Monday, February 10, 2020

Mini Chocolate Cherry Cheesecakes

  Many many years ago, my sisters used to make Cherry Cheese Tarts. They were just simple little cheesecakes that didn't take many ingredients and were a cinch to throw together. It was one of those desserts that showed up at many family events and they were always a bit hit. A vanilla wafer went into the bottom of a cupcake liner, cheesecake batter was poured over the top, and then after they baked and cooled, they were topped with a spoonful of cherry pie filling. Perfect, right? They were SO good! But I thought, well, what if we do a chocolate version? Chocolate and cherry are a match made in heaven! (And frankly, why have I never done this until now?) I'll just do an Oreo cookie crust, a chocolate cheesecake filling, and my same favorite cherry pie filling on top! Awesome.
 I was originally just going to chocolate-ify the recipe that we used to use, but then I thought maybe it would be better to go with a whole new recipe. Since I didn't already have a go-to chocolate cheesecake recipe, I decided to try this recipe from a blog called Baker by Nature. It's a FABULOUS recipe. Not too sweet, VERY rich and chocolatey, and perfect if you want a small but decadent treat. And they look so delicious that you'll get the added bonus of everyone saying "ooooo and aaaaahhhhh" when you bring them to a party. LOL Btw, They're also the perfect thing to make if you want to impress somebody special. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'!

For the crust:
36 Oreo cookies, crushed into fine crumbs
4 tbs melted butter

 Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line two 12-mold muffin tins with paper liners. Spray liners lightly with non-stick spray and set aside until needed. Place the cookies in the body of a small food processor and pulse until the cookies are very fine crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until well combined. Divide the mixture between the cupcake liners and press it firmly into the bottom of each mold. Bake crusts in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and place the tins on a wire rack to cool while you make the filling. Reduce oven to 300°F.

For the cheesecake:
7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
16 ounces full-fat cream cheese
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

 Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a small pot of simmering water. Heat until the chocolate is completely melted, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula. Remove the pot from the heat, leaving the bowl of chocolate over the hot water. Set aside.
 In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the cream cheese and sour cream until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the sugar and cocoa powder and beat until smooth. Add in the eggs, egg yolks, and heavy cream and mix until combined,. Fold in the chocolate. Finally add in the vanilla and pulse for another 20 seconds. Divide the filling evenly among the cupcake liners. Bake cheesecakes for 15 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the door closed for another 5 minutes. Remove the cheesecake pans from the oven and place the pans on a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool to the touch, place the pans in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours. Once the cheesecakes are completely cool, you can remove them from the pan.
Top with cherry pie filling or your topping of choice.

Whenever making any kind of cheesecake, be sure that all of your ingredients are room temperature. It makes all the difference in the final product!
This recipe originally called for a ganache topping, which is just chocolate melted with heavy cream. I decided to stick with cherry pie filling, since that was the original inspiration. Strawberry pie filling would be great too, or even just a swirl of whipped cream and a fresh raspberry on top. You do you!
If you don't need to make 24, you can either cut the entire recipe in half and just make 12, OR you can still make all 24 and then freeze the rest for another time!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Filling and Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

  Since I love to bake for my family and friends, it's not uncommon for me to occasionally receive a text from someone with a dessert idea. It's usually a picture of something FABULOUS along with a text that says some version of "you should make this!" (I know, I know..... what they're really saying is "you should make this FOR ME" LOL) I recently received such a text from my #1 Nephew, Dan, aka Daniel Boone.. His text didn't say "you should make this" but just left a link and a subtle message that his birthday is rapidly approaching hahaha. Daniel Boone, you know I will always make you a cake anytime, even when it isn't your birthday!
 So, I took a look at the recipe. TBH, it was almost exactly the same as Hershey's Black Magic Cake, which is always a favorite, but I wanted to try and share something new! So I figured, well, lets use the same idea of 3 layers of cake with 2 different kinds of cream cheese butter cream, and we'll try a different recipe for the cake itself. I happened to find THIS recipe on a website called Browneyed Baker (which I love), and it's called the Best Chocolate Cake. I have to say, it's right up there with some of the best chocolate cake recipes I've ever made! Usually the Black Magic Cake is my usual standard against which all other chocolate cakes are compared, but seriously, this recipe gives the BMC a run for its money. It uses coffee, which is a classic move to give it a deep rich chocolatey depth of flavor, and it also uses oil, which makes the most rich and moist cake you could ever want. That works for me! I gave the cake a test run for a few of my friends who were all too happy to be my taste testers. Thumbs up all around!
 So if you want to bake something for a birthday, or maybe for your sweetheart, give this one a try. You don't have to do all the fillings and butter creams, but if you do, it's perfectly decadent and over the top for your next special occasion!

For the cake: 
2 1/2 cups + 1 tbs all purpose flour 
3 cups granulated sugar 
1 cup + 1 tbs cocoa powder 
1 tbs baking soda 
1 1/2 tsp baking powder 
1 1/2 tsp salt 
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups strong black coffee
3/4 cup vegetable oil 
4 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the Cream Cheese Filling:
8 oz cream cheese
6 tbs softened butter
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
2-3 cups powdered sugar

For the Chocolate Cream Cheese Butter Cream:
3/4 cup butter
12 oz cream cheese
1 3/4 cups Hersheys cocoa powder
5 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons whole Milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

 Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Generously spray three 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray. (Be sure it's the kind that has added flour). Otherwise just grease and flour your pans. Set aside.
 In the bowl of an electric mixer, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix for an additional 20 seconds (the batter will be very thin). Divide the batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes and rotate the pans in the oven. Continue to bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs), about 12 more minutes. Cool the cakes (in the pans) on wire racks for 20 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto cooling racks to cool completely. While the cake is baking, make the butter creams.

Cream cheese filling:
Whip the cream cheese and the butter with an electric mixer on high speed for about 30 seconds. Once combined begin adding in 1/2 cup of powdered sugar at time, making sure each half cup is fully incorporated before mixing in another 1/2 cup. Add in the vanilla extract & whip one last time for about 30 more seconds on high and beat one minute more until nice & fluffy. Set aside.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting:
In another large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer and begin adding in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time again. Add in the cocoa and the milk and vanilla. Whip all of the ingredients until they are thoroughly incorporated. Beat at high speed for about one minute or until fluffy.

Now assemble the cake:
Place the bottom layer on a cake plate. Spread 1/2 of the cream cheese buttercream filling over the bottom cake layer. Top with the second cake layer and repeat the process. Lastly, top with the third layer.  Finally, frost the top layer gently with the chocolate cream cheese butter cream & all over the sides of the cake.

Ok, I know it looks like A LOT of steps, but it's really pretty straight forward. Just follow the recipe!
If you'd like MORE of the cream cheese filling (instead of just the two filling layers), double the amounts of the cream cheese filling recipe, and then frost all three layers, making sure to smooth the top layer. Chill it for about an hour, and then cover the whole cake with the chocolate frosting.
To make buttermilk, add a tbs of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of whole milk. Microwave it for 30 seconds. The milk will curdle, which is exactly what you want. Works perfectly!
Btw, the inspiration and the buttercream recipes are from a blog called My Incredible Recipes!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Chocolate Chip Raspberry Bars

  Ok, full disclosure, this dessert was originally gonna be chocolate chip CHERRY squares, not raspberry. But when I got to the store, the cherries didn't look so impressive. The raspberries, however, looked fabulous! So that's what I used. Usually, whenever I share a recipe, I'll say which ways you can tweak it. Well, this time I've already done that!! When I was looking for cherry recipes, I found this one on a blog called Averie Cooks, and it said you can substitute most any kind of fruit. Any kind of berries, peaches, or any combination you like. Immediately I loved that this was a recipe in which you can use FRESH fruit. That's not always the case because of the moisture content. But this one works with any fruit you like! That was the biggest selling point for me. So, yes, I called them chocolate chip raspberry bars, but just know that the original used fresh pitted cherries. Oh, and I doubled everything because I was having a few friends over for dinner, and wanted a bigger batch.
 Anyway, the important thing is they're amazing! Gooey and delicious, just as you'd want a blondie to be. And they're super easy too! I'm lookng forward to trying different fruit combos and other mix ins.
  So, thanx, Averie, for yet another fabulous recipe! I think this recipe is now my go-to base recipe for whatever flavor mood I happen to be in!

1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large egg
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
2 cups semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
1-2 cups fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350F.
Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray, line with parchment leaving some hanging over the edges, then spray again with cooking spray; set aside.
In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 60 seconds. To the melted butter, add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Add the egg, vanilla, and stir to combine. Add the flour, salt, and stir until just combined, taking care not to over mix or the blondies will be tough. Fold in chocolate chips, fruit (I don’t halve the cherries: I like them chunky and big), and pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing it lightly with a spatula or offset knife if necessary. Bake for 27 to 32 minutes, or until edges begin to slightly pull away from sides of pan and center is set. Allow bars to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.

After baking and cooling, use the parchment paper as a sling to lift the whole batch out of the pan in one go. Then use a large knife to cut into squares. This will save you pan from being ruined!
I used mini chocolate chips, but use whatever kind you like!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Slow Cooker Sausage and Collard Greens

  I've heard many people saying that they grew up eating collard greens, or that eating collards greens is like taking a page from their childhood. I must say that I didn't discover collard greens until I was an adult, but as soon as I tried them, I was an immediate fan! They're just so delicious and hearty! And I love the fact that they're sturdy enough to stand up to any kind of meat when you serve them. As much as I love other greens, (like say, maybe spinach) they can get soggy and cook down to practically nothing. Collards, on the other hand, don't disappear in the pan, and they pair classically with any kind of pork.
  For this recipe, instead of just doing bacon, (or the traditional ham hocks), I decided to do some Italian sausage, and let them go all afternoon in the slow cooker. They turned out great! And I love that it was a one pot meal, with the meats and greens cooked all together. No need to serve any other side dishes! Well, maybe just some corn bread, and you're good to go! Actually, I've also heard of serving collards greens ON TOP of a piece of corn bread, and then pouring the broth (aka "pot liquor") over the whole thing. Now THERE'S some comfort food for you! Mmm... I think I need to try that next time! Hope you like it!

6 slices thick cut bacon
1-2 lbs Italian sausage, mild or hot, or both
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 pounds collard greens
2 cups chicken broth

Cut the bacon into small pieces and add to a cold pan. Slowly bring up to medium heat, and saute the bacon until it is crisp and much of the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon from the pan and add to your slow cooker, but leave the fat in the pan. Add the sausage to the pan. Let it brown on both sides (no need to cook all the way through). Remove the sausage from the pan. Slice the sausage into large chunks and add to the slow cooker.
While the bacon and sausage are cooking, wash and chop your greens and add to your slow cooker.
Add onions and garlic to your saute pan. Saute for just a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add a few splashes of chicken broth to the pan and scrape up any brown bits from the pan. Add everything to the slow cooker along with the rest of the chicken broth. Cover. Cook on low for 5-6 hours. Adjust seasoning, if needed.

When you wash any kind of lettuce or leafy green, fill a large pot or bowl with cold water in the sink. Then add your greens, and swish them around so they are completely washed. Using both hands, lift the greens out of the water snd let them drain or use a salad spinner to dry. The key thing here is that you want to lift them out of the cold water instead of dumping the water and leaves out, say, into a strainer, as you might do with pasta. When you wash the leaves, all the grit and sand will sink to the bottom and you don't want to dump the water and grit right back onto the leaves.
Btw, when I cook collards, I don't throw away the stems. I know many people just eat the leaves, but I always just chop off the ends and use the whole thing. Why waste it??
If you want to add hot sauce or crushed red pepper flakes, go right ahead! It's also a classic move to add a little splash of apple cider vinegar. I say go for it!
If you'll notice, there are no seasonings in the recipe. No salt, no pepper. Nothing. The sausage will flavor the whole pot! But you should still taste it at the end of cooking and adjust the seasoning to make sure it's how you like it!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Chicken Marsala

  Ok, this is one of those recipes that I've wanted to share for literally YEARS, but I've just never gotten around to it. Well, that is until now! It's one of my all time favorite dishes in the whole wide world, and it comes to us from my sister, Jeanie. Aka, My Jeanie. I'm not even sure where she got the recipe, but like I always say, since she's the one who gave it to me, she's the one who gets the credit.
 Years ago, she used to make it all the time, and honestly, every time I helped her make it, I wanted to eat the entire pan of it. It's just SO flavorful! The bacon, the mushrooms, the garlic, the Marsala, what's not to love? The other thing that is worth noting is that I don't remember seeing tomato paste in other recipes, so that's another thing that sets this one apart from the others. It makes it tangy and it thickens the sauce ever so slightly. YUM. It's easy enough for a weeknight dinner, and it's elegant enough for a date night or a special occasion. And anytime you tell people you made Chicken Marsala, everyone says 'ooooooooh!" because it sounds so impressive. But we won't tell them how simple it is to make! That can be our little secret.
 So thanx, My Jeanie, for always inspiring me to be a better cook and for sharing your heart and soul through food. This will always be a favorite!!

1/2 cup all purpose flour
Salt and pepper
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 tbs vegetable oil
3 strips of bacon, finely chopped
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbs tomato paste
1 1/2 cups sweet Marsala wine
1 1/2 tbs lemon juice, freshly squeezed
3 tbs chilled butter
2 tbs fresh parsley, minced

Place flour in a shallow dish. Place chicken pieces between two pieces of plastic wrap, and gently pound to an even thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour to coat on both sides. Pat off the excess flour.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook until lightly golden on both sides, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken from plate and set aside.
Add a little more oil to the skillet, add the bacon and mushrooms. Cook until the bacon is crisp and the mushrooms are brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste. Cook until the tomato paste begins to brown, about a minute. Add the Marsala wine, scraping up any browned bits. Simmer until reduced and slightly thickened. Stir in the lemon juice along with any accumulated juice from the chicken. Turn the heat to low, and whisk in the cold butter, one piece at a time. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Remove from heat, top with parsley. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

Use any kind of mushrooms you like. I believe the original recipe used white button mushrooms, but I like cremini mushrooms better, so that's how I roll. I think the original used pancetta instead of bacon, but again, use what you like! You do you!
Be sure to use sweet Marsala instead of dry. That's key!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Old Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Muffins

  Ok here's a quick and easy one for you. It's so simple, you don't even need a mixer! You just stir it all together and you're ready to go! I made them for my sister, Patty, as she was planning to host a big party. When I asked her if she needed anything, she said "I wouldn't be mad if you threw something together for the kitchen crew, maybe something easy and quick to go with coffee", so this is what I made! It's from, adapted from her mom's recipe, and it's perfect! It's just exactly what you want in an oatmeal raisin muffin. Perfect with a cup of coffee or tea, you could add a little glaze to it if you'd like to sweeten things up a bit. It's also the perfect thing to whip up on a cold day, just to warm up the whole house with the heavenly aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg.
If you like oatmeal raisin cookies, then you'll LOVE these muffins!

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup mild olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 cup juicy raisins or sultanas

 Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper baking cups.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a medium bowl, mix together the egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until mixed. Gently stir in the raisins or sultanas. Scoop the batter into muffin cups. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

I doubled the recipe, because more is more!
For extra plump juicy raisins, I soaked mine in apple cider for a few minutes before adding them to the batter. Just place them in a small bowl, pour enough cider to cover, microwave them for a minute or two, then drain them well before adding to the batter. I also gave them a quick toss in a tbs of flour. Perfect plump juicy raisins!!
 Oh, also, I used regular vegetable oil because I didn't have any olive oil on hand, just sayin'!
To make homemade buttermilk, add a tbs of lemon juice or vinegar to a 1-cup measure. Add milk to fill. Microwave it for about a minute. The milk will immediately curdle, which is exactly what you want. Works perfectly in any baking recipe calling for buttermilk!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Bacon Wrapped Dates

  OK, Friends, here it is. Here's the easy simple delicious party appetizer you've been looking for. It's so simple, you don't even need a recipe, and it's so delicious, your guests will devour them in no time. I recently read a blog that said "they won't win any beauty contests, but they'll disappear from your buffet" and it's SO true. They're not the most colorful of foods, but they're packed with fabulous flavor! It's that addictive combination of salty and sweet that I just can't resist, and let's be honest, everything tastes better with bacon, right? So here we are.
 My niece, Natalie, made these little gems for my family Christmas party and they were a big hit! And seriously, when I tell you you don't need a recipe, you really don't need a recipe! It's just bacon and dates! But if you like, I'll still write it as if there were more to it than that. Make them for your next big party, and I promise you'll be a hit too! Thanx Natalie!

Sliced bacon, any thickness
Pitted dates

Heat oven to 400ºF.
Place a sheet of parchment or foil on a baking sheet.
Cut each slice of bacon in half. Wrap each half-slice around the whole date. Place seam side down on your baking sheet. Continue until all of your dates are wrapped. Bake until bacon is crispy, 25-30 minutes. Remove to a plate, and serve.


If you don't want to bake them, you can saute them in pan over medium low heat, turning them so that they cook through, about 20 minutes total.

If you'd like to get a little fancier, stuff the pitted dates with any kind of cheese before wrapping them. Cream cheese, goat cheese, or even any kind of smoked cheese would be fabulous. I've also seen people just placing a whole almond inside each date. You could even do both! Stuff it with cheese, place an almond inside, wrap the whole thing in bacon and then bake. Be as creative as you like!
Oh, and if you want to secure them with a toothpick before baking, it's probably a good idea to soak your wooden toothpicks in some water before putting them in the oven. Just sayin!