Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Reunited and it feels so good!

Reunited and it feels so good! Wow, that’s cheesy like really cheesy – but it’s still true. We’ve been getting together with friends that live 2 minutes away from us (unless there’s a train or red light) again and we are loving it. Real people who love well. We recently got together again and I was on dessert duty.
I saw a recipe for this brownie bottom cheesecake and knew I wanted to try it and knew these were the people to try it for. I made the brownie the night before hoping to be able to do the cheesecake part the same night – but time was not on my side. Thankfully Andy had an early morning church meeting that Saturday so we could all get up early and I could make the cheesecake part. Did you see the sarcasm there? YAY early Saturday mornings. All.get.up – not just some… all. As I made the no bake cheesecake I worried because it was so sloppy. I put it in the springform pan lined with parchment paper and prayed that it would work. I started reading reviews of the recipe to make sure I hadn’t messed something up. Oh, I did, well not on purpose. I always use the 1/3rd less fat cream cheese – I call it nuf-da-cheese, yes I know it’s called Neufchatel. Apparently, other people used that and their cheesecake never set up.
I decided to not do the extra whipped cream on top worried over the possible soupy mess that would likely be happening. We arrived at our guests and I was worried. We stuck that cheesecake in the fridge ASAP. Somehow with these friends, we have lots of funny baking stories so we laughed and hoped. After dinner, we were ready to cut into it and amazingly it held its form! It was likely one of the best cheesecakes I’ve had! I’m not a super fan of cheesecake that is so dense it feels like you are eating a brick of cream cheese, this one was light and fluffy and the strawberries and brownie bottom made it even better. I would 100% do this one again and even use the Neufchatel – it says Light and Fit on the label – so it must be healthy right?

Strawberry Brownie Cheesecake

3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup + 2 1/2 tbsp cocoa
1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

20 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 lb strawberries, sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C). Grease a 9 inch baking pan, or line it with parchment paper.
2. Mix together the oil, sugar and vanilla extract.
3. Add eggs and mix until well combined.
4. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
5. Slowly add dry ingredients to the egg mixture until well combined.
6. Pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly.
7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs. Remove brownie from oven and allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes, then remove to cooling rack to finish cooling.
8. Once the brownie is cool, make the cheesecake. Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth.
9. Add vanilla extract and beat until combined.
10. In a separate bowl, whip heavy whipping cream until it starts to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.
11. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.
12. Place brownie into a 9 inch springform pan. Line the sides of the with parchment paper that sticks about an inch above the sides of the pan to account for possible overflow.
13. Top brownie with cheesecake mixture and spread into an even layer, then put in refrigerator until firm about 4-5 hours.
14. Once firm, remove cheesecake from springform pan.
15. To make whipped cream for the top, whip heavy whipping cream until it starts to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.
16. Spread whipped cream on top of cheesecake, then top with strawberries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Fancy cupcakes for a mundane work day

When holidays are on Tuesday – the work week gets weird. I tried to help that oddness by baking cupcakes for work for the Monday before Independence Day. I felt it was necessary to treat those having to work that day between days off. Also, I had a box of strawberry cake mix that was constantly falling out of the cabinet and figured I should just bake the silly thing and be done with it. Sometimes – that’s how I roll.
I decided that cream cheese frosting would be the best topping for strawberry flavored cupcakes for some reason. Most of the cream cheese frostings I’ve made are spreadable – not really pipeable. This one – pipeable. I was able to pipe it in – which honestly is SO much easier. Also when you are all done – and you just squeeze that thing right into your mouth and taste the yummy frosting goodness… wait I may have just said too much… Um… right – I mean… just don’t stick your finger in the tip – we’ve seen how that can end badly – with my finger stuck in the tip… anyway. Moving along to things I should be saying…
These cupcakes – awesome! The fact that Aldi came out with Lemon and Strawberry cake mixes for the summer – also awesome! Excited to try the Lemon now! And make more frosting…

Cream Cheese Frosting You Can Pipe
½ cup butter – softened
4 ounces cream cheese – softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp milk/cream

Whip butter and cream cheese until thoroughly mixed together. Add vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk. Add powdered sugar ½ cup at a time. Add more milk for preferred texture.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

M&M's, Sprinkles, Chocolate Chips - no way this could be bad

This year for Independence Day we decided to do the unexpected – go to fireworks. Wait- isn’t that the normal thing to do? Sure if you don’t have little kids who are little nightmares staying up that late and the next day having stayed up that late. Thankfully my hometown does them on the 3rd of July – so the kids would be able to sleep in on the 4th. The fireworks were so fun – sure the stuff in the sky was neat, but the reactions on the kids’ faces and the funny things they said and did – wouldn’t have missed that for anything. I’m sure Nicholas will remember that train that went past us about 5 feet away for a long long time.
The following day – the 4th we let the kids sleep in, but still had some drama due to lack of sleep. To help with the drama, I asked Bronwyn to help me do some baking. I had planned to make Chocolate Chip Pie but also on a whim we did Scotcharoos for Andy since he asked so nicely.
Bronwyn put all the ingredients in and mixed them up just right. She was an expert pie masher into the pan too. It’s amazing what a little baking can do for you. Soon as we got the pie into the oven and set the timer, she was dancing and having a great time. Maybe she really is a mini-me. Baking makes me happy too.

The actual pie was quite the hit at the party we went to. Certainly will be making that one again!

M&M Cookie Pie

½ cup salted butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1½ cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup m&m's
¼ cup mini m&m's

For the Frosting:
4 tablespoons butter
3½ tablespoons cocoa powder
1½ cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk

For the dough:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9 inch pie dish.
Beat butter for 2 minutes until smooth. Mix in sugar until fluffy. Add in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until smooth, creamy, and light in color.
Add the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until combined.
Mix in the m&m's by hand (they're break if you use the mixer) until evenly distributed.
Spread dough in the greased pie dish. Bake for 23-26 minutes. Cool completely before removing from pie dish and frosting.
For the Frosting:
Beat butter and cocoa powder together. Mix in the powdered sugar and vanilla. Add the milk as needed to get desired consistency.
Place frosting in a piping bag with an 1M tip and decorate the cookie cake. Immediately add the M&M's and sprinkles.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Oodles of herbs - now dried and bottled

2017 is the year of our experimenting in our garden. Landscaping cloth – check, Garlic – check, Onions – check, square sturdy cages – check. Bunnies still eating all our green bean and sunflower plants – check and grrrr. Another idea was planting herbs in the garden. I read somewhere online, probably Pinterest, that growing your tomatoes near your herbs helps enhance the flavor of the tomatoes – and you get great herbs! This year, we are giving that a try. I planted my parsley and basil from seed so I had plenty of seedlings to try this out. While we haven’t harvested any tomatoes (as of this writing in early July) we have harvested plenty of herbs. What do you do with a giant bucket of fresh parsley and basil? Dry it and toss it in jars.
Our parsley really has taken off like crazy so about once a week I go out and trim the outside stalks, pinch off the leaves, lay them on a wire rack on top of a cookie sheet and bake them at the lowest setting on your oven (around 160-180). The time varies for how much you are doing – but feel to see if the herbs are dry and crunchy. When cool, I rub the herbs on the rack and let them crumble to beneath the rack, then pour them into a jar for use later.
I do the same thing with basil and other herbs. The color isn’t as pretty as parsley – but you still have freshly dried herbs for your winter cooking.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Grilling up some cupcake fun

I’d been eyeing these cupcakes for quite a while. I’ve wanted to make them but haven’t had the right event to make them for. Andy’s brother had a yard party – hey yards have grills!! Andy was worried they would be too much work – I thought they’d be just the right amount of fun! I felt a bit odd cutting the gummy bears in half then skewering them. Eew! I loved doing a two tone frosting for the fire. Such a fun cupcake to make!
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