gifts for neighbors

I picked up some crab apples at Whole Foods for the cooking I mentioned I’ll be doing this weekend. But when the kids and I got them home and looked at them, we just couldn’t help ourselves.

We decided we had to dip a few in carameland make mini caramel apples.We decided we had to dip a few in caramel and make mini caramel apples.
Now I am trying to find an excuse to have a party for my daughter so I can show these off.
By the way, few grocers carry crab apples, so if you’re out to find some, call before you shop. And if your sole plans are to make mini–caramel apples, you’ll probably want to ask for Lady Apples instead (different than Pink Lady Apples). From my understanding, they are a little sweeter than crab apples, and just as mini.

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Milkshakes are my favorite when we have company in town. Because really, what dessert is easier? Plus it is the perfect excuse to sink a straw in and indulge.

This weekend I came up with another way to share a shake. We put together a pumpkin pie milkshake kit to drop off to a few neighbors, so I thought I’d take a few pics and share. If you’re headed to someone’s home for Thanksgiving, this could make an excellent surprise to sneak into their freezer with a little thank you note.

I’m sure you know or can guess the basic makings of the shake. Depending on what I’m in the mood for, I’ll go with prepared pumpkin puree or homemade. The homemade freezes very well, so if you’re going to be prepping some for pumpkin pie, prep extra. Don’t tell, but I’ve made mine last for up to a year in the freezer before. And I always pick up pumpkin pie spice this time of year, to expidite all my pumpkin recipes. But you can mix up your own.

The basic makings of a Milkshake care package, if possible, should include cute straws. I picked up a few from Garnish. (Did you see Garnish carries a polka dot version too. eek! such cuteness.)

If you’d like to dress up your straws even more, you can find a few fun printables right here.

One of our favorite tricks is to butter up a few grahm crackers, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and toast them in the oven on broil. They are amazing crumbled on top or for just scooping out shake. I know, you’re telling me you don’t need to know that, you’re already having a milkshake. Oh, but you do, you do.
 All of the ingreds pile up nicely for a perfect fall delivery. (And if you’re in need of an alternative, non-melting fall care package, here’s a little something.)

Pumpkin Pie Milkshake
serves 4

4 cups vanilla ice cream
1/2–2 cups milk (I like my homemade milkshakes milky, so I go for a full two cups)
1 1/3 cups pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or combine cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves)

If your making this at home, dump everything in and blend, stopping occasionally to stir as needed. If you’re dropping this off for a friend (1) combine the brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice and tuck it in an envelope, then (2) fold the vanilla into the pumpkin puree and scoop it into a little cup. Stack on top of some yummy ice cream and deliver.

Toasted Cinnamon Grahm Crackers
12 full grahm crackers
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven broiler. Combine cinnamon sugar. Spread crackers very lightly with butter, sprinkle on cinnamon sugar. Broil until toasted.

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This spring I have been a little in denial. I know the time is coming soon when I have to decide if I’m going to start a garden. But I just don’t know if I’m ready to commit! I dropped by a farmer’s market yesterday and was told, here in Cali, I have two weeks left to decide. I’ve been totally inspired by this hydroponic herb garden, and this DIY green house trick, but I just need something to push me over the edge, or pull me back.

(btw, if you’re thinking of starting an herb garden, don’t miss my 13 tips for starting an herb garden I picked up last year)

While I’m putting off the garden commitment, we did manage to pick out a few strands of seeds to plant a small caterpillar and butterfly garden. We stopped by our nursery and asked what plants might be good to attract local critters. We decided to make seed tape (see my seed tape tutorial here), because it is my kids’ favorite.
Seed tape is great for my kids, they love putting globs of paste on the strips of newspaper. And seed tape is also a great way to store seeds so they’re ready to plant in seconds.

Of course we had to make an extra to give away and add a few embellishments. Butterfly garden seeds on top, caterpillar seeds on bottom. All that’s left to do is lay the strips on soil, sprinkle with a little extra soil, water, and watch!

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My latest guest to join in the gift retreat is the lovely and sweet Calli of Make it Do. Calli’s blog is stock full of great tutorials. I would love to try her cozy bed warmer, and I am in desperate need of practicing this pie crust since I’m lame at pie crusts (I’ve also received a couple great tips from some of you. Maybe there is still hope for me.)

Calli has a fantastic simple idea to share today, so I’ll let her take it away.

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Hi, My name is Calli from Make it Do. I’m so happy to be here at The Giver’s Log talking about handmade gifts.

There is no better way to show someone you love them than to spend time creating their gift. One of my favorite handmade gifts I made and gave last year for the Holidays was a Snowman Kit.

This gift is wonderful for so many reasons. It is inexpensive, the kid’s are able to help (by gathering and painting the stones), and it is so FUN to make.

It’s also giving the gift of wonderful memories. A simple snowfall can turn to magic, when the day is spent as a family, making a fat, round snowman.

Be sure to check out my tutorial on how to make a snowman kit. If you don’t want to sew a cap for your snowman, like I did, after-Halloween sales are the perfect place to find a fun and whimsical snowman cap.

And don’t forget to make and give Hot Chocolate on a Stick with your snowman gift… it’ll be the perfect way for your friends to end their snowy adventure.

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Our gift retreat is on a roll, and if you’re a crafter, today’s guest needs no introduction.

Cindy crafts, bakes, parties, and writes at Skip to My Lou. She is an endless source of inspiration for sweet simple projects, and has all kinds of autumn crafts and recipes to adore. I’m so thrilled to have her here sharing a favorite homemade gift with us. (It involves pecans, oh yes.) Thanks, Cindy!

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This is a quick edible gift that can be made in the microwave!  This yummy praline sauce will last 3 months in the refrigerator. Your friends will love it over ice cream, as a dip for apples or on cake.

One year I tied an ice cream scoop to the jar to make it extra fun. I am always asked for the recipe, so I’ve shared it right here.

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The Small Things

07.15.10

Hello again, Readers!

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the Broken Windows theory lately.  I think it stems from feeling overwhelmed a lot of the time and wanting to get back to basics.  I first read about the theory in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point”.  The super condensed version of the theory is that that small changes lead to big changes. For example, in the 1990′s, crime in New York plummeted when officials had all the graffiti on subway trains painted over and when they arrested people for minor infractions such as not paying to ride the subway.  (Other factors came into play as well, of course.)

I love the idea that starting from the bottom and dealing with the underlying issues often does more good than trying to solve the big, noticeable problems first.  I see this theory at work in my own house when I put a dish in the sink.  If I don’t deal with that dish right away, either by washing it or putting it in the dishwasher, before I know it, that one dish has turned into a whole sink full of dishes, which somehow morphs into messy house.  As long as I keep my sink clean, everything else seems so much more manageable.

May favorite example:  There is an 83-year-old woman named Jackie who lives down the street from me. Jackie is the mother of nine (yes, NINE) children. She says she cheated because she had two sets of twins. Given the fact that she had two sets of twins 18 months apart, I would hardly call that cheating. (I have one 18-month old son and he’s the busiest body I’ve ever seen.  I can’t imagine having two of him plus two newborns to care for.)

To keep in good health, Jackie walks around the neighborhood each morning while carrying a reaching aid and picks up litter while she exercises. This has made such a noticeable difference in our neighborhood that she once told me that her neighbor came over to check on her to make sure she was ok when he noticed that there was a piece of trash on the road. She has made a significant contribution to our neighborhood by doing a simple thing such as picking up litter while going on her morning walks.  I especially love that she’s not really going out of her way to make a difference:  she’s just taking something that she’s already doing to the next level.

Is anyone else as inspired by this concept as I am?  If so, I have two challenges for you:

1.  What can you do to fix a broken window in your life/home/family/community? Maybe it’s finding a moment to meditate each day, going to bed with a clean sink each night, honestly prioritizing your to-do list (and sticking to it!), being completely present with those you associate with, volunteering at your local non-profit, or maybe even picking up a few pieces of litter on your stroll around the block.

2.  Is there someone in your life that has dealt with or is dealing with the broken windows in your neighborhood?  Will you seek these people out and write them a note of thanks so they know that the work they are doing is noticeable and appreciated?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories about this topic.

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Darling Clementine

Crystal stops by GiversLog a couple times a month to share her fresh ideas. When she’s not writing for GiversLog, Crystal can be found mothering, knitting, and cooking. Stop by and see some of her handy work at her etsy shop.

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I have to tell you that I am pretty excited that picnic season is here. As you may have noticed, I really really like picnics. Which is why I’m so excited to share with you the most amazing pesto you will ever taste.

A friend of ours makes this pesto from her own basil and gives it away every Christmas. Every year we devour it and rave about how good it is. I finally decided life is too short to have amazing pesto only in December. So this year I asked, and this friend of ours was good enough to pass on her recipe. (Thanks, Jaime!) We’ve been making it nonstop since. Several dinners have revolved around this pesto. And I expect several summer picnics yet to come will revolve around it too.

The recipe is so impossibly easy. I wish I’d started making it years ago. There’s no special process. There is, however, one secret ingredient: butter. Basil and butter? How can you go wrong?

I included a free printable label for you. I thought pesto might be a good addition to my list of DIY wedding favors. Plus this will make a great hostess gift. Just sneak it in the fridge with a little thank you note while no one is looking. When your hostess discovers it she will love you, and when she tastes it she will love you even more. I’ve included a blank label too. Just in case you’d like to use it for some other treat.

Download from DropBox by clicking here: Printable Pesto Label, Printable Label Blank

Or download here: Pesto Label, printable (3594)
Leafy Label, blank (4053)

(Printing tip: You can open these files as they are, or, if you’d like to change their size, insert them into a Word document as a picture. Then you can resize as you like.)

Jamie’s Amazing Homemade Pesto

Ingredients
4 cups packed basil leaves
5 cloves garlic
½ cup butter
2 cups parmesan cheese
olive oil
a handful of pine nuts or walnuts

Put first four ingredients into bowl of food processor in order given: mash as many basil leaves in as you can, just as long as you leave a few inches of space at the top of the bowl, then add garlic (the Trader Joe’s pre-peeled stuff is great), slice up the butter on top, and dump the cheese on top of that. Pulse and gradually add olive oil until mixture is the consistency of thick paste. (Taste at this point and see if it needs more of anything.) Add nuts and continue to blend. Once done, spoon into jars and keep in fridge until ready to enjoy. Yields about two cups.

I’m sorry to tell you that my basil is store-bought. But I am tending to my herb garden dutifully, and I’m hopeful that I’ll get to use my own basil very soon.

Did you know you can use walnuts in pesto? Pine nuts are great too, but I like that with walnuts you can occasionally bite into a big chunk of nut. Yum. In fact, I threw in most of my walnuts and processed the pesto for a while, then threw in a few extra and gave everything just a few whirls so I’d be guaranteed a few big chunks.

I love how bright springie green it is.


Happy picnicking!

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Sometimes I wish I had all day just to share ideas with you. There’s just so much brilliance going around and never enough time to share all I want to. Maybe if I stop folding laundry. Oh wait. I already did that this week.

This is a great idea Rikelle mentioned on the pre-Christmas post about giving a salad kit. Rikelle makes festive-shaped croutons to give friends during the holidays. Don’t you love that idea? I’m finally getting a chance to put this to work, for Valentines.

Alongside my bag of loving croutons will be a bag of candied pecans (just toasted in a hot pan with a spoonful of sugar) and a favorite dressing to make what may be the teacher’s most wholesome valentine this year. Below are Rikelle’s directions for making yummy crunchy croutons.

“I really do love making the croutons. I make them with a mixture of equal parts butter and olive oil, with garlic and parsley to taste. I cut out the shapes and then dip them in the oil mixture and toast them until crisp.”  (NOTE: I toasted mine at 350 for 20 min).

Thanks, Rikelle. The butter and oil combo is delish.

And since we’re on the topic, I have to tell you that my favorite croutons are those made from black bread. And I’m wondering, does anyone have a good recipe for black bread like you find in Germany? I’ve been relying on this bread mix but would really like to find a recipe of my own. I enjoyed Smitten Kitchen’s black bread recipe, but am looking for something firmer and without any rye flavor. I thought it was worth an ask.

If you’re looking for more teacher gift inspiration, I have a couple in previous posts here, or inspiration in my gift guides here.


I hope you’ll visit me at the SEI blog today, where you can meet this guy.

And one last thing. I hope you’ll stop by here and enter my giveaway. Select Registry is offering $100 to use at any of their almost 400 bed and breakfasts. Just stop by this post and
1. Mention an inn you like, or
2. Mention a favorite item from my gift or wrapping guides, or
3. Twitter about it, or
4. Post about it on your blog along with a favorite local shop or restaurant of yours.
Winner chosen on Friday.

Deb picked The Govorner’s House Inn as a B&B that she thought looked dreamy. I’d love to be there for afternoon tea.

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chocolate covered oreos stack

I noticed several of us have something in common, we really like chocolate. So I thought we’d talk a little chocolate. Are you on board? Today we’ll talk melting, tomorrow we’ll talk buying.

I know that when I first started working with chocolate I was totally bewildered. But after doing enough research, I realized that melting chocolate and dipping fun things in it is pretty simple, it just takes practice. So for those of you with chocolate experience (or a good chocolate recipe), I’d love for you to chime in, and hopefully we can convince anyone who’s hesitant that playing with chocolate is worth a try.

chocolate

SIX THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CHOCOLATE BEFORE MELTING
Let’s get acquainted with chocolate, shall we?
1. You can not over stir. Melted chocolate loves to be stirred.
2. Keep water and alcohol away. One drop will ruin a whole batch of chocolate, making it seize up and turn into a stiff grainy mess.
3. Chocolate does not like heat, just warmth. If you can keep your chocolate below 90 F while you melt it (88 F for milk or white chocolate), it will stay pretty and in temper. If you get it above 120 F (110 F for milk or white chocolate), you risk doing bad things to the chocolate.
4. Chocolate chips are not designed to melt, in fact, they’re designed to not melt (so they can hold their shape in your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe). If you want to melt chocolate, buy a baking chocolate bar or another bar. More on that in my post on buying chocolate.
5. Move slowly. Chocolate is the boyfriend you do not want to scare away. Stir slowly, heat slowly, be patient and it will all turn out for the best in the end. A bigger batch of chocolate will heat and cool more slowly and evenly, so it is easier to work with than a small batch.
6. If you really want to start out easy on yourself, buy cocoa-flavored candy wafers (aka confectionery coating). They’re not real chocolate, and you can tell, they taste a bit waxy, but they are super easy to practice with, And do not need to be tempered because they’re made with vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter. More on that in my post on buying chocolate.

milk chocolate dipped oreosOne of these things just does not belong here.
Chocolate chips are not meant for melting. The chocolate goes on thick and muddy and takes much longer to cool. Can you spot which poor, sad Oreo was dipped in chocolate chips?

seized chocolate
It’s such a tragedy when chocolate meets moisture and seizes (chocolate seized on the left). If this happens to your chocolate, use it to bake yourself some brownies or scoop it into hot milk for a nice rich cup of hot chocolate, or make any recipe that mixes chocolate and mix liquid.

HOW TO MELT CHOCOLATE IN A MICROWAVE
The microwave is a totally legit way to melt chocolate. Serious chocolatiers do it and so can you.

Equipment:
1 Rubbermaid-type container
(You need a bowl that will stay cool in the microwave, so it will not get hot and scorch the chocolate. If you’re not sure if a bowl will work, microwave something in it and take it out to see if it’s still cool enough to handle. If it is, it’s good for chocolate.)

Directions:
1. If your chocolate is in a block, chop it into almond-sized pieces (or into small shreds for milk or white chocolate, which are extra sensitive to heat). Put all of your chocolate in the bowl or cup.
2. Microwave on 50% power for thirty seconds to one minute (shorter if you’re melting just a cupful). Take the chocolate out and stir.
3. Return it to the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds more on 50% power. Take it out and stir.
4. Continue cooking in 5 – to 20-second intervals and stirring until the chocolate is 2/3 melted. Remember, you do not want your chocolate getting too warm. Do not go by sight, the chocolate will still hold its shape until you stir it.
5. Once it’s 2/3 melted just stir until it is completely melted. If it’s still not quite as liquid as you like, even if it’s all melted, put it back in for just 5 seconds or so at 50%.
6. Your chocolate is now ready for dipping. Take the time to stir every few minutes as you dip. The cooling chocolate on the outside of the bowl can affect the still melted chocolate in the middle.
7. Dip to your heart’s content until the chocolate starts to thicken. Then just throw it back in the microwave a few more times for just a few seconds and stir in between. If you want to keep the chocolate in temper, try to keep the chocolate between 88 and 90 F.
Tip: You can also melt chocolate right in a ziplock bag. This is great if you’re going to be piping the chocolate from a ziplock bag anyway. Follow all the same directions, only squish the chocolate around in place of stirring.

Note: Some recipes will call for a tablespoon of shortening to be stirred in the chocolate to make it thinner and more workable (the ratio is usually one tablespoon to every 6 ounces of chocolate). If you start with good chocolate it will have a high cocoa butter content and this should not be necessary. But if you feel like your chocolate needs thinning, it’s okay to add a little extra vegetable fat, just not ideal for the taste. And know that once you add shortening or another ingredient, the chocolate can not be tempered again.

chocolate melted in the microwave
When melting chocolate in the microwave, do not go by sight, the chocolate will still hold its shape until you stir it.

HOW TO MELT CHOCOLATE IN A DOUBLE BOILER
This is my favorite method. I guess I just like chocolate watching the entire time. You just have to be careful, since it’s a little dangerous having water around chocolate. What can I say, I I thrive on danger.

Equipment:
1 sauce pan
1 stainless steel or glass bowl that can fit snug on the pan to make a tight-fitting seal and still leave room for an inch or two of water in the pan below

Directions:
1. If your chocolate is in a block, chop it into almond-sized pieces (or into small shreds for milk or white chocolate).
2. If you’re melting more than just a little chocolate melt 1/3 of the chocolate at a time.
3. Warm a couple inches of water in the pan to just below simmering, then take the pan off the heat.
4. Place the bowl over the top to make your double boiler. It’s totally fine if your bowl touches the water, as long as the water is warm, like 110 degrees, instead of hot. Dump 1/3 of chocolate into the bowl.
5. Let the very edges of the chocolate begin to melt before you stir your first stroke. Once you see the edges melt, stir as the chocolate melts.
6. Once the first third melts, add the second batch, gently stirring and scooping the new chunks around so everything gets to touch everything else and the heat stays even.
7. If the water starts to cool, put the pan back over low heat for a minute or so. To be extra safe, you can take off the bowl full of chocolate and wait to put it back over the pan of water until you’ve taken the pan off the heat.
8. Add the final third of chocolate. Once it’s gotten a good start to melting, take the bowl off the pan (always dry it with a towel when you do this) and keep stirring off the heat until the chocolate is fully melted.
9. Dip away. Stop every few minutes to stir, and if the chocolate gets too cool, put it back over the warm water for a minute or two.

(Remember, if you can be super patient and let those chunks melt slowly, keeping them from getting more than 90 F or 88 F for milk and white chocolate, the chocolate will reward you and stay “in temper” and will still be nice and pretty when it cools.)

makeshift double boilerMy double boiler. I have a real one but prefer my bowl over a pan.

melting chocolate
Let those edges melt slightly before you stir your first stroke.

double boilerStirring, my favorite part. Do not forget to scrape the sides.

Why should I TEMPER CHOCOLATE?
I spent years bliss fully dipping things in melted chocolate chips and not even knowing about tempering chocolate. Well, it was blissful as long as I ate my creations right away. I’d get frustrated when I’d wake up the next morning to find my chocolate streaky or spotted and have no idea why. If only I’d known. Here’s what tempering will do for your chocolate:
1. Your chocolate will go on smoother
2. It will have that nice snap
3. It will be pretty and glossy and not have the gray spots or streaks called fat bloom
4. It will better resist melting when handled

WHEN SHOULD I TEMPER?
Any time your chocolate has to look pretty coated over something or molded on something, you should temper. Chocolate that comes from the factory is already tempered. When you melt chocolate past 90 F (88 F for milk or white chocolate), the fats in the cocoa butter lose their structure. You can get an ugly batch of pure chocolate back into temper, you just have to heat the chocolate high enough so it breaks up bad structures cocoa butter, then cool it just so to  allow good cocoa butter crystals to form. If you let the chocolate cool at the wrong temperature, the cocoa butter will form loose crystals and your chocolate will bloom and will not be in temper. We want nice, tight crystals to form. You need to temper with real chocolate and white chocolate, because both are made of coacoa butter.

fat bloom appears on the surface of untempered chocolate

Fat bloom can develop because you did not prepare your chocolate correctly in the first place, or because you didn’t store it correctly so the cocoa butter had the chance to separate. If you find a block of chocolate with fat bloom, you can temper it and transform it back into pretty, yummy chocolate. You cannot temper (a.k.a. fix) chocolate that has been scorched or that has had any ingredients added to it so it is no longer pure.

TEMPERING EQUIPMENT
To temper chocolate you’ll need
1. A double boiler or sauce pan and bowl if you’re going to do it stove top, or a bowl that stays cool in the microwave if you’re going to nuke your chocolate
2. A chocolate tempereing thermometer that ranges from 70 to 130 F, like this one, you want the sensor to be at the bottom of the thermometer
3. A rubber spatula for stirring (a wooden spoon can retain mosture and smells)
4. Parchment paper for laying out your creatiions once dipped

equipment thermometer for tempering chocolate

TEMPERING SHORT CUT
I like to avoid tempering all together by just buying good chocolate and being super patient the first time I melt to keep it below 90 F (88 F for milk or white chocolate). It takes practice, because it is very easy to over heat the chocolate. So it’s good to know how to temper so I can salvage chocolate on the days I just could not be patient enough.

HOW TO TEMPER: SEEDING METHOD
This one is my favorite. You’ll need some apricot-sized chunks of chocolate that are already in temper. Bigger chunks are easier to get out at the end. They’ll act as a good influence over the other chocolate and bring it into temper. Chop up the chocolate that needs to be tempered into almond-sized pieces as usual. You need about 1 part tempered chocolate to 4 parts untempered chocolate.

1. Melt all the chocolate that needs to be tempered using the microwave or a double boiler as described above. Reserve your good, tempered chocolate chunks. Melt the untempered chocolate to 115 F (110 for milk or white chocolate) to break down the bad cocoa butter structures. Always put the thermometer in the middle of the chocolate when measuring, don’t let it touch the bowl.
2. Add the chunks of good tempered chocolate. Stir until the temperature gets down to 90 F (88 for milk or white chocolate). Stir well so they touch all the untempered chocolate.
3. Remove the extra chunks, either with a spoon or by passing the chocolate through a sieve. The chocolate should now be tempered and ready to go.

TEMPERING: THE CLASSIC METHOD
I’ve had less luck with this method, but you can give it a try. It just a matter of heating, cooling, then reheating the chocolate. Chop up the chocolate that needs to be tempered into almond-sized pieces as usual.
1.
Melt the chocolate to 115 F (110 for milk or white chocolate).
2. Take the bowl off the double boiler if using one and place it over a towel on the counter (the towel acts as an insulator). Stir and cool the chocolate until it reaches 84 F (82 for milk and white chocolate). If you get good at this, you can put the bowl in a bath of cooler water to speed the process.
3. Warm the chocolate, ever so carefully. Microwave on extra low power or put the bowl over a pan of mildly warm water. Warm until it just reaches 90 F (88 for milk and white chocolate). A couple degrees below is okay, but not one degree higher. The chocolate should now be tempered and ready to go.

ONCE TEMPERED
While your dipping, stir occasionally and warm the chocolate occasionally to keep it workable and between 88 and 90 F.

chocolate dipping

After dipping, gently shake your treat back and forth to help the extra chocolate drizzle off

hot chocolate

mmm, rich chocolate poured right into frothy milk, so French
(only in France I’m thinking the cups would be about one eighth this size)

chocolate dipped cone

dipped waffle cone, my favorite
chocolate covered oreo

chocolate dipped oreos, oh ya
chocolate covered gummi bears

yum. enrobed gummis

If you need a good chocolate book, I’ve gone through dozens over the years, but one that stood out was Elaine González’s The Art of Chocolate.González does a great job of explaining how chocolate works without going over your head, or mine at least.

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The Salad Kit

12.10.09

Love the idea of giving a salad kit to a neighbor or hostess, (suggested here via here) using this vinaigrette and these croutons or maybe a bag of walnuts or sundried tomatoes to make a yummy salad. But how to decide on salad servers? That would be the trick.

Seth Andersson,
Jamie Oliver
,
DCI
, or
French Bull
?

salad servers forks tongs

(pretty salad picture from here found via here)

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stocking stuffersDoes Santa visit your house on St. Nick’s Day? He visits ours. Well, I guess it’s not so much a visit as a doorbell ditch. But he leaves behind stockings full of goodies, so that’s good enough for us.

I consider myself a purist when it comes to stocking stuffers. There always has to be a mandarin or tangerine in the toe. And I insist on nuts, always in the shell, even though I’m the only one who will eat them.

This Sunday when Santa comes, the mandarins will be authentic, straight from the north pole. And naturally they will have the appropriate produce stickers (they can be printed on labels like these). Maybe Santa will leave some mandarins for the neighbors too.

Download from DropBox by clicking here: Printable Santa Produce Sticker

or download here: Printable Holiday Produce Sticker (2917)

printable chritmas sticker producechristmas oranges

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You may not have been around the last time I mentioned our cow. Her name is Moolie. And sometimes she is a handful. We found her in our neighbor’s back yard again this week. We thought we’d gotten past this stage. The stage where I’d be driving the kids to school, past the neighbor’s house, and glance over to their yard to see her staring back at me. Can you picture it? I took a shot of her this morning to help you out.

moolieAnyway, we decided that our saintly neighbor, who not only hosted our cow this week but also helped us take care of a massive fallen tree, deserved a treat. And a week or two ago a friend brought us the crispiest fresh apples and caramel to dip them in. It made us all so happy, we thought we’d pass on the gesture.

There was no time to visit an orchard, so we decided we’d make up for it by making homemade caramel sauce. We picked up a bag of apples suitable for bobbing, included our caramel sauce for dipping, and added a batch of our homemade granola for crunching. Hopefully it will be something our neighbors can enjoy this weekend with their family.

Would you like to make a package of your own? I happen to have the tags here for you just in case: Bob, Dip, Crunch tags (1269)

We also made plenty extra to offer to our own family, which we’ll be taking along with some pie and rolls and cranberry sauce. It should be a good Thanksgiving.
bobbing for apples fall care packagehomemade granolahomemade caramel dip sauce

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If you’re new here, welcome. I’m AmberLee, and since writing this post, I’ve opened up a little chocolate shop. I’d love to have you stop by, don’t forget to send me a hot chocolate flavor suggestion. Or say hello on facebook. I’d like that too.

NOTE: If you blog this recipe, I’ll be thrilled and flattered. In fact, I kept this recipe as bare bones as possible in hopes you’d play with different flavors, molds, and sticks. If you do blog, would you link back to me here? (Like this and this kind review, thank you!) I will so appreciate it. Feel free to use a picture or two, but please don’t repost all the pictures and please don’t post the recipe without my written permission. It’s taken a few years of researching and practicing with chocolate (certainly not an unpleasant thing) and some days of a very messy kitchen (but a happy family) to provide you with this recipe and with good advice about chocolate.

Oh how I love when the weather turns cold enough for hot chocolate. Something about a good cup of hot chocolate makes the world feel like a gentler place.
gourmet hot chocolate on a stick gift
This idea is something I’ve been wanting to try for a couple winters now. Chocolate, and hot chocolate especially, have always been a big deal to me. I spent the first years of my life in my dad’s hometown of Merida, Venezuela—right up the hill from Lake Maracaibo, where some of the world’s most crazy amazing cacao is grown. Our family was made up of German and Austrian immigrants who were crazy about fine chocolate. So I always felt chocolate was in my blood. Finally, my parents and family landed in Idaho, which is where I discovered that a cup of hot chocolate was the difference between a bleak winter and a cozy one.



me in Venezuela, I’m the pudgy one in booties

Enough of my life story, and on to a recipe for real, amazing hot chocolate.

I’m glad I finally took the time to puzzle this through and do a little taste testing, because the recipe turned out to be so simple, and the results so delightful. Stir one of these sticks into a cup of steaming milk or cream and in two minutes  you will have transformed it into a cup of rich hot chocolate, the blessed stuff. I can’t help feel that the act of stirring adds to the experience, soothing you over while building up the anticipation for that first sip.
hot chocolate on a stick gift

First things first: what chocolate to buy (see a whole post dedicated to this here)
The trick to making the best hot chocolate on a stick is using good, serious chocolate that melts easily. A chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter will do that. More cocoa butter means quicker melting. A bag of every-day chocolate chips won’t melt as fast. In fact, chocolate chips are formulated not to melt as fast, so they hold shape in your yummy cookies. You can also find fake chocolate (like a bag of Wilton’s candy melts, aka summer coating), which uses vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter. It will melt well, but the resulting cup of hot chocolate won’t be transcendent. And we’re going for transcendent. The candy melts are great for coating the outside if you like, because they stay pretty and shiny even if you don’t melt them just right.

If you’re on a tight budget, try using a bag of real-chocolate wafers made for a chocolate fountain or for fondue. You can also go with a good baking chocolate bar (you’ll probably want one that is sweetened, not unsweetened). If you really want to make an incredible gift, invest in some good chocolate. You’ll have to sample to pick a favorite. For most chocolate, if you enjoy eating it, you will enjoy drinking it, though some chocolates definitely stand out as drinking chocolate (Scharffen Berger, great if you like a natural chocolate), and some seem to fall short (Lindt for me did this). Following are some good other brands to consider: Ghiradelli (great if you want a dutch processed, more cocoa-flavored chocolate), Barry Callebaut, Dagoba, Michel Cluizel, El Rey, Valrhona, Guittard, TCHO, and I’ve really been wanting to try Amano from Utah.

And if you want your chocolate to come out pretty, you’ll need to temper it. I’ve written my full tempering instructions here. But if you are new to chocolate and tempering scares you, just dip your creations in melted, chocolate-looking, summer coating.

chocolate wafers meltable

Word of warning: no water!
There is one thing you need to know before working with chocolate if you don’t already: never let water or alcohol touch it. Not a drop. You can be stirring a potful of smooth, decadent melted chocolate, then get one drop of water in it and the whole thing will get grainy and seize up. It’s a sad experience. (If this happens to you, use the chocolate for a recipe like brownies or ganache that uses chocolate and liquids).

So then, if you’re planning to introduce vanilla, use a vanilla bean or vanilla paste, not vanilla extract. If you want to add food coloring, use a gel or powdered form, not liquid.
chocolate homemade candy

Hot Chocolate on a Stick
Yield: 10 cubes of hot chocolate (ice-cube-tray size)
(use 1 oz. hot chocolate on a stick per every 1 cup milk or cream)

Equipment:
Ziplock bags or piping bags
A double boiler or pan with a glass bowl that can sit over the simmering water
Some kind of chocolate mold, ice trays work great
Stir sticks or a bag of wooden craft sticks like I used (like these, available at any craft store)

Ingredients:
8 oz. chocolate (see note above), bittersweet, semisweet, milk, and white chocolate all work
3 Tbsp cocoa, sifted (dutch processed cocoais more mellow, natural cocoais stronger, pick your favorite)
6-8 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar, sifted, depending on how much sweeter you’d like your hot chocolate
pinch of salt

Feel free to play with other fun ingredients to throw in, ground spices, crushed candy. Just remember, no water and no alcohol or your chocolate will sieze.

6 cups milk and 2 cups heavy cream if you plan to enjoy these right away

Method
(read a whole post about melting chocolate, including how to melt in the microwave, here)

  1. If your chocolate is in a block, chop it into even-sized meltable pieces. Simmer a couple inches of water in a pan, then turn down the heat so the water is below a simmer. I like to remove the pan from the heat, but if you keep it on, keep that water below a simmer. Place glass or stainless steel bowl over the top to make a double boiler. If the bowl touches the water it’s alright, as long as your water is mildly warm, not hot. Dump chocolate into the clean, dry bowl and stir as the chocolate melts. (If you are patient and let those chunks melt slowly, keeping them from getting over 90 degrees F or 88 degrees F for milk and white chocolate, the chocolate will stay “in temper” and will still be nice and pretty when it cools.)
  2. Once the chocolate is 2/3 melted, with just some pieces of the chocolate unmelted, remove the bowl from the pan, dry the bottom with a towel and continue stirring until chocolate is fully melted. This is just one more step to keep the chocolate from getting too hot.
  3. Add cocoa, sugar, and salt and continue to stir until combined. The chocolate will be thicker, as thick as frosting if you’ve put in all the sugar, but stir on. You can pop it back over your double boiler for a minute to make it a bit more liquid, or pop it back in the microwave for 5 or 10 seconds on half power. If the chocolate looks and feels grainy it’s possible you’ve accidentally gotten a drop of water in the mixture. If it has gotten water in it and has seized up, it will still taste alright, it just won’t be as pretty or smooth or melt quite as fast.
  4. Scoop chocolate into a ziplock bag and clip off the corner.
  5. Pipe the chocolate into your chocolate mold, tapping the mold on the counter to make sure all the chocolate settles into the mold. Add a stir stick and you’re done. The stir stick should stay upright without any trouble. If the chocolate bursts through the bag in places you don’t want it to, just put the whole thing in another bag. If the chocolate starts to get too thick to squeeze, just put the whole thing in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or so at half power.
  6. Let the chocolate cool either at room temperature or in the fridge if you’re in a hurry. I find the chocolate pops out of the mold nicely if it’s been in the fridge. It’s okay to cool chocolate in the fridge, just don’t store it there, because chocolate soaks up the odors of other foods pretty quickly.
  7. If you don’t like the look of the chocolate once it is removed from the mold, you can dip the cubes into a new batch of plain melted chocolate for a shinier finish (again, try to keep chocolate from heating over 90 degrees, or use candy melts, which don’t need to be in temper, they will stay shiny and pretty even if you go above 90 degrees). This also lets you add sprinkles or crushed candy or just lets you dip in fun patterns. I like dipping at an angle into a different color of chocolate.
  8. In order to enjoy these, heat up any combo of milk, water, half and half, or cream. I like 6 cups milk with 2 cups heavy cream. One ounce of chocolate on a stick should be melted into one cup milk or cream. So a standard ice cube-tray block, which is 3/4 an ounce, should be melted into a mug with 3/4 cup milk or cream in it.

Troubleshooting: A few of you have had trouble with your chocolate seizing. Tiffany provided this great note  to help out (thanks, Tiffany!), “if the chocolate begins to seize (since for some reason, both of my batches seized, I’m thinking it’s the humidity in the air where I am) you do not have to throw it out. Just put the bowl back over the hot water and add a little bit of vegetable oil (I used somewhere between a tsp and a tbsp) after stirring over a little heat, the chocolate will get smooth again. Also good to note, chocolate can seize if you add any cold ingredients.”

How to store it: Dark chocolate will keep in an airtight container for up to a year, milk and white chocolate for several months. Remember, don’t keep it in the fridge because it is really good at absorbing odors.
hot chocolate on a stick3

cinnamon hot chocolate

Variations: Try adding a pinch of your favorite spice. We tried adding a little extra punch by lining the outside with red hots. Very fun. You can also leave out the cocoa and sugar all together and replace it with 8 servings of your favorite packaged hot cocoa. And if you have any strokes of genius for flavors, we’re collecting flavor ideas at my hot chocolate shop, The Ticket Kitchen.
mold

As you can see, we played around with a few different molds, like this water bottle ice cube mold from IKEA. The classic ice cube mold was my favorite though. It works best for submersing the entire block of meltable chocolate in a standard mug.
UPDATE: Love Prince Pi’s suggestion of molding these in shot glasses. Also love how the Kitchn (yea!! they tried my recipe!!) made do with a single pan. TinaMarie also made the great suggestion of using small Dixie cups. And finally, check out this beautiful version Sprinkebakes made using a chocolate transfer sheet and birch spoons. You will love it.
hot chocolate on a stick 2

This was fun, but a mess to open (chocolate in egg shells).

Happy melting! And if you have a moment to peruse my shop or become a fan on facebook, I’d love to have you!


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If you’re new here, welcome! I’m AmberLee, and Giverslog is my place to share recipes, gift ideas, pretty wrapping ideas, and whatever else is on my mind. I also own an online chocolate shop, The Ticket Kitchen. Stop by if you get a moment!
amazing homemade caramel candy

Once you go homemade, you never go back.

I love the process of making homemade caramel. Getting the caramel started, pulling out a bowlful along the way to use as homemade caramel dip, then dipping apples just a little bit further along the way. Then reaching the end, where it’s ready to be candy, real homemade caramel, the heavenly stuff. For a week after I’ve made caramel I melt one piece of caramel in each cup of hot cocoa I have. Try it. You’ll like it.

+++

Following is my fail proof recipe. Or at least it is really really nearly close to fail proof. I have failed at it many times in many different ways in order to bring it to you in this bulletproof form. I’ve also had some minor degree burns. So be careful when you make homemade candy. Respect the candy. (You’re welcome.)

Homemade Caramel (or caramel dip)
Yield: about 60 caramels
Prep and cook time: 1 hour (not including time to cut and wrap caramels, save extra time for that)

Ingredients:
1 cup butter, unsalted
1 cup light corn syrup (11.5 oz)
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk (or substitute two cups half and half or light cream, I almost always use sweetened condensed milk b/c makes for shorter cooking time)
2 1/4 cup brown sugar (14.5 oz.), white sugar is also okay, but I prefer brown
1 tsp. vanilla
(Note: if you try any substitute ingredients, I’d love to hear how it goes! I’d love to accommodate readers with any dietary restrictions!)

Equipment:
candy thermometer
heavy, 3-qt. sauce pan, or 6-qt. if doubling the recipe, which I always do (having a heavy pan is important, if your pan is too thin it can heat the caramel unevenly and make it separate)
parchment paper (how I love parchment paper, i’ve never found anything that sticks to this stuff)
8×8 or 9×9 pan (or large jelly-roll cookie sheet if doubling recipe)
wax paper for wrapping caramels

Method:

  1. Every time before using a candy thermometer, clip a candy thermometer onto a pan full of cold water and bring it to a boil (make sure the thermometer is not touching the bottom of the pan). I cheat on a lot of things, but I never cheat on this. Boiling water should read 212°. Once the water is boiling, make note of any difference in your reading, and adjust your reading accordingly when you make the candy (for example, if thermometer reads 210° in boiling water instead of 212°, then take caramel off at 242° instead of 244°). High-altitude note: If you live above 7k feet, see the high-alt info below.
  2. Line pan with parchment paper, even up the sides. Prepare any apples, pretzels, or other things you’ll be dipping. Chop any nuts or prepare any candy you’ll be sprinkling on top.
  3. Cut butter into smaller, even sized cubes for even melting. Melt over low in sauce pan.
  4. Carefully add sugar by pouring it into the center of the pan. If any sugar crystals stick to side of pan, push them down with a damp pastry brush so they do not crystallize the entire batch and make you want to cry. Stir slowly until well combined with melted butter.
  5. Add and mix in corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk (or cream).
  6. Cook and stir on medium for one minute, then to med.-high until boiling. You want to change temperatures slowly so you don’t shock the candy. Once boiling, clip on your candy thermometer (again, don’t let it touch the bottom of the pan). By the time your caramel is boiling, if you have been stirring well, you should have the butter fully blended into the caramel mixture, not separated.
  7. Reduce heat to about medium, adjusting so that you keep a moderate, steady boil. Stir frequently. I’m serious about the stirring. If you let your caramel go too long without stirring, you’ll end up with a separated, greasy batch of caramel. No good.
  8. Temperature does not raise at a steady rate, so watch thermometer closely. If you have any doubts about the accuracy of your thermometer, periodically do a test by dropping a little in cold water. When your thermometer reaches thread stage (230–233°), take out any caramel that you would like to use as dip. When thermometer reaches late soft ball stage (234–240°), dip in a few apples for caramel apples (UPDATE: Click here for  a great pro tip for perfect caramel apples.)
  9. When thermometer reaches 244°, remove caramel from heat (this is low firm ball stage; reaching this stage from boiling takes me about 30 minutes with sweetened condensed milk and longer with cream, though I have had a reader reach it in less time, so watch closely).
  10. Stir in vanilla. If dipping, start immediately. If making caramels, pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Either way, take care not to burn yourself, this stuff is so so hot.
  11. Allow to cool for several hours and use a butter knife or kitchen shears to cut pieces (UPDATE: a clever reader suggested a pizza cutter, another preferred preferred her trusty Santou knife, lightly buttered, thanks Susan!). Wrap in wax paper. Or to save on cutting time, just leave the whole batch out on the counter with a knife next to it and watch it gradually disappear.

And, for handy reference, here is the candy temperature list:

230–233° Thread
234–240° Soft ball
244–248° Firm ball
250–266° Hard ball

High altitude: I so appreciate this note from Debbie: If you live above, 7000 feet,  stop at 227 degrees! I used the NMSU E215 Guide, which I’ve found to be the best reference. I used the lowest temperature listed for chewy candies. It was the perfect temperature. I always select the lower end of the temperatures listed to take into account the extreme drying conditions of H.A!

candy thermometerchecking the thermometer temperature

dipping apple in caramelmmmm. apples and caramel means fall is here.

how to make a caramel candy apple with nutsrolled in pecans

homemade caramel

heaven in a wrapper

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