For a holiday treat, Megan and Sarah each came up with a mint confection.
The last couple of years, I’ve been looking longingly at Christmas cookies and candy on the Internet. You see, it used to appear to be OK to make a batch of sugar cookies and slap some powdered sugar/milk icing on them and call it good. Maybe make some peanut butter cookies and pop a Hershey’s kiss in the center. These are my favorite things. But suddenly there was this ridiculous outbreak of artfully decorated cookies that required an art major and a year off work to create. And the candy; this stuff looks like it came out of a wrapper via a factory. I can’t cope. I can’t compete. I am a Christmas sweets failure. It’s overwhelming.
So when it came to my attention that we’d be working with peppermint for this month’s Delicious/Nutritious, I practically started crying. WHAT COULD I MAKE? My baking skills are lackluster at best. I have never even really attempted candy, for fear of burns and garden variety failure. Also, seeing that neither Mr. Meat and Potatoes nor myself is really that into desserts or confections, I was loath to take on the task. I mean, why learn to make something we would never really eat?
So I thought, and I thought, and I thought some more, and then I spied a Junior Mint in the leftover Halloween candy. A Junior Mint, one of the few candies I can call a favorite. Can I make a Junior Mint or Peppermint Patty? I THINK I CAN!
I did a little reading, thought about my favorite things, then set to work. This seemed easy enough, just some simple minty filling and a chocolate coating. I repeated to myself, “I CAN DO THIS!” and then I set out to make the minty magic happen.
It really is easy enough.
1 bag confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
1 can sweetened condensed milk (The fat-free stuff is fine.)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 bag semisweet chocolate chips or 10 ounces of bittersweet baker’s chocolate (It’s up to your personal taste.)
To start, pour the can of sweetened condensed milk into a mixing bowl, along with half the bag of powdered sugar (about 3 cups).
Then, add the light corn syrup and peppermint extract. Beat, preferably with a paddle attachment, on a low speed until everything is well-combined. Then slowly start adding the rest of the powdered sugar until the mixture is thick but pliable.
Next, form tablespoon-sized balls and lay them on a Silpat baking mat or aluminum foil over a cookie sheet.
Then, using the bottom of a glass, smash each one down until it’s about 1/4-inch thick.
Pop the tray in the freezer for 15 or 20 minutes; in the meantime, melt your chocolate. A double boiler is advisable. I put a tablespoon of corn syrup in the chocolate as well, just for the glossy factor.
When your chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat and go get your patties. Using a fork, lift each patty off of the surface and dip it (bottomside) into the chocolate. Use a spoon in the other hand to drizzle chocolate over the top until it’s covered thoroughly. Let excess chocolate drip off through the fork back into the pan, and place the patty back on the baking sheet. Repeat.
When all are covered, return them to the freezer overnight to freeze the chocolate solid.
When you store them, put wax paper between layers to prevent sticking. I learned this the hard way.
Otherwise, it was easy. Really, really easy, even for a confection failure like myself. Go crazy! Add food coloring to the filling; make them for every holiday! Your family will be really impressed, and they’ll have no idea how really simple the whole thing was. BONUS.
I’ll admit, I used to be terrified of fat.
F-A-T was an evil — just sitting there, lurking in my food, serving no purpose other than to glom onto my thighs and make me paranoid.
Fat would make me fat if I ate it. I mean, that logic makes sense, right?
Thus, as a child of the SnackWell’s generation, I thought fat-free was the only way to eat. I may have only been 11 when the line of low-fat and fat-free cookies and crackers was introduced in 1992, but I definitely took notice. I was a competitive gymnast and paid very close attention to my food (Though I ate a lot, a pixie I was not.). The idea of having a treat sans fat seemed like the breakthrough of a lifetime. My parents were wary of processed foods, but I’m pretty sure I talked them into taking home more than a couple of those happy green boxes.
The idea that all fat was devilish definitely clung to my sensibilities once I got old enough to buy and cook for myself. I didn’t buy SnackWell’s, but I still held the notion that fat was fat and meant to make me fat. And I wanted to avoid it at all costs. I’d buy low-fat this, diet that — anything to keep the wretched macro nutrient out of my system … no matter how crappy the fat-free version tasted.
But, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew fat was put in our food for a reason. It was naturally occurring, and replacing it with chemicals and sugar couldn’t truly be better than eating what was already there. This notion seemed about as natural as the whole “eating fat will make you fat” idea, and those competing camps warred for a long time in my brain.
In fact, I didn’t truly accept fat until the one time in my life I knew I had to gain weight: pregnancy. Like most first-time moms, I read any book I could get my hands on about “doing things right.” And one factoid sitting right there in black and white was a growing baby’s need for F-A-T. Fat — the right kinds: monounsaturated fats and essential fatty acids — was great for a growing baby, contributing to brain development and overall health.
My cravings seemed to corroborate this, guiding me toward certain fatty foods, most noticeably avocados. There was a point where I was eating an avocado a day while pregnant. I even joked with my husband about calling the kid “Cado,” short for “Avocado.” It might have been the hormones talking, but, at the time, I thought it was cute.
The avocado chow-down continued after my son was born three years ago, and by the time he was on solid foods, he was eating avocados regularly, too. To this day, he’ll eat an entire one in a sitting, no adornment needed, which is just fine with me. Avocados are not only chock-full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, but they also have a host of antioxidants and skin-protective vitamins, including A, E, B and C.
And you know what else? They make fabulous pudding.
I am aware the idea of avocado pudding might sound disgusting, especially if you’ve only ever eaten the fruit in the form of guacamole. But I guarantee that this pudding does not taste a thing like guacamole. Not a smidge.
Rather, it tastes minty and delightful — like a Thin Mint cookie in a smooth, pudding-y form. When Megan and I decided on mint as this month’s ingredient of note, I knew this pudding would be perfect to share. It’s got your good fats from avocados, a bit of sugar from agave nectar and a festive flavor from both mint extract and fresh mint leaves.
The result is healthy, tasty and the perfect dessert, even for me, the former fat-phobic.
Chocolate Mint Avocado Pudding
3 small or 2 large avocados
1/4 cup water or coconut water (if you want it sweeter)
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
2-3 mint leaves, torn (optional, for more color)
Splash or two lime juice*
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
Cacao nibs and extra mint leaves for decoration (optional)
Halve the avocados, scoop out the flesh and roughly chop it, discarding the skins and seeds.
Put it and all ingredients except cacao nibs and cocoa powder in a food processor and blend until creamy. Use a spatula to scrape half out of the food processor and into a small bowl. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining pudding in the food processor and process until combine.
Scrape the chocolate pudding into a separate bowl (you may have to stir it by hand if a bit of green is still poking through). Alternately layer the two puddings in small glasses (wine glasses are pretty) and top with a sprinkling of cacao nibs and mint leaves, if preferred. Eat immediately, or chill until ready to serve. Serves 2.
*The lime juice will keep the green pudding from browning in the air, but the green may dull over time if not served within a few hours.