Monday, December 19, 2011

Easy Christmas Recipes!

Merry Christmas!
My hope and intent for the approaching New Year is that I will be more disciplined to carve out a regular article or post for this lonely Blog. In the meantime, I figured I'd stop by and share a couple of favorite and EASY recipes with you! These are two treats that are continually requested by others whenever they're made. They are not original, although I have added my own tweaks.

On second thought, I'm going to throw in one more my SIL shared with me after I inhaled half of a container of them last Christmas. They're so easy and yummy, you need the recipe too!

Sorry that I'm too lame to have pictures to accompany these recipes. I know that can make or break whether or not you want to try the them, but I'm doing well just get these typed up! 

Unbelievable Toffee! (Unbelievably delish, unbelievably easy!).

One box of plain or honey graham crackers (you will not use the whole box).
Two sticks of butter (yes, the real deal, not margarine!)
One cup of brown sugar (I prefer dark, but either will work).
One package of semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Line a jelly roll pan (i.e. cookie sheet with a one inch lip around the edge) with plain graham crackers. You will need to cut and fit in pieces around the edge to cover the entire surface. Baking stone not recommended.

Preheat oven to 350.
In medium sauce pan, melt two sticks of butter, and one cup of brown sugar (dark provides a more serious toffee taste).

Once melted, turn to high. Allow to boil, without stirring (except maybe once when it starts to bubble up really well. It's particularly important not to over stir with the dark brown sugar. For some reason it has trouble melding with the butter if you stir too much). When it is boiling so that it looks foamy, let it remain in that state for about three minutes. You can give it one more brief stir if it looks like it needs it during this stage.

Pour over graham crackers.
Use spatula to smooth over all crackers. 
Bake for 10 min.

Remove and immediately dump one package of semi-sweet choc chips evenly over pan. (You can use milk choc but they do not melt and spread as smooth. I would recommend mixing them with semi sweet. Plus the semi-sweet off-set the sweetness of the toffee layer, so it's the best!). When the chips become shiny, after about five minutes, use spatula or back of spoon to smooth over the surface.

Place in fridge until hard (half an hour or so). Remove and break into pieces. I usually bend my metal pan a bit like an ice cube tray to get a corner lifted (which is one reason a stone pan doesn't work well).

Store in fridge to keep crunchy!

Variations: Add some cayenne pepper or chipotle pepper to butter and brown sugar mixture for chipotle toffee.

Toast almonds or walnuts and sprinkle on top after you smooth choc chips.

Sprinkle just a few white choc chips over the top of the melted and smoothed regular chocolate chips. Allow them to melt and smudge them across the chocolate in a marble design.

I've known two different people that have made these to sell for a fund raiser . . . that's how good they turn out!

Cream Cheese Cookie Bars

These dream bars have all of the elements of eating pleasure: gooeyness, a bit of crispness, edges that are similar to brownies, and density. Mmmmm. 

There are also endless ways to vary the taste. I never actually make this basic recipe (though it still tastes amazing), preferring to add lemon or chocolate to make them flavored to my whim of the day. Suggestions given at the end.

1 stick butter                                                     1 box of powdered sugar
4 eggs, divided                                                 1 8 oz package of cream cheese
1 box of yellow cake mix

Heat oven to 350.
While it is warming, place one stick of butter in 9 x 13 pan and melt in oven. Remove when it is melted.

In a bowl, add 2 eggs to cake mix. Mix with fork until crumbly. Usually seems more like a sticky blob than a crumb mixture but that is how my original recipe reads. 

Sprinkle cake mix over butter and pat down. (aka, drop blobs of the sticky blob all over pan and press down with spatula or back of spoon to cover the bottom fairly well). Butter will be swirling around the edges, letting you know this is going to be yummy!

Mix powdered sugar, cream cheese and other 2 eggs. Pour over first layer and spread evenly.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until lightly browned on top. 

Variations: Lemon bars: Add about three to four Tbl lemon juice to EACH layer of mixture. A little lemon extract won't hurt either.

Chocolate Bars: Add 3 - 5 Tbl Cocoa (to taste) to EACH layer and throw in some chocolate chips to the BOTTOM layer.  Also can use a chocolate cake mix on bottom layer. May choose to leave top layer plain cream cheese or add some cocoa to it.

Experiment with different cake mixes! Carrot cake on bottom with the cream cheese mixture on top would be delicious. Strawberry cake on bottom and maybe 1/4 cup pureed strawberry preserves added to the top layer would be perfect for a little girls birthday!

Praline Mini-Muffins

This is the recipe from my SIL. She calls them Mini Pecan Pie muffins. I think Praline captures their essence more succinctly :) Whatever their name, they can lend themselves to overeating due to their small, innocent-looking size. Beware! Or . . . just make a bunch. Thanks for sharing, Pamela!

**I also think you could easily make this gluten free with a substitute flour. There really isn't much flour in it . . . just enough to bind together.

1 Cup brown sugar
1/2 Cup all purpose flour
1 Cup chopped pecans
2/3 Cup melted butter
2 eggs, beaten

Combine brown sugar, flour, and pecans. Set aside.
Combine butter and beaten eggs. Mix well.
Stir in flour mixture. Stir just until moistened. Fill greased mini-muffin pans 3/4 full. (If you know your pan has sticking problems, you may want to grease and flour the pan as well. These are a bit sticky for a muffin, and I have trouble getting them out of one pan, but not another).

Cook about ten minutes, until light brown. These store well in air tight container.

One thing that stands out after typing these three favorites: Butter makes for some fabulous desserts! Woohoo!

At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.