Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winning at Christmas - Homemade Moon Pies!

Yes, I am winning at Christmas. I've been making up a slew of holiday cheer - mostly in the form of marshmallows! I was asking my Mom, what kind do you think Dad would like? She listed a bunch of possible flavors, and then added, "he really only LOVES them in Moon Pies." This is kind of an effort, but you can make the cookies in advance, then assemble the pies when you make the marshmallow, and then dip at some other time. It is completely worth your time though, and makes a fancy gift!

The Cookies:

2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together the butter and the sugars. Add egg, milk, vanilla, and mix well with an electric mixer on medium, about 1-1/2 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients, and add gradually to wet ingredients until your mixer has had enough, then mix the rest of the flour in by hand. Measure 1/8 cup of dough for each cookie, roll into a ball, then flaten the ball on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cook for 8-1/2 minutes, until edges are just very lightly browned - you want these to be somewhat soft, not crunchy. Cool well on a rack. Makes 18 cookies.

The Marshmallows

2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 packets gelatin
1/2 cup ice water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract(or whatever flavor extract you like, or five drops of oil flavoring for candy)

You will need a good electric mixer for these, that can run on high for 10 minutes. A stand mixer is best, but a good handheld mixer will work just fine. Put the sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 cup water, and salt in a medium sauce pan on medium high heat. Stir just until combined and sugar is dissolved. Then, place the ice water in a big mixing bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin over the water. You should be watching your sugar mixture while you do this - when it comes to a full boil, turn the heat down to medium, and set your timer for 4 minutes. At the end of 4 minutes, turn the heat off, and with the mixer on low, slowly add the hot syrup to the gelatin, pouring at the side of the bowl to prevent spatter. When all the syrup is incorporated, turn the mixer on medium for two minutes, then up to high for eight minutes. Add the vanilla about one minute before you are done. If your marshmallow goo starts seriously crawling up your beaters, you should stop and consider it done. Spread a generous amount of goo on the bottom of a cookie, then put another cookie on top. Repeat with other cookies. Spread the remaining marshmallow goo in a butter and powdered sugar lined pan. You can cut those up and use as marshmallows later. Let all sit for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

The Chocolate Coating:

1 twelve ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening

Mix together in a microwave safe bowl, nuke and stir, one minute at a time, until its all melted and mixed together. To dip moon pies, hold with a thumb and a finger in the center, and spin the edge into the chocolate. With a knife, spread chocolate from the sides onto the centers (you're going to have chocolate all over your hands, how awful), then place on wax paper. You can dip a few plain marshmallows in the leftover chocolate too. Put the chocolate coated things in the freezer for 20 minutes to solidify, then wrap and serve. Remember, these don't have any preservatives, so you need to freeze them or eat them within three days. The plain chocolate coated marshmallows are good for a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Merry (Insert Your Holiday Here)!!

The holiday season is a great time for retailers, and while I'd love to have everyone say to themselves "I'd just like to send everyone fancy soap for Giftmas this year", I have a great love for the handmade gifts. I just thought I'd post a few ideas, if you're looking for inspiration, and don't know what to make this year.

Gift Baskets: These only require assembly, but can be super impressive just the same. Think outside the basket when it comes to your packaging - brightly colored bowls, mini-coolers or lunch totes, or even decorated kraft gift bags are some options. You can take a nice towel, roll it lengthwise, and form it into a basket with safety pins to hold a bath & body collection. For kids, an activity set with crayons, markers, paints, art paper or coloring books, and modeling clay in a plain bag (for them to decorate) is fun. And for the dude in your life, a mini-cooler stuffed with snacks (nuts, jerky) and a couple of bottles of his favorite brew makes a gift he'll really appreciate on game day :) Your finished gift set can be wrapped with clear wrap, and finished off with some ribbons and a nice tag. Some of my favorite tags are from LuckyCees over on Etsy:

Edibles: Made from scratch yummies are always loved! Handmade fudge, divinity, toffee, or marshmallows are super popular at the holidays. Biscotti and coffee make a great gift together, I have wonderful biscotti recipes that I bought from, they're as easy as cookies and totally fancy! If you're not a superstar in the kitchen, there are some wonderful cookie mixes from Betty Crocker that you can use to make great cookie tins, or you can whip up a batch of haystack cookies - just melt chocolate chips and butterscotch chips together in the microwave, add a bag of chow mein noodles and a jar of peanuts, stir together, and shape into lumps on wax paper. Let them harden, package and win at gifting. And if you are really, really lost in the kitchen, you can still make a nice fruit basket :)

Hand Knits - or crochet, this is the best time of year. Even if you don't have advanced needle skills, simple garter stitch scarves and cowls are really impressive, and you can get a double crochet scarf done in just a couple of evenings. Chunky yarns are really hot this year! If you don't have access to a nice yarn shop, even Walmart is carrying Lion Brand Hometown USA, a super soft, super chunky yarn for quick projects. Other good gifting with yarns - washcloths, crochet coasters, and christmas ornaments - tiny stockings, sweaters, and bells are all pretty simple & quick too!

Let them make it themselves - sometimes the best handmade gift is one that you let them make themselves. Crafting kits, yarn, art supplies, and paper crafting supplies are all great for DIY types.

I hope everyone is having a great season, whatever holiday you're celebrating! It's nice that whatever your holiday, we all have giving on our minds at this time of year :)