Friday, December 31, 2010

One last indulgence for 2010 - S'mores Bars

I've mentioned a few times that I have a thing for s'mores. The ooey, gooey marshmallow and warm chocolate, sandwiched between crunchy graham crackers - perfection. The fact that I associate them with wonderful summer nights spent around the campfire laughing and having fun probably doesn't hurt, either. So what's a girl to do in the dead of winter? Well, there's always the gas stove to roast marshmallows over... but that's sometimes a messy proposition. Enter the s'mores bar - almost like a s'mores brownie, really. Not quite as ooey, gooey, but still just as yummy - and great for sharing. I made up a batch for a New Year's Eve party - and can't wait to dig in!


S'mores Bars
(Makes about 20 bars)

Ingredients:
3/4 c. butter, softened
1 1/3 c. white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
3 large chocolate bars (or 7-8 regular sized)
1 1/2 - 2 c. mini-marshmallows
1 whole graham cracker

Method:
Line a 13x9 inch pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until well mixed.
In a smaller bowl, mix flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture and beat just until ingredients come together.
Reserve 3/4 c. of butter/flour mixture for topping.
Press remaining butter/flour mixture into bottom of lined pan.
Unwrap chocolate bars and lay on top of butter/flour mixture. (Break into pieces if needed to make an even layer of chocolate.)
Sprinkle mini-marshmallows over top. (I say to use 1 1/2 - 2 c. because I usually don't measure - I just sprinkle until there's a full layer. It's about 3/4 of a package, which is about 1 1/2 -2 cups.)
Crumble reserved butter/flour mixture evenly over the top of the marshmallows.
Take the whole graham cracker and crush it between your hands, then sprinkle evenly over the top of everything.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes until marshmallows are lightly browned on top.
Cool completely before cutting.


Wishing you all a safe and happy New Year's Eve ~ and a prosperous 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Traditions

I was talking with my mom this morning - and reading some related blogs lately - about the over-commercialization of the holidays. One particularly annoying phenomenon (to me anyway) are those darn car commercials that seem to have grown in leaps and bounds this year. Seriously - who gets a new car for Christmas? Especially given the current economy? (And how do you get it inside your living room, to boot!?)

It almost makes you feel bad if you go with something simple or even something homemade. But the key there is that it *almost* makes you feel bad. In reality, no one should feel bad about any gift they give. Getting all stressed out and uptight about gift giving goes against the whole idea of the holidays. While I celebrate Christmas, I believe that's true no matter what holiday you celebrate.

Now, that's not to say that I don't participate at all in the commercialism of the holidays. Admittedly, I do buy gifts for others and I also make some things. But the most important part of the holidays for me is actually spending time with the people I'm bringing those gifts to. I look forward to the various get-togethers - from the big luncheon with my mom's side of the family (where there are so many people, we have to rent a hall!) to the quiet morning coffee I'll enjoy with my in-laws on Christmas morning. These are the moments I treasure. To hug my loved ones a little tighter, to share in the happiness so clear on little ones' faces as they dance to Christmas music, and to just be together - that's what I'm looking most forward to.

(See? Even the cats get along on Christmas!)

Of course, being the foodie that I am, I'm of course looking forward to some yummy goodies, too. In part for the taste and in part for the traditions behind them. Auntie's famous baked ham, my mum & I sharing our traditional pre-dinner spiked egg nog and sugar cookie and so on. Yes, suffice it to say, I am in the holiday spirit and ready to begin the celebration with family and friends - only a couple more days to go!

If you find yourself with a moment in between your festivities, I'd love to hear what your favorite holiday traditions are - whether for Christmas, Eid, Hannukah, Yule or any others!

Wishing you peace and happiness this holiday season - and all through the year.
~ValleyWriter

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Treats 2010 - Super Easy Cranberry Macadamia Nut Bark

In past years, I've usually done a big, several day-long cookie blitz. This year, there's a lot more going on in the ValleyWriter household, so I decided to pare back to just a few things that I could complete in one day, without too much hassle. Fortunately, I found some great recipes that deliver yummy, impressive looking treats that really come together quickly.

First up is a cranberry macadamia nut bark. If you're not familiar with the term, bark - in the culinary sense - is really just chocolate with nuts, fruits and/or other goodies inside. This bark has a white chocolate base, so the end result with the bright red dried cranberries against the creamy white background is very Christmasy.


And while I'm not usually a fan of nuts in my chocolate, macadamia nuts are definitely an exception. They're creamy and smooth - the perfect complement to these tart cranberries. Best of all - this is the easiest recipe ever! 3 ingredients and less than an hour from start to finish - as in completely cooled and ready to go. Perfect for a last minute hostess gift or extra Christmas treat!

Cranberry Macadamia Nut Bark
(Makes a 17" x 11" pan)

Ingredients:
3 12-oz. bags white chocolate chips (2.25 lbs.)
6 oz. macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
1 c. + 2 Tbsp. dried cranberries

Method:
Line a 17" x 11" pan with aluminum foil.
Bring 2-3 cups of water to a simmer in the bottom of a double boiler (or a medium-sized saucepan). In the top of the double boiler (or a metal bowl that's larger than the saucepan), add white chocolate chips. Stir chocolate until it melts. Keep stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.
Add chopped macadamia nuts and 1 c. dried cranberries to white chocolate. Stir until well mixed. Pour into prepared pan and spread out into an even layer. Scatter remaining 2 Tbsp. dried cranberries over the top and press gently into the white chocolate. Let cool 20-30 minutes or until hard. Break into smaller pieces and enjoy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

I made this beautiful white chocolate raspberry cheesecake recently in preparation for celebration that never came to be. I made it ahead of time just in case something disastrous happened (like forgetting to put in an ingredient and having the whole thing fail). Fortunately, the cheesecake turned out great... Unfortunately, the get-together got canceled the day after I made the cheesecake.
So, now I have a rich, decadent cheesecake in my house and no where to bring it. What's a girl to do? Dig into it by myself with a big ol' fork? Tempting, but that would be quite uncivilized, don't you think? (Not to mention the fact that we don't need to start the Christmas weight gain this early!) So no, I think I'll carefully wrap it up and stash it in the freezer - perhaps for a Christmas party. The red raspberry on top is very festive, after all.

If you're looking for a silky, yummy dessert - give this a try. It's actually pretty simple and the results are always impressive.

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake
(adapted from AllRecipes.com)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. chocolate graham cracker crumbs (1 sleeve of graham crackers, crushed)
4 Tbsp. white sugar
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 cup half-and-half
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 Tbsp. seedless raspberry jam

Method:
Wrap a 9 or 10-inch springform pan in 2-3 layers of aluminum foil and spray the inside of the pan with oil.
In a small bowl, combine chocolate graham cracker crumbs, 4 Tbsp. sugar and 5 Tbsp. melted butter. Stir until well combined. Press into the bottom of a 9 or 10" springform pan.
Bring a small saucepan of water (or the bottom pan of a double boiler) to a simmer. Place a metal bowl (or the top of the double boiler) over the water. Add white chocolate chips and stir constantly until melted. Then stir in half-and-half until smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and 1/2 c. sugar together until creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time.
Add vanilla and white chocolate. Beat just until fully mixed.
At this point, start your oven preheating to 325 degrees.
Heat raspberry jam in the microwave (or on the stove) until it's the consistency of a sauce.
Pour 1/2 of the cream cheese mixture over the top of your chocolate crust.
Drizzle 1/2 of the raspberry jam on top of that.
Top with the remaining cream cheese mixture. Then drizzle the top with the rest of the raspberry jam. Run the tip of a knife through the jam to create swirls, if desired.
Place the filled springform pan into a larger pan (such as rectangular cake pan). Fill the larger pan with hot water until water reaches 1/2 way up the sides of the springform pan. (This creates a water bath around your cheesecake, which will help prevent cracking or uneven baking.)
Bake cheesecake at 325 degrees for 55-60 minutes until cheesecake jiggles only slightly in the middle when moved. (It should jiggle as a whole, like gelatin. If it looks soupy at all - cook it a few minutes longer until it's done.)