The fastest, simplest S'mores ever!  My 6-year-old had a blast making these nearly by herself.  If you have a toaster oven, you can make just a few and hardly heat the kitchen up at all.  Even a big batch doesn't make your whole kitchen hot, or make you smell like campfire, or have the neighbors wondering what's on fire.  
If you use GF/CF chocolate chips and GF grahams, these are also a gluten-free, dairy-free treat.

For a big batch, you will need:

1 cup chocolate chips (milk chocolate or semisweet, you choose)
one 10-oz bag regular marshmallows
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (I used precrushed ones) OR 4-5 crackers, crushed
Also:
A cookie sheet, an oven with a broil setting, and a sheet of parchment if you want the easiest cleanup.

Put the oven rack in the highest position.  Dump the chocolate chips into a microwaveable bowl; I used a Corelle cereal bowl.  Microwave for one minute; stir.  If it's not quite melted, microwave 30 seconds more; stir. Repeat if needed, but once you get past 2 minutes it overheats and clumps.  (You can rescue it by stirring in 1-2 tsp. oil.)

Dip the bottom half of a marshmallow into the chocolate, then dip into graham cracker crumbs.  Place on cookie sheet, at least 1/2" apart.

Turn the broiler on and put the marshmallows in.  If you have HI and LO options, here's what happened in my oven with them:

HI:  browned at 35-40 seconds.  Centers were still firm.
LO:  browned at 1 1/2- 2 minutes.  Nearly the whole marshmallow was now melted and gooey.  

Either way, watch these things closely!   Don't walk away for even a few seconds or they may be black when you get back.  Flaming marshmallows over a campfire in the dark may be entertaining, but they're not nearly as amusing in the house!

The marshmallows ready to be broiled.
 
 
Salty, sweet, crunchy, and chewy!  Makes one 8x8 pan.

Crust:  
3 oz pretzels (about 1 cup), crushed 
3 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp c. sugar
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until it starts smelling delicious.

While it's baking, make the filling: 

Filling:
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/4 c. corn syrup*  (or use mild molasses and sub light brown sugar for dark, above)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 C. pecans, toasted and chopped coarsely
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Mix in the brown sugar and salt, stirring until the butter is absorbed.  Beat in the egg, corn syrup/molasses, and vanilla.  Continue to cook and stir the mixture until it is shiny and hot to the touch but not near boiling.  Remove from heat; stir in pecans.  Pour onto the hot crust.  Bake at 350 about 25-30 minutes, until it jiggles like Jello and not like water when shaken.  Cool at least 20 minutes before cutting if you want them to keep their shape.
 
 
These are fun.  We made them as a little homeschool science project.  EVERYONE in the family thought these were awesome, and we had enough to give a couple to some of my son's friends who are fascinated with rocks.  My next-door-neighbor, the Webelos Scout leader, pointed to a pile of broken rocks on her sidewalk.  "This,"  she said, "was what we did so the boys could feel like they might find a geode- we gave them hammers and rocks from our yard.  We should have made these instead!"

They'd love them too.

These would make some amazing and unusual Easter eggs, too:  make a bunch the same size and wrap two halves together to form a ball.

Edible Geodes
Crystal-growing solution (Rock candy syrup)
1 ½ c. sugar
½ c. water
Mix the two, heat on high in a small saucepan, and stir until the sugar completely dissolves.  Add several drops food color if you want, along with ½ tsp. flavoring (optional). Let cool a bit while you make the rock shells.

Rock Shell (Marshmallow Fondant)
8 ounces marshmallows
2-4 Tbsp. water
1 lb. powdered sugar
¼ c. coconut oil or shortening

Mix marshmallows with 2 Tb. water in a microwave-safe bowl, heat for 30 seconds in microwave.  Stir.  Microwave 30 seconds more, stir. Repeat until it’s melted and smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and mix with a spoon and then with your hands.  Spread 1 Tbsp. coconut oil on clean counter, knead the fondant on top adding more coconut oil when needed.   When smooth and stiff, take half of it and set aside.  Take other half and knead in ¼ c. cocoa powder to make fondant brown.  Roll out ¼“ thick.  Roll out the white half to the same size and stack them on top of each other.    Line a few bowls with aluminum foil, sprayed with nonstick spray.  Cut a piece of the two-layer fondant to fit, and line a bowl with it, with the brown side touching the foil.  Repeat until you run out.   Trim off any fondant that is beyond the lip of the bowl, using scissors.  Set aside.

Pour the sugar syrup into the fondant-lined bowls.  Let them sit, undisturbed, for at least a day (or 2-3 days for bigger crystals).  When ready, break the surface and pour off the syrup. Turn the geodes upside down to drain for an hour.  They’re ready! 

 
 
Bonus- this fudge can be made dairy-free and still have that creamy, melt-in-your mouth text ure!

This week in Joyschool I taught the kids about the process of making chocolate.  I had a library book that had pictures of each step, from cacao tree to wrapped chocolate bars, and I brought hands-on things, as well.  They got to see, smell, and taste bits of roasted cocoa beans (didn't like them!- it's like eating unsweetened chocolate but crunchier.), see and smell cocoa powder, see, smell, and have cocoa butter rubbed into their skin, we melted and molded chocolates (cute little Easter shapes).... and then made this baggie fudge.  If you're making it yourself or have careful children, a single bag is fine, but for this group that includes a few 3-year-old boys, I double-bagged it. :)  This could be a fun Family Home Evening activity AND treat. 
Our batch was made using the coconut oil and coconut cream, since 3 of the kids can't have dairy.

I had brought walnuts in the shell to use in the fudge, but the kids had so much fun cracking the nuts first and eating the bits inside that they were all gone before the fudge was ready.  It's good fudge either way!

Baggie Fudge
1/2 c. coconut oil or butter, softened or melted
1/2 c.  cocoa powder
1/3 c. coconut cream, OR 1/4 c. water and  1/2 c.  nonfat dry milk powder
a pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla 
1 lb. powdered sugar (about 4 cups unsifted)
1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Put the ingredients in a gallon-sized ziptop bag.  Put this bag inside another bag if  it seems like a good idea.  Squish, knead, or pound the bag until everything is well mixed.  (Giving the kids 30 -second turns seemed to work the best- and gave them practice counting.)  

Once it's mixed, squish the mixture into a rectangular shape near the top, making the rectangle about an inch narrower on each side than the bag.  Put the bag on a cutting board or similar surface.  Cut down one side of the bag and across the bottom with scissors. Cut fudge into squares, or use small cookie cutters to make cute shapes.  Makes about 1 1/2 pounds.

If fudge is a little too soft, let it chill in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to firm up.



 
 
These are delicious in a green salad with sour berries or salty cheese, or just by themselves.   
My grandmother has six beautiful pecan trees,  ones she and my grandpa planted when my dad was a little boy. When they visited recently, they brought a bagful of their shelled, fresh pecans for each of their adult grandchildren.   A treasure.  Pecans are my favorite nut; it might be because of the memories of the Christmastime harvest: my dad and uncles high in the pecan trees, shaking the branches while we grandchildren stuffed the fallen nuts into bags.  We'd sit around Grandma's big dining room table with some of those nuts and a nut cracker, talking, laughing, and eating those moist, mild nuts.  The bulk of the nuts, though, got hauled over to the local nut company, where they machine-shelled them for a fee.  A while later Grandma would pick up a now-shrunken bag of the best nuts in the world! 

I used pecans in this, but any nut may be used.

Cinnamon Honey Pecans
1 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. water
dash of salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 c. pecans (a good handful)

Put the honey, water, salt and cinnamon in a small nonstick frying pan.  Turn heat on to medium-high.  Stir until reasonably mixed.  Add pecans and stir until the nuts are coated.  Heat, stirring often, until nuts first become dry, then begin to smell a little toasty.  

This takes somewhere around 5 minutes but can be more or less, depending on how hot your burner gets and how cold the nuts were. (I keep mine in the freezer, so mine always take on the longer side to toast.)    If in doubt, take a nut out, blow on it a bit, and eat it.  If it has a little bit of crispness to it and tastes delicious, they're done!  Remove from heat.  Cool completely before adding to a green salad.

These are a perfect ingredient in Mango Berry Salad.

 
 
I've been neighbors with a few Brazilians; they have been warm, kind people who have a strong affinity for desserts made with cooked sweetened condensed milk, or 'dulce de leche'.  There's a plum-caramel filling for cakes, another cake filling made with crushed pineapple and the caramel, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  

One Christmas my Brazilian neighbor Celia brought over a plate of these creamy, sugar-coated dulce de leche balls.  When I next saw her, I asked for the recipe and what they were called.  She shrugged her shoulders, then said, "little bears, I guess".  This is a simplified version of hers, which contained strained egg yolks and 'crema media' (half-and-half), but the results are just as delicious.  Best of all, these are cooked and ready to shape within ten minutes of starting!

Ositos
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
unsweetened cocoa powder
about 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling


Pour the sweetened condensed milk in an ungreased, very large microwave-safe bowl.  Cover the top with plastic wrap  to help avoid boilovers: this boils much higher than you would expect!, Microwave it for 2 minutes.  Stir.  Microwave for 2 more minutes.  Stir, scraping sides down.  Repeat in 2-minute intervals for a total of either 6 or 8 minutes, stirring every two minutes.  It should thicken and darken some. To see if it has cooked enough, drop a little in a cupful of icy water, then pull out after about five seconds.  However hard it gets is how hard it will be when completely cool.  It needs to be able to hold its shape.  Put the sugar in a cereal bowl and set aside.

With buttered hands, pinch off a bit and roll in a ball, about 3/4" across.To get the brown side, drop into unsweetened cocoa powder, then pick it up and drop it  into the sugar.  After you have a few in there, roll or toss to coat, then set on another dish.

Makes 30-36 balls, about 3/4" each.
 
 
Are you trying to eat healthier but really, really crave fudge?  This one uses healthy fats and honey.   It's also dairy-free and gluten-free for those who need to avoid those.  

Avocados are high in three amazing fats: both phytosterols and PFAs (polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols) are documented to be anti-inflammatory, and oleic acid, which helps our digestive tract absorb fat-soluble nutrients.  Coconut oil is healthy for many reasons, including being anti-inflammatory and having a high lauric acid  and medium-chain fatty acids content.  
But enough about that.

The big question is, doesn't avocado totally mess up the flavor here?

No.  I have a pretty discriminating set of tastebuds, and the only way I can detect the avocado is by a faint fruity flavor.  Because of that, some of my favorite variations of this fudge include fruit:  orange zest or oil, chopped dried cherries (and toasted almonds!), and the like.  This fudge is really only a slightly thicker version of my ChocolateTruffle Pie.

The recipe below includes both orange and pecans; if you don't want them, just omit the pecans and orange zest or orange oil.

You can also use this recipe to make truffles; cut into squares, then quickly roll each square into a ball; roll in cocoa powder or chopped nuts to coat.

Orange-Pecan Fudge            makes about 3/4 of a pound 

1 ripe avocado, peel and pit removed
1/4 c. coconut oil
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. water
zest from half of an orange (about 1/2 Tbsp.), or 2 drops orange essential oil
3/4 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt (1/16 tsp.)
1/4 c. toasted chopped pecans

Line a 5 1/2 x 3 loaf pan (or 2-cup rectangular or square container) with foil; spray with nonstick cooking spray.   Set aside.
Put the water, zest (should be about 1 Tbsp), honey, coconut oil, cocoa, avocado, vanilla, and salt in a blender or food processor.  Run on high for 1-2 minutes, until smooth.  Pour into prepared pan.  Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours until set.   

Store in the refrigerator or freezer.  If freezing this, let pieces thaw about 10 minutes before serving.  I don't know how long it will keep in the fridge because it gets eaten so quickly.   But the one piece that survived us for a week and a half was still good.  Any longer than a week, though, it'd be better preserved in the freezer.  Wrap tightly.

 
 
My nephew just had a birthday, and having spent the day before at the Museum of Ancient Life, wanted-- what else?-- a dinosaur fossil cake.  His cake photo is at the end of the slide show below.  The version above was made of brownies.  Cookies and Cream Brownies. Mmm.

The fossil is made of melted white chocolate chips: melt a cup of them in the microwave (1 minute, stir) or over a double boiler, then put in a zip-top freezer-safe bag with a small corner snipped off (start with 1/8" hole and see if it it's big enough), or use a pastry bag and a #3 or #5 tip.  Trace onto waxed paper with an outline below, let it set up, then transfer to your dessert.  Good surfaces include chocolate frosting, unfrosted brownies or chocolate cake, a frosted cake coated with graham cracker or cookie crumbs, or anything else that resembles rock or dirt.

You can make all kinds of designs this way- when I turned my kids loose, they made  a pony (complete with chocolate jimmies on the mane and tale), a butterfly, a banana (covered in yellow sugar crystals), and a set of exploding fireworks.

At any rate, here's the recipe for the brownies, which were very moist and fudgy, with a crunchy, sweet topping:

Cookies and Cream Brownies
1 batch of your favorite brownie batter to fit a 9x13 pan (I used a Duncan Hines mix)
1 cup of vanilla pudding 
8 oz. chocolate sandwich cookies, crushed

Mix the brownie batter according to its directions; bake as usual.  When done, spread with the pudding, then sprinkle with the crushed cookies.  Press the crumbs down lightly to make them stay.  Best the first day; they get a little gooey by the second day.

If you're adding a 'fossil', wait until the brownies are completely cool.
 
 
Do you want something simple to give to friends and neighbors?  Here are some quickies; if you have more time you might like Candy Cane Bread, shaped and decorated like a candy cane.  
Recipes for the fudge and the gingerbread syrup are below.

For the jars to pour syrup in, I save jars through the year: spaghetti sauce jars, pickle jars, jelly jars,baby food jars, peanut butter containers (don't use those for anyone with peanut allergies!)...
After Christmas, anything that didn't get used gets put in the recycle bin, and I have cupboard space once again!
Cherry-Almond Fudge

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
7 oz. marshmallow creme (may use 7 oz. marshmallows instead)
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. cherry flavor  (I used wild cherry, and it was amazing!)
1/4 c. dried cherries or cranberries, finely chopped
1/2 c. almonds, chopped

Line an 8x8 pan with parchment or foil; butter well if using foil.  Set aside.  Combine the sugar and milk in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring often, then boil for 3 minutes.  Pull off the heat, then add marshmallow creme, chocolate chips, almond and cherry extracts, and dried cherries.  Stir until smooth.  Pour into prepared pan, and sprinkle with chopped nuts.  
Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm, then cut into squares.  Store airtight at room temperature.

Makes just over 2 pounds.


Gingerbread Syrup 
(notice this recipe is basically the same as above, only without the marshmallow, and with extra milk to make it pourable)  If you don't have cinnamon chips, use white chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, then add 1-2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon, to taste.


2 c. sugar (can use brown sugar for deeper flavor, or add 1 Tbsp. molasses)
1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. milk
12 oz. cinnamon chips (I used Hershey's brand)
1 tsp. ground ginger OR 1 drop ginger essential oil
1/2 tsp. ground cloves OR 1 toothpick of clove oil
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. pecans, toasted and finely chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and milk to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.  Stir in cinnamon chips, ginger, cloves, salt, and stir until smooth.  Stir in pecans, then pour syrup into jars.  Store in the refrigerator.  Warm before serving.  (If too thick, microwave briefly.)

Makes about 3 1/2 cups.




 
 
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It's that time of year...

to make gingerbread houses!  Whether you want to make one for a competition, or just make something fun with your children, here's my family's tried-and-tested favorite recipe for eating AND building. (See here for a gluten-free recipe, or just substitute a GF flour blend in place of regular flour.)  We have a yearly tradition of everyone in the family decorating a small house.  If you want a recipe that will bake up thin yet strong, suitable for competition-level houses, the next couple pictures are of this one.  The eating/building recipe has more leavening and therefore a lighter crunch.  The 'building' recipe, below, is also good, but more dense.  Be sure to roll this one thinly!!!

See here for Part 2- Assembling and Decorating

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For the full recipe, along with more instructions, tips, and things I've learned, it's also on the link above.  Put in a large bowl or medium saucepan: 1 1/2 c. light corn syrup, 1 1/4 c. brown sugar, and 1 cup butter.  This will be easiest if you cut each cube of butter into 5-6 chunks.

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Heat in the microwave about a minute or until everything melts and can be stirred together.  If using a saucepan, heat over medium-high, stirring until the sugar and butter melt.

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Add the dry ingredients to the bowl:
6 3/4 c. flour, 1 Tbsp. cinnamon, 1 1/2 tsp. ginger, 1/2 tsp. salt.

I like to grab the dry stuff with my fingers and mix lightly before mixing it with the wet, this saves the step of pre-stirring all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl first.  

Stir until everything is mixed well.

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This dough will be warm and firm yet soft; it gets stiffer as it cools.  It's easiest to roll out while still warm. 
If it gets too stiff, return to the microwave for 30 seconds to rewarm it.    

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Divide dough into 2 or three pieces.  Working with one a time, roll  directly onto parchment, if at all possible.  This will save you immeasurable aggravation! 

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Try to get it an even 1/8" thick.  As you can see, this is quite thin.  The corn syrup gives this dough a lot of strength.

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Put your pattern on top of the dough, and cut around each piece.  Try to have each piece touching as much as possible.  The easiest way to cut them, by far, is to use a pizza cutter or pastry wheel.

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Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch.  Pull out of the oven, and IMMEDIATELY re-cut the pieces, if you need them to be exact.  They will have spread a little bit.  If you're making eight houses for your family, you can skip this step! 

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My favorite part of baking gingerbread houses: eating the 'twigs', the skinny little pieces trimmed off the house parts.  They are addictive!    

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To make stand-up trees, cut out two for each tree.  Cut a section out of the middle of one of the pieces, as wide as your dough is thick.  You'll 'glue' one  of these halves on the front of the whole tree, the other half on the back.        

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Cool on a cooling rack.  When all the way cool, I like to stack all the pieces for one house in each stack.  Here are five houses, ready to put together.

Next is the really fun part- decorating!  That will be another post in a couple days.
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It's the little details that make gingerbread so fun!