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Eating Well: Coconut takes center stage for holiday treats

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I have been perusing my recipes to come up with a list of goodies I plan on preparing in advance of the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Coconut has long been one of my favorites. Consequently this week's column will focus on that as a mainstay ingredient in treats that can be prepared ahead of time, frozen and pulled out of the freezer on the drop of a dime to serve all those expected or unexpected holiday guests.

The first are "Coconut Joys," which are simple to assemble but require a little more time when it comes to filling them with the chocolate, because you have to work quickly while the chocolate is melted. I place the chocolate in a glass measuring cup with a spout to microwave to the melted stage, and then pour it into the cookie indents with the help of a spoon. This works quite well. Remember not to make these too large. A little bit goes a long way since they are extremely rich.

The Seven Layer Magic Cookie Bars are the traditional recipe that many of you may have made countless times off the recipe on sweetened condensed milk label. There are several variations out there, but this is one of the best. The recipe for this one also suggests that you line your pan with tin foil and bake the bars in the foil for easy removal and cutting once they are chilled.

The Dream Bars are a recipe I've been using for years that I discovered in a school cookbook. They are rich and chewy and one that I enjoy making often for family and friends.

The Marshmallow Graham Crax Bars are another variation using the tasty cracker. The marshmallows, mixed with the butter and coconut, make for a delicious concoction. Be sure you use just the white marshmallows. I have tried the fruit flavored in the past. They are much prettier to the eye, but the flavor is definitely enhanced by the white. Be sure to watch this recipe very closely when you are heating the liquid ingredients. It's sensitive to high temperatures and you don't want it to scorch. I like to freeze this recipe and serve them before they thaw out entirely. The texture and consistency is wonderful and will have everyone asking for more.

Last, but not least, the Raspberry Coconut Bars go a long way in blending a variety of flavors with the diverse mix of ingredients.

Until next time, from my kitchen to yours happy baking!

Coconut Joys

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

2 cups powdered sugar

3 cups coconut

2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, melted

Melt butter in sauce pan. Remove from heat. Add powdered sugar and coconut. Mix well. Shape rounded teaspoons of mixture into balls. Make indent in center of each and place on cookie sheet. Fill centers with melted chocolate. Chill until firm. Store in refrigerator or freeze. Makes three dozen.

Seven Layer Magic

Cookie Bars

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup (6 ounces) butterscotch chips

1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 1/3 cups flaked coconut

1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine graham cracker crumbs and softened butter. Press crumb mixture in bottom of 13x9 inch pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top. Layer with the remaining ingredients and press down with a fork.

Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and cut into bars or diamond shaped pieces. Store in refrigerator or freeze.

Dream Bars

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened

2 cups brown sugar

3 eggs

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 cups coconut

1 tsp. vanilla

Combine flour, 1/2 cup of the brown sugar and butter until particles are fine; use low speed of mixer. Press into bottom of ungreased 9x13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Beat 1 1/2 cups brown sugar with eggs until blended. Mix in salt, baking powder, coconut, and vanilla. Spread over partially baked crust. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. When cold, cut with sharp knife. Store in refrigerator or freeze.

Marshmallow Graham

Crax Bars

1 lb. box graham crackers (crushed fine)

1 (10 ounce) bag miniature marshmallows

1 cup coconut

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, beaten

1 1/3 cups margarine

1 tsp. vanilla

Mix the first three ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. Mix and heat slowly the last ingredients and watch and stir carefully, as it scorches easily. Heat until the margarine is melted, remove from heat and add vanilla. Cool and pour over the first mixture. Mix, spread in a 9x13 pan and chill. Store in refrigerator or freeze.

Raspberry Coconut Bars

1 2/3 cups graham cracker crumbs

½ cup butter, melted

2 2/3 cups flaked coconut

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1 cup seedless raspberry preserves

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

¼ cup vanilla or white chocolate chips

Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter in small bowl. Press into greased 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with coconut, drizzle with milk. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely on wire rack.

Spread preserves over crust. Sprinkle with walnuts. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate chips. Stir until smooth. Drizzle over walnuts. Repeat with vanilla chips. Cut into bars. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until chocolate is set.