The Best Darn Cheesecake You’ll Ever Have

Mama’s made her 1st Cheesecake (hey, we’ve gotta have our own milestones, too, right?)!

Cooling, all pretty and stuff 🤤

I won’t bore you with a lot of jibber jabber about how this recipe is a family secret and Grandma Mae used to make it every year (I don’t even have a Grandma Mae, and I concocted this recipe from a few different ones on Internet). But I will tell you this is the perfect seasonal dessert to bring to *any* gathering or eat all by yourself in one sitting. Either way, it’s divine.

This whole process is super simple and family-friendly for the kitchen, but it does take about 7-10 hours from start to finish. Just a heads up that this miiiiight be the perfect winter break activity to do with your kids ALL DAY LONG. So, preheat your oven to 350 now, so you don’t forget later 😜

Interior shot of the best darn cheesecake ever

Crust:

1 3/4 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (about 15 full crackers)

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large bowl mix the graham cracker crumbs, butter, granulated sugar, and salt together evenly. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of 9-inch springform pan (or a thin, pre-made pie pan if that’s what you have – it’s what I worked with!)

Pre-baked apples

Apple Filling:

4 apples (peeled & sliced)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup water or apple juice

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp sea salt

1/3 cup sugar

Mix it all up, and bake at 350 until desired softness and juices have turned into a thicker syrup like consistency.

Cheesy coconut filing:

16 ounces of Cream Cheese, room temperature (I prefer whipped cream cheese for a lighter, fluffier cake)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup coconut milk, room temperature

1 teaspoons vanilla

1.5 eggs, room temperature

Mix cheese and sugar at a medium speed with a flat mixing spoon or mixer attachment. Then lightly beat in the rest of the ingredients.

Ready to bake!

When the apples are done, bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Set the cooled apples in the bottom of the pie pan, then cover with the cheesecake mixture. Make sure the bottom of the cheesecake pan is tightly sealed, then place it in a larger, deeper pan of hot water (so that the water never actually touches the pie tin, and only surrounds it).

Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes or until top has become a slight golden color. Take it out and cool it for an hour. After it’s cooled, tightly wrap it and place it in the fridge for anywhere from 6 hours to the whole night to set. Then ENJOY because this is the best cheesecake you’ll ever have 🤤

Hubby’s serving suggestion

An Ode to Trader Joe’s Watermelon-Cucumber Juice

I’m a foodie to the nth degree, and when I find a new product I fall in love with – especially from super affordable Trader Joe’s – I want to shout it from the rooftops!

Instead, to avoid my neighbors trying to commit me, I hit up a Facebook group made for uber loyal TJ’s Moms like me. I posted about the juice that I had found and spontaneously mixed with some rosé after a hard day of Momming. The response was tremendous! People from all over the country chimed in about their favorite ways to use this insanely delicious nectar.

So, I drew some inspiration from my fellow TJ fanatics. I am dedicating a post to the three most delicious Watermelon Cucumber juice recipes I could come up with based on the group members’ awesome ideas. We’ve got a delicious drink, a fresh appetizer (yes, an app!), and a perfect summer-time dessert. Thanks again for the inspiration, ladies, and be sure to follow along for more!

 

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Super Summer Spritzer  – The perfect drink to serve at a summer BBQ!

  • 2 cups chardonnay of your choice
  • 2 cups of rose of your choice
  • 2 cups TJ’s Watermelon Cucumber Juice*
  • 1 cup lime flavored sparkling water
  • juice yielded from half a lime
  • chopped watermelon
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries

Mix non-carbonated liquid ingredients well then stir in sparkling water. Layer fruit and ice in glasses prepared to serve, then pour in liquid. Do not muddle. Serve immediately and enjoy!

*If you prefer a sweeter drink, add more juice! Also, if you prefer different wines, a prosecco would work lovely. Moscato (or those that are inherently sweeter) may make the drink too sweet… unless you don’t believe in such a thing!

 

 

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Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Summer Gazpacho – The perfect sweet, savory, and spicy kickstart to any meal!

Topped with a delicious basil oil:

  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Blend ingredients and set aside – don’t forget! This stuff makes the dish!

Gazpacho Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds coarsely chopped cored tomatoes
  • 1 pound coarsely chopped seedless watermelon
  • 3 cups large-dice crustless day-old sourdough
  • 1 1/2 cup TJ’s Watermelon & Cucumber juice
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon TJ’s Chili Lime Seasoning

Mix ingredients and allow them to sit for about fifteen minutes. Then, toss them in a blender incrementally until desired consistency. Top with basil oil. Serve cold!*

*Recommended serving: rim bowl with Trader Joe’s chili lime seasoning to ensure everyone will be licking their bowls clean!

 

 

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Homemade Watermelon Jell-O – Incredibly simple, yet very elegant*

  • 1 3/4 cups Watermelon Cucumber Juice, divided into two containers (1/4 cup and 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup boiled water
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • Chunks of diced watermelon (optional)

*Serving suggestion includes basil leaves and whipped cream

(“Blooming” directions taken from Detoxinista.com)

To begin, you’ll want to “bloom” the gelatin in a bit of cool or room-temperature fruit juice, to ensure a smooth and even end result. In a medium mixing bowl, sprinkle the tablespoon of gelatin over 1/4 cup of the fruit juice and whisk well until the mixture starts to thicken.

Once the mixture is nice and thick, pour the 1/4 cup of hot (just boiled) water over it, and whisk well to dissolve evenly. When the mixture is smooth, add in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of fruit juice, and mix well to combine.

Pour the mixture into small, single serving containers and place in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours. Top with two basil leaves and whipped cream, serve to the most delighted eaters ever!

Mermaid Merriment

My eldest will be celebrating her fourth birthday soon, and accordingly, she has been planning her party for a couple months (she’s so my daughter). We’ve been throwing around theme ideas for a while, but can never get farther than her current obsession: mermaids!

Thus, I’ve been spying adorable projects for Charlotte’s party like a hawk, leaving no blog unread and no DIY tutorial unwatched. And when I noticed Maria Provenzano‘s adorable Sand Castle Cake on Home and Family, I knew I had found the perfect centerpiece for my little mermaid princess’s shell-ebration! Not only is it gorgeous, but it’s full of delicious chocolate and coconut, too. Yum! Below are the instructions (as provided by Maria Provenzano), as well as a tutorial video as seen on Home and Family.

By the way, beyond the chocolate-y deliciousness of this cake, I now have a bigger budget for other party stuff – like this amazing Mermaid Tail or this gorgeous stand-in Photo Booth backdrop! We are in beach heaven over here!

SandCastle

Ingredients
  • Chocolate Cake; I used 2 8 inch rounds for this specific cake
  • 5 icecream cones with flat bottoms
  • Buttercream Icing:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter; room temperature
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 2-5- tablespoons whole milk; room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Sand
  • 2 cups ground graham crackers
  • 2 cups coconut, toasted and finely ground
  • White Candy Coating Chocolate
  • Candy Seashell mold
Instructions
  1. Buttercream Icing:
  2. Beat the butter until it becomes light
  3. Add in the powdered sugar and slowly begin to mix together
  4. Add in the vanilla extract
  5. With the mixer running (stand mixer or hand mixer works) add in a couple tablespoons of room temperature milk; add more if the frosting is too thick; you are looking for it to be spreadable and smooth
  6. For the “sand”
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degree
  8. Place the coconut onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and spread it out so it is in an even layer
  9. Place in the oven for 5-10 minutes or until lightly toasted, and the color of sand you are looking for
  10. Allow to cool
  11. Place the graham crackers and the cooled toasted coconut into a food processor and process until it looks like sand!
  12. White Chocolate Seashells:
  13. Place the white candy coating chocolate in a bowl over a pot with simmering water, being sure the water isn’t touching the bowl
  14. Stir frequently until the chocolate has melted
  15. Pour the chocolate into the clean candy molds
  16. Tap on the counter to help the chocolate spread throughout the mold
  17. Place in the fridge to harden
  18. Once hardened, the chocolate can be removed from the mold
  19. For the Cake
  20. Place the cake on a cake stand
  21. Apply the “crumb coat” which is a single layer of icing to hold down any crumbs
  22. Place in the fridge for 15-30 minutes
  23. Take the cake out, and immediately apply another clean layer of icing, smoothing it out with an off-set spatula to make it look clean
  24. Use your hands to apply the “sand” around the sides of the cake
  25. Cover the ice-cream cones with frosting, and coat them with sand
  26. Place the ice-cream cones around the top of the cake
  27. Cover the top of the cake that is still showing frosting with the “sand”
  28. Place the white chocolate seashells around the cake as desired

Check out the video for full instructions and a step-by-step tutorial!

 

Fresh is Best

I recently found myself amidst a very stale routine. After spending the day doing various errands or going to classes with my son, I would pick up my daughter from school and allow her to plop onto the couch the second we got home. She would remain there for quite some time while I tended to her brother, cooked dinner, and waited for Daddy to get home. Of course, she’d take bathroom breaks and occasional toy breaks, but television had become her main source of entertainment.

Then, at the beginning of May, I ran through my daughter’s school papers and noticed that the monthly lessons would be devoted to learning about and growing plants. After her first day of garden-centric lessons, I watched her large eyes glow while she regaled me with what she had learned at school that day. She was physically within the confines of her car seat, but in her mind she was tending to a beautiful garden with her newly green thumb.

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So, instead of heading home to our big, old couch, we went straight to a local hardware store to buy some seeds and plants.  Charlotte picked out pots and apparatus galore – she was thinking big. I soon realized I’d have to hit up the internet for more kid-friendly gardening solutions than our tiny, local hardware store. On to Amazon and E-bay! Before I knew it, my pre-school aged daughter was planning dinners she’d make with the foods she wanted to grow. We went a little crazy, and decided we’d have to upgrade some of our plans. I ended up buying her (and I) early birthday presents: matching kitchen knives (okay, so NOT matching, but in her almost four year old mind, she’s got legit knives now: Mommy’s Knives // Kids’ Knives ). For anyone who has a little one that’s interested in cooking, these ^ kids’ knives are a MUST. #mommyisinheaven

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Since then, our new daily post-school routine has been to go outside and water. Then we harvest the freshest ingredients right off of the vine, and bring them inside to include them in our dinner. For now, we’re only working with homegrown herbs. But, soon enough, Charlotte will see the fruits of her labor (or mostly veggies, rather), and have tons of healthy, fresh foods to choose from every afternoon. Quite obviously, a much healthier habit than gluing her tush to the couch and her eyes to the TV.

With that said, the first recipe we’re sharing from our garden is a delicious, light take on Eggplant Parmesan. The tomatoes and basil were harvested from our backyard, but the organic eggplant and mozzarella were both sourced locally.

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Ingredients (serves 2)

1 eggplant (sliced into steaks around 1/4″ thick)

1 1/2 cups of grape tomatoes, sliced in quarters

1/2 white onion, thinly sliced

1 ball of high moisture mozzarella, thinly sliced

1/4 cup white wine

4 cloves of garlic, minced

White wine vinegar

Olive oil

1 sprig of lemon basil

Italian seasonings (either prepared mix, or dry oregano/thyme/basil/sage mixture)

Salt & Pepper

Directions

Mince garlic. Slice eggplant into steaks, toss in olive oil & white wine vinegar to coat. Add as much salt and pepper as you prefer, as well as half the garlic. Chop tomatoes and onions, toss in a bag with olive oil, white wine, dry oregano, second half of garlic, and salt/pepper. Allow both mixtures to marinade in the refrigerator (quickest meal prep ever)!

When you’re ready to bake, lay eggplant steaks in single layer on a roasting pan. Bake them in the oven at 450 for 25 minutes, then take them out and top them with the tomato/onion mixture and (one to) two slices of mozzarella cheese. Lower the oven temperature to 425 and make for twenty more minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly. To serve, place one steak on top of the other, top with basil leaves, and enjoy!

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Get in my Belly

I hate meal prep, and rarely do it, but last night found me an abundance of unused, sliced veggies. Thus, the most amazing, easiest, accidental meal prep ever:

 

1 organic zucchini (sliced into coins)

2 tbsps of bacon bits (or a couple strips cut up)

A handful of baby spinach (whole leaves)

 

Toss with olive oil, white whine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Finally, sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese and throw it in the oven for about 40 minutes (or less for less char) at 425. The whole plate has about 200 calories, and it’s as easy and painless as the recipe makes it seem. Not to mention I threw what I couldn’t finish into some TJ’s pizsa sauce so my veggie-phobic children wouldn’t know they were – gasp – eating something healthy. Enjoy!

 

How to Poach an Egg (Thus Making Every Lunch Infinitely Better)

  • Make sure your eggs are really fresh.
  • Add a small dash of vinegar to a pan of steadily boiling water.
  • Crack eggs individually into a ramekin or cup.
  • Create a gentle whirlpool in the water (hint: use a spatula handle) to help the egg white wrap around the yolk.
  • Slowly tip the egg into the water, white first. Leave to cook for three minutes.
  • Remove with a slotted spoon, cutting off any wispy edges using the edge of the spoon.
  • Drain onto kitchen paper – nobody wants eggy poaching water making their toast soggy or wilting their salad.

(these poaching instructions were found on bbgoodfood.com)

I’ve added this to just about every damn meal I can think of. Including this insanely delicious salad. All you need is:

  • baby arugula
  • one egg
  • bacon bits (optional)
  • sun-dried tomato spread (lower in calorie than the oil based chunks)
  • shredded parmesan
  • lemon juice
  • salt
  • pepper
  • smoked paprika

Prep salad by soaking it in lemon juice and tossing it with the bacon, parmesan, and salt & pepper. Create bed of tomato spread for egg to rest on. Poach egg using above instructions. Lay egg on tomato, then sprinkle with paprika. Viola!

 

 

(Not Exactly) Mama’s Kitchen

Mom was the best cook, and she had lots of specialties. Decadent lasagna, complex compote, gargantuan burritos. You name it, she made it. Perfectly.

I, on the other hand, never quite found my niche in the kitchen.

When Mom passed she left behind a beautiful legacy and an almost empty recipe box. The few recipes she had bothered to write down rather than commit to memory offered no guidance in terms of ingredient amounts. They were simply shopping lists for meal prep.

So, I was left in a rough spot. I wanted to taste the foods that Mom had fed me throughout my childhood, to be reminded of a somewhat simpler time. But how was I to cook like Mom if she hadn’t equipped me properly? The answer to that, my friends, is trial and error. And lots of Ajax for the burnt pans.

With that said, and since the holidays have settled upon us, I felt the need to reconnect with Mom and her food. I made one of my personal favorites from her repertoire – her chili. Well, I sort of made her chili. Just as her cards boast a casual approach to cooking, I also follow a laissez-faire philosophy. I often allow her lists to guide me, and end up in a different direction than she would take. And that’s OK. And sometimes, it’s better than OK. Like last night. So, here it goes:

(Not Exactly) Momma’s Chili

16 ounces of chopped grape tomatoes

1 can of kidney beans

1 pound of 96% lean beef

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 packet of Lawry’s chili seasoning

1 tsp of oregano

1 tsp of fennel

1 tbsp coconut oil

salt to taste

lemon pepper to taste

Directions: Saute onions in pot with coconut oil, allow to soften. Throw in tomatoes and seasoning, boil, then let stew on low until desired taste. Meanwhile, brown and season meat, then combine with tomatoes. Follow that with contents of kidney bean into pot and simmer. After meat is brown, place in pot after draining excess fat. Add a packet of Lawry’s chili seasoning, and follow instructions to complete.

You can serve it over my favorite – a crunchy-skinned baked potato, underneath another favorite (runny egg, pictured above, or even a poached one) or for a lighter version, this delicious recipe right here 👇🏻

Light and Crunchy Wilted Spinach

1 cup of baby spinach

1/2 lemon

1 tbsp of shredded parmesan cheese

1 tbsp coconut oil

salt and pepper to taste

Melt coconut oil over medium-low, throw in spinach. Wilt just slightly then spray with lemon juice and add salt/pepper. Mix and allow to continue to wilt. Allow for a bright green color rather than a dark green to keep spinach from getting too soggy. Top with parmesan and serve!

Hope you all enjoy. Let me know what you think, and be sure to follow my blog for more recipe ideas!