About Nana Clare

Cookie baker, brownie maker for 50 years. Mom to three, Nana to five. Married to Mr. Right for 36 years. I'm also a sister to seven women - no brothers - and daughter to parents who have been together for 64 years. I love to bake breads, cookies, muffins, rolls, bars and did I say cookies? I make all kinds of jams and jellies and have a killer hot fudge recipe that goes back several generations in my family. Paired with my husband's homemade ice cream it's always a winning combo. Oh Yes! I also enjoy making soups, stews, stir fries and other munchies. I worked full time when my children were young and discovered many short cuts so that I could still provide healthy meals (most of the time). Catholic for life and loving it. BA in theater and speech, costuming/ Broadcasting school graduate/ MS in journalism and mass communication, emphasis in public relations/ Graduate of the Institute for Children's Literature - beginning and advanced classes - yes, I love to learn. And a graduate of many decorative painting schools. See my page on decorative painting in my home.

Cacao Nibs and Chocolate Drops with Palm Sugar

chocolate drop

It’s January and in America that means that all chubbies must diet to make up for the sugar binges of the past three months. (Our holiday celebrations start in October with the purchase of giant bags of candy for Halloween. I purchase mine at the beginning of the month and then invariably have to repurchase several times by the time Beggar’s night arrives.)
I’ve now been off sugar (except for a few small handfuls of dark chocolate and a bite of a coworker’s peanut butter pie) for TWO DAYS! Call the Pope because I think this makes me a candidate for sainthood.
But like any true addict, I’ve found a way around my cravings that could still be called “clean eating.”

cacao nibs

Cacao Nibs were all the rage last year when I bought a container of them at my local health food store, Wheatsfield. They were roasted, to bring out the chocolate flavor. Gotta love that, right? I tried them plain and it was like chewing on twigs dipped in sand. No yummy chocolate mouthfeel, just grit in my teeth.
I took them to my daughter who is a self proclaimed chocoholic. She tried to love them, but in the end rejected them as bitter.

Internet searches told me to put them into cookies and muffins. Done. I ruined several batches of cookies and muffins realizing that they still tasted like gritty twigs, surrounded by better baked batter.

They sat in my cupboard. And they bugged me. For a year. Recently I realized their expiration date was near and decided to at least extract the chocolate from them.

coconut palm sugar


Just as I was preparing to do this, Dr. Oz announced that we should be eating Coconut Palm Sugar because it won’t spike blood sugar. He must have forgotten that he told us that last year. Which is why I had a neglected one pound bag of the expensive sugar sitting on my shelf with the sad cacao nibs.

coconut oil

Perfect, a pairing. And since coconut oil is still in favor this year (stay tuned, as that may be the next ingredient to hit the dust) I decided to make it a trio.

coffee grinder


I cleaned our coffee grinder well and set about whirring the nibs in small batches. I sifted the cacao and reground what remained to make sure it would be lump-free. It yielded about 2 cups of what I thought would be unsweetened cocoa powder. Well it was, sort of. It was impossible to grind it as fine as the unsweetened cocoa powder in the store. So while I was in the grinding mood, I ground the palm sugar too, which had developed lumps that looked like inverted cellulite from my thighs.

cook into a sauce


Not to be discouraged, I dumped it all into a pan to whip up something yummy – and healthy. I won’t say the results are anything that I could sell to make my fortune online. I first started with a sort of sauce, but it was still too “chewy” (read gritty). I decided that if I added another textural element, then the grittiness of the sauce would be in good company. I tossed in toasted pecans. Perfect. Then I put spoonfulls into a mini-muffin pan that was supposed to be “non stick.” I’m so trusting.

I set the pan out in the cold to firm up and my “rescued” dog followed me onto the deck and escaped into the frigid air. Thirty minutes of frenzied pursuit followed until I finally convinced her we needed to go inside. By then my treats had firmed up and I needed a chocolate fix. Bad!
They stuck to the pan, but no true chocolate addict would let that stand in her way.
I will gladly scrape out the bottom of the little muffin cups because the result was a chewy, crunchy chocolate cup that satisfied my cravings and won’t raise my blood sugar.
A sort of success, right?

mini muffin pan


At least if you have a container of cacao nibs, you could try this. If not, use real cocoa powder and your result will be silky.

chocolate drops


Ingredients
2 cups of unsweetened cocoa powder (or ground cacao nibs.)
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar (or stevia or whatever you like to use)
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup milk
1 cup toasted pecans.

Put all the ingredients into a saucepan except the nuts.
Heat slowly and mix well.
Bring mixture to a boil and take off the heat.
Add the pecans. Stir and drop by spoonfulls onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
If you use a minimuffin pan, spray it first.
Chill to firm.

chocolate drops


Sure, it was a process, but it yielded something that will keep me from getting into all the baking supplies I’ve hidden in the basement cupboards – at least until Valentine’s Day.
Let me know how yours turn out.

4 Easy “No Bake” Treats

Too flustered to turn on the oven? Don’t need one for these little goodies.

No bake treats

What you do need is chocolate – lots of chocolate for melting. Use either melting wafers, dark chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate bars. Semi sweet or milk chocolate will all work just fine.
Perfect for holidays, game days or when you need a chocolate fix.

Rolo pecan pretzels


Pecan Rolo PretzelsThese take only moments to put together. But first take ten minutes to gently toast your pecans in a 350 degree oven. This gives them the “snap” that is so delicious.
Ingredients
Rolo candies – unwrapped. (For those who live under a rock, these are small caramels that are dipped in milk chocolate.)
Small pretzels – use any shape you like.
Pecan halves – one for each rolo.

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lay out pretzels on a cookie sheet or bar pan.
Place one unwrapped rolo candy on each pretzel.
Bake for 2-3 minutes until the candies start to melt.
Take them out of the oven and press a pecan onto the top of each caramel.
Cool, eat. That’s it.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzels


Chocolate Covered Pretzel Peanut Butter Treats

This is a new twist on the standard chocolate covered pretzels.
For this treat, look for pretzels that are filled with peanut butter.
Melt chocolate and toss in a handful of the pretzels.
Fish them out and place on a plate that has been lined with wax paper.
Cool, eat, that’s it!

Buckeyes


Buckeyes
These are old standby’s in the Midwest. Basically peanut butter balls covered in chocolate.
Ingredients
1 stick butter (or less – you could cut this in half.)
1 small jar of peanut butter – 15 or 16 oz.
2-3 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Dash salt
Dark chocolate (or semi-sweet – your choice)

Directions for Buckeyes
Mix everything except the chocolate until you have a very still dough.
Dip them out using a small cookie scoop – or about 2 tsp per ball.
Roll them into balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.
Put in the fridge until firm. (Or outside if it’s winter in the Midwest.)
Melt some chocolate, being careful not to get any water into the chocolate.
Use a toothpick to stab a firm peanut butter ball and dip into the chocolate to coat all except the tops.
Let them set up. Don’t they look like Buckeye nuts? Sure they do.
Cool. Eat, That’s it!

Bonus –
Ritz Cracker Peanut Butter Treats

OK, if you don’t have rolos or pretzels, you probably have whole wheat Ritz crackers – right?
Sure, you’re trying to eat healthy, so you have the whole wheat ones.
Take two crackers and smear one with peanut butter (or almond butter). Make a sandwich by placing another on top.
Melt a handful of chocolate chips and coat the cracker-sandwich in chocolate.
Cool, Eat. That’s it.

Sure, we could do this all day, but this will get you started.
Happy New Year!

Pumpkin Pie Cake

This is the best of both worlds – pumpkin pie with a cakey/crunchy layer of pecans and other goodies on top. Pumpkin Pie with cake. What could be better?

pumpkin pie cake

I made this for a church potluck and I had intended to get pictures of people eating it. But it disappeared quickly. The great thing is that it easily serves 16 – or more if you cut the slices smaller. The rich sweet pumpkin pie on the bottom is topped with buttery pecans and it makes a wonderful combination. Trust me on this one. This is a heritage recipe that has been a family favorite for many years.

drizzle butter over cake mix


Ingredients for Pumpkin Pie Cake – the bottom
29 oz can of pure pumpkin
4 eggs (5 if they are only “large”)
1 1/2 cups sugar – brown or white. (I usually use brown and cut it back to 1 cup.)
12 oz evaporated milk (or 14 oz if your can has 14 oz)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
dash all spice
1 tsp salt

cover with pecans


Topping ingredients:
1 box of cake mix – white, yellow or spice
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups pecans – roughly chopped

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a 9″ x 13″ cake pan with baking spray – or butter it.
Put all the ingredients for the pumpkin pie bottom into a large bowl.
Beat for several minutes until well combined.
Pour into the prepared cake pan.

Sprinkle an entire cake mix over the top of the pumpkin – but do NOT mix it into the pumpkin.
Melt the butter (not margarine!) and drizzle it over the cake mix.
Scatter the pecans over the butter and very gently press into the cake mix.

Bake 70 – 85 minutes, depending on your oven.

pumpkin pie cake


The pumpkin pie will still be a bit wobbly, but should be set up fairly well. The pecans should be golden.
Serve alone or with ice cream or whipped cream. But do make this.

Reindeer Sugar Cookies

I didn’t create the reindeer sugar cookies, but after I saw a picture of them online, I knew I had to make some. I brought a few dozen to a party with lots of hungry small children and they were a big hit.

Rudolph


The kids had just been caroling at a local nursing home. They went to three separate dining rooms within the home. At first we could hardly hear them whisper “Silent Night” but after the residents responded and clapped for them, their courage grew. By the final set, they were belting out “Joy to the World” and suggesting encores.

get ready to sing

form dough

bake on parchment paper

gumdrop noses

little carolers

Parishioner Tera Sitzmann organized the event and provided most of the dinner, which we enjoyed at our church.
I used both green and red gumdrops for the reindeer noses, but the kids called them “Rudolph” no matter what color the nose.

You’ll need:
Bag of green and red gum drops
Batch of sugar cookie dough (see recipe below, or buy some premade.)
Small bag of tiny pretzels
Chocolate chips – I used Ghiradelli because they are the biggest.
I can of plain white frosting – or two cups of your own recipe. (Yes, I admit it, I used the can because I was in a bit of a rush.)

Fabulous Sugar Cookies
1 1/2 cups butter, softened (3 sticks)
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract

5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Directions for sugar cookies
Cream the butter and sugar until there are no lumps.
Add eggs one at a time and beat after each one.
Add dry ingredients and beat just until incorporated.
Pat the dough into 3 balls and cover each with plastic wrap.
Chill for 1 hour (or overnight, if you like.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove dough from fridge and while still wrapped, shape into a sort of log.
Push on the dough until you form a sort of triangle shape, but with rounded edges.
Cut the logs into cookies between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick.
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake 6 – 8 minutes.
Let Cookies cool.

To assemble the reindeer
Pour supplies into bowls for easy access.
Spread frosting on each cookie.
Apply the pretzels for antlers.
Press in two chocolate chips for eyes.
Finish with a gumdrop nose.

So simple, yet colorful and fun to eat. The sweet frosting is a nice contrast to the salty pretzels.