Friday, December 19, 2014

Saltine Cracker Toffee Bark

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, A WOMAN AT MY OFFICE brought in a plate of these tasty treats to share. She called them "Mock Heath Bars". I loved them and was amazed when she told me how she made them. . .with saltine crackers.

Mention the words, Heath Bars, and I am transported to happy memories from childhood. My Mother and her best friend loved those things. So many summer afternoons were spent swimming at the lake with Mama and her friend with her two daughters. On the way home, we would stop by the country store for ice cream--fudgcycles, drumsticks, sherbert push-ups, little cups of ice cream eaten with a wooden spoons, eskimo pie, whatever we chose. Mama and her friend would get Heath ice cream bars and practically swoon while savoring them.

And isn't that part of what Christmas Baking is about? Recreating joyous memories while making new ones for the children?

Saltine Cracker Toffee Bark
35 saltine crackers (about 2 sleeves)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. (about 1 1/3 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a 15x10x1-inch rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Place crackers, salty side up, in prepared pan. In a saucepan, boil butter and sugar for 2 - 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over crackers and bake for 4 - 6 minutes.

Remove from oven, and sprinkle chocolate chips all over the top. Spread evenly as chocolate begins to melt. Cool slightly and transfer to wax paper. Allow to cool completely before cutting or breaking into smaller pieces.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sugar Plums

I AM TAKING A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO MY CHRISTMAS BAKING this year. Rather than baking one batch of cookies from start to finish one by one, I have had a few days of mixing doughs. Some are refrigerated, some frozen.

I have rolls of dough to use as slice and bake cookies. I have balls of dough which would traditionally be drop cookies. Some will be pressed into sheet pans for bar cookies. Also, my husband gave me a beautiful shortbread pan last month for my birthday, so I will be baking those too.

I feel much more productive this year and I don't have to worry if my cookies will be fresh when the time comes for sharing. We will see how this approach works when it comes to baking days.

Meanwhile, here is a no-bake goody that is actually pretty healthy.

Sugar Plums
4 cups rice krispies cereal
2 cups toasted pecans
15 oz. golden raisins
10 oz. pitted dates
3/4 cup honey
2 tsp. orange zest
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Pour cereal into a large mixing bowl.

Finely chop the pecans, raisins, and dates. (Or grind in food processor if you have one).

In a small bowl, combine the honey, orange zest, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.

Pour the fruit mixture and the honey mixture into the bowl with the cereal. Mix all together with a wooden spoon. Roll into 1 1/2" balls with greased hands.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cinnamon Roll Pretzels

CHRISTMAS BAKING IS IN FULL SWING. Today, I give you a quick and easy snack to placate cookie monsters around the house while you get some more serious cookie baking done.

These Cinnamon Roll Pretzels have that sweet and salty taste we love. Although I am not ordinarily a fan of white chocolate, I do use it for these treats. I think it gives a more "cinnamon roll" look. Vanilla candy melt will also work if you prefer.

Cinnamon Roll Pretzels
4 heaping cups pretzels
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup melted white chocolate or vanilla candy melt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the pretzels with melted butter. In a small bowl stir together the sugar and cinnamon until well blended. Sprinkle over the buttered pretzels and mix until evenly coated.

Spread the pretzels into an even layer on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes.

Drizzle with melted white chocolate or vanilla candy melt.

Allow the pretzels to cool and the candy to harden before serving.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Savory and Sweet Pineapple Cheese Ball

CHEESEBALL. HAVE YOU EVER CALLED SOMEONE THAT or gasp, been called a cheeseball yourself? Silly, corny, cheesy, goofy.

I think of the Cheese Ball itself to be rather cheesy--middle brow, 1960's suburbia cocktail party,

Be that as it may, I love cheese balls. There are so many varieties and they beckon fun and creativity. Shapes can be altered, cheeses varied, decoration ideas are endless. Try forming one into a cone and roll in chopped parsley to make a Christmas tree, which can be decorated with roasted red pepper and green olives. How about one with smoked salmon, formed into a fish shape with sliced almonds for scales. Or make one with blue cheese, roll in walnuts and serve with pear slices. Try rolling your ball in smoked paprika or coarsely ground black pepper.

This is my favorite cheese ball. I adore the flavor combination of sharp cheddar cheese and pineapple. The red bell pepper and scallions add dimension and the crunch of the toasted sliced almonds gives the perfect bite.

With crackers and crudites, I could happily eat this as a meal.

Savory and Sweet Pineapple Cheese Ball
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated, room temperature
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
2 - 3 scallions, sliced
1 cup chopped, fresh pineapple (or canned, unsweetened)
1/4 tsp. (or more to taste) cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups toasted, sliced almonds

Beat the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, bell pepper, scallions, pineapple, and cayenne until blended. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Shape into a ball; roll in sliced almonds. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Serve with crackers and crudites.