nuts

Chocolate Coconut Candy Balls

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 “From that moment and through everything that followed, sugar could always be counted on to please her. It was as though sweet things were what she was born for.” - Beloved by Toni Morrison

That pretty much sums it up. Sheer sugar with some butter thrown in for good measure. What could be better? In fact, these chocolate coconut balls are so good they were christened with the nickname “balls of heaven.” I do not know if I would go that far, but they are surprisingly good.

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I also do not know what possessed me to make homemade chocolates in August. Although the mindset for many has turned to back-to-school, the way I look at it, there are still a good two good weeks of bikini season left. Here in the south, we can probably get away with six. Bikini time is not a good time for chocolates.

But if you are in the mood for a homemade sweet, these are the way to go. The recipe yields close to four dozen chocolates, so there is plenty to go around. I think they would make for a nice homemade gift around the winter holidays or Valentine’s Day when love and comfort are in the air and bikinis are safely tucked away in dresser drawers (where they belong). Enjoy!

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Chocolate Coconut Balls
 
Author:
Serves: 42-28
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds confectioners sugar
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded or flaked sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • 1 package chocolate bark coating
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, beat together the powdered sugar, condensed milk, butter and vanilla until well combined.
  2. Add the coconut and nuts and stir until thoroughly incorporated.
  3. Chill for at least one hour or up to overnight. This will help the mixture hold together when rolled into balls.
  4. When ready to prepare, roll tablespoons full of the mixture into balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.
  5. Melt the chocolate bark in the microwave, heating 30 seconds at a time and then stirring until completely melted.
  6. Dip the prepared candy balls into the melted chocolate one at a time, then place on a separate cookie sheet lined with wax paper to allow the chocolate to set.
Notes
You may want to work in batches by rolling two dozen balls, then refrigerating one dozen while dipping the second dozen in chocolate and so forth.

 

A Secret Recipe: Sweet Vanilla Granola

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I was born to…what? When I try to finish that sentence, nothing comes to mind. I think I was probably born to simply hang out here for a while and enjoy myself, hopefully helping out a few others or doing more good than bad along the way. My Secret Recipe Club blogger, on the other hand, was born to cook.

After looking through a ton of delicious recipes on Melissa’s blog I Was Born to Cook, I wholeheartedly agree with her conclusion. I seriously considered many of the recipes before narrowing it down to three choices. I thought long and hard about roasted shrimp with either thousand island dressing or chipotle lime glaze before I did a complete 180 and settled on Vanilla Granola.

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Melissa writes that granola is one of those things she never made at home prior to starting her food blog. After realizing how easy it is to make homemade granola, coupled with how delicious it tastes, store bought granola is a thing of the past.

The recipe calls for ingredients that are probably already in your pantry, and the ones that are not are easily substituted (like vegetable oil for coconut oil). I love all the adaptations granola recipes can take, and I Was Born to Cook features a number of other delicious granola combinations like cinnamon-walnut, pumpkin, peanut butter and maple-almond as well.

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Now for how to use it. I typically eat granola as I would a bowl of cereal, but I also enjoy it sprinkled over a bowl of vanilla Greek yogurt or ice cream. My go to granola recipe, prior to this sweet vanilla granola, was a quinoa-based granola. Now that I have a new recipe to enjoy, I went in search of more things to do with it.

I came across suggestions to use it as a topping for muffins or baked fruit. Others suggested adding granola to banana bread, pancake or waffle batters. My favorite idea was to fold granola into cookies. Here are two recipes to get you started: granola cookies from NPR and granola cookies from CHOW. You’ve got the granola. Now go get your week off to a good start. Enjoy!

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Sweet Vanilla Granola
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 cups quick-cooking oats
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • ½ cup Craisins
  • ¼ cup flaked or shredded coconut
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, Craisins and coconut. Set aside.
  2. Combine the coconut oil, honey, brown sugar, water and vanilla in a saucepan over medium high heat. Cook until melted and mixed, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Pour the liquid sweet mixture over the dry oat mixture and stir to coat.
  4. Spread the mixture across a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake at 275 degrees F for 30 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. The granola should be golden brown when complete. If it is not yet done after 30 minutes, allow it to continue baking, checking at 5 minute increments.
  6. Allow to cool completely, also stirring occasionally to help break up the granola as it cools.
  7. Store in an airtight container.

 


 A Secret Recipe: Sweet Vanilla Granola

Winter Pesto

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Welcome to Pesto 101. A few days ago I had never considered making pesto at home. In fact, I never much thought of pesto period. Now I think I am an expert capable of teaching anyone who reads this post how to become a homemade pesto expert. Why such bold confidence? Because it is easy. Super easy. When someone who wondered why the word “winter” was used to described this pesto recipe (yes, that would be me) can come so far so quickly, I know anyone else can too.

Lesson 1: History

Traditional pesto recipes call for basil. Since fresh basil is hard to come by at the end of January, spinach steps in. Not to worry though, this winter pesto still gets a good dose of flavor from dried basil.

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Lesson 2: Health

I am not a nutritionist, but I like to think I have at least an ounce of nutritional sense. My instinct was this pesto is a fairly healthy recipe given it is packed full of a dark leafy greens and healthy fats from the walnuts and olive oil. Turns out I was partially right. This Top 10 Green Vegetables ranks spinach at number 5. It also discusses walnuts at the eighth most nutrient-dense nut.

Lesson 3: Math

Pesto = green vegetable + nuts + olive oil + cheese + garlic. Such a simple equation lends itself to seemingly endless variations. Any of the vegetables on the Top 10 list could lend themselves to pesto. As far as nuts go, traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts, but why not try cashews or almonds or pecans or even pumpkin seeds? Asiago or Romano cheeses are good substitutes for the Parmesan.  But you must use garlic. It keeps colds and vampires away, so there is really no arguing on this point.

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Lesson 4: Home Ec

The only thing that equals the number of ways to make pesto is the number of uses for pesto. As you see here, I slathered it on some bread that I first toasted with a bit of olive oil in a cast iron skillet. I also tossed it with a bowl of pasta. If you go this route, reserve a bit of the water from the cooked pasta to thin the pesto sauce. Though I have yet to do it, I will likely use up the rest of my pesto by adding it to a grilled cheese sandwich or a quesadilla. I might also stir it into a scrambled egg or use it as a topping for a baked potato or a piece of chicken. Pesto is also great as a pizza sauce or as a layer between lasagna noodles. The ever-helpful Food Network has a list of 50 Things to Make with Pesto for other ideas.

Pesto is easy to freeze for use in the future. (This is the best way to enjoy summer basil pesto in the winter.)  To freeze a batch of pesto, leave the cheese out of the initial preparation and add it in before use. Use an ice cube tray to freeze individual portions. Then transfer the blocks of pesto to a Ziploc bag once frozen. Thaw and use as needed.

After realizing how easy it is to make pesto – it took me all of 15 minutes to blend the ingredients and clean up the dishes – I plan to make it again and again. I hope you will too. Enjoy!

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Winter Pesto
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 cups spinach leaves, tightly packed
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¼ walnuts
  • ½ cup olive oil, plus a bit extra for storing
  • ⅔ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Process all ingredients but the cheese and salt in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Stir in the cheese and salt until blended. It may be necessary to transfer the processed spinach mixture into a bowl for this step.
  3. The pesto will keep in a container sealed with a lid for up to two weeks when refrigerated. Be sure to pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil on top of the pesto when storing to prevent it from drying out.
Notes
Make sure the stems are removed from the spinach leaves. To make the pesto, you will want to use only the leaves. It is not necessary to make this pesto with walnuts, so simply leave them out if you are not a fan.