Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

One of our Federal holidays  here in the USA is Presidents’ Day.  It is a celebration of two of our great presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Washington’s birthday was originally celebrated on February 22nd but was changed to the third Monday in February to include Lincoln.  This also allowed a three day weekend for Federal workers.  Presidents’ Day is also a time to remember all of our former presidents.

As a child, I always loved to read about George Washington and how he chopped down his father’s cherry tree.

Although he did not chop down that cherry tree, Washington was indeed fond of cherries.  The story about chopping down the cherry tree and not telling a lie about it was from one of his biographers, Parson Mason Weems (1759–1825). Mr. Weems  made up the story hoping to demonstrate Washington’s honesty.

If you want to learn more about George Washington, visit mtvernon.org.  This site is a great source about George Washington, Martha and the estate itself.  It also provides a look at the unfortunate slave population that was at Mount Vernon.  There are a few recipes such as the one for hoecakes.  Hoecakes were a favorite breakfast food of Washington.  He liked them covered with butter and honey.

I have been fortunate to visit most of our national parks.  One that really stands out in my memory is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota. It has the faces of four Presidents carved in the granite of Mount Rushmore. They are Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.  If you get a chance, be sure to visit this wonderful park.

Each of the four presidents were chosen because they represent some of the most important events in the history of the USA.  Washington’s face is the most prominent and represents the birth of the United States.  I visited long before the digital age of photography so here is a picture of Mount Rushmore courtesy of  NPS.gov.

Mount Rushmore

These Mini Cherry Cheesecakes are very easy to make and take very little time to prepare.  They are tasty and look pretty with the cherry topping.  Also, they are a perfect serving size for rich cheesecake.  If you want to celebrate Washington’s birthday with a dessert made with cherries, try this one.

Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
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12 vanilla wafers

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 egges, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

cherry pie filling

Preheat the over to 325 degrees.

Line muffin tin with foil liners. Place one vanilla wafer in each liner.  Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until creamy and smooth, about 1-2 minutes.

Add in the sour cream, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Mix until well combined, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Spoon the cream cheese mixture over the vanilla wafers to 3/4 full.  Bake 18-20 minutes at 325 degrees.

Remove from the pan when cool. Chill. Top with about a tablespoon of the cherry pie filling on each cheesecake.

Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

Mini Cherry Cheesecake

Notes:
1.  It will only take about a cup of cherry pie filling for the mini cheesecakes so plan a use for the excess pie filling  (if purchasing the 21 ounce size).
2.  The mini cheesecakes are made in a regular sized muffin tin.
3.  Recipe adapted from Kraft Recipes Cupid’s Cherry Cheesecakes and can be found here.

Coeur a la Creme

Valentine’s Day is next week and I am already looking forward to one of the heart shaped boxes of candy that is often received on Valentine’s Day.  Mine from last year.

Valentine's Day Candy

We can thank Richard Cadbury for these ubiquitous boxes of candy that appear on store shelves in early January.  Mr. Cadbury was part of a chocolate manufacturing family in the UK.  It is believed that he produced the first such box in 1868. These were pretty boxes and once empty could be used to store various trinkets from locks of hair to love letters.  history.com

Below is a photo of one of the Victorian heart shaped boxes by Richard Cadbury . Photo credit candyfavorities.com.

Victorian Heart Shaped Candy Box

While the Coeur a la Creme is not chocolate, I guarantee it will satisfy any sweet craving you may have.  It is a delicious and beautiful dessert made with cream cheese and whipped cream.  It is then served with a raspberry sauce.  For a French dessert, it is remarkably easy to make.

The name translates to “heart of the cream“.  It is traditionally served in a heart shape and usually prepared in a porcelain Coeur a la Creme mold.  I think I purchased my 7-inch mold from Amazon for about $13.00.  I recently bought a set of four  4-inch molds.  If you do not have the mold, simply line a fine mesh sieve with cheesecloth and set over a bowl so it can drain.

I find that this recipe makes more cheese mixture than will fit into the 7-inch mold.  I have used the fine mesh sieve to mold the excess cream mixture but for this post I used my recently purchased smaller molds for the excess.  The last picture of the Creme is one prepared in the smaller mold.

The recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s cookbook, Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home. It is one of my favorite cookbooks. One can sense her love of Paris and all things French. The book also has a lot of beautiful photographs and is a pleasure to read.

I have made this elegant dessert several times.  It is really easy to make and requires no baking.  With its heart shape and red raspberry sauce, I think It is a perfect dessert to serve for Valentine’s Day.

Coeur a la Creme

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Coeur a la Creme

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean

Raspberry Sauce

1 -10-ounce bag frozen raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 tablespoon Raspberry di Amore liqueur

For the Coeur a la Creme

Prepare a 7 inch Coeur a la Creme mold by lining it with a few sheets of cheesecloth so the ends drape over the sides. Place in a pan large enough to hold it.  Make sure that there is space between the bottom of the mold and the bottom of the pan for the liquid to drain. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.  On slow speed, add in the sifted powdered sugar until combined.  Then beat on hight speed for 2 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl and beater.  Change the beater for the whisk attachment.  With the mixer on low speed, add the heavy cream, vanilla, and vanilla bean seeds.  Beat on high speed until the mixture is very thick and has a consistency like whipped cream.

Pour the cream mixture into the prepared mold and fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the top. Refrigerate overnight to allow the mixture to drain.

For the Raspberry Sauce

Place raspberries, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 4 minutes. Pour the cooked raspberries, the jam, and liqueur into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until smooth.  Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve, so that there won’t be any of the raspberry seeds in the sauce. Chill until ready to serve with the cream.

To Serve the Coeur a la Creme

Discard the liquid in the bottom of the pan.
Unfold the cheesecloth on top of the mold.
Place a serving plate on top of the mold and invert the mold.
Carefully remove the remaining cheesecloth.
Drizzle Raspberry Sauce around the base.
Serve with extra sauce.    

Notes:
1.  Original recipe calls for 1 half pint of fresh raspberries for the sauce.
2. Garnish with fresh raspberries, if desired.
3.  If you would like to omit the liqueur, replace with water or raspberry extract.
4.  I don’t care for raspberry seeds so I strain the raspberry sauce at least 3 times.

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Jalapeno Popper Dip

My best wishes to everyone for a wonderful and safe New Year.  My New Year’s Eve was very quite but it did include food, primarily appetizers.

Looking ahead to February, we have an event that is known as Super Bowl Sunday.  The televised Super Bowl is an annual American football game that determines the champion of the National Football League. The Super Bowl is also known for its fun commercials and half time shows with major entertainers.

On September 29, 2016 Lady Gaga tweeted that she will be the headline performer for the Super Bowl 2017 halftime show.  This will be the singer’s second time performing at the Super Bowl.  She sang the “National Anthem” last year.  I’m a fan of Lady Gaga and am really looking forward to seeing her perform.

While I may not be a big fan of football, I do enjoy the festivities and food surrounding the big game.  So like practically everyone else in the USA on Super Bowl Sunday, I will be eating snacks and watching the game.

According to the American Institute of Food Distribution, Super Bowl Sunday is the second highest event in America for most food consumption — following Thanksgiving.  Here are some other interesting and fun food facts about Super Bowl Sunday:

It is typically the number one most popular day for pizza delivery.

Americans will eat 1.3 billion wings during the game.

We will snack on 11.2 million pounds of potato chips.

We buy more veggies for the big day but it is probably just for the dips that are certain to be served.  This is a surprise (to me), avocados are a big seller for guacamole dip.

And don’t forget the beer.  We wash it all down with 325.5 million gallons of beer.

That is a lot of food and drink.  But if you are looking for another appetizer, try this easy, creamy, and delicious dip that is perfect for serving during the big game.  It has the flavor of jalapeño poppers but without all the work.

The first time I tried this dip was this past Christmas where it was served as an appetizer.  My beautiful daughter made it and used fresh jalapeños in it.  It was amazing with the fresh peppers.  However, I used canned jalapeños and chiles in my recipe.  It makes it so much easier than having to deal with fresh peppers and I am lazy.

Jalapeno Popper Dip

Jalapeño Popper Dip

  • Time: 45mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Dip

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 – 4 ounce can diced jalapeños, drained
1 – 4 ounce can diced chiles, drained
6 slices cooked and crumbled bacon

Topping

1 cup crushed buttery round crackers (such as Ritz)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray a 2 quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, mix together the cream cheese and mayonnaise until smooth and combined.  Add the Cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, jalapeños, chiles, and bacon.  Beat until just combined.

Spread into a 2 quart baking dish and set aside.

Mix the crushed crackers, Parmesan cheese, and butter together in a bowl; spread over the top of the cream cheese mixture.

Bake in preheated oven until bubbly, 20 to 30 minutes.  Serve with tortillo chips or Ritz crackers.

Jalapeno Popper Dip

Notes:
1.  Leftover dip can be warmed up and is also good served cold on a Ritz cracker.
2.  Recipe adapted from all recipes.
3. Our Detroit Lions football team has never played in a Super Bowl game and unfortunately for fans it will not happen this year.  If you want more information about Super Bowl 51, visit the NFL web site here.

Snickerdoodles

We are into December and just had our first snowfall of the season.  It was very pretty but I was glad to be inside watching a Christmas movie and planning which cookies to make for Christmas.

Christmas Tree

When I want to bake an old fashioned cookie for Christmas, I immediately think of Snickerdoodles.  That is such a funny name for a very delicious cookie.  I have been baking this cookie at Christmas time for many years.  The recipe is in Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book, a vintage cookbook first published in 1963.  I have a well worn copy of this cookbook that was reprinted in 1976 and passed down to me by a favorite aunt.

Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

Snickerdoodle is similar to a sugar cookie except that is rolled in a mixture of ground cinnamon and sugar.  It also has cream of tartar which helps to activate the baking soda.

Some food historians attribute the cookie as being a New England recipe [English origin] or from the Pennsylvania Dutch [German origin].  Printed recipes for the cookie appeared in the early 20th century.  One recipe that appeared in a 1902 cookbook: A Collection of Tried Recipes Contributed by Estherville [Iowa] Housewives is very similar to the one in the Betty Crocker cookbook, only it does not use shortening.  Source is The Food Timeline and can be found here.

However the cookie originated, I’m just glad we have this vintage cookie that will make you think Christmas.  You may just want to add this delicious cinnamon-sugar cookie to your Christmas cookie tray.

Snickerdoodles

Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Topping

2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Heat oven to 400ºF.

Cookies

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, shortening, and 1 1/2 cups sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and then add to the butter mixture.  Beat  to combine.

Topping

In a small bowl, stir together the 2 tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon.  Set aside.

Shape the cookie dough into 1-inch balls  and roll each ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Arrange the dough balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are set. Remove from cookie sheet to a wire rack.  These cookies will puff up at first, then flatten out.    

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

Note:
1.  Recipe makes approximately six dozen 1-inch cookies.
2.  The baked cookies freeze well.

Pumpkin-Shaped Cheese Ball

October and November have been very mild months for Michigan which allowed us to enjoy some beautiful Fall foliage and everything else the season has to offer.

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Apples and pumpkins come to mind as well as the beautiful trees.  These pretty Honeycrisp apples and giant pumpkins are from Robinettes, a nearby orchard that I visit on a regular basis.  I bought the apples but not the pumpkins which were slightly too large.

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Giant Pumpkins

I never attempted to make a cheese ball until I found recipes for a cute Pumpkin-Shaped Cheese Ball (no pumpkin in it though).  What it does have are wonderful flavors of cream cheese and cheddar cheese with a slightly spicy taste from the salsa and Fiesta Ranch Dip mix.

I make the cheese ball to serve as an appetizer for Halloween and Thanksgiving.  But it is good any time of the year and for any special occasion.  There are several versions of this recipe out there but this is what I have come up with to suit our taste.  If you are looking for a tasty and easy appetizer to add to your Thanksgiving Day dinner, try this one.

Pumpkin-Shaped Cheese Ball

Pumpkin-Shaped Cheese Ball

16 ounces softened cream cheese
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons Hidden Valley Brand Fiesta Ranch Dip Mix
3 tablespoons salsa
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 to 1 1/2 cups crushed Doritos nacho cheese chips
pretzel rod or bell pepper stem

Using a stand or hand held mixer beat the cream cheese, onion powder, and Fiesta Ranch Dip mix until  creamy.  Add the salsa and cheddar cheese and mix until combined.

Scoop mixture into a plastic food storage bag and use the plastic bag to form a ball.  Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

After chilling, score the sides of the cheese ball to resemble a pumpkin.  When ready to serve, roll ball into the crushed nacho chips and place a pretzel rod or bell pepper stem on top.  Serve with crackers or your favorite chips.  Keep any leftovers in the fridge.    

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Cheese Ball and Cracker

Notes:
1.  If the salsa has a lot of liquid, strain it before adding to the cheese mixture.
2.  I have used the food processor and also a rolling pin to crush the chips. They both work equally well.

Pumpkin Carrot Cake

November has one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving.  It is a holiday in the USA when we gather for a day of food, family and, yes, even football. We celebrate it on the fourth Thursday in November.  Traditional Thanksgiving foods include turkey, stuffing (or dressing), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

And speaking of turkey, a couple of weeks ago I looked up from my computer and saw a flock of wild turkeys in my front yard.  They disappeared too fast for picture taking except for this one.

turkey

I don’t actually live in the country, but there is a flock of wild turkeys that we see on occasion here in the northeast side of Grand Rapids.

Most  Americans are familiar with what we call  the First Thanksgiving which was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. This first Thanksgiving also included Native Americans at the feast according to Edward Winslow who was a member of the early Pilgrims:

“…many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor…”

Edward Winslow was a prominent member of the Plymouth Colony and wrote first hand accounts of their life in Mourt’s Relation.  Here is his account of that most momentous occasion in a letter written to a friend.

This is the first carrot cake I have ever baked; most unusual, considering all the years I have been baking and cooking.  I like carrot cake but always just bought them from the grocery’s bakery section.  But that has changed since I found this beautiful Pumpkin Carrot Cake recipe from Gold Medal Flour. The recipe was actually developed for Gold Medal Flour by The Baker Mama and can be found here.  Check it out to see some beautiful photos of the cake preparation.

As you can tell by the recipe’s name, there is pumpkin in it.  This ties in perfectly with Thanksgiving since pumpkins are associated with that holiday.  However, this cake is so delicious, it will be welcomed anytime of the year.

Pumpkin Carrot Cake

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 2hr
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Cake:

2 cups Gold Medal all-purpose flour (or your favorite brand)
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated fresh carrots
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1-1/2 cups flaked coconut

Frosting:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup flaked coconut
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture. The dough will be very thick at this point.

Fold in the pineapple and pumpkin until well combined. Fold in the carrots and then the nuts and coconut until just combined.

Pour batter into the prepared cake pans and bake for 45-60 minutes until the cakes are browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.   Let the cakes cool in their pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Turn them out onto the wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, cream cheese and lemon juice until smooth. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Fold in the coconut and walnuts.

To frost the cake, place one cake layer on a cake stand or serving platter. Use a spatula to cover with a thick layer of frosting. Stack the other cake layer on top of the frosted layer. Cover the top and sides with the remaining frosting.  

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Notes:
1.  This recipe makes a lot of cake batter.  I used 9 x 1 3/4 inch cake pans instead of the 8 inch as in original recipe.   When filling the pans, be sure to leave room for the cake to expand and rise as it bakes so that it won’t spill over the sides of the pans.
2.  Original recipe calls for peanut oil but I used vegetable oil instead.
3.  I used an attachment to my food processor to grate the carrots.
4.  Since this cake has a cream cheese frosting, any leftover cake should be refrigerated.

Pumpkin Cream Pie

Pumpkin Scene

I am always happy when October rolls around.  I think it is our prettiest season here in Michigan.  It is also when the locally grown pumpkins start to appear in the Farmers Markets and farm stands.  I love their bright orange color and their different shapes and sizes, even the giant ones.

Giant Pumpkins

Pumpkins have been grown in North America for thousands of years and are a native plant.  In 1584, French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence region of North America.  He found what he described as “gros melons”.  The name was translated into English as “pompions” and over time has become known as the pumpkin.  Source

There are so many delicious recipes than can be made from pumpkins.  A Google search reveals a lot of recipes from sweet to savory.

My favorite way to cook with pumpkin is a traditional Pumpkin Pie.  I always bake two pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Here is a link to my post for a recipe for traditional pumpkin pie, made with either fresh pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin.

However, this year I am adding another kind of pumpkin pie to our dessert menu for Thanksgiving.  It is an easy no bake pumpkin pie with a rich creamy filling that has a delicious light taste of pumpkin and the tang of cream cheese.  It is perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas desserts.

Pumpkin Cream Pie

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 1/2 cups finely crushed gingersnaps (approximately 24 cookies )
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
2  teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1  cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

For the Crust:

Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees.  In a medium sized bowl, combine the crushed gingersnaps, sugar and cinnamon.  Mix in the  melted butter until thoroughly combined.  Press the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie plate, evenly covering the bottom and sides.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is set.  Remove the pie crust from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

For the Filling:

Place a medium-sized mixing bowl and beaters of an electric mixer into the freezer while you make the cream cheese and pumpkin filling.

Beat the softened cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Add one cup of powdered sugar and mix until combined.  Add the pumpkin puree, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice and beat until smooth.  Set aside while preparing the whipped cream.

Pour the cream into the chilled mixing bowl.  Beat the cream until it begins to thicken.  Add the two tablespoons of powdered sugar.  Whip the cream until stiff peaks start to form, being careful not to over-beat.

Gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese and pumpkin mixture and then spread into the pie plate.

Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.  Serve with additional whipped cream and a sprinkle of crushed gingersnaps, if desired.   

Pumpkin Cream Pie

 

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Notes:
1.  Be sure to chill the mixing bowl and beaters and use heavy cream that is as cold as possible.  This  will help the cream to whip quickly and increase the volume.
2.  I used a food processor to crush the gingersnaps.  An alternative method is to place them in a ziplock bag and roll over them with a rolling pin until finely crushed.
3.  Adapted from Pumpkin Silk Pie recipe by  thegunnysack.  Visit her site for delicious recipes and beautiful photos of food.

We must not forget that jack-o’-lanterns carved from pumpkins are the star of Halloween.  While I may be terrible at carving Jack-o’-lanterns,  I don’t think the little trick or treaters mind at all.  Happy Halloween

Jack O Lantern

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