Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies (and other stuff): Roasted Spiced Pecans

Roasted Spiced Pecans

DAY 4: Roasted Spiced Pecans

These slightly spicy nuts are my family’s very favorite snack. I make them all year round, at least once or twice a month.

And since this is a savory treat, not a sweet one, you can feel good about dipping into these all through the holidays!

RECIPE:

Roasted Spiced Pecans

Roasted Spiced Pecans

6 cups (24oz bag) pecan halves
5 Tbs butter
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs Sriracha sauce (adjust to taste)
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
¾ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp ground mustard

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.

Place pecan halves in a large mixing bowl. Melt butter in a glass measuring cup or small bowl. Stir in remaining seasonings and mix well. Pour butter mixture over pecans and stir until pecans are well coated.

Spread pecans in an even layer on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes; stir and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes. Allow pecans to cool on the baking sheet, stirring occasionally as they cool. Store in an airtight container.

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Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Cinnamon Brown Sugar Blondies

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Squares 1

DAY 3: Cinnamon Brown Sugar Blondies

These bar cookies are as simple as they come: One Bowl, No Mixer Needed, No Waiting for Butter to Soften, No Last Minute Trip to the Store for Ingredients, No Scooping Multiple Batches of Cookie Dough, No Waiting by the Oven to Switch Baking Sheets

And they are super good: like snickerdoodles, but without all of the work.

Some days it is just all about simple.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Squares 2

RECIPE:

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Squares 1

Cinnamon Brown Sugar Blondies

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
Cinnamon Sugar: 1 Tbs sugar + 2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 8” square baking pans (or spray with Baking Pam).

Melt butter in a large bowl in the microwave. Use a wooden spoon or curved spatula to stir sugars into melted butter until incorporated. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Spread the batter into the prepared baking pans. Sprinkle with Cinnamon Sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes before baking.

Bake at 350°F for 26-28 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely and then cut into squares.

Makes 32 squares

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Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies (Egg Free)

Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies

DAY 2: Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are soft and chewy, and egg-free for those with allergies. I like to keep them on hand for my daughter’s friend who has an egg allergy (if I can keep other hands out of the container!).

Here are some other egg-free cookie recipes:

RECIPE:

Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies (egg-free)
(recipe adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups  chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

In a mixing  bowl, cream together the cream cheese, melted butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients and then mix into the butter mixture. Add the chocolate chips and mix well.

Roll the dough into 1 to 1 ½-inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until the edges are just barely golden brown. Cool for 2-3 minutes on the baking sheet and then move to a cooling rack.

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9th Annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Almond Toffee Sandies

Almond Toffee Sandies 3

Welcome to December and No Empty Chairs’ 9th Annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies Celebration! Twelve more days – Twelve more cookies.

DAY 1: Almond Toffee Sandies

Similar to Pecan Sandies, but with the sweet, crunchy addition of caramel toffee bits. A new family favorite!

Almond Toffee Sandies 1

Sharing cookies and treats is one of my favorite ways to show love during the Christmas season. Another great tool to find ways to love and serve is this Light the World campaign.

Need some inspiration on ways to Light the World? This 25 Ways, Over 25 Days calendar gives great inspiration from the ultimate source of light, whose birth we celebrate. Click through for ideas on how to apply the Savior’s teachings this Christmas season:

 

Image result for light the world calendar jpg

RECIPE:

Almond Toffee Sandies 2

Almond Toffee Sandies
       (adapted from Taste of Home)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mild flavored olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
4 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt **
1 tsp cream of tartar
2 cups coarsely chopped whole roasted almonds
1 package (about 8 oz) toffee bits

(**reduce salt in recipe if using salted almonds)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Gradually beat in oil and vanilla and almond extracts.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt””, and cream of tartar. Mix into the butter mixture gradually. Add chopped almonds and toffee bits and mix well.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 12-13 minutes, until bottom of cookies just begin to brown. Cool on wire racks.

Makes about 7 dozen small cookies

Light the World Image

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Instant Pot Chipotle Black Beans

Chipotle Black Beans 2

For my birthday a few weeks ago, I received an Instant Pot pressure cooker. True confession: I bought the Instant Pot when it was on sale over the summer, hid it in my closet, and gave it to my husband to give to me on my birthday. Gift-giving often works out best for us this way.

I am still  in the pressure cooker learning phase, but I have made a few things that my family really loves. These spicy black beans have definitely become a family staple. In the last 5 weeks, I have made them 3 times, and everyone cheers to see them on the table again. I never expected such a great reaction to a bean side dish!

Chipotle Black Beans 1

These beans are flavored with chipotle peppers and various smoky spices. We like them on the spicy side, but if you want a little less heat, just scale back on the chipotles.

These beans (and yogurt making) have totally made the Instant Pot worth it. I love being able to start with dried beans and have a delicious dish in a little more than an hour. And No Soaking! No need to plan the night before. The total prep time for this recipe is less than 5 minutes (or as long as it takes you to chop an onion and measure some spices).

Maybe we will actually be able to eat our way through all of the dried beans in our basement now.

I also made these once using dried pinto beans, and they were delicious too.

RECIPE:

Chipotle Black Beans 2

Instant Pot Chipotle Black Beans

1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
1 quart chicken broth
1 can mild diced green chiles, undrained
1 lb dried black beans**
2 canned chipotle peppers, finely chopped plus 2-3 Tbs adobo sauce
*adjust for desired spiciness

Chopped Cilantro, for garnish

Set the Instant Pot to Sauté. Add the oil, chopped onion, and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes with the lid off. Stir in dry seasonings and cook for 1 additional minute.

Add broth, green chiles, black beans, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce.

Press Cancel to reset. Place the lid on the pot, with the valve in the “Sealing” position. Press the Bean/Chili button (or Manual, high pressure) and set the time for 40 minutes. After the beans cook, let the pressure release naturally (about 30-40 minutes).

Remove lid and stir beans. Remove bay leaf. Taste and add additional salt, if necessary. If beans are soupy, use a slotted spoon to serve. Beans will thicken with time. Garnish with cilantro.

Total Cook Time: about 90 minutes

**you can also use small dried white beans or pinto beans

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Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Always a family favorite, this stir-fry comes together quickly for a last minute dinner.

Because the dried peppers are left whole in this recipe, it is not spicy. If you like a little more heat, simply cut up the peppers on your plate and eat them along with the stir-fry.

Szechuan peppercorns and Chinese black vinegar can be found in Asian markets or online. The peppercorns usually come whole. You can use any pepper mill/grinder to crush them. You can also use a small coffee grinder to grind the peppercorns.

RECIPE:

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

3 chicken breasts, diced
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs sherry
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns

2 Tbs oil
8-10 dried small red chilis (Arbols)
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
½ cup roasted peanuts
1 bunch green onions, sliced diagonally into 1 ½” pieces

Sauce:
1/3 cup chicken broth
3 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs sherry
1 Tbs Chinese black vinegar or rice vinegar
1 ½ Tbs cornstarch
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs sesame oil

Combine chicken with 2 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs sherry, ginger, garlic, and ground peppercorns. Marinate 1 hour.

Combine sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat 1 Tbs oil in large skillet or wok over high heat. Add whole dried chilis to hot oil and cook until they just begin to blacken. Remove chilis from oil and place in serving dish. Add vegetables to the hot oil in pan and cook over high heat until crisp-tender. Remove from pan and place in serving dish. Add additional 1 Tbs oil to pan. Add chicken to pan and cook over high heat until chicken is cooked through. Reduce heat to medium, add sauce to pan, and cook until thickened (2-3 mins). Stir in peanuts, green onions, vegetables and chilis. Heat for 1 minute.

Serve over rice.

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Ratatouille

Ratatouille 1

The transition from fall to summer is my very favorite time of the year. I love the cool mornings and sunny (but not humid) days. It is the perfect time for making my favorite comfort food: Ratatouille. Like all good comfort foods, it is warm and filling and permeates your house with delicious smells as it cooks low and slow on the stove. And during this change of seasons, I love that I can still get great fresh garden vegetables and herbs to use in this recipe.

Ratatouille is not always the most visually appealing dish, but is bursting with flavor. It is full of hearty vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, red peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and lots of fresh herbs Then cooked down on the stove until the flavors blend and meld into the most delicious vegetable stew. Eating healthy has never tasted better!

Ratatouille 2

This is Little A’s very favorite side dish. His face just lights up when he smells it as he comes into the house. All of the kids love it except for Little J (but she hardly counts as she turns her nose up to EVERY vegetable in this dish).

Ratatouille makes a perfect side dish to grilled or roasted meats. I love to serve it this time of year, when we still like to grill chicken, pork, or other things outside. Grilled meat is wonderful, but also begs for something juicy to eat with it. Ratatouille fits that bill perfectly. It is also great later in the winter with a roasted pork tenderloin, roast chicken, or beef roast.

This recipe makes a good-sized pot of ratatouille. You could always scale it back if you don’t want to make that much, but I love to have leftovers of this dish. It makes a perfect lunch all on its own the next day. Or as a sauce for pasta for an easy meal later in the week.

I never measure things when I make this recipe. It is very flexible based on your personal tastes. Below is a good approximation of the amounts that I use.

RECIPE:

Ratatouille 2

Ratatouille

½ cup olive oil
1 large eggplant, skin on, diced
2 onions, chopped
1 red/orange/yellow pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 zucchini and/or yellow squash, sliced and quartered
1 tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
3 cups chopped tomatoes
½ tsp Tabasco sauce (adjust to taste)
3 Tbs chopped fresh basil*
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley*
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme*
1 Tbs chopped fresh oregano*

Heat olive oil in a large saucepot. Add eggplant to the hot oil and cook until eggplant begins to soften. Add onions, red pepper and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add zucchini, salt, pepper, and dried herbs; cook for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Add chopped tomatoes and Tabasco sauce and cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, until mixture is cooked down and thickened (30-40 minutes). Stir in fresh herbs during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Taste and add additional salt, if necessary.

*Or substitute an additional 2-3 tsp dried Italian seasoning for the fresh herbs

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Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes

(and a gender reveal–NO, not mine)

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 13

I first made these chocolate butterfly cupcakes for my sweet Little J’s 6th birthday. I was feeling very nostalgic about having my last baby in kindergarten and we had a super fun cooking party with a few of her friends. It is (by far) my favorite kids’ birthday party that I’ve hosted. I still get a little bit weepy just thinking about it. If you like a good sentimental cry, you can read about it HERE.

Then last month, a friend asked if I could make some gender reveal cupcakes to announce the sex of their upcoming new baby to their other four children. While I am perfectly content with the 5 children I already have and have no desire to start again with another one (5 years and counting until we are empty nesters!), celebrating with other new moms always makes me reflect on my own babies that are not babies any more.

So I happily agreed, and immediately knew that I wanted to make these butterflies again, for my friend and her family who are welcoming a new life into their family, and for me to reminisce about my own little ones and the joy it has been parenting them. And having my Little J (who isn’t so little anymore) help me make the butterflies and cupcakes was a really great experience.

And because writing this is making me feel nostalgic all over again (and this is my blog so I get to indulge my wistful feelings as much as I want), here is my Little J, then and now:

Little J 2010 2017-09-13 15.54.09

Enough about me and my maudlin ramblings; you really just want to hear about the cupcakes. For my friend, I made my favorite dark chocolate cupcakes. They are tender and moist and absolutely delicious. It also doesn’t hurt that they are easy to make. They start with a cake mix, but the addition of pudding and sour cream takes them well beyond your average chocolate cupcake.

For the “gender reveal”, I cut out a section of the top of each cupcake and filled it with a blue filling (It’s a Boy!!). For the filling, I mixed the white frosting with some of the leftover blue candy melts from the butterflies and piped it into the cut-out centers.

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 9

The frosting I used is a cooked vanilla frosting. It is not as sweet as a traditional buttercream, but is light and fluffy and delicious. I tinted the frosting with pink and blue food coloring to make a striped frosting.

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 10

To create the two-toned look, use a paintbrush and food coloring to paint stripes onto the inside of a pastry bag. (Credit to my hand model Little J!) Carefully spoon white frosting into the bag. Before frosting the cupcakes, squeeze out a small amount of frosting until the color begins to show in the frosting. I used a 1M tip to pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes.

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 11

Now on to the butterflies. Full disclosure: these are time consuming. But they are not particularly difficult. Just be prepared to spend several hours making them if you plan to make a lot.

Items needed:
chocolate and colored candy melts, stencil printed on paper, waxed paper, toothpicks, foil, pastry bags (one for each color), one writing piping tip, small round sprinkles. Optional: heating pad

Draw your desired butterfly wing shape onto a sheet of white paper using a permanent marker. Cut pieces of waxed paper (one for each set of wings you are making) large enough to cover the stencil. You can also draw a set of antennae if desired (see example HERE).

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 1

Place a small amount of colored and chocolate melting disks into separate pastry bags or Ziploc bags. Melt in microwave—Start with 30 seconds, squish bags, then add an additional 10 seconds if not completely melted.

To keep the chocolate melted while making dozens of wings, I placed a piece of plastic wrap over a heating pad and set the bags on the heating pad while they weren’t being used.

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 4

I used a writing tip to pipe the chocolate, but I just cut off a small end of the bag to squeeze out the melted colored candy.

Place a small square of waxed paper over your stencil paper. Use the melted chocolate to trace around the edge of one wing at a time.

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 2

While the chocolate outline is still wet, squeeze a small amount of colored chocolate into the center of each wing section. I used pink in the top section and blue in the bottom section. Use a toothpick to spread colored chocolate to fill the wing. Use a toothpick to gently swirl chocolate edges and colored chocolate. Sprinkle edges of wings with round sprinkles, if desired.

Work with just one wing at a time. The chocolate hardens quickly!

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 3

Let the wings harden completely before assembling butterflies.

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 6

To make the body and assemble the butterflies, fold a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil in half and then into a v-shape with a flat bottom (about 1/2” wide).

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 16

Using the melted chocolate (remove the writing tip), pipe a body onto a separate piece of waxed paper (or directly onto the bottom section of the folded foil). Make little dollops of chocolate, being sure that they touch.

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 15

Place segmented body (before it hardens) into the folded foil and place the wings at an angle into the still soft chocolate body. Prop them up underneath if the foil doesn’t hold them. (Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of this step)

Don’t use your fingers to support the wings while the body dries: the chocolate will melt in your fingers and ruin the wings.

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 7

 

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 8

Gently press a butterfly onto the top of each frosted cupcake.

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 13

Did you know that a group of butterflies is called a “Kaleidoscope.” What a perfect description of these butterflies! Whatever they are officially called, your family will call them beautiful and delicious!

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 14

 

RECIPES:

Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 11  Chocolate Butterfly Cupcakes 12

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

1 box dark chocolate fudge cake mix
1 small box (3.9 oz) instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
½ cup warm water

Preheat oven to 350°F . Place cupcake liners in muffin tins.

In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients and beat with a mixer for 2 minutes.

Fill cupcake liners just over halfway. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Makes 30-36 cupcakes.

 

Cooked Vanilla Frosting

2 cups whole milk
10 Tbs flour
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups butter
2 cups granulated sugar (do not use powdered sugar)
Optional: gel food coloring

In a small saucepan, mix the flour and milk until no lumps remain. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until mixture thickens (and is just about to boil). Remove from heat and let it cool completely to room temperature.  Stir in vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl (a stand mixer works best for this) cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the cooled milk mixture and beat for 5-7 minutes, until frosting is light, fluffy and completely uniform throughout. Beat in food coloring, if desired.

This frosting looks best when piped with a large decorating tip, but can also be spread with a spatula.

Yield: frosting for 24-36 cupcakes

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Mango Sticky Rice

Mango Sticky Rice 1

Mango Sticky Rice may be the primary reason my kids love eating at Thai restaurants. They also love the curries, stir-fries and satays, but this simple dessert definitely tops the list.

Making this at home may not be as much fun as a night out for dinner, but it sure saves the pocketbook! And with this recipe, there is always lots to go around, so there is no fighting for the last bite.

The two main types of mangoes you find here in the US are Haden and Ataulfo. The orange/red/green Haden mangoes are the most common, but the smaller yellow Ataulfo mangoes are my favorite. They are very sweet and have fewer strings than the larger Hadens.

Haden Mango     Ataulfo Mango

For a complete Thai dinner experience, try one of these curries as an entrée before your Mango Sticky Rice:

Thai Green CurryThai Green Curry

Thai Pumpkin Curry
Thai Pumpkin Curry

Thai Red Curry
Thai Red Curry

 

Mango Sticky Rice 2

RECIPE:

Mango Sticky Rice 1

Mango Sticky Rice

1 cup short grain white rice
1 ½ cups unsweetened refrigerated coconut milk (or use water)
1 can coconut milk (do not use lite; do not shake can)
6 Tbs sugar, divided
1 tsp salt, divided
3 ripe mangoes, chilled

Combine rice and 1 ½ cups refrigerated coconut milk or water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, or until rice is cooked.  Alternately, cook rice with coconut milk in a rice cooker.

Carefully open the can of coconut milk and scoop out the thick coconut cream from the top of the can. Set cream aside in a small bowl. Pour the thinner coconut milk from the bottom of the can into a small saucepan. Stir in 4 Tbs sugar and ¾ tsp salt. Heat over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, but do not boil. Remove from heat and slowly stir the hot sweetened coconut sauce into the rice in the pan. Cover and let sit for an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place the thick coconut cream in a small saucepan. Stir in 2 Tbs sugar and ¼ tsp salt. Cook over low heat until cream melts and sugar dissolves. Do not boil.

Slice chilled mangoes.

Place ½ cup of the warm cooked, sweetened rice onto each serving plate. Top with about ½ of a chilled, sliced mango. Drizzle with sweetened coconut cream. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings

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Homemade Marshmallow Fluff

Strawberries and Toasted Marshmallow Fluff

When you have a  kid that hates chocolate, you have to get creative with your campfire treats.

Dipping fresh strawberries in homemade marshmallow fluff and toasting them over the fire on a roasting stick sure makes up for not liking the s’mores that everyone else is eating.

In fact, you may have to guard your fruit ‘n fluff from the s’mores eaters who think they are the ones getting the short end of the roasting stick!

Marshmallow Fluff

Marshmallow fluff is easy to make yourself, but does require a candy thermometer. It is so much better than the stuff you buy in a jar! And toasting it makes it even more delicious. You can coat most fruits with the fluff for toasting. Try things like strawberries, fresh pineapple, mangos, bananas, mandarin orange segments, kiwi fruit. Or even chunks of pound cake.

Another benefit: you can swap out the vanilla extract with something more exotic, like lemon, coconut, orange, or almond extract to give your fluff a fun new flavor. Mango chunks dipped in coconut flavored fluff = YUM!

We may have even been known to make this in the winter, toasting our fluff-coated-fruit over sterno cans.

RECIPE:

Strawberries and Toasted Marshmallow Fluff

Homemade Marshmallow Fluff

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup (9 oz) light corn syrup
1/3 cup water
Pinch of salt
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (or other flavored extract: lemon, orange, almond, coconut)

Mix 3/4 cup sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Use a spatula to scrape edges of pan as it cooks. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue to cook until mixture registers 240°F on the thermometer. Remove from heat.

While sugar mixture is cooking, place egg whites and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl (a stand mixer works best). Beat until egg whites are foamy. Slowly add 2 Tbs sugar and continue to beat until soft peaks form.

Turn mixer onto low speed and slowly pour the hot syrup into the mixing bowl. Once all of the syrup has been mixed in, increase mixer speed and beat for 3-5 minutes, or until mixture forms stiff peaks. Add vanilla (or other flavored extract) and beat for an additional minute.

Store marshmallow fluff in the refrigerator.

FOR TOASTED FLUFF-COVERED FRUIT:

Dip fruit (strawberries, fresh pineapple, mangos, bananas, mandarin orange segments, kiwi fruit, etc) in the marshmallow fluff. Place on a roasting stick and cook over an open flame until lightly toasted.

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