Wednesday, July 30, 2014

MINI OREO CHEESECAKES


Happy National Cheesecake Day! Cheesecake will always be one of my favorite treats because of its decadent taste and texture.

There are hundreds of ways to customize this dessert. From different toppings to different crusts and fillings, there’s a cheesecake for every mood and personality. Generally, I opt for fruit-flavored cheesecake. But recently, I tried the Cheesecake Factory’s OREO cheesecake, and I fell in love with it. The mixture of cheese and chocolate was the perfect amount of sweetness.

I was excited to replicate the recipe, but it was a bit impractical for me to make an entire cheesecake. So I decided to make a mini version. Mini cheesecakes are great for parties and gatherings because they’re easy to pick up and eat. Not to mention, they keep you from over-indulging on a 1,000 calorie slice!

I topped my OREO cheesecakes with homemade whipped cream (because whipped cream makes everything better). The end result was light and creamy and not overly sweet!



MINI OREO CHEESECAKES
Makes about 18 mini cheesecakes

INGREDIENTS
For the filling
·         18 whole OREO cookies
·         2 (8 ounce) cream cheese packs, softened to room temperature
·         3/4 cup sugar
·         2 eggs
·         1 teaspoon vanilla
·         10 OREO cookies, cream removed and broken into pieces

For the whipped cream
·         1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
·         2 tablespoons powdered sugar
·         1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
For the filling
1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
2.       Line two, 12-count muffin tins with cupcake liners
3.       Place a whole OREO cookie in each of the cupcake liners
4.       Mix cheese and sugar together on high speed until well creamed
5.       Add eggs and vanilla and mix again
6.       Stir in Oreo cookie pieces
7.       Fill each muffin pan cavity 3/4 full with cream cheese mixture
8.       Tap pan on counter to release air bubbles
9.       Bake for 25 minutes
10.   Remove from oven and let cool completely on wire rack
11.   Transfer to refrigerator and chill at least 4 hours

For the whipped cream
1.       Beat heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla on high speed until high peaks form (about two minutes)
2.       Use a pastry bag or knife to spread whipped cream on top of cheesecakes
3.       If you like a lot of whipped cream, you may want to double the recipe!

The OREO cookies will be your cheesecake's crust.

The cream cheese mixture is packed with OREO pieces.

The mini cheesecakes right after being removed from the oven.

Garnish your mini cheesecakes with whipped cream and mini OREOs!

Monday, July 28, 2014

EASY HOMEMADE BLUEBERRY SAUCE


I've expressed my love for blueberries multiple times on this blog already. So with National Blueberry Month coming to an end, I thought it would be most appropriate that I share my favorite recipe involving this glorious fruit -- Homemade Blueberry Sauce!

My mother is the queen of blueberry pancakes.She doesn't just sprinkle blueberries in the batter and call it a day. Oh no. She makes a thick blueberry sauce bursting with natural sweetness so that every single bite melts in your mouth. Going somewhere like IHOP for breakfast and ordering their blueberry pancakes with artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup would just be absurd.

The recipe for this Easy Homemade Blueberry Sauce actually comes from a pamphlet that my mom got at a "U-pick" blueberry farm years and years ago. And we still have the pamphlet to this day! The recipe only has five ingredients, and you can use fresh or frozen blueberries (just make sure you let the frozen ones thaw out a bit).

Additionally, you can use this same recipe structure to make pretty much any fruit topping. We've used this recipe to make strawberry and raspberry sauce, but you could also try peaches or even apples.

And even though I'm showing you the sauce on pancakes, you can use it as a topping for just about anything like ice cream, oatmeal, cheesecake, and crackers.


EASY HOMEMADE BLUEBERRY SAUCE
Makes about 2 cups of sauce

INGREDIENTS
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

DIRECTIONS
  1. Mix sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in saucepan.
  2. Stir in water.
  3. Add blueberries.
  4. Place saucepan on stove-top and and set burner heat on medium high.
  5. Bring mixture to boil and then let simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Remove sauce from heat and stir in lemon juice

The original blueberry recipe pamphlet

Mixture of dry ingredients

Add the water and blueberries to dry mixture

As the sauce starts to boil, the blueberries will "explode" in the saucepan creating a beautiful violet color

Pancakes with blueberry sauce has always been one of my favorite treats

It's impossible to resist cutting into these pancakes and taking a big bite!

Friday, July 18, 2014

LOADED S’MORES COOKIES



Nothing screams summer quite like s'mores! Gooey marshmallow with melted chocolate and a crunchy graham cracker! Mmmm. But for people who don’t go camping (ehemm me) and for people that don’t have a backyard (also me), starting up a campfire to make this delicious treat isn't really feasible. But baking cookies – that I can do! And that was the thought process behind this delicious Loaded S’mores Cookie recipe.

My biggest concern about a s’mores cookie was making sure it had the same gooey marshmallow texture. I didn't want to create a cookie with marshmallows sprinkled throughout it. I wanted the marshmallows to melt into the cookie and ooze out when you bit into it, just like a regular s’more. The solution was creating a base that was equal parts batter, marshmallow, and chocolate chips. That was I could bake the cookies for a shorter period of time without worrying about them being under-baked.


I also added in some coarsely chopped graham crackers, and voila! There you have it – moist and gooey cookies that taste like summer!


LOADED S’MORES COOKIE
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS
·         1 cup light brown sugar, packed
·         1 large egg
·         3/4 cup butter, softened
·         2 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
·         2 teaspoons cornstarch (prevents spreading)
·         1 teaspoon baking soda
·         1 (12 ounce) bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips
·         1 and 1/4 cups mini marshmallows
·         4 full-size graham cracker sheets, crumbled

DIRECTIONS:
1.       Combine the brown sugar, egg, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl and beat on medium-high speed for a few minutes until well-creamed. Set aside.
2.       In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, and baking soda.
3.       Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
4.       Add the chocolate chips, marshmallows, and graham crackers to the batter and fold them in with a spatula until evenly dispersed.
5.       Scoop out the dough, forming 2 tablespoon mounds, roll into a ball, place on baking sheet, and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand.
6.       Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.
7.       Chill the dough for at least two hours (or up to two days). Normally I don’t feel like chilling dough is a necessity, but it is in this recipe because otherwise the marshmallows will spread while baking.
8.       After dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
9.       Bake cookies for 8 minutes. No longer than that!
10.   Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
11.   Store cookies for up to 1 week!

The batter before the s'more mix-ins

I like to crumble the graham crackers with my fingers right over the bowl

The s'more mix-ins

The finished batter

Scoop cookie dough onto baking sheet

IMPORTANT: DO NOT PLACE DOUGH ON BAKING SHEET MARSHMALLOW SIDE DOWN. The marshmallow may burn if you do that.

INSTEAD, find a spot on the rolled dough without exposed marshmallow and place that side down on the baking sheet

Baked, soft and pillowy s'mores cookies!

I love that you can see the marshmallow and chocolate exploding from the cookie

Mmmm look at that gooey center!

Friday, July 11, 2014

OLD FASHIONED BLUEBERRY MUFFINS



Top o' the muffin to you! In case you missed it, July is National Blueberry Month, and going along with that, today is National Blueberry Muffin Day!

Did you know that blueberry muffins are the most popular muffins in the United States? I actually just made that up. But they are my favorite muffin!

They're like a cupcake without the frosting - making them acceptable for breakfast. They're sweet and cakey, and since they're made of fruit they're healthy for you, right?!

This particular recipe is adapted from a recipe my mother got years and years ago at a blueberry farm in Fort Wayne. The biggest change I made to the recipe was the amount of blueberries. When I eat a blueberry muffin, I like it to be exploding with bursts of baked blueberries! That's why I use an entire pint.

I highly recommend using fresh blueberries for this recipe. They're in season and you can almost always find them on sale at the grocery store. But if fresh berries aren't available, frozen blueberries work too!



OLD FASHIONED BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 tablespoons oil
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries (Or 1 and 1/2 cup frozen blueberries)
  • 1/4 cup sparkling sugar for sprinkling
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and line a muffin tin with muffin liners. Set aside.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside
  3. In a medium bowl, combine egg, sugar, milk, and oil. Mix well. 
  4. Pour the mixture of wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients.
  5. Use a spatula to mix until just combined. Do not overmix! Batter will be lumpy/
  6. Wash your pint of blueberries and carefully fold them into the batter. 
  7. Fill each muffin tin 2/3 of the way full with batter.
  8. Top with a sprinkle of course sugar.
  9. Place muffins into the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. With muffins still in the oven, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 10-13 more minutes or until muffins are golden on top and the center is set.
  11. Remove muffins from oven and let cool before serving!
Bowl of wet ingredients and bowl of dry ingredients before they're combines

Wash the pint of blueberries and pick out any berries that don't look ripe

Fold the blueberries into the batter

Fill muffin tins 2/3 of the way full

The finished product!

Look at the beautiful blueberry explosions!


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

HAPPY NATIONAL SUGAR COOKIE DAY


Today we celebrate one of America’s favorite cookies! The sugar cookie may seem plain in appearance, but they should definitely not be underestimated when it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth!

My favorite part about the sugar cookie is that it can be cut into fun shapes and decorated with frosting and sprinkles (lots of sprinkles)!

These cookies have a wonderful, buttery flavor, with crisp edges and a melt in your mouth chewy center. They are topped with a layer of sweet buttercream icing and beautified with a layer of sprinkles!


HOMEMADE LOFTHOUSE SUGAR COOKIES

INGREDIENTS
For the cookies
·         1/2 cup sour cream
·         1 cup sugar
·         1/2 cup butter, softened
·         2 eggs
·         1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         3 cups all-purpose flour
·         1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
·         1/2 teaspoon baking soda
·         1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Frosting
·         4 cups powdered sugar
·         2 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
·         1/2 cup butter, softened
·         1/2 cup vegetable shortening
·         Sprinkles (optional)

DIRECTIONS
For the cookies
1.      Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
2.      In a large bowl combine sour cream, sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla and mix well.
3.      In a smaller bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
4.      Add dry ingredients to wet mixture and mix until everything is just incorporated.
5.      Scoop out even size scoops of dough and then roll in a ball
6.      Place on a cookie sheet and slightly flatten with your hand so it's in a circular shape.
7.      Place cookie sheet in oven and bake for 8 minutes
8.      Transfer cookies to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting
1.      Cream together butter and shortening with mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes.
2.      Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
3.      Add another 1/2 cup and beat until smooth.
4.      Add vanilla and beat until smooth.
5.      Add the remaining sugar and milk, making sure you end with sugar. 
6.      Continue to mix on medium until smooth.

Recipe adapted from justapinch.com

Combine the wet ingredients

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients

Scoop out the dough into the size of a tablespoon and roll into balls

Sprinkles are optional (but not really!)

The final product!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

LASAGNA ROLL UPS WITH SPAGHETTI SAUCE



LASAGNA ROLL UPS WITH KITCHEN STAPLE SPAGHETTI SAUCE

Everyone can agree that generally homemade is better than store-bought. For example, store-bought spaghetti sauce is alright. But a homemade sauce with meat and spices is so much better.

However, sometimes it isn't very practical to make something completely from scratch. It would take a lot of work to buy fresh tomatoes, dice them, crush them, and stew them into a sauce. Not to mention, it would be a lot pricier as well.

So why not work smarter and take something (jarred spaghetti sauce) that’s already okay, but make it a lot better?!

That’s the reasoning behind my recipe for Kitchen Staple Spaghetti Sauce. By the time you add spices and Italian sausage, I promise that no one would ever guess your recipe included a jar of Ragu!

This spaghetti sauce recipe really is a staple in my kitchen. I like to make a big batch on Sunday so I have it ready for the rest of the week to mix with noodles or ravioli for a quick (but delicious) meal. I can’t even begin to count how many times Kyle has taken a lunch to work that included this sauce!

And the best part about this recipe is that you can’t mess it up! Customize it by omitting or adding the spices you find most appealing. And if you have trouble getting your kids to eat their vegetables, you can even sneak in zucchini pieces or small carrot slices and they won’t even know!

To go along with today’s Kitchen Staple Spaghetti Sauce recipe, I’m including my recipe for Lasagna Roll Ups. When I first started cooking, I tried to make lasagna many different times, but it always turned out “gloopy” and fell apart. So I adapted the traditional lasagna recipe into a roll up recipe.

And it turned out awesome!

In fact, I now prefer these roll ups to regular lasagna because they’re easy to dish out and they’re already perfectly proportioned. They also freeze and re-heat very well. And of course, they taste best with the Kitchen Staple Spaghetti Sauce recipe!


KITCHEN STAPLE SPAGHETTI SAUCE

INGREDIENTS
·         1 (16 ounce) roll of ground Italian sausage
·         1 (24 ounce) jar of spaghetti sauce  
·         1/2 white or yellow onion, diced
·         1 tablespoon of minced garlic
·         1 tablespoon of brown sugar
·         1 teaspoon of dried basil
·         1 teaspoon of dried oregano
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         1/2 teaspoon black pepper
·         1/4 teaspoon of red pepper

DIRECTIONS
1.       Brown the sausage in a pan on medium heat.
2.       As the sausage starts to brown on one side, flip it over and start to cut it into small pieces either with the end of a metal spatula or food shears.
3.       Continue to cook and cut the sausage until it’s no longer pink.
4.       Line a bowl with paper towels and dump the sausage in the center to drain the grease.
5.       Meanwhile, dump the jar of spaghetti sauce in a large sauce pan.
6.       Add the onion, garlic, brown sugar, basil, oregano, salt, black pepper, and red pepper to the sauce pan.
7.       Heat the sauce pan on medium heat and stir to combine.
8.       Add the sausage to the sauce pan and stir again.
9.       Continue to heat the sauce over low heat and continue to stir it periodically for 20 minutes.

The raw Italian sausage uncased and in the pan

As the sausage starts to brown, I cut it into small pieces with food shears

The browned sausage

Draining the grease from the sausage

The jarred spaghetti sauce with spices

Mix all of the spices into the sauce and add the sausage

Mix the sausage into the sauce and let it simmer on low for about 20 minutes so the flavors combine


LASAGNA ROLL UPS

INGREDIENTS
·         8 lasagna noodles
·         15 ounces of ricotta cheese
·         1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
·         1/2 cup parmesan cheese, divided
·         1 large egg
·         2 teaspoons salt
·         2 teaspoons pepper
·         2 teaspoons garlic powder
·         3 cups spaghetti sauce

DIRECTIONS
1.       Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
2.       Put a large pot of water on the stove top on high heat
3.       When the pot comes to a full boil, add the lasagna noodles and cook for 8 minutes.
4.       Drain the noodles in a colander
5.       Lay the noodles on a flat surface and set aside
6.       Prepare the filling for the roll ups by combining the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, 1/4 of the parmesan cheese, egg, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a bowl
7.       Mix thoroughly and set aside
8.       Prepare a glass casserole dish by spraying it with non-stick cooking spray, set aside
9.       Lay out one of your lasagna noodles on a plate and place about 4 tablespoons of the ricotta cheese mixture on the noodle.
10.   Spread the filling evenly on the noodle so that it reaches all the way to both edges
11.   Roll the noodle up and place in the prepared casserole dish
12.   Repeat the process with the noodles until all of the ricotta mixture is gone. I am usually able to make about 6 roll ups. You may be able to make a few more though depending on how thick you like the ricotta mixture.
13.   Pour the spaghetti sauce over the roll ups
14.   Cover the dish in foil and bake for 25 minutes
15.   Remove the dish from the oven, take off the foil, and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese
16.   Place back in the oven and bake for 5 more minutes
17.   Remove from oven and serve!

Lay out the cooked and drained noodles on a flat surface

The prepared filling for the roll ups

Spread the filling evenly on the noodles, roll up, and place in baking dish

I am usually able make 6 roll ups

Cover the roll ups on all sides with spaghetti sauce

The roll ups fresh out of the oven

Sprinkle with basil if you like and serve!


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