Wonton Wrapper Haystacks

Twists on an appropriated favorite make for a more complex holiday treat!

I loved Chow Mein Noodle Haystacks as a kid, as I’m sure many readers in North America would nod in agreement. The crunchiness and the hints of flavors outside the usual Christmas-cookie platter made it exotic and always one of the first selections to be cleaned out, every year.

But oh, the cultural baggage of “Chow Mein” and its connotations to sub-par ingredients… So let’s use a couple more authentic ingredients while keeping it accessible for all your co-workers and extended family - and ensure you’re still the cookie star (for both Christmas as well as Lunar New Year!)

In this recipe, I’m swapping out the Chow Mein noodles for a pack of wonton wrappers, and tweaking the spice profile to be sharper. There’s lots of room for improvisation depending on what you have on hand: the “traditional” recipes went from butterscotch and marshmallows to peanuts and M&Ms, so there’s no need to limit yourself. In my next batch for New Year’s, I’ll try dried cranberries and cashew pieces, for instance.


  • 1 pack wonton wrapper skins

  • 2 cups dark chocolate chips (the higher the cacao % the richer the flavor)

  • 1 cup peanut butter

  • 1 cup shelled sunflower seeds (substitute or add other fruits, nuts, marshmallows, etc. as desired)

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice



Thaw and slice the wonton skins into 1/4” x 1-1/2” strips (slice the square skin in half, then thin strips from the halves). Wok-fry these in hot oil, about 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned and pleasantly crispy. The trick is to add only a few handfuls of strips to the oil at a time; otherwise the strips will not cook through evenly - for one pack of wonton skins, you’ll probably fry three batches. Set aside to drain on paper towels.


Mix the cinnamon and five-spice in a small bowl, then sprinkle over the cooling fried strips and toss to evenly coat. Set the strips aside (as tempting as it is to just start munching on them) to prepare the chocolate coating and drying sheets. You’ll end up with about 6 cups of fried strips.

Divide the strips into two mixing bowls (to make the chocolate-application process easier), and add a half-cup of the sunflower seeds to each bowl, along with any other fruits, nuts, etc. you wish. You’ll also be making two batches of melted chocolate.

Before you make the melted chocolate, gather3-4 cookie sheets or trays and lay wax paper or plastic wrap on them; once you start making the haystacks you won’t have time to find the trays, lest the chocolate start to harden in the mixing bowl…


For each batch, in a microwave-safe bowl, add 1 cup chocolate chips and 1/2 cup peanut butter. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, then stir, and microwave 15 seconds further.


Pour the melted chocolate mixture over the fried strips and mix well to completely coat each strip. Drop spoonfuls of the strips onto the lined trays and try to mound them as tightly as possible (your hands will get covered in chocolate while trying to do this, but is that such a bad thing?) This recipe will yield 48-60 haystacks , depending on how big you make them.

Refrigerate the trays for an hour; the longer the better if you have space and time. Put uneaten haystacks back into the fridge when the party is over (as if that’s going to happen.)

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Slow-Cooker Beef and Stir-Fry Vegetables


A popular choice from Chinese-restaurant menus, this is a surprisingly easy dish to prepare at home: just a few minutes' work in the morning and a workday's time in your slow cooker or crock pot will give you an aromatic and lick-the-plate yummy main dish for dinner. Or, make a batch on the weekend to have for several meals during the week. The beef and sauce freeze well, too - so you can always have this handy for when you need to prepare a quick dinner.

We just wrapped up a Chinese New Year dinner for families we met on our adoption trip as well as at our daughter's school - and this was a big hit! The citrus and ginger give it a bright flavor and helps it better pair with vegetables.



  • 2 pounds chuck steak, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, thin sliced
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Vegetables for stir-fry: carrot, broccoli, peapods, red pepper, water chestnut - about 1-1/2 pounds, cut (fresh or frozen are just as good: they're going into the slow-cooker)
  • 2 teaspoons Sesame seeds


  • Add a liner to your slow-cooker or crock pot and set temperature to low
  • Slice the onion and steak, add to the pot
  • Add the wet ingredients, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger to the pot
  • Cover the slow-cooker and keep on low for 4-6 hours or overnight. More time will break down more of the beef's connective tissue and fats; if you like bigger, discrete chunks of meat then the 4-hour range is more your style. I like the meat and sauce to be well-mixed for this dish so I go for 8 hours.
  • Take about 1/2 cup of the sauce from the pot and whisk in the cornstarch, one teaspoon at a time. Then add the mixture back into the pot and stir through completely. If you like your sauce thinner, use less cornstarch.
  • If you're cooking ahead, this would be the right time to take the mixture off the heat, let cool, and transfer into storage for the refrigerator or freezer. When you're ready to finish, bring it back up to 150 degrees F and continue with the next step.
  • Add your vegetables and sesame seeds and cook on low for a half-hour

Serve over steamed rice or noodles.


Pineapple-Apple-Macadamia Nut Pie

While on vacation recently on Maui, my family had lunch at award-winning Leoda’s in Olowalu, on the Honoapiliani Highway about 5 miles south of Lahaina. In addition to remarkably good burgers, sausages, and sandwiches, Leoda’s is famous throughout the Islands for their desserts and baked goods, which incorporate lots of local produce.

We enjoyed several tiny little pies with our meals, including a banana cream, an Olowalu lime, and a pineapple-apple. To this Midwesterner’s taste buds, used to all manner of apple pie treatments, this was a complete revelation! Sweet but not to put your teeth on edge; citrusy tart but not sour; satisfyingly dense but not gut-bomb heavy. I did actually say out loud in the restaurant, “why don’t we do this on the Mainland?” And conversations I’ve had with coworkers and family since then have generated much the same reaction. Talk about a delicious mix of cultures!

Back home, I consulted one of the Minnesotan holy books of baking, “Betty’s Pies Favorite Recipes” – not that she ever made a pie like this, but for advice on how to mix fruits together successfully.

By comparing several recipes, and with a bit of luck, I found this combination worked especially well. The flour and cornstarch are a bit higher than with a usual apple pie to handle the extra moisture from the pineapple. Care needs to be taken with the macadamias to prevent burning, but to give them enough time to brown and release their wonderful crunchy aroma.


  • 1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
  • 4 cups peeled, sliced baking apples
  • 2 cups (one large can) crushed pineapple (unsweetened variety preferable)
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice


  • ¾ cup old-fashioned oatmeal
  • ½ cup coarsely-chopped macadamia nuts
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, in small chunks
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425°. Make sure your baking rack is centered in the oven to ensure even heating all around the pie.

Dice the baking apples and squeeze as much juice as practical from the can of pineapple, then combine in a large bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix well to thoroughly coat the fruit. Set aside and prepare the topping.

For the topping, in a smaller bowl mix the dry ingredients and butter until moist clumps form.

Apply non-stick spray to your pie pan and place and crimp the crust. Add the filling mixture and pack to compact. Then sprinkle the topping mixture over the filling, covering it evenly and completely, making sure the blobs of butter are well distributed.

Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375°. After another 10 minutes, cover the top of the pie loosely with aluminum foil to help prevent the macadamias from scorching. Continue baking for another 35 minutes – or as long as needed for the apples to get tender and the sauce to start bubbling at the edge of the crust.

Cool 2 hours after removing from the oven; serve hot or cold. The pie will keep for a week in the refrigerator, but you’ll have polished it off well before then…