Candyland Birthday Party

Jake and Cake

My crazy little man is 4 years old!

Jake definitely gave me a run for my money this year. He is rambunctious and giddy and willful and very invested in understanding every single thing.

This year we celebrated Jake’s birthday in the most fitting way I could imagine: with a mountain of candy and a giant board game. Jake’s sweet tooth rivals mine, and he has spent the last year in a quest to become a board game geek like his daddy. (It should be noted here that his favorite game is called Just Desserts, which is a game where you feed pretend customers all their favorite sugary treats, and that when we play Candyland, he cherishes the pink dessert cards so much that I have a hard time convincing him to keep them in the stack.)

Happy fourth birthday, Jake! I can’t believe how big you are, and I can’t wait to see how you grow over the next year!

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Almond Butter Cookie Cups

Almond Butter Cookie Cups

I have a new favorite dessert.

Them be fighting words, people. Favorite is a strong statement.

It’s almond butter cups. You know, like peanut butter cups, but with almonds. And, surprise! Oats! And coconut oil! And maple syrup! Instead of a dry, crumbly nut center, these cups have an almost cookie-like base with homemade chocolate on top.

And the kicker is that they are actually good for you, as far as desserts go! You see, they are full of healthy ingredients like raw cacao powder and raw nuts and unsaturated fats.

I swear no one will never eat one of these and think, “This dessert must be healthy.” Every time I set them out for a group of friends, they disappear practically in the blink of an eye. You should make these. You should make them right away!

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Gianduia Date Balls

Gianduia Date Balls

I heard a terrible, terrible rumor a few weeks ago: apparently, we are about to experience a worldwide shortage of hazelnuts!

Gasp! The horror!

Before you run out and buy every jar of Nutella in the store (and don’t think I haven’t contemplated that), let’s try a healthier yet equally delicious version of the incomparable chocolate-hazelnut combination: date balls.

Have you ever heard of gianduia? Maybe you’ve seen this flavor nestled among other exotic-looking scoops (stracciatella…nocciola…) at a nearby gelato store. Gianduia is the original chocolate and hazelnut confection, made from hazelnut paste, cocoa, and sugar. Apparently, hazelnuts are enormously popular in Italy. Italians know the good stuff.

I absolutely love chocolate and hazelnuts together, and I’m really going to miss these date balls when the price of hazelnuts skyrockets!

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How to Make Chocolate Curls (and Bowls!)

Chocolate Curls

I have always been a little wary of working with chocolate as a candy medium. I am never the one who tops cupcakes with beautiful candy molds or makes chocolate-coated truffles. I mean, I love those things, but I have had serious doubts that a normal person like me could pull them off successfully.

But guess what?

I love Pinterest. Who doesn’t? And I found a cute idea for serving ice cream…and I just had to try it for the chocolate mousse I was making. So I gathered my nerves and bought a fancy bag of melting chocolate.

Chocolate BowlsTurns out, making things out of chocolate is easy!

And fun!

And looks super fancy and will impress everyone who sees it!

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Brandied Honey Caramel Sauce

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You may be sensing a theme here with the honey recipes. So I will let you in on the fun.

But first, do you like watching cooking competitions? Like Iron Chef and Chopped? I do. Watching gifted cooks and bakers compete to create the most original, most delicious, most beautiful dish is inspiring!—and also makes me realize that I am very small and very feeble in comparison. Watching cooking competitions makes me realized I am a good cook, but not a great cook.

So lately, Dave and I have taken to pausing these shows right after the mystery ingredient is revealed to discuss what we would do if presented with that challenge. It’s an exercise in creativity! What could I actually dream up? What could I put together without the help of a recipe or Google?

When my sister-in-law suggested organizing a tasting party for friends and family based loosely on the cooking competitions I know and love, I thought it was a fabulous idea.

Enter honey! The mystery ingredient for our Very Valentine’s Mystery Ingredient party. I am still learning to like the flavor of honey, but I was excited to use this ingredient in baking because honey is so much healthier than refined sugar.

And when I started pondering what I would like to do with honey, one of the first things I thought of was making a delicious, salted caramel sauce using honey instead of sugar!

Holy moly. Was it ever good!

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Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

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If you had told me this time last year that I would be obsessed with desserts made out of dates, I would not have believed you.

Maybe I would have made a quip about going out on dates.

But probably I would just have looked at you like you were an alien.

Oh, one-year-ago-Melissa, what a wide world was ahead of you.

So I’ve been making variations on chocolate-date-nut balls all month. And then I had an epiphany that peanut butter would be amazing. Kind of like a Reese’s! Which is exactly what these PB bites taste like.

These little “cookies” are super easy to make. I used all-natural, no-sugar-added peanut butter (just ground peanuts and a touch of salt, the healthiest way to eat peanut butter, for sure), which I have recently converted to. You could roll them in a  little cocoa for an extra chocolatey punch, but I flattened mine with a fork, just like classic peanut butter cookies.

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Chocolate-Date-Nut Balls

Chocolate-Date-Nut Balls

Let me give you a leg up on your New Year’s resolution.

You know, the one where you vowed to eat healthy foods and give up refined sugar!

No? Maybe that was just me.

True story, I have resolved to give up refined sugar (and as much refined white flour as possible) for one whole month. That may sound either impossible or too short, depending on your own eating habits. But I have come to a point where I can’t stuff the guilty feeling I get when I tell people I’m a vegetarian because I believe it is healthier, all the while tossing back cookies like they are going out of style.

We need a healthier way, a way that is actually full of nutrients, not just absent anything truly horrible (er…which sugar is. Sorry, folks).

There are so many foods I am going to miss this month, and I am not making any promises about staying away from them forever, but I am actually pretty excited about detoxing from my sugar addiction.

If only my sweet tooth would get on board…

That’s why I made these delicious and nutritious chocolate-date-nut balls. Let’s call them truffles. Or even fudge! That would make my sweet tooth even happier!

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English Toffee

English Toffee

Guess what?

Toffee is possibly the easiest Christmas treat ever. And it’s rather impressive, isn’t it? At least, I think so.

(Warning: This candy does have enough sugar and butter to knock a week or two off the end of your life. But I think it’s worth it this Christmas!)

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Candied Pecans

Candied Pecans

So…it’s football season. Probably my least favorite thing of all time. The only redeeming quality football season boasts is that it tends to be full of delicious appetizers.

As you accept invitations and visit with friends and their big screen TVs (which you may or may not be interested in actually watching), consider whipping up a batch of candied pecans to bring with you! They are easy and impressive.

Okay, so my recipe does require a candy thermometer, though if absolutely necessary you could forgo the fancy equipment and wing it. But I promise, you will only need to do about 5 minutes of work to make these nuts, and you will definitely not regret it when you pop a hot, melty, sugary candied pecan in your mouth.

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Butter Buddies

My husband and I recently took a mini vacation in the Shenandoahs. By the way, if you have never done that, it’s beautiful! The views are just incredible, and if you get a clear night the stars will take your breath away. We had a room with no TV and no internet, which may sound like torture, but it was actually kind of a relief to be screen-free for the weekend. We took hikes and read books and played games…

And suddenly I was transported back to childhood camping trips that my family took. We would pack our old brown Caravan full of gear and coolers and snacks and drive for about a thousand pages (er…hours…) down to Florida where, unlike in the rest of the eastern seaboard, it was warm.

My mom always made these great snacks for us, and chief among the camping delights I found myself craving during our weekend in the Shenandoahs was butter buddies.

Butter Buddies are much like Muddy Buddies…except they are even more awesome. Instead of chocolate and peanut butter, which is definitely a strong combination, my mom made her confectioner’s-sugar-covered Chex with butterscotch and peanut butter. Believe me, that combination is amazing! Sweet and salty at the same time, but a much lighter and brighter flavor than the choco-peanut butter mix. I love it.

So when we returned home, literally the first thing I did was buy a box of Chex so I could make myself some butter buddies. These take about 10 minutes to make, and they are basically irresistible. You know you want some…

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