DIY Hot Chocolate Mix

Perhaps the quintessential cold-weather beverage, hot chocolate has long been a favorite of mine. I drink it much less often as an adult since I prefer to eat my calories rather than drink them, but on a cold and snowy day, hot chocolate is still a delicious way to warm up. These days I find most of the store-bought mixes to be far too sweet, and so I set out to make my own.

All the popular Pinterest items used non-fat milk powder, so I gave that a shot. I had reservations on how well this would work because it’s the milk fat that makes proper hot chocolate into the creamy delight we look for. As expected, the non-fat versions tasted far too watery to me. I knew I wanted to include milk powder since the goal was not to have to heat up milk every time I wanted a cup, and so I checked to see if whole milk powder was a thing that exists.

Helpful, Amazon has my back and I promptly ordered what I presume is basically a lifetime supply. Fortunately it is shelf-stable for quite a while (or you can freeze it) so I had no qualms about order it. After a couple iterations to get the cocoa:sugar ratio down, I landed on my perfect concoction. Not too sweet, very chocolatey, and pleasantly creamy without the hassle of heating milk or the requirement to have a splash of heavy cream on hand. (We almost always do, but I realize the average person does not buy heavy whipping cream by the half-gallon.)

This recipe easily scales, so you can make less for a small amount or scale it up and give it away as gifts. Add a cute jar and a tag with instructions and you have a wonderful small token of appreciation. It keeps for at least 6 months (that’s how long my batch lasted) so you can stock up for the season ahead. All the convenience of those pre-made mixes and the ability to tailor the amount of sugar to your preferences; a win-win if you ask me.

DIY Hot Chocolate Mix

Makes about 8 servings

Ingredients

for mix
3/4 cup whole milk powder
1/2 cup dutch process cocoa powder (regular works okay too)
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar2

to prepare hot chocolate
12 oz boiling water
3-4 Tablespoons mix

Directions

  1. For the mix: whisk together milk powder, cocoa powder, and sugar until well combined. Store in an airtight container.
  2. For hot chocolate: Add 3-4 tablespoons mix to the bottom of a large mug.
  3. Pour in 1-2 ounces of boiling water, and mix until well combined. (A handheld milk frother works great for this.)
  4. Pour in remaining boiling water, and continue to mix until completely combined.
  5. Enjoy immediately with your favorite toppings. (And a splash of Baileys, for the adults.)

Notes

You must use whole milk powder, the non-fat stuff is useless. Whole milk powder is the key to creaminess without having to heat milk every time you want to prepare a cup of hot chocolate.

I prefer my hot chocolate a little less on the sweet side; if you like yours more like a store-bought version, use 3/4 -1 cup sugar .

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Peppermint Crunch Ice Cream

Despite the (hopefully) chiller temperatures, December is just as good a time for ice cream as the more traditional summer months. There are some flavors that just scream winter, and although I don’t have too many qualms eating them in June, it’s nice to have them during their so-called proper time. Eggnog, for example, is just not something one typically enjoys in mid-summer, but it’s just as delightful in ice cream form.

This year I went after another Christmas classic – peppermint. I drink copious amounts of peppermint tea all year round, but typically save the more decadent uses of the flavor for winter. Peppermint is found in everything from candies and hot chocolate to brownies and truffles, and everything in between. Admittedly I feel a little goes a long way, but during the right season peppermint certainly has its place.

I opted for the white chocolate and peppermint pairing, a favorite as a hot beverage that I figured would play just as well in a chillier twist. Melted white chocolate paired with crushed peppermint candy for flavor, color, and a tiny bit of crunch. The smooth vanilla flavor is nicely complemented by the sharper flavor of peppermint, and should be reminiscent of your favorite peppermint truffles.

Crushed peppermint candy gives us our flavor profile, and a little pink color as a side effect. I cheated and bought pre-crushed peppermint candy, but crushing your own candy canes is a fun way to get the kids involved. The peppermint flavor is given some extra punch with a little extract, but be careful not to go overboard as it’s very easy to venture closer to toothpaste than candy. I recommend starting with half a teaspoon and letting it all chill overnight, then tasting right before you churn. If you feel it’s not quite strong enough, add that extra quarter teaspoon and churn away. You can also add a few drops of red food dye if you want to deepen the pink hue.

Creamy, cold, and chalk full of a favorite winter flavor, this ice cream is delightful on its own or an excellent match for a gooey chocolate brownie. Top it with a sprinkle of candy for extra flair.

Peppermint Crunch Ice Cream 

Makes ~6 cups

Ingredients

1 cup half and half
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 1-2 T crushed peppermint candy, divided1

1/2 – 3/4 tsp peppermint extract
1 tsp vanilla

optional: a few drops red food dye

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine cream, egg substitute and sugar. Set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine half and half and white chocolate chips. Heat, whisking often, until chips are melted and mixture is smooth.
  3. Let cool about 10 minutes, then slowly stream into the heavy cream, whisking constantly.
  4. Whisk in vanilla, 1/2 tsp peppermint extract, and 1/4 cup peppermint candy1, then chill completely in fridge, or overnight. (The peppermint candy will likely have completely dissolved.
  5. Taste briefly, and add additional peppermint extract if desired. You can also add the red food dye now.
  6. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions, adding remaining candy during the last 5 minutes of churning.
  7. Transfer to a freezer-safe bowl to freeze for at least four hours, or overnight.
  8. Serve garnished with a sprinkle of crush candy canes, solo or atop a warm chocolate brownie.

Notes

If you don’t want the crunchy aspect, you can either nix the extra 2 tablespoons, or add them at the beginning.

Thanksgiving Sliders

My favorite part of Thanksgiving (after friends and pumpkin pie) is the copious leftovers. Turkey isn’t actually my favorite on its own, but it’s one of my favorite sandwich/wrap fillings and I always look forward to a few days of tastiness. My go-to is a wrap with warmed cream cheese, cranberry sauce, and turkey, and then stuffed with some extra leafy greens. All the best flavors of Thanksgiving dinner rolled into one, and even a salad to boot. (Don’t worry, I probably already had the pie for breakfast.)

Last year I made homemade dinner rolls to take to our annual potluck, and ended up with quite a lot left over. It seemed prudent (and delicious) to utilize those instead of my standard tortillas, and as such the Thanksgiving slider was born.

Creamy mashed potatoes, moist turkey, and tart cranberry sauce are cozied up between fluffy bread, and it’s possibly my new favorite “leftovers” meal. A perfect contrast of sweet and savory, and a mouthful of delicious in every bite. I love this recipe because you can quickly make just one or two in the microwave, or you can heat up an entire pan in the oven. Admittedly the oven method is a bit slower, but with a little effort and a bit of patience you can have a meal for the whole family.

An added bonus of this recipe is obviously that you can add basically any leftovers you have around. Extras on the cheese platter? Go for it. Still a tureen of gravy in the fridge? Drizzle that on. A few green beans or carrots taking up space? Add those too. Nearly any Thanksgiving recipe could have a home here, it’s just a matter of your personal taste.

While using homemade rolls is delicious, you can certainly pick up some extras of the store-bought variety to prepare. Add a side salad and you have a perfect (and lighter) day-after lunch or dinner all ready to go. You can probably even convince any leftovers-haters in the house to partake without complaint.

Kick back, avoid the Black Friday crowds, and enjoy your favorite flavors of Thanksgiving in a new twist.

Thanksgiving Sliders

Ingredients

critical leftovers
dinner rolls
mashed potatoes
turkey
cranberry sauce

additional ideas
Brie, cream cheese, goat cheese
gravy
stuffing
green beans
glazed carrots
your favorites!

Directions

  1. Oven directions (for a whole pan): Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Carefully slice rolls in half (you can do this without separating them if you have a whole pan still).
  3. Layer bottom rolls, mashed potatoes, turkey, cranberry sauce, and any other toppings of choice.
  4. Add top layer of rolls, and cover pan with foil.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until heated through (easiest to use a thermometer in the center roll).
  6. Serve hot with a tasty beverage.
  7. Microwave directions (for just a couple): Slice rolls in half and lightly toast.
  8. Arrange all fillings in a single layer on a plate and heat 1-2 minutes or until hot.
  9. Assemble rolls with hot ingredients, and enjoy immediately.

Apple Cranberry Pie

If you’ve been eagerly awaiting the pie the inspired the apple cranberry sauce from two weeks ago…this is it. You’re welcome.

For the past couple of years, M and I have attended a huge potluck feast rather than having a tiny Thanksgiving all to ourselves. This is fantastic for being able to eat many different dishes without having to cook them all, but does have the downside of often eating things at room temperature, regardless of what their ideal temp might be. There are always numerous pies in many different flavors, and going home hungry is pretty much impossible. I usually contribute to the event with homemade dinner rolls, but I may switch it up this year.

Despite the multitude of desserts, I always personally bake pies just for the two of us. M doesn’t get excited about pumpkin pie (weirdo) and apple is typically his flavor of choice. Last year, I found an apple cranberry pie that sounds amazing, and, (with M’s blessing), opted to make that instead. I don’t hate plain apple pie by any means, but there are many other flavors I consider to be much more enticing.

I will never give up my pumpkin pie, but for a fresh flavor, this might be a new fall favorite. Traditional apple and cozy spices are complemented perfectly by the tart cranberries. It lends a more complex profile without being overwhelming, and still works just as well for both dessert and breakfast as your traditional apple. I’ve always been partial to the more tart fruits, and the addition of cranberries here is a wonderful update. A little almond extract completes the whole experience.

As a bonus, the cranberries also add some beautiful color to your place. Bright red cranberries make the dessert table more festive both in flavor and presentation, and you can really up the ante with some fun pie crust cutters. Arranging leaves is way less tedious than a lattice crust, and even more impressive looking; a win-win situation in my book. Paired with homemade cinnamon ice cream or cinnamon whipped cream (recipe included), the tart pie and creamy topping are a perfect end to any fall day.

If you’re looking for a way to add some flair to the table this year, look no further than this pie. It’s sure to be a hit, and maybe even a new holiday tradition.

Apple Cranberry Pie

Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
Makes one standard pie

Ingredients

pastry for a double-crust pie

3 large apples, cored, peeled, and sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tsp almond extract

optional crust topping
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

cinnamon whipped cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, combine apples, cranberries, sugar, cornstarch, spices, and extract. Let rest for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Roll out half your pie crust into a circle (as close as you can), then gently drape into the bottom of your pie dish. Trim edges to a half inch or so wider than the plate.
  4. Gently spoon your filling into the crust, using a slotted spoon to avoid the excess liquid.
  5. Roll out your remaining crust and arrange on top of the filling however you like (I used pie crust cutters for the shapes here), pinching together any seams. For bonus presentation points, crimp edges with your fingers or a fork, or arrange cutouts along the edge. If you do a full crust on top, cut a few vents for steam to escape.
  6. In a small container, stir or shake remaining cinnamon and sugar together. Sprinkle evenly on top of the pie (I use an empty spice container.)
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly. If necessary, tent the pie with foil to avoid over-browning the crust.
  8. Let pie cool on the counter for at least three hours.
  9. Just before serving1, make the whipped cream. Using a hand-held or stand mixer, whip cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form.
  10. Add in sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon, and continue to whip to desired consistency.
  11. Serve pie at room temp, topped with cinnamon whipped cream or cinnamon ice cream. (Or your favorite vegan alternative.)
  12. Store leftovers in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap or foil.

Notes

You can make the whipped cream ahead of time and store it in the fridge, but you may want to whip it again just a bit before serving as it tends to loosen over time. It only takes a couple of minutes so I typically just make it on demand.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Oatmeal is my go-to breakfast for all but the hottest months of summer, and somehow I rarely get tired of it. My default is peanut butter and banana with copious amounts of cinnamon, but depending on the season and produce availability I’ll occasionally concoct new flavors. As a huge fan of pumpkin pie, blending that flavor into my morning meal seemed an obvious advancement.

I always buy pumpkin puree from Costco, in those delightful 3-packs of 29oz cans, which typically leaves me with some leftovers after making whatever recipe for which I’ve opened the can. Oatmeal is a great way to use up leftovers but also an excellent reason to open a brand new can. All the cozy feelings of pumpkin pie in a much healthier version to start your day.

I opted to complement the pumpkiny goodness with a homemade pumpkin spice mix, but you can absolutely substitute a store-bought pumpkin pie spice if you prefer. With my cinnamon obsession I like to tailor mine a bit more cinnamon heavy, and mixing up your own allows you to kick up or tone down the individual spices to suit your preferences. If you do use the store-bought version, I *highly* recommend twisting a tiny amount of freshly ground pepper into each bowl, as it really adds a little extra something. I patterned this off of my favorite pumpkin pie recipe, and I now consider it a necessity in all things pumpkin.

For protein boost, I stir in chia seeds and chopped walnuts, but these are completely optional additions. If you’re more of a pecan person, use those instead. Since pumpkin is not sweet on its own, a little maple syrup brings out the pie flavor we all know and love. I keep my oatmeal fairly low on the sugar content, but no judgement if you want extra maple syrup stirred in or drizzled on top.

The final touch is a dollop of heavy cream; this is non-negotiable in my personal opinion, as it really improves the texture, adds a wonderful creaminess, and balances the whole flavor profile. Half and half could be substituted in a pinch, but the heavy cream is the more delicious option. A single tablespoon won’t hurt you, as fat and protein are both things your body needs. (If you are vegan, you could probably substitute full-fat coconut milk, or whatever your favorite cream replacement might be. You *can* just leave it out, but it’s really better with something creamy stirred in.)

Start your fall mornings off right with a hearty bowl of oatmeal, plus all the happiness of a pumpkin pie. (But if you prefer to start your day with the real thing, you’ll get no judgement from me.)

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Makes one serving

Ingredients

pumpkin spice mix
1 T ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
pinch of freshly ground pepper

oatmeal
1/2 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup oats
1/2 tsp pumpkin spice mix
1 T maple syrup
1-2 T chia seeds, optional
3/4 cup water
chopped walnuts, optional

1 T heavy cream (or half and half, or vegan alternative)

Directions

  1. In a small jar, combine spice ingredients. Stir or shake until well mixed.
  2. Layer pumpkin, chia, spice mix, walnuts, and oats in a microwave safe bowl.
  3. Carefully pour in water and transfer to the microwave.
  4. Microwave on medium power for 4 – 5 minutes (stirring after 1-2 minutes), or until oats are softened and desired texture is reached.
  5. Stir in maple syrup and cream, then serve immediately.

Notes

You can also substitute store-bought pumpkin pie spice, if you prefer.