Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

I love chocolate covered strawberries. I rarely have them though, and I had never made them. For some reason this was one of those things I had in my head as being difficult, but it couldn’t be further than the truth! They really are quite simple, and they take next to no time to actually make as well.

There are many variations you can do in terms of chocolate covered strawberries. You can make them really fancy and make them look like something, like a football, or a tuxedo, or even Santa, or they can be really simple and simply be dipped in chocolate and possibly drizzled with a little white chocolate for flare. Or how about some rainbow sprinkles added to give it a punch of color and whimsy?

Most of the time chocolate covered strawberries are considered a romantic gift, or a gift for a woman, but they could be given to anyone at anytime. Who wants to wait around for a special occasion when they are so simple and easy to make. Generally speaking they’re somewhat healthier than the average dessert as well, especially if you use dark chocolate. What are you waiting for?

What You’ll Need:
Ripe strawberries, washed and patted dry
1 cup of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (Note: You can use milk, semi, dark, bittersweet, etc.)
1 tablespoon of shortening (Note: Look for a version without trans-fats.)
Bamboo skewers or toothpicks
A foam block to stick the dipped strawberries in

First you want to wash and dry your strawberries and pick out what kind of chocolate chips you want to use:

Chocolate Covered Strawberries: Chocolate and Strawberries

I like to use Ghirardelli chips or Green and Black’s baking bars chopped up into bits.

Place the chocolate chips and the shortening in a microwave safe glass bowl:

Chocolate Covered Strawberries: Ready to Melt

Microwave for 20 second intervals at half power, stirring between rounds, until chocolate is melted and smooth:

Chocolate Covered Strawberries: Dipping Choclate

Now it’s time to start dipping!

While the chocolate is melting, insert toothpicks or bamboo skewers in to the top of your strawberries:

Chocolate Covered Strawberries: Ready to Dip

If you want you can remove the strawberry caps, but I like to leave them on. They add a bit of pizazz!

Next dip the individual strawberries in to the chocolate to coat and stick toothpicks in a foam block so the chocolate on the strawberries can set or harden:

Chocolate Covered Strawberries: Chocolate Setting

You can make them set up quickly by placing the block in the fridge and it will harden within 5 to 10 minutes. Or you can leave them at room temperature until they harden in 20 to 30 minutes.

And now you’ve got some really fabulous chocolate covered strawberries!

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Doesn’t that look like the perfect dessert or snack?

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Indeed it does!

Notes: You can also fill chocolate covered strawberries by coring out the center and adding a filling of your choice. One of my friends on Twitter suggested cookie dough. You could do sugar cookie or chocolate chip! Or how about a cheesecake type filling? Or butter cream icing would be great too. Be creative!

Another Party Punch

Party Punch

As I’ve mentioned before Banana Punch was a big thing when I was growing up for parties, showers, etc. I wanted to make some for Lex’s birthday party (Which ended up being canceled, but that’s another story!) but I wanted to make it a bit simpler overall and have less volume, yet a more concentrated punch base that would take up less room in the fridge/freezer and this really fit the bill!

Overall I ended up liking this more than the original Banana punch! I love when that happens! Just remember to mix this up at least 24 hours before you need it since you have to freeze part of the mixture.

Let’s get started!

What You’ll Need:
2 – 12 ounces cans of frozen orange juice (Note: A variety without high fructose corn syrup.)
2 – 12 ounce cans of frozen pineapple juice (Note: Ditto on the note above.)
2 – 12 ounce cans of a frozen pineapple, orange, banana blend (Note: Did I mention no HFCS?)
1 – 64 ounce bottle of apple juice (Note: Look for a variety that is just juice.)
4 cups of organic cane sugar
The juice of 4 lemons
Ginger ale (Note: It is possible to find varieties of ginger ale with no HFCS too.)

First you need two very large bowls. I like to use gallon glass bowls.

In each bowl add 1 can of frozen orange juice, pineapple juice and a pineapple, orange, banana blend. Next add 1/2 of the bottle of apple juice, along with sugar and the juice of 2 lemons to each bowl. Stir to mix.

When both bowls are mixed add the mixture from 1 bowl to a pitcher and place in the fridge. Divide the mixture from the other bowl into two equally sized containers and freeze until solid. (At least 24 hours.)

When ready to make the punch pour 1/2 of the mixture from the pitcher, with one container of the frozen mixture into a punch bowl. Cover with ginger ale and stir to mix. Serve immediately. Repeat as needed.

You can keep adding ginger ale to the original pour into the bowl until it becomes unfruity and then add the second round of liquid/frozen mixture.

Notes: You can use a mixture of other juice if you like, but I really like this mixture best. Crushed frozen strawberries would be good. And I have it on very good authority that the addition of a little rum to this sort of mixture makes a very nice adult treat! ;oP

Holiday Cookies

Holiday Cookies

When I was growing up these cookies were often made around the holiday season. My dad loves them. In all honesty I don’t care for them, but I usually make them for him as part of his Christmas gift and this year was no different. We always called them holiday cookies, but they sort of remind me of what fruit cake might be in cookie form. Not my cup of tea, but I thought I’d share them with you none the less. Enjoy!

What You’ll Need:
2 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup of natural brown sugar
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup of buttermilk
3 1/2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups of chopped nuts (Note: I like walnuts, but pecans work well too.)
1 cup of red candied cherries, cut in half
1 cup of green candied cherries, cut in half
1 cup of candied fruit, chopped
1 cup of dried dates, chopped

In a large bowl cream together butter, sugars, salt, soda and eggs until smooth. Add buttermilk and stir to mix. Add flour and mix until just incorporated. Stir in fruit and mix until fruit is throughout the dough. Chill dough for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

Holiday Cookies: Dough

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Scoop chilled dough out by rounded tablespoon on to a baking pan that has been lined with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper:

Holiday Cookies: Scooped

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cookies are golden brown:

Holiday Cookies: Baked

Cool and store in an airtight container.

Makes 5-6 dozen cookies.

Notes: The original recipe called for only candied cherries and dates, but I like to mix it up a bit.

Let’s Make a Gingerbread House!

Gingerbread Fangtasia

If you follow me on Twitter or FaceBook you’ve probably figured out I’m a HUGE fan of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I like the show ok too for the most part, but we won’t get in to my issues about the show here. If you’re really interested you can peruse the Musings category over at Daffodil Lane and see my thoughts on that subject, but the books are definitely my first love when it comes to this set of characters.

I also should tell you I’m firmly on Team Eric. I was from the very first book. My first thoughts when Eric came on the page were “Why the heck isn’t Sookie with him?” Bill is ok and he has grown on me, but I just don’t care for him with Sookie. I keep hoping he’ll find a nice girl elsewhere, but sadly my wants and desires aren’t figured in to the story! ;oP The little tidbit of my preference for Eric will become important in a moment when I explain my choice in gingerbread houses.

Most years I make a gingerbread house. It’s fun. One year I even made one for my friends as gifts. I took a few years off on the gingerbread front when Lex was smaller, but the past few years it has been fun to add her in to the mix and let her make her own gingerbread house too. It’s a fun tradition and one that we both look forward to.

Gingerbread True Blood Style: Fangtasia, Bill, Sookie and Eric

Alexis of course just made your standard gingerbread house, but a few days ago I had a fleeting thought that it would be fun to turn my gingerbread house into Fangtasia. I decided that it would be easy to add a Fangtasia sign and even make a gingerbread Eric, Sookie and Bill. I also decided to make a bite out of Bill’s head as if Eric had gotten fed up with him and taken a little nibble:

Gingerbread: Bill

Poor Bill! 😉 He looks a little emo here, but that’s ok too!

For Sookie I didn’t have the talent to make a Merlotte’s outfit, so she just got a dress, but I combined book Eric (pink spandex pants), with TV Eric (and his black tank top a la Skarsgard) even though I have to admit the tank was not one of my favorite outfits.

Gingerbread: Eric and Sookie

So basically you start out with a really good gingerbread recipe and then you just let your imagination go wild! And imagination is something I’ve never had a problem with! 😉

Construction is always fun! This go around I used small cookie cutters to make a relatively small gingerbread house. In the past I’ve made them as big at 8-12 inches for each piece, but these were more like 4-5 inches.

The first step was putting the walls up:

Gingerbread: Constructing

The walls are the easiest part. Gravity sort of makes them support each other. I like to let them dry 20-30 minutes before putting the roof on, because the roof can (and will!) cause the walls to collapse if you aren’t very careful.

This time the walls were square, with no triangular part for the roof to rest on and it just didn’t work. The roof kept falling down and taking the walls with it, so Alexis and I decided to make flat roofs instead. As you can see we added a chimney to hers and left mine flat:

Gingerbread: Ready to Decorate

And then you decorate!

Gingerbread: Creating

Royal icing works best to stick on all the candy and such. I put a row of peppermint kisses on the roof so I’d have something to rest the Fangtasia sign on and keep it upright:

Gingerbread: Creating

And considering we are talking icing here the Fangtasia sign didn’t turn out half bad either!

Gingerbread: Fangtasia

And Lex’s house turned out really cute too!

Lex's Gingerbread House

Should you wonder her gingerbread people are her and Jamison. Uncanny resemblance those! 😉

If you’ve never made a gingerbread house do try…It’s so much fun! It’s messy, but such a fabulous time that you won’t mind the mess…Much! 😉

You can eat your creation or you can leave it around to enjoy just looking at throughout the season, which is usually my choice. I make extra gingerbread to enjoy instead of the houses (or in this case vampire bar! ;oP)

Gingerbread Fangtasia

Now speaking of messes…If you’ll excuse me it looks like a gingerbread house exploded in my kitchen and I must remedy that situation. 😉

Easter Bunny Cake

Easter Bunny Cake

This is another one from childhood. My mom used to make Easter Bunny cakes with my sister and me when we were children. It’s so much fun I decided to do it with Alexis this year!

Alexis wanted a chocolate cake. Normally I think it would be fun to do this with a carrot cake since it’s Easter and all, but chocolate it was! She also was adamant that there had to be some “M’s” on the cake too! Not hard either! As you can see it turned out great and was delicious to boot!

This cake is really simple and a lot of fun! You could do this process with any shape…Turkey, reindeer, Santa, heart, pumpkin etc! The possibilities are endless!

What You’ll Need:
3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 – 8 ounce container of cocoa
2 teaspoons of sea salt
1 heaping tablespoon of baking powder
1 1/2 cups of organic cane sugar
1/2 cup of safflower oil
2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 1/2 cups of buttermilk
4 eggs
Icing or frosting
Candy for decoration

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Spray 2 – 11 inch round pans with non-stick spray and set aside.

In a large bowl stir together flour, cocoa, sea salt, baking powder and sugar until mixed. Add oil, vanilla, buttermilk and eggs and stir until batter is completely incorporated. Pour batter evenly into the two prepared pans.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake sticks done. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Using a serrated knife cut a bot tie shape out of the middle of one of the cake rounds:

Easter Bunny Cake: Ready for Frosting

As you can see above the cut outs become the ears. Place bow tie on the bottom of the other cake round and the “ears” at the top.

Once your shape is in place frost the cake:

Easter Bunny Cake: Ready to Decorate

You can use whatever type of frosting or icing you like. I used Wilton’s classic minus the butter, but you could use cream cheese frosting instead if you liked.

Now it’s time to decorate!

Use M&M’s, jelly beans, licorice, etc. Whatever you want to decorate with is fine! Decorate his bow tie, his ears and put on a happy face! Once you’re decorated then serve!

Easter Bunny Cake: A Slice

Notes: Traditionally this kind of cake has coconut on it for the “fur”. Alexis didn’t want coconut so we omitted it, but you can cover the cake in coconut if you prefer.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie Tart

Today is our last rewind recipe from Thanksgiving! And what’s Thanksgiving without some sort of pumpkin pie type deal? This recipe takes the aspects of a pumpkin pie and bakes them in a tart pan. It’s a bit creamier than your standard pumpkin pie, but oh so delicious none the less! This tart is also sinfully easy and what’s not to like about that? If you want something just a little bit different, all while sticking with the “traditional” and making things easy on yourself themes then this is the dish for you!

What You’ll Need:
1 pie crust (Note: You can make your own or buy one ready to go, your choice.)
1 – 15 ounce can of pumpkin (Note: Not pumpkin pie mix.)
3 eggs
1 cup of natural brown sugar
1 cup of heavy cream
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of cloves

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Press pie crust into a 9 inch tart pan and set aside.

In the bowl of your mixer mix together pumpkin, eggs, natural brown sugar, heavy cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves until completely incorporated.

Pour pumpkin mixture into the crust in the tart pan and spread out evenly. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until pie is set. (Note: You don’t want it to be really browned, just set. Pumpkin pie tends to get darker as it bakes due to the ingredients and that is fine, but you don’t want it to be too browned.) Cool to room temperature and then chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Top with whipped cream if desired.

Pumpkin Pie Tart

Note: If you want to use a gingersnap or graham cracker crust in place of the pie crust you could. You could use 15 ounces of freshly cooked pumpkin if you liked.

Patriotic Pie

Patriotic Pie

It’s the Fourth of July! And what better way to celebrate than having a dessert that is red, white and blue! This strawberry, blueberry pie with meringue is just the ticket! It’s a simple pie to make and it turns out fabulous every time! What’s better than that?

Patriotic Pie: A Bite

As a child we always spent the 4th out at the lake. There would be burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, homemade ice cream, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, lots of swimming, fishing, some boating and at the end of the evening fireworks! I was thinking about that yesterday. It was a lot of fun…Sometimes you just get nostalgic…All of that to say I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday! I know we will be despite the less than stellar weather! 😉

Anyway, what does that have to do with pie? Nothing! Let’s get to the recipe shall we?

Patriotic Pie: A Slice

What You’ll Need For The Crust:
2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 1/2 sticks of very cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup of ice water

~OR~

1 store bought single crust

Note: If you are using the store bought crust, make sure it’s thawed if it’s frozen, but still chilled and proceed to the filling step. If you are making your own see below.

In a bowl stir together flour and salt to mix. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it is pebbly. Add water and stir until ball forms. (Note: Depending on the humidity you may need more or less water. Add water slowly and when the ball forms stop. If you need more than a cup don’t sweat it.) On a floured surface roll the dough out into a circle. Press into a pie dish, crimping the edges and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to chill.

Patriotic Pie: Ready for Meringue

What You’ll Need For The Pie Filling:
3-4 cups of whole strawberries
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1/4 cup of water
1 cup of whole blueberries
1/3 cup of corn starch

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a large pot cook strawberries, sugar and water, stirring gently so as not to squash the strawberries until strawberries are just tender and syrup has formed. Add blueberries and corn starch and stir to mix. Remove from heat when the mixture thickens (about 2 minutes).

Pour strawberry/blueberry mixture into your pie shell and bake for 20-30 minutes until pie crust edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

What You’ll Need For The Meringue:
4 egg whites
1/3 cup of sugar

Pre-heat oven to 450 F.

In the bowl of a mixer whip egg whites and sugar on high until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over the top of the pie and bake for 2-3 minutes until meringue is brown. Let pie cool for 30 minutes an serve.

Patriotic Pie

Notes: Meringue not your thing? Whipped cream will work fine too. You could also use another combination of fruit if you liked.

Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles

Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles

For Valentine’s Day Jamison had one request…”Make me some chocolate!” Last year I made him these chocolates, but I wanted to do something a little different this year. I started thinking about it and decided that it would be nice to combine his love for peanut butter with chocolate once again and the idea for Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles was born!

Overall I was very pleased with how this recipe turned out. The peanut butter and chocolate of course complimented each other perfect and the undertone of vanilla gave it just the right touch. I shaped a few of them as hearts as you can see above, but any way you make them they are divine! If you have a truffle lover in your life (in my case me) and a chocolate/peanut butter lover (again here that would be Jamison) this is the recipe for you!

What You’ll Need:
1 pint of heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, cut in half and scraped
3 – 11.5 ounce packages of milk chocolate chips (Note: I used Ghirardelli.)
6 tablespoons of dried peanut butter powder (Note: I found a product called PB2 and heard raves about it so I decided to try it. The product is made from roasted peanuts that have had the oils removed. 2 tablespoons of the powder reliquefied with water makes the equivalent of roughly 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. It has 75% less fat than regular peanut butter, which given this recipe is a moot point, but it’s just perfect for truffles because it doesn’t really change the consistency of the chocolate! Also this stuff is awesome in and of itself! I highly recommend this product if you like peanut butter and want a lighter option that doesn’t taste weird! It makes a mean peanut butter sandwich too!)
Chopped peanuts (optional)
~or~
1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 cup of cocoa mixed, for rolling (optional)

Put the chocolate chips in a large glass bowl and set aside.

Place the heavy cream in a medium sized sauce pan. Cut a vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds into the heavy cream. Put the cut bean into the heavy cream as well and bring to a quick boil. Remove the vanilla bean and pour heated heavy cream over chocolate chips and stir until chocolate chips are melted and mixture is creamy. Stir in the peanut butter powder and mix until completely incorporated. Sit the bowl aside at room temperature and let the chocolate mixture become firm, yet still scoopable. You want to consistency of ice cream at this point. This can take several hours.

Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles: First Scoop

Once the chocolate mixture has set up scoop out round balls with a tablespoon or a melon baller. Don’t worry when you scoop them out they won’t necessarily but round at this point. You’ll make them more round in the next step. (See above.) Put on a baking pan that has been lined with waxed paper or a silicone baking sheet. Let them sit for about 30 minutes.

Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles: With Chopped Peanuts

At the end of thirty minutes roll the ball briefly between your palms to ensure a mostly round truffle. You aren’t looking for a perfect sphere, just a general round shape. If desired roll in chopped peanuts or a powdered sugar/cocoa mixture. Store in the fridge or in a cool dark place.

Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles: With Powdered Sugar and Cocoa

Notes: You could roll the truffles in something else if you liked, such as coconut, or even leaven them unadorned.

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.