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Christmas is Nearly Here

This past weekend Brent and I drove to the Chicago area to drop off some pies for my mother and visit my college friends. I spent the few days before we left making a huge mess in the kitchen preparing Christmas gifts. I made the pies for my mother: pumpkin eggnog, caramel apple, and cherry. I made all the pies and then froze and wrapped them for my mom. She’s going to thaw and bake them for the family Christmas party over the weekend.

I also made some candied nuts (I forgot to get a picture and I ate most of the leftovers :)), peppermint bark, and truffles!

The bark was super simple and I thought it would make a nice addition to the gift boxes. I just really like how festive it looks.

The truffles I made were Chocolate Truffles from the Barefoot Contessa and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Truffles.

The truffles were fun for me to make because they were something new, but they turned out to be a lot more difficult than I expected. The truffle mixtures were easy to make: Heat all the ingredients and then cool, but the rolling was difficult. If the mix was too warm, it melted all over and was impossible to shape and if it was too cool, it chipped and broke and wouldn’t get into shape. I got them all done, but it definitely took more time than I originally intended.

I wanted to make a larger variety of truffle flavors, but after my shaping difficulty, I figured two kinds were enough. The gifts were enjoyed by their recipients. My father loved the peppermint bark, my mother loved the candied nuts, and my friends Tessa and Greg enjoyed the truffles.

I have to make another pie today for Christmas with the in-laws tomorrow, but other than that I’ve just been lounging around enjoying my break. I did finally get a haircut. I’m notoriously bad at getting my haircut. I frequently go nearly a year without doing it. Yesterday’s cut was my first since February. Here’s a before & after:

Cheered Up!

As I mentioned earlier, I got a great surprise yesterday afternoon, which was just the break I needed from my pity party. The very sweet Nicole sent me an awesome Secret Valentine package!

hpim2844I got a really cute mug with the Thoreau quote: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams…” which I love. English was my second major in school, and I spent quite a bit of time dealing with Thoreau. With the mug was a cute mini book of inspirational quotes and a very sweet note from Nicole inside. ๐Ÿ™‚ A West Chester University key-chain, which was a very cute personal touch and lots of mini candies — M&Ms, Twix, and Snickers, which Brent was all over, and quite a few new bars! I haven’t tried any of these yet, so I’m really excited. What is even more exciting are the mint chocolate M&Ms! I’ve seen these but never tried them, and I LOVE mint chocolate things. Yum! Thank you so much Nicole!! This package made my day! ๐Ÿ™‚ I also want to thank Lee for organizing this great exchange!

I spent this afternoon wrangling with butter and sugar to produce the toffee!! I hope you’re excited Julie! It will be on its way tomorrow!

hpim2850Dinner was pretty quick and easy. Sadly, it has a pretty low blog-worthiness because it is a repeat of the Bulgur Salad with Green Onion Vinaigrette from Bobby Flay. Still delicious.

hpim2853I again added a can of chickpeas, and we have leftovers for lunch tomorrow! I actually felt like being lazy and going out to eat, but after much internal debate, my wallet was spared and we ate what was on the menu.

I have spent the better part of my evening struggling with a less than awesome physiology lab and being stressed out.ย  I managed to clean the kitchen, bathrooms, and vacuum up copious amounts of dog hair as well. I did, however, skip my workout. My mental health had to take priority over a sweat session. Brent left for the gym without me, but, because my husband loves me (and it’s a big hassle for him when I’m stressed), he came back with secret ingredients and made me this!

hpim2855So now I’m enjoying a mid-week Cosmopolitan while watching Lost! I love Brent, really, even though he annoys occasionally. This sort of thing makes up for the fact he continually leaves his shoes in the kitchen for me to trip on. ๐Ÿ™‚

Chocolate-Topped Cashew Toffee

AMAZING!!! I should mention that toffee is Brent’s sweet of choice. He likes those toffee baking chips in his cookies, and he loves the coffee heath bar crunch flavor of Ben & Jerry’s. So I thought a brittle or toffee candy would make a nice addition to my gift baking, to break up the monotony of all cookies. I had already decided to make some cashew brittle, when I stumbled across this recipe for Chocolate Peanut Toffee. I just decided to make the latter, with cashews. I also added more chocolate because… well, because it’s chocolate.

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I am so glad I had Brent’s help on this one! I, undoubtedly, would have burned myself with the massive quantities of boiling butter and sugar. Once the toffee is ready, it goes quick! It cools rather rapidly, so we both had to work quickly in order to spread it out as much as possible. Thus, there are no photos of that part of the process.

This is so addictive. Buttery and sweet and salty all at once. My fear now is that I may have to live with it my house longer than I anticipated. The weather reports are looking grim, and it sounds like a trip to Chicago may not be in the cards for us this weekend, so I’m not sure when I’ll be giving away all the goodies I’ve been making. My batch of the recipe made 2 12×9″ pans worth of the toffee.

CHOCOLATE-TOPPED CASHEW TOFFEE

  • 6 sticks butter, diced
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 30oz whole roasted and salted cashews
  • ~6oz chopped cashews for topping
  • 22oz dark chocolate chips
  1. Melt butter in large stockpot.
  2. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
  3. Bring to a boil and simmer for approximately 20 minutes until it darkens to a golden brown color. (A lot of recipes recommend a candy thermometer, and waiting until the temp is 300, which is probably a good idea, but I could not find my candy thermometer, so I just went with my intuition to know when it was done)
  4. Add it the whole cashews and stir to coat.
  5. Pour mixture onto two buttered sheet pans. You can use bigger pans than I did for a thinner toffee.
  6. Using a silicone spatula, spread the mixture to cover the pans as quickly as possible.
  7. Wait 1 minute and dump the chocolate chips onto the toffeeย  in an even layer.
  8. Wait 3-5 minutes until chocolate has softened and melted slightly. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate over the toffee.
  9. Sprinkle chopped cashews onto the chocolate.
  10. Place pans in the refrigerator to cool completely.
  11. Once the toffee is hardened, use a knife to cut into smaller pieces.
  12. Enjoy!