Friday, December 9, 2016

Woof! Christmas week gifts and a #bookgiveaway for you!

LESLIE BUDEWITZ: Who doesn’t love a gift you can eat?

Spice blends make great gifts – consider small jars of handmade Italian Spice blend (from Killing Thyme) or herbes de Provence (from Assault & Pepper).

We were very popular the year I discovered the Spiced Glazed Nuts and Pretzel mix.

And no one said no when we handed over a bag of Cinnamon Pumpkin Seed Brittle.

Pour a cup or two in a small cellophane bag—find them in the gift wrap or housewares sections—and tie with a ribbon. Or use a ziploc and a bow.

This year’s offerings: a quartet of easy, yummy barks. (So delish, I got carried away!)

About chocolate: We're fans of Scharffen Berger, even since its acquisition by a conglomerate. It's no longer available locally, so once or twice a year, I order online.

Keep in mind that flavors may differ if your berries are sweetened with added sugar—common with commercial varieties of dried cranberries. Those sweetened with fruit juice are usually labeled “naturally sweetened.”

I’ve never hesitated to melt chocolate directly on the stove in a small, heavy pan, but it must be watched and stirred frequently; remove from the heat before the melting is finished and stir to complete the process. Other cooks use a double boiler or the microwave. I was gratified to see that Mark Bittman, author of the aptly named How to Cook Everything, says melting chocolate is easy, and recommends the saucepan method, with the microwave as an alternative.

Be aware that white chocolate scorches easily; the microwave works best. Use the real thing, not the chunks sold as candy coating. White chocolate can clump; the trick of adding oil helps ensure smoothness.

Recipes often say to refrigerate to cool. To me, that gives the chocolate a fragility and a bitterness I don’t care for. And if the chocolate is melted with butter, it can separate. Then again, I live in a cold climate and tend to make barks and fudge only in the holiday season, so I can get away with cooling the pans—which doesn’t take long anyway—in the laundry room! (Mr. Right called it my Bark-o-Lounger.)

If you share these treats—and I hope you will—be prepared for the sound effects from your friends. “Oh, yum!” will quickly be followed by “woof, woof!”

Leave a comment below, with your email address, for a chance to win a signed copy of GUILTY AS CINNAMON or KILLING THYME, the second and third books in my Spice Shop Mysteries!  

White Chocolate Berry Bark

The original recipe called for dried blueberries, which I couldn’t find; a mix of golden raisins and naturally sweetened dried cranberries made a perfect substitute!

8 ounces white chocolate 

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 ounces (about 1 cup) dried blueberries or a mix of golden raisins and naturally sweetened dried

Line a flat baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir together the fruit, breaking apart any clumps.

Melt the white chocolate and oil in a microwave-safe bowl, starting with 45 seconds; stir thoroughly to distribute the heat and melt any clumps. Cook again for 15 seconds if necessary.

Stir in the fruit and spread on the parchment. Cool until hard and break apart.

Makes about 3 cups.

Dark Chocolate Bark with Toasted Almonds and Dried Berries

1/3 cup almonds, chopped, or a mix of sliced, slivered, and chopped almonds
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup dried blueberries or naturally sweetened cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix or chop almonds; toast for 10 minutes. Cool slightly. 

Melt the chocolate until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds and berries. Scrape onto parchment; spread and cool.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups bark.

Mocha Bark

The original recipe called for all milk chocolate; we didn’t have enough, so I blended in semi-sweet. I think it could easily be made with all semi-sweet, or a mix of semi and bittersweet; the coffee might make an all bittersweet version too bitter.

6 ounces milk chocolate, or a mixture, melted

1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso powder

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the chocolate and stir in the coffee crystals or powder. Spread on to the parchment and cool. Break apart.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

Rum Raisin Toffee Bark

The rum adds flavor; all the alcohol burns off. I used my food processor to chop the chocolate. I used half Thompson raisins (the standard variety) and half golden raisins, for a great flavor and color combo.

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
4 ounces bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate chopped fine
10 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
½ cup water
½ cup white rum
1/4 cup honey
2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 325. Line a 10-15 inch jelly roll pan (with sides) with parchment paper.

Chop the chocolate and set aside.

In a 2 or 3 quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar, water, run, and honey. Bring to a boil, then use a candy thermometer and cook to 220 degrees. This will take about 15 minutes.

Stir in the raisins and bring to 225 degrees, the soft thread stage.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and pour chocolate on top. Use a spatula to mix chocolate into fruit. Cool until hardened and cut into squares.

Makes about 3 cups bark.

What's your favorite holiday candy? Leave a comment below with your email address for a chance to win a signed copy of GUILTY AS CINNAMON or KILLING THYME! Winner's choice. Giveaway closes midnight Saturday, December 10. (US and Canadian addresses only, please.) 

From the cover of KILLING THYME (October 2016, in paperback, e-book, and audio---large print coming soon!): 

At Seattle Spice in the Pike Place Market, owner Pepper Reece is savoring her business success, but soon finds her plans disrupted by a killer…

Pepper Reece’s to-do list is longer than the shopping list for a five-course dinner, as she conjures up spice blends bursting with seasonal flavor, soothes nervous brides fretting over the gift registry, and crosses her fingers for a rave review from a sharp-tongued food critic. Add to the mix a welcome visit from her mother, Lena, and she’s got the perfect recipe for a busy summer garnished with a dash of fun. 

While browsing in the artists’ stalls, Pepper and Lena drool over stunning pottery made by a Market newcomer. But when Lena recognizes the potter, Bonnie Clay, as an old friend who disappeared years ago, the afternoon turns sour. To Pepper’s surprise, Bonnie seems intimately connected to her family’s past. after Bonnie is murdered only days later, Pepper is determined to uncover the truth. 

But as Pepper roots out long-buried secrets, will she be digging her own grave?

Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. The 2015-16 president of Sisters in Crime, she lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher.

Swing by my website  and join the mailing list for my seasonal newsletter. And join me on Facebookwhere I often share news of new books and giveaways from my cozy writer friends.


  1. These look fantastic. On my to make list! The Mocha bark will be just for me =). I can hardly wait to try them out. This is the busiest season, but my first not working 8-16 hour days, six days a week. I can definitely fit in more baking this year. Thank you for the great recipes and the giveaway.

  2. Turtles caramel, chocolate, nuts, yum!

  3. Love these bark recipes! My favorite holiday candy is white chocolate bark with peppermint pieces. Excited about your books as well, especially Guilty As Cinnamon.

  4. Dark chocolate with crushed peppermint candies. Love your books.

  5. I love making candy. My dad and I would make candy for Christmas. My favourite I'd divinity. Thank you for sharing these recipes and for having this giveaway.

  6. The peppermint bark that Hallmark makes and sells is to die for. We have it every year and it is a great seller.

    1. Williams Sonoma makes several great varieties, too. Enjoy!

  7. Love all these bark recipes, Leslie, especially the one with the almonds and dried berries, although I think I will make this one with dried cherries instead. And you know I enjoy reading both of your series! grace dot koshida at gmail dot com

    1. Dried cherries would be terrific, Grace. I'd chop them, because of their size. And thanks!

  8. I love divinity and my mom always made it only at the holidays. That white chocolate bark looks really good and the rum raisin one really intrigues me. Thanks for the giveaway.

  9. My favorite Christmas candy is Peppermint Bark. I can't wait to try your Mocha Bark - YUM!

    1. I'll confess, Celia, I ate a tiny piece with my coffee this morning. Yum!

  10. Those barks look delicious. I'll be trying some for sure. A nice addition to the standard peppermint, which I do love but variety will be nice. Thanks for the giveaway.

  11. Wow your recipes look so good I will have to print and give to my husband to make! I like a good dark chocolate truffle for the season that is when i feel i can treat myself such as a Godiva. thank you for the giveaway would love to read and review on a few sites.

  12. Our "thing" is pumpkin spice treats, usually with rum soaked raisins, and/or a variety of nuts. Plus sundried cherries, cranberries, etc. For gifts - candy, cookies, etc. Most we do ourselves or buy organic & unsweetened. For ourselves our personal treat is divinity w/pecans. Would love to read GUILTY AS CINNAMON Della at deepotter (at) peoplepc ((dot) com

  13. Love chocolate bark with peppermint crush candy cane in it. Eat while I read.

  14. My favorite holiday treat to eat or gift is homemade peanut butter balls and homemade fudge, and you've got to throw in some candied pecans for hubby to be happy.

  15. amy guillaume lindermanDecember 9, 2016 at 12:37 PM

    ooooh i've never seen a recipe like this before! yummmmm my sister and i always used to make homemade andes candies mints!

  16. amy guillaume lindermanDecember 9, 2016 at 12:38 PM

    OOPS! was so excited by the bark recipe forgot to put my email

  17. Love Godiva Truffles. Happy holidays!

  18. Thank you so much for these recipes! I need to write them down. I love homemade chocolates. Now I can give these a try. crossxjo @hotmail. com

    1. Note the green button for the printer-friendly version at the bottom of the post!

  19. I like dark chocolate peppermint bark but your recipe sounds really good.
    sgiden at verizon(.)net

  20. These all sound great. Will have to try the white chocolate berry bark first, since I love white chocolate. Thanks for the chance.

  21. I love peppermint bark but I have to say these pictures of the bark you were making had me trying to figure out how to come through my computer screen and grab some. I would love to read either of these books. Many thanks for the opportunity to win. chettysmom(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. LOL! I often feel that way over the other killer cooks' posts!

      So many of you love peppermint bark. So do I -- but I figured many of you already had your favorite recipes or sources, so it might be fun to try a few new varieties!

  22. They all sound delish...although I'm not a mocha fan. I will hunt for dried blueberries, however. That sounds amazing!

    cozyupwithkathy @ gmail dot com

  23. The recipes look so delicious!!! Homemade gifts are the best kinds of gifts its the work and effort put into it and the thought!! I sure would very much love to win these books or any of them!!!

  24. Chocolate covered cherries are really the only holiday candy I like but I can only eat one piece at a time. I have a chocolate allergy. Even that will cause me to sneeze.
    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

    1. Allergic to chocolate? Oh, no! (But that leaves more for me...)

  25. I really like peppermint bark at Christmas. Your recipes look fabulous. I'm definitely going to try the mocha bark. Thanks for the great recipes. Merry Christmas.

  26. I like dark chocolate bark with almonds or hazelnuts.

    1. Deanna, my dark chocolate bark with almonds and dried berries would be TERRIFIC with hazelnuts! Thanks for the suggestion!

  27. I wasn't going to make any candy for Christmas until I saw these recipes. My favorite Christmas candy is chocolate peanut clusters! dbahn(at)iw(dot)net

  28. Our family loves Divinity. I make one plain and another with candied cherries, both red and green. I also like to make cooked fudge and since my grandmother passed away along with her recipe for a cooked white fudge, my sister and I have been trying to duplicate that recipe to no avail, other than tasty fudge that didn't taste like my grandmother's did all those years ago.
    Would love a copy of your book, Leslie. I would be thrilled to be exact. Thanks for the chance. Merry Christmas.

    ceblain AT tmlponline DOT net