Chocolate Nut Clusters

By Libbie Summers
Assisted by David Dempsey

If you interested in giving candy making a try, I’d like to introduce you to this Chocolate Nut Cluster recipe. It’s a very forgiving recipe that is as delicious as it is beautiful. Bonus, it’s my father’s favorite holiday candy! The recipe makes two dozen and let me tell you 6 of these make a perfect gift, so give away 3 gifts and keep one for yourself! Happy candy making! 

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Chocolate Nut Clusters
(makes 24)

What you need: 
1 pound white candy coating, chopped
6 ounces milk chocolate chips (can sub bittersweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate)
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (can sub bittersweet chocolate)
2 1/2 cups dry roasted and salted nuts (I used 1 1/2 cups cashews and 1/2 cup peanuts)
Maldon Salt (optional)
Chipotle chili powder (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)

What to do:
1. Prepare Trays: Line four 1/4 baking sheet trays or two 1/2 baking sheet trays (whatever will fit into your refrigerator) with waxed paper and set aside. *note: if you don’t have enough baking sheet trays, use any flat surface that you have that will fit into your refrigerator. Plates, platters or whatever.
2. Melt Coating and Chocolate: In a pyrex bowl set over a sauce pan of simmering water (a double boiler), add the candy coating and chocolate. Heat until melted and smooth.
3. Cool Chocolate Mixture: Remove the bowl from the double boiler and allow the chocolate to cool for 5-10 minutes. This step can not be skipped. Allowing the chocolate cool for a few minutes help keep your clusters together when you scoop them out.
4. Add Nuts: Stir nuts into the slightly cooled chocolate. 5. Scoop and Set: Using a small portion scoop (about a heaping 1 tablespoon size), scoop the chocolate nut mixture onto the prepared baking sheet trays. Sprinkle the tops of each cluster with a wee bit of salt, chipotle chili powder or sprinkles if you like. Refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

Try out these other Easy Candy and Sweet Snack Recipes!
They make great gifts from the kitchen! 

Homemade Tootsie Rolls
Beautiful Bark
Homemade Caramel Corn

Animal Cookie Party Favors

By Libbie Summers
Photography by Chia Chong (as seen in Country Living Magazine, May 2020)

I like to send off guests at the end of a party with something whimsical, delicious and homemade. Usually the delicousness is found inside a tin and it’s always worthy of a smile. These cheeky and nostalgic animal cookies were packed inside decorated Altoids tins. Perfect for holding 4 small cookies and a note. PRO TIP: Make sure to soak the tins in a cleaning solution first or your cookies will taste and smell like Peppermint…or wintergreen.

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The Only Sugar Cookie Recipe You Will Ever Need
(makes 3-9 dozen cookies depending on the cutter size)

What you need: 
3 cups all-purpose flour (more for bench flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter (softened)
1 cup sugar (I use vanilla sugar)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (can substitute 1/4 teaspoon bubblegum extract)
Sprinkles (optional for dough)
Royal Icing (recipe to follow)
Nonpareil sprinkle mix for decorating (I used a mix of pastel colored nonpareils, you only need about 3 tablespoons total)

What to do:
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and extracts.
4. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. The dough may be stiff…this is okay! PRO TIP: at this point you can stir in 2-3 tablespoons of sprinkles to your dough.
5. Do not chill the dough, just get right into it! Lightly flour a work surface and cut off enough dough to be workable. Roll out to a 1/4-inch thickness and cut shapes with your cookie cutters. Place on the prepared baking trays and bake for 6-8 minutes.
6. Allow to cool completely before frosting and decorating.

Royal Frosting
(makes 3 cups)

What you need: 
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoons powdered egg whites (or meringue powder)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Food coloring (optional)

What to do:
In a large bowl, stir together sugar, water and meringue powder until completely mixed. Adjust as needed for consistency. Add a bit more water if too thick and a bit more powdered sugar if too thin. Tint with food coloring if desired. Cover until read to use.
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Gift Tins
1. Thoroughly wash and soak tins (if you are upcycling an old Altoid’s tin) to get the minty smell out.
2. Cut 2 pieces of scrap paper or paper napkins the size of the lid.
3. Using Rubber Cement or Modge Podge, glue the pieces of paper to the outside and inside lid.
4. Trim edge with any fun trim. I used a wee pom pom trim.
5. Cut a piece of parchment or tissue paper for the inside and fill with your treats!

Chocolate Covered Date Nut Squares

By Libbie Summers

A 3-ingredient delicious dessert that doesn’t involve eggs, flour or sugar? I’m ALL IN! 
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Chocolate Covered Date Nut Squares
(makes 16…depending on how big you cut them)

What you need: 
1/2 cup packed fresh dates, pitted
1 1/2 cups nuts (you can mix any nuts here, use the bits and pieces of whatever you have on hand)
6 ounces dark chocolate, melted (a heaping cup)

What to do: 
Prepare an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper so as the ends come over the sides of the pan.

1. Soak Dates If Needed: If your dates are on the drier side (mine were), soak them in warm water for 5 minutes and drain before using.

2. Make Nut Mixture: Add nuts and dates to a food processor and process until mixture is sticky and small pieces of nuts can still be seen.

3. Start Bars: Press date nut mixture into prepared pan. Use an offset spatula or butter knife to press down flat.

4. Finish Bars: Pour melted chocolate over date nut mixture and spread evenly. Place in freezer or refrigerator until chocolate has hardened completely (about 10-20 minutes).

5. Cut Bars: Remove bars from pan onto a cutting board. Use a sharp knife and cut into squares.
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Chocolate-Avocado Blender Pudding (VEGAN)

By Libbie Summers
Assisted by David Dempsey
Recipe from Bon Appetit and adjusted for ease and sprinkle
Cuisine Apron Dress in White Linen available at Libbie Summers Yum Yum Smile Shop 

I’m off to cook for sailors again…and there’s always one vegan. Finding desserts that speak to my non-vegan senses and are easy and delicious are sometimes difficult, until today. THIS ONE IS INCREDIBLE! Make it right now! Kiss me later.

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Chocolate-Avocado Blender Pudding (VEGAN)
serves 6

What you need:
Pudding:
2 large avocados, pits removed
1 vanilla bean, split lenghtwise
3/4 cup high quality cocoa powder
1/4 to 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange or nectarine juice (I used nectarine)
1/2 teaspoon flake sea salt

Topping Optional (non-vegan):
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
Hey Sailor Sprinkles

What to do: 
1. Make Pudding: Scoop the flesh from the avocados and add to a blender with 3/4 cup HOT water (not boiling), seeds scraped from the inside of the vanilla bean (save the leftover bean to add to a jar of sugar for vanilla sugar!), cocoa powder, 1/4 cup maple syrup, agave, juice and salt. Blend until creamy smooth. Taste and add remaining 1/4 cup maple syrup if you feel you need more sweetness. Divide among 6 small dishes and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours if you can wait (uncovered).

2. Make Topping: In a medium mixing bowl add the whipping cream and whip for 30 seconds. Add confectioners sugar and continue to whip until soft peaks form.

To Serve: For Vegan eaters, top each bowl of pudding with a beautiful light dusting of cocoa powder. For non-vegans, add a dollop of whipped cream and Hey Sailor sprinkles.

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Gingham Trimmed Linen Napkins available from Libbie Summers Yum Yum Smile Shop
Blue Bowls available from Keith Krieger

Kiss Me Frosting

By Libbie Summers
Assisted by David Dempsey
Chamber Apron in Light Pink and Chambray Striped Linen from Libbie Summers Yum Yum Smile Shop

 

STOP! If you save no other recipe…save this one. Kiss Me Frosting is my go to, never fail, everyone loves it, “what the hell is in that frosting” frosting! This time of year when love is in the air Kiss me Frosting tastes even sweeter on the tongue. I love this cinnamon candy colored frosting on everything from my Hot and Heavy Baby Cakes , chocolate cookies, graham crackers, cupcakes, biscuits and my husband’s lips (I had to). BOOM!
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Kiss Me Frosting
(cinnamon candy buttercream)
yields about 3 1⁄2 cups

What you need:
1 cup (2 sticks ) butter, at room temperature 4 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (can sub vanilla extract)
2 tablespoons evaporated milk
1/2 heaping cup cinnamon candy/Red Hots (basically a 6 ounce box), pulsed in a food processor to a fine sugar

What to do:
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until fluffy. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar. Increase the speed to medium and add the salt, vanilla paste, and evaporated milk. Beat for 2 minutes. If the frosting is too thin at this point you can add more of the confectioners’ sugar and mix for 30 seconds, or just until combined. If the frosting is too thick, add a bit more evaporated milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix for 30 seconds, or just until combined. Add the crushed cinnamon candies and stir until combined (BONUS!! They will also color the frosting pink). Frosting can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

 

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