“If it’s flourless, does it mean less calories???”

Raising the twins requires plenty of energy and a lot of work. These days I spend my time down on the floor singing songs, shaking rattles and playing peek-a-boo with my girls. Occasionally, I find a chance to open the computer, but not long enough to actively update my posts. As I am hardly in the kitchen lately, I asked a few friends if they would contribute to the blog and do a few guest posts. Here is one from my first brave soul: Beth from Boston with a deliciously sounding chocolate cake that doesn’t require flour! Which has led me to wonder: “If it’s flourless, does it mean less calories?” Happy Baking!

When I’m bringing dessert somewhere, I would always rather make cookies or bars than a whole cake. Not only because bite-size, single-serving items are pleasing to serve – but also because cookies are less intimidating to make. They require no frosting, no special cake stands. You can sample them and ensure you aren’t poisoning people. And you can set some aside for when you come back from the party and need a late night snack.

This cake, however, is terribly easy. Unintimidating to make, impressive to serve, and totally worth it, for several reasons:
-There are only 5 ingredients.
-It’s a petite little thing. At a table full of desserts, this cake will seem approachable.
-It’s gluten free (though check your cocoa powder to be sure). Dieters will even convince themselves to eat it, because it has no flour and no garish frosting.
-It’s really good.

If baking is about showing someone you care, this cake is an enthusiastic embrace. You don’t even need a party to bring it to – and you probably have the ingredients already. Best of all, even if you invert it onto a paper plate, it’s a lot more elegant than a sloppy pile of cookies.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
adapted from Gourmet, with notes for bakers in the Czech Republic

4 oz fine quality bittersweet chocolate (I like a Lindt mix of 70 and 85%, but 4oz is just a little more than one of those bars, according to my scale. So you’ll have extra. You can use it as a topping, or save those squares to eat when you get home from the party, solving that whole problem of having a late night snack waiting for you.)
1 stick/½ cup/113g unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs (I don’t use large – I just look in the carton and choose the biggest ones, because sometimes there is crazy variation.)
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus extra for sprinkling, if you want. (I use Orion na varenie, which has just a cup or so per box. You could totally make this cake twice, very easily, and then that could be your late night snack).

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C.
Butter an 8 inch round baking pan, line it with wax paper (I use parchment) and butter the paper. (A note on the pan – I use a silicone pan I got at Tesco, and the flexibility makes it ideal for this kind of cake. A metal pan would be fine, too.)
Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
In a double boiler (feel free to improvise with different size pans – just make sure the water in the pan underneath is barely boiling), melt the chocolate with the butter, stirring until smooth.
Remove the chocolate from the heat and whisk in sugar, then eggs.
Sift in ½ cup cocoa powder and whisk until just combined.
Pour batter into pan and bake 25 minutes, or until a thin crust is formed on top.
Cool in pan for 5 minutes and then invert onto a serving plate.

Then comes the best part. You can leave the cake just as it is (simple and lovely), or personalize it however you want. Lily-gilding options include:

-Making a ganache (heat up 1 cup cream and pour over 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, stirring until chocolate is melted. Let it cool to room temp and whip until it becomes frosting.)
-Tossing some raspberries on top and around the edges. Or toasted peanuts and coconut flakes.
-Opening a can of Tatra Caramel and making a swirly design on top.
-Cutting the cake into brownies – or use a star-shaped cookie cutter (this defeats the whole pretty presentation idea, but does allow you to eat the scraps and make sure you aren’t poisoning people).
-Shaving some chocolate curls on top, dusting on some extra cocoa powder, and sticking a sprig of mint in the middle. Or rosemary – whatever! People will think you are being exotic!
-Serving the cake with ice cream – but you know what’s more interesting than ice cream, and really delicious? Mascarpone cheese. With a little honey swirled in, and some cardamom or nutmeg sprinkled on top.

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Bionic Blueberry Buttermilk Cake

I’ll probably regret this. I’ve got two six-week old newborns that are happily fed and snoozing away. I too should be sleeping. I shouldn’t be baking. I shouldn’t be blogging. However, fortune is on my side and she has come disguised as my mother.

This divine woman has given up a few months of her life in NYC to come and help me care for the two new additions to our family. Over the last few nights, with a little help from a breast pump, she has taken over the dreaded middle of the night wake up call and fed our two little darlings. This means for the first time in over a month, I have had a stretch of uninterrupted sleep (five hours is a lot these days!) and that makes me feel like the Bionic Woman!

Sleep is a precious thing.

With all that extra energy I wanted to do something I haven’t been able to do in a long while: spend some time in the kitchen. This whole new lifestyle has pumped up my cravings for cake. Probably not a good thing since I still have about 10 pregnancy pounds to shed. But, I gotta have my cake!

Stocked up in the fridge was a container of buttermilk and a basket of blueberries. That combination called for a Blueberry Buttermilk cake with a spiced pecan topping. A perfect way to make the transition from summer to autumn.

Blueberry Buttermilk Cake with Spiced Pecans

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter (at room temp)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°/180.

In a large bowl, cream 1/2 cup butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir into butter mixture. Add buttermilk and mix; gently fold in blueberries.

In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pecans. Pour half the cake batter into a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Sprinkle with half the brown sugar mixture and top with the remaining batter.

Combine the remaining brown sugar mixture with 2 tablespoons butter and sprinkle over the top of the batter. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes.

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Shrimp-y Dipping

I love a good shrimp cocktail. The best I ever tasted was on the coast of the Riveira Maya. Cocteles de mariscos is her name. My husband and I were there in the summer of 2009, enjoying one of our many home exchanges. If you haven’t yet experienced this wonderful way of traveling, do give it a try. We have had many wonderful trips exchanging our flat in Prague for homes all around the world.

Climate wise, it probably wasn’t the best time to be visiting Playa del Carmen. It was hot and humid. We were sweaty and sticky during our days on the beach and at night cruising up and down Avenida quinta. Our air-conditioned apartment was our haven of relief. The only other alternative to cooling down was to enjoy a cocteles de mariscos. A mix of seafood, such as shrimp, octopus, scallops and squid swimming in a deliciously cool spiced-citrusy sauce and served in a tall, chilled cocktail glass along with a few saltines crackers. It was one of our favorite ways to end our day at the beach and start our evenings off.

Unfortunately, fresh seafood is tough to come by here in Prague. But some places do have a pretty good frozen selection. This recipe is no cocteles de mariscos, but I do enjoy the punch the mango chutney gives mixed in with the lime, yogurt, cilantro and mint.

Shrimp with Mango Chutney/Yogurt Dip

1 pound of cooked shrimp with tails left on

1/2 cup mango chutney
1 cup yogurt
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons cilantro, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons mint, thinly sliced

Mix all the ingredients together, except the shrimp.
Refrigerate the dip for at least an hour.

Arrange shrimp around the dip and serve.

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How I Got My Garlic Back

At the start of my pregnancy, the one ingredient that I found repelling was garlic. Prior to the hormone invasion and the development of this new keen sense of smell, garlic and I had a pretty pleasant relationship. I wasn’t in love with it, but it also didn’t make me gag. However, after these last months of being pregnant, I thought garlic and I would need to go our separate ways.

My husband wasn’t allowed to cook with it. Oh my, the smell of garlic frying in the pan would trigger nausea and unattractive barfing motions. In fact, I even asked him to watch what he ate for lunch when at work. As soon as he entered our apartment, I could tell if garlic was in his meal or not. I couldn’t bear it. I was worse than a vampire.

Some of my girlfriends who passed the thresholds of pregnancy told me that many of the foods they had grown to dislike during that time, never reversed itself after wards. And so I wondered if that would happen with garlic. Was roasted garlic going to be out of my life forever? This all important ingredient that often appears in recipes to boost flavor? Would I be able to find a substitute?

Well, those hormones have calmed down and instead of being turned off by food, lately I am just tired and in need of sleep. I put myself to the test and tried to see if good ol’garlic and I still had a chance. Could this relationship be saved? Instead of omitting it from a recipe, with this one, I pushed myself to include it by first frying it in a pan. To my surprise, my olfactory nerve was able to tolerate it. That old familiar scent of garlic frying in oil didn’t cause a stir or send me away. Not only could I stand it, but after adding the rest of the recipe’s ingredients, I was able to sit down and enjoy eating it in my food again. Here’s a story with a happy ending: garlic and I are back together.



Shrimp with Garlic, Zucchini and Tomatoes

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 zucchini, diced
1 medium tomato or 12 cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
200-300 grams of shrimp, unpeeled
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large frying pan.
Add the garlic and chili flakes.
Cook until slightly golden.
Then add the zucchini, tomatoes and dried oregano.
Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
Then add the shrimp and basil.
Cook for another 2 minutes.
Season to taste.

Orzo

1 small onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup orzo
3-4 cups water or broth

Heat oil and butter in frying pan.
Add onion and cook until transparent.
Add orzo, stir and be sure pasta is evenly coated with oil.
Then add a cup of water to the pasta.
Let it come to a boil.
When the liquid begins to evaporate,
continue to add another cup of water.
Cook until al dente, about 15- 20 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.

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Berry Yogurt Loaf

Hooray, school’s out! Well, school has been out for a while, since February to be exact, when I went on maternity leave. There are a number of things I miss about being in the classroom with my kindergartens and one of them is cooking with the kids.

This is one of my favorite recipes to bake with children. Many seasons ago, when I was teaching 3 and 4 year olds in Milan, Italy, my British teaching assistant brought this recipe to class one morning. Since then, it has always had a cushy place in my classroom baking repertoire.

There are no fancy measuring cups or spoons, nor any lengthy instructions involved. It is however, very moist, tasty and my students have never turned down a slice. After demonstrating the recipe with the kids, they are able to independently bake it again without the help of an adult, except for the oven part of course. (It helps to illustrate the steps out for the kids on a large poster.)

Our alternative measuring cup

The children use the yogurt tub to measure all the ingredients for the loaf. They also use just one bowl to do all the mixing in. It’s a hassle free recipe, exactly the type of thing one wants when baking with a classroom full of children. The recipe is also easily adaptable. You can use different types of flavored yogurt and add other fruits as you like. It’s a win-win for all!



Berry Yogurt Loaf

150 grams (6 ounces?) of Berry Yogurt (one tub)
2 eggs
3 tubs of flour
2 tubs sugar
1 tub oil
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup of blueberries or any other kind of berries
zest of one lemon (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 180C/350 F

Prepare loaf pan with parchment paper or grease it.

In a large mixing bowl,
put the first 6 ingredients together,
with the oil going in last.
With a wooden spoon or spatula,
carefully stir the batter.
Gently fold in the berries and lemon zest.

Pour batter into loaf pan.
Bake for 50 minutes or until knife comes out clean.
Let cool on wire rack.
Add icing sugar on top, if you like.

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A Few Serving Ideas for Games Night

So it’s “Games Night!” What to serve? We had a few friends over on Saturday for some Taboo and Playstation 3 action. Here’s what was on our table to feast on and get some extra added brain power to tackle our opponents:

Tortilla de Patata (click for recipe)


Hot Lentil Spread
(click for recipe)

Champiñones al Ajillo (Mushrooms with Garlic and Parsley)
(see recipe below)

In addition to the dishes above, we also served some slices of chorizo and cheese to continue that Mediterranean tapas touch. What do you like to serve for “Games Night?”


Champiñones al Ajillo
(Mushrooms with Garlic and Parsley)

1 lb button mushrooms, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
handful of parsley, minced
8 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large frying pan.
Add garlic and cook until slightly golden.
Add mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes.
Add parsley, cook for another 2 minutes.
Serve hot with lots of bread on the side!

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Maple Syrup Score

Last week, I came into a bit of good fortune, although it was somewhat bittersweet. Our friend Lindsey was coming to the end of her three-year stint in Prague. The greatest party planner in the world, Ms. Alli B., gathered up a few of her friends for a little surprise. We showed up at her apartment with some Thai take out and extra hands to help her out with the packing. In addition, we used the opportunity to celebrate her upcoming birthday a few weeks early.

Spread all around the apartment were the bounties of her years in Prague and of the exciting places she visited. Each piece told a story and highlighted a moment. Friends recounted events around some of the peculiar objects and narrated bits of Lindsey’s history as an ex-pat living in Prague. It was a simple, yet sincere and touching way of reaching closure. I believe not just for Lindsey, but for us, her friends as well. It is never easy to say good-bye to the friends we meet when living abroad. One never knows when you might cross paths again.

As we helped her sort out her goods, Lindsey was also getting rid of items in her pantry. At some point, she held up an unopened bottle of maple syrup and I immediately claimed it. Maple syrup is a highly prized ingredient here and it can cost a fortune. I was very happy to go home with it.

My parting gift...

It has been almost a week since Lindsey left. I have used the maple syrup a few times to top my pancakes with and for this recipe of Maple Syrup Scones. As I prepared the scones, I couldn’t help but think of Lindsey and her love for this sweet syrup. I never got to make these baked goods for her, but I think she would have liked them. We will miss her at our table, but she will never be forgotten.

Maple Syrup Scones (from the Rose Bakery cookbook:Breakfast, Lunch, Tea)

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 big tablespoon of baking powder
1 big tablespoon of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
1 egg, beaten for glazing

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees F/ 200 C

In a large bowl, mix the flours, oats, baking powder,
sugar and salt.

Add the butter and rub it in with your fingers, until
it starts to look like breadcrumbs.

In another small bowl, combine the milk and syrup together.
Stir together.

Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture.
Then pour the liquid mixture in the well.
Begin with a fork to combine the dry and wet
ingredients together.
Then finish with your hands.
If the mixture is dry, add a few drops of milk.
If too wet, add some flour.
The dough should not be sticky and you should avoid
overworking it.
The dough should have a slight firm touch to it.

Dust your counter with some flour.
Then roll or pat out the dough to 1 1/3 inches thick.

Using a biscuit cutter, cut the scones out into rounds
and place them on a greased baking tray, so that they
almost touch.

Glaze the tops with the beaten egg.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Allow them to cool before breaking apart.

Serve warm with some jam, or more butter
and enjoy the smell of maple syrup floating
through your home!

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Baby Food for Grown-Ups

My first taste of this bowl of nourishment was some years ago at my mother-in-law’s home in Spain. The texture reminded me of baby food, but it tasted so much better. It’s not a pretty looking bowl of soup, but once you get pass that and have a couple spoonfuls of this thick and creamy purée, you will enjoy its delicious flavor and nutritious benefits.

I recently made this for a friend who underwent some serious dental surgery. Poor thing, she had to receive 30 stitches in her gums. Yes—ouch! Until her stitches are removed, liquids and soft foods are the bulk of her current diet. As I write, she has about 4 days left to go.

When I need a quick meal, I whip this up. It goes great with a salad or a sandwich on the side. And when my twin girls arrive, I am sure it will be one of my go-to dishes. Once they are ready for solids, it will be something the whole family can enjoy together. My mother-in-law would definitely approve!

Pure de Verdura (Vegetable Puree Soup)

3 potatoes
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 onion
1 clove garlic
2 bay leaves
water or vegetable broth
bouillon cube (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Peel and chop all the vegetables.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot.
Add onions.
After a few minutes, add the other vegetables.
Stir and let cook for a few more minutes.
Then add enough water or broth to cover the vegetables.
(If just using water, you may add a bouillon cube here)
Add mashed garlic clove and bay leaves.
Let it come to a boil, then lower heat.
Cook for at least 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Then set aside to cool.
When ready, remove the bay leaves and pour into a blender
or use a hand blender, to purée all the ingredients.
Pour mixture into a serving bowl.
Add a tablespoon or two of good olive oil.
Mix well.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Top with croutons and serve.


Homemade croutons

2 slices of whole wheat bread
Few tablespoons of olive oil
salt and dried herbs

Chop the bread into tiny cubes.
Heat a small pan with some olive oil.
Add the bread to the pan on low heat.
Sprinkle some salt on top and other dried herbs to your liking.
Cook until toasty brown on both sides.

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The Magic of Magdalenas

Magdalenas

My husband and I just celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. When we met 6+1 years ago, we were both living in Washington,DC. We met two months after I relocated from the gorgeous land of Italy to the capital of the U.S. At the beginning of our relationship, I wasn’t exactly in the best state of mind. I was experiencing a bout of reverse culture shock. My reason for moving was work, but I moved to an unfamiliar city where I didn’t know a soul. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, except that I had said “yes” to an excellent job offer. Although I tried to involve myself in a range of activities and meet new people, I remember feeling lonely and lost during those first few months.

That fall, I met the future Mr. Adventures, who moved to the States from Spain just three years before. Our paths crossed at a meet-up group for Italian conversation in a café at Dupont Circle. He says it took him 3 minutes to know. I was stubborn. Although I thought he was hot at first sight, the last thing I wanted back in the States was a boyfriend. I had plans to move back to Europe. But, he was cute, he was from Spain and we exchanged emails.

We hung out a few times and eventually I invited him over to my place for dinner. With my heart and soul still lingering across the pond in Italy, I barely did a thing with my new apartment. A few things were unpacked, mainly my kitchen ware and cookbooks and the only bits decorating my walls were photos of cherished moments of living in Italy. Stuffed in one of the corners of the apartment, were a stack of unopened boxes.

Interestingly enough, the few objects that were unpacked were items I had acquired during my frequent stays in Spain. Over the years, I took advantage of living a less than 2 hour flight away, to visit the Iberian peninsula and see my madrileña friend Laura. It was from her, her mother and friends that I learned a great deal about the food and culture. My favorite wine glasses are from Spain and they look nothing like the usual long stem tulip shaped ones we often see. These are just short, round glasses with a simple functional design that I adore.

When I served the wine in these glasses, the future Mr. Adventures was surprised to see them. After investigating my abode further, he was also amazed to see a Filipino-American girl with a cookbook from one of Spain’s popular TV chef celebrities: Karlos Arguiñano. Another funny discovery was when he found out that the reason I bought the book was for a particular recipe. He couldn’t believe it and felt like he was home.

Gracias Karlos!

When in Spain, one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast are magdalenas. I was introduced to this light spongy treat on my first trip to Madrid. That was more than 15 years ago. I arrived early in the morning and didn’t get much rest on the plane. To help combat the bad jet lag, mi amiga madrileña, Laura made a pot of strong coffee and to accompany it, she put out a small plate of these baked treats. Since then, I have been a devoted fan of magdalenas.

My husband believes that it was a sign. I believe that everything we experience in life leads up to something. I had no idea that 15 years ago when I tasted my first magdalena that it would end up having a role in my love story, but it did and here I am writing about it.

Don't be afraid to dunk it in your coffee! Que Bueno!

Magdalenas (adapted from La cocina de Karlos Arguinano)

4 eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup softened butter
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place muffin cups in your baking tin.
Beat the eggs with the sugar.
Keeping the mixer on, add the butter and oil.

In another bowl, sift the baking powder and flour together.
Pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture.
With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, gently mix the batter going in one direction.

Pour the batter halfway into the baking cups.
Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on top of each magdalena
and then place in the oven.
Bake for 15-18 minutes.

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A Little Bit Filipino & A Little Bit American

Rice is the staff of life!

Last week, I went on a little field trip with my friend Beth. I call it a field trip because we both left the comforts of our local neighborhoods and headed over the river and across town to meet for lunch at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Prague: Osteria da Clara. It’s THE place to go to in Prague for an authentic Italian meal. I feel like I can say that with some authority after living in the land of pasta, limoncello and espresso for three memorable years.

Since the restaurant was also close to the neighborhood of Vinohrady, we decided to extend our culinary adventure and visit two specialty grocery stores in the area. The neighborhood of Vinohrady is well-known for its flow of ex-pat residents, fine cafes and restaurants. In addition, it’s also the place where one can find a variety of specialty food shops, ranging from Russian, Italian, Hungarian, Greek and the two we popped into: British and Asian.

I don’t know why but every time I walk into one of these grocery stores and see a bunch of familiar brands that I grew up with in the States, I am hit with feelings of nostalgia and excitement. I returned home with a couple boxes of cereal, a bag of sweet rice flour and a plan to make two rice desserts that I grew up with, a Filipino recipe and then an American one!

Palitaw

Palitaw: For me this is the Filipino version of Mochi.It is made from the same type of flour, sweet rice flour, which gives it its gummy, chewy and sticky texture. By itself, it would taste quite bland, but mixed with grated coconut, sugar and toasted sesame seeds, it becomes a very delicious dessert or mid-afternoon snack. My family always served this at parties and Christmas time.

Rice Krispies with pecans, cranberries & chocolate chips

Rice Krispies Treats: I am still on this pecan, dried fruit and chocolate chip combination kick. I decided to add these extra ingredients to a batch of rice krispies treats. This simple snack reminds me so much of my childhood!

Palitaw (Good ol’ Grandma’s recipe)

1 cup sweet rice flour
3/4 cup water
1 cup grated coconut
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

Heat oven to 350 degrees and toast sesame seeds until brown and golden.
Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix the flour with the water.
Make little balls and then flatten them.

Boil a quart of water in a deep pot, then bring down to a simmer.
Remove the rice cakes when they begin to float to the top.
(This should take about 30-50 seconds)
Remove from water with a slotted spoon.

Allow a few minutes to cool down.
Combine the sugar and sesame seeds together.
When the cakes are cool enough to handle, roll them in coconut.
Before serving, sprinkle some of the sugar/sesame combination on top.

Rice Krispies Treat with Pecans, Cranberries and Chocolate Chips (adapted from the good ol’Kellogs box)

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 bag or about 40 regular size marshmallows or 4 cups miniature marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Grease a large baking pan and spread the chocolate chips all around the pan.

Melt butter and then add the marshmallows.
When the marshmallows have melted, add the rice krispies, pecans and cranberries.
Mix well.

Then with a rubber spatula, spread the mixture evenly across the baking pan.
Allow it to cool.
Then cut into squares.

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