PEANUT BUTTER (OR NUTELLA) HOT CHOCOLATE

 
 

Keeping with the whole January + hot chocolate thing, I've got the last two (for now) hot chocolate recipes for you this week. This one is super easy to throw together, and you totally don't have to have your whipped cream melt or spill hot chocolate everywhere like I did -- all you really need is some peanut butter or nutella (chocolate/hazelnut spread), milk, hot cocoa mix, and whatever garnish (whipped cream, marshmallows, sprinkles, etc.) you prefer. Boom, fancy hot chocolate.

While we're on the topic of nutella, I have to admit something...and I'm about to commit the food blogger equivalent of sacrilege, but I'm going to say it anyway because we can be real with each other, right? I don't love nutella. I mean, it's alright...I don't hate it or anything. I just can't get behind the nutella craze. It just doesn't do it for me. I can't even explain it, really. I just feel pretty "meh" about it. 

That said, I still maintain that if you are a nutella-loving individual, this idea would work just as well with nutella! Whether you choose that or peanut butter, it's pretty simple; all you've got to do is whisk a few tablespoons into the heated milk before you add the cocoa mix and you're good to go. 

 
 

Peanut Butter (or Nutella) Hot Chocolate

makes two servings

20 oz (or two mugs full) milk
6 TB hot cocoa mix
2 to 3 TB peanut butter (smooth) or nutella
your choice of "garnish" (marshmallows, whipped cream, sprinkles, etc).

Directions:

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat, until it barely simmers.
  2. Whisk in peanut butter or nutella.
  3. Add cocoa mix, and whisk until thoroughly combined, and heat for another minute or two.
  4. Pour into mugs, garnish, and serve!

PISTACHIO + BLACK SESAME SNOWBALLS

 
snowballs for gifting
 

Snowballs. Swedish Heirloom Cookies. Russian Tea Cakes. Mexican Wedding Cookies. Different names for the same cookie.

These snowballs are based off the traditional recipe my grandmother used for her Christmas cookies when I was growing up, but instead of almonds, I've used roasted pistachios, and also added some black sesame paste. The result is a sweet, nutty, earthy cookie that ends up being a bit more intriguing than the original (though, don't get me wrong, I still love the traditional cookie!)

Pro tip: when eating snowballs, do not inhale while you eat lest you end up coughing up a cloud of powdered sugar.

Anyway, it's food gift packaging week!

If you're like me, you're probably about to start a whole lot of holiday baking, most of which will get wrapped up and gifted to friends, family, coworkers, your mail carrier, kids' teachers, your hair stylist, etc. Baking is a pretty economical way to give gifts. You can throw a huge batch of cookies together for a very small amount of money, divide them up, and end up with gifts for more than a few people. Food-related gifts are the best...they're useful, they don't result in more unnecessary trinkets/junk on the receiving end, and because they're homemade, it's obvious that you put legit time and energy into something. When I get homemade food gifts, I feel loved (even if I'm not crazy about the actual food item gifted). 

Over the course of this week, I'll show you a few different simple ways to package up those food gifts with the hope of giving you some new ideas to use this holiday season. And I'll throw in a few recipes, too, of course. 

Back to the snowballs. I like them best piled in a mason jar tied with a ribbon, as shown above. It helps protect them (they can be fragile), and it keeps the powdered sugar insanity contained. Mason jars are pretty cheap when you buy them in boxes of 12-16 (you can even get them at the hardware store), and I found this pretty twill ribbon on sale last year at Target.  I love giving these out, in any variation, as gifts during the holidays. They're festive -- I mean, they actually look like little snowballs -- and super simple to make.

Pistachio + Black Sesame Snowballs

recipe makes 18-24 cookies (can be easily doubled or tripled!)

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar, plus extra for tossing
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3.5 oz shelled dry roasted unsalted pistachios (I found mine, shelled, at Trader Joe's)
1 TB vanilla extract
a little less than 1/3 cup black sesame paste (found at specialty and asian grocery stores, or make your own)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment.

  2. Grind up pistachios in your blender or food processor. You can go for whatever texture you'd like here - I prefer them to be roughly ground so the cookies have a crunchier texture.
  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy.
  4. Add in the rest of the ingredients, and mix until combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl once or twice to make sure you're incorporating everything.
  5. Scoop into tablespoon-size chunks, and roll each chunk between your hands to create a smooth sphere. place 2 inches apart on your cookie sheets.
  6. Bake at 325F for 18-24 minutes. The bottoms of the cookies should be golden, and the tops should only have the slightest touch of color. You don't want them to dry out too much.
  7. Pour extra powdered sugar into a bowl. Roll hot/warm cookies in the powdered sugar, and place them on a rack, or on a different (cool) cookie sheet to finish cooling. Lightly dust cookies with more powdered sugar, if desired.
  8. Eat!
  9. These last a while -- if they're sealed airtight, you can get away with about a week or so.

CHERRY PECAN BARS

 
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Non-humble brag: I am 29 years old and have never had a cavity, and in the last year, my eyeglasses prescription has gotten better (yeah, I'm confused by that last one too.) I went to the dentist and the eye doctor, if you hadn't guessed. All hell is going to break loose at work beginning next week, and so I figured it might be smart to get all those yearly/twice-yearly check up type things out of the way before it becomes impossible to take a day off. In between appointments, I baked lots of goodies to share with you in the coming weeks, did laundry, did chores, and had dinner (falafel!) mostly ready to go by the time Brandon got home from work. I'm feeling pretty accomplished. Isn't it weird how much more productive you can be on the occasional weekday off, compared to the weekends? Weekends are for sleeping in and loafing and wandering around the city, which doesn't generally lead to a whole lot of productivity for me.

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I made these Cherry Pecan Bars a few weeks ago with what was probably the last round of cherries we'll see until next year. I know that means it's a little late to share it (unless you're lucky and still have cherries!) but this recipe is especially adaptable to whatever fruit you have on hand. I would avoid berries and frozen fruit, as I think they'll be too soupy. But stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines), pears, and apples would all work here. You're gonna need something to do with all those apples anyway, now that we're in apple season. You can change up your nuts, too (awkward?) Walnuts and almonds will also work!

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Cherry Pecan Bars

recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

makes 16+ bars, depending how you cut them

for the crust:

1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon table salt
¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
½ cup (115g) unsalted butter, cold is fine

for the filling:

¾ cup (110g) raw (unsalted) pecans
1 TB (10g) all purpose flour
¼ tsp kosher salt
3 – 4 TB sugar (if your fruit is particularly sweet, use 3)
5 TB (70g) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 pound fruit (you may not need this much, depending on how you arrange it)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. Don’t skip this, you’ll need that parchment to help you remove the bars from the pan.
  2. Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, add it to the bowl, then run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps (30 sec. to 1 minute).
  3. Transfer the dough clumps to your prepared baking pan and press it evenly across the bottom.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, until very lightly golden. To speed things up, transfer to a cooling rack in your freezer for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the filing.
  5. Make the filling: In your food processor bowl (no need to clean between steps), grind your nuts, sugar, flour, and salt together until the nuts are powdery. Cut the butter into chunks and add it to the machine. Run the machine until no buttery bits are visible. Add extracts and egg, blending until just combined.
  6. Spread filling over mostly cooled (a little warm is okay but it’s hoped that the freezer will have firmed the base enough that you can spread something over it) crust.
  7. Cut fruit as desired and nestle gently into the nut filling (thin slices of peaches/pears/apples fanned out would look nice!)
  8. Bake the bars for 45-60 minutes, or until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the nut filling portion comes out batter-free. This might take longer depending on the juiciness of your fruit and the amount you were able to nestle into the filling. Let cool completely in pan; you can hasten this along in the fridge.
  9. To finish, you can make a shiny glaze for your tart like I did by warming some apricot jam in the microwave until it thins and brush it over the cooled tart, or you could dust it with powdered sugar, or you could just leave it as is.
  10. Cut bars into squares — chilled bars will give you the cleanest cuts. Keep leftover bars chilled. Bars keep up to 4 days in the fridge in an airtight container.

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