Category Archives: desserts

Traditions

Christmas is all about traditions. Like footie pajamas from Santa and popsicle stick ornaments handmade with love by little hands. Traditions are what make the holidays special. Tattered recipe cards smudged with chocolate. A blizzard of colored sugar over spritz cookies. An old tune that makes you smile. Tradition must be what keeps us coming back to this crazy, stressful thing called Christmas year after year. Without all those tiny nostalgic moments, the story that goes along with that ornament, the first taste of that signature holiday dish, this time of year just wouldn’t be the same.

When I was much younger, one of my favorite holiday traditions was going “downtown.” Chicago, that is. The Saturday before Christmas, we’d bundle up in mittens and scarves and head in to the Windy City. I loved the way the skyline appeared, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Buildings blocked the already weakened winter sun, throwing cold shadows across miles of city sidewalks as we walked with a certain quickness in our step, trying to outrun the Jack Frost nipping at our noses.

After pausing for a photo op in front of the tree in Daley Plaza…

We’d walk another couple blocks to my favorite part of the trip – Marshall Fields and their fabulous holiday window displays. Tiny mechanized figures wove an intricate story behind glass that stretched an entire city block. When you’re 6, 7, 8…it was like pure magic.

When our noses where sniffly and our fingers and toes cold as ice, we’d push through the revolving glass doors under that famous clock and step inside to get warmed up. I loved going up to the higher floors and looking down on the Walnut Room with it’s beautiful towering tree, crisp white tablecloths and elegant place settings. It always made me want to trade my blue jeans and gym shoes for a red velvet dress, cream colored tights, and shiny black patent Mary Janes. And if you inhaled real deep, mingling among the sweet, powdery scent of perfume and the deep, earthy smell of leather there was a hint of something delicious in the air….

CHOCOLATE.

Boxes of Field’s famous Frango chocolates (handmade in the State Street store until well into the 90s) were always staple at holiday time. Just lifting the lid on that little green box smells like Christmas and memories. We all know what happened to Field’s (sad face) but luckily these little minty chocolate gems are still available at….that other store. I tend to snatch a box when they’re on sale. For nostalgia.

Another thing I tend to snatch up on sale is cookbooks. When I spotted this Marshall Field’s Cookbook in a used bookstore, I just couldn’t resist it. The best part? There’s an entire chapter devoted to treats featuring those tiny, tasty mints.

These Frango Mint Pots de Creme are like chocolate pudding all grown up. While I was a fan of simply stuffing chocolates in my mouth until I was ready to explode when I was younger, now I find it’s fun to take familiar flavors and turn them into something a bit more sophisticated. These creamy individual desserts are just the ticket.

What we have here is basically an ice cream base that’s baked instead of frozen. Milk. Yes. Cream. Of course. Egg yolks for extra richness and yumminess. Hells yes. Sometimes I find custards to be a bit too eggy for my tastes, but this….this is just creamy, minty, chocolatey, melt-in-your mouth perfection. With a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream and a few chocolate shavings, make these and you could have a new holiday tradition on your hands. You’ve been warned. 🙂

FRANGO MINT POTS DE CRÈME (Recipe Source: The Marshall Field’s Cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 16 Frango mint chocolates, chopped, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • Fresh whipped cream, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees and place the rack in the center position. Bring milk to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped chocolates and stir until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the cream. Set aside to cool slightly.
  2. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until well combined but not foamy. Slowly pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Let the mixture rest for ten minutes at room temperature.
  3. Divide the mixture among six 3/4-cup ramekins. Set the ramekins in a baking dish and place the dish in the oven. Pour hot water into the baking dish to reach about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until just set at the edges but still soft in the center. Do not overbake.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. The custards can be made up to two days in advance and covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Serves 6.

ENJOY! 🙂

1 Comment

Filed under chocolate, desserts

Kitchen Therapy

Somewhere in the middle of a nearly deserted interstate highway in rural southern Indiana, I thought I lost my driver’s license. It was intense, purse-clawing panic. You know, the kind where you empty every pocket, unzip every zipper again and again, pick your way through all the old receipts, even the ones with wads of used gum in them. Nowhere to be found.

Curse words. You better believe they were flying. Everywhere.

I could almost see the scene play out in my head – stepping up to the beer cart at a minor league baseball game in Lexington, Kentucky, tossing my out-of-place, out-of-state ID down onto the counter wet with foam poured off plastic cups, fiddling with money, fussing with change, and walking away hands full of frosty beverages but NOT important things like that silly little plastic card.

I *needed* that card. Two reasons.

1. I was on my way from Lexington to Chicago (with no stop at home) where I was to attend a bachelorette party for one of my best gals the next evening. If there’s one thing you need to party at Rush and Division, besides excellent defense against handsy drunks and a fistful of cash, it’s ID to prove you’re old enough to be there. If I didn’t have my license, I was going to miss all the fun!

2. It was my old license, from my old state, with my old address on it. Do you realize it would be dang near impossible to get a new license, in my new state, with my new address on it without that old one?

Hi, I’m Screwed!

I demanded my husband pull over on the side of the road so I could trade my purse-clawing (that was getting me nowhere, *obviously*) for luggage-clawing. It had to be in my suitcase. And I would stand there and litter the side of that highway with my dirty underwear until I found it.

Imagine my relief when I reached into the back pocket of the jeans I’d been wearing the previous night and pulled out what I was looking for. I almost dropped to my knees. Thank everything that is holy and more. I had the damn thing all along, it was just wasn’t where it belonged.

After that – oh, and the vacation, the rich and decadent food, the beds that weren’t my own, the staying up too late, the partying with my friends, the drinking too much, the trying to maneuver a cooler down the aisle of a Metra train which is much tougher and more exhausting than one might think – I needed a little bit of kitchen therapy. A little R&R for this road weary traveler.

So I gathered my mixing bowls and ingredients, stood with silent purpose alone in my sanctuary, the quiet interrupted only by tiny bursts of sound. The click of the oven while it preheats, the crack of an egg on the counter top, the swish of a knife through a ripe summer berry.

Ahhh. Perfect peace. Recovery. Me time.

Until that got boring. Then I turned up the tunes and belted out a few choice numbers while I used my whisk as a microphone, which is way better than a hairbrush, thankyouverymuch. Only then did I know I’m officially back in my element. Home.

Eric and I have had a very busy couple weeks here as of late. Traveling and celebrating and sightseeing and eating and drinking and what not. When we finally arrived home, I was craving something fresh and homemade but I didn’t want to spend *too* much time making it. A little time was okay. I just really wanted to get to the catching up my DVR and eating it part. Enter this Strawberry Summer Cake.

This is one of those simple, in the oven in 10 kind of recipes. My favorite kind! An entire pound of fresh, summer strawberries are nestled on top of a golden, buttery yellow cake and the entire thing is topped with a generous sprinkling sugar. The berries melt into the batter while the cake bakes, creating juicy, pudding-like pockets of goodness, all while the sugar caramelizes and forms an irresistible crunchy crust on top. Served with a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream, the contrasting textures in this cake make for a extraordinary dessert with almost no effort. It’s the perfect end to a big neighborhood cookout, a day at the lake, or just an ordinary weeknight dinner. If you’re a strawberry lover, you’ll love this.

Deb mentions she thought the original recipe for the cake may have been a tad on the sweet side. Since I’m one who believes there is such as thing as too sweet (gasp!), I went ahead and knocked back the sugar. I measured out the full 1 cup for the cake portion as directed but then took 2 tablespoons out of that 1 cup to set aside for the topping. So in the end, I had 1 cup of sugar total for the entire recipe, not 1 cup plus two tablespoons. Make sense? Great! Okay, time for dessert!

STRAWBERRY SUMMER CAKE (Recipe Source: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Martha Stewart)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing pie plate
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch pie plate, a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate, or a 9- or 10-in springform pan. 
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. Measure 1 cup sugar and then remove 2 tablespoons of sugar from the measured cup to set aside for topping. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 cup (minus the 2 tablespoons) sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Lower the mixer speed and gradually add dry ingredients, mixing until just smooth and fully combined.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as close together and in as close to a single layer as possible (there will be some overlap). Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.
  4. Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with whipped cream. Store cake, loosely covered at room temperature, for up to 2 days. Serves 8 to 10.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Honey Teriyaki Chicken Skewers with Scallion Brown Rice
Two Years Ago: Raspberry Peach Mini-Loaves
Three Years Ago: Peach Ice Cream

2 Comments

Filed under cakes, desserts, fruit

In defense of November

Um, hey, Christmas? Yeah, I know your busy and all but…November called. He kinda wants his month back. You know, if it’s not too much trouble. K? Thanks.

Does anyone else feel a little sad for our old friend November? I mean, he’s kinda had his identity stolen. Somewhere along the long and winding road of recent history, November got all swallowed up by December and it’s big noise-maker Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season. The shopping, giving, tree-trimming, baking, wrapping, and caroling is all and well and good. But I like those things…in DECEMBER! I don’t know who decided it was okay for Christmas to steal the thunder from November but I really think he deserves a second chance to stand on his own two feet.

Anybody remember Thanksgiving? Yeah, you know that holiday that’s supposed to come BEFORE Christmas. That’s only been happening in November since, well…forever and we’ve all but forgot about it in favor of Christmas. Think about all the great things Thanksgiving has to offer. Family. Food!! A time for remembrance, reflection and gratefulness. Your first full day off work since Labor Day and there’s TWO of them?! Hello. Awesome.

Here’s a recipe that’s pure November. Forget about December’s candy canes, sugar cookies and eggnog for a second and remember our good pal Pumpkin. Sure, sure pumpkin pie is the star of the Thanksgiving dessert table but this here’s a recipe for another November day. Like say the Saturday after Thanksgiving. You’ve probably already inhaled the last of the pie at 5:00 a.m. the morning before on your way out to hit up the Black Friday sales. These Pumpkin Cheesecake Crumble Squares are the perfect accompaniment to an after Thanksgiving gathering of friends or a family game night. They’re a snap to make and even easier to eat. With they’re creamy, dreamy, spicy pumpkin filling, tangy sour cream topping and crunchy oat crumble, you’ll be begging November to stick around.

As noted in the reviews of the original recipe, the crust/crumble portion of the recipe seems a bit off proportion-wise for a 9×9 inch pan. I made all of it and did end up with some leftover even after topping my squares. If you are a super math whiz, you may want to reduce the crust recipe by a fourth or so. I’m mentally incapable of doing that sort of thing (true story) so I’ll just go ahead and leave that up to you. 😉 Full recipe appears below.

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE CRUMBLE SQUARES (Recipe adapted from: Bon Appetit, October 2006 via Epicurious.com)

For the crust:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 cup pecan halves (about 4 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
For the filling:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup canned pure pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
For the topping:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS:
Prepare the crust:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.
  2. Pulse first 4 ingredients in processor until coarse meal forms. Add pecans; pulse until nuts are chopped. Add oats; pulse until mixture is moistened but not clumping. Press about 3/4 of crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared square pan (do not clean processor). Transfer remaining crumbs to lined baking sheet. Bake crumbs on sheet until golden, stirring once, about 10 minutes. Cool crumbs. Bake crust until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven while preparing filling. Maintain oven temperature.
Prepare the filling:
  1. Blend all the filling ingredients in same processor until smooth. Spread filling over warm crust; bake until set, dry in center, and beginning to rise at edges, about 20 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.
Prepare topping:
  1. Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Spread evenly over hot filling. Bake until topping sets and bubbles at edges, about 5 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over topping; gently press into topping. Cover; chill until cold and set, about 2 hours. Can be made up to 2 days before serving. Keep chilled. Cut into squares. Makes 16 servings.
ENJOY!
One Year Ago: Pumpkin-Apple Streusel Cake. Uh, want. In my face. Now.
Two Years Ago: I got nothin’. NaNo was consuming me.

10 Comments

Filed under cheesecake, desserts, pumpkin

Hail to the Orange…

My dad says you can’t “quit” your team. Whatever team you cheer for, if you are true fan, it doesn’t matter how bad they do, how much they frustrate you, how much you want to hurl more than just a few choice words at the television set, you will love them always and forever. No matter what. They are in your blood. No. Matter. What.

This is a man who has spent his entire life devoted to a certain Chicago baseball team that shall remain nameless. Let me give you a hint…the last time this team won a World Series was in 1908. Yeah… I think he knows his stuff.

My dad has another team in his blood and it’s one we share. Easy to do, considering we are both very proud alumni of the same school – the University of Illinois! And we BLEED orange and blue!

Okay. I know, I know…so maybe there were a couple seasons here recently where they didn’t win a single conference game. Maybe they’re never ranked. Maybe there’s no national championships in the near future. There may not even be a cut rate bowl game in the immediate future….we haven’t opened Big Ten play yet this year.

Doesn’t matter. Still love them. Still tune in every Saturday without fail. Still wear my orange and blue loud and proud. No matter what!  I just can’t help it!

When I saw that Amy from Sing for Your Supper picked FOOTBALL as the theme for this month’s You Want Pies with That? I just knew I’d have to create a Fighting Illini themed pie. How fun!

When I was in school in Champaign, we always, ALWAYS, saw the game on Dad’s Day. Two Illini side by side (and Mom too! An Illini by association.) in the Horseshoe cheering on our boys in orange and blue. Dad and I always ended up hoarse from cheering.

I-L-L….I-N-I!

So maybe we haven’t played the best ball in the last ten years (save for that AMAZING victory over Ohio State three years ago) but I think that is the BEST cheer in college sports. Not that I’m biased or anything. 😉

Anyway, I put on my UIUC-issued thinking cap and got to brainstorming my football themed pie. Did I want it to be inspired by the school, the teams colors or a football experience I had there? Could I turn the night the fans turned on the Michigan marching band after a terrible call, grabbed a tuba and tried to drag it into the stands into a pie? Hmmm. That sounds like something… Or did I want it to be tailgate friendly, crowd friendly, or college kid friendly?

We don’t live in Illinois anymore and haven’t been back to campus is over two years (BOO!) so it’s not like we’re tailgating every weekend. And since I feel like a tiny, homesick Orange and Blue fish in a giant Black and Gold sea and was once booed at while wearing my Illini hoodie in the Wal-Mart by a guy in Hawkeyes cap, it’s not like we have throngs of fellow fans coming over to watch the game. 😦

Man, it’s getting whiny and sad in here. I know what will help…PIE!

I decided to go with a pie inspired by the colors that always make me smile and remember good times…ORANGE AND BLUE. Nowhere are the colors orange and blue more prominent on t-shirts, in wigs and in crazy body paint than in Block I – the student cheering section at Illini home football games.

Here’s a couple collegiate fun facts for you – did you know, started in 1910, Block I is one of the oldest student cheering sections in the US? Did you know the practice of holding up colored cards to make words or pictures in the stands was done for the first time in 1926 by…you guessed it, Block I! Block I is all about camaraderie and tradition and so is the University. That’s why, my daddy and me (and my husband too), we are pretty darn proud to be able to say we’re a part of it.

So without further ado, I present my Block I Pie! A graham cracker crust filled with a creamy, no-bake ORANGE filling and topped with sweet BLUEberries. And orange and blue treat fit for any Illini fan. 🙂 It’s easy to make and tastes amazing. I like the addition of a bit of cinnamon to my graham cracker crusts for an additional level of flavor, but feel free to leave it out if you’re not a fan. The filling tastes like a dreamsicle and the blueberries are the perfect accompaniment. A real WINNING combo!

A note on the recipe below. I found a no-bake cheesecake filling that sounded promising and could easily adapt into an orange flavor. Then I tried to halve it. Considering I have a degree from such a fine institution and everything, you would think I’d be handle that.

Well. Apparently not. Perhaps I skipped one too many math lectures in my time because I screwed up the proportions and ended up with filling that was a tad soft. I think I added too much juice. It firmed up just fine after a trip the freezer (and was subsequently fine stored in the fridge), but I’m going to share the full recipe below so that you don’t end up with mushy filling too. I’ll let you halve it on your own. 😉 Put those degrees to work, people!

Note that the full recipe will yield TWO 10-inch tarts or ONE 9-inch springform pan.

GO ILLINI!

BLOCK I PIE (Recipe inspired by: Martha Stewart)

For the crust:

  • 2 sleeves honey graham crackers (about 18 full crackers), crushed into fine crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted (more if needed)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cracker crumbs, cinnamon, sugar in a small bowl. Add butter and stir until crumbs are moistened. Pour crumbs into your pan of choice and firmly press into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown and set, about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool completely.

For the orange cheesecake filling:

  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 14-ounce can (1 1/4 cups) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Using an electric mixer set at medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in the condensed milk a little at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the zest, orange juice and vanilla.
Pour the filling into prepared crust and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
For the blueberry topping:
*Note: if making the full recipe in two tart pans, I would double this if you want to spread it on top of each one. If you’re just spooning it over the top of each slice, this is probably enough. This will also be enough topping to spread on 1 9-inch pie. Adjust to meet your needs! 🙂
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until the berries reduce and thicken, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving or spreading on top of chilled pie. Garnish finished pie with whipped cream, orange zest and orange slices.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Spicy Sesame Peanut Noodles with Grilled Eggplant
Two Years Ago: Spaghetti with Salami and Peppers

9 Comments

Filed under desserts, fruit

Awkward.

Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is a lot like…wearing someone else’s bathing suit.

The whole situation is the definition of awkward. Something just doesn’t feel right about it. You’re uncomfortable. Squeamish and fidgety. You just can’t stop thinking about how it’s not YOURS.  Oh, and of course you’re concerned about cleanliness – both before and after. 😉

I made this delicious key lime pie at my parent’s house so I guess it wasn’t THAT awkward…and cleanliness obviously wasn’t a problem. They don’t live in the house I grew up in anymore and I just can’t find a thing in there! So maybe I’m not super uncomfortable, but I am super inefficient. Imagine opening every drawer in the kitchen looking for a spatula. Like six times. Even the one with the oven mitts in it!! Every five seconds…OVEN MITTS! DANG IT!

So it may have taken me just a smidge longer than usual to make this pie. And squeezing dozens of tiny limes made it take even longer. And maybe the whole oven mitt thing made it slightly awkward. Once you get passed all that fun stuff, the rest is pretty easy and well worth the effort.

It’s parts are pretty simple and unassuming. Graham cracker crust, creamy custard filling and freshly whipped cream. Together? It’s almost magical. Tropical. Warm ocean breezes. Sand between your toes. Lying on the beach in your (own) bathing suit. Please wear your own. Borrowed bathing suits? That’s just wrong. Anyway, the key limes add such a great tartness to the sweetness and creaminess of the filling. It’s cheek-puckeringly delicious. Give it try this summer!

KEY LIME PIE (Recipe Source: Gourmet, May 2003 via Epicurious.com)

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (I used fat free with great results)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice (about 2 dozen)

DIRECTIONS:

Make the crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate.

Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.

Make the filling and bake:
Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly).

Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours. Top with fresh whipped cream before serving. Serves 8.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Blueberry Chipotle Chutney
Two Years Ago: Raspberry Pineapple Sorbet

6 Comments

Filed under desserts, fruit

Anatomy of Summer

Let’s dissect summer. Let’s cut it open and probe its insides with supplies from your high school biology classroom. Sans Smelly Lab Partner, of course. That kinda sounds like work, huh? And it may get messy, so be ready for that. The goal of this experiment? To figure out what makes summer.

A couple of rules before we get started. I know. I can just suck all the fun out of everything, it seems. Listen up. These rules could save your summer.

Proper attire is required in the lab. Closed toed shoes are not allowed – flip flops only. Put on your safety (sun)glasses on before you begin. Once you get started, a lot of glorious, bright sunshine will pour out. 🙂

Ready? Let’s do this. *fist pump.*

Okay. Here we go. Make a big slit down the center and clear away all the snow, cold and wind to get straight to the good stuff.

Let’s get out our trusty microscopes here and have a look see.

Hm. What do we have here…

Ah…cold, frosty beverages. Of the Not Very Fancy variety for Not Very Fancy people. Enjoyed outside on the deck surrounded by wide open spaces and fresh country air. Yes. An essential part of summer.

Hot grills. Featuring lots of sizzling meats and veggies. (Like red onions to top yummy burgers) Keep that frosty beverage near by! It’s hot out there! 🙂 Also Gotta Have It for summer.

Note the abundance of COLORS! Gorgeous greens. Vibrant pink flowers. Pretty yellow butterflies. Summer is downright stunning, don’t you think? Are you taking accurate notes? This will be on the exam.

Hey! No gum chewing! 😉

Moving on!

For the next part of this assignment, we’re going to see what the inside of summer tastes like. Now, don’t be scared. While winter is bitter and leaves a bad taste in your mouth, summer is oh-so sweet. And full of fresh flavor.

Summer is plump, juicy blueberries that burst like 4th of July fireworks on your tongue.

Summer is succulent strawberries, so candy sweet you’d think they were spun from pure sugar.

Summer is dark, ripe cherries, full of rich juice that stain your lips and fingers.

Perfection.

Now, if we get out our beakers and test tubes and things and mix up all these summer flavors with a few other essentials, we can take all these goodies and turn them into…

PIE! Summer-kissed Cherry Berry Pie.

Wait.

Abort! Abort!

Something went wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.

Well, the pie kind of failed but it still tasted great and no one needed to use that creepy eye rinse station thing in the corner of science classrooms, so that’s a plus.

Grade: B-

This pie. Kind of a failure. Why? Because it was way way too runny. Why was it runny? Because I tried to change the original recipe too much. Oops.

The original recipe calls for fresh tart cherries and I subbed sweet cherries. Unless you’re growing tart cherries yourself or have an exceptional farmer’s market near by, good luck finding these. The season is exceptionally short. I have a feeling the dark, sweet cherries we’re all used to are a LOT juicier than their tart brothers. Add berries into the mix, which are super juicy too, and you’ve got a recipe for runny pie filling. And failure.

So. The flavor combo in the filling is all kinds of amazing. I knocked back the sugar a bit to keep it from being too sweet and the flavor was spot on amazing. I loved the crunchy crumb topping too. But, like I said, awfully juicy. So juicy in fact, that I couldn’t actually get a clean slice. Blarg! The ultimate pie failure!

I think the runniness factor can be remedied and I reflected that in the recipe below. I would toss the fruit in the sugar and let some of the juice drain away for an hour or so before putting it in the pie shell. That may help.

If you try this pie and it’s runny, I apologize. At least I’m being honest about my experience! All you baking geniuses out there can make it work, I think! A couple of tweaks and I think this could be a really perfect summer pie. Good luck!

I’m submitting this pie for the July You Want Pies with That? blogging event. I was honored and humbled to choose this month’s Summer Fruit theme! Thanks again ladies!! Can’t see what next month brings.

Class dismissed!

CHERRY-BERRY CRUMBLE PIE (Recipe adapted from: Taste of Home)

INGREDIENTS:

For the pie:

  • 2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (or your favorite thickening agent)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Dash salt
  • 1 9-in pie crust

For the topping:

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces.
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine fruit and sugar in a large bowl and let sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes to an hour. Drain off as much juice as you can. (Save the juice…add it to lemon or limeade!) Add cornstarch, lemon juice and almond extract.
  2. Roll out pie pastry and place in a 9-inch pie plate. Trim off excess (and use it to make a pretty border, if desired.) Sprinkle the bottom with a little flour. Add fruit mixture.
  3. Make the topping: Combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Add butter and cut into mixture with a pastry blender until pea-sized crumbs form. Stir in almonds. Sprinkle topping over fruit mixture.
  4. Bake on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes, until filling is bubbly and topping is browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Serves 8.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Strawberry Blueberry Buckle
Two Years Ago: Oven Fried Chicken

6 Comments

Filed under desserts, fruit

Easy as Pie

I never understood that expression.

Pie, in it’s entirety, is not all that easy. Everything from the crust to the filling to lifting that very first piece out of the pan without mangling it beyond recognition can be temperamental, tedious and terrifying. Think about all the things that can go wrong with a pie. Tough crust, chewy crust, burned crust. Filling that’s too runny, too dry, too sweet. Murphy’s Law of Pie states: If it can go wrong, it will.

To the non-baker, saying something is easy as pie is like saying easy as climbing Mt. Everest or easy as performing open heart surgery on a squirrel with special tiny instruments.

Unless, of course, you are an actual squirrel surgeon, in which case, I’m impressed. 😉

I like to bake and I consider myself to be pretty good at it…but I don’t think pies are easy. Not by a long shot. I petition that we formally change the expression from “easy as pie” to “easy as tart.” Because tarts are SO much easier than pie. Especially one with no pastry involved.

For this month’s You Want Pies with That? challenge, Suz of You Can’t Eat What? and Sara of Cupcake Muffin chose pretty much the best theme EVER!

Wait for it…

Summer drinks! I’ll take my pie with a cocktail umbrella by the pool, please and thank you! I was so excited about this month and couldn’t wait to reach into the liquor cabinet and start baking!

Now, if I had to choose my favorite cocktail, I think it would be a margarita. On the rocks, straight up, with lots of salt. None of that frozen, blended strawberry, peach, raspberry, kiwi stuff. The classic lime flavor of a really good margarita is the most refreshing thing ever. Booze, citrus and salt…those are the only flavors I’m looking for when I order a margarita.

I’ve had this tart from Guy Fieri for…oh, ever. 🙂 It’s the simplicity of the dessert along with it’s close resemblance to my favorite cocktail that drew me in. I really and truly loved this tart. The filling is smooth, creamy and tart. There is a definite bite of tequila in the background. If you’re sensitive to the taste alcohol, you may want to knock back the amount of booze in the recipe. The best part? It comes together faster than you can say “Another round for my friends!”

The crust is a mixture of vanilla wafer cookies, nuts and melted butter, crushed into crumbs in the food processor and then pressed into a tart pan with a removable bottom and par-baked. The original recipe calls for pine nuts, but those can be expensive and I had some whole almonds leftover from a recent ice cream making adventure, so I subbed those. The filling is a simple mixture made with freshly squeezed lime juice, tequila, eggs and a can of sweetened condensed milk. I used fat-free with great results. Beating the egg whites into peeks is the most time consuming part of the recipe! It all comes together wonderfully. This tart is proof that sometimes, it’s the simple stuff that’s the most satisfying.

Finally, a confession: Since it’s just us eating this bad boy, the decoration piped on is in fact Cool Whip and not freshly whipped cream. Hey, I was busy this weekend…gimme a break.  And actually, I like Cool Whip. LOL. If I was entertaining with dessert (which it is totally worthy of, by the way) I would absolutely use the real stuff. I hope you’ll give this a try soon!

CHEERS! 🙂

TEQUILA LIME TART (Recipe adapted from: Guy Fieri via Foodnetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:

  • 10 ounces vanilla wafers
  • 1/3 cup whole toasted almonds
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • Fresh whipped cream, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Add wafers and pine nuts to food processor, pulse until well ground up. Pour into bowl and add melted butter. Mix by hand, with a wooden spoon, and press into 10-inch tart pan.
  3. Place tart pan in the oven and bake for 8 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare filing. In a mixing bowl add egg whites and sugar, beat until there are soft peaks.
    In another mixing bowl, add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Gently fold in the egg whites. Pour into tart shell and bake for 25 minutes. Let cool before cutting and serve with fresh whipped cream. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Chicken with Mustard Mascarpone Sauce
Two Years Ago: Pineapple Strawberry Bars

11 Comments

Filed under desserts, fruit

Hypothetically Speaking…

Let’s say there’s a room somewhere where you spend significant time. A room like…say…your office. For at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week (if not more, for all the extra special folks out there) you are most likely in your office.

Let’s say you had a choice – from now on, your office can either be too warm or too cold. It can’t be just right. Someone came along and decided all of us nameless, faceless office peons in this world didn’t deserve to be comfortable. That JERK FACE!

Anyway, you must choose to spend at least 40 hours a week in a room that’s either too warm for your tastes or too cold. Of course, this is subjective. What’s warm to you is likely still cold to me. Think about your own personal warm/cold threshold.

Are you thinking?

Okay, now which would choose?

It’s hard, isn’t it? This is your office, so if the room’s too warm it’s not like you can strip down to your birthday suit and work in the buff – unless you work from home, in which case that’s your business. Just remember to cover up before you get on that Skype call with the LA office. Plus, if you’re working on a particularly boring task, a warm room can lead to a serious case of the Afternoon Naps. You’re plugging along entering data into a highly tedious spreadsheet and the next thing you know you’re passed out on your keyboard face down in a pile of your own drool. Not attractive. Also, not a good position to be in when your boss walks by. Just sayin’.

But on the flip side, is there anything worse than being cold? I’m talking chilled to the bone, shaking cold where your fingers and toes turn to little tiny ice cubes. Is it just me, or is it is extremely hard to concentrate like that? Chattering teeth and shaking hands do not a productive employee make. It’s impossible to know how to dress in the morning if your office is too cold – especially when it’s warm outside! People tend to look at you funny if you’re sporting a parka in July. Not that I’ve done that or anything…

Still can’t decide? Allow me to address a few FAQ’s for you.

Q: If it’s too cold, can I wear gloves at my desk?
A: Yes. But as someone who has tried this, prepare for all your work and emails to look something like this: aoihtishgishtisuhgwiethbskgal. Just throwin’ that out there.

Q: If it’s too hot, are electric fans allowed?
A: Yes. Electric fans are permitted if not encouraged. You can even point it straight at your face and hang your tongue out like dog on a car ride if you want – whatever blows your hair back. (Ha. Literally and figuratively)

Q: If it’s too cold, can I sneak a space heater under my desk?
A: Well…technically, you can. Are you supposed to? Mmm…Probably not. Be prepared to explain yourself when said heater blows a fuse and your entire workstation is without power for half a day. Not that I know anything about that either…

Also, space heaters have been known to cause a fire or two. So be careful, friends. Just be careful.

Q: If it’s too hot, can we have afternoon popsicle breaks?
A: Why, yes. Yes you can. Every day, in fact! Popsicles for everyone!

Okay, that does it! If I can’t compose a coherent email because of my gloves and if my illegal space heater is going to go around knocking out power (thus rendering the thing useless anyway) I have decided I’d rather spend 40 hours a week in a room that’s too warm.

As long as there’s fans and popsicles.

Can you tell I get cold at work? Because I do. And it’s so funny because people on the other side of the building are constantly complaining that it’s too hot. This just makes our cold problem worse. Because as maintenance cranks the AC in attempt to cool the other side of building, this side just gets steadily colder and colder and colder. 70 degrees. 68 degrees. 65 DEGREES! I CAN’T WORK LIKE THIS, PEOPLE!

I’ve been over there – to the warm side. I.am.so.jealous. I come up with excuses to walk over there just to GET warm. There’s a water fountain on my side – perfectly capable of refilling my water bottle. But there’s also one in the Desert Oasis (that’s what I’m going to call that side of the building now. Yep.) I’d walk an extra mile in shoes that hurt to get to a water fountain just to be warm for a few seconds!

So clearly while I’m working, I’m not thinking about popsicles. I’m trying to forget that I’m turning in to one. But if I worked on the other side, in that indoor Desert Oasis, I would totally take a popsicle break.

And would do so with these homemade treats!

I guess I would call these Smoothie Pops instead of popsicles, because they are made with yogurt. I used Greek yogurt to punch up the nutrition and add a little extra protein, but any kind will do. I used fresh strawberries and frozen pineapple (because it’s my favorite fruity combo) but any of your favorite berries or fruit would work. The little ice pop molds are really inexpensive and easy to find. I spotted them in the seasonal housewares section at Target over the weekend for about three bucks and snatched them up but I bet you can find them anywhere hyping up summer gear! These are so much fun to make and eat – guaranteed to cool you off!

Oh, so what did you decide? Too hot or too cold? 😉

CREAMY FROZEN SMOOTHIE POPS (Recipe Source: This really isn’t a recipe so…yeah. I’ll just say it belongs to all of us. How’s that? ;))

  • 6 oz. yogurt – any flavor you like (I used plain Greek yogurt)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen fruit, whatever you like
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup low fat milk
  • Splash of vanilla extract
  • Sweetener of your choice (sugar, Splenda, honey, agave syrup), to your taste (I just used sugar and started with two tablespoons, blended everything, tasted it added 1 tablespoon more, then blended again and it was perfect)

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth and fully combined. Pour mixture evenly into ice pop mold. Freeze until solid. To remove, dip the mold in a bowl of warm water to loosen and slide out the pops. Makes 4 servings.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Muffins
Two Years Ago: Lemon-Scented Blueberry Cupcakes

Don’t forget about my What’s New Cupcake giveaway! You have until Thursday night to enter. Hurry, hurry! Don’t delay!

1 Comment

Filed under desserts, fruit, ice cream

“Peace” of Pie

When I was 12 something really bad happened.

It was something so awful, so horrible and wretched I cried for days. DAYS. It was something that took my inflated pre-teen ego and clothes-lined it. Sent it flying, landing on its back with a thud and staring at the stars circling above.  I was stunned. Shocked. In complete and total dismay. How could it be? How could THIS happen to me? TO ME of all people??

I remember the day like it was yesterday. Rainy. Cold. October. Middle school cafeteria with its linoleum floor and teal and red stripes on the walls. Gym uniforms, ponytails, squeaky white shoes. Most of the 7th grade girls are there, all knees and elbows, awkward and a bit clumsy. Skinny legs jump anxiously, butterflies flutter from one nervous tummy to the next as we await our fate at the bottom of the stairs. Girls are ushered through heavy swinging doors three at time, heads high, shoulders back. Smiles bright with braces and colored rubber bands. The unmistakable sounds float from the rafters above – the echoes of shouting voices, the hollow clasp of hands, feet leaving and meeting the floor with each jump, each cartwheel, each handspring. It can only be one thing…

Yep. You guessed it – cheerleading tryouts – the End All, Be All of my 12-Year-Old Existence.

I waited ever-so-patiently through my 6th grade year for the chance to try out for cheerleading as a 7th grader. (6th graders weren’t eligible to be on the team). I eyed the older girls in the hallways on game days with their red and white pleated skirts and matching sweaters, my face pea-stinkin-green with envy. I could.not.wait to be one of them. And being my cocky, invincible, pre-teen self, I was 110% sure there would be a place on that squad for me.

See, by the time I was ready to try out, I had already been cheering for two years in a Pop Warner league. Yes. I had EXPERIENCE. I knew WHAT I WAS DOING. I knew what a Herkie was. I was a FLYER and I had cradled FROM A FULL before. My squad went to actual COMPETITIONS. I had 1ST PLACE TROPHIES at home.

Yep. This thing was in the bag. Easy-peasy. No prob, Bob.

Right?

WRONG.

No one told me (or Will Farrell or Cheri Oteri) that to make the squad at school you have to have…oh, what’s the word…um…TALENT. Yes, you have to be, you know, GOOD. To be a Pop Warner cheerleader you had to get in line on registration day early enough to snag a spot, pay your dues, and show up. That’s about it.

At 12, I was a wisp of a thing, weighing in at staggering 80 pounds. I was gangly as all get out. My arms and legs had grown long and skinny, but the rest of me hadn’t caught up yet. I had no muscle, zero flexibility and I couldn’t tumble my way down a flight of stairs. I can only imagine how ridiculous I looked during that tryout – trying my best and smiling wide – most likely a beat off and step behind the rest of my group.

Still though, after hours of painful waiting that cold October day, I wanted nothing more to than see my name on that list. You understand, right? You tried out for cheerleading too? Surely you remember how important it was to be chosen?

When they finally posted the list announcing the new squad, one thing stood out to me immediately – my name wasn’t on it. I was officially cut. Rejected. I would not be cheering on the BMS boys basketball team from the sidelines in my red and white pleated skirt and matching sweater.

What!? Oh no. Oh no. Oh NOOOOO!

Dreams? Slashed. Day? Ruined. World? Crashing down.

I managed to hold it together as I weaved my way through the throngs of girls, some shrieking in the delight at having made it, others shrugging with indifference to entire situation. Once I hit the door, it started – the epic, blubbering cry-fest that lasted days. I was not going to be a cheerleader and I was never going to get over it. I was devastated. Hell, devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it. Try mortally wounded. Try a shell of my former self.

Of course, I’m poking fun at myself here. A shell of my former self? LOL. Please. Looking back on the Day my Entire World Came to End, I can’t help but laugh. How silly, right? To get so upset about something as trivial as making the cheerleading squad? But you know. You understand. Because you were 12 once too.

Out of this tragedy a new tradition was born. My dad, seeing how upset I was over my cheerleading fate, offered a simple, but amazing gesture to help cheer me up. Even though I’m sure he thought I was being a bit ridiculous (can you say OVERDRAMATIC?), it still broke his heart to see me cry, no matter what the reason.

So, we went out for pie. Just the two of us, late in the evening after supper, we went to Baker’s Square for a slice of pie and a conversation. And although the pie helped cheer me up (I liked the dutch apple the best, warmed, no ice cream, please :)) I think the company cheered me up even more. See, my dad had a way of explaining this so I could understand them. (What am I saying, HAD? HAS a way…) He didn’t coddle me. He didn’t say they made a terrible mistake and that he was going to burst into the front office at school and demand they put me on the squad. He simply said, I needed more practice and could try again next year. He said in life there are going to be disappointments – that’s part of it, so better start getting used to it. He explained the meaning of the word “overconfident” and that it’s good to be knocked off your high horse every now and then – keeps you humble, keeps you thankful. Maybe I didn’t have cheerleading, but I had a warm, cozy bed to sleep in at night, food to fill my belly and a family that loved me very much. And if not making cheerleading was the worst thing that happened to me that year, I was doing pretty good.

Suddenly, it all made sense. The hurt and disappointment just sort of melted away. As quickly as it came, it went. By the time my slice of pie was nothing but a few crumbs and sticky fork, the tears had dried up. I smiled up at my dad. My hero. And I realized I was a pretty lucky girl with the best dad ever. A truth that remains constant to this very day!

After that, whenever I was down in the dumps, depressed, or feelin’ blue, my dad would cheer me up by taking me out for pie. I’m pretty sure, if we still lived nearby my parents, he would STILL take me out for pie. In fact, I know he would! It always seemed to help.

This Pineapple Strawberry Pie is sure to cure what ails ya. If what ails ya is you got cut from the team you are in luck! And if what ails ya is the winter blahs, then you’ve struck GOLD! Pineapple gold! What screams spring more than fresh berries and tropical pineapple? The correct answer is…NOTHING! :)What a fun and delicious combination of flavors!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had pineapple as a pie filling before. When I stumbled on this recipe, I was immediately interested. I wondered if it might be a tad too sweet so that’s where the strawberries came into play. Pineapple and strawberry is one of my absolute favorite flavor combinations and I thought the berries would help cut the sweetness in the filling. The result is a light and dreamy filling that tastes just like sweet, spring sunshine.

The crust and filling come together like any other standard pie. If you can take the time to make your own crust, the results just can’t be beat. In a pinch, store bought works just fine. Make sure you really strain that pineapple – it is very, very wet and it will yield way more juice than you need. I was very pleased that my pie had a nice, tight filling when I lifted out the first piece, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t be that way if there’s too much juice left in the pineapple. Nothing worse than runny pie filling! 🙂

Hope you’ll consider trying this different twist on a fruit pie! You won’t be disappointed!

And, for what it’s worth I didn’t throw in the towel on cheerleading after my 7th grade tragedy, I kept going with Pop Warner for a couple more years. I did eventually make a few squads – in 8th grade and in high school. And when I eventually got cut from the varsity squad as a junior, it didn’t sting so much. Why? Because I’d grown up. And because I had a great role model. I think we went for pie after that too, but there were more laughs and fewer tears. Thank you, Dad. 🙂

PINEAPPLE STRAWBERRY PIE (Recipe adapted from: Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters)

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  • Egg wash

For the filling:

  • 2 20-oz cans unsweetened crushed pineapple (make sure it’s pineapple packed in juice, not syrup!)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup, plus 2 1/2 tablespoons juice from pineapple
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tsps. grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

DIRECTIONS:

Make the crust:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine flour, sugar and salt. Pulse three times to combine. Add butter and pulse until crumbly. The mixture should resemble small peas. Add water and pulse again until the dough comes together. Remove from food processor and divide the dough in half. Flatten each half into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Make the filling:

  1. Pour the pineapple into a sieve set over a bowl and allow to drain for 30 minutes. Use a spatula or the back of your hand to gently press the pineapple to remove as much of the juice as possible. Reserve and measure the juice.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 tablespoons of reserved juice and cornstarch until thoroughly combined. Add remaining half cup of juice, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla and salt, whisk until combined. Add the pineapple and strawberries and stir gently until evenly coated.

Assemble and bake:

  1. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray. Place the pie plate on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  2. Place the first disk of dough between two layers of floured parchment paper. Roll into a 12 circle. Carefully lift the crust into the prepared pan, letting it naturally relax into the sides. Do not pull or stretch the dough. Trim off the excess. Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with flour. Put the pan into the fridge until cool again, about 15 minutes. Roll out second dough disk for the top crust.
  3. Add pineapple mixture to pie shell. Add top crust, seal and crimp edges and cut slits near the center. Brush the top crust and edges with egg wash.
  4. Bake 30 minutes and check crust for browning. If the crust is browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil. (Which I should have done with my edges, but didn’t. LOL.) Bake another 15 minutes or until crust is evenly browned. Cool pie on a rack for at least two hours before serving. Makes 10 generous servings.

ENJOY! 🙂

PS…I’m going to submit this pie to a fun blogging event called You Want Pies with That? hosted by Amy at Sing for your Supper and Jessica of My Baking Heart! This month’s theme is SPRING! Check out the round-up later this week for other blogger’s delicious, springy pies!

5 Comments

Filed under desserts, fruit

New Decade, New Directions

Hello 2010! Wow! I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since we wondered if Y2K was going to wipe out life as we know it.

My computer will think its 1900! There were no computers in 1900! Will my computer blow up because it thinks it doesn’t exist?! Oh no! I’m playing MYST and halfway through! My life’s ruined!

More shockingly, of course, is that 2010 marks 10 years since high school. Whoa. There will probably be some kind of Class of 2000 reunion this summer. Wonder if I’ll go… Last time I got an alumni newsletter (Yes, my high school sends out an alumni newsletter. And I fully elected to let them find me so I get one. LOL.) no one had stepped up spearhead the dang thing. Hm. Knowing my class, that does not surprise me in the very least. Ha.

Plan the 10 year reunion? Eh. I’ll let someone else handle that. Hand me another beer.

I can see one problem with this decade already. Raise your hand if you’ve already uttered the word “Oh-Ten.” You know, ’08, ’09, Oh-10. I totally have. Can you say embarrassing? Also, will you say Twenty-Ten or Two-Thousand-Ten. I’ve already found myself saying two-thousand-ten, but when you think about it, that really makes no sense. I mean, I don’t say I was born in the year one-thousand-nine-hundred-eighty-two. So by default, to say two-thousand-ten is wrong, correct? But on the other hand, how many people would have looked at you funny if you went around saying twenty-one in two-thousand-one? That’s what I thought. (10 year) Old habits die hard. So yeah.

ANYWAY! Looking back at the last 10 years, I almost can’t believe all the stuff that’s happened. This decade, I think, has defined me as a person more so than any other of my life so far. Obviously, in the 1980s, I was just a wee babe and toddling tot and whiny kid. In the 1990s, I was a scrawny, skinny, stringy-haired, knobby-kneed preteen with coke bottle glasses. (Can Mom swoop in with the photo proof here too? LOL. On second thought, just take my word for it.) Then I was a shy, insecure high school student with a fondness for chunky shoes and zits.

At the start of the 21st century, I was 17, about to graduate, and really looking forward to the next stage of my life. Armed with an acceptance letter to UIUC, a 9 month supply of Accutane and new outlook on life, I decided to throw caution to the wind and STOP worrying so much about what other people thought. New millennium, new me.

And now, 10 years later, I can see how far I’ve come. I still have a long way to go, obviously. Still learning, still growing. Every single day without fail. I like it that way. Keeps thing interesting. But in the last decade, I went off to college. College is scary. And hard. I met some of the very best friends a girl could ever have. I watched with millions as the world changed forever on 9/11. I had the best time of my life, struggled harder than I ever had before, and had my heart shattered for the first time.

Then I met this boy. THE boy. This adorable, sweet, amazing, farm-raised Mechanical Engineering student from a tiny town I had never heard of. And I fell – head.over.heels. in love with him. We spent a year dating, having a crazy, amazing time with all our friends, and falling madly in love. Graduation came quickly. The real world was calling like Grim Reaper ready to zap the fun out of everything.

So I did something a little crazy. I followed him to Iowa. Was I super-duper excited to move from the bustling metropolis that is the greater Chicagoland area to a small city in Iowa? Hm. What do you think? But it didn’t matter. His real world (ahem, job) had brought him here, and, gosh darnit, I wanted to go to! So, five years ago this very week, we packed up a U-Haul full of hand-me-down furniture and headed west.

These years here in Iowa have been a test for sure. I was jobless and broke when we got here. Took a job selling clothes in the Junior’s department at a department store. When I got burned out on that, I moved on to the next crap job I could find – telemarketing. Yes, I was ONE OF THEM. That lasted about 4 months before every hang up and expletive I received felt like a dagger in my poor, soft, sensitive heart (I cried a lot. True story.) In the midst of all that, he put a ring on it! Ah! Our wedding was by far one of the best days of my life so far. Picture perfect spring day in Chicago. All our family and friends there. One helluva party. People talk about it to this day!

And we bought a house! A small, ranch-style starter home of our very own. We learned about radon and how it must be mitigated…less sucking down carcinogens is your bag, baby. 😉  And we learned how much a new roof costs. And that seashell and birdhouse and southwest wallpaper borders are really hard to scrap off. And that if you stuff a half a pound of old taco meat down the garbage disposal and the kitchen sink overflows, it’s YOUR responsibility to call a plumber, put your life on hold while you wait for him to come and, of course, PAY THE MAN. Kinda miss that landlord after that first bought of the dreaded “unexpected home repair,” huh?

Not that I ever did that or anything….

Um. Moving on!

Toward the end of the decade, having gotten that pesky getting-married-buying-a-home part of adulthood all taken care of in my early twenties, I was FINALLY ready to get a Big Girl job. Farewell, Folding T-Shirts. Too-da-loo, Telemarketing. Ta-ta, Temping! And I did. In the end, it didn’t work out. Although it was difficult, I am eternally grateful to have even had the opportunity to work side-by-side with the folks I did. I learned so much and grew so much from that experience, I don’t regret a single second of it. A new job came relatively quickly, and I found myself settling comfortably into a perfect work/life balance.

And now, here we are, at the dawn of a new decade! I’ve got my hubby by my side who still gives me butterflies just like he did when we first met. We’re still having a blast every single day. Still learning from each other and growing with each other every day. I’ve got this humble little blog which is quickly becoming one of my favorite things. It’s the perfect place to share recipes, swap stories and just be me. This blog certainly wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the adventures of the last 10 years! Thank you, thank you for sticking with me! I can’t wait to see what the next year brings. I have a few things in mind, a few adventures up my sleeve, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what they are!

So, what triggered all this nostalgia? Besides, the obvious new year, of course. Believe it or not, it was these super cute Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecakes! We were headed to a New Year’s Eve gathering and I wanted to make a sweet treat to take along. I figured everyone would be tired of cookies (I’ve still got holiday cookies to blog! I’ll get to them soon!) so I went in search of something else. Bite-sized is always best for big groups, so I made the cheesecakes in mini-muffin tins.

I had to find something to press my crusts into the pan and I grabbed an one of our old college shot glasses. It totally made me laugh when I realized how I had repurposed an item used almost exclusively for college parties to fit into my Suzie Homemaker lifestyle. Shot glass? Nope. Cheesecake crust press? YES! Perfect!

So. The cheesecakes. These are a peanut butter batter dotted with chocolate ganache. And the crusts? How about a bit of a salty bite with some crushed pretzels? Mmmm. Really, just about anything that can be crushed into fine crumbs and mixed with melted butter can be a cheesecake crust, so get creative.

I really liked the salty/sweet combo here! And they were a hit at the party. Rich, chocolaty with just the right kick of saltiness. YUM! These were a bit denser than other cheesecakes I made, probably because of the peanut butter, but since they are just one little bite, I didn’t mind that here. I used regular peanut butter because that’s what I had on hand, but the original recipe uses natural. That may help improve the consistency of the cakes, so I’d use that if you’ve got it.

The one thing to note is to be careful not to overbake the crusts their first go-round in the oven. Be especially careful if your pan is darker. One of my mini-muffin pans has a darker coating on it and my crusts got way too dark after only five minutes in the oven…so heads up!

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKES (Recipe adapted from: Amazing Dessert Recipes)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup finely crushed pretzels
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, room temperature (add 1 more yolk if you like a lighter cheesecake)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 mini-muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Combine pretzels, sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Mix to moisten the crumbs. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the pretzel mixture into each cup. Press each crust into the bottom with a shot glass. (Bonus points if the glass has your Alma Mater on it!)
  3. Bake the crusts for 4 to 6 minutes, just to make sure they hold together and get a tiny bit of color on them. Set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a large mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Scrape down the bowl and beat a bit more. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined after each addition.
  5. Spoon cheesecake batter onto prepared crusts, filling about three quarters of the way full. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until set. (Note: Mine did crack a bit, but since you’ll be covering the tops…no worries. No one has to know!) Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Heat cream in a small saucepan until small bubbles form along the edges. Do not boil. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth.
  7. Spoon about a teaspoon of ganache onto each cheesecake. Refigerate for at least two hours before serving. Garnish with a pretzel piece just before serving, if desired.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: After I published these Chicken Parmesan Calzones, I saw my first real “spike” in hits on my blog. Aw, memories. 🙂

4 Comments

Filed under chocolate, desserts, peanut butter