Friday, December 14, 2012

Blog Swap - Meet Ana from the Suburban Peasant

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Ana from The Suburban Peasant. I first heard of Ana from a close family friend and have been following her blog ever since. Her Croatian background and Windsor birthplace have found a special place in my blogging heart. She cooks and bakes with passion and always treats her readers to great aromas from her childhood and new adventures as a young married woman.

Chocolate Coconut Chocolate Bar Hostess Gift

Is it just me, or has Christmas snuck up on us this year?  You know that gnawing feeling where you feel that everyone's prepared for the busiest time of year, except you?  Ya, well I have that.  In reality, I'm not doing too badly but I'm not going to lie, all those early holiday shoppers, Christmas commercials, flyers, TV shows and carols have got me sweating a bit.  I think it's because I've been bombarded with Christmas since the day after Halloween, but we're now in December and it's officially time to get into the Christmas preparations.

Everyone has their to-do list when it comes to getting ready for Christmas.  Most of us have shopping somewhere on our list, maybe you bake, clean your house from top to bottom or make cabbage rolls (like me).   My to-do list goes something like this.  Number one, decorate, number two write Christmas cards, number three, make hostess gifts (I'll get to that later), number four bake and number five, make cabbage rolls.  Decorating is a given and definitely my favourite item on the list.  We always head out to a Christmas tree farm to cut down our tree, one that is so big it grazes the ceiling and is almost impossible to circle around in its little alcove.  This is usually followed by a night of Christmas tree trimming with two of my home boys singing in the background; my Canadian home boy Michael Bublé belting out Christmas carols, and my Croatian home boy Kičo singing Croatian "Jingle Bells".  Any Croat knows it just isn't Christmas without Kičo.  Then we wrap up the night with a big bowl of roasted chestnuts and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

My husband and I began this tradition five years ago when I first moved away from home.  It was my first Christmas in my shady little apartment.  We bought one of those fresh Christmas trees at Ikea; the ones that cost $20 and then they give you $20 to spend in store - can't go wrong with that deal! We had to sneak the tree into my building, as real trees were not allowed and we began to decorate.  Nick would pass me the dollar store ornaments as I placed them on the tree, sipping wine, eating pizza and singing Christmas songs.  We got down to the last couple of ornaments and I began to tidy up, when Nick tells me he has one more for the tree.  Ho goes inside his bag and pulls out this large glass ornament and holds it out in front of me.  I was charmed by the gesture, as he thought of buying a special ornament for my first tree.  I take it and begin to thank him for the beautiful ornament.  When I reach for it I hear something clinking around inside it, and as I peer in closer to see what it is, something sparkly catches my eye.  In the centre of the bulb, tied with a fishing line was an engagement ring, dangling in the centre.  When I finally begin to register what is going on, I saw Nick lowering himself to one knee.  He said a few words that were barely audible because I was in such shock and full of giggles.  And the rest as they say, is history!

My first Christmas tree away from home, with my special ornament. To this day, it's still the last ornament we place on the tree.

Creating family traditions is what makes Christmas really feel special.  Whether it's the meals you share, going to mass as a family, or baking Christmas cookies, I find it's the things we carry on year after year that really highlight this time of year.  One of the traditions I began a few years ago is one that my family and friends now look forward to and that is my homemade hostess gifts.  Every year I make a homemade treat, whether it's biscotti, spiced nuts or truffles, package them in pretty little containers and wrap up with festive bows and ornaments to give to family and friends when visiting over the holidays. 


This year I am keeping with tradition but making a new treat, chocolate coconut bars.  I came across this recipe in a Canadian House and Home magazine last year.  It automatically drew me in because number one, Bounty bars are one of my favourite chocolate bars, two they are easy to make (no baking required, bonus) three, the ingredient list is quite simple and four, your treats should keep well - you don't want to prepare something that needs to be consumed right away.  The last three points are important when making hostess gifts.  You will be making these en mass, so you will need to buy large quantities of ingredients and spend some time making them.  And you don't want to bog yourself down with complicated recipes that you will have to replicate for a dozen or so hostess gifts.

As when preparing anything, presentation is always key so I like to spend some time considering how I will present this gift.  I like the vessel I pack the treats in to be part of the gift as well, something that can be used again and again.  Decorative jars, tins, bowls or oversized mugs are always a nice choice.  Wrapping them in gift bags, cellophane and/or pretty bows really pulls the whole look together and finally, adding a personalized greeting with a label or small card, coupled with a unique ornament adds a tailored touch.


Making your own hostess gifts is a wonderful gift to be shared at Christmas.  We're always visiting friends and family and it's nice to have something to bring with you, to thank them for their hospitality.  I usually make 14 or 15 each year and share them not only with friends and family, but our paper carrier, neighbours and being a teacher, I know I'd love to get one of these from my students!  It's much more personal than a box of Turtles and in my opinion, they always taste better too because they come from the heart.

Chocolate Coconut Bar Hostess Gifts
Some prior organization and planning will be required to prepare these gifts, especially if you're going to be making a dozen or more.  The recipe below makes about 30 bars.  Each gift has 10 bars, so before beginning, I knew I had to make at least 150.  You will want to go out and buy everything before hand, so once you get started you can get yourself into assembly line mode and start pumping them out!  This recipe can be multiplied nicely so, making double or triple batches is easy.
Don't use chocolate chips for this recipe.  These are meant to stay whole and soft in whatever you bake them in.  You want the chocolate to melt and become hard again, so chocolate chips are a no-no.  Ensure that you're chocolate is cut up into small pieces to melt quickly.  When choosing chocolate, you want to choose the best you can afford.  Pure Belgian dark chocolate (70%) or more is the best; however, if you're going to be making a lot of bars, it may not be the most economical.  A good option is to go to your local bulk food store and find the mid-quality brand.  But if you're looking for the best tasting and money isn't an option, then Belgian chocolate is where it's at.
Melting chocolate may seem easy, but if you do not temper the chocolate there is a very good chance that the chocolate will split and you won't get the hard shell you're looking for.  The chocolate shell is important, because the coconut is quite soft and the entire bar will fall apart without the chocolate coating.  I have included very detailed directions on how to temper chocolate here.  If you have a candy thermometer at home, I suggest you try it, if not don't sweat.  Just follow the important steps I outlined in the recipe below.
The jars and ornaments are from Ikea and the ribbon and labels are from Michaels.
Recipe adapted from “Chocolate Coconut Bars”, Canadian House and Home Magazine
Makes roughly 30 bars

7 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
60 toasted almonds
1 kg of dark chocolate, cut up into small pieces

In an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, roast almonds on a baking sheet, in a single layer.  When you begin to smell the almonds roasting, flip then once and continue to roast for another 3 or 4 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

In a large bowl thoroughly combine the shredded coconut, condensed milk and cinnamon with a wooden spoon.  Chill in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes to stiffen.  When cool, remove from fridge and begin shaping small bars by making quenelles with two tablespoons, then press down to flatten.  You can also shape the bars using your hands, but I find this technique keeps your hand sticky-free and makes a more uniform bar.    Place the bars on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper.  Once you have used up all of the coconut, gently press in two of the roasted almonds on top of the bars.  Freeze the bars for at least 3 hours, but overnight would be best.  (Tip:  It's better to freeze these in your regular freezer, not you chest or deep freezer.  The gentler freezing of a deep freezer, that makes long-term freezing ideal in these appliances, just doesn't get the bars hard enough.  You want the bars to be as close to frozen solid as possible, or else they will fall apart in the melted chocolate).
Keep the bars in the freezer while you are preparing the chocolate.  Begin by melting 2/3 of the chocolate in a glass or stainless steel bowl, set over a pot of lightly simmering water.  Be careful not to add any moisture to the chocolate as it is melting.  This will cause the chocolate to seize and once it seizes, there's no fixing it.  As soon as the chocolate melts, remove the bowl from the pot and add in the remaining third of chocolate.  The chocolate will melt from the residual heat of the melted chocolate.  This is called seeding and it's what gives your chocolate a smooth and shiny finish.

At this point, the chocolate may be a bit thicker than ideal, as it has begun to cool.  Thin the chocolate out be reheating it over the pot of simmering water.  You can now begin dipping your bars into the chocolate.  If at any time the chocolate gets too thick, simply reheat it over the pot of water.  Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a fork, carefully immerse the bars into the melted chocolate, keeping it on the fork, cover the bar fully.  Lift the fork and bar out of the chocolate and let any excess chocolate drip away.  Scrape any remaining chocolate from the bottom against the edge of the bowl and set to cool on the parchment paper.  Repeat until all of the bars have been coated in chocolate.

If you are planning to assemble the gifts the same day, refrigerate the chocolate coconut bars for at least 2 hours.  If you are planning to assemble them later you can freeze them or refrigerate them until you are ready.  To assemble, place each bar in a muffin cup.  Stretch the muffin cup so that it will fit the length of the bar.  Place them in a decorative jar or box and wrap with a bow, cellophane or place in a gift bag.  Add a personalized label or gift card and a Christmas ornament to complete the package.

Thank you for your time Ana and the great recipe. To check out what I'm wearing head to The Suburban Peasant.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog! im following now with GFC and bloglovin! :)
    Please follow me back!