Snuggle Up with 3-D Hot Chocolate

Looking for an indulgent reason to snuggle around the fire pit? Look no further than this delectable recipe. Yes, this hot chocolate is dark, decadent, and delicious, but it actually gets its name from three “D” ingredients: dark chocolate, dulce de leche, and Drambuie liqueur (scotch whiskey flavored with honey and spices). Using half-and-half instead of milk makes the hot chocolate extra creamy and rich. Adults will love this grown up, not-too-sweet take on hot chocolate, but it’s also great (and kid-friendly) without the Drambuie. Make this hot chocolate truly over-the-top with a dollop of whipped cream, a drizzle of dulce de leche, and a few crunchy chocolate rolled wafer cookies on the side. Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup canned or jarred dulce de leche, extra for topping
  • 8 ounces chopped dark chocolate, extra for topping
  • 1/3 cup Drambuie
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • chocolate rolled wafer cookies (such as Pirouette)

How to Make

  1. Whisk together 4 cups half-and-half and 1/2 cup canned or jarred dulce de leche in a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium, stirring constantly, until heated through, about 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, and whisk in 8 ounces chopped dark chocolate, 1/3 cup of Drambuie, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Next, beat 1 cup of cold heavy cream in a cold bowl with an electric mixer on high until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute.
  4. Pour hot chocolate mixture into 4 serving cups. Top each with whipped cream, a drizzle of dulce de leche, and chopped or shaved dark chocolate. Serve with chocolate rolled wafer cookies (such as Pirouette).

If prepping the recipe in advance, prepare the hot chocolate mixture as instructed but omit the alcohol and store the mixture in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two days. Reheat the hot chocolate mixture gently, then add the alcohol once the mixture is heated through. Do not boil the mixture, or the alcohol will burn off.

Recipe and photo courtesy Southern Living and Time, Inc. Photo by Greg DuPree.

Decorative Ways to Enjoy Your Outdoor Space in Colder Months

Just because the temperature has dropped doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the outdoors. There are a number of decorative ways to keep your outdoor spaces livable during the winter months that add both ambiance and warmth.

Fire Features

Fire pitarbel_stone_urbana_stone_aqua_rock_horz_1_rt-newedits are currently one of the top must-haves in outdoor living, and with good reason. They easily fit into any outdoor living design and provide a spot for groups of any age to gather and enjoy the outdoors. Whether roasting hot dogs or s’mores, sharing a bottle of wine, or just having a cup of hot cocoa, everyone loves sitting around the fire pit. For design tips and trends, check out our fire pit design blog.

Outdoor fireplaces make a dramatic statement and become the focal point of your outdoor living design. Not only will it add physical warmth to your outdoor living space, it will become the favorite spot for enjoying a glass of wine or an intimate conversation. When designing your outdoor living space, remember that gas fireplaces can be placed just about anywhere, but a wood-burning version will likely need to be 10 or more feet from any structure.

Gas fire tables also make an excellent gathering spot and typically either emulate the look of a coffee table or a high-top bar. There are endless varieties available for purchase from retail outlets. However, a built-in fire table constructed with Belgard wall products will be much more durable and will actually add to the value of your home.

Decorative Heaters

tabletop1Tabletop propane heaters come in a number of sizes and decorative styles and are available from various hardware stores and online retail outlets. They typically heat a 5-foot radius and operate off of 1-pound propane cylinders that can be found at just about any hardware, sporting goods, or camping supply store. Although it will vary by heater, each cylinder only lasts a few hours, so it might be a good idea to buy cylinders in bulk to get you through the season.

Full-size propane heaters also come in a number of decorative styles. With higher heat output than the tabletop versions, they heat a wider radius (6-7 feet) and operate off of a standard refillable propane tank. Be wary of operating taller units under a porch, which could potentially cause heat damage to the porch ceiling. One way to help alleviate this possibility is to run nearby ceiling fans in “reverse” mode while heaters are in operation, which will disperse the rising heat without blowing cold air onto guests.

lamp3Endless Summer offers a line of electric patio lamp-style heaters that come in both tabletop and floor models and are available from a variety of retailers, including Home Depot, Lowe’s and Amazon. Each heater looks like a standard lamp, but actually functions as both a lamp and a heater, offering a soft glow and heating up to 144 square feet, depending upon the model. The only drawback is that an outlet needs to be nearby.

hanging3Decorative hanging heaters are a more permanent option and are available in natural gas and infrared (electric) models. Both can be designed to operate from a wall switch and will heat a large area, approximately 10 feet in diameter, depending upon the model.

Homey Accessories

Adding retractable solar shades to a porch will not only provide protection from the glaring sun in summer months, they can also help keep you warm in the winter by blocking the wind and helping to hold in any ambient warmth created by area heaters.

Comfy throws not only add a cozy look to your outdoor space, they provide that extra layer that some folks need to keep warm. Decorative outdoor bins can be a good place to store throws; however, you may want to choose an easy-to-carry basket that can be stored indoors when not in use, which will keep your throws free of unwanted critters.

Winterizing Your Outdoor Living Spaces

belair-wallExtreme weather can sometimes take a toll on your outdoor living spaces. Keep your Belgard outdoor living area looking as beautiful as the day it was installed with these tips and tricks for protecting your investment in harsh climates.

Beware Rapid Temperature Fluctuations

Belgard hardscapes are constructed to withstand natural freeze/thaw cycles, and the refractory cement materials used to manufacture Belgard fireplaces, fire pits and brick ovens are designed to withstand very high temperatures. However, rapid shifts from one extreme to the other can still have an adverse effect, and there are simple ways to prevent damage.

  • Keep brick oven and fireplace doors closed to prevent snow and ice from building up inside the unit.
  • When not in use, cover grills and fire pit openings with covers to help prevent build-up and ensure proper working order.
  • If snow or ice does build up on a fireplace, fire pit or brick oven, be careful to remove any loose snow or ice and warm the unit up and thaw it slowly.

Protect Your Outdoor Kitchen

It’s important to protect all of your pipes, appliances and equipment so that your outdoor kitchen is ready to use in the spring.

  • Shut off water to your outdoor kitchen and drain all water lines to outdoor sinks, ice makers, refrigerators and kegerators. Leave the drain valves open.
  • Turn off all of the power to appliances.
  • Clean the inside of appliances and cabinets and wipe everything down to remove residual moisture.
  • Do not cover outdoor refrigerators or ice makers, which could cause moisture to get trapped and cause electrical damage.
  • Cover any sinks to prevent debris from settling in the basin. You may want to consider removing the faucet and storing it indoors.
  • If counter tops are made of stone, consider applying a sealant to prevent leaf stains or cracks caused by freezing moisture.

Prevent Deicing Downfalls

Deicing agents can sometimes have a corrosive effect on paved surfaces. Although Belgard pavers are manufactured to be more resistant to salt absorption than asphalt or solid concrete surfaces, there are additional tips that can help ensure lasting beauty of your paver walkways, driveways and patios.

  • Mix salts with sand prior to application.
  • Don’t over-salt.
  • Use salt for melting ice only, not snow removal.
  • Once loose, remove ice to avoid salt buildup.
  • Wash residue from pavers in the spring.
  • Reseal pavers with protective sealants, such as those offered by Techniseal, every three to five years.

Setting Outdoor Makeover
Goals for 2017

During this time of year, it’s typical to take a personal assessment and set new goals regarding lifestyle, health, investments, and various other areas of our lives. Since your home is likely your most valuable asset, it’s important to factor home improvements into the mix. Those who make even small improvements each year are not only more likely to see a higher return on their overall investment over time, there’s also a sense of pride that comes from completing each task, plus the enjoyment of making each space more “livable”. As you plan your 2017 home improvement goals, keep in mind that research shows that many outdoor living improvements can increase the value of your home at a higher rate than under-beam improvements. Two outdoor living categories that typically have a high rate of return are curb appeal and entertainment spaces.

Improving Curb Appeal

As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Even small improvements to your front yard can make an impact — both on how you feel every time you approach your own driveway, and how a potential buyer will envision the quality of your home if and when you decide to sell. Some type of curb appeal improvement should be on your “to-do” list each year, whether it’s a minor tweak to the landscaping, adding embellishments here or there (like a new mailbox or built-in planter), or a large project like a driveway renovation.

Upgrading Entertainment Spaces

By upgrading your outdoor living entertainment spaces, not only will you add to the enjoyment that you get out of your own home, every dollar you spend could earn back between 60 cents and $2 on resale, according to reports by Houzz and Realtor.com. Makeover projects should focus on making your outdoor living spaces an extension of your home. According to annual surveys by the American Society of Landscape Architects over the last five years, consistently desirable upgrades include outdoor kitchens, outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, built-in seating, lighting upgrades, and paver patios.

Prioritizing Goals

Before you get started with planning your improvement goals for 2017, you should consider the following factors: 1) How long do you plan to live in your home?  2) What is your overall vision? If you plan to be in your home for many years, you can take a look at your overall vision and break it up into a multi-year plan that puts priority on the projects that YOU most desire. If you plan to sell within the next two years, your money would be better spent on projects that are most desirable in the marketplace. For the lowdown on the most desirable outdoor living features for your specific neighborhood or housing pricepoint, talk to some local realtors.

Getting Started

The first step is to get inspired. Look through Pinterest boards, magazine websites, online inspiration galleries…anything that will help you develop your overall vision. The free Belgard Idea Book is another excellent resource, offering page after page of gorgeous inspirational outdoor living photography. Another useful tool is the online Belgard Project Visualizer, which allows you to upload photos of your own yard to try out various paver styles and colors. You can even save and share your designs for future use. Next, consider meeting with an outdoor living contractor who can provide you with additional design ideas and help you pull together an overall plan, prioritize projects, and set a timeline. To find a Belgard Authorized contractor near you, click here. Next, decide which projects you want to accomplish this year and what you’d rather put off until a later date. Whether your 2017 goal ends up being a major makeover or a simple DIY project, set a date and stick to it. This time next year, you’ll be glad that you did.

Champagne Cocktails
to Ring in the New Year

The countdown is on, and it’s time for a new and refreshing way to ring in the New Year. At this year’s gathering, try one (or all) of these specialty champagne cocktails. To reduce or eliminate the alcohol content, you can always substitute with sparkling cider instead of sparkling wine.

Corduroy Jacket

1 fresh orange slice
1 brown sugar cube
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/4 cup cognac
6 tablespoons chilled sparkling wine
1 (3.5-inch) strip orange peel
Fresh thyme sprig

Preparation: (1 serving)

  1. Muddle orange slice, brown sugar cube, and Angostura bitters in a cocktail shaker to release flavors.
  2. Fill shaker with ice cubes, and add cognac; cover with lid, and shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled (about 30 seconds). Strain into a stemmed 10-oz. glass.
  3. Top with sparkling wine or sparkling apple cider. Garnish with orange peel and fresh thyme sprig.

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Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail

1 turbinado sugar cube*
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1/2 cup chilled sparkling wine
*1 rock candy stirrer or granulated sugar cube may be substituted.

Preparation: (1 serving)

Place sugar cube in a Champagne flute; add 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice and 1/2 cup Champagne. Serve immediately.
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Black Currant Champagne

Chilled sparkling wine
Chilled black currant nectar*
Garnish: fresh blackberries
*Other fruit nectars — such as peach, mango, tropical, or pear — may be substituted.

Preparation: (1 serving)

Fill a Champagne flute or tall glass with equal parts chilled sparkling wine and fruit nectar. Garnish, if desired.

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Mint-Champagne Shrub

1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup elderflower liqueur
1/3 cup Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Chilled sparkling wine
Garnish: fresh mint leaves

Preparation:(8 servings)

  1. Muddle first 2 ingredients in a cocktail shaker to release flavors.
  2. Add elderflower liqueur and next 3 ingredients. Fill shaker with ice; cover with lid, and shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled (about 30 seconds).
  3. Strain into 8 (8-oz.) glasses; top with sparkling wine.

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Berry Bubbly Punch

3/4 cup raspberry syrup
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 (750 ml) chilled bottles sparkling wine
Garnishes: fresh, halved strawberries and blueberries

Preparation: (makes 2.5 quarts)

  1. Combine raspberry syrup, orange juice, pineapple juice, and lemon juice in a medium bowl, stirring until blended.
  2. Cover and chill 2 to 3 hours.
  3. Pour mixture into a punch bowl, and top with chilled sparkling wine.

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Remember to drink responsibly, and have a safe and prosperous New Year!

Unique Gifts for the Outdoor Living Enthusiast

Everyone has that one person on their list who’s tough to shop for, year after year. If that person loves spending time in his or her outdoor living areas, ditch the thought of gifting yet another ugly sweater and take a look at these outdoor living gift ideas.

lanternsIndoor/Outdoor Lanterns

Whether outfitted with real candles or battery-operated flameless candles, lanterns add charm and ambiance to outdoor living spaces. For a wide variety of styles and price ranges, check out the selection at Pier 1 Imports. They also offer remote controlled LED candles, which come in handy when guests drop in unexpectedly. Press a button and voila, you’re ready for company.

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heaterTabletop Heaters

Nope, this is not a lamp. It’s actually an outdoor-rated 1,200-watt tabletop electric patio heater. It emits a soft glow with the look and feel of a lamp, but also heats up to 115 square feet of surrounding space. Home Depot has several styles available of both electric and butane tabletop heaters, as well as larger patio heaters. For more information on the model shown, click here.

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gms_res_bel2015_patio_walls_firepit_megalafitt_westonwall_westonfirekit_002_previewFire Pits

Various styles of metal and ceramic fire pits can be found at big box stores like Home Depot or Walmart. However, if you’re ready for something a little more permanent, Belgard’s Weston Stone® Firepit is available in five color blends, installs quickly, and will be the favorite gathering spot in the backyard for years to come. Click here to find a contractor or dealer.

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bbq-accessoriesDeluxe Grill Accessories

Don’t get the same old barbecue tool set again this year; go for something with a little more pizzazz, like a motorized steam-cleaning grill brush, a handle-mounting grill light, and a blue-tooth connecting grill thermometer that can pair with your phone. At Brookstone, you can buy these cool grill accessories separately or in bundles. And if you hurry, you can get a discount with the promo code: THANKS.

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santa-letter-indoor-outdoor-pillow-cSeasonal Throw Pillows

Let’s face it, outdoor living is not just for summer anymore. Now that outdoor living has become more of a year-round activity, you can actually find seasonal outdoor throw pillows. Pottery Barn has a nice selection of holiday-themed or wintry designs of both indoor/outdoor pillows and decorative seasonal pillow covers.