Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Cheesecake Bars

Christmas Cheesecake Bars
Dorcas Annette Walker

As a minister’s wife a major part of Christmas holidays has always been taken up directing Christmas programs. I quickly discovered that no matter how well you plan and practice for perfection it is the children themselves that give your Christmas program its unique twist, often at unexpected moments. I’ve seen small sheep walking around on two legs instead of four, being more interested in yanking off their headdress than baaing like sheep, and wise men appearing in all their glory with gifts for baby Jesus minus their crowns. One Christmas program a fight broke out in the middle of recitations when a boy standing in line decided he had waited long enough and without warning marched up to the mike and wrestled with the boy trying to say his piece demanding, “Move over! It’s my turn now.”

My first introduction to Christmas programs going in a different direction than planned was in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Since the small church only had one switch to control all the lights, one Christmas I put candles everywhere (including along the altar) in order to give a candlelit program. All went well until the children lined up in front of the altar started singing, “Away in a Manger”. One wiggly little girl kept moving around until suddenly in the midst of our song she screamed out, “Help me, I’m on fire!” I quickly checked her- she had only felt the heat of the candle and panicked- while trying to keep the song going. My husband jumped up and ran over to investigate while “Away in a Manger” quickly faded away as all the kids crowded around the girl yelling, “Let me see! Where is she burnt? Is she really on fire?” Yet despite all the crazy things that can go wrong during a Christmas program, unfailingly the wonder of the angels appearing to shepherds on a hillside always shines through.

Today my daughter is grown and directs Christmas programs herself. Last Sunday we went out to Nashville to see her church program. I was enchanted to see one squirmy little girl’s white choir top with a gold bow become twisted until it looked like a rumpled bib while a couple of small boys, minus their choir tops, did somersaults on the platform as the older children tried to say their pieces- I told my daughter afterwards that the rowdy boys would make perfect sheep. It wasn’t until the first sound of the bells being played by the children with Christmas music that everyone’s attention was arrested. As the sound of bells rang out around the manger, once again the spirit of Christmas came alive to celebrate the miracle of a tiny babe born in a stable.

Christmas Cheesecake Bars

1 pkg graham crackers crumbled
1 stick margarine melted
3 tb sugar
3 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese
3 eggs
1 c sugar
1 c yogurt
1 tb self-rising flour
1 tsp vanilla

Mix crackers, margarine, and 3 tb sugar together. Press firmly in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Bake for 5 minute at 350º. Meanwhile beat together until smooth all the other ingredients adding the eggs last and pour onto the top of the baked crust. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the center is almost set. Let cool, refrigerate, and chill thoroughly. Cut into squares and decorate with decorating gels and sprinkles. Makes 18 bars!

Weekly tip: For a perfect cheesecake: soften cream cheese to room temperature before beating, don’t overbeat the eggs- will cause falling, test for doneness by gently shaking the cheesecake –don’t use a knife or toothpick- as over baking causes cracks across the top, and to cut use a sharp knife dipped in warm water!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, columnist, speaker, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more recipes check out her Creative Tennessee Mountain Cookin blog at:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Peanut Butter Brittle

Peanut Butter Brittle
Dorcas Annette Walker

How well I remember snow days when my children were small. It seemed like an endless parade: wet mittens, coats, and muddy floors, getting everyone all wrapped up and outside to play only for them to turn around and come back inside. By noon the excitement of no school had worn off and my little angels would start to snarl at each other like tigers. I found the best remedy was to get out some bowls and spoons and begin making up a batch of cookies. Even if the camel’s heads were a bit lopsided and the recipe made only half the amount- thanks to little fingers sampling the cookie dough- it kept my kids occupied and happy. Not only did we make memories together, but I ended up with Christmas cookies. Whenever frigid winter winds are howling outside, there is something comforting about working in my kitchen. I always like to stock up ahead on items needed for holiday baking so I don’t have to venture out when bad weather hits. This week during a snowstorm, I made up a batch of Peanut Butter Brittle.

Don’t think I’m bragging, but my family and I believe that my homemade Peanut Butter Brittle is quite superior to any store bought. The other year when I first made up a batch I thought it had flopped when it didn’t turn out rock hard. The candy tasted delicious and disappeared so fast- not to mention being easier to chew- that I had to make up another batch. This year I made a double batch and before it had even hardened my husband and son were trying to snitch some. With a success like that I don’t care if my Peanut Butter Brittle never gets teeth-busting hard. Don’t get discouraged or give up if a recipe doesn’t turn out perfect. You may accidently stumble onto a brilliant idea.

My Peanut Butter Brittle is a quicker version of the cooked one and easy to do making a perfect gift idea when wrapped in a Christmas tin. You can substitute almonds for peanuts or any use other nuts, and replace one cup of honey for one cup of sugar. Make on a dry day as humidity tends to make the finished product sticky. Use pot holders or oven mitts when handling as the candy will be very hot. Preparation time for my Peanut Butter Brittle is around six minutes (depending on the wattage of your microwave cooking time may vary) and this recipes makes close to 2 lbs.

Peanut Butter Brittle

3 c sugar
3 c peanuts
1 c light corn syrup
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tb margarine
2 tsp baking soda

In a microwave-proof bowl, microwave on high for four minutes (stirring halfway) the sugar, peanuts, corn syrup, and salt. Mix in vanilla and margarine and microwave for two more minutes or until runny. Add baking soda and stir until the mixture becomes light and foamy. Pour onto two large cookie sheets covered with wax paper and spread the candy to about ¼ inch thick. Let completely cool. Turnover and break with a hammer. Peel off wax paper and store candy in an airtight container!

Weekly tip: If you are a chocolaholic, who thinks a bit of chocolate makes everything taste better, melt a couple squares of chocolate or some chocolate chips in the microwave, dip the ends of the Peanut Butter Brittle into it, and let harden for some one-of-a-kind candy!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, columnist, speaker, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more recipes check out her Creative Tennessee Mountain Cookin blog at:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gourmet Hot Chocolate Mix

Gourmet Hot Chocolate Mix
Dorcas Annette Walker

An exciting part of Christmas is giving gifts. Our family tradition is to start placing gifts under the tree as soon as it is up. My youngsters loved touching, carefully counting and shaking presents to see if they could guess what was in them. By their teenage years I was using all sizes of boxes, weights, and items that would make noise in order to camouflage what was inside the wrapped gifts. Now that my kids are grown, I still like to keep them on their toes. For a couple of years I took turns choosing one to be “honored” by giving them a gag gift that involved starting with a big box with a slightly smaller wrapped present inside until they got down to a tiny final gift. Then last year instead of just selecting one person, I wrapped up all their presents that way. This year I plan to have a treasure hunt giving a clue to discover the first gift with the next clue attached to the gift etc. After all the hours spent wrapping presents it will be relaxing to sit back and watch my grown children race back and forth throughout the house searching for their Christmas gifts. I don’t want them to lose the anticipation and excitement of Christmas just because they are getting older. I am open to other suggestions to help keep the spirit of Christmas alive at my house.

Instead of just giving toys, I began when my children were little to give books by a favorite author and then to build sets of books each year. I get my practical side from my mother. When my daughter was a teenager, she would give me the size and colors of a couple carefully selected clothes within a certain price range that I would put back on lay-a-way. I initiated my son-in-law, Randy, on his first Christmas by giving him socks. It has become a family joke with everyone wildly guessing each year in which present Randy will find his socks. I always make sure not to disappoint him. In the first couple of years after my daughter was married her mother-in-law gave a large basket filled with toilet paper, paper towels, laundry soap etc. each Christmas. Last year my daughter she said what she really wanted most for Christmas was a new laundry basket. Like a loving mother I made sure that my daughter got the one she desired. By sharing lists of things that are needed or wanted our family avoids the hassles of standing in long lines after Christmas to return or exchange items.

My Gourmet Hot Chocolate Mix makes an ideal gift from the kitchen. This rich chocolate drink is perfect for wintertime. You can substitute a mocha-flavored creamer with one cup of instant coffee granules; add miniature marshmallows, two teaspoons of ground cinnamon, or chocolate/mint chips to the mix to make one-of-a-kind gourmet drink. Preparation time is ten minutes and this recipe makes around nineteen cups of mix.

Gourmet Hot Chocolate Mix

10 quarts powdered milk
1 (16 oz) coffee creamer
1 (16 oz) instant chocolate breakfast drink
1 lb powdered sugar
1 (5 oz) pkg cook & serve chocolate pudding
In a large container mix all the dry ingredients together thoroughly and store in an airtight container. Use ¼ c of mix to one c of hot water. Serve with marshmallows or peppermint candy canes!

Weekly tip: For a holiday twist dip 24 large marshmallows halfway into a mixture of: 1 c powdered sugar thinned with 4-5 teaspoons of water and then roll in crushed peppermints. Let dry for a couple of hours on wax paper and thread with wooden skewers!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, columnist, speaker, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more recipes check out her Creative Tennessee Mountain Cookin blog at:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Old Fashioned Soda Cracker Fudge

Old Fashioned Soda Cracker Fudge
Dorcas Annette Walker

This month I will be giving recipes ideal for holiday treats or gift giving. Every year around Christmastime I set aside a day in my kitchen baking cookies and cooking candy. With holiday music soaring in the background and scrumptious goodies filling up my counters, Christmas for me really begins. I love giving homemade gifts of cookies and candy to friends and neighbors; something that quickly became a Christmas tradition for our household. In today’s fast-pace society of readymade items lining the shelves of the stores temping one to take shortcuts, Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to slow down enough to set aside some time to have a family night or friend get-to-gether with homemade food. While glittering lights and holiday sales try to tempt one to spend beyond their budget, why not determine to center this Christmas season on family and friends instead of commercialism? Instead of expensive presents, why not give the gift of time and something homemade? Expensive presents can never substitute for sharing oneself.

Fudge is usually a very sweet and extremely rich type of candy often flavored with chocolate. Even though there is no record of when fudge was first invented, fudge is believed to have been the result more than one hundred years ago of an accidental “fudged” batch of caramels as both caramel and fudge are cooked at a very high temperature and need lots of stirring. Fudge quickly became popular, especially on college campuses. Soda cracker fudge or peanut butter cracker fudge originated by using what one had on hand during the depression era. Another widespread item was cracker candy made by layering crackers on the bottom of a foil-lined pan, pouring the boiled ingredients over the crackers, baking for five minutes, chilling in the refrigerator until set, and then broken into pieces.

My Old Fashioned Soda Cracker Fudge is a simple and easy recipe to make that can use various ingredients for different twists. You can add one cup of butterscotch morsels, chopped walnuts, or pecans to this recipe or for chocolate fudge add: one (12 oz) bag of chocolate chips and substitute brown sugar for white then sprinkle on crushed peppermint candies. The possibilities are endless. Preparation time for my Old Fashioned Soda Cracker Fudge is around ten minutes (not counting cooling time) and this recipe makes about a dozen, one-inch pieces of fudge.

Old Fashion Soda Cracker Fudge

2 c sugar
½ c milk
5 tb crunchy peanut butter
1 (7 oz) jar marshmallow crème
24 saltine crackers

Crush crackers in a blender and line in a buttered 9 x 13 inch pan. In a small saucepan bring sugar, milk, peanut butter, and marshmallow crème to a boil and cook for five minutes stirring constantly with a Wisk. Pour over crushed crackers making sure all the crackers are coated. Let cool until set then cut into one-inch pieces. Store fudge in a tight container as it will last a long time- if not eaten first!

Weekly tip: To get marshmallow crème out of the jar without a big mess first dip a large spoon into hot water repeating as necessary. This will cause the marshmallow crème to slide out of the jar and off the spoon with ease!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, columnist, speaker, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more recipes check out her Creative Tennessee Mountain Cookin blog at:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday Cranberry Nut Bread

Holiday Cranberry Nut Bread
Dorcas Annette Walker

I’ll never forget my tenth birthday for two reasons. First it fell right on Thanksgiving Day, which didn’t seem to make it much like a birthday as it was overshadowed by a major holiday. Second instead of a small turkey that year my parents could only afford a duck. Even though our family was poor my parents invited a guest to share Thanksgiving dinner with us. I had the “honor” of sitting beside this scruffy fellow with unkempt long dark hair and scraggly beard that I had never seen before in my life, nor knew where my parents had come across this guy. Today I cannot remember man’s name, but one thing that stands out in my mind is the fact that while this fellow slurped, growled, and plowed his way through the food like a starved person, I barely touched mine. Since visitors were rare in our home and I was quite shy it was like sitting beside a big wild bear. To my ten year old mind, my birthday was a total disaster.

Little did I realize it then, but my parents were instilling valuable principles into my life. At that time going shopping with my father or mother was sooo embarrassing as neither one met a stranger in their life. My parents were always smiling and willing to talk to anyone. Years later my teenage daughter would say to me, “Really, Mom, do you have to talk to everyone? It is so embarrassing!” And no matter how poor we were when Thanksgiving and Christmas came around there was always someone worse off than us that we could help. The holidays are a perfect time to reach out to others. It never ceases to amaze me how a smile, a kind word, or a simple act of kindness can help make someone else’s day and at the same time lift your own spirits.

My Holiday Cranberry Nut Bread is an old Mennonite recipe that has become a favorite in our family. The sweet colorful moist bread with a subtle orange flavor filled with cranberries and nuts always signals that the holidays have begun. Instead of making a loaf you can also turn this recipe into cupcakes or muffins. For added richness slather a slice of Holiday Cranberry Nut Bread with softened cream cheese. Preparation time for my Holiday Cranberry Nut Bread is about an hour and this recipe serves twelve large slices.

Holiday Cranberry Nut Bread

2 c self-rising flour
1 c sugar
1 c chopped cranberries
1 c chopped pecans or walnuts
1 egg
1 c orange juice
¼ c cooking oil

In a medium-sized bowl combine the flour, sugar, cranberries and walnuts. Add the egg, orange juice, and oil mixing thoroughly. Pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350º for 45-50 minutes until browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for five minutes before slicing!

Weekly tip: For a festive touch with your butter or cream cheese: flatten chilled butter or cream cheese with a rolling pin in between wax paper, cut with a lightly greased large cookie cutter, and drizzle with a bit of maple syrup or honey before serving!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, columnist, speaker, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more recipes check out her Creative Tennessee Mountain Cookin blog at: