Friday, November 30, 2012

Edible Gifts: Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix and Peppermint Marshmallows

Need a quick gift idea in your back pocket this season?

You can put together a gift package of homemade hot cocoa mix and peppermint marshmallows before you know it.

Yes, I said homemade peppermint marshmallows. Don't let the marshmallows scare you.
These puffy soft clouds of sweet Christmas cheer are easier than you think. In about 30 minutes of active time, you will have pillowy marshmallow creme ready to set up over night.

The magic of chemistry make the process so fun. As you whip air into the gelatin and sugar mixture, it slowly transforms into marshmallow creme. If you have kids, grab them to help you cut them out with cookie cutters. To make them even easier, use a sharp knife to cut them into squares.

The hot cocoa mix can be done in a matter of minutes with the help of a blender or food processor. To package the hot cocoa mix, grab an empty baking powder or lemonade canister out of the recycle bin and cover with wrapping paper. Wrap the marshmallows in a square of parchment paper and tie with ribbon.

Hot Cocoa Mix:
Makes about 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups mix, enough to fill one baking powder canister

1 1/4 cup dry milk powder
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse a few times until well combined. Store in an airtight container.

Peppermint Marshmallows:
Makes 9-10 marshmallows using medium-sized cookie cutters

1 cup cold water, divided
2 packages unflavored gelatin (I used Knox)
1/3 cup honey
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup+ powdered sugar for dusting

Grease and dust a 9 x 13 pan with powdered sugar and set aside. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water in a bowl and set aside to soften. Use the bowl of your stand mixer if you have one.

In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, bring remaining water, honey and sugar to 240 degrees using a candy thermometer. Once the sugar mixture is boiling, this could take 5-10 minutes.

Prep your stand mixer or blender with the whisk attachment or the smallest beaters available. When the sugar mixture has reached 240 degrees, slowly pour into gelatin mixture with machine on low. Continue pouring and increase speed slowly to high.

Beat marshmallow creme until doubled in volume, about eight minutes. Add vanilla and peppermint extract and continue beating until thick, about two more minutes. Ribbons in the marshmallow creme should disappear in about two seconds.

Pour marshmallow creme into prepared pan and dust top with more powdered sugar. Allow to set up for at least four hours or overnight. Turn marshmallow out onto a cutting board and cut into squares with a sharp knife or cookie cutters. Toss with powdered sugar to cover cut edges. Store in an airtight container for two to three weeks.

Put together a batch today and spread some Christmas joy with those cherished people around you. Don't forget to cut up those marshmallow scraps for your self, they all melt just the same.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Lasagna

I am so excited for Thanksgiving this year.

This year we'll be blessed to have three Thanksgiving dinners. That means more turkey and gravy. More pan gravy with my granny's secret weapon: sake. Seriously, try it friends. Thanksgiving with my family is always full of pieces of her. She didn't just pass on recipes, but technique, style, and attitude. Thanksgiving seems to pull it all together into a giant food memory. 

As I slid this lasagna into the oven, I knew she would have loved it. I know you will, too.

This lasagna is an excellent way to change it up before, during or after Thanksgiving. Most of the ingredients are already in your kitchen as you prepare for the holiday. Its full of fall flavor with turkey, pumpkin and sage, then topped with mozzarella and fried sage leaves. Use leftover turkey instead of ground turkey for a great twist on leftovers. 

Make, bake and share this lasagna and have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Lasagna
Serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
20 oz. ground turkey
8 leaves fresh sage
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 (15 ounce) cans pumpkin puree
3/4 cup chicken stock
20 ounces ricotta
8 ounces mozzarella, cut into 1 ounce slices
1 package oven-ready lasagna noodles

Grease a 9 x 13 pan and set aside. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pan, brown turkey over medium heat with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Remove turkey from pan, drain and set aside. Add remaining olive oil and pan-fry fresh sage leaves. When the sage leaves are crispy, drain on a paper towel and set aside. 

Add onion and salt to pan, scraping to remove all the crispy bits from the bottom. Cook until onions are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add dried sage and continue cooking another two to three minutes. Remove from heat and add turkey to onion mixture. 

In a medium bowl, stir together pumpkin and chicken stock.

In the pan, make three layers of the pumpkin, noodles, turkey mixture and ricotta. Top with another layer of noodles and pumpkin. Arrange mozzarella slices and fried sage on top.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking another 15 minutes or until mozzarella begins to brown and lasagna is bubbly. Allow to rest 5-10 minutes before serving.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Lighter Honey and Brown Butter No Bake Cookies

The biggest lesson from the last month: brown butter makes everything better.

Absolutely everything.

Jessica over at How Sweet Eats feels the same way. Not only is Jessica full of wit, but she shares fantastic recipes and photos. If you've never browned butter before, jump over to her post here to see how its done.

A lot less sugar and a little more honey come together to lighten up one of my favorite fast treats. These can become lunch box staples. Just whip up a batch and divvy them up in little snack bags. They'll be ready for you in a pinch. 

Remember, these are still cookies, but a sweet treat you don't have to feel bad about. 

A quick and easy treat to combat the pies you might be making in the next week. Or maybe in addition to those pies. 

Lighter Honey and Brown Butter No Bake Cookies: 
Makes 12-14 medium-sized cookies

1/4 cup butter, browned and slightly cooled
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
2 tablespoons flax seeds, ground

Line a baking sheet with wax paper and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, brown the butter. Set aside to cool. 

In another small sauce pan, add brown sugar, honey, milk, and cocoa. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for another minute. Remove from heat and stir in browned butter and peanut butter, stirring to melt the peanut butter. Stir in vanilla. 

Pour cocoa mixture over oats and flax seed, stirring to combine. Drop by the spoonful onto lined baking sheet. Allow to cool and set up on the counter for 2 hours or in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Store in an air tight container.