Salted Chocolate Almonds

Meet my ‘it’ snack of the moment. It’s crunchy. It’s simple and easy to prepare. It’s salty and sweet. And last but not least, there’s the chocolate! We all love these little nuts. I have no idea why oh why it’s taken me so long to pull this together. If I had come up with it three years ago when I started thinking about healthier kid snacks, I might have considered the case closed and never started this blog of mine.

Salted Chocolate Almonds Recipe

This recipe is easily doubled. It would also probably be insanely good with smoked salt if you happen to have any on hand. If you don’t have almonds, use cashews!

1 cup roasted unsalted almonds
1/2 cup (3 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
1/2 teaspoon (give or take – more is more) kosher salt

Melt the chocolate chips gradually in a double boiler or in the microwave. If using the microwave, proceed with caution and set the power level to 20% for a minute at a time. After a few minutes, the chips should not appear melted, but should be soft enough to stir into a semi-smooth mass with a silicone/rubber spatula. Stir for a good thirty seconds or more. The warm bits of chocolate will gradually melt all of the firmer chips as the heat is redistributed. If you heat the chocolate too much, it will turn into a coarse chalky mass (from which it is impossible to recover). Melting it gently and keeping it away from moisture of any kind will allow the chocolate to keep its temper and be shiny when it cools.

Once the melted chocolate is ready, add the almonds to the bowl and stir to coat. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread the nuts into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and allow to dry. This should take about ten minutes. Break apart any huge clusters of almonds and serve. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 1 1/4 cups
Prep-time: 15 minutes (including drying time)

S’more Bites

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News Flash: Fix Me A Snack made it into Babble’s list of Top 100 Mom Food Blogs for 2011. Fix Me A Snack is  ranked at #51! Seeing Fix Me A Snack in a list along with so many big shots whom I truly admire is a huge honor. A big Thank You to Babble and all my dear readers.

Now let’s get back to snackin’.

The ingredient list in this S’more Bites recipe is a bit schizophrenic, I know.  Brown rice syrup and miniature marshmallows may seem like odd bedfellows. But the truth is that these s’more bites are supremely satisfying and chocolaty without being too sweet. Oh, and unsurprisingly, the kids loooove them.[/donotprint]

S’more Bites Recipe

If you don’t have brown rice syrup, you can replace it with Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Honey is another possibility, but I haven’t tried it because it is sweeter than brown rice syrup and has a more powerful flavor.

The consistency of the chocolate mixture depends entirely on the amount of oil that gets thrown in along with the nut butter. Even when I’m using the same jar of almond butter, the results vary depending on whether I’m at the beginning (lots of oil) or end (getting dry) of the jar. Use the wheat germ to create a consistency easiest to work with. Your hands will get a little greasy perhaps, but the mixture should be easy to roll into balls and not too sticky.

5 store-bought graham crackers, broken up into large chunks
1/3 cup almond or peanut or sunflower butter
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
1 – 3 tablespoons wheat germ
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup or Lyle’s Golden Syrup
20 miniature marshmallows

Put the graham crackers into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the processor for about 30 seconds or until the crackers are broken into fine crumbs. Add the almond butter, chocolate syrup, 1 tablespoon of  the wheat germ, and brown rice syrup to the bowl of the processor. Pulse for 10-20 seconds or until the mixture starts to come together into large crumbles.

Take a bit of the mixture in your hands and test to see if it will roll nicely into a ball. If it’s too wet, add more wheat germ a tablespoon at a time. If it’s too dry, add something moist like almond oil, chocolate syrup or brown rice syrup one tablespoon at a time. Run the processor for a few seconds after each addition to incorporate. 

Take pieces of the chocolate mixture a heaping teaspoon at a time. Knead it a bit and flatten it in the center of your palm. Place a marshmallow in the center and coax the chocolate mixture around the marshmallow with your fingertips. Once the marshmallow is covered up, round out the ball by rolling it gently. Serve or store in an airtight container. These freeze beautifully.

Yield: 20 bites
Prep-time: 20 minutes

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Little House Molasses Snow Candy

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The other day, we finally made Molasses-On-Snow Candy from The Little House Cookbook. And let me tell ya that nothing enlivens a snowy New England day like playing with molten sugar! 

Last winter, books from the Little House series dominated our bedtime reading. I don’t recall reading them as a child so I was enjoying them as much as the kids were. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s retelling of her childhood transported us back in time. 

After we read the Christmas chapter of Little House on the Prairie my eldest said to me, “Gee Mom, I hope our Christmas is as good as Laura and Mary’s!!” I think Laura and Mary got a candy cane, a cake, and maybe a pair of mittens in their stockings…and that’s it. They marveled at a heart-shaped cake they found in their stockings and squealed with delight because it was dusted with white sugar! While I enjoy the comforts of modern living, I certainly relate to my child’s desire to be fully enraptured by the magic of Christmas-time.

Given our heartfelt connection to the Ingalls family, it’s unclear who likes the whole idea of making foods out of the Little House Cookbook more, me or the girls. Either way, they did a spectacular job making molasses candy. Nobody had to go to the hospital with third degree burns. Another successful day of parenting! Mostly we made blobs. The fun little shapes depicted in the Christmas in the Big Woods picture book were a little out of my kids’ reach. However, it did get much easier to control the pour out of the pitcher after the molasses had cooled for a few minutes.

These candies are quite tasty. The brown sugar takes the bitter edge off of the molasses perfectly.[/donotprint]

Molasses Snow Candy Recipe

This recipe requires a small ceramic pitcher (A creamer works well), a candy thermometer, and fresh snow. The pitcher’s spout helps control the flow of the molasses. The handle on the pitcher allows the kids to pour the molasses without touching a hot cup directly.

1 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

Prepare 3 or 4 pans of snow using 9-inch pie plates, cake pans, iron skillets and the like. Gather fresh clean snow into the pans and leave them outside in the cold.

In a small saucepan, stir the molasses and sugar together over medium heat with a rubber spatula. Heat the mixture to 245 degrees Fahrenheit (firm ball stage), stirring frequently. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature. When the molasses mixture has reached 245 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour the molasses mixture into a small ceramic pitcher. Place the pitcher on a plate in your work area.

Bring the pans full of snow into the work area and allow the kids to pour the molasses mixture onto the snow. Read them the riot act about how hot and dangerous the molasses is and supervise them closely. You have about 10 or 15 minutes until the molasses starts getting difficult to pour.

About 5 minutes after the molasses has come into contact with the snow, test to see if has solidified. If it feels cool and hard, it’s ready to go. Let the kids eat some. Stick any leftovers in the freezer (or outside) still on the snow. If you store it without the snow, it will turn into goo.

[Update Feb 8, 2010: See my daughter and I make it on TV! http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/ct_style/in_the_kitchen/molasses-snow-candy]

Yield: 3/4 pound
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Kid activity time: 15 minutes

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Caramel Corn

[donotprint]You’re looking at my family’s recipe for caramel corn nirvana. It disappears all too quickly when snack time rolls around. I made a few test recipes with honey and/or peanut butter. I tried to come up with a “healthy” version. Really I did. But once you’ve tasted caramel corn perfection, it’s hard to compromise much more than this.

I did manage to health it up a bit by decreasing the sugar and butter and replacing the corn syrup that most recipes call for. But even so, it’s still full of refined sugars and fat, just a little less than most. If you love caramel corn like I do, it’s worth it!

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Caramel Corn Recipe

 

Do not allow children to do much more than observe from a distance as the caramel coating gets extremely hot. Also, try to remove any unpopped kernels from the mix. Eating them is jarring when they are coated with baked-on caramel.

This recipe calls for a candy thermometer for making the caramel mixture. One that can be mounted on the side of the saucepan with a clip is easiest and safest. The mixture doesn’t cover as much of the bottom of the thermometer as it should. But it does rise a bit once it boils and manages to get a decent reading.

1/3 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
1/2 cup shelled lightly salted peanuts (optional)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown rice syrup OR Lyle’s Golden Syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pop the popcorn via your preferred method.

Lightly grease a large mixing bowl with spray oil. Pour in popped popcorn and peanuts, if desired. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and the syrup and bring to a low boil, stirring frequently. Clip a candy thermometer onto the saucepan. Bring the mixture to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. This should only take a few minutes with the mixture at a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. It will foam a bit.

Pour the hot caramel mixture over the popcorn and peanuts. Stir gently but vigorously with a rubber spatula until the popcorn is evenly coated. Spread the caramel corn evenly onto a parchment-lined jelly roll pan (a baking sheet with raised sides). Take a couple minutes to spot and remove any unpopped kernels.

Bake for 50 minutes, stirring once halfway through. The caramel will darken as it bakes. Allow the popcorn to cool for a couple minutes on the jelly roll pan. Once it is cool enough to touch, separate the pieces with your fingertips a few times. Once it is completely cool, the pieces should no longer be sticky. Serve or store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield: 8 cups (a little more with peanuts)
Prep-time: 15 minutes
Bake-time: 50 minutes

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Peanut Butter Clusters

[donotprint]These somehow manage to give me a sugar buzz even though they don’t seem to be totaly overloaded with it. I’ve really got to get some piece of software that will spit out nutrition information for recipes.

Anyway, these are tasty, as you can well imagine. It’s sort of like a reese’s peanut butter cup and a kit kat decided to quit their day jobs and move out to the country to start running their own organic co-op.[/donotprint]

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1/2 cup peanut butter (homogenized works best)
1/4 cup chocolate chips
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed or wheat germ(optional)
1 1/2 cups corn flakes cereal

Place peanut butter, chocolate chips and maple syrup in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly with a rubber spatula until chocolate is melted and combined.

Turn off heat but leave your saucepan on the burner. Quickly stir in flaxseed or wheat germ. Immediately add cereal and stir gently with rubber spatula until well-coated. If the peanut butter mixture starts to get too firm, reheat it a bit.

Place mini muffin paper cups in mini muffin pan and spoon heaping tablespoons of the cereal mixture into the cups. Cover and allow to set for 1 hour. Serve or store in an airtight container. Best eaten the same day.

Yield: approximately 22 clusters
Prep time: 15 minutes
Set time: 1 hour

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Almond Bon Bons

[donotprint]This is recipe that might not belong among the “healthy” recipes that are supposed to grace the pages of this blog. But, at least it’s fresh and homemade. Much better to indulge with these when your sweet tooth can not be denied.

Some people have asked me if they can replace the rice syrup with honey or corn syrup, to which I resoundingly reply “No!”. I really try not to use unusual ingredients unless I feel they are truly necessary. The bon bons would probably turn out fine with another sweetener, but the rice syrup gives the bon bons an oh-so-lovely carmel-like flavor. It is not to be missed.[/donotprint]

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1 1/4 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup organic almond butter or peanut butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (optional)
1 cup quality chocolate chips

Grind almonds in a blender until texture resembles a course meal. A few larger chunks are fine. Be sure not to grind too long or you will make almond butter. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, warm syrup and almond butter over low heat until well blended and smooth. Remove from heat and add ground almonds, salt and ground flaxseed. With a sturdy spoon, stir until well combined and mixture sticks together and begins to form a ball.

Make one inch balls by hand and place on wax paper. Your hands will get greasy.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. If using a microwave, use 20% power for 2 minutes and check. An additional minute at low power may be required. The chips will hold their shape. Stir with fork. If about half of the chips appear to have melted, keep stirring until all of the chips are melted. This may take a couple minutes. By keeping the chocolate’s heat low, the cocoa butter and chocolate solids are much less likely to separate and the chocolate will remain in temper.

If using a double boiler, be very careful not to let any water come into contact with the melting chocolate or it will sieze. Over low heat, stir constantly until 3/4 of the chips are melted. Remove from heat and continue to stir until smooth.

Using a fork, dip the balls in the chocolate one at a time until thoroughly covered. Place in airtight container on wax paper and allow to set for approximately one hour. Serve cold or at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. These taste best when they are very fresh, but will keep for a week or more.

Makes approximately 30 balls.

[donotprint]Note: To learn more about tempering chocolate, read Mark Bittman’s article Chocolate Gets Hot But Holds Its Temper. Bittman makes it look easy in the video. I’ve tried tempering a handful times and was successful once. That’s why I’ve avoided the tempering process in this recipe. But I’m still fascinated by it and will conquer it someday.[/donotprint]

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