Pumpkin Cheesecake & Caramel Pecan Cheesecake

With the help of Facebook, I’ve been able to reconnect with some of my friends from high school.  I’m about an hour away from my high school and several of these chicks are somewhat local as well.  We try to get together for lunch every few months just to catch up – those lunches usually end up lasting about three hours!  The other day, when discussing plans for the upcoming holiday meals, someone mentioned they wanted to try a pecan cheesecake recipe.  I have a fabulous caramel pecan cheesecake that I apparently never posted, so here it is – along with a new pumpkin cheesecake I tried for National Pumpkin Cheesecake day last month for work.  I love, love, love cheesecake and I’m always looking for new toppings and flavors and these are two of my favorites, especially in the fall/winter.  They’ve both been big hits at family dinners and potluck.  Enjoy!

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ingredients

Crust:
  • 1 and 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
Cheesecake:
  • 3 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1 and 1/2 cups pumpkin
  • 3 and 1/2 T all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ginger
  • 4 eggs, room temperature

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix the graham cracker crumbs and sugar together. Pour melted butter over the crumbs and stir until moistened. Press the mixture in the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Bake for 8-9 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 F. In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the pumpkin, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Break the eggs into a small bowl and lightly beat with a fork. Add the eggs to the cream cheese mixture and stir just until well combined. Don’t over beat the mixture, or the cheesecake may crack. Pour on top of the graham cracker crust.

Bake at 325 F for 1 hour. At the end of the hr, turn off the oven and leave the oven door shut for another hour and a half before opening the oven door. The long cooling period, will help minimize cracks. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool completely.

Source:  Chocolate with Grace

Caramel Pecan Cheesecake

Crust:

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp melted butter

Filling:

  • 20 caramels
  • 3 Tbsp milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 16 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs

Crust:
Mix crumbs, sugar & butter; press into the bottom of a springform pan. Bake at 325 for ten minutes.

Filling:
Microwave caramels and milk in a small bowl on high for about two minutes or until smooth. Stir at least every minute. Mix in pecans and pour into crust. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes.

Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium until well blended. Add eggs; mix until blended. Pour over caramel mixture.

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate three hours or overnight. Garnish with pecan halves and drizzled melted caramels.

What a Whirlwind!

whirlwindUsually this time of year is busy for everyone, but there’s been some extra hustle and bustle for us.  I’ve posted about our first adoption event, but haven’t found the time to put down into words anything that’s happened since then.  The young man we met back in August (we’ll call him “D”) was on our mind and in our hearts that we felt we couldn’t ignore it, we were being led to see where this goes…As with any other child in foster care, we learned that “D” has had some struggles in his short life – but nothing that we didn’t think we could handle.

After lots of consideration we made the decision to move forward.  milesIt seemed to take forever, everything was moving at a painfully slow snail’s pace.  Finally, we get word that his social worker would like to interview with us!  Now, “D” is from the western part of the state, a good 4.5 hours away so the interview was via Skype. Neither of us enjoy getting pictures taken so we certainly don’t like the idea of video chatting but if this is what it takes, that’s what we do. So we ‘skyped’ with his social worker, his recruiter, administrator, supervisors, the whole team. They had several questions for us and we were able to ask questions as well. In fact, our social worker made sure to tell us that nothing was off-limits, she suggested we ask anything we wanted to know – I mean, you need to know what you’d be getting into before making a life-altering decision, right?

We felt like the interview went well but several weeks went by without a word.  There was another family being interviewed as well so we were getting anxious.  The same recruiter anxietythat facilitated the the first event we attended had organized another Thanksgiving event the weekend before the holiday and we were invited to attend – we were told “D” would be there.  My initial thought was ‘will the other family be there as well because that could be awkward’ but of course I never actually asked that question.  We decided we really wanted to see him again so we drove several hours back to Charlotte for the event.

As soon as we got there a cute little boy walked up and introduced himself to us, let’s call him “N”.  He immediately started talking about what he liked to do, liked the eat, he was making a point to sell himself. As I came back from the bathroom a girl (“B”) asked me to come sit and talk with her and well, it’s not like I’m going to say no.  She was quite funny.  Although we were there to see “D” in particular, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t pay attention to any of the other kids and these really are great kids.  The event included a dinner and afterwards some of the kids stood up to speak about how thankful they were to have us there to spend time with, etc.  Oh, to hear these kids talk so eloquently about strangers spending a few hours just talking, playing games and sharing a meal with them… heartMy husband felt the urge to stand up and speak too. He’s not the most articulate guy, but he spoke from the heart and I just broke down into tears, along with a few of the other potential parents.

After these events the kids usually get goodie bags; “N” had made a monkey out of play dough.  He came over to give it to me.  I knew if I took that play dough I would be making a commitment that I couldn’t keep and I didn’t want to break his little heart.  I explained that he was very sweet but I couldn’t take his play dough.  His response, “but I don’t know when I will get to see you again and if you don’t pick me then I may never see you again”.  Oh. my. God.  How on earth do you respond to something like that?  He then came over and gave both of us a hug.  He was breaking my heart!  Then, as we were leaving, “B” said “so, you guys wanna take me home?”.  Seriously, if they’d let me I would’ve taken all three of them right then & there.

good news

Fast forward another week or so…I’m at work and I get a call from our social worker – they’ve made a decision on a family for “D”… and they picked us!  I was so shocked and immediately overwhelmed with emotion that I nearly dropped the phone.  So what now, what happens next?  Well, the adoption committee won’t meet again until January so we have to wait some more.  But… yes, there’s a but… joy“D” requested to spend Christmas with us and would we be okay with that.  YES!! Of course we would!  So we still have to work out the logistics and it’ll only be for a few days, but that’s okay.  We are beyond excited, I have to keep pinching myself because it’s all so surreal.  We’ve known for several days now, but I don’t think it’s truly sunk in yet.  I’ve caught myself driving to work and it hits me – I’m going to be a mom!  And of a teenager!  Oh boy…

Sweet Potato and Kale Pizza with Balsamic Drizzle

If you are a pizza traditionalist you probably won’t like this – actually you probably wouldn’t try it anyway.  We eat pizza, but we enjoy trying different variations and toppings.  I know, it sounds weird but surprisingly this combo worked really well together.  The mozzarella is great, but I think next time I’ll replace it with goat cheese.   Usually we use naan for our homemade pizzas, but for this one I wanted a thinner crust so I used a gluten-free whole wheat crust.
Ingredients:
  • 1 pizza crust
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 3 cups kale, washed, dried and stems removed
  • ½ medium onion, sliced thinly
  • ½ cup mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoon coconut sugar (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the sweet potato. Allow to boil for 20 minutes or until the sweet potato is fork soft. Remove from heat and mash with almond milk, salt and pepper until spreadable.  Spread onto the pizza and top with the kale, onions and cheese.

Bake pizza for 10 minutes or until kale begins to crisp.  While the pizza is baking, prepare balsamic drizzle. Heat the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a pot over high heat. When it becomes to bubble, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 2 minutes, stirring. The vinegar should get thicker. Remove from heat and watch carefully so it doesn’t get hardened.

Remove pizza from oven and drizzle with balsamic drizzle.

Source:  Jessica in the Kitchen

Dancing on Broken Glass

I cannot begin to describe the emotions I felt while reading this book…

dancingMeet Lucy – her father, a police officer died in the line of duty when she was only five.  At 16, her mother passed away of cancer.  On her 21st birthday she met Mickey.  Both Lucy & Mickey have struggles and both have to be strong to overcome them.  In the years they’ve been together Lucy has battled and beat cancer and Mickey continues to battle with his bipolar disorder.  No matter how difficult it is, they are determined they can fight it together.  However, they decide with their issues that having a child would not be in their best interest so Lucy gets her tubes tied.  When Lucy becomes pregnant their plan goes haywire.  Just as they become comfortable with the idea of having a baby, Lucy is diagnosed with lung cancer.  The doctors tell her that she may not survive and encourage her to have an abortion, including Mickey.  Lucy can’t fathom losing her miracle baby but her sisters and all those close to her can’t stand the thought of losing her, especially Mickey.

Characters are onions. The most interesting ones reveal themselves layer by layer right down to their naked core.

While reading this book I was in awe of Lucy’s strength and determination.  I empathized with Mickey and the doubt in his ability to raise a daughter with his condition and without Lucy.   I could feel the love Lucy & Mickey have for each other and the love and support of those around them.  By the time I finished reading this book I was a mess, tears streaming down my face.  Even after it was done, I found myself crying a little for myself and the tough decisions that life has thrown at us.

Things on Tuesday

Loathing:

  • Not getting to spend much time with my love
  • My dog’s breath – she needs a teeth brushing!
  • Anxiety & anticipation…

Loving:

  • Staying busy but not overwhelmed
  • Getting some time to read again
  • Cooler fall weather
  • Thinking about wonderful possibilities…

Hope Anchor

Butternut Squash & Black Bean Salad

We are not new to the kale bandwagon, but most of the time I cook it and it’s mixed into a dish or we blend it in a smoothie.  This is the first kale salad that we’ve tried that I really liked.  Luckily, my local Harris Teeter’s produce department has already done the work and offers peeled, seeded & cubed butternut squash all ready to go.  I took the shortcut and grabbed some pre-washed kale too.  Don’t judge – it was a long day!  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this salad.  Since I didn’t have a lot of time I didn’t really let the squash cool so the goat cheese kinda melted a bit.  Next time, I think I might try to let it cool a little more first.  This is a great fall salad!

Ingredients:IMG_0910

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed (1/2-inch pieces)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp adobo sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 large bunch kale, stemmed and cut into thin slices
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled

Preparation:

Heat oven to 400. In a large bowl, toss together the butternut squash, 1 tbsp olive oil, and salt and black pepper to taste. Spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes, or until tender. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 tsp salt, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, adobo sauce, garlic cloves, and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.  When the squash is done roasting, toss it with the kale, black beans, and dressing. Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese.

Source:  Eats Well with Others

Chicken Enchilada Rice Casserole

It’s no secret that we love Mexican food, especially when it’s easy to make and tastes this good!  To keep it quick and simple I used a rotisserie chicken I picked up from the grocery store deli.  I usually keep jasmine rice on hand so I used that instead of the Basmati.  I already a bunch of cheddar jack cheese so I used that instead of the white cheddar (any cheese will work) and I was surprised to find that Harris Teeter had refried black beans which we like better than pinto beans.  I’m fan of cilantro so instead of using it as a garnish I added it to the mix before baking and I used some green onions as the garnish.  Oh and it’s just wrong to serve any kind of Mexican dish without a dollop of sour cream (or substitute with greek yogurt).
IMG_0896Ingredients
  • 3 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
  • 2 cups dry Basmati rice
  • 2 cans (10 oz each) Enchilada sauce
  • 1 can (16 oz) refried beans
  • 1 cup white cheddar, shredded
  • 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 can (11 oz) corn kernel
  • cilantro for garnish
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
Preparation:IMG_0898

Cook the rice. Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.  Mix the 2 cheeses together.

In a large bowl mix the shredded chicken with the enchilada sauce, refried beans and half of the cheese. Add rice, season with salt and pepper if needed, and mix well. Pour rice mixture into a large casserole dish. Top with corn then with remainder of cheese.

Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes or until cheese melts and is bubbly.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve warm.

Adapted from:  Jo Cooks