Friday, April 18, 2014

National Animal Crackers Day!

Today is National Animal Crackers Day. I remember the unique taste of Animal Crackers during zoo and circus visits. These trips were always exciting, and animal crackers were an important part of the experience, as that was the only time I ate them. I remember the red cardboard boxes with exotic animals and the little flat strings to carry your box.

Today there are many different brands and styles of animal crackers--vegan, chocolate, chocolate covered, covered with icing and sprinkles, and even gluten-free. There's the original Barnum's Animal Crackers, and I really like Barbara's (all natural) Snackimals Double Chocolate and Snackimals Chocolate Chip.

Want to dress up your store-bought Animal Crackers today to celebrate National Animal Cracker Day? Dip the animal crackers in Chocolate:

Chocolate Dipped Animal Crackers

Melt a good dark chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water or in the microwave.
Dip animals and let cool on waxed paper.
You can either dip most of the animal (and use forks or special dipping tools) or just dip the feet as I did with the Walker Scottie Dogs with Muddy Boots. I like Trader Joe's Animal Crackers for chocolate dipping.

Want to get fancier? Healthy Happy Life (Lunchboxbunch.com) has a Chocolate-Covered Vegan Animal Cookies post with great photos and recipes.

There's even a Website devoted to Animal Crackers: www.animalcrackers.net/  There you'll find a variety of recipes for animal crackers such as Homemade Animal Crackers, Oatmeal Animal Crackers, Classic Animal Crackers, Cheese Animal Crackers, Chocolate Animal Crackers, and many others.

COCOA ANIMAL CRACKERS
Recipe adapted from AnimalCrackers.net


Ingredients:
1/3 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 Cup Organic Toasted Rolled Quick Oats
1/2 Cup Real Butter, softened
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Baking Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
3/4 Cup of Cold Whole Milk

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In Blender, mix organic toasted rolled quick oats, with flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and kosher salt.
Pulse until base mixture is completely ground up into delicate powder, and color and texture are even and consistent.
Pour mixture into mixing bowl and vigorously stir in cold whole milk and softened real butter. Stir until dough becomes stiff, adding any extra milk if you need to.
Roll animal cracker dough into ball on clean flat surface, then flatten it out into quarter inch thickness.
Using animal cracker or cookie cutters, make as many shapes as you can with the dough.
Place your finished shapes on lightly greased baking sheet. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes, or until crackers are crisp.
Cool on wire wrack for half an hour.

Want to make your own Gluten-Free Animal Crackers? Gluten free on a Shoestring has a wonderful recipe that's actually close in taste to the Barnum's Animal Crackers. Vanilla paste is the great ingredient. Which reminds me I need to do a post on vanilla!.. soon...

Waiter, there's an Animal Cracker in my soup!
Animal Crackers make a great starch for soups and stews. A few years ago, I posted a recipe for a great Chicken Mole Polano made with Animal Crackers.  Or try this recipe for White Chocolate Mole with Animal Crackers.

Want a sweet chocolate soup with Animal Crackers? O. K., this is more of a dessert. This recipe was originally found on the Hershey's Cocoa Box.

CHOCOLATE SOUP WITH ANIMAL CRACKERS

Ingredients
3/4 cups half-and-half
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp Madagascar vanilla extract
2 tsp cocoa
1 egg yolk

Directions:
Heat half-and-half. Pour into bowl, leaving about 1/4 cup in saucepan or cup.
Add sugar, vanilla, cocoa to pan and mix until it is a syrup. Add egg yolk and stir over low heat. Gradually stir in preheated half-and-half. Stir until blended and thick. Pour into bowl.
Top with animal crackers.

Here's a link to several other Cocoa Soup recipes. All go well with Animal Crackers!

Enjoy this video clip of Shirley Temple singing Animal Crackers in my Soup!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

PEEPS S'MORES!

I just love this time of year, because it's all about PEEPS! Read yesterday's post on PEEPS. Last year I posted a recipe for Matzo S'mores Cake, so being in the ecumenical spirit, I thought I'd post two easy recipes for PEEPS S'mores!

I prefer baking PEEPS S'mores in the toaster oven, but you can always microwave them. Just 10 seconds if you do, or they explode. I always use high quality chocolate... o.k. so PEEPS aren't artisan marshmallows, but I love their flavor (and sugar rush)--at least once a year! Do I earn my girl scout S'MORES badge?

1. PEEPS SMORES in the Toaster Oven (or oven)

Ingredients
PEEPS
Graham Crackers
Dark chocolate squares

Directions
Preheat toaster oven to 350°F.
Put chocolate on graham cracker, top with Peep.
Put on aluminum foil covered tray and bake 2 to 3 minutes. Watch because they can burn.
Take out of oven, add another graham cracker and squish.

II. PEEPS S'MORES in the Microwave

Ingredients
PEEPS
Dark Chocolate Squares (or Hershey's Milk Chocolate-the traditional)
Graham crackers

Directions
Put chocolate on graham cracker, add PEEP, put on microwave safe dish and zap in microwave for 10-15 seconds. Watch them.. they can explode if you leave them in too long.
Top with another graham cracker and squish.

And here's a photo of PEEPS vacationing in Bodega Bay! Rabbits beware. The Chicks might join The Birds!


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

PEEPS: A comfort Easter Confection Collection

"Are You My Mother?"
Of all my childhood Spring Confection memories, PEEPS stand out. My sister and I still buy each other PEEPS around Easter, although she rarely eats the sugary marshmallow-y creatures any more. She buys me purple rabbits; I buy her classic yellow chicks --the original PEEPS. You see where this is going? I'm a purist, but since this is a Chocolate Blog, I've made room in my Easter PEEPS inventory for Chocolate PEEPS.

Peeps are an American phenomena and an industry.  Besides online and having stores, PEEPS is featured in the Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine and many local papers with special PEEPS diorama contests. Certainly a good use for this national favorite.  I usually do a few PEEPS set ups myself every year.. Funny how the chicks and bunnies disappear after each shot!


So, PEEPS--you either love them or hate them. People do all sorts of things with Peeps, only some of which involve giving them to kids at Easter or eating them straight from the box. For me, it's the elastic quality of the "old" peeps that's fun for me--pulling them apart.
Chocolate PEEPS Bunnies off to work in the fields

Chocolate: The ultimate in the ever improving PEEPS. Chocolate-Covered PEEPS are available from the original company in both Dark and Milk chocolate. These are not the small peeps packed together in rows. No, these Chocolate Peeps come in individually wrapped packages, as well as in a three pack. Sadly, in the big ones, the cool sparkly coating of sugar is missing, and I think it would have been a nice buffer between the chocolate and marshmallow to make it stand out from the rest of the chocolate marshmallow candy. 

However, the Chocolate Dipped PEEPS do have the sugar. I love the three pack of PEEPS Chocolate Dipped Chicks (both dark and milk chocolate), as well as the Dark and Milk Chocolate PEEPS Chocolate Dipped Mousse Flavored Marshmallow Chicks!
I'm a fan of Chocolate Eggs, and PEEPS this year has a very funn individually boxed hollow milk chocolate egg with a PEEP chick inside. Maybe it's been around for awhile, but I missed it. LOL!

And, just as an aside, Jacques Torres makes fabulous chocolate, and they sell Chocolate-Covered PEEPS. Their name: Chirp'N'Dales. They are adorable. Also, Asher's Chocolates makes Milk and Dark Chocolate Dipped PEEPS.

Other great uses for PEEPS:

1. Make PEEPS S'Mores, especially with the chocolate covered ones.
2. Plop a Chocolate Covered PEEPS down in your Hot Chocolate or Coffee.
3. Decorate cakes or cupcakes with PEEPS.
4. Create Your Own Diorama.
5. Bake PEEPS in your brownies!

Want to make your own Chocolate Covered PEEPS using the original PEEPS?

1. Melt some good dark chocolate or milk chocolate (about 16 oz/depending on how many you plan to make)
2. Remove Peeps from package. I would use Chicks since they're the original, but the other shapes (rabbits, etc) work well.
3. Insert a lollipop stick into the Peep. If you're using the chicks, do it the widest way (maybe this is why they're sideways standing up in the packaged ones--and why bunnies work better). 
4. Dip the Peep into the melted chocolate. Two chocies: Either cover the entire Peep or just dip one end as you would strawberries. Be sure and let any excess drip off.
5. Put on wax paper covered plate or cookie sheet and freeze for 20 minutes. 

Question? When is a Peep, not a Peep? When it's Chocolate Covered.

Chocolate Dipped Peeps complete the flock!
 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Egg Cake: Retro Ad & Recipe

Love this Retro Advertisement and recipe from 3/30/53. "Quick Like a Bunny Make this Gay Easter Egg Cake."

This is a "Golden Yellow" Cake with Chocolate Icing. Easy and pretty. You can, of course, update the recipe to make your own yellow cake and your own icing, but the idea is there. Most kitchen and craft stores will have special pans to create an egg shape, but if you want to go retro, follow this recipe and cut the egg into shape!