Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hot Chocolate Station!

Hot Chocolate Bar 

Hot! Hot!  Hot Chocolate!  If you are like our family, the words to the famous song in "The Polar Express" movie make you want to curl up by the fire with a hot cup of creamy cocoa.  Add some Christmas music, a soft blanket and a good book for a perfect evening.  A fun way to involve the whole family is to create a small "hot chocolate station" where everyone can mix, stir and sprinkle their way to a perfect cup!  I included chocolate covered peppermint sticks, marshmallows, mini chocolate chips, cinnamon and sprinkles.  We leave the station on our drink bar all season, inviting family and friends to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or even coffee.  If you are having a party include mugs, creamers and whip cream for a full hot beverage bar.

A Mug of Marshmallows

I love this time of year.  I love it because of the beautiful sounds of Christmas carols, the sweet taste of fudge and peppermint bark, the smell of the freshly cut Christmas tree and the sight of a crackling fire.  Everything about the season engages the senses and beckons family togetherness. But the main reason I love Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation!

The INCARNATION!  What an amazingly powerful word.  The Incarnation...God of the universe who humbled himself and became flesh.  The God Man, Jesus Christ,  born a baby in a lowly manager on the most holiest of nights over 2000 years ago.  Since childhood, I have enjoyed sitting out under the stars on a cold night and imagining what those shepherds must have felt as a heavenly host of angels appeared in the sky.  Of all the nights in human history, I am drawn to this night.  If I could travel back in time, I would choose this moment, when the angels sang praises in the night sky announcing the Prince of Peace to a group of unknown and unimportant shepherds.  Why the shepherds?

When the business of this season weighs on me, all the shopping, cooking, wrapping, and extra activities, I am reminded of that still, quiet night.  Maybe God chose those shepherds, tending their sheep, because of their calm, quiet spirits sitting in the stillness of the night.  This is why I like Christmas Eve the best.  On Christmas Eve everything in the world winds slowly down...the shopping is done, the presents wrapped, the food cooked, and stillness comes over the whole world.  This Christmas, I encourage you to find a moment to step outside and gaze at the stars.  Maybe you will hear the songs of heavenly hosts ringing in your ears!

Hot Chocolate
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 1/2 cups hot milk
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/8 tsp salt

In a large saucepan. combine the sweetened, condensed milk, cocoa, vanilla and salt.  Mix well.  Over medium heat, slowly stir in the milk.  Heat through, stirring occasionally.  Serve warm!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vanilla Caramels

Vanilla Caramels

Today I am posting a recipe for yummy homemade caramels.  Pretty easy for Mom or Dad to make, but not for the kids.  Candy-making is difficult to do with children because of the long cooking times and precise temperatures.  This recipe is one they will enjoy eating instead of making!

Vanilla Caramels
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Line an 8 inch square pyrex pan with foil and generously spray with cooking oil.  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over high heat, cook sugar, without stirring, until it begins to melt.  Be careful with this. When it starts to melt, it browns and bubbles quickly, so you may need to remove from heat for a minute to prevent it from burning.  Once the sugar is completely melted, remove from heat and add the cream.  The sugar wll seize into a solid mass.  Add the butter and corn syrup. 

Fit a candy thermometer to pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture liquefies.  It usually takes about 20-30 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium high and cook until the mixture reaches 238 degrees F on a candy thermometer.  You want to leave it there for a minute or two before you remove it from the heat but before the temperature rises. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla extract.  Carefully pour the caramel mixture into the buttered Pyrex dish.  Smooth any bubbles on the surface and let cool until caramels are firm but still slightly warm (about 30 minutes).  

Lift caramel from the pan, peel away the foil and cut into small squares with an oiled knife.  Wrap individually in waxed papers.  Time to eat a few and share a few!