Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Kitchen Prep: 2012 Year in Review!

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Do you make New Year's Resolutions?

I don't. I'm among that group of people that feels like resolutions made for a certain time frame are just another way to make ourselves feel inadequate and guilty. {And believe me - a Catholic girl -I've had plenty of guilt to deal with throughout my lifetime.}

I believe in taking time throughout the whole year to set goals, evaluate, and adjust.

See, the problem with traditional resolutions is that they tend to take an "all or nothing" approach that can often set us up for failure. For example, saying, "I will lose 10 pounds by March." is great and all... but then it doesn't leave you with much wiggle room at the end of February when you're only down 2 pounds {which is an accomplishment in itself!}, and often times the resolution gets scrapped altogether. {"Pass the damn chocolate cake."}

Progress is progress. That doesn't mean I don't see the value in striving to achieve certain goals, or the benefits of a "no excuses" approach, especially for those of us who tend to justify our way out of being held accountable for things. {"But I couldn't really exercise that month because I stubbed my toe SO badly."}

But, as I mentioned a few days ago, I'm learning to be gentle with myself. Because I tend to be my own worst critic, and there's nothing worse than getting a lashing you can't walk away from because it's coming from yourself.

One thing I am practicing is allowing myself to self-congratulate every once in a while. Are you good at this? Or are you like me, undermining every kudos received, no matter how great the accomplishment?

This year has been a year of growth for The Kitchen Prep, which I attribute to moving my "dreams & schemes" to my priority list instead of leaving it on my "things for the future" list. It's been uncomfortable to do some of the things I've had to do in order to get where I am right now: self-promote {thank you to my personal friends who have not yet "de-friended" me!}, share deeply personal things, schmooze {let's be real}, believe in myself enough to get business cards, attend conferences, call myself a "Blogger"{not just in my head}, admit to failure, admit to success.

But you know what? It's been worth every growing pain. I've put together a little review of the things that YOU have helped me accomplish in 2012:
It hasn't been easy... but it's been FUN. And in the times when I've felt the need to justify the amount of time I spend working on the blog or have questioned if it's all worth it, I always come back to the same answer: Yes. I love my little blog. And I love sharing it with great people. And even if half the time I'm really just talking to myself... it's ok. Because I love food, and cooking, and baking, and writing.

But enough of all that yammering on, part of the reason I wanted to share this post is to talk about the recipes that you made the Top 10 most viewed for 2012...

10. Nutella Caramel Sauce

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9. Cuban Bocaditos {Tea Sandwiches}

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8. Cuban Sandwich "Cinnamon" Rolls

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7. Chocolate-Whiskey Cupcakes

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6. Autumn Cupcakes

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5. Honey-Coriander Baked Chicken Wings 

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4. Banana Whoopie Pies

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3. Chubby Hubby Bars

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2. Nutella Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars

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and the Number 1 spot goes to...

Chocolate, Caramel, Marshmallow, Whiskey, & Bacon Bark




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Looks to me like I have a lot of Cuban-food-loving, Nutella-craving readers with a sweet tooth... my kind of people! ;)

There are a lot of things I'd like to work on this year, both personally and for The Kitchen Prep. And I plan on trying to accomplish them one manageable bite at a time!

Happy New Year to you, friends. And thank you for helping to make 2012 one of the best yet in my book. Wishing you nothing but the best in 2013!

XOXO,

Dianna

The Kitchen Prep

 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Florentine Cookies

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I'm going to be honest: I had grand plans of posting tons and tons of amazing cookie recipes throughout the month of December leading up to Christmas.

But if my eyes aren't deceiving me, the calendar says that it's the 27th... a mere 4 days away from the New Year. And while I've been able to share a few recipes here and there, it didn't quite work out as I had anticipated.

Does that ever happen to you? You look forward to something so much, and then when it's over you realize it didn't go at all like you had planned.

Sometimes things happen that kind of dash your plans to bits: Changes in a work schedule. Life events that take priority over being in the kitchen and blogging. Surgery. Recovery.

And so, plans change.

We are forced learn to be flexible, even those of us who are quite rigid most of the time. We learn that our "plans" are more of a rough draft than a strict itinerary. We take it day by day and do what we can, when time allows. And we learn to be content with that.

Or at least, that's been the case with me personally as this year comes to a close and we look to the possibilities and experiences that lie ahead in the New Year.

With that said, I'd like to share a great cookie recipe with you, even though Christmas has come and gone for this year. {Because heaven knows you don't need it to be Christmas to make cookies.} This was a cookie that I brought to an Italian Potluck party at a friend's house earlier in the month. Everyone that tried these cookies raved about them... one person told me it was the best cookie she ever had, which is quite a compliment in my book!

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As it turns out, these are the perfect cookie to share for today's post, because they sort of represent what I was trying to explain earlier. They start out a bit hard and rigid... kind of rough and difficult to work with. You watch them in the oven and think, "These aren't going to turn out." But sure enough, they eventually soften and relax. They let the heat wash over them and mold them into their new form.

They stop trying to hold together and just let you see right through.
 
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And when they do, they turn out to be one of the prettiest things you've ever seen.

So, as we wrap up 2012, I'll be working on finding the balance between planning and experiencing, scheduling and anticipating. It's a challenge I feel grateful to take on because it means that I'm learning, growing, and getting a chance to continue to work on it all.

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Perhaps my mantra this year will be, "Be the Florentine!".  :)

How are you "preparing" for 2013?


Florentine Cookies
 Adapted from Food Network

1 3/4 cups sliced, blanched almonds (about 5 ounces)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated {alternatively you can use about 1/4 tsp orange extract, but the taste won't be quite as strong}
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
 
Optional Topping:
 
1/4 to 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
*For a runnier drizzling consistency, add about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon canola oil
 
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Set aside.
 
2. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the almonds until finely ground but watch to make sure they do not start turning into almond butter. Combine ground almonds, flour, orange zest, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
 
3. In a small saucepan, melt sugar, cream, corn syrup, and butter over medium heat. Bring to a rolling boil, then cook for 1 more minute. Remove from heat, add vanilla, then stir and pour into almond mixture and mix until just combined. Set aside to cool, about 15-20 minutes.
 
4. Using a teaspoon measure {will yield 3 inch cookies} sprayed with a little non-stick cooking spray for easy removal, scoop a teaspoon of mixture and roll into a ball. Place 3 to 4 inches from each other on baking sheet {they will spread a lot}.
 
*Note: If, after a while, your mixture has hardened and it hard to scoop, heat in the microwave on high for 30 second intervals until it reaches a softened state once again.
 
5. Bake cookies for 10 to 11 minutes until they are thin and lacy with an even golden color. Be careful not to over bake.
 
6. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool slightly on baking sheet before gently removing them with a spatula and transferring to a baking rack.
 
Optional:
 
Lightly drizzle cookies with melted chocolate and in refrigerator for 15 minutes or until set.
 

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Tribute: Bloggers for Sandy Hook Elementary

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Today is Friday, December 21, 2012. The day, it's been said, that the world is supposed to end.

But last Friday, the world did come to an end for many in Newtown, Connecticut.

Parents sent their little ones off to school, most likely in a hurry with things like Christmas shopping and work and weekend plans on their minds. A day like any other.

Except, the day didn't go on as it should have. The world that was whole when the day began was shattered when innocent lives were taken in a horrifying and heartbreaking turn of events.  And our world, whether or not we realized it, was changed forever.

We, as a nation, have survived tragedy repeatedly. Acts of terrorism. Natural disaster. Catastrophic destruction. Disease. Violence. War.

It never gets easier to witness the sheer devastation of the loss of life that results from any of these things. Lives that end before their time. Hearts that will never fully mend. Nothing that can be done to fix any of it.

But somehow, like a magnetic force that brings fragments together to form a whole, we morph from individuals into one collective barricade around those who have suffered. Communities unite, strangers reach out a helping hand, and together we link arms and forge ahead once again.

During one of my last visits to New York City, I wandered through the cemetery at St. Paul's Chapel {which, if you know me well, you realize how out of character this was for me}. At the center of converging cobblestone paths, I found myself standing in front of a large bell that read, "Forged in Adversity".

That phrase struck something within me. Like the resounding sound of the bell itself rung throughout my body.  "Forged" - a word that, by definition, means "to take or shape by heating it in a fire or furnace and beating or hammering it", or "to move forward gradually or steadily". {Source}

We have all taken a beating. We've walked through fire - some of us in our personal lives, some as a community or a family, as a nation, as a people. We have been shaped by the things we live through, made stronger by the calluses that result from the deepest wounds.

We have all been forged in adversity.

Together, we will move forward from this tragedy. We will stop to pick up those who have no strength left to stand and no tears left to cry.

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When I saw Dorothy from Crazy for Crust's post about Bloggers for Sandy Hook, I knew I wanted to take part because it was something I could do, even in a situation that feels so helpless.  Post something -- anything, it said. To pay tribute to the lives lost and condolences to those that been forced to live through the sadness.

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So, today I'm posting a simple recipe. One that can be made with your children and enjoyed with your families because, more than ever, we realize we're lucky that they are with us another day. They're nothing fancy. Just sweet, pure, and white to remind us of the angels that have been called back to heaven too soon.

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Sending my deepest sympathies and prayers to those who have been affected by this devastating event.

For ways you can help, please visit this link.

White Chocolate Dipped Shortbread
Adapted from Ina Garten

3 sticks butter {3/4 pound}, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Chocolate:

1 1/2 to 2 cups white chocolate chips {or white candy melts}
2-3 teaspoons canola oil, depending on desired consistency

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together softened butter and sugar for about 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add in vanilla extract.

3. In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Slowly add flour mixture to the butter, a little at a time, until fully incorporated. When dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl, it's ready.

4. Divide dough in half onto two pieces of plastic wrap, and shape into two flattened disks. {Sometimes I like to roll out the dough to desired thickeness while it's soft}. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

5. Remove from refrigerator and, if you haven't already done so, roll out to desired thickness. {I make mine about 1/4 inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters into desired shapes.

6. Place on prepared baking sheets and bake for approximately 10-14 minutes depending on the thickness of cookies, until just set and barely becoming golden around the edges.

7. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer to cooling racks.


For White Chocolate:

1. In a small microwave proof bowl, combine white chips and oil. Heat on high for 30 second intervals, stopping and stirring until melted and smooth. {Start with less oil and add a little at a time until desired consistency is reached.}

2. Dip cookies half way into melted chocolate and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle with desired decorative sprinkles or toppings.

3. Let set in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Kitchen Prep Approved Holiday Gift Guide

Believe it or not I DO step foot outside of the kitchen every now and again. I can also hold a conversation without mentioning Nutella, baking, or The Food Network. {Though it takes everything in my power to keep it that way.}

When I first started writing The Kitchen Prep, I would occasionally talk about things that caught my eye like the latest Lilly dresses, essential kitchen accessories, favorite products and such.

But that was back when I'm pretty sure the only person reading this thing was my Mom, {Hi Mom! Thanks for reading!}, and it wasn't very fun to share things when it was just a once sided conversation. So, I started concentrating more on writing about what most cooking blogs are actually about: Food. And I'm glad I did because that's what brought you here! :)

Now that I'm not just talking to myself {well... most of the time anyway}, and we've established that food is what goes on here 99% of the time, I thought I'd put together a little gift guide for the holidays that include some of my favorite things in case you're still getting some last minute shopping done.

{I know. Who do I think I am, Oprah?}

1. Pure Fiji Products for Those in Need of Pampering

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I know lotion and candles are so "been there, done that", but I've got to tell you that I absolutely LOVE the products from Pure Fiji. The first time I tried them was at The Spa at the Breakers, and I was immediately hooked. Their scents are so fresh and clean that they never fail to mentally transport me to a place of tranquility... even if I'm just in my plain ol' bathroom and not luxuriating in a whirlpool at The Breakers. {My favorite is the White Gingerlily, in case you were wondering. Hint, hint.}

2. White Barn #2 Chestnut & Clove for Setting the Holiday Spirit
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Speaking of fantastic smelling things, I am slightly smitten with White Barn #2 Chestnut & Clove products at Bath & Body Works. It smells like someone bottled up the holidays. And it's kept my house from having an unwanted "Eau de Puppy" scent since we got Farley. What more could you want?

3. Anthropologie goodies for the Vintage Lover

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If You Wash, I'll Dry Dishtowel            Hobnail Pitcher

Anthropologie is one of those stores that I have to be mentally prepared to visit because 1. I almost immediately become overwhelmed and want to look at everything at once, and 2. I will max out my credit card before I even know what hit me. Their stuff is cute, quirky, and just different enough to make you feel like you're scoring a great vintage find instead of a mass-produced item that millions of people have {which is actually the case, but we can pretend, right?}. I think it has something to do with the fact that everything they carry has the most amazing packaging. Ever.
 

4. Lilly Pulitzer for the Prep Enthusiast

Lilly Pulitzer Urchin Bangle
Product ImageLilly Pulitzer Seahorse Shoreline Tote 

I'll take one of each. Please, and thank you.

4. Swoozie's , Fornash or Grateful Bags for the Monogram-Obsessed
Personalized Square Tray - Navy Rugby with Lime Green




 
I'm not sure if you've ever picked up on this, but I am ever so slightly obsessed with anything monogrammed. It's true. I'm surprised my husband hasn't woken up with our initials tattooed onto his forehead.

Well, Swoozie's, Fornash, and Grateful Bags completely understand my need for personalization.  They have tons of adorable products that can be customized with names, initials or monograms. What could make a gift more special than seeing it marked with letters that make it just for you?

5. NatureBox for the Health-Nut-Do-Gooder-Foodie



Remember a while back when I introduced you to NatureBox? They're a company that sells yummy, wholesome, packaged snacks that you can subscribe to have mailed to your doorstep each month, a fact that is pretty cool in itself. Combined with their commitment to help feed hungry kids across the nation {they donate 1 meal for every box purchased!}, NatureBox makes the perfect twofold gift - one that can make you feel good inside and out!

6. Farmhouse Fresh Products for Those Who Love Food in All Forms


This is a last minute addition to my personal wish list. I just happened upon the Bourbon Bubbler Kentucky Whiskey Body Scrub about a week ago and found myself wanting to use/drink/roll around in it. Farmhouse Fresh products are natural, vegan, and sulfate, paraben, & gluten free... and with scents like Whoopie {whoopie pie scented}, Butter Rum, Clementine, and Backcountry Caramel, it is hard to convince yourself that these body products don't double as a snack. Buy them & use them... just try not to eat them. ;)
 
I know Christmas is just a week away, so hopefully this little gift guide will help you cross those last few names of your list... or give you some ideas on how to use up the gift cards Santa will be leaving in your stocking this year.
 
Happy Shopping!
 
*These products are things that I would enjoy or have personally used. I have not received any form of compensation for this post {though I did receive a free NatureBox to review for a previous post}, and the opinions are all my own. If you're still looking for a gift for me, this is a good place to get ideas. ;)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Getting Jolly with Jell-O & Kitchen Daily!

I have been baking, baking, baking in preparation for the holidays & several other fun occasions lately and I've come up with SO much good stuff I want to share!

But today, I'm giving my oven a little break and sharing a no-bake dessert that is perfect for last minute get togethers that need festive touch:


Can you believe these cuties are made from Jell-O Pudding? And guess what? You can totally make them boozy for the big kids! ;)


{I knew that would pique your interest!}

Hop on over to Kitchen Daily for the recipe {and a step-by-step slideshow!} and show off your holiday homemaker skills at your next holiday party: http://www.kitchendaily.com/recipe/cocoa-pretzel-pudding-mugs

Looking for more recipe ideas? JELL-O's got you covered! Click here for some fantastic {and easy} crowd pleasers!

What is your favorite quick & easy holiday treat?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bark-a-Palooza

Ugh, I've missed sitting at the computer and telling you all about my crazy antics lately. I just can't seem to get caught up on everything I need to do AND get in the kitchen AND share it with you AND still have a life. And though I've considered it, I can't call into work and say, "Hey, sorry, but I'm up to my elbows in melted chocolate and I have people counting on me for this recipe."

Is that too much to ask?

This morning I took a little personal time out to go to a yoga class with a friend, and let me just tell you... I loved it. Which is shocking, because I dislike most things that involve any sweating that isn't caused by standing in front of an oven.

But seriously, this was some exercise I can see myself getting into... which is a pretty big deal because you might remember that the last time I mentioned exercise this happened.

I felt strong. I felt zen. I felt brave enough to do a handstand with my feet up on the wall, inverted like an upside down "L".

What I didn't feel was the blood vessel that decided to burst in my eyeball.

Nope, Steve had to inform me about that. He made this strange face while I was talking to him a few hours after the class, and I knew something was up. Then I looked in them mirror and saw it. Like something out of a horror movie.

Oh, well. I'll spare you the picture, but I promise it isn't pretty.

Anyway, enough about fitness, let's talk sugar. {Because I know that's what you come here for.}




You will never guess what I have created for you.

Gifts.

Well, not FOR you but for you to make for other people. Because let's face it, if you weren't the recent winner of that recent ridiculous Powerball drawing, and you're lucky enough to have lots of sweet people in your life that you care about, you probably don't have unlimited funds for holiday shopping.

{But if you do, would you mind sending me some of that? Wire transfer would be great. Thanks.}

Anyway, I know that you probably don't have anymore free time than I do. So I decided to come up with a spin on a popular holiday treat that even busy, broke people can make: Bark.

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You know, the stuff that fancy specialty stores like to sell for nearly $30 a tin.

With a handful of ingredients, the help of your microwave and refrigerator, and some inexpensive little gift bags, you can pretty much cross everyone off your list for $30. 

Now comes the exciting part... the flavors that I'm sharing with you today.

Have you ever heard of Banana Pudding Bark? {A white chocolate-vanilla pudding base studded with banana chips and vanilla wafers!}

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Or Milk Chocolate-Potato Chip Bark? {Milk chocolate base encrusted with salty potato chips and drizzled with white chocolate!}

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Or Pina Colada Bark? {White chocolate base with sweet dried pineapple bits and flaked coconut!}

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Yeah, I've never seen those come in a tin, either. But if those stores know what's good for them, they'll start selling these... SOON.

Because they'll have some competition coming from you and me. And if I can make it with a busted eye, I guarantee you'll have no problem making it either.

**These recipes are an approximation. You can use as much or as little of the ingredients as you choose, and mix and match add ons to make your own delicious flavors**

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Banana Pudding Bark

1 {11 oz.}bag white chocolate chips {I use Ghiradelli's}
4 tablespoons Jell-O Vanilla Instant Pudding
1/2 cup vanilla wafers, coarsely crumbled
1/3 to 1/2 cup banana chips

1. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside

2. Place white chocolate chips in a medium, microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 30 second intervals, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. {Note: White chocolate is VERY easy to scorch, keep an eye on it and try to zap it as little as possible. Residual heat will do most of the melting.}

3. Add 4 tablespoons of pudding mix to melted white chocolate, mixing until incorporated. {It will become quite thick.}

4. Spread white chocolate-pudding mixture onto prepared baking sheet and smooth out with a silicone or offset spatula to desired thickness. {I like it about 1/4 inch thick.}

5. While still wet, sprinkle with crumbled vanilla wafers and banana chips, pressing down gently to adhere to base.

6. Let set either at room temperature for about an hour or in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

7. When hardened, break into irregular pieces and serve or package.


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Milk Chocolate-Potato Chip Bark

1 {12 oz.} bag milk chocolate chocolate chips
About 1 to 1/2 cups potato chips, coarsely crumbled
About 1/4 cup white chocolate chips, melted

1. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside

2. Place chocolate chips in a medium, microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 30 second intervals, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. {Note: Careful not to scorch.}

3. Pour melted chocolate onto prepared baking sheet and smooth out with a silicone or offset spatula to desired thickness. {I like it about 1/4 inch thick.}

4. While still wet, sprinkle with crumbled potato chips.

5. Chill in refrigerator about 10 minutes or until hardened.

6. Remove from freezer and drizzle with melted white chocolate. Return to freezer for another 10 minutes or until set.

7. When hardened, break into irregular pieces and serve or package.


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Pina Colada Bark

1 {11 oz.} bag white chocolate chips {I use Ghiradelli's}
1/2 cup dried pineapple pieces, roughly chopped
3/4 cup flaked, sweetened coconut

1. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside

2. Place white chocolate chips in a medium, microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 30 second intervals, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. {Note: Careful not to scorch.}

3. Pour melted white chocolate onto prepared baking sheet and smooth out with a silicone or offset spatula to desired thickness. {I like it about 1/4 inch thick.}

4. While still wet, sprinkle with chopped dried pineapple pieces. Sprinkle flaked coconut over top, pressing down gently to adhere to base.

5. Chill in refrigerator about 10 minutes or until set.

6. When hardened, break into irregular pieces and serve or package.