Tag Archives: DIY Christmas gift

DIY Better Than Starbucks Hot Chocolate

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”  (which means, God with us).
Matthew 1:23

My husband regularly receives Starbucks cards as gifts from friends and family. On a recent trip to New York he and our friend Russ were on a grocery run. A grocery “run” in Manhattan means just that. They head out on foot, rain or shine, and make the 3 block walk to the grocery store. They buy just the amount of groceries they can carry back home. This particular day it was cold, windy, and a little rainy. They stopped at the corner Starbucks for something warm. My chocolate-loving sweetheart ordered hot chocolate. When he arrived back to Hephzibah House where we were staying, he exclaimed “Starbucks hot chocolate is some of the best I’ve ever had!” I thought this must be pretty special hot chocolate since he KNOWS his chocolate!

After arriving back in Tennessee, armed with a newly gifted Starbucks card, he headed to Starbucks to purchase a can of their hot chocolate to enjoy in the comfort of home. Sadly, there was no hot chocolate to be found among all the stocking stuffers and Christmas-blend coffee.

Not to be discouraged from his quest for Starbucks Hot Chocolate we made a stop at the corner Starbucks in a town a few miles down the road where my sous-chef dish-washing mom had an appointment. We were quickly told by the clerk stocking the ample supply of coffee mugs that Starbucks “decided not to stock the Hot Chocolate in their stores. But, we could buy it online!”

 Ah, I did feel sorry for my chocolate-loving husband and I suggested he just use his gift card to buy a hot chocolate to drink there, since we had driven 30 miles to get there and all. “No thanks” he quietly said. He was out of the mood. He slipped his gifted Starbucks card back into his wallet and headed for the door.  I won’t go so far as to say he was pouting …

On the way back home I did what I usually do in the car and that is to read up on some of my favorite blog posts. When what to my startling eyes did appear “Easy Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix” posted by the Brown Eyed Baker. The recipe came from Cooks Illustrated. That is when the idea popped into my head that I could make better than Starbucks hot chocolate.

I started with the basic recipe as created by Cooks Illustrated and posted by the Brown Eyed Baker. But my hot chocolate mix has to extraordinary. It has to be so rich and creamy my chocolate-loving husband will say, “now this is better than Starbucks!”

I changed two ingredients to make that happen. I used half dark chocolate cocoa and semi-sweet chocolate bakers bar.


The result – “Babe! This is better than Starbucks hot chocolate!”

End of story.

Happy Baking,

P.S.  What a fabulous and easy Christmas gift this makes!

DIY Better Than Starbucks Hot Chocolate
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A decadent and delicious hot chocolate perfect for gift giving!
Recipe type: Hot Drink
Serves: 12 servings
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chunked or chopped
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • ½ cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Process all of the ingredients in a food processor until ground to a powder, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 2 months.
  2. To Make Hot Chocolate: Heat 1 cup of milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until it starts to steam and bubbles appear around the edge of the saucepan. Add ¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) of the hot chocolate mix and continue to heat, whisking constantly, until simmering, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Pour into a mug and serve. Marshmallows and whip cream optional but wonderful.
(Recipe adapated from Cook's Illustrated via The Brown Eyed Baker)


DIY Homemade Vanilla – UPDATE and More!

Vanilla clear bottle
Internet problems have kept me from blogging lately.  But this morning it looks like I have a little window of opportunity and I couldn’t be happier about it!

Speaking of happy — do you ever have one of those days when your heart is just happy!  That is how I felt yesterday.  I started out the day taking my sous chef dish-washing mom into town for early voting.

The Chief and I voted earlier this i-votedweek but mom wasn’t with us at that time.  It is such a privilege to live in the United States of America and voting goes along with that privilege.  So this is a gentle reminder that Election Day is coming up in less than two weeks and most counties offer early voting until the end of next week.

After that we made a quick stop at the little grocery store in town.  It isn’t a Walmart Superstore, a big ‘ol Kroger, or even a Food Lion.  It is a small locally owned grocery store with a lunch counter.  It is busy all the time.  We picked up a few items and headed home.  Did I mention it was absolutely a beautiful autumn day?

scarecrow fall table
Fall is the favorite time at our home.  Not too cold, not too hot.  Just perfect.  Mom and I love getting out the fall decorations.  This little scarecrow looks like he is in the land of giant salt and pepper shakers!

Fall table
We were having a going-away dinner for a friend recently and I needed 12 dinner plates to set the table.  Our fallish-green dishes began as 12 place settings but through natural attrition (breakage!) we are down to 9.  On a stop through the dollar store for some balloons I saw these perfectly bronzed fall dinner plates.  $1 each.  What a great find.  I used 6 green plates and 6 new fall plates.

fall table setting
It was a lot of fun setting this table for 12 and the best part – we have used the 6 dinner plates over and over this fall.  All for $6!

Okay back to the kitchen …   I spent the next 3 1/2 hours in the kitchen.  It was during that time I noticed that my heart just felt so happy!  The Chief had just ground fresh wheat flour from the bucket of wheat berries we bought some time ago.  He brought 10 cups in and set them on the counter.  BREAD!  Soon I will post my new favorite whole wheat bread recipe. In the meantime you can find a wheat bread recipe here.  Oh my gosh it produces fantastic all-wheat bread!

Pasta-and-Fagioli-Soup-from-Our-Best-Bites-590x393Earlier in the morning I had read this blog post from Our Best Bites. My sous chef dish-washing mom absolutely adores Olive Garden’s Pasta E Fagioli soup. So, part of my heart-happy day was making a big pot of soup for her (and us) for our  dinner.   I found it necessary to change up the recipe a bit and will tell you about that soon!

vanilla box prettyOh, and finally about the homemade vanilla.  Wow, so many of you are making this for Christmas gifts.  Way to go!  I have received several questions via email and while answering one from my friend Cheryl, it dawned on mevanilla beans that I didn’t suggest that you use GLOVES when handling the vanilla beans.  I always keep disposable latex gloves in the kitchen for when I handle meat but they came in handy when cutting up the vanilla beans because these aromatic little beauties will stain your fingers!

That is about it from me this morning.  Hope you are having a wonderful week and here is wishing you a blessed weekend!

Happy Cooking!
~ Catherine

Wise thought for the day:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 9:10 ESV

DIY Homemade Vanilla Extract
Once you have made homemade vanilla extract you will never want to use anything else! NOTE: It is helpful to wear disposable gloves when handling the vanilla beans as they can stain your fingers.
  • 3 to 5 vanilla beans
  • 8 ounces alcohol such as vodka, bourbon, brandy, or rum
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  1. Split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces, depending on the size of the bottles you will use.
  2. Place the vanilla beans in a jar and cover with alcohol making sure they are completely submerged. Add sugar (optional).
  3. Infuse for at least 1 month. Shake the bottle and place in a cool, dark spot, shaking once or twice a week.
  4. After a month taste the extract and let it infuse longer if you want a stronger flavor.
  5. When extract is ready you may wish to remove the vanilla pods and decant the vanilla.
  6. Divide into smaller bottles. Vanilla beans can be removed or one or two pieces can be left in each bottle.
Vanilla can be made from white rum, vodka, bourbon, or brandy -- I used white rum and have been very happy with the flavoring.
Madagascar beans are my favorite, but Mexican beans or other varieties can be used, depending on the flavor you prefer.
*The sugar is optional.



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