Crispy Caramel Haystacks

I like caramel, but I LOVE it when it’s in the arms of dark chocolate. An admission: I think not liking chocolate is a character flaw. There – I’ve said it out loud. Gasp.

almost like turtles

Yes, I’m prejudiced – and judgemental. How does a person pass up a chocolate dessert? Or an offer to bake something with chocolate in it? It’s a mystery to my chocolate-coated brain. Perhaps these people were dropped on their heads as infants. (No wait, I never dropped my middle child and he prefers vanilla.) OK, I’ll show tolerance, even if I cannot embrace understanding…for the sake of world peace.
This leads me to explain why I made another baked item that contained no chocolate.
In January, I pledged to bake six times as part of a fund raiser for my church. It was a fun auction and the winners paid $275, so I try to do my best work, which is play for me. I lent them a book of cookie recipes I rarely use to encourage my brain to try new items. I dreamed of being up to my elbows in dark chocolate chips, dreamy double chocolate dough, or fudgy frostings. But they chose no chocolate! Can you imagine? They seem like nice, normal people, so I’ll let the “no chocolate” quirk slide – this time. Crispy Caramel Haystacks were their fifth pick. The others have all been chocolate free.

a pan of marshmallows

Crispy Caramel Haystacks are very gooey, sticky little treats that are similar to a Ting-a-ling. Make them in two steps and work quickly.
They are from “500 Best Cookies, Bars and Squares,” by Esther Brody. (Don’t you wonder how many cookies she tried and tasted to find the 500 best? And she has several other cookbooks out. This is a lady who loves to bake!)

add chow mein noodles

drop by spoonfuls

drizzle caramel on top

caramel haystacks

Ingredients for about 24 haystacks
2 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
3 TBS butter
2 cups chow mein noodles
12 caramels – unwrapped (Duh Clare!)
1 TBS water
2 TBS peanut butter

Line a baking sheet with wax paper – or use butter to grease a baking sheet.
In a large saucepan, over very low heat, melt the marshmallows and butter. Stir constantly until smooth. Remove from heat.
Add chow mein noodles and mix until evenly coated.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the wax paper. (If the mixture sets up too quickly, put it back on a very low burner for a minute.)
Melt the caramels, water and peanut butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly until smooth.
Drizzle caramel mixture over the haystacks. Actually, it’s more like plop the caramels on the top of the stacks.
Refrigerate until firm.

This sticky-sweet treat will be one caramel lovers will adore. The crunchy chow mein noodle base makes for a very satisfying chewy treat. As for me, next time I’ll dip them in chocolate.

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Lenten Tuna Rice Hot Dish

it's a classic

In prehistoric times when I was a child – and before cell phones, whole wheat white flour and Google – we were served tuna rice casserole nearly every Friday. Actually, we called it tuna hot dish. The rules were changed when I was a teenager; Catholics are now required to eat tuna hot dish only on the Fridays of Lent and on Ash Wednesday.(Unless they can find a local church-run fish fry.) This has caused recipes for tuna hot dishes to almost disappear from modern cookbooks. But anyone over 50 has the recipe ingrained on their brain: tuna, rice, cream soup and chow mein noodles. Actually, to be truthful (because it’s Lent) sometimes people put smashed potato chips or crackers on top, but only if they were out of chow mein noodles.
I was skipping through the Minnesota Catholic Daughters Cookbook of 1976, when I was struck with the cultural information gleaned from reading that book. For one thing, we rarely use the term “hot dish.” Or “goulash,” which in Minnesota, my mother country, means “hungry kids herded to the table.” My mother had another similar dish which she called “slum gulligan stew.” Leftover food from the last week or so was cooked up with noodles, canned peas and cream soup. I think it was the inspiration for the hit TV show Gilligan’s Island, but I can’t be sure of this.

partially cook the veggies

add cayenne pepper

But the cooks of the mid 1970’s were serious about their fried noodles. As I plowed my way through the chapter on hot dishes, I marveled at the variety. Some hot dishes put the noodles on the bottom of the pan. Other inventive cooks mixed them into the tuna/soup middle. Most used the crunchy noodles on top. If the noodles were used as the bottom layer, then it was permissible to use potato chips on top, even if you weren’t out of the noodles. I just want to be really truthful here…because it’s Lent.

don't forget the cheese

The hot dish names really got my attention: Convention Hot Dish, Tuna Devils, Glorified Tuna Hot Dish, Very Good Tuna Hot Dish, Earnie’s Supreme Tuna Hot Dish, and Preacher’s Hot Dish (which used chili powder! Clearly borrowed from the Lutherans).My favorite: Surprise Tuna Hot Dish – which broke the chow mein noodle rule, and used crackers on top.

add crushed crackers

I should have purchased stock in chow mein noodles in the 1970’s. We even ate them like candy – called Ting a Lings. (When I say “we” I’m including my seven sisters and various foster sisters.) We’d melt chocolate chips, mix in a handful of chow mein noodles and drop them onto a bar pan. If it was winter, which it is 9 months of the year in Minnesota, we put the pan outside on the steps until they set up. Of course, we had to watch carefully to keep the crows away – and the swarms of neighbor kids who could smell chocolate for blocks.
Somewhere in the late 1980’s Tater Tots were invented as a tuna topper alternative, but I’m certain you can still purchase chow mein noodles.

whole wheat Ritz - but not for mock pie

I recently bought Ritz crackers – another approved tuna topper – which now comes with a whole wheat Ritz option. When I read the side of the box I wondered what happened to the “Mock Apple Pie” recipe they had on the box for decades? This culinary wonder called for crackers for the crust and then replaced the apples with crackers for the filling. I wouldn’t lie to you about this… during lent. Probably in the bowels of the Ritz Cracker Company Headquarters they still have the recipe and perhaps a slice of the pie enclosed in plastic for posterity. I never made it.
Oh yes, Tuna Hot Dish. Let’s get a move on. Or “shake a leg” as my Dad would say.

ready to eat

• I use a lot of frozen vegetables that I’ve chopped and put in baggies.
• I boil the vegetables before putting in a casserole when the rest of the ingredients are cooked – like this one. It cuts down on oven time, but it’s optional. If you like your veggies to have more crunch, leave out this step.
• If you don’t care for peppers and onions, use peas, green beans and carrots for the vegetables.

2 – 5 oz cans water packed tuna, drained (Remember when the cans were always 6 ounces?)
1 can low fat cream of celery (or mushroom soup) (You know I had to go there.)
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
½ green pepper, chopped
½ red pepper, chopped
½ small onion chopped (Ok just make sure you use 1 – 1 1/2 cups of veggies, your choice.)
2 cups cooked brown rice (Or white, you decide.)
1/3 cup low fat milk (Or full fat – you’re getting the idea.)
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 package (not a box) Ritz Crackers (about 15) crushed (Or however many are left after you sample a few.) I used whole wheat, because it’s Lent, but you do as you like.

roasted brussel sprouts

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• In a medium sized casserole dish, add the cooked rice, cream soup, milk and tuna.
• Boil the chopped veggies in plain water for about two minutes. Drain and add to the tuna mixture.
• Add salt, peppers, cheese and stir to combine.
• Sprinkle the crushed crackers on top.
• Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
Roasted brussel sprouts: wash, cut the stem end off, slice in half. Put in small baking dish and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic salt and Italian seasoning. Bake for 20 – 3o minutes, covered.

This is a modern tuna rice casserole, which was creamy with a bit of a kick. We really liked it. Let me know if you try it.