Sunday, December 26, 2021

Warm Butternut and Cheddar Dip


 OK, so here's a question for you. When you entertain, are you more likely to make the same reliable dishes to serve to your guests? Or are you more likely to try something new and different? For the most part, I think I fall into the latter category, but I do still enjoy some of the tried and true. 
 For instance, at my last get-together, I served a few party foods as my friends and I decorated my Christmas trees. We had the favorite Spinach Dip (only I like to use broken soft pretzels as dippers instead of hollowed out bread), and then I also made this dip, which was definitely something new and different.
 I found the recipe on a site called Serious Eats, and it has Fall/Winter Entertaining written all over it. It has that "warm and comforting" thing going on, and it has an amazing depth of flavor that is PERFECT for drinks with friends. 
 So here's the thing.. Even though I have it listed in its original form, I must confess I didn't do it exactly as directed. I know, I know, sometimes I can't be trusted with a recipe. In this case, though, I didn't change the recipe, I just took a couple shortcuts. Instead of fighting with a giant butternut squash, I just bought a couple packages of squash that were already peeled and diced. So much easier! And I didn't have any fresh sage, so I just added some dried sage to the mixture. I'm sure my little shortcuts didn't affect the final product TOO much, so I was willing to gamble. 
  Speaking of the final product, it was fabulous! Choose a strong hearty cracker for dipping, and your guests will devour it. So if you're thinking of stepping outside the usual recipes for your next party, give this one a try. It just might become a new favorite!

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling and greasing
1 large butternut squash 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 stick (4 tbs) butter, plus more if needed
20 sage leaves (from about 3 sprigs)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 8oz pkg cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
Crackers or pita chips for dipping
 Preheat oven to 400°F. 
 Line a baking sheet with foil. Grease a small baking dish with olive oil and set aside. Peel, seed, and dice the squash into 1-inch cubes. Alternatively, use the microwave: Poke holes all over the squash with a fork or make shallow slits in the skin with a knife. Microwave squash for 3 minutes or until the skin and flesh have softened slightly. Peel squash and cut into cubes. Discard seeds. 
 Place squash cubes on the prepared sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast squash until fork-tender and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add sage leaves and fry in butter until lightly crisped and beginning to darken slightly. Remove pan from heat and remove sage leaves using a slotted spoon. Set aside. 
Return pan to heat, add onion, and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion has caramelized, about 30 minutes. Add more butter if onion begins to stick to pan. Stir in garlic at the very end and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Place roasted squash, caramelized onion mixture, and about 2/3 of the crispy sage leaves into the bowl of a food processor. Process until well combined. Add cream cheese and sour cream and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Transfer squash mixture to prepared baking dish and mix in half of the cheddar cheese throughout. Top with remaining half of cheese. At this point, the dip can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking and serving. When ready to serve, bake dip at 400°F until cheese is entirely melted and browned in spots, about 20 minutes. Top with remaining crispy sage leaves and serve warm with pita chips or crackers for dipping. 
Be sure to use a SHARP Cheddar cheese, otherwise you won't really taste that fabuloius ooey gooey-ness. You definitely don't want your dip to be bland. And be generous with your sage, salt, and pepper. Just give it a little taste before you bake it, and then adjust accordingly. 
This makes quite a bit, so if you don't have a crowd to feed, you could easily cut the recipe in half. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Cream Cheese Cookies


 There are some ingredients that I always like to have on hand. Of course you want to be well stocked with your basic baking ingredients... eggs, milk, sugar, brown sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla extract, and butter. But then there are the extras like chocolate chips, and nuts, and pie fillings, flavored extracts, and sprinkles.. and definitely CREAM CHEESE. 
 So, when it comes to cream cheese, for some reason, whenever I'm doing my shopping, I always question how much I have at home and whether or not I need to get more. And as a result, I always wind up getting more.. and then I get home and realize I already have 4-6 pkgs, and didn't need any at all. This is also the same sort of thing that happens with poultry seasoning as I'm doing my Thanksgiving food shopping.... do I have enough? hmmm.. I better get more just in case... but that's another story..... anyway. My dear friend, Janet, recently told me of a cream cheese shortage.... um...I think it's all at my house. yeah, sorry about that!
 So I found myself with a bunch of cream cheese and nothing to do with it. I thought.. hmm.. maybe a dip? a cheese danish? a pound cake? But then I thought, well, it's the holiday season... how 'bout some cookies? Great! Did a quick search, found this recipe on a blog called Preppy Kitchen. Looked easy enough, so I went with it. They taste great!!! But here's the thing.... they bake up to be more cakey than cookie. Know what I mean? Delicious, but not exactly the cookie I was picturing. So here's what I'm thinking.. instead of having them with a tall glass of milk.. have them with a cup of tea instead. Perfect! I think that's a much better vibe. They're sweet with just a hint tang from the cream cheese. SO good! 
 Now I know what to do with all that extra cream cheese!
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar  
1 egg room temperature 
2 tsp vanilla extract  
1 3/4 cups flour  
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 tsp salt
Whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese together. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl down and mix one more time to combine. Add the dry mixture into the wet and mix on low until just combined. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom and give the mixture one last mix then cover and chill for at least an hour.
Heat oven to 375ºF. Portion out roughly two tablespoon-sized pieces and roll into a ball. The dough will be sticky so it's best to dampen your hands a bit and just wash them when they get a bit covered. Place about two inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat and bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are set and just turning golden.    Tips:Be sure to start with room temperature ingredients! It's makes a big difference!  I added a few sprinkles on top right before baking, just to make them a little more festive, but you do you!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Joey's Classic Cheesecake


 I was given a version of this recipe about a million years ago by my sister-in-law, Janet. She had made it and brought it to one of our family events, and after one bite I decided that this was the best cheesecake I had ever tasted. As she was describing the recipe to me, she said it was originally a pumpkin swirl cheesecake and that she just omitted the pumpkin ingredients. I took it a step further and tweaked it ever so slightly. Now it's just perfect!
 Over the years, I've made it SO many times for cast parties, holiday parties, birthdays, you name it. And it's ALWAYS a big hit. At one point, I was making it so often that the corner store next to my apartment specially ordered 3 lb blocks of cream cheese just for me. I guess they were getting tired of having to restock their supply of cream cheese every time I baked a cheesecake. LOL (true story!)
 Full disclosure... I actually debated whether or not to share this recipe or keep it to myself, but then I figured it would be a shame not to share it. It's just so good. If you like a rich creamy cheesecake, then this is definitely the one for you. I honestly don't think you'll find anything better!


2 sleeves graham crackers (they usually come 3 sleeves to a box)
2 tbs sugar
5 tbs melted butter

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

Using a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process graham crackers and sugar until finely crushed to crumbs. Add butter and process until well combined. Using the palm of your hand, press FIRMLY into bottom of a 10" spring form pan. Place in oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Remove from oven and set aside.


6 (8oz) pkgs Philly cream cheese

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup heavy cream

Combine all ingredients in the order listed, making sure to mix well after each addition. (be sure to mix eggs into batter one at a time). Pour onto prepared crust. (No need to cool the baked crust). Place in oven and bake for one hour. Without opening the oven door, (resist the urge to open it!!) turn the oven off and leave cake in oven for at least 2 more hours. I usually just leave it there until the oven cools and I can remove it without using oven mitts. Remove from oven and then remove the outer ring of the spring form pan. Allow to cool to room temperature, then put it in the fridge to chill. (This step is important because it'll crack in a huge way if you put it directly into the fridge from the oven). Once it is chilled, serve plain or with your desired topping. 
 To serve it as it's shown in the photo, top it with the prettiest strawberries you can find, then add a tbs of water to a little bit of jam, and brush it onto the berries for a shiny glossy finish!


This is an extremely versatile recipe and you can change it to make whatever kind of cheesecake you'd like. You can add chopped oreos to it, mini chocolate chips, chopped snickers bars, really anything you can think of. You can take a portion of the batter and add chocolate syrup, or pumpkin and spices, or peanut butter, then swirl your flavored batter with the the plain batter for a swirled cheesecake, or just top it with your favorite fruits, or berries or even caramel. There's really no wrong way to do it and it turns out every time. I also like to play with different crusts. For a chocolate chip cheesecake, I make the crust out of oreos. For a peanut butter swirl cheesecake, I make the crust out of nutter butters. Most times I use graham crackers or vanilla wafers for the crust. Again, the sky's the limit on cake/crust combinations. Oh, and be sure all ingredients are at room temperature before you start. That's a biggie. It makes a HUGE difference, more than you'd think it would. The batter is smoother, the finished cake is creamier, and it helps reduce cracks on the top of the cake. And if your cream cheese is room temperature, you'll be less likely to burn out your mixer. (it used to happen to me all the time until I finally bought a Kitchen Aid!) Also, be sure to use the best ingredients. Do NOT use low fat this, or imitation that. If you're going to have cheesecake, then have REAL cheesecake. There's just no substitute!

Monday, December 6, 2021

Red Velvet Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting


  Are you in the mood for something chocolate? Well, here’s a recipe that ticks all the boxes for what you want in a brownie recipe, and will surely satiate all of your chocolate cravings! Now, usually I would save my best chocolate recipes until Valentine’s Day (especially RED ones!), but this one just seemed so festive, I thought it would be perfect for Christmas.
Full disclosure, I’m not even sure whose recipe this is. I made them ages ago, and am just now getting around to posting the recipe. Usually I’d make a note of where I happened to find it, but for some reason that didn’t happen this time. Oh well! I guess I was in a rush. What can you do? So if this recipe is yours, please let me know!
 In the meantime, they’re the perfect "picky-puppy” dessert for your holiday party, and I just love how pretty they are. Easy too! I promise your family and friends will love them! Enjoy!

For the brownies:
1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups white sugar
1-2 tbs red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbs white vinegar

For the frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
8 oz cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Lightly grease a 9x13 inch pan.
 Add the butter and chocolate chips to a large heat-proof bowl. Microwave on medium power for 1 minute. Remove from the microwave and stir. Repeat the process until they're melted together. Whisk in the sugar, vanilla extract, & red food coloring. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes, then whisk in the eggs. Only whisk until just combined. Gently fold in the flour with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in the vinegar. Pour/spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top looks set and an inserted toothpick comes out clean or with a few damp crumbs. Be careful not to over bake or brownies can get dry. Cool completely.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Mix in the cream cheese until just combined. Then add in the vanilla extract & salt. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the powdered sugar about 1 cup at a time until the desired sweetness & thickness is reached. Frost the cooled brownies with a flat knife, and optionally decorate with sprinkles.

-Feel free to decorate them however you like! I love how the cream cheese frosting makes it look they’re covered with a blanket of snow. Be creative!
-As always, whenever I make a 9x13 pan of any kind of dessert squares, I like to line the pan with parchment paper before baking. Just give the pan a light spray, then place a large sheet of parchment in the pan, with a few inches extra hanging over the sides. Then fill and bake as directed. When the pan is completely cooled (or chilled), use the extra “hanging over” bit of the parchment as handles to lift the entire batch out of the pan in one go. Now you can use a large sharp knife to make perfectly clean cuts, and you won’t ruin your pan!