Friday, March 25, 2011

Cheesecake? Yes, please!

I finally got my cheesecake made and O-M-G was it ever yummy!

I used to have a great cheesecake recipe and then lost it.  Ever since then, I have searched for a good recipe and have just had no luck finding one.  In desperation, I turned to one of my oldest and dearest friends, who I had seen post these fantastic looking cheesecakes on Facebook.  She was kind enough to share her basic cheesecake recipe with me, which she tells me she originally got from Kraft.

For my cheesecake, I used lowfat Nilla wafers for the crust and swapped out three packages of the cream cheese for the lower fat neufchatel cheese.  For a big, full cheesecake like this, a springform pan is a much.  Mine is from Pampered Chef and I have had it for ages.  If has different inserts for a bundt cake and a heart and star shaped form.  I think they have a new one now, one with a glass bottom, which is even better.


Preheat Oven to 325

1 cup Cracker or Cookie Crumbs
3 TBSP Sugar
3 TBSP Melted Butter
Mix all together, press into bottom of a springform pan and bake for 10 minutes 

5 Packages of softened Cream Cheese (like I mentioned, I used 3 neufchatel cheese)
1 Cup of Sour Cream
3 TBSP Flour
1 Cup Sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla
4 eggs

Mix cream cheese, flour and sugar until smooth. Add in sour cream and blend well. On low speed add 1 egg at a time until just blended. Pour over crust and bake (@325) for 55-60 minutes. The middle should wiggle just a little. Run a knife around the edge to loosen from spring form and let cool completely before putting in the fridge. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. 

My friend's recommended leaving it overnight to chill and that was totally my intention.  However, life got the best of me and I was unable to get it made the night before, so it had to settle for chilling for just about 4 hours in the fridge.  Despite that, it still got rave reviews from all my mama friends!

I finished it off with a little lemon curd and it was a perfect accompaniment.  The tartness of the lemon curd and the sweetness of the cheesecake played off of each other great.  In fact, I am counting down to my son's bedtime so I can have another slice!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Orange-Honey Muffins

Cheesecake tomorrow, muffins today! I have a playgroup coming over tomorrow and I'm making the cheesecake for the moms, these muffins are for the kiddos.  This is another recipe that has been sitting in my "I cut it out of a magazine" file for I don't even know how long.  The original recipe seems to have come from Florida's Natural Orange Juice.  This particular recipe doesn't seem to be on their site, although I did find a few others I'd like to try!  For this recipe, I made a few modifications.  I used raw Ukrainian honey, butter instead of margarine and 2 eggs instead of egg substitute.

Orange-Honey Muffins
1/2 cup Orange Juice
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup margarine, melted
1/2 cup egg substitute
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda.  In a small bowl, combine the honey, juice, margarine, egg and vanilla.  Whisk until smooth and stir into dry ingredients.
Line a muffin pan (mine is stoneware from Pampered Chef) with paper liners and fill each cup 2/3 full with batter (I actually filled them a little more that that).  Bake at 375F for 20 minutes.

The flavor of the raw honey definitely shone through in these muffins, but in a good way.  If you don't like raw honey, you'd probably want to use regular, store-bought honey.  But they came out very moist, buttery and light.  My little helper and I split one to test them out and we agreed that they were yummy! I think they'll be perfect for the kiddos tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Later this week I am hosting a playgroup for some friends/moms and their little ones.  I've been dying to make a cheesecake and so my plan is to make one for our playgroup.  I still have half a jar of lemon curd left from last weekend, so I plan to make the cheesecake with a Nilla wafer crust and top it with the lemon curd.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

My plan is to make the cheesecake tomorrow morning!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Banana Nut Bread

We're pretty picky about bananas.  For me, they need to be slightly green.  Once they're completely ripe, they're too ripe for me.  For my son, they can't have any brown spots, and they can't have any green.  And for my husband, they can't have any green, but they can have a few spots.  But we're all in agreement that once they turn mostly brown, the only thing they are good for is banana bread or muffins. But sometimes I only have 1 or 2, and that's not enough, so I will peel them, toss them in a freezer bag and freeze them for later.  Then, when I have 3 (which is how many my banana bread recipe calls for) and the time and inclination, I will take them out and thaw them and make banana bread.
My banana bread recipe is my mom's.  I have no idea where she got it, but it's the one we have both been using for years.  I have tried others, just for the heck of it, and in my opinion, they just don't compare.  Of course, I'm biased.

My Mother's Banana Bread

This recipe makes enough for a very full loaf or 1 dozen very full muffins.  You could probably do smaller muffins and stretch it to 18.  I love to take a slice and put in in a frying pan and kind of grill it that way and then butter it.  I'm drooling thinking about it now.  Or cut a muffin in half and fry it the same way. I also love to make french toast with it.

Banana Bread
1/2 cup shortening (I use crisco sticks)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 bananas
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sour milk or cream
1 cup chopped walnuts

To sour the milk or cream, add 1 tsp white vinegar and let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Mash bananas and set aside.
Mix shortening, sugar and eggs.  Add bananas to mixture, the the mixed dry ingredients alternately with the sour sour milk.  Add in nuts last, if desired (it's just as yummy without them!) Pour into a loaf pan.

Bake at 350F for 1 hour (depending on climate, it may need longer.  I've had to bake it up to 1 hour 20 minutes before)


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St Patrick's Day Meringues

Sunday's lemon curd left me with six orphaned egg whites.  I thought about making an angel food cake, but then a friend suggested making meringues.  I haven't made them in ages,  but thought that it sounded like a good idea.  Meringues are so light and airy and they practically melt in your mouth.  If made correctly, the outsides are crisp and the insides are soft.  The recipe I used comes from The Joy Of Baking but they are all pretty similar.  And since St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner, I tinted them green.


The recipe is pretty straightforward.  And I used double the amounts of everything because I had 6 egg whites to use and they were all in a bowl together.  So I now have a LOT of meringues.

Meringue Cookies:
3 large eggwhites 
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup superfine or caster sugar (if you don't have superfine sugar simply take granulated white sugar and process it for about 30 seconds in a food processor)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F and place the rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. You can form the cookies with a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) plain tip, or just use two spoons to make the cookies.  To get the textured look on mine, I used a zip type storage bag, snipped a hole and added a large star tip.
A stand mixer is easiest for this, since it takes a while to whip the egg whites.  In the bowl of the electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low-medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Beat in the vanilla extract.  
Note: The meringue is done when it holds stiff peaks and when you rub a little between your thumb and index finger it does not feel gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers.

Notice how it's standing up all on it's own?  That's a stiff peak.

Before placing the cookies on the cookie sheet, place a little of the meringue on the underside of each corner of the parchment paper. This will prevent the paper from sliding.  Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip. Pipe 2 1/2 inch rounds of meringue in rows on the prepared baking sheet.

My little helper

Bake the meringues for approximately 1 1/2 to1 3/4 hours, rotating the baking sheet from front to back (about half way through) to ensure even baking.  If the weather is damp, they may need a little longer in the oven.  The meringues are done when they are pale in color and fairly crisp. Turn off the oven, open the door a crack, and leave the meringues in the oven to finish drying overnight.

Ideally, they should be on one rack only, but I made a double batch and needed to get them all in the oven.

My almost 4 year old kept asking, all evening, can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie?  He did manage to get his fair share of tastes of the meringue from the bowl, though.  These came out great and got the "kid stamp of approval" from him and the neighborhood kids.

I used the vanilla extract called for in the recipe, but I was thinking while I was making these how they would taste with other flavored extracts, like mint or almond.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

To Die for Blueberry Muffins

These muffins really ARE to die for.  I got the recipe from a friend ages ago, and now I don't make any other blueberry muffins, because they just don't compare.  I didn't know where SHE got the recipe, so I googled it and found it on  I have tweaked the recipe a little to fill a 12 cup muffin pan.

To Die For Blueberry Muffins

To Die For Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 oversized muffins

3 cups flour
3/4 cups Splenda blend (double amount to use regular sugar)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp +  1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup oil
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs
2 cups blueberries (the small, wild variety work best; the large, cultivated variety are okay, but just not as good)

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400.  Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.  Mix in eggs, oil and milk. Fold in blueberries.  Fill greased muffin cups (not paper liners) right to the top and sprinkle with topping. Bake 20-25 minutes until done.

For topping: Mix all ingredients with a pastry blender until crumbly.

These muffins are A-MAZ-ING.  I make them for brunches all the time and they are always the first things to go.  Sometimes, I don't even get one!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Lovely Lunch-Russian Blini with Homemade Lemon Curd

Today's lunch came from a variety of inspiration.  My family used to live in Ukraine and I would take my son on long walks every Saturday morning once the snow had melted and the temperatures had risen (so, starting in about June!).  The end of our walks were always spent at the large park near our apartment, where there is a large playground, multiple kiosks and a Ukrainian restaurant.  Among the kiosks were a few that served traditional Russian blini .  Most weeks, we would stop for a mid-morning snack and each get a blin-mine usually apple filled (sometimes Nutella) and my son's would be plain (a 2 or 3 year old trying to eat a thin pancake with a filling is just a recipe for disaster).

Ukrainian Playground

Since leaving Ukraine, I miss our walks, I miss the park and I miss the blini!  So, yesterday, we had a nice day of sunshine here and went for an early morning walk.  We walked about 5 miles total (well, I did anyway.  Someone else rode in the stroller a good amount of time) and spent a few hours at the local park.  For the first time, I noticed the lack of even a common vending machine.  How boring!  And then I thought about it, I can't recall a park/playground here in the US that has any kind of "food" at the park. It made me sad :(  I sat there thinking how much I missed our Saturday morning ritual.

Fast forward to the evening and I finally had the time to make a recipe I had found online a few weeks ago at the Poor Girl Eats Well blog for homemade lemon curd.  I love her recipes because they are always so creative and ALWAYS inexpensive to prepare.  Not long after I saw the lemon curd recipe, my neighbor brought home a dozen lemons for me from someone at work with a lemon tree.  Jackpot!  Of course, life always interferes and I hadn't found the time yet to try it out.  Her recipe is for Meyer lemon curd, and to be quite honest, I had never even heard of a Meyer lemon.  I have no idea if my lemons are the Meyer variety or not, but I suspect not.  They look pretty much like the lemons I buy at the grocery store.  But they are still lemons, so I decided to try the recipe.

It came out AMAZING.  But what was I going to do with the large jar of lemon curd?  This afternoon I was trying to come up with a creative lunch for me and my son and remembered my blini craving from yesterday.  I thought, "Hey, I can MAKE blini."  I've done it plenty of times.  And so, lunch was born.  I made up a half batch of blini for us, mine filled with the lemon curd and his filled with strawberry jam (he has graduated to being able to eat a filled blin since our days in Ukraine.)  We added a little yogurt and had a lovely lunch!

Homemade Lemon Curd

6 large egg yolks
3/4 c Meyer lemon juice (like I mentioned, pretty sure my lemons are the regular variety)
1 t finely grated Meyer lemon zest
1 c sugar (I used the Splenda sugar blend)
1 stick of butter, cut into small cubes

Combine the egg yolks, juice, zest and sugar in a medium saucepan and whisk together until smooth (this will help avoid chunky bits of cooked egg yolk).  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture coats the back of a spoon (about 8-9 minutes).  Remove from heat and stir in the butter, one cube at a time, making sure that the butter melts completely before adding the next piece. 

Pour the finished lemon curd into clean containers and either continue your usual canning process, or cover with a layer of plastic wrap that's been placed directly on the surface of the curd.

Blini-Russian or Ukrainian Pancakes (this recipe is for a half batch and makes about ten 6-inch blini) This recipe is adapted from one at

  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons white sugar (again, I use Splenda blend)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups milk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons butter

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and salt. Mix in the flour, and then stir in the milk. Mix until smooth and well blended. The batter will be very thin.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Lightly oil the pan or spray with cooking spray. Pour about 2 tablespoons of the batter, or as much as desired, into the pan. Tilt the pan to spread the batter out evenly. When the edges are crisp looking and the center appears dry, slide a spatula carefully under the blin. Flip, and cook for about 1 minute on the other side, or until lightly browned.

Remove blin to a plate. Stack the blini on top of each other. To serve, spread with desired filling, then fold in half, and in half again to form a triangle. 

Blini with homemade lemon curd filling