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Entries in candy canes (3)

Wednesday
Dec192012

Candy Cane Cupcakes

Candy Cane Cupcakes

It is snowing outside. Big, fluffy snowflakes are falling silently from the sky, piling up on window frames and tree branches. The world is covered with white, a blanket of fleece matching the stark ivory of the cloudy sky. Snug and warm in my house, I want to wrap a blanket around my shoulders with a cup of tea in hand, gazing at the postcard outside my window in the soft light of morning. Even though I live in a cold climate, where winter seems to compose half of the year's weather, it is moments like this that make the ice and the cold worth all of those chilled months.

I cannot imagine a winter without snow.

Candy Cane Cupcakes Candy Cane Cupcakes

The appearance of candy canes usually marks the beginning of winter for me. The occasional seasonal snow that comes and goes has finally settled in for a long visit and the time has come to bundle up with winter scarves and over-sized mittens. Candy canes were an intrinsic part of the holiday culture of my childhood. Candy canes weaved themselves into classrooms and daycare, sneaking into craft corners and making an appearance as ornaments on the tree. Even when I was small, I loved the idea of candy canes, enjoying the way the colored stripes twirled themselves up the length of the candy stick. I didn't, however, enjoy the taste. Each year I made it my mission to like candy canes, trying another one just to see if my tastes have changed.

Even now, years after my pursuit began, I may not have completed my mission, but I can assure you I have come so much closer.

Candy Cane Cupcakes

Though I may not enjoy a candy cane by itself, I adore it in combination with a few of my favorite treats, such as hot chocolate, ice cream, or even popcorn. After coming home for the holidays, I noticed a stash of candy canes hidden away in the candy cupboard. The timing seemed right to put them to good use. While some children may have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, I had visions of these cupcakes, with a candy striped peppermint frosting to bring in the flavors of the classic candy cane. Though the candy striped swirl may appear complex, I can assure you that the effect is quite easy to achieve.

This might be one of my favorite ways to enjoy candy canes yet.

Candy Cane Cupcakes

Candy Cane Cupcakes feature a rich peppermint buttercream on top of a chocolate cupcake. Though buttercream frosting has a tendency to get too sweet, this frosting has a good amount of salt to cut back on the sweetness. The stripes in the frosting are created with red gel food coloring to give it a genuine candy cane feel. Sprinkled with a few crushed candy canes, the cupcakes come together to create a festive holiday treat.

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Tuesday
Dec272011

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

As the holiday season is winding down, our bellies are comfortably full, and the new "toys" we received are demanding a place to call their own, I can't help but feel sated with my surroundings. Christmas break comes but once a year and this time I'm taking full advantage of these short days of freedom. I've slept for what feels like the first time in months. I've taken the week off from work to do what I haven't done since this summer—take a break. My batteries need recharging, time with family and friends needs to be spent, and I have glorious plans to finish reading the book I started back in October.

I need to rediscover me again.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Yesterday I took out my camera and dusted it off from nearly a month of disuse. I feel almost ashamed to admit that I've neglected it so long. My camera and I are often inseparable during my culinary triumphs and defeats; the feel of the camera back in my hands was a welcome familiarity. With newly found time on my hands and a longing to hear the click of my camera's shutter, I took it upon myself to recreate one of my favorite winter drinks—a warm mug of Peppermint Hot Chocolate.

When the weather gets cold and frost begins to gather on the windowpanes, this is the perfect drink to bring life back into the limbs of a tired, chilled soul.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Over the last few winter seasons, I've been on a simple, yet difficult quest to find the best coffee house version of the Peppermint Hot Chocolate. However, the longer my search goes on, the less confidence I have that the rich, silky smooth version whirling and twirling through my mind truly does exist.

Throughout the sampling period, I've had more than my fair share of chalky hot chocolate (and I ask you, is there little more disappointing?). More often than not, the maker has a heavy hand when adding the peppermint flavoring (or such a light hand, the taste is more imagined than real). They are often good or just okay, but the genuinely sinful version from my daydreams has eluded me.

As I've realized this past autumn, when coffee houses fail to deliver (as in the case of the Pumpkin Spice Latte), it's time to look to my own kitchen to produce what my taste buds most desire. Using whole milk, real chocolate, and a good dose of crushed candy canes, my futile coffee house search is over.

This is the Peppermint Hot Chocolate swirling throughout our dreams.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate Peppermint Hot Chocolate

This Peppermint Hot Chocolate is richly decadent. Whole milk, intense chocolate, and crushed candy canes come together to deliver a little sip of heaven to your taste buds. If you have leftover candy canes to use from the holidays, this is a perfect method to clean out the cupboards. Alternatively, peppermint extract can be used in place of the candy canes if they are not readily available. I fully recommend using whole milk for a richer, more sinful experience, but lighter milks (or almond milk) can be used in its place. Drink up, my friends. We've survived the holiday season once again.

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Sunday
Dec182011

Candy Cane Popcorn

Candy Cane Popcorn Candy Cane Popcorn Candy Cane Popcorn

One of my neighbors really loves to go all out when lighting their home for the holidays. They don't just throw up a half dozen strings of light and call it good. Oh, certainly not. I can only believe they used the home from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation for inspiration and took the idea two (or ten) steps further. The home is truly a sight to behold. It puts my own house (and every other house in the neighborhood) to shame.

Fair warning: you may need sunglasses.

House of Lights House of Lights House of Lights House of Lights

Starting back in September, the family starts preparing the holiday lights. They begin building frames out of wood and pvc pipe to string with lights. Gradually over the weeks, more and more frames start popping up in the yard and, though the lights remain unlit, you can feel the festive storm begin to brew.

As Christmas approaches, the lights start to sparkle. Almost daily, the sheer amount of lights seem to double as the family rushes to get as many strings up as they can. The Chmielewski family truly expresses and wants to share the Christmas spirit with everyone they meet. They don't go through all of the months of work to set up the display just for themselves. Their wish is very simple. They just want to bring a little more holiday magic to everyone who takes a walk by their brightly lit home.

House of Lights House of Lights House of Lights House of Lights

What these photos don't show you: the lights are far brighter than my camera could ever capture, the flashing and flickering of lights on everything from the roof to the evergreen trees, the rotating Ferris wheel as it spins around carrying stuffed versions of our favorite holiday characters, the Christmas music singing loudly as it fills the air, the miniature bake shop selling everything from your favorite holiday cookies and bars to steaming cups of hot cocoa and warm hot dogs, a holly jolly Santa Claus greeting everyone who comes along to visit, and the friendly smiles and awe-struck faces of the small children walking through the sidewalk wonderland.

The home is perhaps the one and only home to ever feature three yeti (one of which is larger than life). It hosts half a dozen Kris Kringles and spans all holiday genres from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to The Little Drummer Boy. I love how the Bethlehem star not only guides the wise men to the multiple nativity scenes they have set up in the yard, but it brings in the holiday visitors from miles around as the star leads them to this special place. Is it garish? Certainly. But I can't deny it had me (and everyone else) smiling from ear to ear.

Candy Cane Popcorn

And my favorite part? They take donations for charity in a lovely, well-lit box. Upon first glance, I wondered if the charity might be their own electric bill but, after asking a few questions, I found out just the opposite. Last year the money they collected went to help local residents who can't quite afford to keep their own lights (and heat) on during the winter season.

I can't imagine a more fitting cause.

Candy Cane Popcorn Candy Cane Popcorn

This Candy Cane Popcorn snack mix is as addictive as it is colorful. Popcorn, by nature, has more protein than any other cereal grain, more iron than spinach, more phosphorous than pretzels, and almost as much fiber as bran flakes. It's a super food. By simply coating the popcorn with a drizzle of white and dark chocolate and a sprinkling of crushed candy canes, it turns the popcorn into a decadent tasting sweet that's good for you at the same time! This is the ideal 100 calorie snack to zap your chocolate cravings without indulging in something you may regret later. It's also a perfect dish to bring to parties!

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