We had our annual Christmas party this weekend – the theme this year, as the past two, was polyester & cheese. As in, wear polyester (the cheesier, the better), and bring a chunk of cheese. It’s an idea we shamelessly stole from good friends who did it a few years ago. Polyester offers so many more options – and less itchy ones – than those tired tacky sweaters.
So. There was a lot of cheese. And crackers, bread, wild boar pate, and loads of Christmas cookies and squares. House parties are just the very best thing at Christmas, aren’t they? They remind me of being a kid and getting to stay up late with the neighbourhood kids while my parents were distracted, and of hiding under the dining room table-turned-buffet, reaching up to steal the occasional Hello Dolly. I’m still a little giddy that I’m the boss of me now and can eat as many Hello Dollies as I want.
I tried not to cook much, as my back is still a little choked at me – but I had to make Hello Dollies, and some spiced nuts, eccles cakes, rugelach, and a cheese ball. A cheese ball is a must at any Christmas house party, I say, and this year I made Lisa‘s (the Homesick Texan) bacon-jalapeño cheese ball, because I had the chance to meet (and even have dinner with!) her this year, and because it looked fantastic. And it had bacon.
The recipe is on her site – the only thing I did was cut the jalapeño back to 1, and lazily mixed all the cooked bacon into the ball, rolling it exclusively in chopped toasted pecans. I also used far more grated cheddar, as I read “1 1/2 cups” rather than “1/2 cup”, and W was helping me and was enthusiastic about grating and adding even more to the bowl, but it’s a cheese ball – if it will hold together well enough to roll into a ball, you’re in good shape.
And then I made some pecan pie brownies, because after all that it seemed we were lacking in the chocolate department. They were Gwendolyn’s Pecan Pie Brownies, something she had found in an NBC Sunday Night Football Cookbook, of all places. I made a few changes – ditched the bourbon, not because I’m anti-bourbon, but because I don’t want it to interfere with my chocolate, caramel and pecans. Ditto the cinnamon. (Am I the only one that doesn’t appreciate the chocolate-cinnamon combo?) And I swapped Roger’s Golden syrup for the corn syrup, because I like the flavour far better. (Golden syrup is cane syrup, rather than corn syrup, but it has a similar texture, so I use them interchangeably.) You bake the brownies, then cool them, then pour the topping over top and bake them again. They will be uber moist and gooey and need some coaxing to get them out of the pan -which happily means a few mucked ones to sample as you cut. (Quality control is important.) If I had the freezer space I might have frozen it first – gooey bars always cut more cleanly when frozen.
Pecan Pie Brownies
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
Pecan Pie Topping:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup Roger’s Golden or corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 325F. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the cocoa over medium heat, stirring and removing from the heat as soon as the butter melts. Stir until smooth, then stir in the sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla until smooth, then add the flour and salt and stir just until combined.
Pour into an 8×8-inch baking dish that has been buttered or sprayed with nonstick spray; smooth the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, then let cool completely.
To make the topping, stir together the brown sugar, syrup, butter, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the pecans and pour over the base. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden and set.
Let cool completely, then refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.
Makes 16-24 brownies.
And have you heard of our Random Acts of Cheese? We’ve had some fun this weekend, popping in on two people we’ve never met, showing up on their doorsteps with Mike in a Santa suit holding a box of cheese. Allyson and Michelle were the happy (and totally surprised) recipients this weekend, but we’ll continue to play Mr and Mrs Claus all week, spreading cheesy cheer all over the city. Have someone you’d like to acknowledge with a box of cheese? Say so here! (Or here, or on twitter (hashtag: #randomactsofcheese), or Facebook… we’re keeping tabs everywhere!