Chocolate Raisin Nut Clusters

chocolateraisinnutclusters

March 24: National Chocolate-Covered Raisins Day

This blog post is dedicated to our New Jersey friend Gary B. who, whenever we went out with him and his wife to dinner and a movie, would get a bucket of buttered popcorn and a box of chocolate-covered raisins to eat—even if he already had a big meal. His habit of combining popcorn and Raisinets has influenced us, as we now like to eat something sweet with our salty snacks.

We no longer live in the Garden State but still watch a matinee in the local theaters once in a while and eat popcorn and candy. On some Saturday evenings, we laze around the house and watch videos and also eat microwaved popcorn with a side of homemade chocolate raisin nut clusters. They are an amped-up version of Gary’s favorite movie theater treat.

Our double-dating days with our friends may be over because of the distance now. But Gary can still enjoy this easy recipe with his family in their huge home theater. And we can all treat ourselves to chocolate raisin nut clusters on National Chocolate-Covered Raisins Day!

Recipe

(Adapted from Food Network)

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces chocolate, dark or milk, melted
  • ½ cup peanuts, unsalted
  • ½ cup raisins

Directions

Line a cookie pan with waxed paper. Set aside. In a large bowl, melt the chocolate (over a double boiler or in the microwave according to the directions on the package). Stir until smooth. Add the peanuts.

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Stir in the raisins and coat everything well. Use a small scoop to drop a cluster on the prepared pan, leaving ample space between each candy. Refrigerate to set until firm. Peel the clusters from the waxed paper. Serve at room temperature.

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Notes

  • This is a very versatile recipe. Exchange the peanuts for pistachios, macadamias, cashews, etc. Use golden raisins or dried cranberries.
  • Instead of dropping clusters on waxed paper, spoon them into mini cupcake or candy papers for an elegant presentation.

 

Baguette

March 21: National French Bread Day

We celebrated Highlander’s birthday while touring Paris, France, many years ago. Before heading out of our hotel to go sightseeing, we ate croissants, brioches and other breads for breakfast. But our favorite was the classic baguette, a long loaf of French bread with a crusty exterior, which was served with many meals at the cafes and restaurants throughout the day. It tasted so delicious, especially when smothered with creamy French butter!

We still like to buy baguettes and fresh artisan breads at the local grocery store’s gourmet bake shop. But for our blog, we decided to try the “dough only” cycle on our bread machine and bake baguettes in our own oven because Islander has an old form pan that she wanted to use (both our bread machine and the form pan were acquired in our newlywed year).

Whether starting from scratch or taking a shortcut with a bread machine, try baking a baguette for National French Bread Day.

Recipe

(Adapted from Oster)

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon softened butter (or margarine)
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons regular active dry/bread machine/quick-acting active dry yeast

Directions

In the container of the bread machine, place the water, butter or margarine, flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Set the machine to “French” and “dough only” cycles. Press start and wait until the cycle is complete.

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into two or three balls. Place the balls in well-greased bowls or pans that are large enough for the dough to rise. Cover with a damp cloth or greased plastic wrap.

Put the dough in a warm, draft-free place, such as an oven. Let them rise until doubled in size (about 1-2 hours). Remove from the pans and roll out to form a long loaf shape. Sprinkle corn meal on a greased French bread form pan or baking sheet. Lay the dough on the pan/baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth or greased plastic wrap and return to the oven. Let them rise again until doubled in size (about another hour). Remove from the oven. Meanwhile, preheat it to 375 degrees F.

Brush a little milk on top. Cut diagonal slits on top of the dough. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven. Cool slightly before slicing.

Notes

  • We bought our baguette form pan from Wilton before the item was discontinued. However, Amazon.com sells a variety of French bread pans.
  • Search our blog for other Franco-inspired food recipes.

 

Mini Corn Dog Muffins

minicorndogmuffins

Mid-March: National Corn Dog Day

March Madness is upon us! Spring into action and make mini corn dog muffins for watching all those basketball games on TV. They are just as easy to pop into the oven as well as pop into your mouth for a “slam dunk” snack.

According to Wikipedia, “National Corn Dog Day is a celebration concerning basketball, the corn dog (usually a hot dog sausage coated in a thick layer of cornmeal batter), Tater Tots and American beer that occurs in March of every year on the first Saturday of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship” (usually in mid-March).

Make some mini corn dog muffins for March Madness basketball game days and on National Corn Dog Day.

Recipe

  • 1 box Jiffy brand corn muffin mix
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • hot dogs

Directions

Generously spray or grease a mini muffin pan with cooking spray. In a bowl, combine the corn muffin mix, egg and milk. Beat until the batter is smooth. Scoop into the wells of the pan no more than halfway or the batter will engulf the hot dog pieces.

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Slice the hot dogs into ¾ – 1 inch pieces. Place in the middle of the corn muffin batter in the pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F for 10-15 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven. Let cool in the pan for another 10 minutes before removing them (run a toothpick around the edges to loosen, if necessary). Yield: Approximately 2 ½ dozen.

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Notes

Homemade Shamrock Shake

March 17: Feast Day of St. Patrick

McDonald’s offers the Shamrock Shake at select restaurants for a limited time only during a few weeks in February and March to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. But if we want to slurp up a smooth, mint flavored, light green colored ice cream dessert, we make our own Shamrock Shake at home to enjoy any time of the year. Get in a green mood and make a festive food like this easy homemade Shamrock Shake for St. Patrick’s Day.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups vanilla ice cream
  • ¾ – 1 cup milk
  • ¼ – ½ teaspoon mint extract
  • green food coloring
  • whipped cream
  • green sugar or shamrock-shaped sprinkles
  • maraschino cherry (red or green)

Directions

In a blender, combine the ice cream, milk and mint extract. Put a few drops of green food coloring to get the desired shade of green for the shake.

Blend until smooth. Pour into a tall glass. Generously swirl whipped cream on top. Optional: Garnish with green sugar or shamrock-shaped sprinkles and a maraschino cherry. Insert a straw and serve immediately.

Notes

  • McDonald’s debuted the Shamrock Shake in 1970. It was a lemon/lime sherbet instead of today’s mint flavored ice cream shake.
  • That Irish elf sitting by our homemade Shamrock Shake above is Lucky the Leprechaun, mascot of General Mills’ Lucky Charms cereal.
  • Search our blog for more Irish-inspired or green-colored recipes to make in observation of the Feast Day of St. Patrick.

 

Pears Helene

(Poire belle Hélène)

March 15: National Pears Helene Day

We have posted recipes for Peach Melba and Melba Toast on our blog before. Now we are trying Pears Helene. All of these dishes were invented by a French chef during the 19th century.

Auguste Escoffier created Peach Melba at the Savoy Hotel in London, England, in 1892 or 1893, in honor of Australian opera singer Nellie Melba (he revised the recipe in 1900 when he became head chef at the Carlton Hotel). In 1897, Escoffier also made Melba Toast for her when she was ill.

Apparently, even great chefs need inspiration and motivation. Before Escoffier named his culinary creations after Nellie Melba, he was moved to make a fruity dessert from the operetta “La belle Hélène” by Jacques Offenbach (the operetta parodies the story of Helen’s elopement with Paris, which set off the Trojan War). And voilà—he invented Poire belle Hélène in 1864.

When we get stuck in a rut and routine in our kitchen, what inspires and motivates us is the theme for a food holiday. It gives us an idea of what to make for our meal as well as for our blog, and we also get to try out new and different recipes so cooking does not get to be the same old boring chore.

For National Pears Helene Day, we were inspired to make Poire belle Hélène. Simple poached pears are upgraded to a fancy dessert status when chocolate sauce is drizzled on them, sprinkled with toasted almond slices and served à la mode! Channel Chef Escoffier and be motivated to make Pears Helene for National Pears Helene Day.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 firm pears, Bosc or Bartlett, with stems
  • water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • almonds, sliced and toasted
  • 4 ounces (1 package) semi-sweet chocolate
  • ¼ cup milk
  • vanilla ice cream

Directions

Wash and peel the pears, leaving the stems intact. Place them in a large pot and fill with enough water to cover the pears. Stir in the sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes or until the pears are softened. Drain and set aside to cool until ready to use.

Toast the almonds in a skillet to bring out the nutty flavor. Set aside to cool until ready to use. In a bowl, combine the chocolate with milk. Melt and stir until smooth.

Assemble a poached pear in a dessert dish. Pour chocolate sauce over the fruit. Scoop vanilla ice cream into the dish next to the pear. Sprinkle with almonds. Serve immediately.

Notes

 

Original Girl Scout Cookies

girlscoutdropcookies

March 12: Girl Scouts Birthday (founded in 1912)

Congratulations to the Girl Scouts, a non-profit organization whose mission is to build “girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place”, for reaching 100 years of their cookie sales program in 2017. The program, which began in 1917, helps fund its mission and sustain troop activities.

We sometimes buy Girl Scout cookies. Their “Thin Mints” are our favorite, especially when we eat them right out of the refrigerator! There are many other Girl Scout cookies, from “Samoas” (caramel de-lites) and “Tagalongs” (peanut butter patties) to the newest “S’mores” (introduced in 2017 for its 100th year of cookie sales history). Their basic sugar-shorbread cookie, “Trefoils”, which now bears the Girl Scout logo, was the first cookie to be sold by local troops en masse.

We tried out the original recipe, which is for a roll-out dough. But it was too sticky to handle and we ended up making drop cookies instead. Besides, we did not have a “trefoil” cookie cutter to make the shapes so we kept it simple.

In honor of the Girl Scouts birthday, bake their original cookie recipe and indulge in the sweet treat that started the seasonal sales a century ago.

Recipe

(Adapted from the Girl Scouts)

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspon baking powder

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the egg. Stir in the milk. Add the vanilla extract.

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In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture to make a sticky dough. Cover and refrigerate for an hour.

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Scoop a tablespoon of the cookie dough onto lightly greased, foil or parchment paper lined baking sheets, leaving at least two inches between the dough to expand during baking. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 10-15 minutes or until the edges are brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Notes

  • We halved the recipe for this blog post, which yielded 1 ½ dozen 2-inch round drop cookies.
  • We substituted the vanilla extract for almond flavor and lessened the amount of sugar from ½ to 1/3 cup.
  • If making roll-out cookies, generously flour the surface and rolling pin before handling the cold dough. Roll out to ¼-inch thickness and cut out desired shapes. Sprinkle the top with sanding or colored sugars before baking.
  • Learn more about the Girl Scouts from their official website at http://www.girlscouts.org.

Chocolate Soufflé

chocolatesouffle

February 28: National Chocolate Soufflé Day

While going out on “date nights”, we are always impressed when we see the waitstaff present a chocolate soufflé to couples sitting at other tables at a romantic restaurant. Then we want to order one, too, because 1) it is chocolate (duh!) and 2) it looks so light, fluffy and fancy! But we can enjoy that delicious dessert at home without paying the “fancy” price. Serve soufflés with fresh berries or à la mode (with vanilla ice cream) and that makes them extra special for someone special! Extend your Valentine’s Day celebration and make a chocolate soufflé on National Chocolate Soufflé Day and the end of National Chocolate Month.

Recipe

(Adapted from Good Housekeeping)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (or 4 ounces baking squares), melted
  • 1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 eggs, separated, plus 1 egg white (total: 3 eggs, minus 1 yolk)
  • powdered sugar

Directions

Spray small ceramic ramekins with nonstick baking spray with flour (such as Baker’s Joy brand) OR generously butter the bottom and sides of the ramekins and sprinkle a little sugar in them. Set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate chips according to the package instructions. Remove from the microwave and stir the chocolate with the condensed milk until smooth. Beat in two egg yolks (saving the remaining one for another recipe).

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In a separate bowl, whisk 3 egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form. Gradually add the egg whites in thirds into the chocolate mixture and fold until just incorporated. Place ramekins on a baking sheet.

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Sift about 1 scant teaspoon of powdered sugar over each of the tops. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 11-13 minutes or until the tops rise about half-to-an-inch above the rims of the ramekins. When done, remove from the oven and serve immediately while the tops are still risen.

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Notes

  • Avoid over baking or the soufflés will have a cake-like instead of light and airy texture with moist centers. Also do not open the oven until the end of the baking time or the soufflés will fall (scroll down to see our deflated ego soufflés on our Food Flops page).
  • Check out our cheese soufflé recipe for a savory snack. 
  • Our date nights and “month-aversaries” are not always held at fancy restaurants. Sometimes we just go out to get a pepperoni pizza or try a new ethnic restaurant. The main point is to focus on us and on our marriage, especially when life gets too busy or complacent. As marriage sponsors, we always advise our church couples to have date nights—whether fancy or frugal!
  • Search our blog for other chocolate recipes.