Make Your Own: Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

Do It Yourself Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

I have to say I’m just not feeling winter this year. I mean I’m usually the winter is awesome girl, but this year not so much! If it would snow and actually stick around for a day or two, I might change my mind, but so far we’ve just had bitterly cold weather and a lot of ice. We’re supposed to have some convincing snow over the next day or so, but who knows.It’s snowing now and seems to be sticking around but for the most par it has just been super duper well, cold! And I’m just not feeling it! I’d love some spring like or fall like weather if it’s not going to snow, but you can keep summer and you can keep this bitter cold!

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside

Oh sorry…I got distracted there for a minute! Am I the only one that breaks out into song? Digressing again…Let’s talk some hot chocolate shall we?

The other day on Twitter FaceBook I posed the question wondering if I was the only one who frequented Starbucks who did not order coffee. Most of the time when I go I order an unsweet green iced tea. If I don’t go with the iced tea, I sometimes go with hot tea if I’m cold. Occasionally however I just want something hot that isn’t in the tea family, especially when it’s so bitterly cold outside as it has been as of late. When I’m feeling the non-tea hot drink call I normally get a Caramel Apple Spice (which I’ve created at home too, but haven’t blogged about…I’ll have to do that sometime in the future!) because I had tried Starbucks’ normal hot chocolate and wasn’t all that impressed or now that there is a choice I’ll sometimes get a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, which I do like.

When Starbucks came out with their Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate this year I was immediately intrigued, even though as I mentioned above I wasn’t a fan of their regular hot chocolate and I tried one the next time Miss G and I took a spin through one of their locations. I loved it! The Barista that made it for me compared it to a melted Snickers bar in a cup and that pretty much summed it up! And I have ordered a few more over the next few months as the winter has worn on. Only once was it not that great, but for the most part I was highly impressed and my mind started working on how to make something similar at home. This is what resulted and trust me…It’s good!

Do It Yourself Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate: Hot Chocolate

What You’ll Need for the Hot Chocolate:
4 cups of milk or dairy (Note: I used skim milk, but you could use any type of milk that you liked or even half and half or heavy cream if you just wanted to go all out!)
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 cup of cocoa (Note: This is the stuff like you bake with.)

In a medium sized pot whisk together milk, sugar and cocoa until completely incorporated. This may take a minute or two. Heat over medium heat until steaming, but not boiling, stirring occasionally.

Proceed to the step to bring it all together below.

Do It Yourself Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate: Totally Cheating "Caramel"

What You’ll Need for the Totally Cheating “Caramel”:
1 can of sweetened condensed milk (Note: You can use regular or fat free.)
1 cup of natural brown sugar

(Note: This makes a very quick, very dulche de leche type caramel. But trust me you’re the only really who will know!)

In a small pot over medium heat, melt brown sugar in sweetened condensed milk until smooth, stirring frequently. You can do this while the hot chocolate is heating…It’s that fast!

What You’ll Need to Put Together the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate:
Hot Chocolate (See above)
Totally Cheating “Caramel” (See above)
Marshmallows (Note: I chose to use marshmallows instead of whipped cream as Starbucks does, but you can use whipped cream instead if you prefer. The marshmallows were really fabulous though!)
Sea salt

In a cup add about 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of hot chocolate. Top with 2-4 large marshmallows or a handful of mini-marshmallows. Drizzle some warm caramel over the top and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Serve immediately.

How easy is that?

Notes: If you aren’t a fan of caramel you could drizzle it with hot fudge or melted chocolate instead for a double chocolate punch.

Ridiculously Easy Labneh Cheese


As much as I love to cook, I really, really, really, really, really, really and did I mention really HATE to shop! I don’t like to shop for clothes, shoes, craft supplies, gardening equipment, computer stuff, food, or well anything! I’m just not a shopper. I never really have been. I’d rather spend time at the park, or near a body of water or at the library or on a picnic or on a walk or with friends or well you get the picture.

Anyway, now that you get how much I hate shopping we’ll get on to the real story. Sometimes you just run across the most interesting people when you’re out and about and I just love it when you click with someone right off the bat. The other day when Alexis and I were at the market I grabbed a tub of Greek yogurt. A lady standing nearby asked me if I had ever made cheese before. I told her about my mozzarella and goat cheese. She then told me I had to try to make yogurt cheese. “Take that container of Greek Yogurt, add the juice and zest of a couple of lemons, along with a pinch of salt (which I actually forgot, but oh well), tie it up in some cheesecloth (we’ll talk more about this below), tie it onto a dowel rod and suspend it in your refrigerator overnight over a bowl and in the morning you’ve got yogurt cheese. It’s perfect and just so tangy! I forget what the actual name of the cheese is…Google ‘yogurt cheese’ and you’ll be set!” We talked for a few more minutes about other things and then went on our respective ways. I call this a drive by friendship. 😉

So it’s no surprise I was completely intrigued. I came home and got started. I Googled ‘Greek Yogurt Cheese’ and found that it’s called Labneh. I also discovered that a lot of different people make it many different ways. I decided to follow the lady’s description from the store since we hit it off so well and she swore it was the way to go. What I ended up with is a smooth, creamy cheese along the lines of goat cheese, with a hint of tangy citrus and the best part is this is ridiculously easy to make!

What You’ll Need:
1 – 1 pound container of fat free Greek yogurt (Note: I used Okios.)
The zest of 2 lemons
The juice of two lemons
A pinch of sea salt (Note: I forgot to add the salt and the cheese turned out fine.)

In a bowl stir together yogurt, lemon zest, lemon juice and sea salt until fully incorporated. Place yogurt mixture into triple layered cheesecloth. (Note: I have very fine cheesecloth and I originally tried to use just one layer and the yogurt oozed through so I had to use another piece of cheesecloth and layer it to get it to work correctly.) Secure the edges of the cheesecloth into a bundle and tie onto a dowel rod:

Labneh In Cheesecloth

Place the dowel in the fridge propped up over a bowl so that the cheese can drain overnight, but make sure it’s up high enough so that the bottom of the bundle does not go into the liquid that has drained.

The next day open the cheesecloth remove the cheese. Place it into a glass jar and store in the fridge.

Labneh Chilling

Notes: You could add herbs into the cheese after it’s made by blending them in. As I mentioned this cheese has much the same consistency of goat cheese, so you could use it anywhere you would use that. It’s also cheaper to make, than to buy goat cheese so that’s always a plus. And the coolest thing…It’s fat free, though you would never, ever guess that by taste!

Make Your Own: Butter


It would appear we’re having an unofficial dairy week here at Dianne’s Dishes with mozzarella yesterday, butter today, and goat cheese coming up either tomorrow or Thursday! 😉

After making the mozzarella cheese yesterday, Alexis became curious about what else was made with milk, and I’m all about encouraging curiosity! We make yogurt so she knows that that has milk, but her inquiring mind wanted to know what else was milk based so I started naming off products and when we landed on butter she asked, “How do you make that?” I happened to have a pint of heavy cream left over from Christmas baking from South Mountain Creamery that was going to expire soon, so I decided to let her make some so she could see how it works. This is really sort of ironic given she doesn’t eat butter, but hey it can be frozen and used later, or I happen to know a certain sister who adores butter as much as I adore goat cheese, so maybe we’ll share with her! 😉

What You’ll Need:
1 pint of heavy cream
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (optional)

In the bowl of your mixer add cream and salt. (Note: For unsalted butter omit salt.) Beat on high speed for 3-6 minutes until cream thickens to butter consistency. The process itself is extremely easy. You dump the cream and the salt, turn on your mixer and sit back and watch. First it will make whipped cream, but you need to go past that point to where it thickens a bit. The consistency should be of spreadable, softened butter. Store in an airtight container and use as you would butter you buy at the store. You can even freeze to use later. The most important aspect of this is again you control what goes into it, including salt levels and that’s always a good thing. When you start to see buttermilk separating from the solids, you know you’re there. I like to get just to the stage so the butter is still spreadable, but you can go full on and make regular butter too.

Pour off buttermilk and rinse butter. Viola! You’ve made your own.


Notes: If you can find it use actual heavy cream instead of heavy whipping cream, though either will work. This makes roughly 3 cups. The container that is pictured above holds 3.2 cups and the butter filled most of the space.

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese Cheese is one of those things that most people like, and many including myself adore. As children most of us were exposed to the basic cheeses (Or more aptly in some cases cheese food whatever that means!) like American sliced cheese, cheddar, mozzarella and maybe something like Swiss. Then as we grow older we become acquainted with more diverse cheeses like the family of blue cheeses, goat cheeses, feta, among others, but no matter what, as you read this you can probably think or your favorite or favorites right off the bat! My personal favorites are buttermilk blue, Chevre, Colby, buttermilk cheese and really good Cheddar.

Cheese has been around for a very long time. A book I have discusses how shepherds who had milk stored in sheep stomachs (I know kind of gross!) found that the rennet present in the stomach caused the milk to curdle and make cheese. From there cheese making was born and oh the cheeses that have been developed over the years!

Lately I’ve become very interested in the process of making cheese. Basically you are looking at a biological/chemical process involving bacteria. What’s better than learning a little science while you’re making food? In my process of researching the art of cheese making I came across the book by Ricki Carroll entitled Home Cheese Making, Recipes For 75 Homemade Cheeses and I’ve meant to buy it for about a year. Jamison finally bought the book for me for Christmas among other kitchen goodies that we’ll talk about in the future. After reading the book I discovered that Ricki has her own cheese making supply company as well as an Internet store called the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.

While the process of cheese making might seem a bit daunting I was definitely interested in making some of my own. I purchased a few of the starter kits and some cheese wax from Ricki’s online store and decided to give mozzarella a try first, since it looked the least daunting. Ricki has a thirty minute mozzarella and ricotta cheese kit (and I’ll be making the ricotta soon. I’ll let you know how it turns out!) and I decided that would be just perfect to get started with.

To make mozzarella you need some basic ingredients. Obviously milk is the main ingredient because we’re talking cheese here. It’s also possible to make cheese with soy or rice milks, but for my experimentation initially I’m going to use dairy. After I get the hang of the process I want to try making rice cheese for Jamison, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand, you’ll also need water that is not chlorinated, citric acid, powdered or liquid rennet and cheese salt, which is actually optional. The process of making mozzarella involves using a stainless steel pot, heating milk, adding rennet, dealing with curds, using your microwave, draining whey (You know curds and whey! ;)), kneading, more microwaving, more kneading, ultimately working the cheese into a ball, and ice bath and voila…you’ve got mozzarella cheese in thirty minutes!

The process is really easy and I ended up using skim milk from South Mountain Creamery instead of the full fat variety because I got the milk before I got the kit and it turned out great! The taste is amazing and it was really very easy to make. I was very impressed with the whole process and can’t wait to try it again! The cheese came together so wonderfully and it was a lot of fun playing with it during the kneading process. Next time I make it I think I’m going to add in some herbs.

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

If you’re interested in making your own cheeses I highly recommend Ricki’s book and her online store. Who knew making cheese was that easy and you know exactly what is in it because you made it! What’s better than that? Nothing! You can use the mozzarella to make pizza, lasagna, pasta, calzones or anything else you would normally use store bought mozzarella in. Up next goat cheese and then on to ricotta and cheddar!

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.

Make Your Own: Chicken Broth

Simple Yet Perfect Chicken Broth

Making your own broth can be done many ways, but all of the options are better than anything you’ll get from a box or can. As a child I remember my mom making turkey broth during the holidays with the left over turkey bones. She never really taught me what to do, but I watched and learned.

This version is a very basic, yet very perfect chicken broth that can be used a variety of ways. In the notes we’ll talk about other versions, but for now we’ll just focus on simple, basic and delicious. What’s better than that?

What You’ll Need:
1 whole chicken
1-2 tablespoons of sea salt
Black Peppercorns
4-5 bay leaves
Celery Stalks
1 large onion, chopped in half
1 leek, cut in half and rinsed

Rinse chicken and place in the bottom of a very large stock pot. Add everything but the water. Once everything is in the pot, add water to cover the ingredients. I like to fill the pot up to about an inch and half from the top. Bring to a boil. Be very careful not to over boil.

Once it’s at a rolling boil, reduce heat to low, cover pot and cook for at a few hours until broth is a lovely brown color. Remove pot from heat and let cool uncovered.

Remove chicken from the pot before cooling broth. (Note: The chicken will most likely fall apart. Don’t worry when it does!) and put it in a bowl to cool.

Strain broth into a very large bowl. You may need to strain a few times and then place strained broth into storage containers. (Note: I like to put the broth into quart jars and then freeze them. Be sure not to fill it completely to the top or the jar will break when freezing. Leave at least and inch of empty space so that the broth can expand as it freezes without breakage.) Dispose of all the bits except for the chicken.

Once the chicken is cool remove meat from the bones. The chicken can be used in a casserole, soup, quesadillas, enchiladas, bbq, lasagna, etc. Use your imagination!

The chicken broth itself can be used in any recipe that calls for such. Makes 6-8 quarts depending on the size of your pot, plus 2-4 cups of chicken depending on the size of the chicken used.

Notes: Another way to make broth is to take the left over pieces of a chicken after you’ve roasted it and eaten what you like, throw them into the pot with herbs, salt, pepper and/or veggies. To make vegetable broth use the same method, minus the chicken and substitute carrots, leeks, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, etc. Any veggie you like will work, along with herbs, salt and pepper. Then strain the broth off of the veggies after cooking and you have a lovely vegetable broth that can be used just as you would chicken broth. This method can also be done on a turkey to make turkey broth.

Homemade Peanut Butter

Homemade Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a big hit at our house, but I worry about the trans fats that come with commercial brands. Most of the big companies have gotten them down to a point where they can list that they are trans fat free, but if the word “hydrogenated” appears on the label, then the trans fats are still there!

Natural nut butters are the way to go and they are extremely easy to make. You just need some roasted nuts and a little honey. Combine the two and you’ve got a fantastic alternative to commercial varieties. Get the kids involved, they’ll love this process! After you’re done grab an apple and smooth on some Homemade Peanut Butter and you’ve got a fantastic snack!

What You’ll Need:
2 cups of dry roasted peanuts (Note: Not salted. You can find plain dry roasted peanuts in most health food stores or natural markets. If you want a salt kick add in 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.)
1/3-1/2 cup of honey (Note: Much like working with flour you might need more or less. When the “butter” starts to form and ends up to the consistency you like stop adding honey.)

In a food processor process peanuts until chopped fine. Start adding honey with the processor still going until “butter” forms to the consistency you like. Store in an air tight container.

Homemade Peanut Butter

Notes: This will work with any roasted nut. Also natural peanut butters tend to separate sometimes so you may need to stir before using. If you want a crunchy variety stir in a 1/2 cup of chopped peanuts.

Mushroom Broth

Mushroom Broth

I started using mushroom broth about a year ago. A lot of the commercially prepared options have way too much salt in them though! I did a little research and most broths are made from dried mushrooms. I purchased some dried varieties and I put them in the cupboard meaning to make broth. Months passed and I still hadn’t done just that!

Every spring I like to clean out the cupboards and freezer, It’s part of my spring cleaning routine. When I came across the dried mushrooms I decided it was high time to make some broth! This is the first time I’ve made homemade mushroom broth, but it turned out to be delicious! Plus it’s super simple and that’s always a plus.

Mushroom broth can be used in place of any broth. It is especially good at replacing beef broth because many mushrooms have a beefy flavor, especially portabella mushrooms, though there are no portabellas in this rendition. Mushroom broth also makes a very good soup similar to French Onion soup as well.

What You’ll Need:
1 1/2 ounces of dried wild porcini mushrooms
1/2 ounce dried crimini mushrooms
1/2 ounce of dried oyster mushrooms
3 packages of the fresh mushroom of your choice, or a mix of mushrooms
Sea salt
Black Pepper

Place mushrooms in a medium sized stock pot and add enough water to just cover the mushrooms. Add a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour. Remove mushroom broth from stove and strain. Keep mushrooms for another recipe. (Mushroom soup is a good choice.) Store broth covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or you can freeze it for up to 6 months.

Note: The broth is very strong, so you will need to dilute it with a little water when you actually use it for cooking. You can also use whatever type of dried mushrooms you like or can find. It’s completely up to you.

Homemade Loaf Bread

Homemade Loaf Bread: The Inside Goodness!

I’ve been making a lot of bread lately and it’s true…Once you start making your own, the stuff you buy at the store just doesn’t seem that appealing!

This is an old recipe that I’ve had for years. I remember making it when I lived in Knoxville and I left there in 1997, so it’s been a while. I believe I copied the recipe from my Mom’s recipe box, but I can’t remember for sure and of course being me I’ve adapted it over the years. Regardless it’s extremely good!

Try it…You’ll like it! There’s just nothing like freshly made bread right out of the oven!

What You’ll Need:
4 teaspoons of yeast
1 1/4 cup of warm water
2 tablespoons of melted butter
2 teaspoons of sea salt
2 tablespoons of organic cane sugar
3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour

Mix yeast, water, butter, salt and honey and stir to mix. Add flour and stir until a sticky dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes until elastic. Place in an oiled bowl in a warm spot and cover. Let sit for 45 minutes to 1 hour and let double in size.

Punch dough down and shape into a loaf. Place in a bread pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray, cover and let rise again for 45 minutes to 1 hour and let the dough rise and fill the pan. (I have a larger bread pan and when I first put the dough in it doesn’t “fit” the pan, but after it rises for a while it fills in nicely!)

Homemade Loaf Bread: Ready For The Oven!

Preheat oven to 375 F and bake for 30 minutes.

Homemade Loaf Bread

Mexican Rice

Mexican Rice

I used to take the RiceARoni Mexican rice mix and then add tomatoes, peppers and onion, but that mix is full of sodium! One servings has over a thousand milligrams of sodium! Yikes! So today I decided it would be easy to make my own, and you know what? It was! Fresh is always better than boxed anyway. 😉

What You’ll Need:
1 cup of long grain rice
1 – 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes (Or you can use 2 cups of fresh tomatoes, chopped)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch of scallions, chopped (Most bunches have 8 or 9 scallions in them. You can also use 1 small onion, chopped.)
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of paprika
1/4 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1 cup of water

Dump all the ingredients in a covered dish and microwave for 20 minutes. When finished stir and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes: You could vary this by adding 1 cup of frozen corn or a can of black or red beans.