The gift of good neighbors is a present that has no price-tag on it. This pleasant situation often is taken for granted until one apple begins to spoil the barrel; then a person realizes how important is having good fellowship on the street where you live.
On our particular street in downtown Garland's historic district we are blessed with neighbors extraordinaire. The folks on our street would do anything to help each other. Several share our passion for fixing up their vintage homes that grace our two blocks. This is particularly important to me since this is my growing-up street. From my childhood I remember these fine residences in their heyday and grieve when I see them falling into disrepair. We bless those neighbors who have the yen to fix up and repurpose these very special dwellings.
Because of all these exemplary people I was horror-struck to realize that in my cookie distribution just before Christmas, as Hubby took tins of homemade cookies to folks on the block, that I had overlooked one family that always extends courtesy to us. In my Christmas notes for next year I had adjured myself to please not exclude them again, but I still was awash in guilt in my oversight this year.
So last night I baked Merry Berry Cheese Bars, enlivened by the addition of whole berry cranberry sauce, and plan to package them up as a New Year's gift for this family on the block. Christmas 2010 is past, but the celebratory spirit extends through the New Year's holiday, so I'll load up these bars onto a plate and knock on these neighbors' door as a way to say thanks. These bars are absolutely divine-looking and -tasting. They serve well on a cookie tray at a party, wrapped up in cellophane and tied with a bow as a gift, or sliced in slightly larger squares and served warm with sugar-free topping (or ice cream, if you decide to indulge).
Although they look complicated with their several layers, these "Happy New Year" bars represent one of the easiest cookies to make I've ever encountered. Twenty-five minutes from ingredient assembly until they're popped into the oven! You can't beat that, especially at this time of year when no one has ANY TIME to spare. Hope these bars bring good cheer—to you as well as to our neighbors, for whom we always need to be thankful.
Merry Berry Cheese Bars
2 cups unsifted flour
1 1/2 cups oats
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar (or brown-sugar substitute, with
only half this amount needed)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened (I use the lower-fat Neufchatel)
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (I use fat-free)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 (16-ounce) can whole berry cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With mixer beat flour, oats, 3/4 cup sugar, and butter until crumbly. Set aside 1 1/2 cups mixture; press remaining mixture on bottom of greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned, With mixer beat cheese until flufly. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth; stir in lemon juice. Spread over baked crust. Combine cranberry sauce, cornstarch, and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Spoon over cheese layer. Top with reserved crumb mixture. Bake 45 minutes or until golden. Cool and cut into bars. Refrigerate leftovers. Serve warm; top with sugar-free whipped topping or ice cream.