Thursday, December 22, 2011

Flavored Butter

Okay Folks, I admit it, I can't resist a *handy dandy last-minute homemade gift* post ;)

Meet Flavored Butter:

Flavored Butter is our Friend! Why? Glad you asked :)

Because it's way easy, way cheap, and WAY DELICIOUS!!!

   I don't know a single person who is not busy around the holidays. On a personal note, this is the first holiday season in a very long time where I was working full-time, and the first holiday season where I have been engaged (yay!) and spending time with both my family and my fiance's family. I've been rehearsing for two plays, and, oh! Did I mention we're MOVING? (Not very far, still in CNY, and we're thrilled, but add packing onto the holiday rush and things get REALLY interesting). So yeah, not a lot of time, I know we've all been there.

  However, I love making homemade gifts, and the fact that you're reading this means that you probably do too :) The Cocoa I posted about earlier in December and these Flavored Butters are a dream come true for the DIYer in a time-crunch.

Anyone need a refresher on why butter is awesome? No? Good, didn't think so ;)

  And who better to provide the Flavored Butter recipes than the Queen of Comfort Food herself, Ms. Paula Deen? These recipes came from her Christmas Cookbook, and I couldn't more pleased with them :)

  Kids, I can't tell how how fast this butter came together. Minus the softening time (which wasn't labor intensive, I just left it out on the counter and did other stuff), this whole thing came together in about an hour, as in, I had it all blended, packaged and ready to be put it gift bags in an hour, and I multiplied each recipe by 6!!! SO. FAST. If you find yourself in need of a last minute gift, you cannot go wrong with this.

  And taste? *SWOON* So incredibly delicious :) I mean, come on, it's BUTTER mixed with marmalade, or cinnamon and honey!!! How could it possibly NOT be delicious??? After this recipe, I don't expect to see a naked piece of toast, pancake, waffle or muffin in my house for loooong time :)

  NOTE: These recipes are proportioned for 1 stick of flavored butter (as they appear in the book). To make this in bulk, multiply the recipe by the number of sticks of butter you'll be using. For example, I used 6 sticks of butter for the Cinnamon Honey Butter, and 6 sticks for the Orange Butter, so I multiplied each recipe by 6. This makes a very generous amount of flavored butter, depending on what size containers you're using, (if any), you'll most likely have leftovers :)

Orange Butter
-based on a recipe from Christmas with Paula Deen
- 1 stick (or 1/2 cup) butter, softened
- 3 tbsp. orange marmalade

-Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl (I used a hand mixer on low, it gave the butter a nice whipped consistency)

Cinnamon Honey Butter
(based on a recipe from Christmas with Paula Deen)
-1 stick (or 1/2 cup) butter, softened
-2 tbsp. honey
-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
-salt, to taste ( the salt is optional, I tasted my butter and it needed it, but yours may not, taste and see :)

- Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl (again, I used a hand mixer on low speed)

- FOR EACH RECIPE: Pack into small crock or jar (I used 4-oz canning/jelly jars) with tight fitting lid. Or, roll in waxed paper into a log shape and twist at the ends. Chill thoroughly. If rolling in wax paper, wrap the wax paper in colorful paper.

  As I'm sure you all have guessed by now, the possibilities for Flavored Butter are virtually endless, Maple, Garlic, Lemon, Herb, Fruit; the sky's the limit!!! Have Fun!!!

Happy Holidays to You All :) You are all part of what makes life so sweet for me :) Even if we haven't met in person, I love you :)

Buona Festa!!!

Lynn :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homemade Hot Cocoa

   It may or may not interest you to know that my absolute favorite breakfast happens to be Italian bread toast with real butter and homemade hot cocoa :)

   Let's talk about Hot Cocoa for second, shall we?

     Subtly different from hot chocolate, nothing takes me back to my childhood like a cup of Cocoa. When I was a kid, my Nana watched my brothers and I while my parents were at work. Every morning, I always wanted the same thing for breakfast, the aforementioned toast and cocoa. My Nana would perch me on the counter next to the stove so she should keep an eye on me while she cooked.This was a spot I frequently occupied, and it was on this counter, looking down into whatever she was cooking that my lifelong love affair with food began :) I would watch her mix the cocoa powder and sugar in the pan and then watch it bubble and carmelize into a paste (side note: Whenever the coca/sugar mixture started to bubble, my grandmother would always say "Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble*, so maybe my Nana's kitchen is where my love of Shakespeare began too? ;) and then she would slowly pour in the milk, whisk it all together, pour it into my cup, and my morning joy would be complete :)

   So, in a nutshell: Cocoa, to me, in addition to being delicious and festive, is also supremely comforting and nostalgic. Drinking cocoa literally makes me feel like a kid again, cared for, safe, and innocent. All this in a cup of Cocoa? Yes. In my world, YES.

   This year, because of it's aforementioned qualities, I wanted to add homemade hot cocoa mix to my repertoire of homemade Holiday Gifts. I looked around online, and through some of my cookbooks, and was rather disappointed to see that most of the recipes I came across were, like, 3 parts sugar to 1 part cocoa powder. I know I've said this before, but I honestly don't enjoy the taste of heavily sugared foods and drinks. I rarely drink soda, pixie sticks make me gag, etc. And, not to point out the obvious, but the drink is called *Hot Cocoa* not *Hot Sugar* (that sounds vaguely naughty, doesn't it ? ;). So I continued to look until I could find a recipe that was at least equal parts sugar and cocoa powder.

  As it turns out, I already had such a recipe in my arsenal :) This recipe (tweaked slightly by yours truly) came from a beautifully illustrated cooking and craft book by Susan Branch.
Susan Branch's books are an absolute pleasure to read. They are sort of like peeking through a friend's illustrated recipe journal. Her books have such a familiar, conversational tone and the recipes are no-fail :) What's not to like?

 I am absolutely thrilled with the way this cocoa turned out, it is exactly what I wanted it to be :) Rich but not heavy, chocolatey but not overly sweet, wicked short ingredient list, no weird chemicals or additives, and so incredibly yummy that I'm having trouble coming up with the right words to describe it, I must have used up all my poetic words up there in the first few paragraphs ;) I cannot wait to give this Hot Coca mix to my family and friends :)

Hot Coca Mix
(original recipe, adapted slightly by me, taken from Autumn from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch)

NOTE: Since I was making this batch for holiday gifts, I multiplied this recipe by FIVE, which made ten 8oz jars of Cocoa Mix. Here, I am listing the recipe for a single batch as it appears in the book. Since I scaled it up by five and it made ten 8oz jars, I'm guessing this single batch recipe would make about two 8oz jars or one 16oz jar worth of Cocoa Mix.

-3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-3/4 cup sugar
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (do not leave the cinnamon out! You can't really taste it, but it adds a very important note of warmth in the background. The cocoa will taste flat without it)
-1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy (optional, for experimentation's sake, I made half of the jars plain and half of the jars with the peppermint candy added) (I used a box of one-dozen average sized candy canes, but, again, I quintupled the recipe. If you're only making a single batch, you'll have a bunch of candy left over, but it can always be sprinkled over your favorite dessert or hot drink :) 
-1/2 tsp sea salt or to taste 

- If starting with candy canes, place them in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until crushed. Alternatively, you could put them in a bag and crush them with a rolling pin or heavy pot.
-Mix all ingredients together in appropriately sized bowl, depending on what size batch you are making.
-TASTE TASTE TASTE!!! Not that it's not important all the time, but with this recipe in particular, I cannot emphasize enough how important tasting is. This is just a base cocoa recipe, you are going to want to alter it to your preferences. The best way to do this is to wet your finger or dip the edge of a wet spoon into the coca mix and taste and adjust accordingly (or, pour yourself a test cup of cocoa, you know, for quality control ;). As I was working on this batch, I added more cinnamon and more salt, and I upped the peppermint candy ratio a little bit too. Play with the ingredient proportions until it tastes right to you. Yes, the milk will dilute it, but you still want the right balance of flavor notes.
-Store in airtight container and you're done. Dang short recipe, no? If you're keeping this mix for yourself and don't feel like getting fancy, any airtight container (i.e. tupperware, etc) will do. But, since I was giving these as holiday gifts, I fancied it up a little :)
  -With the aid of a measuring cup and a funnel, pour the hot cocoa mix into decorative glass canning jars:)    (Warning: Even with the funnel, this can get a little messy, be prepared for some cocoa dust.)

-Place lids on jars and label as necessary :)

(Yes, that is my cat in the background :)

Wrap up these lovely jars up all pretty-like and give them to your loved ones, and be sure to include this recipe note (maybe as a gift tag?)

-Add two tablespoons (or to taste) cocoa mix to 8oz (1 cup) hot milk and stir until dissolved. Garnish as desired :)

As you can see, Santa is neck deep in a hot tub of Cocoa, and he looks like a Happy Man to me :)

Note: I had a twinge of the mix left over, so that evening my family and I tried it out. Everyone loved it, and only one of my taste testers added some sugar to their cup. A winner, to be sure :) Also, VERY BUDGET FRIENDLY :) I curled up in front of my Christmas Tree with a cup of this Cocoa and all was right with the world :)
How's it going out there my all my fellow foodies and homemade gifters? Tell me of your adventures! I'm all ears :)