Monday, December 22, 2008

Cashew Clusters

If you're looking for a special treat that is super easy to make and doesn't involve the oven or icing or colored sprinkles, this recipe is for you! This is a winner above many other yummy recipes since it is 1) chocolatey, 2) embarrassingly quick and easy, 3) different than all the other "cookie" exchange items, 4) substantially satisfying to eat!

This is a recipe my mom always made at Christmastime. My Grandma Hardie used to make these, and many of her five children latched onto the recipe and have continued to make these chocolatey morsels for many, many years. My family always used the roasted Spanish peanuts, but I prefer the cashews. My children and I now make these clusters at Christmastime and give them to friends and neighbors in small tins.


12 oz. white chocolate chips
2-12 oz. packages chocolate chips
2 lbs. whole cashews (or roasted Spanish peanuts)


Place chips in a double boiler over medium heat. Stir until chocolate until melted and smooth. Or microwave chocolate to melt by heating on high for 1 minute, stir, then continue to heat for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between until chocolate can be stirred smooth.

NOTE: depending on the chocolate you use, you may need to temper the chocolate to prevent white streaks from forming after the clusters cool. I use regular bags of chips and I don't bother tempering. Just don't overheat the chocolate while melting.

Remove from heat and add the nuts. Spoon onto waxed or parchment paper to form small clusters. Cool a few hours. Place in a tin separating layers with waxed or parchment paper.

To serve, place one or two...or three of them on one of Grandma Hardie's little Christmas plates and enjoy!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Caramel Morsel Bars (Mike's Favorite)

My grandma used to make these for a Christmas treat along with her many Christmas cookies. She made them especially for my brother, Mike, since they were his favorite. Grandma loved providing family favorites.* I was told she found this recipe in a magazine. After Mike died in 1987, we all realized that these bars were favorites of more of us than Mike alone. When my grandma passed away in 1989, I started making these as my own Christmas treat tradition!


14-oz. bag KRAFT Caramels
3 TBSP water
5 cups crisp rice cereal or toasted oat cereal (I use crisp rice)
1 cup peanuts, optional
One 6-oz. pkg. (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
One 6-oz. pkg. (1 cup) butterscotch chips


Melt caramels with water in saucepan (or double boiler) over low heat. Stir frequently until sauce is smooth. Pour over cereal and nuts; toss until well coated. With greased fingers, press mixture into greased 9” x 13” pan. Sprinkle morsels on top; place in 200 degree oven for 7 minutes, or until morsels softened. Spread softened morsels until blended to form a frosting. Cool, cut into bars.

* Grandma liked to make people feel special by going out of her way to provide their "favorites". Besides making these bars for Mike, she baked mint surprise cookies (I still need to locate that recipe)--my Uncle Steve's favorites. One year grandma couldn't find her usual chocolate mint wafers for these cookies. I ended up locating something similar at a bake shop in the Twin Cities on Thanksgiving break and bringing them back to DBQ so she could make them for him before Christmas. I also recall Grandma asking me to pick up a loaf of sour dough bread at a bakery on Bluff Street for Grandpa...just because she knew he really liked it. She didn't want me to mention to Grandpa how expensive it was because he, in all his frugality, would not have wanted her to buy it for him. These were Grandma's little touches to make people feel special...and I would have never known about them had I not been running errands for her while she was recovering from a heart attack.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Candy Cane Brownies

You can even use a mix for these little trees!

Today was one of those days when your little child scampers up to you and asks, "So, what treat am I bringing to my Christmas party today?" and hands me a note from his religious education teacher that he received LAST week...about the party TODAY!


As I recall, all the kids said that they didn't need to bring anything to their parties--only a couple of ornaments for the older kids to trade with their classmates. The children were finishing up making homemade cards for all their teachers when Jimmer sprang this one on me. So goes life.

No time for creative thought. My husband had taken the family vehicle to work since it was too rainy and cold to take his open Jeep, so I couldn't get to the store. Hmmm...not much in the pantry, though I had a box of unsweetened chocolate.

I just want to say a big thanks to my neighbor, Julia, who had candy canes that I could use to make these holiday brownies.


The easy way to make these brownies is to use a box mix, add 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract (very good, but optional if you don't have it on hand) to the batter and bake as directed in a 9 x 13-inch pan. Using a quart-sized zipper baggie, crush four larger-sized candy canes with a mallet.

When the brownies have about 5 minutes left to bake, take them out of the oven, distribute the crushed candy canes over the top of the brownies, press them gently into the top, and finish baking.

If you're like me and don't have a mix, then make a fudgey version of your favorite brownie. I cut the vanilla extract in half and add 1/2 tsp. of peppermint extract.

Today, instead of just adding the crushed candy canes on top, I sprinkled on some milk chocolate chips five minutes before the brownies were done. After they were done baking, I spread the chocolate over the brownies with a knife, then sprinkled the crushed candy canes over the chocolate.

Allow the brownies to cool completely, then cut them into triangular tree shapes for that little extra Christmassy somethin', flip them all onto a red plastic plate, top it with non-festive, plain old clear cellophane (that is molecularily opposed to bonding with red plastic plates), hand them to your six year old, let him know that you'd like him not to run with them and drop them all before he gets to his party, and send him on his way with his dad...who has now returned just bit late with the family vehicle to run all the children to their parties.

Now close the door, pour some spiked egg nog, and finish wrapping Christmas presents while all the kids are away for that one and only precious hour a week that they are out of the house without you at their side. Ahhhhhh!

If I had the time, the ingredients and the gumption, I may have tried making these yummy looking brownies. The recipe has a few extra steps I just didn't have time for today.

Note: If you looked really closely at the picture of the final brownies, you'd notice a very sparce sprinkling of green sugar. I didn't think it addded anything special, so I stopped and left it with barely noticable greenery.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cake Ball Christmas Tree

The inspiration for this Christmas tree treat totally came from Bakerella's directions on making cake balls. This Christmas tree is made from red velvet cake mix and cream cheese frosting, and covered in melted candy wafers. The cake balls were then arranged on a foil-covered Styrofoam cone "tree" with toothpicks. A nice centerpiece for a festive holiday party.

If you think this looks festively fun, you really should check out Bakerella's site. She has a perfectionist way of decorating all sorts of cake ball-type goodies and, of course, other scrumptious baked goods.

Using the same method of arranging the little cakes on the Styrofoam tree, I've also created a more decadent chocolate truffle tree. This will be a post for another time.
Basic directions are:

Bake a cake mix in a 9" x 13" pan. Let it cool, then crumble it up in a large bowl. Then take a standard off-the-shelf tub of frosting and mix it in (I used a fork to mix) until it all is crumbly-sticky. Grab a glob of the mix, roll it with your hands and plop it onto a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet. I stuck mine in the freezer to firm up before coating.


Don't tell anyone, but I didn't use up the whole can of frosting. The cake held together sufficiently using only a little more than 3/4 of the frosting. I like a little less frosting.

Here's what your hands will look like after making the cake balls!

Follow the directions for the candy coating wafers (you can get in most grocery stores or in the cake decorating section of craft stores), dip the cake balls and get festive or creative or nutty with your designs!
For the green accent, I just melted some green wafers in a glass bowl in the microwave and plopped it into a quart-sized freezer zip bag. I snipped off a tiny bit of a corner then scribbled away on the cake balls. Yep, I just scribbled back and forth. I'm no perfectionist like Bakerella. If you look closely at the tree you can see little crumbs of cake, hanging strings of green scribble, blobs of coating here and there. Nope, no time for being a perfectionist!
I ended up making smaller (and more) balls out of the 9" x 13" cake to fill up the tree proportionately. I made about 70 balls and used 66 starting with 11 on the bottom and reducing by about one each layer. So, let me see...70-66=4 means I had four lucky children who got to pop unused cake balls!

It would even look better if the balls had been smaller--even graded in size to have the larger ones (1-1/4 inch) at the bottom and smaller ones (1 inch) near the top. See how some of those top ones kind of stick out like a sore thumb?
It's just not festive to think about sore thumbs. So, smaller balls at the top equals no sore thumbs!


Your very own Red Velvet Cream Cheese Cake Ball Christmas Tree. But instead of saying that mouthful, just fill your mouth with these little crowd pleasers!

Again, for more inspiration check out Bakerella. She's full of cake ball ideas. Go wild and get creative!