No-bake Chocolate, Pretzel, and Peanut Butter Squares

FullSizeRenderIt takes longer to type the name of these salty-sweet treats than it does to make them. My friend Sherie made these for the book club babes last time she hosted, and since she’d used Trader Joe’s gluten-free pretzels, all her GF friends were delighted to have sweets they could eat! Then when I was dying for a wheat-free cookie or a bar last week (that didn’t taste like sawdust), I asked her for her recipe. She’d found it on, recipe courtesy of country star Trisha Yearwood. My only adjustment was to use Nestlé’s semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate, as that’s what I keep on hand.

All you need for tools is a big bowl for stirring, and a 9″x13″ pan to chill them in. No oven! All you need for ingredients is butter (of course!), pretzels, confectioner’s sugar, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. I found an 8-ounce bag of Snyder’s gluten-free pretzels at Kowalski’s, but I’m sure there’s a good brand at just about any grocery store. The original recipe didn’t call for GF pretzels, so use whatever kind of pretzels your little heart desires, my Valentine. 

These were so easy! (In fact, your kid’s pet hamster could probably make them, unsupervised.) I thought I was making these treats just for me, but my husband loved them, too. In fact he liked them so much he ate half a pan, all by his lone self in two days time. BOOM! He told me someone broke into the house and ate them. They didn’t touch the TV and computers, but ate my bars. Imagine that! Smart thieves.

Ease rating: Judy easy (anyone can make them!)

Makes 20 bars

1½ sticks (¾ cup) butter, melted
2 cups (8-ounce bag) pretzel rods or sticks, crushed into crumbs*
1½ cups confectioner’s sugar
1¼ cups smooth peanut butter, divided
1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

In large bowl, stir together melted butter, pretzel crumbs, confectioner’s sugar, and 1 cup of the peanut butter. (Recipe calls for smooth, but I only buy chunky, so there are visible peanut bits in my chocolate “frosting.”) Press mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9″x13″ pan. Combine the chocolate chips and the remaining ¼ cup peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl or 2-cup measuring cup and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir, and microwave for additional 30 seconds. Stir again, until peanut butter and chocolate are smooth and creamy. If needed, heat for another 15 or 30 seconds, until all chocolate chips are melted. Spread over peanut-pretzel layer. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before cutting into squares. Do not need to keep refrigerated once chocolate has cooled. Keep covered, and store at room temperature.

*NOTE: Gluten-free pretzels have a unique texture, and do not crumble quite as easily as regular pretzels. You can try crushing them by putting them in a Ziplock bag and using a rolling pin to pulverize, but I found I needed a food processor to crush them into crumbs.

Chocolate Cherry Christmas Mice

FullSizeRenderThese darling little mice are adorable additions to any Christmas cookie platter, a welcome relief from all the buttery treats. My Mom introduced these into her Christmas baking ritual a couple decades ago, and has made them faithfully every year since. If you decide to make these, just know they are a labor of love—this is a time-intensive food project! But we all feel it’s well worth my mother’s time to make ’em. (Heeheehee) Chocolate cherry mice have become such a fave with certain family members, that Mom made my nephew Gebre his own personal box of critters for Christmas one year. (The kicker is, she doesn’t even like the chocolate-cherry combo!) When my niece Mikaela was really little, she once asked my Mom, “Are you making those rats again for Christmas, Grandma?” Guess this is one case where it’s OK to have rodents in your kitchen.

IMG_1271While this isn’t really a kid-friendly project, you could enlist the help of youngsters to unwrap (and not eat) the Hershey’s kisses you need for the mouse heads. You will need to have all your supplies out and in order to be ready to assemble these. Once done and cooled, they can be frozen, but preferably not stacked. My mother stores her sweet treats in an old (but clean!) film reel canister, the perfect thing for storing these in the freezer. If you didn’t have the advantage my Mom had of working in an AV department and scoring a find like that, look around for other large, flat containers for storage.

Roughly 48 mice

2 bottles (8-ounces) maraschino cherries with stems, rinsed, drained, and dried with paper towels (FOR BODY AND TAIL)
12-ounce bag of Hershey’s kisses, milk chocolate (or dark), unwrapped (FOR HEAD)
7-ounce container of Baker’s dipping milk chocolate (or dark), heated per directions on package*
100 sliced almonds (FOR EARS)
Tube of red gel decorating frosting (FOR EYES)

Have a baking sheet lined with wax paper ready for assembling mice. Holding cherry by stem, dip cherry and part of stem into melted Baker’s chocolate. Hold above container to let excess chocolate drain off cherry for a few seconds. With other hand, hold Hershey’s kiss by point end, flat side up. Lay two almond slice “ears” on top of Hershey’s kiss, and press on to cherry and allow chocolate to pool around “ears” and “head.” Hold Hershey’s kiss “head” onto cherry for a few seconds until it appears it is cooled enough to stay on it’s own. Once all the mice have been assembled, add two beady eyes to each mouse with the gel frosting. Store cooled mice in airtight container. Freeze.

*NOTE: You will need to reheat dipping chocolate occasionally as you work. If it thickens as it cools, do NOT add water to chocolate!!! It will turn into a solid brick. Add a bit of shortening and heat to make it creamy again.

Lime Bars

IMG_1078Feeling citrusy? Try these refreshingly zippy lime bars for a break from all the pumpkin-flavored offerings that take over the world in the fall. These are the same recipe as the lemon bars you’ve all tasted before (they often appear at potlucks or post-funeral lunches), just subbing in lime for the lemon in the same amounts. I won’t give credit to any one source, because it would be easier to tell you who doesn’t post this recipe on their blog or have it printed in their cookbook—that’s how popular it is. I did see one source that suggested the yield was 72 bars. Maybe if you’re feeding mice, you could cut them that small. But not on my watch, no sir! I like my sweets substantial. If your teeth don’t ache from the size of the bar and the concentration of sugar, I’ll hang up my apron for good.

Makes 18-24 bars

Rating: Easy

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioners sugar
1 cup butter, cold
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
13  cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
Additional confectioners sugar for topping

Preheat oven to350° Fahrenheit. Combine flour and sugar; cut in butter. Press crust into 13″x9″ pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat eggs on high with whisk attachment until pale yellow. Gradually add sugar, salt, lime juice, and lime zest. Continue beating on high. Pour over hot crust.

Bake another 20-25 minutes until golden brown. May need to cover with foil to avoid over-browning towards end. Dust with confectioners sugar. Cool and cut into bars.

Oatmeal Carmelitas

FullSizeRenderOats and caramel and chocolate—oh my! This recipe was entered in the Pillsbury Bake-Off by Minnesotan Erlyce Larson in 1967, and won hands down. One bite of these gooey taste treats, and you’ll agree whole-heartedly with the judges decision. My friend Lois brought these to a gathering at our house, and they were the hit of the dessert table. (I consumed more than my fair share, so that’s why there are so few left on the plate in the photo. Sadly, this image doesn’t do them justice.) My mother makes a similar Caramel Candy Bar (posted a few weeks ago). Mom’s recipe is to die for, but her recipe requires laboriously unwrapping dozens of caramel candies to make the luscious middle layer, while this recipe uses a short-cut—a jar of caramel ice cream topping. Next time you’re planning a party, invite Lois. And ask her to bring these heavenly bars. Mmmmmm.


2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups margarine or butter, softened


1 (12.5 ounce) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 13″ x 9″ pan. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.