Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Nutella Swirl Cheesecake Bars {Baking with Sisters, Part 7}

Well, friends, the blogging bug bit me today and I realized I haven't shared with you some of the delicious creations my sisters and I tried out when they were here...over a month ago...

Anyway, just to give you a run-down, here is my evaluation of the pass/fail status of each of the dishes we tried (in no particular order):

1) Nutella Swirl Cheesecake Bars (EPIC SUCCESS! Hence this post- we couldn't stop nibbling at them!)
2) Zucchini Chips (EPIC FAIL...seriously, we ruined two of my cookie sheets)
3) Thai Peanut Sauce Noodles with Veggies and Chicken (MODERATE SUCCESS- veggies were a bit soggier than I had hoped for and the sauce needed something)
4) French Toast Roll-Ups with Nutella and strawberries (SUCCESS- the girls surprised us with these for breakfast and they were to die for!)
5) Sweet Potato and Black Bean Taquitos (SUCCESS- easy, healthy and full of flavor!)
6) Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles (EPIC SUCCESS! Thankfully they took half the batch home with them or I would have been an elephant by the end of the week)
7) Honey Mustard Mozzarella Chicken (EPIC SUCCESS! I think this easy recipe has earned a coveted spot on all our dinner rotations)
8) Braided Cinnamon Wreath (EPIC FAIL/SUCCESS- it was atrociously ugly (not at all like the picture) and the dough was incredibly dense (don't know where we went wrong)...but it tasted good!)
9) Traditional English Crumpets (MODERATE SUCCESS- I'm on the fence about these. They were incredibly salty (could the the 3 tsp be a typo?), but toasted and smothered with jam, they are just the thing to nibble on while watching hours (and I do mean hours) of Downton Abbey)
10) Slow Cooker Chicken Tostadas (EPIC SUCCESS- of course almost anything in the taco realm is generally amazing...I used my own recipe for salsa crock-pot chicken which I really should share with you one of these days)

So there you have it. Pretty much our menu for the week. And if you're wondering, yes, I did gain weight.

My lovely sister, Jewelissa, tackling the spreading of the Nutella

But back to the Nutella Bars....oh, my, if you love cheesecake, graham cracker crusts, and Nutella to boot, you will be all over these yummy bars. They're easy too! Or at least I think they were easy. I had 3 helpful young ladies in my kitchen. Oh, well. If you think these look too hard, recruit yourself a few helpful young ladies because seriously, you're going to need someone to help you finish them. Or to state the case more truthfully, you're going to need someone to restrain you from finishing the whole pan yourself. Think of it like a safeguard.

Jessica, looking longingly at bars that still have to cool for. three. hours.

Sally from Sally's Baking Addiction says she thinks the hardest part of these bars is swirling the Nutella (which is rather tongue in cheek since that is not difficult at all really), but I think the hardest part is waiting during the 3 1/2 hrs of chilling time!!!

Oh, and as a side note, Hubby accidently picked up cinnamon flavored grahams for me instead of regular and it added this amazing flavor to the crust! So there's an option for you. Accidental discoveries are the best!

Nutella Swirl Cheesecake Bars
makes 16 bars

12 full sheet graham crackers, finely crushed (or 1.5 cups crumbs)
6 TB melted unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar

16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup Nutella, slightly warmed (makes it easier to swirl)

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8x8 baking pan with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.
Make the Crust:
In a medium bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and sugar. Press into lined pan. Bake 5 min. Allow to cool as you prepare the filling.
Make the Filling:
Beat cream cheese, egg, sugar, and vanilla with a hand blender or stand mixer until smooth and creamy, about 3 min. Spoon filling onto the crust and spread out evenly. Drop large spoonfuls of Nutella on top of the filling and swirl gently with a knife.
Bake 30-35 min. or until the cheesecake has set up and the edges are lightly browned. The bars will be very puffy, but will sink slightly as they cool. Allow to cool for 30 min. at room temp. on a wire rack and then chill in the refrigerator at least 3 hours. 
Lift foil out of pan carefully and cut into bars. Store covered in the refrigerator if you have any leftovers (ha!).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

ONE- See those three pretty girls up there with me? I was so privileged to have my three younger sisters come and stay with me for a whole week last week! Hubby and I went to a pastor's conference near where my family lives, so we brought the girls home with us! We all look pretty tired in the picture above (at the airport) because we got up around 5 am to take them to the airport after staying up till almost 2 am...not smart, I'm aware, but what can we say? You can sleep any old time. This sister get-together has been an annual occurrence since Hubby and I got married and we just love it! We spent most of our time chatting, baking up a storm (to see past posts about our baking fun, click here), and catching up on Downton Abbey. I gained about a pound from all the delicious food, but I'm pretty sure it was worth it. I feel so absolutely blessed to have three gorgeous sisters who are godly, mature and FUN and doubly blessed that we all get along so well!

TWO- I haven't written in awhile, so if you're not aware, Hubby and I have begun the journey of adoption! Rather than give you a whole explanation here, head on over to my other blog, Power Meets Intimacy, for the whole story (and some fun pictures)!

THREE- You know when you find something in the store that you think you just love and then you buy it and never use/wear it? Sort of that buyer's remorse? Well, that's kind of happened to me in reverse. I was shopping at Old Navy when I really didn't have any money (my first mistake) and I tried on this pretty coral top (my second mistake). I fell in love with it, but made myself be good and didn't buy it (my third mistake?). Now I can't stop thinking about it! What should I do??

FOUR- I know I'm not the only one, but I've just got to say it loud----- I CAN'T WAIT FOR SPRING!! It's been in the 40-50 degree range the last couple of days here and SUNNY and I'm just thrilled. The snow is mostly melted, the sun feels amazing on my winter weary skin, and it's so nice to only have to wear a light jacket or sweater. I just can't wait till the tulips start poking their heads out of the ground and the grass starts turning green again. Some of the birds are already back, but I'm watching for the swallows. We almost always see them first on Easter Sunday.

FIVE- I've promised myself a full mani-pedi (I don't think I've had one in over two years) once I've reached my weight-loss goal and I'm almost there! 4 lbs. to go! I seriously can't wait for flip-flop weather- my toes will be ready!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

ONE- IT IS COLD. Very. See that temperature up there? See the "Feels Like" part??? That is not even as cold as it has gotten this week. Add windchill onto that and you have some serious cold. As a result I've hardly been outside this week.

TWO- I have a cold. It finally caught up with me. I feel like it's been trying to catch me for a week and finally it has. It's not too bad though. Just a sore throat and stuffy nose mainly. You know, secretly I kind of like being sick (if it's not too serious). It makes me slow down and take a break.

THREE- We're just catching up on the new Sherlock episodes- oh my goodness! I won't give anything away, but B. Cumberbatch is in fine form playing the witty and brainy super-sleuth. The episode kept us on the edge of our seats for an hour and half and our brains felt tired afterwards. Between that and The West Wing, I'm pretty sure I'm not vegging out- I'm getting my brain exercise. Both shows have the effect of either making me feel smarter because I watched them or dumber because I didn't understand half of it. By the way, if you haven't seen this clip of Cumberbatch on Sesame Street, you should.

FOUR- I know pretty much absolutely zero about football (I thought I knew a couple of things, but then Hubby was like, no...not really at all), but I'm still pretty excited about the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl. I'm a Washingtonian now so hey! They're my team! Also I love the fact the Russell Wilson is an outspoken Christian. That's pretty cool. Go Hawks!

FIVE- Flappy Bird. Oh my gosh. That game is ridiculous. My friend told me about it during the Super Bowl, so I downloaded it and died. And died again. And again. And again. This game seriously makes me feel stupid. It shouldn't be that hard to make a little bird fly through stuff by tapping your fingers!! It's ridiculously simple and ridiculously aggravating and ridiculously addicting and now I can't type ridiculously anymore. It would be ridicuouls. See? Now I can't even spell it.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Slow Cooker Black Bean & Lentil Soup {with Smoked Paprika}

Much of the country is going through either a very cold and/or very stormy snap- us included (it was -8 here this morning!)- so it is of course the perfect opportunity for making a crock pot full of warm, hearty soup.

Since I slow-cookerized it, this particular soup is super easy to throw together- it's also very economical! It is vegetarian as well (unless you decide to use chicken broth), but it is not at all lacking in heartiness. Trust me, Hubby liked it. The beans and lentils are meaty, the broth and vegetables become almost creamy once blended a bit, and the smoked paprika...Well, you've just got to try it if you haven't. And if you have, you know what I'm talking about. You know it's a special spice when it's mentioned in the title of the dish. I mean, nobody's going to say, "Black Bean & Lentil Soup with Oregano," right? Just a whiff of the container and you'll know it's not your ordinary paprika. This is, well...smoked! And the smoky quality, both aroma and flavor, comes through very strongly in the flavor of this dish.

The leftovers were phenomenal, by the way! The flavors just seemed to meld and come together even better the second day when we had it for lunch. Bonus!

Black Bean & Lentil Soup with Smoked Paprika
adapted from Haystacks & Champagne
makes about 8 servings

1/2 large onion, chopped
2 larges stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp smoked paprika (not regular paprika!)
2 bay leaves
1 (14 oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (you can use regular, but the fire-roasted variety really adds to the smoky flavor of the soup)
1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed and sorted
1 (14 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 (14 oz.) cans vegetable or chicken broth
3 cups water
2 tsp dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients into the slow cooker. Cook on low 8-10 hours or until vegetables and lentils are tender.
Remove and discard bay leaves. Using stick or immersion blender, blend a few seconds or until consistency is to your liking (it should still be a little bit chunky). Note: if you don't have an immersion blender (although you most certainly should!), you can put about half the soup in your regular blender and blend until combined, but not completely pureed. Then stir into remaining soup for the same effect. This gives the soup a wonderfully creamy feel.
Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve topped with shredded Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

ONE- Obviously, blogging has been taking a back seat lately. I do love doing it, but I think I've realized that, for me, it's just going to have to be a no-pressure, do-it-when-I'm-struck-with-inspiration thing. I can't always work my meals and schedules around blog posts, and honestly, sometimes there are hobbies I choose to do over writing a post. Maybe I'm not a naturally gifted writer, because unless I feel inspired, it's hard to sit down and write anything. I still love to share stuff with you (especially delicious recipe finds!!), but I'll just be honest that it doesn't always make the top of my list of things I need/want to do. :)

TWO- One thing that is topping my list of things I want to do is THIS.I'm just kind of in love with it. Trying to work in a trip to the yarn store to pick out the perfect yarn for it. I'm thinking coral. Wouldn't that just be a lovely early spring accessory??

THREE- I recently took advantage of Shutterfly's offer of 101 free prints (although I only printed about 60 I think) and got prints made of pictures from Fall/Christmas. I couldn't wait to get the pictures in the mail and hang them up! Now I can't stop looking at all the beautiful photos all over my house! I just love having lots of pictures. I don't live close to my family or best friends, so having them all over the house just makes me feel close to them somehow, and I can always look at their sweet faces (well, most of them are sweet).

FOUR- You know those Page-a-Day calendars? Ugh, we are so bad at those!! Hubby got one for his birthday and I think we stayed on top of it for a week. If that. I'm pretty sure we're at least two weeks behind. And when you're that far behind it just takes too much work to catch up!! Ours is a Bible Crossword calendar. What's yours? Do you do it faithfully?

FIVE- Speaking of gifts, I got Hubby tickets to a hockey game for Christmas and we're going tomorrow! Last I heard, the team had only scored 3 goals in the last 4 games (ouch!), so here's hoping they're in better form tomorrow!! I want to see a win!! Oh, and speaking of sports (which I am general NOT into), we (haha) are pretty excited about the Seahawks victory last weekend. I normally take absolutely NO interest whatsoever in football, but this video made me really interested to watch these players (not like I actually watched more that 2 min. of the games, but hey- I was present!) handle glory. Whatever you think of Sherman's post-game interview (yeah, not the best), you gotta admit there are some guys with character on the team. Okay, that's all. Take my uneducated opinion or leave it. :)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pasta with {Slightly Skinny} Butternut Parmesan Sauce

A few months ago I was given a few butternut squashes (Is "squashes" correct? Or would that be "squash"? As in "deer"...or "fish"...or "moose"? I give up) from a relative that grows them in her garden- how fun is that- home-grown squash! Lovely, rich, smooth, gorgeously golden squash! 

As you can imagine, I was more than happy to accept her offer of a few to take home and have been on the hunt ever since for something to do with it other than soup (although I absolutely adore butternut squash soup and have tried several delicious recipes!). Recently I came across this pasta sauce recipe on Pinterest (of course) and decided to give it a whirl!

This sauce is really very simple to prepare. The only time consuming part is baking the squash, which could easily be done ahead of time. You can even make large batches of squash puree and freeze them in 3 cup amounts to have on hand when you need a quick go-to sauce for a weeknight meal! How easy would that be?? 

And, as usual, the squash does not disappoint. It is smooth and nutty as always, and combined with the flavors of sage and Parmesan, it makes a delicious addition to your favorite pasta.

Oh, and that amazing side dish you see in the picture? The one with the almonds? And more Parmesan? That's my sis-in-love's fantabulous roasted zucchini that ever since this summer has been my absolute favorite way to eat zucchini. I could seriously eat a whole bowl of THAT for dinner. Oh, now you want the recipe? Well, you're in luck! It just so happens I  know the lady who wrote a blog post about that... ;) You can thank me later.

Pasta with Butternut Parmesan Sauce
slightly adapted from Good Life Good Eats
serves 6

1 butternut squash (about 2 1/2 lb.- if using pre-made puree, this takes about 3 cups)
12 oz. penne pasta (or other favorite!)
1 TB olive oil
1 shallot, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup skim milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground sage (or use 1 TB fresh!)
1 tsp parsley (or 1 TB fresh! If using fresh parsley, add with lemon juice at the end of cooking)
2 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
broth or water as needed to thin sauce

Preheat oven to 350. Cut the squash lengthwise in half (see here for an easy way to do this!) and scoop out strings and seeds. Place squash cut sides down in a glass baking dish and add 1/4 cup water. Bake about 40 min. or until easily pierced with a fork. Cool 10 minutes, then scoop flesh from skins. Puree squash in a blender or food processor or using a stick blender until smooth.
Cook pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, make sauce. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wide skillet. 
Add shallots and cook about 5 min., or until soft and translucent. 
Add squash puree and cook about another minute, stirring to combine. 
Add milk a little at a time, stirring continuously to incorporate.  
Stir in cheese and spices. If needed, add water or broth to thin the sauce to your liking. When sauce is hot, remove from heat and stir in lemon juice (and fresh parsley, if using). 
Serve over hot pasta with extra cheese and herbs if desired.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

ONE- This past week something really big happened in our small county- we sent a tree to the U.S. Capitol! Every year, a national forest is chosen to supply a live tree for the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and this year the Colville National Forest was chosen! The tree they selected is an 88 foot Engleman Spruce, over 75 years old, and grew just a few miles from where we live in the county! Hubby and I joined in the festivities as our community celebrated the cutting of the tree and its send-off on the journey it will take around the country before finally making its way to D.C. in early Dec. At the send-off there were carolers, street performers, food vendors, and LOTS of people- it made me feel so patriotic, Christmasy, and proud of our community! What an honor to have a tree from our local forest grace the lawn of the Capitol for Christmas! You can see the top of the tree in the background of the above photo.

TWO- Speaking of Christmas, we had our first snowfall of the season this week! It was only a dusting, and it lasted only a few hours before it melted, but it was lovely! I'm not generally one to hurry in the snow season because, well, once it arrives, it stays. For a long time. So I'm in no rush. But I have to admit, I love the way it looks and it does make the house feel snug and cozy.

THREE- Speaking of cozy, I am in love with my new fleece pajamas!! Hubby got me an adorable set for my birthday and I practically live in them (as much as I can respectably get away with). They are so soft and warm- perfect for these nights that are now dropping frequently into the 20s. Do you have a favorite pair of winter PJs?

FOUR- Speaking of PJs, one of my favorite things to do in my PJs is drink tea!! We have really been into drinking tea lately- which was encouraged by several birthday gifts- new mugs, a new teapot, a gorgeous wooden "tea box", tea, a tea bag holder- you get the idea! There is something so comforting and snug about a steaming cup of tea wafting a soothing aroma. What's your favorite tea variety?

FIVE- Speaking of tea, I just saw a trailer for Downton Abbey Season 4. I'm probably a bit late on that, but oh well. We are working our way through Season 3 again an it is not any easier the second time. I cried for Lady Sibyl again and I am dreading the finale. The first time I watched it I think I grieved for a week! Sad, but true. Anyhow, Season 4 looks no less dramatic. Less death, hopefully, but wow. I've seen some pictures of Mary in black (*heart breaks*) and Mary and Tom with their respective babies (*heart breaks again*). Sigh. Do we seriously have to wait till January??? If you happen to be from the UK, NO SPOILERS PLEASE!!
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