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This is the time of year for peppermint delights

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You can create some special things this Holiday season using peppermint. Every time I go shopping, I see cooking chocolate in the baking section, and even chocolate that is intended for making candy. It wouldn't be difficult to make peppermint bark by melting mint-flavored semi-sweet chocolate, pouring melted white chocolate over that and sprinkling the whole thing with crushed candy canes. In fact, there are many recipes out there for this, and you can even buy the peppermint candy in crushed form to make it easy.

Another thing you can do is make sandwich cookies, such as chocolate or sugar-cookie rounds that you roll thin and cut (not that you couldn't use other shapes as well). Then make some mint-flavored frosting and stick them together, rolling the edges in crushed candy canes for garnish. That's why rounds are a good choice, because you can roll them easily. No need to make a production out of decorating the edges.

There is mint-flavored hot chocolate out there if you look among the mixes to find it--there are a lot of flavors for hot chocolate nowadays. And one thing I rather like is the apple-cider mix that is meant to be served hot. Add a cinnamon stick and serve it in a red-and-white mug--easy and festive.

You can also go all the way and make hot mulled cider or wine, using the mulling spices that are now on sale. I see them generally at Sprouts, Whole Foods and Fry's Supermarkets in Tucson. At Fry's you usually find it in the produce section, by the way.

If you want to make your own because you have apple juice or cider on hand, here is a simple recipe. You will need some whole allspice berries, which are not hard to find at this time of year although you might not keep them around.

Walmart in Tucson has some specialty apple juices just now and I picked up Gala and Honey Crisp juices the other day. I skipped the Granny Smith, which I am guessing is pretty tart. When I was a kid Granny Smiths were not considered "eating apples" but rather "cooking apples," so I cook with them if I want their tart contribution to a pie or crisp. But most of the time I combine them with another, milder apple for a mellow flavor.

WINTER NIGHT CIDER

Ingredients:

1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 dash ground nutmeg
3 cinnamon sticks (3 inches long)
2 quarts apple cider
1 orange cut into wedges
Whole cloves for garnish

Combine brown sugar, allspice, 1 teaspoon cloves, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and apple cider in large saucepan. Bring to boiling. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Strain to remove spices and serve in mugs with clove-studded orange wedges.

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