Friday, February 20, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter and Hot Chocolate

Last weekend I made chocolate peanut butter first, and then wondered what I was going to do with it. (Tip: it's a tasty replacement filling for Nutter Butter cookies!)

The answer has been a bite here and a bite there, as a tasty snack. So far I haven't needed a plan to make quite a dent in it. It's tastier stored on the kitchen counter (where it reminds to have a sample as I pass by) than solid cold from the refrigerator.

Now that I know just how remarkably easy it is, I think I might start making my own peanut butter too, and I'm really tempted by the idea of using honey-roasted peanuts instead of regular roasted peanuts. Protip: wear hearing protection while the food processor is grinding your (chocolate) peanut butter.


After my kids went sledding this morning, I decided we should thaw out with hot chocolate, and I had a recipe to test. I made the "master recipe" with Ghirardelli chocolate chips and Ghirardelli cocoa. We added mini marshmallows (but none of the other suggestions - too far from the desired classic), and everyone enjoyed!

Ah, tasty times!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mint Chocolate

In honor of Mint Chocolate Day, we tried a few confections. Here's what I thought:

  • Russell Stover French Chocolate Mints: so smoooooooth and enjoyable, although they didn't actually hit my "mmm, good chocolate" button. I enjoy one after dinner when I want a little something chocolate and smooth. This is its own category, a chocolate infused with some mint.
  • York peppermint patties - the classic, VERY minty (just like the ad says)
  • Pearson's mint patties - fine on their own, but they just don't compare to York
  • Landmark Confections peppermint patties - more chocolate on the chocolate-to-mint filling ratio, but they hold their own when you want more chocolate than York
  • Hershey's mint truffle kisses - tasty, not heavy on the mint but very noticeable; another reasonable after-dinner choice
  • 3 Musketeers mint - "where's the mint?" no really, I thought I would love the fluffy with mint (I know I have before on its own) but in this taste test comparison, it didn't distinguish itself
  • Andes creme de menthe baking bits - decent pop of mint, and I'd try again with the actual bars, but not as spectacular as I expected
  • Junior Mints - more like mini York peppermint patties than I expected, maybe slightly less "I AM MINT!" but remarkably similar

The overall winner was York peppermint patties. It ended up as the yardstick against which I compared everything else. York is strong on the mint flavor. For more chocolate to balance the mint, reach for Landmark Confections instead. After dinner (when I want mild), Hershey's mint truffle kisses or Russell Stover. I will still want Junior Mints when I watch movies. Sorry that doesn't really narrow the field ... OK, York is the top but there are times when I want a smaller treat with more chocolate than mint.

So can you guess what I want to try next? Making my own York Peppermint Patties! I've made Almond Joy and Mounds before (this recipe looks familiar), and I particularly enjoyed bing able to tweak the chocolate, almond, and coconut ratios; since that was easier than I expected, peppermint patties should be similarly easy.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rustic Bread

I had wanted to make Bread in the Crockpot for a while, so I finally tried it yesterday. Short version: DON'T!

I have a 5 quart crockpot, and a one-and-a-half pound batch filled it about halfway. After one hour of cooking on HIGH, there was a superficial crust but it was almost all wet and uncooked. After three hours of cooking on HIGH, I had significant crust, it had fallen quite a bit in the middle, but the bread was still wet and gooey in the middle; mostly uncooked but now with a thick crust. It took quite bit of cleaning to remove the failure. The crust was very hard, and the rest was still raw.

I took another swing at it today. I used my bread machine's BAKE cycle, and I got rustic bread. The crumb is large, the bread is soft, and the crust is thick. (My mom adores rustic bread, so this isn't a problem per se, but you should know what to expect.) High moisture leads to thick crust, and it's much easier to let a bread maker handle very moist dough. I essentially halved this Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day recipe. The longer you store the bread, the more complex flavor develops.

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 Tbs yeast (1 1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups King Arthur bread flour

I mixed it in a bowl all at once. I let it sit in the bowl about 40 minutes (and it was rising nicely!). I oiled my bread maker's pan, and then used a flexible spatula to transfer the wet dough to it from the bowl. I let it rise in the pan for another hour and a half. The BAKE cycle on my bread maker is one hour, and I selected that. At the end of the time, it smelled like fresh bread, and a quick peek in the middle verified that the loaf was cooked all the way through. It's a bit rustic compared to my preferences, but fresh bread is tasty with butter!

This recipe made one loaf that weighed 1 pound, 9.6 ounces before I sampled a slice. Or two.