Strawberry cheesecake tartlets

The older you get, the more people seem to dread, despise and passionately deny their birthdays. A marker of one year passed, one year older, one year closer to no more years. Which, from that perspective, is passionately depressing. But to me, birthdays are just that – days of birth. Without that day, there would be no you in the world, in the lives of people who couldn’t fathom that reality, who can’t imagine passing each day in their lives without you. It not about getting older – it’s about every person deserving a day to be celebrated.
Strawberry Cheesecake tarts
Handheld, perfect for passing, adored by crowds, these Strawberry Cheesecake tarts say “happy any day.”
Obviously, I celebrate with food, and treating people wth treats. While fruit and dessert and I have had a … rocky … past (chocolate is my homeboy, yo), I have a whole backlog of things in the “not dessert for me but for a fruit-dessert-loving someone else.” This recipe was in that file – grown-up pop tarts, easy enough to make in the morning, perfect for a summer work birthday. Unfortunately, I sent David to the store and he thought puff pastry sheets and shells were the same. So, a little improv and here we are. (Also, this improv was WAY easier.)
Strawberry cheesecake tart
Delicious strawberry cheesecake leftovers, in their glory.
You’ll need:
  • 2 c strawberries (1 lb. container)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 boxes puff pastry shells (12 total)
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 block cream cheese, softened
  • 2-3 T honey
  • 2 t vanilla
Get cooking:
  1. Bake shells according to package directions.
  2. While they’re baking, slice your strawberries (thinly) and mix with 1 T sugar. Set aside.
  3. Whip your cream on high (stand or hand mixer) until you start to see peaks.
  4. Add cream cheese, honey and vanilla – whip until well mixed. It will be a pudding like consistency. Taste for sweetness – I like a little bite, so feel free to add more honey or sugar.
  5. Once your pastry is done, let it cool and Hollow out around the tops with a paring knife. That should leave you with a little well for the cream and berries. If your well isn’t deep enough, go ahead and dig in a little (gently) with your fingers and pull out a few more pastry layers.
  6. Drain strawberries with a colander.
  7. Fill each pastry with cream. You will have some left over, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Top with strawberries. (You can get fancy here and do a pattern – I was going for speed and didn’t.)
  8. With the leftovers – spread leftover cream in the bottom of a 1.5-quart dish (or really anything about the size of an 8×8 pan.) Top with strawberries, then with the pastry tops. Not as cute of a presentation, but I hate to waste those tasty tops!
  9. The actual tarts serve 12, the rest probably an additional 4-8 (serving vs spoonful.)

Recipe adapted from: http://www.jacquelynclark.com/2015/04/09/strawberry-vanilla-cream-hand-pies/

Greek potato salad

It’s beginning to look a lot like…potato salad season. Which, as a mayo hater, can be fraught with peril. Plus, the average potato salad? Potatoes. Eggs. Maybe some pickles. Meh. But there’s something about the nostalgia, the idea of cold potatoes on a hot summer day…in the right context, dressed with the right sauce, it could be refreshing, yet comforting, flavorful, yet familiar, wholly American yet…Greek?

Think about it – what other dressing is white, creamy and capable of tying together a whole dish? Tzatziki sauce. It’s refreshing, easy and most importantly, not mayo. Using that as a base, it only makes sense to mimic some other traditional Greek flavors – olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, bell peppers, artichokes…This is a great option for a ‘non-traditional’ potato salad, and has enough color to make it a beautiful addition to the table (no formless white slop here.) It works as a great stand-alone side, or even as the main event with some accompanying vegetables. You’ll probably get more dressing than you need, but use the rest on salads, sandwiches – or straight off the spoon. I won’t tell.

 

Greek potato salad
So fresh, so delicious, so full of awesome sauce.
Greek potato salad
It’s potato salad on steroids.

You’ll need:

Salad

  • 1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 8 oz. crumbled feta
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes or ½ cup chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 3-4 pounds yukon gold, klondike rose or assorted potatoes, diced into large bite-sized pieces
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 T rosemary
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained
  • ½ large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 yellow or orange bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 seedless cucumber, diced

Dressing

  • 2 cups plain greek yogurt
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
  • 2 lemons, use juice and zest
  • 2 cucumbers, seeded, diced and squeezed of juice
  • 4 T fresh dill
  • Salt and pepper

Get cooking:

Dressing

Combine ingredients in the bottom of a big bowl – whisk together and let sit while you dice other veggies and roast the potatoes. (There are some ranges here, play with what you like. I like more garlic and more lemon, not everyone does.)

Salad

  1. Roast the potatoes: toss with oil, oregano and rosemary, bake at 425 degrees for 15-10 minutes, until fork tender. Turn a couple, of times to encourage even browning. Remove and let cool.
  2. Assemble the salad: dice the other veggies while you roast the potatoes. Combine cooled potatoes and veggies in large bowl with the dressing – toss to coat. Chill 30 minutes – 1 hour.
  3. Garnish with fresh lemon slices and fresh, chopped dill. Serve cold or room temperature.

 

Gnocchi pasta pesto potato salad

Most people consider Memorial Day weekend the kickoff of summer fun – I consider it the kickoff of summer food. Sadly, many weekend BBQs are the same thing: floppy hot dogs, crushed potato chips, runny baked beans, pasta/potato salad slathered in mayo…blech. I hate it all. But no one wants to go to a BBQ empty-handed, or leave with an empty stomach – so go with this gnocchi pasta pesto potato salad, and no one will leave with an empty stomach.

This dish is an awesome addition to any table – using gnocchi in place of traditional pasta makes it a great pasta/potato salad hybrid, and all the veggies bring a light and refreshing feel to something that’s usually a heavy-handed gut bomb. Plus, using pesto as a dressing means it can sit out for longer than your average salad. Not that it will last that long. (It did not, in fact, last long at all – hence the only photo being in the creation stage.)

 

Gnocchi pasta salad
It’s pasta salad. And potato salad. And pesto. And delicious.

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound packaged gnocchi, cooked
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes or ½ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained
  • ½ large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 seedless cucumber, diced
  • Parmesan cheese, shaved with vegetable peeler

Get cooking:

Combine ingredients in large bowl, toss to coat with pesto. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Serve cold or room temperature.

 

Chocolate cheesecake stuffed strawberries

There are times when show stopping dessert take hours of prep and baking and cooling and decorating – and then, there’s this. Three ingredients. Three steps. Super-fancy dessert. I mean, look at these – don’t you want them rightnowplease?

Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries
Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries are the perfect wine club – I mean book club – dessert. Or appetizer. Or snack in general.

I made these when I needed a fast book club dessert. I had a menu of about 5 million things (not really, but it was extensive) and I wanted a dessert that fit our ‘obsession’ theme. While carving out the strawberries takes a hot minute, this dessert comes together fairly quickly and easily. But it looks incredibly fancy, because it’s mini and stuffed. It’s light and refreshing but still satisfies the chocolate craving. And if you need to up your class factor, do what I did – and serve these as an appetizer. Hey, fruit and cheese is an appetizer, right?

You’ll need:

  • 1 package strawberries, rinsed, dried and hulled
  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c chocolate hazelnut spread

Get cooking:

  1. When you hull the strawberries, use your pairing knife to carve out the entire middle of the strawberry. It’s tedious at first, but gets easier once you get the hang of it.
  2. Beat together cream cheese and spread until well combined and fluffy.
  3. Add mixture to piping tool (or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off.) Fill strawberries and serve. Look at you, so fancy!

Baked potato soup

This time of year is fickle. The skies promise sunshine, it peeks through the clouds with a shy anticipation – but snatches back and sends us cold winds on the turn of a dime. Everything is brown. And wet. And not growing yet. Oh, and my migraines are terrible. It makes me crabby.

When I am crabby, I crave comfort food – enter baked potato soup. You need something to cheer your weary bones? This is hearty, and comforting. You need some fun in your life? If a bacon-topped bowl of goodness isn’t fun, I don’t know what is. You need something easy for dinner? My friends, dive into this delicious bowl.

There are a million different recipes for baked potato soup – mine balances the line between decadent and decidedly not terrible for you. It’s filling, relatively fast and fairly hard to ruin. Also, cheese. And bacon. Who can be crabby in the face of that?

Baked potato soup
Potatoes. Bacon. Cheese. I rest my case.

You’ll need:

  • 6 potatoes (I like yukon golds or klondike rose), baked* and diced
  • 3-4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T butter
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
  • 1 lb. of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • ½ bunch green onions, sliced
  • Salt and pepper

*Fast method for baking potatoes:

Prick potatoes on each side with a fork. Microwave for 8 minutes, flip, and microwave 7-8 minutes more.

Get cooking:

  1. Heat butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onions and saute for 8-10 minutes, until softened and slightly browned. Add garlic and saute another 1-2 minutes.
  2. Deglaze pan with chicken broth, adding potatoes, cream cheese and half of cheddar cheese. Stir, breaking up potatoes into smaller chunks with the spoon, and allow cheese to melt. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Garnish with bacon, cheese and scallions.

Spice cake trifle

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve baked, or how much you’ve baked – everyone has their disasters. Some are recipe failures, some are cook failures, most are some combination of both. I was attempting to make a snickerdoodle bundt cake (I know, right?!) and I pulled it out of the oven – beautifully browned, clean toothpick – only to invert it and have it completely fall apart. Apparently the only part of the cake that was actually done was the part I stuck my toothpick in. But I had pitted 2 cups of dates for that bad boy (note to self: pitted dates are worth the extra cash) AND added some salted caramel sauce (or, you know, insult to injury.) I was not about to let my work go to waste. So, I spread the cake (about 1/4 of it done, the rest goo) onto a cookie sheet and baked it flat. And baked and baked and finally (about 40 minutes later) I had an incredibly moist but ugly sheet cake. Which I then crumbled up with salted caramel honey Greek yogurt and candied pecans. Turns out, this was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was delicious, relatively light and just this side of absolutely addicting.

Spice cake trifle
Layer of cake, layer of creamy, layer of crunchy/sweet – dessert is done!

This is less about a recipe and more about a method. I’ll tell you what I did here, but honestly, you could take any cake (or muffin – breakfast trifle anyone?), any kind of filling (Greek yogurt was actually really good, pudding would be delightful) and some kind of fruit or nut (those pecans will change your life), layer it up in a clear bowl and shazam! You have dessert.

You’ll need:

  • 1 recipe of your favorite cake
  • 1-2 containers Greek yogurt (large), whipped topping or pudding (you can make instant for this, I’d use 2 boxes)
  • 1 pound of your favorite nuts, or 3-4 cups of your favorite fruit (I’d use fresh here)

Get cooking:

Layer 1/3 cake, cream and fruit/nut combo in a clear bowl. Repeat two more times. Serve with a long spoon (so people can get at all the layers.)

Combo ideas:

Breakfast

  • Your favorite muffin (cranberry, blueberry, apple, even chocolate)
  • Greek yogurt (fruit flavored or vanilla)
  • Fruit and/or granola

Chocolate lovers

  • Chocolate cake (seriously, it can be a box, or brownies even!)
  • Whipped topping mixed with chocolate pudding
  • Dark chocolate almonds

Snickerdoodle

  • Spice cake
  • Salted caramel yogurt or cheesecake pudding
  • Cinnamon sugar pecans

Fruit frenzy

  • Angel food cake
  • Whipped topping and vanilla pudding (or yogurt)
  • Berry blend (Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries)

 

Pumpkin Breakfast Bake

I’m a big brunch fan. It’s all the best parts of breakfast – eggs, bread, something sweet – except you also get sleeping in, boozy coffee and mimosas. Also, friends. Often, I’m cooking for a crowd the morning after a party and want something to feed everyone that doesn’t use every pan in the kitchen. This is it – you mix it up the night before (even before the party), let it sit and just pop it in the oven the next day. Which is a perfect amount of time to get a half an hour more sleep and still pour mimosas.

Pumpkin breakfast bake
Pumpkin breakfast bake, topped with candied pecans.

Pumpkin breakfast bake may be hearty and filling, but it’s also cheap and pretty healthy. It tastes like pumpkin pie, but with whole wheat bread, skim milk and little added fat or sugar, it’s a lot better for everyone. Which is good, because then we can feel less bad about last night’s pizza binge.

Pumpkin breakfast bake 2
Pumpkin breakfast bake – the perfect brunch for any table.

You’ll need:

Bake:

  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 1 loaf crusty multigrain bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 eggs
  • 2-3 cups milk
  • 2 t pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 t cinnamon

Topping:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 T honey
  • 1 t pumpkin pie spice
  • 4 T apple butter

Get cooking:

  1. Whisk eggs, milk, spices and pumpkin in a large bowl until smooth.
  2. Add bread and stir to coat.
  3. Place in greased 9 x 13 pan and cover. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. In the morning, uncover pan and bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the middle is heated through.
  5. For the topping, just mix all four ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth.