Thursday, December 29, 2011

Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Chocolate Drizzle

I hope you all enjoyed a blessed Christmas season! It was a wonderful relaxing day here at the Hardin household, and believe it or not I didn't even cook Christmas dinner. We went out to eat on Christmas day at the galley on base. I had heard that they served a good holiday meal, and to be honest I was exhausted from a very busy season and just needed a break. So we took a chance and ate at the galley. It wasn't bad, but not near as good as home cooked. I am not complaining since I didn't have to cook or clean after dinner so that made it all worth it. I did make Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast so I wasn't a total slacker. These are the most delicious cinnamon rolls I have ever had! I definitely recommend trying them.

As I have stated in earlier posts, I am not a good cook just a good recipe finder.  Sometimes I find the recipes, but sometimes the recipes find me, case in point with this recipe.

A few weeks ago at small group the food theme was a baked potato bar with chili, pulled pork, broccoli, cheese, bacon bits, sour cream, salsa, chives, and butter for toppings. It was a really good spread.

I love baked potatoes and the fact that they are fat free makes me love them even more. When I was in high school and college one of my favorite meals was a grilled chicken sandwich and baked potato from Wendy's. My husband, who at the time was my boyfriend, thought it was so weird that the only thing I would put on my potato was salt and chives. I didn't want the added fat from butter or sour cream, but nowadays I also add light sour cream to my potatoes. Just recently I tried using low fat cottage cheese. I friend suggested I try it and to my surprise it was tasty and even less fat than light sour cream. But at small group, I will admit, I added the chili and a little pulled pork as well.  It was so good. Well, enough about potatoes.  I am sure you are really more interested in the cheesecake than my love of baked potatoes.  One of the men that attend our small group baked this cheesecake and brought it to our baked potato night.  I was so excited and anticipated that I had a new recipe to share with you so I snapped a quick photo before anyone had a chance to cut it.

The cheesecake was amazing and how couldn't it be with peanut butter and chocolate so perfectly matched? Thank you, Chris, for sharing the recipe!!

You will think I have lost my mind, which is quite possible, but lately when I think about peanut butter and chocolate, I think of the song Love and Marriage by Frank Sinatra. 

Sing with me:

Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage
This I'll tell you brother
You can't have one without the other

Love and marriage, love and marriage
It's an institute you can't disparage
Ask the local gentry
And they will say it's elementary

It is a perfect unity just like love and marriage. The union has stood the test of time and will continue to be a culinary delight for many more to come. It is a simple combination, but oh so perfect.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake
  • 1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
  • 1-2/3 cups (10-oz. pkg.) REESE'S Peanut Butter Chips, melted
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • CHOCOLATE DRIZZLE (recipe follows)
  • Whipped topping (optional)
  • Hershey’s mini-kisses
  1. Heat oven to 300°F. Combine graham cracker crumbs, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa and butter; press into bottom of 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Beat cream cheese and 1/4 cup sugar until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk, then melted chips, until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Pour over crust.
  3. Bake 60 to 70 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove from oven. With knife, loosen cake from side of pan. Cool. Remove side of pan. Garnish with CHOCOLATE DRIZZLE. Refrigerate until cold.
  4. Add mini-kisses before serving.  Whipped topping as desired.

    CHOCOLATE DRIZZLE: Melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat; add 2 tablespoons Hershey’s Cocoa and 2 tablespoons water. Cook and stir until slightly thickened. Do not boil. Cool slightly. Gradually add 1 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, beating with whisk until smooth. About 3/4 cup.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Preventing Holiday Weight Gain Part 3 ~ featuring registered dietician Jenny Cooper

            Stay Active

The trick to staying active during the busy holiday months and the cold winter season is to plan ahead. Pick a time during the day when you plan to exercise and stick with it. Lay your workout clothes out the night before to save time and energy. Ask an exercise buddy who will keep you accountable to join you when you don’t feel like exercising.  On those days when you really don’t want to exercise and all other tactics to find motivation have failed, tell yourself you will exercise for 5 minutes and stop after 5 minutes if you’re still unmotivated. Chances are you’ll exercise longer than just those 5 minutes. Be sure to listen to your body and give yourself a break if you really need to take the day off to rest.

If you just can’t stand the cold weather during the winter months, find ways to exercise indoors. Fitness centers usually run deals around the first of the year when people are starting those New Years’ resolutions. Or you can exercise in the comfort of your own home with a home workout DVD. Don’t worry, these have come a long way since the days of Jane Fonda! Some of my favorites are by Jillian Michaels and The Biggest Loser workout series.

Make exercise a family event! Get the entire family involved in physical fitness by walking or running together, playing tag football or yard bowling, or throwing a Frisbee in the park. Sign up for a holiday themed 5K walk/run race and compete as a family. Most cities have a local Thanksgiving or Christmas 5K that benefits local schools, churches or charities so you can reap the benefits of exercising, spending time with family and helping out a good cause!

Hoping ya’ll enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season shared with friends and family. And remember what the season is really all about; celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ!

                                                                                                                                        Jenny Cooper, RD, LDN

Monday, November 28, 2011

Preventing Holiday Weight Gain Part 2 ~ featuring Registered Dietician, Jenny Cooper (including idea for figure friendly fruit dip)

        2. Don’t Drink Your Calories

Calories consumed from beverages can add up quickly and cause unwanted weight gain. Most beverages provide little to no fiber or protein (other than milk) so they do not keep you feeling full for very long. An 8 fl oz. glass of apple juice has an average of 120 calories and 0 grams of fiber, whereas a medium sized 5.5 oz. apple has 70 calories and about 3.5 grams of fiber. The whole apple would keep you full longer and have fewer calories and, therefore, would be a better choice than the glass of apple juice.  If you choose to have juice in the mornings, limit yourself to a 6-8 fl oz. serving of 100% fruit juice. Low fat dairy milk, soy milk or almond milk are acceptable caloric beverages to consume in moderation as these provide good sources of calcium, vitamin D and protein for not too many calories. Limit consumption of dairy including milk, yogurt and cheese to three fat-free or low-fat servings per day.

Rich hot chocolate and specialty coffee drinks can be a major source of excess calories during the colder winter months. The key to cutting calories on your specialty coffee favorites is to ask for a small serving size made with skim milk, no whipped cream and sugar-free syrup, if available. A 12 fl oz. tall Starbucks Gingerbread Latte made with 2% milk and topped with whipped cream has 260 calories. You can save 110 calories by order the “skinny” version of this drink made with skim milk and leaving out the whipped cream. Those small savings in calories can go a long way!  

Alcoholic beverages consumed in excess can also cause unwanted weight gain due to their high caloric content. One gram of alcohol contains 7 calories, whereas 1 gram of carbohydrates or 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories. One alcoholic beverage is equivalent to 5 fl oz. wine, 12 fl oz. beer, or 1.5 fl oz. (1 shot) of 80 proof liquor. This means a 12 fl oz. can of Bud Light with 12 grams of alcohol and 6.6 grams of carbs has 110 calories (12 grams alcohol x 7 calories per gram and 6.6 grams carbs x 4 calories per gram), a 5 fl oz. glass of red cabernet wine with 5.5 grams carbs and 15.2 grams alcohol has 127 calories, and 1 shot of vodka (minus the sugary mixer) with 14.9 grams alcohol has 103 calories. An 8 fl oz. serving of alcoholic Holiday egg nog can have as much as 400 calories!  As you can imagine, calories will add up fast if you’re consuming a few alcoholic beverages plus the food at that holiday meal.  The recommended limits for alcoholic are no more than 2 alcoholic beverages per day for men and no more than 1 alcoholic beverage per day for women.

Try to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Most people need 64 fl oz. of water per day. Try meeting your fluid needs through water by keeping a reusable bottle of water on hand to remind you to drink enough water throughout the day, or by placing four individual 16 fl oz. disposable water bottles in your refrigerator each day and drink all four by the end of the day. Be sure to drink water before, during and after exercise.  If you exercise strenuously for 1 hour or longer or exercise in extreme heat like Bikram yoga, you may need to replace the electrolytes lost through sweat by consuming sports drinks during your winter workout.

Stay tuned for part 3...

Jenny Cooper, RD, LDN


Hi! It's Joy!

About 8 years ago I realized that I was consuming a lot of extra calories in my drinks.  I used to love soda (approximately 120 calories in a can) and who doesn't love a cherry slush from Sonic Drive-In (170-620 calories depending on size) or limeade (110-370 calories) or better yet a cream slush (390-600 calories). This realization caused me to change my ways and I began drinking only water and coffee, of course.  When I have coffee I use fat free creamer and a small amount of sugar which has anywhere from 50 to 100 calories depending on the amount. This is my daily indulgence that I do not have to feel guilty about since I am drinking water the rest of the day. Now since moving to Italy I do have wine with dinner on many evenings, but even then try to limit it to one 4 oz. glass. 

Jenny mentioned glorious Starbucks, which I do miss dearly, where my drink of choice is a tall (12 oz.) skinny vanilla latte (90 calories). You can even order drinks in a short size (8 oz.). It is actually the perfect amount for me. It gives me that little boost I need for the day or the afternoon :) You can see a list of Starbucks drinks that are under 200 calories here.

Unfortunately there are no Starbucks here in Italy, but we do have awesome Italian espresso and cappuccinos. The Italians do not do large drinks so I do not feel guilty when ordering a cappuccino which is only about 8 oz. They are really good too and definitely better than Starbucks'.  They do not do flavored coffees though so I will just dream of the day I can once again enjoy my yummy skinny vanilla latte.

Fruit juices are another way that we often consume too many calories and by choosing fruit instead we stay fuller longer and with fewer calories. My sister-in-law introduced me to the most delicious fruit dip ~ low fat vanilla yogurt! That's it, nothing else. Just yogurt and fruit. I like to make fruit salad with chopped fruit of my choice and mix in some low fat vanilla yogurt. It is really good and healthy. Jenny recommends that we get 3 servings of dairy a day and low fat yogurt is a great source. I really like the Yoglait French Vanilla flavor. 

Figure Friendly Fruit Dip/Salad
fruit of your choice
low fat vanilla yogurt (a little goes a long way)
you can also add some granola to give it a nice crunch

If you prefer organic, Stonyfield is a good choice as well.

I hope these tips will help you to avoid weight gain during the holidays. I don't know about you, but extra pounds and debt are two things that I do not want following me into 2012!

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Preventing Holiday Weight Gain Part 1 ~ featuring Registered Dietician, Jenny Cooper (including recipes for Spinach Dip and Baked Balsamic Chicken)

The Holidays are here! With the bustle of decorating, shopping, spending time with friends and family and eating delicious food who wouldn’t agree that this is the most wonderful time of the year? But along with the fun and celebration of the holidays also comes worry and stress around holiday weight gain. The good news is, you can enjoy all of your favorite holiday foods without stretching your waist line.  The key to preventing weight gain during the holidays is the same as preventing weight gain any other time of the year: limit the amount of calories you take in through foods and beverages while also burning extra calories through physical activity. Where most of us get in trouble during the holidays is when we overindulge on holiday goodies for two months straight and we allow the busyness of the holiday season and the colder temperatures to interfere with our usual efforts in staying physically active. To help keep you on track this year in preventing those sneaky pounds from piling on, check out these top three ways to prevent unwanted holiday weight gain:

1.       Avoid Overindulging During the Holidays

It’s perfectly okay during the holidays to enjoy your favorite holiday goodies, but try to limit the amount of high calorie foods you eat by practicing portion control. This can be accomplished by eating from a small salad plate versus a regular sized dinner plate and by filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a fourth of your plate with a lean protein food such as turkey or beans and the other fourth of your plate with a starchy carb food like a dinner roll or mashed sweet potatoes. At that holiday meal, you can also save your calories by choosing to eat only your favorite dishes and fight the urge to “sample” everything. For dessert try to choose your top two favorite desserts offered and cut very small slices of each to enjoy.

Avoid skipping breakfast to “save” calories for the big meal later. This will only cause you to overindulge during the meal. Have a breakfast consisting of protein, a whole grain and a piece of fruit. The protein and fiber from the breakfast meal will curb your appetite and control blood sugar until your next snack or meal. If your holiday meal is later in the day, be sure to have a healthy snack 1-2 hrs before the meal to, again, prevent you from overeating at the meal. Your snack should also contain some type of protein and fiber such as low fat cheese slices and whole grain crackers, unsalted trail mix with nuts and dried fruit or raw veggies and hummus.

Be sure to eat a healthy meal before heading out for that last minute shopping trip or when hitting the major after holiday sales, and carry a healthy snack with you to prevent being tempted by unhealthy fast food and convenient store snacks. White meat turkey on whole grain bread with veggies or tossed into a salad makes a great pre-shopping trip meal!   
Stay tuned for part 2...
                                                                                                           Jenny Cooper, RD, LDN
 Hi! It's Joy.
Jenny was talking about the importance of eating a well balance breakfast. I have a hard time finding something for breakfast that will stick with me all morning.  Recently, a friend told me about Bagel Thins. They are just like a bagel, but thinner (duh, I am sure you could have figured that out) and have about 1/2 the calories of a regular bagel.

I now eat a Bagel Thin sandwich and drink an 8 oz. glass of skim milk every morning for breakfast:
  • 1 whole wheat bagel thin toasted
  • 2 fried egg whites (mix 3/4 tsp. sugar with leftover egg yolks and freeze for later use)
  • 1 slice of lowfat cheese 
    This meal has approximately 300 calories, and it sticks with me until lunchtime even on days when I run 5 miles or more.

Jenny also mentioned eating a healthy snack a couple of hours before a big meal to curb your appetite. One of my favorite snacks is spinach dip with fresh veggies. Just look at these beautiful veggies at the local Italian market.

Spinach Dip
2 cups light or nonfat sour cream
1 pkg. frozen spinach (chopped, thawed, and drained)
1/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano

  • Combine ingredients in a bowl and chill for at least an hour.
  • Serve with raw carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, zuchinni, squash, snap peas or any veggie of your choice. 
  • Can also be served in a round bread loaf.
  • Also makes a great spread for sandwiches.

Jenny says that we need to include lean meats in our diet. Here is a really easy and juicy chicken dish to help you maintain your weight during the holidays. It is great hot out of the oven with veggies. Leftovers would be perfect tossed in a salad for that preshopping meal!

Balsamic Baked Chicken

4 chicken breast halves, bone-in or skinless
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Arrange the chicken bone side down in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
  • Pour the vinegar over them and sprinkle evenly with the oil, oregano,  salt, and pepper.
  • Bake the chicken 20 minutes and baste with the vinegar juices.
  • Bake 20 minutes more (depending on size of breast) or until juices run clear.
  • Serve chicken with juices spooned over them.

Servings one breast (94 g.)
calories 170.2
fat 10.1
protein 15.2
fiber <1 g

Buon Appetito!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tortilla De Patata Con Ajo Y Perejil (Spanish Tortilla)

The past couple months my friend Ginny and I have been training for the Palermo, Sicily half marathon which is this coming weekend.  It will be my first half marathon. Eek! I met Ginny in 2007 when our husbands were both stationed at the Naval Hospital in Charleston, SC.  We became fast friends and soon began training for the Cooper River Bridge 10k run.  I had never run a race and at that time could probably only run one mile.  It took me several months to be able to run 4 miles without stopping.  To my credit I WAS pushing a jogging stroller which makes running much more difficult.  Ginny is a natural runner.  She ran the Disney half marathon without training.  I didn't even know that was possible.  Ginny was such a sweetheart and was really patient with me during our training.  She never complained when I asked to walk, which I did often.  We never ran the full 6 miles while training for the run, so I was super excited when I ran the entire race without stopping. Here we are after the race.

Fast forward a few years and our husbands are once again stationed together.  I love how the Navy can bring wonderful people back in your life even half way around the world.  This past September Ginny ran the Dingle Marathon in Ireland along with her husband James, my husband Brandon, and my next door neighbor, Jen. Here is a pic of the runners after the race.

Jen's husband Mike did a half iron man the same weekend in Galway, Ireland.  Here is a pic of him with his darling daughter.

It was Brandon's first full marathon and he did great finishing in 4 hours 15 minutes even though the course was extremely hilly and very tough even for experienced marathon runners.  He is also training for the Palermo half marathon.  Here is a pic of him running in Dingle. It was a beautiful course.

Jen and Mike are rockstars. Even after just racing in Ireland they flew to the states a couple of weekends ago and ran the Marine Corps Marathon.  I am surrounded by running greatness!  They all inspire me to keep going and not give up.

A couple of weeks ago Ginny and I ran an eleven mile long run. It was hard and I will confess I walked a tiny bit.  I don't particularly enjoy long runs but after burning over 1100 calories, I love getting to eat whatever I want.

Needless to say, I am extra hungry on long run days. So mid-afternoon as I was finishing cleaning my house I realized I was getting really hungry. I was just getting ready to find something to eat when  I got a call from Jen saying that Mike, who is a great cook, had just cooked a Spanish Tortilla and wanted to know if I wanted any. I was not familiar with the dish and was excited to try it.  The aroma was wonderful and I knew if it tasted anywhere near as good as it smelled, I would want to blog about it, so I took a picture just in case.

The Spanish Tortilla, or potato omelet, is a typical Spanish dish and one of the most popular tapas. Tapas are little meals or appetizers and are eaten anytime of the day or night. In Spain you will find an abundance of tapas bars/restaurants. We had an opportunity to eat at one while touring Barcelona. We enjoyed some delicious tapas and seafood paella but at a hefty price. That lunch costs us over $100!  Just think how much money I am saving you by sharing this recipe! The restaurant where we ate was on La Rambla a very popular street in Barcelona. There were lots of shops and restaurants. It reminded me a lot of the states.

La Rambla
street performer in Barcelona
and another one

I was very impressed with Mike's cooking skills as the omelet was beautifully browned to perfection. It was absolutely scrumptious! The protein from the eggs and the carbs from the potatoes made it a perfect post-long-run snack.

If you are not familiar with this dish, it may be helpful to check out this link for a step by step pictorial of a similar recipe. This dish makes a perfect breakfast or brunch food.

Tortilla de Patata Con Ajo Y Perejil
(Potato Omelet with Garlic and Parsley)
Source:  Rockstar Runner Mike Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain
Serves 8-12 for tapas, 4 for supper

3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium-large baking potatoes, peeled, and sliced into 1/8 inch slices
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
5 large eggs
Heat the oil in an 8 or 9 inch skillet until just hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion, and cook the onion very slowly for about 20 minutes (alternatively, the onion can be sliced and cooked with the potato without discarding). Skim off the onion and discard. Add the potato slices one at a time, making layers and salting each layer lightly. Cook slowly (in effect, "simmering" the potatoes in the oil) until the potatoes are tender (they should not be brown), lifting and turning them as they cook (this may also be done in the basket of a deep-fryer). Drain in a colander and pat with paper towels. Reserve about 2 tablespoons with the oil. Wipe out the skillet and scrape off any stuck particles.
In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork and add salt to taste. Stir in the garlic and parsley. Add the drained potatoes, pressing the potatoes with the back of a pancake tuner to completely immerse them in the egg. Let sit 10 to 15 minutes.

Heat 2 teaspoons of the reserved oil in the skillet to the smoking point. Add the potato mixture all at once and press with the back of a pancake turner to spread the mixture evenly in the skillet. Lower the heat to medium-high and cook until the tortilla is lightly brown underneath, shaking constantly.

Slide the tortilla onto a dish, cover with a second dish, and invert. Add another teaspoon or so of reserved oil to the skillet, heat again to the smoking point, slide in the tortilla, and continue to shake the pan until the tortilla has browned on the other side, tucking in any tough edges with the back of the pancake turner. Turn the tortilla, twice more, to perfect its shape and cook it a little more (about 30 seconds on each side). It should remain juicy within. Cut into wedges or 1 1/2 inch squares that can be speared with toothpicks. Serve warm or at room temperature (it can be made several hours in advance).

Nutritional Facts per 1/12 serving
195 calories
15.6 grams of fat
3.7 grams of protein
1 gram of fiber

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I am featured today!!

Today I am featured on Leigh Gray's blog! I am very grateful and excited! Please check out her blog and ministry to women. She is following the Lord's call on her life and is such a blessing to so many women.

Also, I have added a gadget that allows you to follow me by email. Just type in your email address and you will receive an email whenever I add a new post.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

I am being featured!

I am super excited about being featured on my speaker friend's blog She is an fun loving, hilarious, outgoing, wife, mother of four, speaker, minister, gospel sharing woman. She came to Italy in the spring for our PWOC women's retreat and did a great job! We had a wonderful time as she shared with us what the Lord had put on her heart. It was at the retreat that she said, "God is looking for some yes girls. Will you be God's yes girl?". That struck me so hard! To myself, which I talk to alot, I shouted, "YES I WANT TO BE GOD'S YES GIRL". I want to say yes to whatever he asks of me.

She began a speaking ministry that includes several speakers who are available to travel and share God's word. Their mission is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the church to serve as ministers of the gospel.

Don't take my word for it. Check out this video as Leigh explains what her ministry is all about.

Please stay tuned. I will be featured early next week on her blog. Don't worry, I will let you know when it posts.

In the meantime, mosey on over to her blog and ministry site and check it out.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle

This is one of my favorite fall recipes! I love this desert sooooo much!

photo from

I do not like fall because I know that means winter is coming and I HATE cold weather. But just being able to indulge in this sweet treat makes it a little easier to cope.

This is an "eat for breakfast" kind of dessert meaning it is so yummy I could eat it for breakfast and lunch and dinner. Ok, maybe not lunch. I need one balanced meal during the day to combat the sugar high. right?

Last year at a girlfriend's lunch at my house, one of my friends brought this trifle. I fell in love. I love pumpkin, gingerbread, and ginger snaps and the flavors together are wonderful. It is super easy to make and will serve 20 people so it is great for potlucks or large gatherings.

The pics show this recipe in a trifle bowl. When I made it a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't fit the entire dessert in my trifle bowl so I just used one gingerbread cake and froze the other one for later use (I am thinking gingerbread cake balls. Stay tuned for that recipe!), or you could just use a larger bowl, like a punch bowl. The dessert was good with one cake or two. I have had it both ways and it was delish!

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle
recipe by Paula Deen


  • 2 (14-ounce) packages gingerbread mix
  • 1 (5.1-ounce) box cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 (30-ounce) can pumpkin pie filling
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
  • 1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping
  • 1/2 cup gingersnaps, optional


Bake the gingerbread according to the package directions; cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the pudding and set aside to cool. Stir the pumpkin pie filling, sugar, and cardamom into the pudding. Crumble 1 batch of gingerbread into the bottom of a large, pretty bowl. Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the gingerbread, then add a layer of whipped topping. Repeat with the remaining gingerbread, pudding, and whipped topping. Sprinkle of the top with crushed gingersnaps, if desired. Refrigerate overnight. Trifle can be layered in a punch bowl.

Monday, October 31, 2011

More Spooktacular Treats!

I know that today is Halloween so there isn't much time to plan and prepare these great treats, but I am sure there are other procrastinaters out there like me. Of course, it is not that we put things off, but our lives are so full of really important activities that we don't have time for planning trivial things like googly eyed cookies. Well, at least that is what I tell myself to make me feel better.

These adorable treats were not made by me, but by my bff, Jennifer, for her daughter's birthday. I was really tempted to post a pic so you could meet her, but I knew she would kill me!! Her daughter's birthday is in October so what would be more perfect than a Halloween theme birthday party? Jen is really creative and comes up with the cutest ideas for parties, teacher gifts, crafts etc.

She set the stage for the party with these brilliant bat invitations 
You can find a tutorial on how to make these here.

A Happy Birthday banner welcomed the guest. This idea can be easily adapted to any occasion.

Her treats were great! These Mummified Oreo Suckers are too cute!! I love that they are on a stick and the googly eyes are darling. You can find a tutorial on how to make these here.

The eyes were made of royal icing. They look hard to me, but the recipe says they are easy to make. You can find the tutorial for the googly eyes here.

These strawberry ghosts are super cute and gives kids a healthier option. Right? Hehe!
You can find the recipe here.

These Nutter Butter Ghostly Cookies are always a hit and are soooo good. I love peanut butter and white chocolate so they are one of my favorites! I am not sure what recipe she used, but when I have made them in the past I simply melted white chocolate chips adding a little crisco or vegetable oil to thin the chocolate, and then dip each cookie tapping in on the side of the pan to release the excess chocolate. They are really easy. Just be careful not to scorched your chocolate when melting! :)

These "pumpkin seeds" are a really cute idea!
You can find the tutorial here.

The cuteness doesn't stop!! Check out these fangtastic party favors! These sure beat giving candy as party favors!!

Here are a couple of pics of the spread from the party. Jen always makes the cutest cakes for her girls' birthdays!! Love the spider cake!

And another pic

Hope this gives you some great ideas! Great job Jen!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Tried and True Pot Roast

I am trying something different with this blog post and am not including a picture. Most everyone knows what a pot roast looks like and since they really don't photograph well anyway I thought I would just share a couple of really good recipes and forego the pic.

I don't know about other parts of the country, but when I was growing up in the South pot roast was the typical Sunday afternoon meal. It was an easy meal to prepare. My mom would let the roast cook along with some potatoes, carrots, and onions either in the oven or in the Crockpot while we were at church. Then we would arrive home to a delicious home cooked meal. Add a salad and rolls and you have a balanced meal.

My guys love meat and especially roast. What is it with men and meat? Maybe it goes back to the hunter gather thing where the guys went out hunted and killed something to bring home for dinner. That must be why most men I know love meat and don't consider they have eaten a meal unless there is meat included.

For years I was confused about what cut of meat to buy when cooking a roast. I found this info on a food blog and thought I would share.

What cut of meat should I buy for my roast beef?

A: Every cut varies in flavor and tenderness. Rib roasts and loins are naturally tender and flavorful. Chuck roasts are juicy due to their good marbling, but require lower, slower cooking to get tender. Rump and round roasts are very lean and if thinly sliced can make excellent sandwiches, but they can be tough. Only the top grades of round and rump have enough fat to roast well; many do better if braised, pot roasted or stewed. For a round roast, you want top round. Eye of the round LOOKS like a good roast, but is tough and needs moist heat; bottom round is also pretty chewy when roasted.

I have always had good luck with all cuts of roasts as long as the meat is cooked long enough to make it tender.

Here are a couple of our favorite roast recipes.

Family Favorite Pot Roast

2 lb. roast

1 pkg. Lipton beefy onion soup mix

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup water

Mix soups and water; pour over beef. Cook at 300 for four hours or in Crockpot on low for7-9 hours. Add potatoes, carrots, and onions halfway through cooking time.

This is a recipe I recently discovered from

To Die for Crock Pot Roast

1 (4-5 lb) beef roast, any kind

1 pkg. brown gravy mix

1 pkg. Italian salad dressing mix

1 pkg. Ranch dressing mix

1/2 cup water

Place pot roast in Crockpot. Mix the dried mixes together in a bowl and sprinkle over the roast. Pour the water around the roast. Cook on low for 7-9 hours.

Buon Appetito!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spooky Treats-Repost

This is a repost from last Halloween. These treats were fun to make and super easy. The kids loved them!

My son Collin talked me into hosting a costume party for his friends. I really didn't mind doing it, and of course I enjoyed making the treats. I know one day he will be grown so I better enjoy it while I can.

I googled Halloween treats and found several cute ideas.

Eyeball Fondant Cupcakes
I had some white fondant circles that I had made awhile back (thankfully fondant lasts a long time) so I used them to make toppers for cupcakes. I used M&Ms for the pupil and red icing in a tube for the veins.

Nutter Butter Ghost Cookies
These little guys gave me some trouble, but they were so worth it. They are just Nutter Butter cookies dipped in white chocolate. Last night I tried to make them and attempted to melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave, and I scorched the chocolate. Since it was about 11:00 pm and I couldn't go to the store, I tried to make icing to dip them in, but that didn't work either. So today I went to the store and got more white chocolate chips. This time I used a double broiler to melt the chocolate. I had to add about a 1/2 cup Crisco to 2 (12 oz) bags of white chocolate to get it liquid enough so I could dip the cookies. It took me a few tries to get the hang of it, but figured out that the best way to dip them is to submerge them in the white chocolate, and then scoop them out with a fork tapping it on the side of the pan to allow the excess chocolate to drip off. For the eyes, I used mini chocolate chips and pinched off the tip and placed them tip side down.

Witches Fingers

These witches' fingers are too easy. It is simply mozzarella cheese sticks with sliced almonds on the end. I cut a little of the cheese off before placing the almond on, and then put slits in the cheese for knuckles.


Hot Dog Mummies

My sweet friend Christy made these hot dog mummies. They are hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls with dots of mustard for the eyes. They are too cute and really good too!!

Frozen Hand Punch

I looked for a Halloween punch, but most of the recipes called for dry ice. Since we can't get dry ice here that wasn't an option. I found this idea for frozen hand punch and knew that is what I wanted to make. I was really easy to do.

I filled a rubber glove with a mixer of water and grape juice and closed the glove with a rubber band then put in the freezer. The punch was orange cream sherbet and ginger ale. Just combine any flavor sherbet and ginger ale. Remove glove from frozen hand and place in punch. 

The Spread

Hope you have a funfilled weekend!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ultimate S'mores Cake

I have said before that I am not a great cook, but I am a good recipe finder.  This recipe is an example of that.  This cake is so good and totally over the top!  

At our local Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society office where I volunteer, we often have themed potlucks.  This month one of our creative volunteers suggested we do a Choctober theme and have everyone bring, you guessed it, chocolate treats.  We had a great turnout which I am sure was mostly due to the chocolate.  I really hadn't thought too much about what I was going to bake for the potluck, but as I was browsing I saw this pic from

photo from:

I immediately knew I wanted to make this cake for the potluck.  I was not familiar with this blog, but after browsing for a bit I discovered that she has really good recipes and stories, plus she claims to be a Christ follower which I love as well.  This edible masterpiece is a compilation of many of her favorite recipes.

The cake has seven layers.  Two layers each of brownie, chocolate chip cookie, and cheesecake, a layer of graham crackers in the middle with marshmallow frosting smothered between the layers then coated with a rich, decadent chocolate frosting.  I will be honest, as I was making this cake I had my doubts if it would be any good.  All the layers individually are great, but I wasn't so sure they would be good mixed together.  I don't know why I doubted but I did.

I started baking on Monday evening.  The recipe calls for a made-from-scratch brownie recipe, but I used a Duncan Hines box brownie mix instead.  The second layer was the chocolate chip cookie. I used my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe that can be found here.  On Tuesday evening I baked the two layers of cheesecake using Fat Girl's recipe.  I also used her marshmallow and chocolate icing recipe.  The assembly wasn't too difficult.  I just followed the instructions, and it came together quite nicely.  I probably don't even need to say this, but it is essential that your pans are all the same size or your cake will turn out catawampus.  Make sure not to bake the cookie too long.  I think I left mine in a couple of minutes too long which made it a little difficult to cut.

As I said before, this cake is definitely over the top.  While assembling the cake I actually felt guilty about making something so indulgent. Why is it that I wasn't satisfied to make a really good simple chocolate dessert, but instead I really wanted a chocolate treat that was impressive with a wow factor? Allow me to go on a tangent for a moment. Why is it as a culture, that we are so over indulgent? Especially as Americans we think that if something is good more must be better. Why is it that we are not content and must always look to attain or create something bigger and better and prettier than before even if the previous item was perfectly good? Excitedly we buy a home and within a few years are eager to get a bigger and newer one in a better neighborhood. It is not only homes, but cars, clothing, home decor even relationships. It is the grass is greener on the other side mentality.

While living in Italy the past two years, I have learned to live without some things that I always thought I needed. This may be a silly example, but we don't have an icemaker in our freezer. It is almost unheard of in my circle of family and friends in the states not to have an icemaker. That is a simple example of how we think we need things that we really don't. Please don't think I am being judgmental. I am the one that made this insanely indulgent dessert so I am preaching to the choir on this one. I really don't think that it is necessarily a sin to bake scrumptious treats, but it did cause me to step back and think about what I was doing and how our society as a whole has become so indulgent.

This past Saturday, we served alongside another family in a local soup kitchen here in Sicily.  Every day except Tuesday volunteers collect food from the local market and cook lunch for about 20-40 homeless and poor people.  It was humbling to serve with such selfless people that dedicate their time and energy to care for others on a regular basis.  Seeing others in need makes me thankful for the life I have and reminds me not take for granted all the comforts and blessings in my life.

Please don't misunderstand what I am saying, I am not condemning occasional indulgences in food or things, but the obsession to constantly upgrade really gets out of hand.  I am currently doing a bible study on the book of Daniel.  Daniel was living in Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar.  If you watch Veggie Tales he was the one that created the chocolate bunny and ordered Larry and Bob to worship it.  Anyway, Nebuchadnezzar was content and prosperous with his life.  He took the credit for his success instead of realizing that the Lord is the one that gave him the ability to rule the nation and have such success.  It is the Lord that sets up kings and governments and also takes them down if he chooses.  Ultimately Nebbie learned his lesson and realized that the Most High God was the one responsible for his success, but that realization came only after becoming insane and spending seven years wandering in a field as an animal.  After regaining his sanity he finally gave God the glory for his life.  The point I am making is that I have to be careful not to get sucked into the mentally that bigger is always better and that I should remember at all times who allows me to have such blessings.   God is not against possessions and enjoying the good things in life.  There were many rich people in the bible that followed Jesus and used their wealth for his glory.  He blesses many with wealth and others he chooses to bless in other ways.  Regardless, he promises to supply all our needs according to his riches and glory for those who in Christ Jesus.  So we can be assured we will be taken care of.  It may not be in a big house with a Beemer parked in the garage, but it is according to his individual plan for our lives, and if we are striving to please Him we can be content with that.

Ok, so now I am off the tangent and should really give you the recipe to this yummy dessert.  If I haven't made you feel too guilty, I would encourage you to make this for your next special occasion or event where you can share it with others.  It makes such a big cake and if you are like me you definitely don't want this temptation sitting around your house.

You can find the original recipe here.

Here's what you'll need for this cake:
2 brownie layers- I used a Duncan Hines mix
2 cheesecake layers- I used the cheesecake recipe below
2 chocolate chip cookie layers-I used my recipe. You can find it here.
5 graham crackers (this is one of the 'cake' layers)
1 recipe for marshmallow frosting- see below
1 recipe for chocolate Frosting-see below (You can also use a store bought icing)

Fat girl used 3-9 inch pans. I used 8 inch because that is what I had on hand, but I definitely think 9 inch would be better and would make the cake much easier to cut since the layers wouldn't be quite as thick. I also lined each pan with parchment paper and then sprayed the paper with cooking spray.

Fat girl says, "In case your brownies or cookie get slightly crispy, it's ok. The frosting around the cake will help soften them back up as it refrigerates and sits. Let this cake refrigerate for at least 1 day before serving for maximum flavor results."

Step 1

Mix brownie according to directions on the box. Place parchment paper in bottom of pan and then spray with cooking spray. Pour half of the batter in two cake pans and bake until done making sure to not over bake.

Step 2

1 1/4 pounds cream cheese (20 oz), room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese on medium until fluffy, scraping down side of bowl. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in vanilla extract. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down side of bowl after each addition. Beat in sour cream.

Put a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of a springform pan, spray with non stick spray. Pour half of the filling in each pan Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temp down to 325 and bake for an additional 45 minutes.

Remove pan from oven, let cool 20 minutes. Run a knife around edge of the pans to loosen from the sides; let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use.

Step 3

Chocolate Chip Cookie

I used my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe , spread half of the batch in each cake pan and bake at 350 for 12 minutes, until it's slightly golden. Not TOO golden or the cookie will be crispy, and you want a soft cookie in the cake.

Chocolate Frosting

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (I let it cool about 1 hour, stirring occasionally)
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar (no need to sift)
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Process until the frosting is smooth. (I didn't use a food processor. I mixed it in my KitchenAid, but would suggest a food processor if you have one).

Marshmallow Filling

1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow fluff
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

To make the butter cream, beat together the marshmallow fluff and butter, on medium speed, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Reduce the speed to low, add the powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat for another minute. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes until it's light and fluffy.

Place one layer of brownie on a cake stand. Frost brownie with marshmallow frosting. Place a cookie layer on the marshmallow filling. Spread cookie layer with marshmallow frosting.

Remove cheesecake from freezer, unwrap, and remove from metal bottom of the pan from each piece, then peel off parchment paper.

Place cheesecake layer on top of the marshmallow frosting.

Spread a layer of chocolate frosting on cheesecake. Layer graham crackers on the cheesecake. You'll have to break up the crackers to make them fit. Spread chocolate frosting on grahams, then place the second layer of cheesecake on the chocolate frosting. Spread cheesecake with marshmallow frosting

Then place the remaining cookie on the frosting. Spread the cookie with marshmallow frosting and put the remaining brownie on the marshmallow frosting. Spread the remaining chocolate fudge frosting on top of the cake and on the side.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. Remove from the fridge about an hour before serving to help it come to room temperature slightly. Because this cake is SO dense, when it chills, it gets even denser and takes a little muscle to cut.  This cake is best if it is allowed to refrigerate overnight.

Here are a couple of photos of my cake. You will notice that my cake is not near as pretty as the original cake and my photography skills stink compared to Fat Girl's. Her icing is darker and I think that is because she mixed her icing in the food processor.  The KitchenAid mixer wasn't able to completely mix in all the melted chocolate leaving some of the chocolate on the sides of the bowl. This cake is definitely worth the time and effort!!

Buon Appetito!!