Coffee is About to Dominate Our 2017

I remember the first time specialty coffee caught my eye.

I was a fresh-off-the-press culinary grad in need of a job, and I answered a Craigslist ad for a baker at a new coffee shop in town. Once hired, I understood right away that this shop wanted little to do with pastries and everything to do with coffee.

Coffee. 

The word was said with hefty weight and reverence, like it meant something. It wasn’t thrown around casually, used to describe cheap fuel to keep the town running. It was spoken of as though a delicacy, a valuable and important asset all its own.

One cappuccino and I was hooked. Silky, velvety, smooth, surprisingly cool. I felt as though I, the recipient of this drink, were consuming skill and knowledge with each greedy sip.

I was also very confused.

When did coffee get this way? I wondered. Has it always been this complex? What are these devices? Where did the science come from? 


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Two years have passed since then. I’ve learned the answers to plenty of these questions, led on by mentors that both encouraged me and dumped my struggling drinks down the drain.

Barista? I learned how to show up early, work hard, take my work seriously. I can make espresso all day and never tire. But stepping outside of the shop, I am looking to explore. My questions have no limits.

When I moved to Portland to further my coffee education, I only found myself feeling trapped and discouraged. Portland is bustling with coffee nerds, events, throwdowns, and cuppings. There are shops on every corner. I live two blocks from a Stumptown and I work for one of the most respected companies in the city.

But I am, truly, blown away at how few people really love what they do here. Coffee hype got the best of the people I met. I remember vividly training a new employee who, when I pressed her for questions about why she loved coffee, responded with, “It’s just so cool. I love everything about it.” And that was the most I ever got out of her.

Coffee is cool. But it has little to do with your hip, tattooed barista and that cool record he’s playing – it has everything to do with the cup in your hand, that finally, against all odds, made it deliciously into your possession.


 

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None of this was quite clear to me until I visited my first farm, in a country I immediately fell in love with – the Philippines. (It helps that I fell in love with a Filipino, too.) All of a sudden, I could see with my own two eyes, and hold in my hands the tiny parchmented seeds that were trying to make it out of the country.

These beans, mishandled, would end up roasted to a dark and oily sheen, blended and bagged and served cheaply.

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But the Philippines has good coffee. Incredible coffee, actually. The climate of these islands allows for even very rare coffee to grow.

Why hasn’t it been showcased? Where does its potential lie? This we aim to find out, and to foster.

2017 is upon us, a year that looks like it will be hard, rewarding, challenging and unexpected. This is the year we will go back to the Philippines and get our hands dirty, on our knees to plant spindly year-old arabica seedlings. We know practically nothing.

And yet somehow, as I sit at a desk lamp late into the evening, booking tickets for our return and reading articles until I can function no longer… this is when I feel the same tickle of curiosity that I felt at the very beginning. It’s the same curious fascination as my first silky cappuccino.

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No collection of articles can prepare me for what we’ll face this year. No online class can ready me for the unexpected turns we’re about to take. I feel like I’m back to square one – a student, embarking upon a quest to become a master, ready for the blows that will surely befall me. Even imagining holding a coffee plant (which will surely outlive me, and the ministry we are planting) makes my heart race.

Coffee is about to dominate my year, in a way that has everything to do with the land, the people, and our stewardship of it.

When I prayed to use my talents to reach people, to make a difference and to spread the gospel, I don’t think I realized how practical it would be. I love coffee. I love the culture. I love Jesus.

To use coffee — brewing, growing, roasting, processing — to reach people? To change lives? To make a difference? Ah. Now we’re talking.

 

Backyard to Table: A Cooking Reminder

Finding good food in Portland does not seem like a difficult task. Everywhere you turn offers a craft cocktail, a beer brewed up the street, fish fresh from the coast and mushrooms handpicked in the misty wildwood of the Oregon back country.

But after a while, the delicious food scene either numbs your palate to deliciously prepared, well-sourced delicacies or you start to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of restaurants to try.

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Don’t get me wrong– I adore the food scene in PDX. I’ll even give you a list of my handpicked favorites to try should you ever visit.



And believe me when I say the food scene out here is the best in the US. If you think you’ve had good wings, you absolutely haven’t until you’ve tried Whiskey Soda Lounge‘s fish sauce wings. Those would probably be my last meal should I ever leave this place.

Despite all of this goodness, you know what resonates the most with me these days?

The tiny garden in the backyard.

Portland can tell me all day long (and it does) that they ‘source locally’ and ‘pick from the garden’ and establish ‘farm to table’ connections. But despite their best efforts and their tremendous successes, there is nothing that can compare from a fresh red tomato plucked off the vine, still warm from the sun.

Their farm to table and my farm to table are tremendously different. Those were seeds we dug into the wet ground a few months back. (By ‘we,’ I will admit, my green-thumbed roommates did the heavy lifting since they don’t kill plants like I do.) Now they’re vegetables, big and ripe and bursting with wonder.

So, for the past week, I have made all meals at home. Despite one late-night run to the greasy spoon diner in Southeast after a ceiling-splitting worship jam from the talented Matthew Zigenis at Bridgetown Church, there has been no money spent at all on food this week.

I am lucky enough to know — and take advantage of– the wonderful folks at a local bakery who give me their day-old breads in exchange for coffee. I never have a shortage of thick, fresh, crusty loaves within reach. This is the springboard for every wonderful sandwich and toast imaginable.

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Pie, made with the fresh apples from the tree in the backyard. Also, arts and crafts day with the roommate. We are working on floral wreaths.

I am remembering with startling familiarity how wonderful it is to cook, elbow-deep in something crafty, tasty and new.

Plus, it’s cheaper. My wonderful fella and I are trying to hit up some overseas countries for some crazy Jesus-loving missions work in the next few months and are saving every penny possible to get there. Eating deliciously seems an easy way to do so– its hardly a sacrifice at all.

We’ve even gone so far as to build campfires and construct gourmet ramen noodles with one kettle and some random ingredients.

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Gourmet fire ramen. 

Here’s to the friendly reminder that food doesn’t come from grocery stores. Food doesn’t come from restaurants. Food doesn’t come from well-meaning companies that send gift boxes.

Food comes from the earth, and it’s delicious that way.

 

Main & Vine

When my alarm pierced the air at 4:00 am on Wednesday morning, I was fairly unprepared for a long, two-hour haul to the grocery store.

I can now tell you with the utmost enthusiasm, it was worth it.

Now before you wonder why I was out of my mind enough to hit the highway before sunrise for the sake of a shopping cart, let me set the stage. This Wednesday, February 3rd, was the grand opening of the flagship grocery store, Main & Vine.

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In the heart of Gig Harbor, Washington, in a beautifully repurposed QFC, is now a bright, friendly neighborhood grocery boasting local artisan products alongside recognizable brands. Hoping to bring a warm community center to the town, Main & Vine brings everyone together around the thing we all love most: food.

Unlike traditional store layouts, fresh produce and prepared foods took center stage, anchored by the store’s ‘sweet spot’ – an operating kitchen demoing a meal, highlighting what’s for dinner.

It was busy. Bustling with eager local shoppers and a veritable army of excited executives and employees, it was easy to see that this was a project of time, effort and love that the team was thrilled to share. And there were plenty of happy folks to share it with. Navigating the parking lot alone was like playing Tetris in a minivan. Shoppers pushed full carts up and down the aisles and cars tucked into parking spots in rapid succession.

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Big balloons and swinging jazz lit up the entrance. Immediately my sleepy, drive-tired mood was replaced with a tingle of excitement. Is there anything more fun than watching a community light up over food culture?

(Of course, I’m sure the coffee played a good part in my excitement. Cutter’s Point, a local Washington roaster and coffee company, is featured here, slingin’ lattes to the happy, hungry masses.)

To be truthful, I didn’t know where to begin. Everything had the enchantment of new, charming excitement to it. I had an empty shopping cart in front of me, begging to be filled.

Drawn to the breads, pastries and gleaming deli counter, I forayed into the fray. I was impressed—although there was approachable familiarity to all of the store’s features, there were unique and intriguing displays that made me grin. The bagel display, for instance, had me at hello.

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The deli counter was also impressive. I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised at how knowledgeable those behind the counter were.

I was handed sample upon sample of paper-thin prosciutto and hearty salami, courtesy of local charcuterie purveyor Olympia Provisions (of which I am already a huge fan.)

The prosciutto pictured below, by the way, was awesome. Sliced as thinly as possible on razor-sharp equipment, it only proved that early morning is a very acceptable time to enjoy cured meats.

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Maybe I’m in the small percentile of crazy gastronomes, but brand-new food features always suit my fancy. (I woke up before dawn to drive to a grand opening of a grocery store. Take it for what it’s worth.) But let me impress my excitement upon you once more for what ultimately was my favorite experience.

Side note: if you’re not in the Pacific Northwest and can only envision what I’m talking about, cross your fingers that someday a Main & Vine will open near you. If you are a PNW local, next time you’re hitting up Seattle, make a slight southern detour.

But I digress.

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The seafood counter was busy and brimming with smiling people, customers and employees alike. But as far as I’m concerned, it was the feature just a yard or two away from the iced glass of the fresh seafood that caught my eye.

A large, waist-high cooler, slotted with sliding handles, held an assortment of flash-frozen seafood and sides. Small bay scallops, shrimp in pesto, creamy risotto, and five-grain sides all stood at perfect attention, equipped with small scoops to fill the waiting pile of plastic to-go containers. Essentially a frozen bulk-foods style approach to premade meals, these seafood options were nitro-frozen, eliminating the need to add the usual frozen food preservatives.

It is, in my opinion, an awesome way to stock up on dinners (or sides) for the week, ready to eat in forward, cook-from-frozen simplicity.

Even better, they taste really good. As a premade food skeptic, I reserved all judgement until I could prove their worth over my stove later that night and was actually incredibly surprised.

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By the time I made my way through the massive lines, my cart was laden with all of my favorite things.

Prosciutto, thin and silky.

Salami (several kinds.)

Cheese. Lots of cheese, most of it local.

Unhomogenized milk from Washington’s Twin Brook Creamery, classically bottled in glass, thick cream waiting on top.

Honeycrisp apples larger than both fists put together.

Marbled steak. Raw local honey. Mandarins with stems. Daisies wrapped in brown paper.

I may have gone a little crazy.

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Of course, putting these things to the test is the true mark of a successful shopping trip. I returned home to fill my kitchen with a bounty of fruits and flowers.

And then, of course, I did what I do best. I started cooking.

Without further ado, let me pass along my sweet and simple takeaway from this excursion!


 

Honey Nectarine & Olive Oil Crumble

Ingredients:

3-5 large stone fruits (In my case, nectarines, although plums and peaches are also great options)

2 T raw honey IMG_0266

1 1/2 t sugar

1/4 c water

1 1/2 c flour

1/4 c sugar

1/2 c olive oil

dash vanilla

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, oil and vanilla. Mix (preferably by hand or in a food processor) until it all comes together. The result should be crumbly and slightly sandy, but able to form a nice crumbled texture. If you’re having trouble getting the dough to stick together, add a few IMG_0273tablespoons of water at a time until desired texture is reached.
  2. In a small saucepan heat diced fruit, honey, sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and let thicken until fruit is soft and syrupy.
  3. Remove from heat. Pour fruit mix evenly into one large pan (a pie dish will do nicely) or several small tins.
  4. Top evenly with crumble.
  5. Bake at 375 for 8-15 minutes until crumble has turned golden. Remove, let cool.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

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Interested in checking it out? Visit Main & Vine here:

5010 Point Fosdick Dr NW, Gig Harbor, WA, 98335

mainandvineshop.com

or on Instagram

 

And check out the full gallery experience here!

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Pear Pop Tarts

Pear Pop-tarts.

Was it the alliteration that drew me to the recipe? The craving for pop-tarts in general? The fresh red pears waiting to be crafted into something great?

Perhaps it was all of the above.

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Either way, there was nothing standing between me and a tartfull afternoon. (Is that a word? Does that sound weird? I’m going to use it anyway.)

The recipe is ridiculously simple. You can use any kind of fruit — apples, strawberries, other kinds of berries — provided they can cook down into syrupy goodness. Frozen fruits work great.

The pop-tart shell is a modified pie dough. A dash more sugar than usual, a small hit of vanilla and an egg provide a fragrant, well-sealed casing for the filling.

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I’m lucky enough to live with a few (occasionally loud) roommates who like to sing Adele at the top of their lungs. I like to think that all the enthusiasm bouncing around the kitchen made a positive impact on these pop-tarts. They’ve been infused with the soulful strains of …hello….it’s me….  

(You’re welcome. It’s stuck in your head now.)

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The result is a delicious little pop-tart full of character and crooked edges. It is healthier than a traditional store-bough pop-tart only in the sense it contains no preservatives. It still a buttery, flaky, sugary delight, which means they are only part of a nutritious breakfast. Pair with some real, fresh fruit.

Ready to get your breakfast baking game on?


Pear Pop Tarts

Ingredients:

Roughly 1 1/2 c fresh fruit, diced small

1/4 c sugar

1 t vanilla

1 T cornstarch, mixed with 2 T cold water

1/4 c water

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2 c flour

1/4 c butter, cold, diced into cubes

1 egg

3 T sugar

Water

Powdered sugar (for icing)

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, bring fruit, sugar, vanilla and water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook until thick and syrupy. If you’re having a hard time reaching desired thickness, add cornstarch and mix well. (Don’t worry about fruit getting mushy or losing shape! It should be that way.)
  2. Transfer fruit mixture into a small bowl and chill. It must be cold. Warm filling will melt the butter in your dough and create leaky holes. IMG_9704
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, butter and egg. Mix together, drizzling in water until the dough has come together in one large mass. Knead lightly until the entire dough ball has come together without any flakes — the goal is to get a tight seal, so don’t be afraid of over mixing.
  4. Roll the dough out as thin as you can, about 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut into pop-tart sized rectangles.
  5. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of a rectangle. Lay another rectangle of dough directly over top and pinch the edges closed with a fork.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes until edges are golden. Let cool.
  7. Meanwhile, make the icing. Combine 1 cup of powdered sugar with a tablespoon of milk, mixing until thoroughly combined and glossy.
  8. Once cooled, drizzle with icing, let set.
  9. Enjoy!

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Strawberry Shortcake

On a gloomy, bleak, midwinter morning, only a bright little strawberry offered a splash of color.

Studding the raw shortcake dough in front of me, it was like a small ruby jewel against the cement-colored sky.

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Quite honestly, I was enjoying the morning. Despite its tendency to push me towards gloom, these pale mornings extend into the afternoon, prompting journalistic thoughts and deep philosophical questions that result in either delicious baked goods or burying of the nose deep into another food history book.

(Currently re-reading Bee Wilson’s Consider The Fork, my all-time favorite food research book that will never, ever grow old, wondering why we no longer carry personal dining knives on our belts.)

This is ideal writing weather. Fortunately, it is also ideal cooking weather — there’s nothing going on outside, everyone is busy unto themselves. There is no better time to face the stove with ambition, taking the time to lavish upon neatly dicing strawberries and giving into the urge to create something tasty.

Because it is not really the season for fresh and beautiful fruits, I didn’t expect much from my strawberry shortcake. All I knew was that it needed to be  simple and sweet.

Fortunately, by quite a happy accident, the batch of strawberries I snatched from the store happened to be bright, juicy and remarkably good. Go figure.

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I broke out an old stand-by recipe and went to town. One thing I love about making old, familiar recipes is the way they become muscle memory. There’s very little thinking required, just simple memorization and the ability to tell when things are perfect or when they’ve gone wrong.

Sugar. Flour. Cream.

So, without further ado, here’s my recipe for strawberry shortcake. Hopefully it brightens up your dreary midwinter blues!


 

Or, you can do what I do (proudly wearing the badge of a Portland hipster foodie as I realize I’m leaning into the curve) and jam out to some meandering acoustic tunes while you bake, letting the bleak morning run into the afternoon., aided by a mug of coffee.


Strawberry Shortcake

Ingredients: IMG_9655

5 T sugar

2 c flour

2 t baking powder

1/4 t baking soda

dash salt

1/2 stick of cold, cubed butter

5 – 9 medium strawberries, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 c heavy cream

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Directions:

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, strawberries and cubed butter. Mix to combine, coating butter and berries with flour.
  2. Add the heavy cream, stirring with a wooden spoon (or your hands– don’t be afraid to get messy!) until combined. Avoid over-mixing your dough! It should still be a little ragged and definitely not sticky. IMG_9679
  3. Transfer dough to a greased baking sheet, spreading dough to a large, flat disc about 1 1/2 inches thick. If desired, brush with an egg wash (1 egg, beaten with a tablespoon of water) for shine and sprinkle with sugar.
  4. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden, ensuring the center is no longer moist.
  5. Let cool, cut, and serve with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

 

Far From Home

The last place I expected to find myself on a snowy Christmas Eve was at the base of Mount Hood, dodging snowballs lobbed by people I hardly knew.

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Christmas Eve in my family is sacred. It is better than Christmas Day, surrounded by family and food and warmth and fire and laughter and tradition.

Somewhere far away, my family was celebrating. And there I was, stuck in Oregon, alone for the holidays.

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But God is so good. He had tossed me gently right where I needed to be: surrounded by other far-from-home Christmas celebrators. I had been invited along to join a group of people transplanted from New Mexico to Oregon. They are all core members of Reason Church, a brand-new church plant looking to give the  PDX community a reason to live for, not just rules to live by.

(This is, by the way, my shameless plug: starting January 17th in the Bossanova Ballroom on East Burnside, Reason will be launching right here in Portland. I’m so stoked.)

Anyway, these wonderful people welcomed me into their Christmas without batting an eye.

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We were all holiday misfits, far from home.

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When we had all properly worn ourselves out from an impromptu holiday snowball fight, I found myself drawn to the one comfortable room in any house — the kitchen (obviously). One of the housemates was a fellow Le Cordon Bleu student from the Dallas campus, who kept us all fed with hearty omlettes in the morning, dusted liberally with cayenne and brimming with golden bacon lardons and sauteed mushrooms.

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He also made hash browns so lovely and golden they kept the crew full all day. Luckily, I was recruited to help prep chicken breasts for Christmas dinner, which allowed me the ease of community that can only be found in the kitchen, and helping cook Christmas dinner gave my otherwise idle hands something to do.

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Our Christmas dinner was delicious, the warmth of the table pulling us all out of our uncertain shells as we ate massive stuffed chicken breasts and mashed potatoes that were more likely half butter than actual potato.

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It felt a little like we became a family in that moment, everyone pitching in a little to set the table, fetch groceries, cook the meal, clean the dishes, make dessert, brew coffee.

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Granted, I hardly knew these people. But we were brought together to celebrate the season, tied together in gratitude over our shared meals and seemingly endless pots of coffee. (What else could be expected from Portlanders on holiday?)

Everything was brought to the core, the simplest reason for the season. Yes, holidays are about being with family and friends and the ones we love. But at the end of the day, isn’t Christmas the simplest, sweetest celebration of our Lord and Savior’s birth? Aren’t we supposed to join over a meal– no matter who with– and take a moment to just be overwhelmed at this incredible, miraculous moment that we still celebrate hundreds and hundreds of years later?

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Our nice wine glasses were filled with eggnog or apple juice. Dessert was a rich cookie/brownie baked good that combined chocolate chip cookies, Oreos and brownies in one sinfully sugary bite.

It was, without a doubt, one of my more memorable Christmases.

Yes, I was surrounded by people other than my near and dear family. But these people became family, too, all held together by the miracle of Christmas. And it was a beautiful thing.

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Here’s hoping your holiday was warm and welcome as well. Keep an eye out for my New Years party recipes… definitely working on some 2016 kitchen magic on this side of the internet!

In The Land of Sweets (And The Easiest Fudge)

If I grew up in a candy-less childhood, Christmas was the exception to the rule.

There was always a dish of M&M’s in my grandmother’s kitchen, the candies rolling around like smooth, festive stones, easily sneaked into pockets and enjoyed away from the adult’s prying stares. I commonly munched on them hiding behind the Christmas tree, feeling as though no one could see me.

(Everyone could. I know that now.)

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I also have terribly fond memories of sitting in a little wooden shack over thick ice, one hand dangling a fishing line down a hole, the other clutching a hot tin cup of watery hot chocolate. When I could bear no more hot chocolate, I would fill in the cracks with more Christmas M&M’s, usually the kind stuffed into a candy cane-shaped tube and frequently filled with peanuts.

Holiday M&M’s became my go-to handful of cheer.

Once I was old enough to cook on my own, my mother enlisted my help bringing dishes to Christmas parties.

I always, always made peanut butter cups and microwave fudge. And because our family friends were so nice, they’d never comment on my grainy fudge or disproportionate chocolate distribution.

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When I grew up, I discovered microwave fudge is still the best way to bring a full plate to a party. And I have perfected the recipe.

This recipe is a dream to work with. It takes fifteen minutes and three ingredients and will blow minds with its smooth, creamy texture.

No more poring over old Betty Crocker cookbooks insisting the need for a candy thermometer. No more wandering thoughts of what on earth is soft-ball stage?

Ready?

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Easy, Old-Fashioned Fudge

Ingredients:

2 1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips

1 small can sweetened condensed milk

4 T butter IMG_8790

Directions:

  1. In a (large) microwave-safe bowl, combine all ingredients.
  2. Heat on high for 45 seconds. Remove, stir and microwave another 45 seconds.
  3. Continue to stir in intervals until all ingredients are melted. Don’t be afraid to stir heavily — it may look like chocolate isn’t coming IMG_8794together cohesively, but it will be smooth and glossy, almost pudding-like in texture. (If strange chunks have appeared or the chocolate is grainy, it means you’ve scalded the chocolate — it can’t really be fixed, just strained out.)
  4. Spread into a greased pan and refrigerate until set, 10 to 20 minutes.
  5. If desired, stud with candy cane pieces, M&M’s, nuts, sprinkles, etc. Just bear in mind nut allergies run rampant at holiday parties, so proceed with caution!

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