Peppermint Brownies

Peppermint Brownies

Everyone knows that chocolate and peppermint go so well together and what could be better than Peppermint Brownies? With peppermint in the batter itself and peppermint chips throughout, these brownies are just the right mix of chocolate and mint. They are the perfect compliment for a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Wouldn’t Santa love that? 😉

What You’ll Need:
1 1/2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 1/2 cups of cocoa
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of peppermint extract
4 eggs
2 sticks of butter, melted
1 – 10 ounce package of Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Whisk or sift together flour through baking powder. Add eggs, butter, peppermint and vanilla and mix until batter is fudgy. Add peppermint chips and stir until completely incorporated. Spread into a 13 X 9 inch pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray or greased with butter.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until brownies are done, but still fudgy.

Cool and cut into squares.

Peppermint Brownies

Notes: If you wanted you could add in nuts, but the peppermint really is enough on its own.

Double Layer Peppermint Chip Bark

Double Layer Peppermint Chip Bark

This recipe (and tomorrow’s too!) is for the peppermint/chocolate lover on your list. This take on the classic peppermint bark takes it to a whole new level! The best part of this is that it’s done completely in the microwave making it simple, yet delicious! Try it and see.

What You’ll Need:
2 – 11.5 ounce bags of milk chocolate chips
2 – 11 ounce bags of white chocolate chips
1 – 10 ounce bag of Andes Peppermint Crunch baking chips

In a large bowl melt the milk chocolate chips at 1 minute intervals until smooth. Spread melted chocolate out onto a cookie sheet lined with a silicone baking sheet or wax paper and let cool until hardened (30 minutes to an hour).

Double Layer Peppermint Chip Bark: Chocolate Layer

Once the milk chocolate is hardened melt the white chocolate chips at 1 minute intervals until smooth.

Double Layer Peppermint Chip Bark: White Chocolate Layer

Layer Spread out over the milk chocolate on the cookie sheet and sprinkle the top of the spread out chocolates with Andes Peppermint Crunch chips and let the chocolate harden and then break into pieces.

Double Layer Peppermint Chip Bark: Setting Up

Notes: No notes for this one. It’s pretty straight forward. 😉

White Chocolate and Blueberry Fudge

White Chocolate Blueberry Fudge

When you think fudge you automatically think rich and chocolatety, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Recently we took a jaunt down Peanut Butter Fudge Lane and that made me start thinking about fudge in general. That little journey made me wonder how White Chocolate Fudge would turn out and then I went a step further and thought that some dried blueberries would make the white chocolate taste all the better!

This take on fudge is different, but different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. The white chocolate and blueberries meld together and provide a wonderful compliment for each other. If you’ve got a white chocolate lover and/or fruit lover on your Christmas list this year, then this fudge is the fudge for you!

What You’ll Need:
3 cups of organic cane sugar
1 1/2 sticks of butter
2/3 cups of evaporated milk
12 ounces of white chocolate chips
1 – 7.5 ounce jar of marshmallow cream (Note: Look for one with no high fructose corn syrup.)
2 teaspoons of vanilla 2 cups of dried blueberries (Note: If you’ve never seen these before they are like raisins only made from blueberries instead of grapes.)

Melt butter, sugar and evaporated milk until smooth. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat stirring almost constantly. You want to reach soft ball stage (235 F) and you can gauge this by using a candy thermometer to determine temperature. This process takes roughly 3-5 minutes depending on your stove top.

Keep an eye on the mixture. Given you are using white chocolate you don’t want the mixture to brown at all. Also anything that is cooked with sugar over heat can scorch quickly so make sure you watch and stir!

Remove pan from heat and stir in marshmallow cream until smooth. (Note: To make the marshmallow cream come out of the jar easier pop it in the microwave for 20-30 seconds and it should slide right out.) Next add white chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Add vanilla and blueberries and stir to mix.

Pour white chocolate/blueberry mixture into a 13 X 9 inch pan that has been buttered liberally and spread out to the corners of the dish using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. Let cool to room temperature and cut into small squares. This fudge can be stored in the fridge or even freezer if you want until you are ready to use it, but that isn’t necessary. It will last about a week at room temperature.

White Chocolate Blueberry Fudge

Notes: You could add in other dried berries to change it up a bit. Dried cherries or Goji berries would work wonderfully.

Gingerbread Cookies or Ornaments

Pissy Gingerbread Boy and Christmas Tree

What’s Christmas without a little gingerbread? Gingerbread houses, gingerbread cookies and even just plain old gingerbread! All of those things make you think of a wonderful holiday season! You can make this recipe as cookies or you can paint the gingerbread after it cools, seal them with varnish and make lasting ornaments. Whichever path you choose, you’ll have fun none the less! (We choose the painted path for the ones pictured here.) And the best part is whether you make cookies or you make ornaments this makes the perfect gift!

What You’ll Need:
1 cup packed natural brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark molasses
2/3 cup cold water
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Gingerbread Reindeer

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large bowl cream brown sugar, butter and molasses until smooth. Add water and mix well. Stir in remaining ingredients and stir until well incorporated.

Gingerbread Star

Sprinkle some flour onto the surface you’re working on and roll dough out to between 1/4-1/8th of an inch. Cut with the cookie cutters of your choice. If you are going to use the cookies for ornaments remember to make a hole for the string or ribbon to tie them onto your tree. You can do this by using a straw to make a hole at the top of each cookie.

Bake for 9-10 minutes until done and cool completely on the pan.

Gingerbread Snowman

Decorate with icing, candy, sprinkles, raisins or other embellishments if you’re going to cookie route. Whatever you like works. Just let out your inner cookie creator! 😉

If you’re making ornaments paint them with craft or acrylic paints and let dry completely. Once the paint is dry you can “seal” the ornaments by painting or spraying on a coat of polyurethane if you want them to last for many years.

If you want to make “Pissy” Gingerbread boys and girls use a fluted cutter to cut a “bite” out of the side of their heads or even their foot if you want, because after all wouldn’t you be a little pissy too if someone did that to you? ;o)

Pissy Gingerbread Boy and Girl

Notes: This really is the best gingerbread I’ve ever tasted. I’m not a huge fan of molasses by itself, but in this recipe it really brings out the flavors of the other elements.

Brown Sugar Peanut Cashew Brittle

Brown Sugar Peanut Cashew Brittle

Sometimes it’s nice to combine a little sweet and salty. Brittle does just that! This take on the classic peanut brittle utilizes brown sugar and even a little maple syrup to add a taste sensation with just the right amount of sweet and salty. Most traditional brittles are made with only white sugar, but the brown sugar gives it a depth of flavor that is very nice. If you’ve got a hard candy or brittle lover on your list, then this recipe is the one for you!

What You’ll Need:
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 cup of natural brown sugar
1 cup of corn syrup (Note: Light or dark works fine. Just make sure it doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup.)
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 cup of water
1 pinch of sea salt
1 cup of peanuts
1 cup of cashews
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 teaspoons of baking soda

In a very large stock pot melt sugars with corn syrup and maple syrup in water. Add salt once sugar is melted and cook to hard crack stage (Note: There is some debate out there as to where hard crack stage lies. Some say around 290 F and others say closer to 300-301 F. My candy thermometer falls in the latter category so I cooked this to around 301 F.)

When the sugar mixture reaches around 245 F then add the nuts and continue to cook, stirring frequently until you reach hard crack stage. (Note: If you don’t stir this you’ll end up with a scorched mess. Keep a close eye on the mixture!)

Once mixture reaches hard crack stage remove from heat and immediately add butter stirring to melt.

When the butter is almost completely melted add the baking soda and stir quickly. It’ll foam and fizz. Don’t be surprised if you’ve never made brittle before.

Spread mixture out onto two cookie sheets that are covered with silicone baking sheets or buttered using a spatula or wooden spoon until thinly spread. Let cool and harden and break into pieces.

Brown Sugar Peanut Cashew Brittle

Notes: You can use any type of nut that you want. You can use one nut or a mixture. It’s completely up to you. I’ve done this with peanuts and cashews in the past, but almonds, macadamia nuts, etc. would work just as well.

Rocky Road Bark

Rocky Road Bark

Rocky Road Bark Chocolate barks make the perfect gift! You can dress them up however you like and this version is a take on Rocky Road ice cream, which I must admit I’m not a big fan of, but I do like this bark! The almonds are crunchy and the marshmallows give it just the right amount of gooey. This is another recipe that is sure to please most chocolate lovers and after all don’t we all know one or two of those? 😉

What You’ll Need:
2 – 11.5 ounce packages of milk chocolate chips
1 – 11 ounce package of white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of butter
At least 1 cup of whole raw almonds
At least 1 cup of miniature marshmallows

Rocky Road Bark: Chocolate Chips for Melting

Melt chocolate in a double boiler until smooth. (Note: If you want to temper the chocolate you can. I will admit I have a love/hate relationship with tempering…Sometimes I can get it to work, other times not so much. I was watching the Barefoot Contessa the other day and Ina said she couldn’t be bothered to take the time to do it and it made me love her all the more! To get around the issue she said she just makes it the day she wants to serve whatever she is making and it takes care of the problem.)

Once the chocolate is melted remove from the heat and stir in two tablespoons of butter until melted. Spread the mixture out onto a cookie sheet that is lined with wax paper or a silicone baking sheet.

Rocky Road Bark: Chocolate Ready for Topping

Next add marshmallows and almonds to the top of the spread out chocolate and gently push them into the mixture. (Note: My little sous chef (AKA Alexis) had a lot of fun with that step! 😉 )

Rocky Road Bark: Adding the Almonds and Marshmallows

Let the bark set up until it’s hard and break or cut into smaller pieces. (Note: I like to use a pizza cutter and cut it into squares when it hardens and is sort of at a fudge like consistency, but isn’t completely hard yet.) Store in an airtight container.

Rocky Road Bark

Rocky Road Bark Notes: You can really add anything into chocolate bark that you like as I mentioned above. You can even make a white chocolate bark. Dried cherries, raisins and cocoa nibs make a good combination as do cashews and coconut. If you can think it it can be done! ;o)

Chocolate Marshmallows

Chocolate Marshmallow

Chocolate Marshmallow Marshmallows…What’s not to love? Add in some chocolate and you’ve got chocolate marshmallowy heaven! These chocolate marshmallows are the perfect gift all by themselves, but why not couple them with a jar of Hot Chocolate Mix and you’ve got one happy chocolate lover!

What You’ll Need:
6 tablespoons of unflavored gelatin
1 cup of water
2 cups of dark corn syrup
2 cups of organic cane sugar
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons of chocolate extract
6 tablespoons of cocoa
Butter to coat your dish
Cocoa to dust your dish

Dissolve gelatin in a cup of water in the bowl of your mixer.

In a very large pot melt sugar, corn syrup and water and the bring to a slow boil. You want to bring the mixture up between soft ball and firm ball (240 F to 248 F), but not actually to firm ball stage. (Note: You want somewhere in the 245 F to 246 F.)

Once the mixture has come up to temperature pour the chocolate mixture into the gelatin and beat on high for 10-12 minutes until thick and fluffy.

Chocolate Marshmallow: Soft Ball Stage

While the mixture is heating butter and dust a dish with cocoa.

Chocolate Marshmallow: Dish With Cocoa

Pour marshmallow mixture into the coated dish and let set until completely cool. Once marshmallows set up dust your fingers with cocoa, dip a knife into very hot water and cut into squares. (Note: The cocoa makes it easier to handle the marshmallows as the sides can be a bit sticky.)

Store in an airtight container in a single layer. And as I mentioned above they’re perfect in a steaming cup of hot chocolate!

Chocolate Marshmallow in Hot Chocolate

Notes: No notes for this one. The chocolate speaks for itself! ;o)

Bean and Pea Soup Gift Jar

Bean  and Pea Soup

Bean and Pea Soup Bean Soup is a basic, healthy, yet oddly satisfying soup that is just perfect on a cold winter day! Who says comfort food has to be bad for you? This soup is all about whole, real goodness and it makes a perfect gift! How wonderful is that? The soup is what you make of it, but it’s always a big hit!

What You’ll Need for the Bean Soup Jar:
1 quart jar
6 types of beans, lentils and/or peas (Note: I used navy white beans, black kabuli chick peas, petite crimson lentils, scarlet runner beans, yellow split peas and black beluga lentils.)

You want to layer the beans,lentils and/or peas you choose so that no two of the same color are next to each other. The jar above has 1/2 cup of navy white beans, 1/2 cup of black chick peas, 1 cup of petite crimson lentils, 1/2 cup scarlet runner beans, 1/2 cup of yellow split peas and the rest of the jar is filled with black beluga lentils.

Dress up the jar however you like, but be sure to include the directions for the soup (see below).

What You’ll Need to Make the Soup:
1 Bean and Pea Soup Gift Jar (see above)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Broth or water

Dump contents of the Bean and Pea Soup gift jar into a large bowl and cover with water. Let sit overnight. (Note: If you choose only lentils and split pea varieties you can skip this step as they don’t need to soak overnight. They can soak, it won’t hurt them, but it isn’t necessary.)

In a large stockpot saute celery and onion with a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper until just tender.

Drain beans and peas and rinse. Add to the stockpot with the tender celery and onions. Cover beans and peas until just covered with water or broth. (Note: Most of the time I use water. The beans and peas have enough flavor to more than make the soup, but if you want you can use chicken or vegetable broth instead.)

Cook for 2-3 hours until beans are tender.

Serve warm.

Bean and Pea Soup

Notes: You could also add in other veggies to the soup such as leeks of carrots. I even add in mushrooms from time to time. It’s completely a matter of personal taste. This soup is warm, hearty and oh so creamy. Who knew healthy could taste so good? I also ended up utilizing my Crock Pot for this soup. All you have to do is dump in the ingredients and cook for 4-5 hours on high and you’re good to go!

Hot Chocolate Gift Jar

Hot Chocolate Gift Jar

Hot chocolate immediately brings to mind snow, warmth and the holidays! What better present to give than a jar of chocolatey goodness? Throw in some cookies and you could even leave out a cup for Santa! He’d really love that! 😉

Hot Chocolate Gift Jar

What You’ll Need for the Jar:
1 quart jar
1 cup of powdered milk
1 cup of powdered cocoa
1 cup of powdered sugar
2 tablespoons of vanilla powder, optional

Mix ingredients in a food processor or sift together and stir until completely mixed.

Dress up the jar however you like, but be sure to include instructions on how to make the hot chocolate (see below).

Hot Chocolate

To Make the Hot Chocolate:

Add boiling water to 2 or 3 heaping spoonfuls of hot chocolate mix to taste. Top with marshmallows or whipped cream or even just drink it straight up! For an adult kick add in some rum or Irish cream.

Three Bean Chili Gift Jar

Three Bean Chili Gift Jar

After a little something sweet, what better than to spice things up a bit with the gift of Three Bean Chili! This version is very basic, but basic doesn’t have to be a bad thing. This is the perfect meal on a snowy day and it just so happens today is just that! 😉

What You’ll Need for the Jar:
1 quart jar
3-4 tablespoons of chili powder
2 tablespoons of paprika
1 tablespoon of onion and/or garlic powder
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 teaspoons of black pepper
1 cup of three different types of beans (Note: I used pinto. scarlet runner and navy white beans.)

In the bottom of the jar mix spices and then layer beans on top. Dress up the jar any way you like, with fabric, ribbons and bows, but remember to include the directions for the chili (see below).

Three Bean Chili

What You’ll Need to Make the Chili:
1 Three Bean Chili Gift Jar (see above)
Olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 pint of grape tomatoes, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic minced
1 – 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 – 10 ounce can of Rotel
1 potato, peeled and cubed

Scoop beans out of the jar and leave the spices behind. Place beans in a large bowl and cover with water. Let soak over night.

In a large stock pot saute onion, tomatoes and garlic until onions are tender and tomatoes start to get soft.

Three Bean Chili: Veggies

Add seasonings from the jar and stir to mix.

Three Bean Chili: Veggies and Spices

Next add tomato sauce, Rotel, beans and 1 1/2 jars of water. Stir to mix and bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 hours at least. The longer the better. Chili only gets better with time!

20-30 minutes before serving add the potato and cook until tender.

Three Bean Chili

Notes: The potato is a thing my dad does to chili. I think he got it from my grandmother. I don’t do it every time I make a pot of chili, but it adds a nice little surprise that most people don’t expect so I do it from time to time. You could also add in a cup or two of corn in place of the potato if you wanted. Depending on what type of canned tomato sauce you use you my need to add more salt. Taste the concoction as you go and modify the spices to your liking.