I'm so glad you asked!!
The cheesecake recipe is a combination of a couple recipes I found online. I liked some of both, so I combined the two. One is from kraftfoods.com and the other from verybestbaking.com.
2 cups oreo chocolate cookie crumbs
6 tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
1 bag (14 oz) kraft caramels
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pecan pieces (I used walnuts instead)
3 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups (9 oz) chocolate chips
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (or improvise)
Preheat oven to 325 F if using a silver 9-inch springform pan (or to 300 if using a dark nonstick springform pan).
Mix crumbs and butter; press firmly onto the bottom and 2 inches up the side of pan.
Place caramels and milk in a small microwavable bowl. Microwave on high 3 minutes or until caramels are completely melted, stirring after each minute. Stir in pecans/walnuts. Pour half of the caramel mixture into crust. Refrigerate 10 min. Cover and refrigerate remaining caramel mixture for later use.
Beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended.
Microwave 1 1/2 c. morsels in medium, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on high power for 1 min; stir. The morsels may retain some of their shape. If necessary, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until morsels are melted. Stir 2 cups of cheese cake batter into melted morsels, mix well.
Alternately spoon batters into crust, beginning and ending with yellow batter.
Bake 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes or until center is almost set. Run knife or metal spatula around side of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing side of pan. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
Microwave reserved caramel mixture on high 1 minute; stir. Pour over cheesecake. Sprinkle with mini morsels. OR melt chocolate (more chocolate chips or even semi-sweet chocolate squares) according to package directions and drizzle over cheesecake.
**My own notes:
Put a "drip pan" like a cookie sheet on the rack under the cheesecake. My butter *leaked* out of the springform pan and made a smelly mess on the bottom of the oven before I realized what was going on.
I didn't use all the caramel mixture. I saved it and served it along with brownies today. Yum.
If you bake the cheesecake too long, it will be really dry at the edges and less flavorful. I know the worry is that it won't get "done" in the center, but I found that the 1 hour 5-10 min baking time was just perfect...even in my imperfect oven. This was a very easy cheesecake, and I am not even CLOSE to an expert cheesecake maker.
If you don't have a springform pan, you should be able to make this in a regular 9x13 pan. Just line it with foil running both directions so that you can lift the cheesecake out later (makes for easier serving). If you do this, you will need to adjust the baking times (and I have no idea how much).
I love this. The first time I had it was when my step-mom's sisters brought it for Thanksgiving dinner. I remember what a big deal we all made out of it. It's so simple, though
1 Gal Apple Cider
27 (or so) whole cloves
8 cinnamon sticks
1 qt pineapple juice
1 can froz orange juice concentrate
Mix the ingredients together and heat until as warm as desired. I usually let it simmer all day. I haven't found a way to get the leftovers to keep (it gets stronger and stronger, plus heating it all day contributes), so we throw any away at the end of the day that is unused.
When I was looking for a "good" recipe, I came across lots of stories of traditional wassail. That's fun to read/research. I liked this recipe because it's very simple with ingredients that are easy to get. The flavor is just right, and we have used it for several years now.
To answer another question, the students we had over were part of the international program at our local university. We heard about it through other church members who promote the program, but it is NOT a religious or church-affiliated program. I think the university would have big issues if they thought it was associated that way. :) They have other programs available too beyond Thanksgiving, but we had never gotten our act together to participate. Now that we have these four students that we've fallen in love with, I think we will try to do more things with them. In fact, we bought some fleece to make blankets for each of them and hope to invite them over as soon as finals are done. I know they will love it!