Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cherry Cheesecake Dip

Tuesday was officially our preschoolers last day of school. We've been busy packing up the rooms, anticipating our last day of work come Monday. But we definitely made a point to have one last potluck together before vacation.

It's something we like to do every so often throughout the school year. Everyone pitches in and brings a large variety of our favorite foods. I chose one of my favorite dips, buffalo chicken dip and this fun cheesecake dip.

While trying to think of a different dessert I could bring, my mom's cheesecake came to mind. But I thought it'd be fun to put a little spin on and just make a dip instead. Dips are just much more fun if you ask me.

I searched around the store for those little graham sticks but didn't have much luck. So we used regular ol' graham crackers and they worked just fine. I think some were just even scooping it onto their plates and eating as is. I came back to the classroom with an empty pan, that's always a good sign.

For summer, I like the thought of lighter treats such as this one. You can even switch up the filling, we were all discussing the different variations. Blueberry would be one I would love to try!

Which flavor cheesecake do you like best? Go ahead and tell me below!

Cherry Cheesecake Dip

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz. tub Cool-Whip
21 oz. can cherry pie filling {or desired flavor}
Graham crackers, to serve with

In a medium bowl, cream together cream cheese and powdered sugar. Add in cool-whip and mix until well combined.

Spoon filling into an 8x8-inch baking pan. Spread cherry filling over top of cream cheese mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serve with graham crackers

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Watermelon-Tequila Punch

It's starting to get really warm around here and finally feels like summer. It's a good thing! We're down to the last couple days of school and I am officially on break after Monday. I'm ready to celebrate...probably even with a drink in hand.

During the summer months I love a good fruity and even slushy drink. I was recently given a copy of this new cookbook to review, Punch Bowl and Pitcher Drinks. It's just that, a book devoted to tempting cocktails, many of which are perfect for this hot weather.

Over the Memorial Day weekend I wanted a fun new drink to share with my family at our cookout. This watermelon punch didn't take long to convince me, it's actually even featured on the cover of the book. I mainly loved the fact that it didn't require many ingredients and most of which I already had on hand.

It's definitely a fun summer drink, my sister-in-law really liked it. In fact she helped me drink most of the pitcher. I think I would like this even more as a frozen slushy drink, but it's still pretty good. A little different, especially if you're not a big fan of watermelon.  I might try adding in some other fruits next time and see what we think.

As far as the cookbook itself; like I said many of the recipes look wonderful. I love all the colorful photos to go along with each recipe. My only complaint would be that some of them require more ingredients than I'd like to deal with. Other than that I am keeping this close by for new inspiration, summer is the perfect time to try new cocktails.  Let me know what you think of this new drink!

Watermelon-Tequila Punch

1 medium ripe seedless watermelon
3/4 cup tequila
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup sugar
additional lime slices

Cut watermelon into cubes, after removing the rind. Puree in a blender in batches. Strain puree using a sieve or mesh colander over a large bowl. You will need a total of 5 cups of juice.

In a pitcher, mix together watermelon juice, lime juice, tequila and sugar. Add in lime slices. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Serve punch over ice. Serves 6

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mexican Black Bean Dip

So we've had quite an exciting week in our house, the little one graduated from preschool on Thursday evening. She's been looking forward to it all week long, practicing at school each day and telling me all about it.

It was also graduation day for my preschool kiddos at work. We had a very nice ceremony for their parents complete, with refreshments and all. It went very well and it's so fun to see how much these children have grown over the school year!

Summer vacation is almost here, June 1st is officially my last working day and I am so ready to enjoy the time off with my little ones!

Speaking of summer, this dip is perfect to enjoy during the warm months. There are just times when it gets too hot to eat a full meal and I love to munch on appetizers; I could definitely make a meal out of this.

It sort of reminds me of the traditional sour cream and refried bean taco dip, but just a little different. And it makes just enough for a few servings, which is plenty when you don't need it for a crowd. Of course, you can always double the recipe for potlucks. Top with any desired veggies, I opted for a nice cherry tomato and green onion mixture on mine. Avocado, green pepper or jalapenos would also be nice additions.

While you're lounging around the pool this summer and need a little snack, keep this dip in mind!

Mexican Black Bean Dip

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup black beans
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
chopped tomato and green onion, for serving
Tortilla chips

In a medium bowl mix together cream cheese and sour cream. Mix in black beans, using back of spoon, sort of mash them a bit. Sprinkle in seasonings and cheese and mix to combine.

Before serving top with desired toppings such as: tomato, green onion, avocado or peppers. Serve with tortilla chips.

Serves 4

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monster Cookies

Monster cookies are one of my favorite cookies; well to be honest, I'm sure there's not a cookie out there that I don't like. But I've been on a monster cookie kick lately, trying different recipes and tweaking them.

I knew I wanted them to be thick and soft, yet full of that peanut butter and chocolate goodness. Last week I finally succeeded. I discovered a recipe in some of our old family cookbooks, you know those church type ones, without any pictures of course but filled with some really good treasures!

I immediately halved the recipe because what on earth would I do with nine or ten dozen cookies? I also was intrigued by the addition of corn syrup. It's not anything I typically bake with but I figured one teaspoon wouldn't hurt. It helps to make them more soft and chewy and less crunchy.

It took me a couple evenings to officially get the batch all baked off, but I don't think anyone minded. Fresh, warm cookies straight from the oven are a welcomed treat in our house. And now I've got my go-to recipe for monster cookies, they're perfect for any type of large gatherings and bake sales. Or for when we're craving some really good cookies!

Monster Cookies

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
3 eggs
1 teaspoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
4-1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1-1/4 cup mini M&Ms


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add in peanut butter and mix until incorporated. Mix in eggs one at a time. Then add in corn syrup and vanilla.

Gradually add in baking soda and quick cooking oats, keep mixing until all incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips and M&Ms.

Using a cookie scoop, drop dough onto cookie sheets. I like to use baking stones but you can use any type of cookie sheet you have on hand. I would definitely recommend lining them with silicone baking mats or parchment paper though, they help to keep them soft.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, just until cookies are set and lightly browned.

Makes close to 5 dozen cookies

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why We're Not Joining a CSA this Year

I've become pretty passionate I would say about advocating to support local businesses, especially when it comes to our own food. I love being able to take my children with me on the weekends to the local farmers' markets in the area, there's really one just about every day of the week. They get the chance to help me choose our produce for the upcoming week plus get to know and understand better where our food comes from and the faces behind those farms.

When we chose to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) three summers ago it was a new concept to me. I had heard of them but didn't exactly know much. Thanks to our local dairy farm's newsletter I heard of some nearby farms taking new subscribers, so I did a little research and immediately wanted to join.

I loved the idea of receiving a designated amount of vegetables each week for our family to enjoy. We paid a flat rate when we signed up, which actually averaged to be less than $20 per week. So from June until October, I would have plenty of fresh, organic vegetables. It also gave us the chance to try veggies we'd never even heard of before. Kohlrabi, anyone?

Not only was the produce of superb quality, but we immediately built a great relationship with our farmers. A husband and wife team that worked hard to provide their customers with quality, organic produce. We also started purchasing eggs and poultry from their farm as well. My girls got to pick out their turkey for Thanksgiving, they thought that was the coolest ever!

As you can see from the pictures above, some weeks we received a large assortment and others were smaller. Of course just starting out in the season, you can expect small portions, consisting of mainly greens. Later in late August and into September your boxes might be bursting. This became a struggle when I started working outside the home full time this past year. I would quickly pick up the girls and then go grab our weekly veggies. With all of our activities plus tending to my own small garden, I wouldn't find enough time to devote to using everything up.

I found myself having to toss food, which I hate! It seemed like such a waste and wasting is not something I like to do.

This summer we've decided to forgo joining the CSA again. We love the farm we supported for two years and continue to purchase eggs and poultry through them, but for now this is what will work best for our family. We extended our garden by just a bit this year, hoping to make it even bigger in years to come. In addition to growing our own vegetables, we'll definitely be taking advantage of the farmers' markets in town. I love the whole experience of shopping from each of the booths. There's nothing better than getting up right away on Saturday mornings and taking the whole family down there to shop.

Here in the Midwest our markets are just getting started, which means CSA's are still possibly taking new subscribers. If you think you might be interested in finding one in your own area, Local Harvest is an excellent tool to utilize. They will help you find local farms in your area, I've even been able to find great resources for meat as well.

Regardless of which route you choose to go this summer, I applaud you for supporting local farmers. To me that's what's most important! And if you are able to grow most of your produce at home, then let me tell you; I am jealous ha! One day I would love to be in that position, but for now we'll just keep doing what works for us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Strawberry Pretzel Dessert

Did you all have a great mother's day? I enjoyed an all around wonderful weekend. We spent much of our Saturday doing yard work along with getting the garden and flowers planted. Then winded down the evening with a little bon fire. Sunday was low key, going from church to both of our parent's. With a little cooking in between, because honestly, even on a day of relaxation it's what brings me joy.

My brothers and I chipped in to prepare a nice meal for our family, that way Mom didn't have to do much work.  I made this particular salad. It's definitely different, but very good.  And it had been so long since we'd had it, I thought it was the perfect time to make a batch.

Another dish I hadn't made in such a long time is this strawberry pretzel dessert. It's a classic dessert in many households.  And with good reason, who doesn't love that salty/sweet combination?

I love the classic strawberry topping,  but feel free to experiment with other flavors. Orange jello and mandarin oranges are delicious, as well as raspberries and raspberry jello. You can also use frozen fruit, but with summer heading our way, I always love using fresh berries.

Treat your loved ones to this dessert, if it's not already, it will soon be a favorite!

Strawberry Pretzel Dessert

For the crust:
2 cups crushed pretzels
1 stick butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar

For the filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
8 oz tub whipped topping

For the topping:
6 oz box strawberry jello
2 cups boiling water
2 cups sliced, fresh strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set aside one 9x13 inch baking pan.

In a bowl or even in the 9x13 pan, combine crushed pretzels, butter and sugar. Press into bottom of pan to form a crust. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven to let cool.

In another bowl, cream together cream cheese and sugar for one minute, just until light and fluffy. Add in whipped topping.  When pretzel crust is cooled, spread filling over top. Chill in fridge.

To make topping: combine jello with boiling water and stir until jello is dissolved. Add in sliced strawberries. Let chill in fridge for an hour, until partially set.

Then spoon jello topping over top of cream cheese filling. Cover and let set in fridge for at least a couple more hours until jello is completely set.

Serves 12-15

Friday, May 8, 2015

Freezer Fridays: Pizza Dunkers

We are officially down to the last few weeks of school for the year. I honestly think, where has the time gone? It's been a good year for us; filled with new adventures, challenges and lots of memories. But there's still lunches to be made and I am doing my darnedest to keep it interesting for the girls.

They are much better than myself when it comes to eating sandwiches, I simply get tired of them and would rather eat leftovers or something different. However, they are always up for anything related to pizza. We made these for dinner early in the week, sometimes little appetizers like these are fun. Plus it gives me a chance to try out some new creations.

That night they quickly inhaled one batch and then I had to make another. Our second grader took some in her lunchbox the next day and enjoyed them. In fact her container was empty so that's always a good sign.

While these didn't exactly last long enough to make it into our freezer, I can definitely plan on adding them in the near future. Maybe even add different fillings for a nice variety. They'll be perfect to have on hand for the lunchboxes, snacks or any time I need a quick appetizer.

Pizza Dunkers

1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp Italian seasoning
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
3 tbsp Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup diced pepperoni
pizza sauce, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two mini muffin pans and set aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Whisk in eggs and milk.  Add both cheeses and pepperoni.

Using a small scoop, drop batter into wells of prepared pans. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan. Serve warm with pizza sauce. Makes about 48 mini pizza dunkers.

For freezing: Let cool completely and then transfer to a sheet pan. Flash freeze for about one hour or just until frozen. Then transfer to freezer safe containers or bags. Make sure to label with contents and the date. When ready to enjoy; remove desired number of dunkers from freezer and let thaw. Then reheat in oven for 5-10 minutes or microwave for one minute.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Bridal Shower Wine Bucket

Over the weekend our family hosted a couples wedding shower for my youngest brother and his fiancĂ©e.  We kept things pretty casual, making it a fun gathering for the wedding party and immediate family members. The weather was perfect for the outdoor occasion.

I wanted to come up with a unique gift for their special day. After browsing the Internet, I came across several good ideas but this wine bucket stuck out. Knowing my soon to be sister-in-law loves wine, I figured I could put together something pretty cute.

I had never heard of such gifts before, but what a fun way to celebrate their new life together. So I combined some of my favorite poems I found and made my own version. It was fairly simple and didn't take too long.

Essentially all you need:

 a large basket, or ice bucket like I used.
few bottles of wine, 1 champagne and 1 sparkling juice
card stock and ribbon

Each bottle will have a cute poem attached. I typed these up on my computer and printed them. Then glued them onto the card stock. I incorporated their wedding colors; navy blue and tan. But you can use any colors you like.

These are the following poems I used:

Wedding Night
The night you have dreamed of is finally here
The future surrounds you with hope and yet fear.
You've been to the chapel and married your soulmate,
So sip this wine and toast this date.
The night is meant for you each to share,
(Bride's name) and (Groom's name) -- perfect pair.

Whether in the mountains or at the beach
Be sure to keep this bottle within reach!
Take time to have fun: It's your honeymoon!
Sadly you'll be back  before too soon,
You had a great time, but now it's done...
At least you have pictures to remember the fun!

First Dinner Party
Open your home to entertain and eat
Catch up with old friends and new ones to meet.
When the night is over share this bottle of wine
But don't sit down yet, it's clean up time!

First Fight
Love as you might,
You'll have your first fight...
Drink this wine,
While you make up all night.

First Anniversary
This past year has found you
In good health and good spirit,
So keep saying I Love You,
One always needs to hear it.
Raise your glasses to each other,
As you look back at year one.
There's so much that you've been through
Yet there's so much more to come!

First Baby
The news that a baby will soon share your life,
Will make you a mother nit only a wife.
You'll see it through good times and sometimes bad.
(Bride's name) the loving mother and (Groom's name) the dearest dad
Even though she must toast with this sparkling juice.
In nine months she'll have bubbly with baby beside her!

Know anyone getting married soon? Maybe go in together with a couple friends and surprise them with this adorable wine bucket. They are sure to love it!

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