.

I can't wait to try other Biscotti recipes! I'm having one right now with my morning coffee. Have a great weekend!