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

Movies are Magical

Films have the ability to take people on journeys without even pulling them from the comfort of their couches. They helped me escape the difficulties of childhood, and now a taxing adulthood.

But the more magical thing about movies is that they remain to be so much to so many people. I was just taken on a lovely trip through Southern California, a film lovers’ highlight reel of the area, courtesy of DVD.com. As a highest-tier member of their ambassador program, I was eligible for this amazing, eye-opening experience.

We started with a visit to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party and lived every Disney lovers’ fantasy by closing out the park stuffed full of free candy and dressed in our favorite paraphernalia.

The next day we woke up bright and early and headed to the nearest DVD Netflix hub. When we arrived we were greeted with warm and friendly employees who walked us through the entire warehouse. Their enthusiasm was contagious, even though it was extremely early. We may not have been accustomed to being awake at that time, but they had been up and hauling DVDs for hours already. That’s how they do it in order to get your movies to your house on time. Thank you, DVD Netflix!

This is what 300k movies looks like
Beautiful machinery

After that we were treated to a writing session with the incredible David Raether. He gave us some pointers on having maximum impact in our pieces, and I left with a lot more writing confidence.

After a lovely lunch at the hotel, we launched ourselves to the next stop, which was the Warner Brothers’ Studios in Burbank. There we went on an absolutely delightful Classics Tour.

And after all was said and done, my biggest takeaway – besides a once-in-a-lifetime experience – was that movies unite people. No matter movies’ genres, themes, top-billed actresses, etc, films bring millions of people together.

On this trip, I was introduced to Linda, a creator with a passion for film so great, she watches them all. Her zest is contagious, and I can’t wait to read through all of her past articles to find my next favorite films. I also met Ann, another DVD Netflix Director in their DVD Nation. She loves films with strong female characters and all of the same favorite actresses as me. Then there was Bean, Illinois-based travel and movie blogger infamous for her exciting travel-centric posts that give me a mean case of wanderlust. I’ve admired her articles from afar, but she’s somehow even better in person. Joules was a hilarious Mama who has a fresh voice and fun taste in films that made me want to watch whatever she is watching. And last but undoubtedly not least, there was Raquel, whose knowledge of film (especially the classics) is quite literally awe-inspiring. No matter our opinions of the movies we discussed, we bonded over our mutual interest and how films make us feel. That’s what movies are about. 

At the WB Studios, I was introduced to the story of four studio executive brothers who believed in themselves and realized a dream. I watched the grips and prop handlers lug the necessities from soundstage to soundstage. There were the carpenters in the lumberyard building pieces of sets. There are actresses and actors on the closed sets who bring a story to life, along with the director that sees a vision and makes it happen. The producers, writers, editors, marketers. They’re all a part of these films. They all do it for that same love. That’s what movies are about.

from Small Soldiers
Props building area
Welcome to the Prophouse

Beetlejuice models from the film

And I would be absolutely remiss if I did not mention Michael and his crew at the Anaheim hub (again). They are the people who are at work at 2:30 in the morning, sorting through the DVDs you’ve sent back in, the men and women who fix the machines that sort the new movies you request to your door. The ones who have made it their job to keep you entertained and work through the wee hours to ensure they do. That’s what DVD Netflix is about.

And finally, there’s you. Getting cozy on the couch, being immersed in a new perspective, someone else’s tale. You’ve now joined in. And perhaps your spouse, who’s fallen asleep halfway through and may even have a different opinion that you, they’ve joined in, too. All of you are a part of that film. Forever. That’s the true magic of film. And this is what movies are all about. Uniting people.

Thank you, DVD Netflix, for reminding me over and over again of why I love movies so damn much, and for letting me play a role in it all.

#DVDNation #ad

I <3 NY

I’m not really sure why I planned a trip to NY with two kiddos, but I did. I’m also not quite sure why we didn’t cancel and reroute ourselves to Mexico, but we didn’t. And hey, we still survived!

No joke, Manhattan is quite an endeavor with little ones, but it’s also a veritable playground. And when done correctly, with a native New Yorker’s finesse, it can be quite a thrilling vacation! So, thank you to those who helped me plan our 2018 family adventure – you know who you are, but I’ll mention a few of you below, anyway. Without you I’m not sure we would have made it through so many subway rides and days away from home 😂 (this So Cal suburbs Mama is jk, but only partially)

Tips

• Take the subway, but only if you’re not using a stroller or have a super collapsible one. Many subway station stops don’t have elevators, and if they have an escalator, it may not be working. You’ll save a lot of money on the subway vs. cabs, but keep it light while traveling around or it becomes a struggle.

• Select a hotel that is central to much of what you want to see; this will cut transit costs and time. If you need a suggestion, I was blown away by the Affinia Garden Suites and will be suggesting it to anyone looking for an intimate yet spacious experience in Manhattan!

• Talk to friends who have lived or still live there before heading to the city. They’ll know the ins and outs of getting around, the best dining gems, and how to get the cheapest tickets. Speaking of…

• Krysten of Krysten’s Kitchen told me about the TKTS Discount Booths that sell theater tickets at 50% and more. All you have to do is hop in line about twenty minutes before the booth opens (2 PM EST), and snag the tickets you want! Hint: if you bring your receipt back the next day to get more tickets, you will be put in a fast pass line. I would say you should def not leave the city without seeing a show, and I always love a discount!

• The food in New York can be hit or miss. With the city’s sheer number of options there are bound to be some mediocre ones. It takes the tongue of a native or a well-traveled lover of New York to really know where to go. Like cousin Brad’s idea to go to The Smith – I’m already planning to go back for brunch to try more grub next time we are in town. I’ll definitely head back to JJ Coopers for live music and another prime rib sandwich. I’ll also return for a marg and mariscos at Hell’s Kitchen. And I’ll be sure to dine at as many places on The Spotted Cloth‘s NY Foodie list as possible, because they know good grub.

• If you’d like to head out of Manhattan and see more of New York, the Staten Island Ferry is a great free option for travel. Hop on next to Battery Park and take it to Staten Island, even snag a fabulous view of the Statue of Liberty via the ferry windows. Just know it’ll take about forty minutes to wait/board/travel on the ferry (one way)

• Another great transit option is a tour bus like those from Top View Sightseeing – you can get on at the stop of your choice and get off whenever you’d like. Just know traffic in NY is very slow moving; carve out a large chunk of time if you’d like to see a lot of the city.

• Don’t hesitate to ask questions before planning for or leaving on your own trip! Feel free to message me, or comment below, if there’s something you’d like info about. And be sure to read below for some of my must-see stops while you’re in the city.

Must-Sees

Central Park – A haven amidst the city’s madness, CP is not to be missed. It’s got acres of greenery and views to die for, plus lots of fun things to do within its boundaries. You can literally spend a whole day here, and you’ll probably want to.

Intrepid Museum – a huge thank you to Scherrie of Thirty Mommy for letting me know about this Midtown gem. We spent hours weaving our way through decommissioned planes, an old submarine, and tons of hands-on airplane-related displays. My kids could not have been happier, and hubby was even more so. Check out Scherrie’s blog (linked above) for more NY activities for kids (and much more).

Museum of the City of New YorkWe stumbled upon this place (which goes to show some times you just have to go and explore without a plan), and got lost inside for hours. It was beautiful and captivating, and the hands-on children’s area was a bit of a saving grace after a long, hot day in Central Park. We will surely return to see the newest installments whenever we come back to the city. It was that special.

Museum of Natural History – This behemoth will suck you in for hours, but a trip is well worth it. I know, we are totally Museum people, but this place truly can be for everyone. It’s amazing, informative, and a total must-see.

Avenue QIf you’re not easily offended, and you’re also a bit of a musical fan (although you really don’t have to be), check out Avenue Q. It’s biting and hilarious, and will keep you on the edge of your seat even if the kiddos have kept you on your feet all day.

And finally, if you’re feeling brave and even want to escape Manhattan (unlike myself), I suggest you hop over to Nellie’s blog, Brooklyn Active Mama. She is always in the know of what’s going on in her neighborhood, and is happy to share the fun on her page. If I had possessed the confidence to roam to her neck of the woods, I probably would have had a whole other blog post to write. Phew. I’m exhausted all over again.

Btw, I really do ❤️ NY.

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 on 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!

(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!