Every year I host a ladies only (mostly) cookie swap. Or at least, no husbands/boyfriends allowed cookie swap. If someone brings a husband or boyfriend, they’re banished to “husband island,” aka Craig’s TV room where him and my brother watch Parks and Rec reruns. 

I love the cookie swap. It’s simple. I make hot chocolate and marshmallows, and a plate of cookies. There’s a wreath making station I put together because, as an introvert, I really appreciate a structured activity at a party. My friends do the rest – everyone brings a plate of cookies, and we spend a few hours eating, drinking, and wreathing. Hosting a party or get together can be stressful because there’s just so much to do – it sucks up your day into a black hole until you hear the doorbell ring when you’re still in sweat pants elbow deep in a cheese board. 

Cookie swap was my way of meeting a holiday party halfway. I’ll host and create the scene, but everyone else brings the food. It’s perfect! Many hands make light work, etc. 

This year, SOMEONE ate the cookies I had set aside to shoot (cornmeal thumbprint cookies with berry cream jam), so instead I’m going to share my hot cocoa and marshmallows. Happy Holidays!

Hot Cocoa

2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)

1 cup semi sweet chocolate, either small chips or finely chopped

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Whisk the ingredients together. To make an 8 oz cup (which is honestly enough for 2-3 people), mix 3 tablespoons of the mix with a dash of milk to form a paste. Gently heat the paste over medium-low heat until the chocolate bits start to melt. Add an additional cup of milk and stir until hot and steaming. Pour into cups and top off with a dash of heavy cream. Enjoy!


about 1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin

1 cup hot water, divided

2 cups white sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Oil bottom and sides of a 13 by 9 inch rectangular metal baking pan and heavily dust the bottom and sides with some powdered sugar.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, pour in a ½ cup hot water and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let it stand for about 10 minutes.

In a medium heavy saucepan combine the white sugar, corn syrup, vanilla bean and seeds, and remaining hot water over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240 degrees, after about 12 minutes. A word to the wise, this happens very very quickly. While I turned around to tidy up, the entire batch jumped to 275 and burned, so once the thermometer reads 200, keep a close watch, and take it off the heat when it reaches 238. The thermometer should still creep up to 240 after that. Remove the pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and garnish with the above ingredients (or sift a thin layer of powdered sugar) evenly over top. Let the marshmallow set uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to 1 day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto large cutting board. Lifting up 1 corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and let drop onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallows into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sift remaining powdered sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat. Marshmallow keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.  Pop into some cocoa and enjoy!