Monday, December 23, 2013

Quick and Easy Peanut Butter Fudge

Here is quick and easy recipe for peanut butter fudge.  It’s great for a last minute treat or gift. I originally planned to make peanut butter cup fudge, but I was doing too many things at one time and messed up the chocolate topping. So, it’s just peanut butter fudge now. If you want, you can swirl the Peanut Butter Fudge with the Dark Chocolate Fudge for an extra special treat. Be care not to over heat the peanut butter, but all is not lost if you do. It will just be a little more difficult to stir, but it’s still good.

1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-5 tbsp rice milk

·      Line a 9-inch square cake pan with foil and spray very lightly with cooking spray.
·      Heat the peanut butter in a large microwave safe bowl for 2 minutes on high.
·      Stir in the sugar, vanilla, and rice milk (starting with 3 tbsp). It will be thick and difficult to stir.
·      Press the peanut butter mixture into the prepared pan with your fingers.
·      Smooth the top with the bottom of a measuring up or glass.
·      Cool completely.
·      Cut into ½ -1 inch squares.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chocolate Peppermint Cake (Vegan)

I made chocolate peppermint mini-cupcakes several weeks ago for my second tasting at Savory Spice Shop. It was the sleeper hit. Most folks would initially gravitate to the salted caramel mini-cupcakes, but they would then try the chocolate peppermint and be surprised at how much they liked it. They were even more shocked to find out that they were vegan. I really love the look on people’s faces after they have tried something that I’ve made and they exclaim how good it is then, I tell them that it’s dairy free (or vegan). It gives me a tiny thrill.

The following Chocolate Peppermint Cake recipe is the same one that I used for the mini-cupcakes, but it’s in cake form. You want to be careful when adding the peppermint extract to the frosting because too much will ruin it. I use some Black Onyx cocoa powder in my cake (you can order it online through Savory Spice Shop or Google black cocoa powder), but if you don’t have any or don’t have access to it, then just use all Dutch cocoa powder. The cake is my version of the depression era Wacky Cake. This recipe makes a 3-layer cake, but one of my layers fell apart, so I ended up with a 2-layer cake. I had plans for more elaborate decoration, but like a lot of people during this time of year, I was short on time and energy. Just a note of caution: If you want to use crushed and/or whole candy canes for decorations, you don’t want assemble the cake more than a day or 2 in advanced. The candies will start to melt.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp Dutch cocoa powder
2 tbsp Black Onyx cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coffee extract
2 tbsp white vinegar
12 tbsp(3/4 cup) canola oil
2 cups rice milk

·      Preheat the oven to 350°F.
·      Grease (dairy free margarine) and flour 3 8-inch round pans.
·      In a mixing bowl, combine and whisk the first 6 ingredients (flour to sugar).
·      Make 3 depressions of graduating sizes in the flour mixture.
·      Pour the vanilla and coffee extracts into the smallest depression, the vinegar into the medium depression, and the oil into the largest depression.
·      Add the milk and mix, scraping the sides as needed.
·      Beat on high for 30 seconds.
·      Divide the batter into the 3 prepared pans.
·      Bake for 30-40 minutes.
·      Cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean.
·      Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
·      Remove cakes from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Peppermint Frosting

2 cups dairy free margarine (I use Fleischmann’s Unsalted Margarine sticks)
6-8 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1½ tsp peppermint extract.
2-4 tbsp rice milk

·      Beat together the margarine and confectioners’ sugar in a large mixing bowl. Start on low to avoid getting confectioners’ sugar everywhere. If you have a stand mixer, you can cover the top of the bowl with a large towel.
·      Add the vanilla and peppermint extracts.
·      Add the rice milk 1 tablespoon at a time until you get to a firm, but spreadable consistency.
·      If desired, remove about 1½-2 cups of frosting and add crushed candy canes. Use this for the filling.
·      Assemble and frost the cake.
·      Optional: On a freshly frosted cake, press crushed candy canes onto the sides of the cake.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Irish Beef Stew

Cold, rainy weather and nice hot stew pretty much belong together. While the sun is shining today, it was cold, wet, and dreary yesterday when Mike asked for my Beef Stew. I grew up eating beef stew in the fall and winter. Several years ago, Mike and I spent 11 wonderful days in Ireland. Those of you who are allergic to dairy know that eating while traveling can be a real pain in the behind. I was fortunate enough to find a place that served several dishes that where dairy free. My favorite was their Murphy’s Beef Stew. Now, I’m not a big fan of beer. I don’t care for the taste and it triggers migraines, but using it in something that has been cooked doesn't seem to bother me. Their stew was perfect and even better is I didn’t have to make it. After begrudgingly returning home, I set out to try and recreate that wonderful stew. I tried using Murphy’s beer, but it tasted bitter and a bit off to me. Mike said that the Murphy’s and Guinness that you get here do not even come close to what he had in Ireland. Maybe that was it, but all I know is that I didn’t like my version. So, I leave out the beer.

The following is my Irish Beef Stew recipe. If you want to be authentic then substitute lamb for the beef. I prefer using whole carrots, peeling and slicing them, but if you are strapped for time, the small pre-peeled “baby” carrots in a bag will work. This seems like a lot of work but it really is worth it in the end. I highly recommend that you follow the first method at least once. You end up with amazing layers of flavors, but it is still good if you follow the shorter method.
Serve with a crusty loaf of bread.  

3 lbs cubed beef
6-8 russet potatoes cut into chunks
1 onion, finely chopped
1 bag frozen pearl onions
4-5 cups (2lbs) carrots sliced
2 tsp minced garlic
Flour mixture: (reserve ½ cup after you are done browning the meat)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp paprika
1/16 tsp cayenne pepper
6 cups water, divided
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Pepper
⅛ tsp Cayenne Pepper
Olive oil

1.    Put the finely chopped onion and peeled and sliced carrots in a bowl.
2.    Peel and cut the russet potatoes into large chunks.
3.    Turn your crockpot on low heat and cover.
4.    In a large (1gallon) zip top bag, combine and mix the 1cup flour through the cayenne pepper.
5.    Add stew meat to the back press some of the air out (not all) and close.
6.    Shake the bag around making sure all the pieces of meat are coated in the flour mixture on all sides.
7.    Heat a large skillet or pot with about 1 tbsp of olive oil at medium high.
8.    Once the skillet and oil are hot, add the meat one piece at a time until the pan is full. Do NOT pack the pan tightly with the meat. You will have to do several batches. 
9.    Reduce heat to medium and brown meat on all sides.
10.                  Remove meat to a plate/bowl
11.                  With each new batch add 1-2 tsp of olive oil.
12.                  After all the meat has been browned, put it and any juices from the plate into the crockpot.
13.                  *Pour 2 cups of water into the pan and loosen any and all bits on the bottom (medium heat).
14.                  Strain the liquid and set the strained liquid aside.
15.                  Dump the pearl onions, chopped onion, and sliced carrots into the pan. Cover and stir occasionally for about 5 minutes (medium heat).
16.                  Put the onions and carrots into the crockpot.
17.                  Heat the potatoes for about 5-7 minutes on medium heat.
18.                  Spread potatoes over the onions and carrots.
19.                  Pour the strained liquid back into the pan.
20.                  Add 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, tsp cayenne pepper and the tomato paste and bring to a boil.
21.                  While whisking constantly, very slowly add the reserved seasoned flour.
22.                  Once all the flour has been added, slowly whisk in 1½ cups of water.
23.                  Pour the liquid into the crockpot.
24.                  Swirl ½ cup of water in the pan and pour into crockpot.
25.                  Add 3-5 stalks of fresh thyme (depending on size) and 2 bay leaves to the crockpot.
26.                  Add water until the stew is cover.
27.                  If you start this in the morning, keep the heat on low, but if you only have about 4 hours, you can turn the heat to high.
28.                  Before serving, taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
29.                  Serve with fresh crusty bread.

*Note: You can skip steps 13-23 if you are really strapped for time. Though, I highly recommend following the method above if possible.

·      Add the vegetables to the crockpot after the meat.
·      Add the thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper.
·      In a small bowl, whisk 2 cups of water with the tomato paste, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, and tsp cayenne pepper and pour over the meat and vegetables.
·      Add water until the meat and vegetables are covered.
·      At the very end of cooking the stew, combing 1 tbsp of cornstarch with 1 tbsp very cold water.
·      The stew should be boiling.
·      Slowly stir in the cornstarch mixture until desired thickness is reached. It’s okay if you don’t use all of the cornstarch mixture or if you have to add more.
·      Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

(Since several people were asking for the recipe, I wanted to get this posted right away. I will add pictures after I get them uploaded)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Tree Decorating

There really is something magical about a Christmas tree. When I was little, I would sneak downstairs every year after Santa had come and everyone was asleep. I would turn on the tree and just sit there and stare at the tree. I still do it. In that moment of silence, you can still believe in Santa. 

I love decorating for Christmas. The lights, the ornaments, trees, greenery, the cookies; they all make me happy. I have gotten a lot of compliments on my tree over the years and I have decided to share some of my decorating secrets with you. Whether you have to perfect tree or one that is a little lopsided and/or has some gaps, these tricks will help make your tree beautiful. What type and color of lights and ornaments does not matter.

First you need a tree. Size doesn’t matter. We have 2, a very full, huge 9ft tree and a 4ft tree.  

Next, you need a lot of lights. Whatever lights you like: white, colored, mini bulbs, large old-fashioned bulbs, single colored bulbs (i.e. all blue, all red). Start at the bottom of the tree. Choose a branch and starting at the trunk of the tree, wrap each branch with lights. Once you get to the tip of the branch go the next branch and do the same thing starting at the trunk of the tree. Work your way around and up the tree. If you’re using a lighted topper, put it on now.

Now it’s time for the ornaments. If you have a lot of gaps or large gaps in your tree, take plain and/or old ornaments and place them inside the tree. If you have large and small hooks, use them both to help fill in the gaps. Place them on the branches all the way in next to the trunk and work your way out. If your tree is high (and I mean 2 or more feet) off the ground, you can hang ornaments under the tree. Make sure you still have room for presents. Then decorate the outside of the tree.  Last, but not least, now is the time to put your garland or icicles on the tree. I like putting glass icicles and fake (and some real) crystal ornaments on the outside. You can even get packages of crystals for crystal chandeliers at Lowes or Home Depot for about $10 for a pack of 10. Don’t quote me on the price though. It’s been several years since I bought some.

Our large tree has a very wide base and I couldn’t find a tree skirt large enough. So, I got a large round red tablecloth. We made a slit up to the center, added Velcro on the slit and we had an inexpensive tree skirt that fit our tree. 

Regardless of how your tree is decorated, it will beautiful and uniquely yours.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dark Chocolate Fudge

Now that I have found dairy free chocolate and cocoa powder, I LOVE making all things chocolate. I have been messing around for the past week with a fudge recipe. Making things like fudge can be a little tricky. Usually they call for cream or milk, which thicken when you cook them. It’s the casein protein that does that and that is one of the milk proteins that I’m allergic to. So, it becomes a challenge to get the right proportions and tinker with ingredients to get the right thickness and texture.

I almost had the fudge right the first time. Unfortunately, I didn’t cook it long enough. I put it back on the stove and got it a little thicker. I thought that was it, but it was still too loose. I put it back in the pot a third time (that 3rd time was NOT a charm) and I got distracted and over cooked it. The second time wasn’t any better. I over cooked it right from the get go. UGH! It turned into chocolate sugar. Kind of like maple sugar candy, but not nearly as good. I was really quite frustrated. Every time I bumped the candy thermometer, the temp would drop. I probably should have used a smaller pot so the thermometer would have been deeper in the mixture. I really wanted to do it the old fashioned way, but I wanted a recipe to share with you all AND it was becoming a real waste of chocolate. The dairy free chocolate is not cheap. It’s about $3.49 for a 3 oz. bar.  

Anyway, I decided to go with using marshmallow cream for my 3rd try. It worked! I ended up with a rich, smooth, melt in your mouth fudge. Maddie, my daughter, gave it immediate two thumbs up. I gave her the spoon and some scrapings from the pot right after I poured it and she said, “This is GOOD! I like this”. She promptly ate it all and wore the fudge proudly on her face. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do.

This recipe was adapted from the Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Crème Fantasy Fudge recipe.

In this recipe, I used SO Delicious Dairy Free Original Coconut Milk Creamer in place of evaporated milk.

3 scant cups of granulated sugar
¾ cup Fleischmann’s Unsalted Margarine Sticks
4.5 oz or a scant ⅔ cup SO Delicious Dairy Free Original Coconut Milk Creamer
4 3oz dairy free dark chocolate (I used Dark Chocolate Dream – Pure Dark)
7 oz jar of marshmallow crème (I used Kraft Jet –Puffed)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coffee extract
2 tbsp black onyx cocoa powder (or Dutch cocoa powder if that’s what you have)
A pinch of kosher salt
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

·      Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with foil or parchment paper with the ends extending past the sides of the pan. Lightly grease with margarine or cooking spray.
·      In a 3-qt pot, stirring constantly bring the sugar, margarine, coconut milk, and salt to a rolling boil over medium heat.
·      Cook for 4 minutes or until the candy thermometer reaches 234F (soft ball stage).
·      Immediately remove from heat.
·      Stir in the chocolate, marshmallow crème and cocoa powder until melted.
·      Add vanilla and coffee extracts and nuts if you’re adding them.
·      Pour into the prepared pan.
·      Cool completely.

    *Note: The fudge is even better IF you can let it sit for a day or two.