Fresh Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Sundae Topping

While we’re still trying to fight off winter, spring has already sprung in some of our sunshine states like Florida and California. When I you start to see fragrant strawberries from these states popping up in your stores, you know that warmer days are right around the corner. At least, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself…

There are few things better in life than a perfectly red, ripe strawberry. When I buy them, I can always be counted upon to eat at least half of the clamshell package on the way home. So I’ve learned my lesson and usually buy two, just to be on the safe side. As much as I love to eat them “as-is”, it’s so much fun to cook and bake with them in the kitchen!

Cake. Cupcakes. Ice Cream. Vodka. Margaritas. Salad. Salsa. Syrup. You name it – I’ve made it! But one thing that was conspicuously missing was a good homemade strawberry sauce. Which, oddly is probably the easiest of all of those things to make. Fresh strawberries cooked down with a bit of sugar and a vanilla bean. Heaven over a bowl of yogurt and granola in the morning, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the evening…

Look for berries that are a deep red in color, but most importantly – smell them! Good strawberries are extremely fragrant. That’s usually my rule of thumb for most fruits, actually – the better it smells the better it’ll taste. So, keep your sniffer in mind the next time you’re in the produce aisle!

Homemade Marshmallows

I know, I know – I’ve been another couple of months MIA. I feel like it’s been one sickness after another around here since the New Year, and I’ve just been in kind of a funk as far as cooking in the kitchen is concerned. Sticking to my old stand-by’s…and not trying anything new or out of my comfort zone. I’m doing my best to “shake it off” though, and crossing out something on your “want to make from scratch” bucket-list is always a great place to start!

Marshmallows were at the top of that list for me. With as often as we make s’mores around here, a big fluffy homemade marshmallow would be just the ticket to elevate them to the next level. You can control the thickness and shape, and you know precisely what is going into them…something that’s not so easily accomplished with the store bought variety. Not to mention the fun you could have experimenting with flavors and colors!

A stand mixer is pretty much required, as it requires quite a bit of time whisking the mixture to the perfect cloud-like consistency. It’s minimal hands on work – heating up the sugar syrup and blooming the gelatin. Then it gets a spin in the mixer, and a good amount of cooling time before cutting and enjoying. Which, is of course always the hardest part.

They turn out perfect every time, and are a delightful little gift packaged up in a pretty cellophane bag. They also hold up really well to a good roasting, they’re more substantial then your average marshmallow – which tend to just want to slough off the stick. And, they keep for three weeks! Not like they ever last that long around here.

Source: adapted from King Arthur Flour and Alton Brown

Raspberry Shortbread Bars

These bars. These bars! Now, I know that I say that every recipe that I share is wonderful…which, they are. I don’t share anything that we didn’t like with you guys. That being said, these bars are seriously one of the best things I’ve baked in my kitchen. Don’t wait to make them!

A thick, soft bed of shortbread topped with raspberry jam and a crumble topping made with of a bit of reserved shortbread, granola, and a generous dose of nuts. Takes all of 10 minutes to put together, how easy is that? Like you can expect anything less from Queen Ina.

There’s a backstory to these bars, though. Sea Star Cafe, my favorite local spot for lunch or a quick bite here on Chincoteague recently closed for the season. They make a bar that is very similar to this, in both a raspberry and apricot variety. And they’re addictingly delicious! I became a regular visitor…like, verging on the edge of daily, just to get these bars when they had them available.  Since they close for a few months in the off-season, I had to find another source…

I’m an accomplished baker, I should be able to make a decent crumble bar, right? I’d tried a couple in the past, but they were lackluster attempts. This one is it!

I know I’ll be baking these once a week for a while, just to try different varieties of jam. They slice beautifully and keep for a few days too, making them great candidates for cookie trays or gifting!

Source: adapted from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten, inspired by Sea Star Cafe.

Mexican Chocolate Eggnog

Eggnog is always something that everyone looks forward to at the holidays. As much as I’m ashamed to admit it, I’d never made a homemade version. So when Maker’s Mark asked me to come up with an eggnog recipe for their #GetCozyCocktail challenge, I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to do so!

I wanted to go the traditional route, as far as construction was concerned…but mix things up a little bit when it came to the flavor profile. I’ve always loved the rich and earthy notes of Mexican chocolate, which is flavored with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. And, usually a little bit of heat from cayenne to warm things up. It translated very well to eggnog!

Thick, chocolaty, frothy, and boozy…the spices meld beautifully with the bold flavor of the bourbon. It makes a relatively large batch, which is perfect for a party. But like most things in life, eggnog only improves with age. Some people swear by aging the stuff for up to a year!

I won’t go that far…but to make a batch now, to enjoy on Christmas Eve seems plausible. Not to mention the fact that it would make an awesome little “thank you” gift for a hostess or neighbor. Served in a jar simply decorated with a tag and a festive ribbon…come on, who wouldn’t be delighted to receive that?

Head on over to Maker’s Mark Instagram page and vote for my recipe by commenting and/or liking it, starting tomorrow through December 17th.  Then get to making the nog…after all, ’tis the season!

Disclaimer: I was provided with samples from Maker’s Mark. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.