Sunday, June 23, 2013

dn's Choco-PB Haystack Crunchies

Summer is here and so is the summer heat! 

Even if you've already stocked your freezer with homemade baked treats to last through the summer or have air conditioning, you are probably still going to want at least one yummy treat recipe that doesn't require turning on the oven!

This twist on the classic childhood fave, only requires a few minutes of time watching and stirring a pot on the stove! Then a bit of mixing, dropping the batter on prepared pans and some chilling before you and your family or guests can dig into a delicious treat!

Growing up. I remember my mom making "Haystack Cookies" - the classic, no bake chocolate and quick oats drop cookies. They were easy to make and aside from a few minutes watching and stirring a pot on the stove, they didn't add much more heat to the old farm house during the warm days of summer. I liked these cookies, but they were definitely on the sweet side and never chocolaty enough for me! I've also never been a huge fan of coconut - especially the sweetened kind that was the most readily available in our area when I was young.

I hadn't made Haystacks or even tasted them in years! 

Then, a few months ago, I came across a recipe online that put a slight twist on the original - it called for peanut butter! Hmm, that could be really good! It got me thinking about what other kinds of changes I could make.....

There are many similar recipes online - with varying degrees of sugar and peanut butter. The other ingredients, were pretty much the same as the original.

As usual, I made my own adjustments - reducing the amount of sugar and also adding some crushed peanuts instead of the coconut. It was good, but I knew I could tweak it even more!

A few days ago, I made the recipe again with additional adjustments. I reduced the sugar even more but added some chocolate hazelnut spread (aka Nutella) and some dark chocolate chips. I reduced the oats a bit and added some crispy rice cereal (aka Rice Krispies).

A note on the Chocolate Hazelnut Spread: The most well known version of this is Nutella which is quite good, however my favourite version of this tasty spread is actually President's Choice which is made for, and distributed by, Loblaw's Inc and their numerous affiliates stores (such as Real Canadian Superstore) here in Canada. It is also a fair bit cheaper than the name brand! This is not to be confused with the yellow labeled No Name version (also sold by the chain) which is sweeter, runnier and not as much flavour. Compliment's which is the store brand from Sobey's is also a decent alternative to Nutella. I can't speak to versions offered through stores in the USA or other countries.

The result of all my adjustments to the recipe, is still a little on the sweet side but not as overwhelmingly sweet as the original. Some "Haystack" recipes use as much as 2 CUPS of sugar!! Mine is down to 1 1/3 cups sugar and although there is sugar in the chocolate chips and in the chocolate hazelnut spread, my new version isn't nearly as sweet!!

My newest creation is loaded with chocolaty, peanut butter flavour and the additional nuts and crispy cereal give it that needed crunch!

I gave some samples to a few friends to taste test and they thought it was awesome! I asked them for name suggestions and got some interesting responses but decided to go a bit more traditional!.

So, this isn't your grandmother's ... or even your mother's Haystacks recipe of old .... BUT this is a tasty treat for a summer's day!

dn's Choco-PB Haystack Crunchies
1/2 cup crushed peanuts (I use blanched salted peanuts)
1 cup crispy rice cereal
2 2/3 cups quick cooking oats
1 1/3 cups white sugar
1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon good quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk (I use 1%)
1/4 cup margarine - block kind NOT soft!!
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter (I use Skippy)
1/4 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I use Foley's or Chipits)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

- Line 2 cookie sheets with wax paper and set aside.
- Mix the peanuts, crispy rice cereal and quick oats in a bowl and set aside.
- Measure out the peanut butter, Nutella and chocolate chips into a large measuring cup. (DO NOT use disbursement method to measure the peanut butter!!!)
- Mix sugar and cocoa in a large sauce pot (a 2 1/2 - 3 qt/litre pot is required to prevent spillover while mixing). 
- Stir in the milk to thoroughly combine - then add margarine.
- Over medium heat, bring to boil. NOTE: It is tempting to turn up the heat, but this recipe works best on medium heat even though it takes a bit longer. You do need to keep a close watch on this and stir often while heating to the boiling point.
- Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the peanut butter, chocolate hazelnut spread, chocolate chips and vanilla. Stir till melted and thoroughly combined.
- Remove pot from the stove and set on a heat safe surface. Stir in the peanuts, cereal and oats - mixing to coat all in the chocolate mixture.
- Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets.
- Chill in fridge for a couple of hours. Then transfer to a container, cover and store in fridge till serving. They may crumble a bit, but not nearly as much if you put a strip of wax paper between each layer so that they don't overlap or bump against each other as much. They can also be frozen in the same manner for up to a month.
- Makes about 4 dozen.



Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Sudsy Wash

If past predictions of the future were to have been believed, we'd all be wearing self-cleaning clothes by now. Sadly, laundry is still part of our regular routine - unless of course you can afford a laundry service! For the majority of us, that isn't within our budgets so we eventually have to do the laundry.

I've never actually owned my own washer or dryer. With only a couple of exceptions, every place I've lived has had on site laundry facilities. Those that didn't, had facilities within a couple of blocks so it wasn't a huge issue.

Laundry, has never been one of my favourite chores - it is a necessity more than anything. Growing up on the farm, meant that doing small or even half loads was a waste of water and power. So, I've taken that advice and added that I will always try to wait till I am running low on things (usually underwear) before I lug it all to the laundry room!

I hate having anything that requires hand washing! Regardless of how cautious and thorough I am, it always seemed stiff or still smelling too strong of soap. To this day, I will gladly barter baking for hand washing of delicates! Heck, I'll even barter baking for ironing!

Over the years, I somehow developed allergies to most detergents. The strong scents and chemicals caused me to sneeze and have itchy red skin. For the last 25 years or so, the only detergent I've been able to use is Ivory Snow!

I am also unable to use pretty much all bleach products. The only real exception I've found is Oxi Clean - a powdered product that I have used for over ten years and LOVE! I wrote about it back in 2009 in a post called "Cleaning Up".

Until a couple of years ago, the building where I currently reside, had the old standard top load washers. They were replaced by front load washers and new dryers. 
Despite the new machines that strongly suggest using liquid detergent, I still used powder as it allows me to more accurately see how much I am adding - you just have to add it to the drum rather than the little slot at the top. If you add powder via the slot, it will eventually clog. 

That was all well and good until a couple of months ago when I couldn't find Ivory Snow powder while shopping. I had to buy the liquid!

The most recent reincarnation of the Ivory Snow packaging is mostly white and light pink - including the print. The pink cap that doubles as a measuring cup, has raised pink lines.

I don't know the manufacturer's criteria for testing ease of use or readability of their labeling, but whoever told them this was a user friendly cap or that their labeling was easy to read either had a passion for pink, had perfect vision or was lying! My fully sighted friends even have trouble reading the label or seeing the lines!
With my limited vision, I certainly can't see those lines so would have to touch them to know how much is in there. This wouldn't be a huge issue, except that there is no sink in our laundry room. The cap would be wet, soapy and sticky to put back on the bottle. Not to mention my soapy finger. I'd have to remember to take a wet cloth with me to wipe both the cap and my hands on it and then throw the cloth in the wash before shutting the door and pressing whichever cycle I want to use - which also locks the door. 
Well, the first time I went down, I forgot a wet cloth. Oh well, I could just pour the soap into the machine's soap slot directly. I'd just do it slowly and carefully. I put the clothes in, closed the door, hit colours and started to pour....

What I didn't know was that the soap automatically starts feeding into the machine once you start pouring - thus never really filling the slot unless you pour really quickly. 
Yup, I'd probably poured 1/3 of the bottle in before I realized what I'd done! There was no way to stop the machine at that point.

OH NO!!! What had I done? There was nothing I could do at that point, so I left the laundry room and came back to my apartment to wait the 35 minutes for the machine to finish.

I had visions of walking back into a laundry room full of soap bubbles!

Thankfully the laundry room was empty of soap bubbles and people when I returned.

I cautiously opened the machine door and saw that there were still lots of little soap bubbles among the clothes. I shut the door and repeated the entire cycle - WITHOUT adding soap in hopes of removing the remaining bubbles and overwhelming scent of the soap!
It worked! PHEW!!

I've only done a couple loads since then and have been EXTREMELY careful adding the soap!

I've also managed to track down the Ivory Snow powder. I had a friend pick up two boxes for me. Since I don't do a lot of laundry - maybe 3 large loads/month - nor do I get things overly dirty, those boxes should last me a couple years at least! I'll keep the liquid for emergency purposes only!
Maybe by then, Ivory Snow will come up with a design that people can actually see, read and be more user friendly.

Yeah, I doubt it either. I'll keep buying the powder - at least that way I know how much to use!

Either way - it will (hopefully) all come out in the wash!