Blueberry Cheesecake Bars + 5 Summer Cheesecake Desserts You Should Check Out!

bcc793

She started this years ago.  Cheesecake, any form, any flavor, equaled special occasion.  My mother’s go to cheesecake recipe featured a vanilla wafer crust, creamy, silky smooth cheesecake topped with canned cherry or blueberry pie filling.  She rarely needed to refer to the recipe.  She knew it by heart.  She also knew how quickly the little individual cheesecakes nestled in their silver cupcake liners would disappear.  A stern warning like “don’t touch them until Christmas Eve or you’ll get coal in your stocking” usually followed the last dollop of pie filling she place on the perfectly browned cheesecakes.  We waited, and not so patiently waited, until she declared, after her final sip of wine, “let’s have dessert!”

bcc772

When she pulled the little bites from the fridge, our mouths watered.  We always ate two immediately and maybe a third if her mood allowed it.  When we got older, the cheesecakes would make a late night appearance usually due to an insatiable case of the munchies.  The baffled look on her beautiful morning face when she discovered just how many we consumed still haunts me to this day.  I’m sure she thought “wtf”?  And then quickly figured out the culprit.  She was, after all, an ER nurse, she grew up during Woodstock, she knew, though pretended otherwise.

When we moved out of her nest, these sweet treats became her go to dessert for any family dinner.  No longer were they just for the holidays. Merely having us in her nest again warranted an appearance of her cheesecake.  We still eat them with the same passion as when we were children.  It’s amazing how food has way to transport you back to a time and place that you still long for, a place we attempt to create in our new families; a place called home, but really home was her.

bcc816I thought about asking her for the recipe, but I knew damn well she wouldn’t share it.  It is still her made from scratch delight.  I get it.  So I drew inspiration from her, but adapted a recipe from Pioneer Woman.  Like my mother’s, the cheesecake is smooth and tangy.  The crust is perfectly sweet, but features graham crackers instead of vanilla wafers.  The blueberry topping is made from fresh blueberries.  Honestly, I could go either way.  I love the canned stuff, but with blueberries abundant this time of year how can you not go fresh?

bcc738bcc734bcc792

I made and shared these bars at a fourth of July party with good friends.  They were a hit.  I saved a few for Bubba and the kids at home.  They asked for them the next day and the day after that.  Maybe this will be the dessert for my kids.  The dessert that reminds them of home, the dessert that reminds them of me.

Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

recipe adapted from Pioneer Woman

Makes 16 bars

Ingredients for Crust:

2 sleeves of graham crackers

1/2 unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for Filling:

3 packages, 8 ounces each, cream cheese, softened

1 + 1/2 cup sugar

1 + 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 eggs

1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

pinch of kosher salt

Ingredients for Blueberry Topping:

4 cups blueberries, about 2 pints

3/4 cup of sugar

squeeze of lemon juice

1/4 cup water

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

4 tablespoons water

Directions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350F.  Line a 9×13 baking pan with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray.  Set aside.

Using a food processor, pulse the graham crackers into crumbs.  Add the melted butter and vanilla extract and pulse until the crumbs look like wet sand.  Dump the mixture into your prepared baking pan and the press the crumbs evenly into the bottom of the pan.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla until smooth.   Next, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Add the Greek yogurt, lemon juice and pinch of salt and mix until well combined.

Pour the filling into the crust and smooth out the top.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Then turn off the oven, leave the door closed and allow it to bake for another 10 minutes.  Lastly, open the oven door a bit and allow it sit in the oven for another 10 minutes.  (Yup, with the door open.)

Remove the cheesecake and let it cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cheesecake cools, make your blueberry topping.  Add blueberries, sugar and 1/4 cup of water to a small pan.  Over medium high-heat, bring to a boil and cook until the juices slightly thicken, about 5 minutes.  ( I mashed some of the berries during this time for a less chunky topping, but it is not necessary.)  In a small bowl, make a slurry: 2 tablespoons cornstarch + 4 tablespoons of water, mix well.  Stir in slurry and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Let it boil for another couple of minutes and then remove from heat.  Allow to cool before adding to cheesecake.

Pour the blueberries over the cheesecake and smooth over the top.  Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours.  I think overnight is best.  Once chilled, remove from 9×13 pan by lifting it out with the foil overhang.  Grab a serrated knife and cut into squares.  Enjoy!

(Can be made two days ahead. Keep refrigerated, covered and cut just before serving.)

5 Cheesecake Recipes You Need To Check Out!

Looking for a completely new and creative take on cheesecake?  Check out My Mother’s Apron Strings for The SoNo Cheesecake: pistachio graham cracker crust, cheesecake topped with fresh raspberries. Wow!

If you need a quick and easy cheesecake, head to Food &Wine for their icebox chocolate cheesecake.

Smitten Kitchen’s raspberry swirl cheesecake and strawberry cheesecake ice cream pie are on my must make list!

Check out my lemon ricotta cheesecake. It was a huge hit!

Sunbutter Chocolate Chip Blondies + 5 Peanut-Free Treats Every Kid Will Love!

sbb081

Memories, good and bad, often flash inside my mind when I bake.  They come on strong, and leave me laughing or tear me apart; throwing off my baking zen either way.

“Mama my eye hurts.” G. “What happened? Lets have a look.” Me.

I didn’t realize what was happening. I didn’t know this was just the beginning of a very long day.

I give my Dad and his wife a hug good-bye, and buckle G into his car seat. Bubba starts the car.  N sleeps peacefully in his car seat and C happily sucks on a lollipop. “I can’t believe the Easter bunny is coming tomorrow!”

We head home.

He starts to cry. I turn around. Hives cover his arms, legs and chest.  His eye lid is now the size of a golf ball.

“He is reacting.” (To what? I checked all the candy.  I always check.)

Bubba pulls over; I give G a teaspoon of Benadryl.  He won’t calm down.  This should work, I tell myself.  We get back on the highway.

He is hysterical.  “My throat!” G.

“Mama, Daddy!” C.

Breathe. This is happening.  He is having an anaphylactic reaction.  The doctors mentioned this could happen. Remember?  You know what to do.  You played this scenario over and over, in your head, while your body ran; ran miles and miles in the rain, the sun, the bitter cold. Ran.

For a moment, amid the chaos I realize I’ve made the decision. I pull the dreaded epi-pen from my bag, unbuckle my seat belt and jam the auto-injector into my son’s thigh. He screams. C cries. “Mommy, no!” N is still somehow asleep.  Bubba drives fast and remains calm.  We are many miles from an emergency room.

Within minutes G is calm. The hives are still visible, bloodied from his constant scratching.  His eye remains swollen.  “I feel better now.” The epi-pen worked. 

We arrive at the ER and a nurse evaluates him immediately.  She detects wheezing.  G is so sleepy. Poor boy. We are escorted to a room where we spend the next 6 hours watching our son sleep peacefully on a hospital bed, the ER physician checking in every hour to see how we are doing.  Bubba kisses G on the forehead, he looks tired, and worried; tears ready to pour down his cheeks, if only he would let them.  He takes C and N home, where my sister-in-law waits for them. I wait and watch our boy.

He wakes up and asks for something to eat, as if nothing happened.  We just aged 10 years in 6 hours.  He won’t understand that kind of worry until he has kids someday. He happily eats a turkey sandwich.

It is 10 pm and we are home again. G climbs up to his sleeping sister’s bunk and says “C____ I’m back.” She hugs him.  He wants to play.  “Time to go to bed G. The Easter bunny is coming tonight!”

Bubba and I spend the next two hours hiding Easter eggs and putting together their baskets.  We climb into bed, exhausted.  We snuggle up to each other, holding on tight, tighter than usual.

sbb101

Slightly sweet with a hint of salt, Sunbutter is a tasty peanut-free alternative. The original recipe called for peanut butter and peanut butter cups, which I replaced with Sunbutter and chocolate chips.  The result is a perfectly sweet and moist brownie with just enough chocolate chips.  I love blondies because the possibilities are endless. Get creative!

Sunbutter Chocolate Chip Blondies

makes 12 bars

recipe adapted from Cooking Light

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/3 cup Sunbutter (I used natural.)

1/4 cup of unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 tbsp. milk ( I used 1 percent.)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup of chocolate chips

Cooking spray

Directions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350°F.  Spray a 9 inch square metal baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, combine Sunbutter, melted butter, milk and eggs, scraping down the sides of the bowl until the wet ingredients are well incorporated.  Add the Sunbutter mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spread the batter into prepared pan. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until a cake pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool in pan on a wire rack for about an hour. Cut into squares and serve. The bars will last at room temperature, in an air-tight container for about 2 days. Enjoy!

5 Peanut-Free Treats Every Kid Will Love!

If  you love Butterfingers, head over to Jelly Toast for Emily’s peanut-free butterfingers recipe!

Looking for a nut-free Nutella? Momables has a recipe for sunflower Nutella and it sounds delicious. Check it out!

Last year I made chocolate and sunbutter pretzel bars. Bubba and the kids went nuts for them. Head over to my blog for the recipe.

Instead of making peanut butter granola bars for the kids, how about trying sunflower seed granola bars with chocolate drizzle? Averie Cooks has the recipe for you.

Divvies allergen friendly chocolate cupcake recipe is a staple in our house for birthday parties.

Chocolate + Sunbutter Pretzel Bars

 

 

_KH10023When G turned one I made vanilla cupcakes with a Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. I dyed the frosting orange since his birthday is in October and carefully decorated each cupcake. We couldn’t wait for our sweet boy to take a bite of his first birthday cupcake. Friends and family came over to celebrate his first year. Balloons were everywhere and our camera was ready . After we sang Happy Birthday, I placed the cupcake in front of him and he immediately ate it. Within minutes of eating the cupcake, G broke out into hives, his face turned red and swelled. I didn’t understand what was happening. My mom, who is a nurse, said he was having an allergic reaction and to give him Benadryl. I remember thinking, “an allergic reaction? to what?” The Benadryl worked.

The next day I called his pediatrician and that was first time I heard the words: food allergy. He suggested we see a pediatric allergist. Within a couple of weeks, G was tested for the 8 major food allergens. I thought eggs would come back positive because the frosting contained egg whites. It did. I never thought peanuts would come back positive. In fact, I could hardly believe it when the allergist told me. She handed me a prescription for an epi-pen and sent us on our way. I was in shock and completely overwhelmed. I wanted a second opinion so we met with an allergist at Children’s Hospital in Boston who retested G. Once again, his tests revealed an egg and peanut allergy. I was told to completely avoid eggs and peanuts; and to have an epi-pen with us at all times. The fear and anxiety immediately set in. My mind raced with questions. How would I manage this for him and our family?

A few weeks, after we got our epi-pen prescription we had a play date with some friends. Shortly, after snack time G broke out into hives all over chest and face, his eye lids swelled and he kept grabbing at his tongue. I gave him two shots of Benadryl and it slowed his reaction. We left immediately and called his doctor. I was told to never hesitate to use the epi-pen. The Benadryl stopped his reaction this time; but next time it may not. I called Bubba in tears. I let this happen, but how?! I brought a safe snack for him. He didn’t eat what the other kids ate. I watched him carefully. What happened? My friend who hosted the play date told me her kids ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunch and she didn’t wipe the down the table. G reacted to a peanut butter smear that was left on the table where they ate snack. I didn’t see it.

Our lives changed drastically after G’s diagnosis. He has since outgrown his egg allergy so I no longer need to bake without eggs. He is highly allergic to peanuts so we are extremely careful. A safe dessert is always brought with us. We vet restaurants before we go. Air travel requires multiple calls to the airline to make sure a peanut free buffer zone is created around us. Long road trips to see family demands a large cooler filled with our meals and snacks for the day. Food isn’t easy for us. His allergy is constant worry for us; but we try to focus and what he can eat and not what he can’t eat.

I recently came across a recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars on the food blog How To: Simplify. (Check out this blog if you haven’t already! The recipes are great and the photography is beautiful.) I decided to make a peanut free version. In my recipe I use SunButter in place of peanut butter. SunButter is made of sunflowers seeds. It has the same consistency as peanut butter and is slightly sweet. Also, I browned the butter to add a nutty flavor to the crust without the nuts!

The combination of the chocolate, SunButter and crushed pretzels makes for a perfect salty and sweet, peanut free treat. This is great treat to take to school or serve at birthday parties.

_KH10002 Whisk together flour, crushed Rold Gold Pretzels (a peanut free brand) and confectioners sugar in a large bowl. Add browned butter and combined with your fingers until moist.

Line 9×13 pan with parchment paper. Press crust dough evenly across pan and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

I use Guittard Chocolate Chips which are processed in a peanut free facility. They are also taste like real chocolate. I found them at our local Whole Foods. Melt the chocolate slowly and mix in the SunButter.

_KH10015Pour chocolate and SunButter mixture over the warm crust and spread evenly. Sprinkle crushed pretzels on top. Be sure to gently press the pretzels into the chocolate. Pop it into the freezer and allow it to chill for an hour. Once frozen, remove from pan and cut into squares. Serve at room temperature, chilled or frozen. Share with friends!

_KH10019

Chocolate + Sunbutter Pretzels Bars

Make about 16 small bars or 9 very large bars

Recipe adapted from How To: Simplify

Ingredients:

For Crust:

11/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup ground Rold Gold Pretzels

1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/2 unsalted butter melted and browned

For Topping:

2 cups peanut free milk chocolate chips

1 cup creamy SunButter at room temperature

1 cup crushed Rold Gold pretzels

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350. Line 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper. Be sure the parchment paper hangs over the sides so you can easily lift out the bars later. Crush pretzels in a food processor until ground.

Whisk together crushed pretzels, flour and confectioners sugar in a bowl and set aside. Melt 1/2 cup of unsalted butter whisking frequently. Watch very carefully as little brown pieces begin to form and the butter smells nutty. Remove from heat and allow butter to cool for a bit. Add browned butter to flour mixture and combine with your fingers. Press dough into pan evenly and bake for 10-12 minutes. While the crust bakes, make topping.

Melt chocolate in a glass bowl set over simmering water. Be sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir constantly until chocolate melts. Remove from heat. Add room temperature SunButter to chocolate mixture and stir.

Remove crust from the oven. Pour the chocolate mixture over the crust and spread evenly. Sprinkle with crushed pretzels and press the pretzels gently into the chocolate mixture. Pop into the freezer and chill for 1 hour. Remove from freezer and cut into squares. You can serve them frozen, chilled or at room temperature. I liked them chilled but any temperature will work and taste great!