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Fun Friday: Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes

9 Jun

If you’re looking for a new summertime dessert, this one comes highly recommended!

We don’t entertain often, but when we do, I like to try out new things. We are generally among friends and family so the “never try out new things for guests” rule gets bent a little bit, if I think it’s a new thing that I can pull off relatively easily.

Last Wednesday I shared our Burger Bar post from the previous Sunday’s get-together and I promised I’d share two other recipes. Today’s is one and I’ll still have another one for you coming up in a future post as well.

I was looking for a summery dessert to serve that Sunday, something different than brownies or cookies. I came across this recipe by Life, Love and Sugar and thought it would be different and something I could make gluten free, which is always a consideration. My grandmother has always made mini cherry cheesecakes which are my absolute favorite, and this reminded me of those. Additionally, they were summery and a little bit patriotic looking, which was an added bonus.

I had gluten free graham cracker crumbs on hand and I also had gluten free graham crackers in the freezer if I had needed to use them to make my own crumbs, which I didn’t need to do. I had enough left in my box to make a set of gluten free cheesecakes and a regular box to make a set of non-gluten free. I had colored cupcake liners in red, pink, orange and green in my cabinet too, so I made the red and pink liners the gluten free cheesecakes and the orange and green the non-gluten free cheesecakes so everyone could easily tell which was which.

These cheesecakes have multiple layers of deliciousness, and they’re able to be made gluten free to boot!

What I loved about this recipe was that it had layers to it: a layer of crumbs, a layer of fresh strawberries, a layer of cheesecake, more strawberries and some whipped cream. They were mini, but they were fancy and multi-faceted.

The thing to pay attention to in the recipe is the baking and cooling times. You need to pre-bake the crumbs for a few minutes, and the temperature for baking changes. The time and locations for cooling are specific as well. It’s not hard, but if you’re someone who doesn’t read a recipe all the way through to start, or who just skims and will wing it along the way, I encourage you to take the time to read it through first.

The entire recipe is easy, and the dessert was delicious, well-received by everyone and I would most definitely do it again. I like that it fed so many people. I had two trays of mini cheesecakes, minus just a couple. For my ingredients, I chose to substitute low fat sour cream instead of full fat and 1/3 fat cream cheese instead of full fat, and to use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter for my butter, which we always do. I also increased the recipe slightly, in order to make more mini cheesecakes, and increased my ingredients all accordingly. I also cheated and used a squirty whipped cream instead of making it homemade, given our time constraints.

I hope you’ll give this recipe from Life, Love and Sugar a try, and many thanks to them for sharing it!

*Tip: If you’re looking for gluten free graham cracker crumbs, I found these at a Super Walmart, but you can also make your own by using a blender or food processor to grind whole gluten free graham crackers into crumbs.*

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Make it a burger bar!

31 May

I was inspired by this new cookbook that had come in a fundraiser order.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

We are in the home stretch. We have just 17 more days of school for our middle school kids and 15 for our high school kid and then we get a nice, long summer break.

We can’t wait. The days of no schedules, no homework and no pressure are just weeks away.

This past weekend was Memorial Day weekend. I spent a good portion of my Thursday and Friday honoring those who lost their lives in service to our country as I covered various ceremonies and events over the two days’ time. As the latter part of the weekend loomed near, I had to begin to focus on a menu of sorts for a Sunday evening get- together that was taking place at our house. It’s a regular get-together that we do several times a year with the same group of people, and this time it was our turn to host.

I was looking for something different or unique to do for our portion of the meal, which included the main dish and one dessert. We tossed around some ideas. There were going to be about 12 of us eating, and we wanted to keep the meal budget-friendly as well as schedule-friendly, something that didn’t take all day to prepare and cook. Everything we had thought of, we had done before or seemed too unexciting for what my mind was reaching for. Although I didn’t know what I wanted to serve, I seemed to know plenty of what I didn’t want to serve.

Suddenly, one afternoon, my eye caught on a pile of items that had arrived from my daughter Caroline’s high school fundraiser. Two of the items specifically called out to me: a burger stuffing tool and a gourmet burger cookbook. I knew we couldn’t use the new tool to sit and stuff a dozen people’s burgers individually and uniquely, but as I flipped through the cookbook and saw all the yummy different types of burgers and toppings, I came up with an idea: a burger bar.

We are fans of the taco bar, the baked potato bar, we’ve done a crepe buffet, and we often do DIY chicken and make-your-own pizzas, so why not set up a burger bar so everyone can have some fun, not-your-average burgers?! I thought it was a fabulous idea, and it checked off my boxes of being budget-friendly and schedule-friendly too. As it turns out, since there is a national day for everything, Sunday ended up being National Hamburger Day.
Even better.

When I ran it by the rest of my family, it got a thumbs up, so I made my list of toppings and condiments that I’d want to have available so that people could customize their burgers.

What would be at your burger bar? This was ours.

We had several kinds of cheeses: American, Provolone and Swiss. I added Bleu Cheese to the list.

We put out several condiments: relish, ketchup, mustard, mayo, and I added in BBQ sauce as well.

Next up, some fun items: French’s onions (similar to the onion straws I love at Smashburger and at Texas Roadhouse restaurants), avocado, red onion, sauteed mushrooms, bacon (Who doesn’t love bacon?? There wasn’t a crumb left.) Sliced lettuce and tomato topped the list, and we were ready to roll.

Just one of the burgers created this past weekend at our burger bar. Creation by: Liz.

People got in line, got their rolls, chose the burger with their favorite cheese and made their way down through their choices. On mine, I had bacon, French’s Onions, tomato, and mushrooms. Everyone’s burger was different.

It was a lot of fun and I’d do it again this way. It made a typical meal less than typical and let everyone have what they wanted to have, and maybe try something they didn’t know they wanted to have.

There were a couple of outliers…they had hotdogs. We aim to please.

That same day, we tried out two other new recipes which I will be sharing with you in my next couple of posts, but for now, I’d like to know, what would you put on the list for your own burger bar?

Leave a comment and let me know! What did I miss?

Fun Friday: Summer is here!

26 May

Ready to plan your summer?

Well, not officially, but it’s Memorial Day weekend, and that often signifies the un-official start of summer, while seasonally it doesn’t officially start until mid-June. Today, I wanted to share two exciting links with you from my work with The Providence Journal, which will help you plan your summer adventures, if you are local to Rhode Island, most especially your eating adventures.

The Providence Journal published its annual Summer Guide last weekend, providing readers with nearly 100 pages of summertime fun. I was asked to be a contributor to the guide, providing readers with a comprehensive roundup of great places to eat during the summer months and great food festivals to visit all summer long.

To create my lists of places to eat and festivals to visit, I polled my social media community. I asked them where they like to eat, and what their favorite festivals are each summer. I was amazed by the answers. My family and I tend to be creatures of habit, and we often visit our same favorites over and over again, forgetting that our littlest state packs quite a punch when it comes to delectable meals. I found myself saying, “We’ll have to remember this place, and that one, and that one….next time we want to eat out.”

And so, here are my two pieces for you so that as you sit down and with your calendar to plan out some summer fun, you have a place to start.

You too, might find a new place to eat that you never knew about!

To see the roundup of Rhode Islanders’ Favorite Restaurants, visit the link here.

To find some great new food festivals to visit (Swedish Meatballs anyone?) visit the link here.

Foodie festivals for everyone’s tastes and budgets!

And finally, to read the entire guide, visit this link here. You can find the best beaches, historic homes, fairs and more, to fill your summer months with fun and adventure.

Budget-friendly camping tips from The Penny Hoarder

24 May

Camping on a budget can make you a very happy camper!

It’s the end of May, Memorial Day weekend is just days away. I can almost taste the summertime…if it would just stop raining! We had some hot, 100 degree days last week, and the flip flops and tank tops were out, the sun shining, kids playing in the yard, I could see the lazy days of summer just ahead.

If summertime includes camping for you, as it does for us, you’ll be happy to read the most recent post from The Penny Hoarder’s site, “Get the Vacation You’ve Been Craving on a Budget: Go Camping.” The post contains six tips for budget-friendly travel through camping.

If you’ve been a fan of The Whole Bag of Chips recently, then you know that we purchased a new-to-us camper in 2015 and used it to travel in a budget-friendly manner over the past couple of years, touring the country in 2015 and touring NYC this past spring. We also traveled to Mystic, CT and to Meredith, NH as well as hanging out by the beaches here in the Ocean State in 2015, 2016 and again this coming summer in 2017. Having our own camper is thousands of dollars cheaper than renting a beach house in New England for a week every summer.

I was so thrilled when Lisa Rowan, writer for The Penny Hoarder, reached out to me for some tips to include in their camping post. The only thing that makes me happier than being able to do things because of the fact that we budget, is to be able to help others achieve their own goals by doing things on a budget as well. Stretching a dollar has helped us to achieve so many things, including all of the recent travel that we’ve been doing.

So if you are wishing you could do more traveling, but just don’t have the means, be sure to read the above post, or check out my travel pages #crosscountryadventure2015 and #thecowartstakemanhattan2017 for some tips and tricks for traveling and camping on a budget.

Fun Friday: New blender review and recipe

13 Jun
A new blender for all our delicious smoothies!

A new blender for all our delicious smoothies!

You know you’ve been married a long time when a new blender in the house is super-exciting news.

We used to have a blender that we’d had for years and years. It did a decent job and it got quite a bit of use in our kitchen. However, it couldn’t really handle ice, especially when we wanted smoothies, and it was extremely loud when we used it with ice. It didn’t matter though, we kept on using it. If it’s not broken, as they say, don’t fix it.

Well, that philosophy worked until the day smoke came out of the old blender during a smoothie-making session. My husband was making the smoothies and he called out to me from the kitchen.

“I think the blender’s dead,” he said.

“If it’s that black stuff that shows up after you use it, it always does that, it’s fine,” I said.

“And does it always have smoke coming out of it?” he asked.

“The blender’s dead,” I said.

What a bummer: Time to buy a new blender, just a few weeks after our toaster-oven had also passed on into the world of over-used appliances.

But, on the bright side: Yay!!! I get to go blender shopping!!!

I decided that this time, I would shop with purpose. I wanted an affordable blender that could handle the blending of ice and frozen fruits which are so often the ingredients in our cool, refreshing smoothies.

As I wandered through Target one day, the Ninja blender caught my eye. It caught my eye because it had one of those great little red Target signs that alerts you to the fact that not only is something on sale, but you also got a gift card with its purchase.

In this particular case the blender I was looking at was on sale for $139 and you received a $25 Target gift card back with the purchase. Additionally, I am a Red Card carrier, which means I get an additional 5% off of my purchases all the time. The Red Card can be a debit card or a credit card, and ours is a debit card so our purchases still come out of our checking account.

I examined the blender box. It was an 1100 watt blender. It came with not one, but TWO travel-sized cups that fit right on top of the blender so that you blend right into them, cover and you’re good to go. The blender had three speeds as well as a Pulse button, which I never truly understand the purpose of, but it must be important so it’s good that it was there. It had a pour spout on the big blender pitcher, which I loved and it was easy to take apart and clean.

Best of all: it was advertised as being powerful enough to take on ice.

Frozen strawberries gave this smoothie a nice frozen consistency and the blender had no trouble with the frozen fruit.

Frozen strawberries gave this smoothie a nice frozen consistency and the blender had no trouble with the frozen fruit.

That’s really all I needed to see. That and the gift card special and I was sold.

On my way out of the appliance section I swung by the frozen fruit case and grabbed a bag of frozen strawberries. I could already envision a delicious smoothing coming together in our new blender that very afternoon.

Once we got the blender open and out of the box, I was really able to see some neat features on the new blender, things that I loved that I didn’t even knew were priorities.

I loved that the cover of the blender locks on and needs to be released to come off. I loved that the cover has a pour spout that opens and closes.
I loved the single-serve shake options. I loved that the measuring markings on the blender were in dark print. My last blender had a glass pitcher and the markings were raised glass so they were hard to see.

Best of all, our smoothies have been delicious.

The smoothie above has the following ingredients in it:

Two bananas

1/3 cup Nutella

1 pkg. frozen strawberries (I used 16 oz.)

about 4 cups of skim milk

This smoothie was delicious and had a decent amount of fruit in it for an after school snack!

We’ve also done chocolate/peanut butter/banana/vanilla low-fat yogurt smoothies and even a couple of “adult beverage” “smoothies” for a Memorial Day cookout we hosted. The blender has been great. It’s quieter than our old blender when we use ice and so far, no smoke, no black “stuff.” My husband has utilized the single-sized option several times and takes his smoothie to work with him in the car.

This is definitely a product I’d recommend to others. The price-point was good for our budget and the gift card helped us out too. If you’re in the market for a new blender I encourage you to consider the Ninja blender as an option! Although I have not been compensated by Target or Ninja for this review, I am so pleased with the product, I thought I’d share my opinions and experiences with you.

From after school snacks, morning breakfast to go, and adult beverages, this blender has been a great addition to our appliance family!

From after school snacks, morning breakfast to go, and adult beverages, this blender has been a great addition to our appliance family!

 

Memorial Day

26 May
Remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Fun Friday: Just a reminder

24 May
Remember that this weekend is not just for cookouts!

Remember that this weekend is not just for cookouts!

As we come up on Memorial Day weekend 2013, often seen as the unofficial summer kick-off weekend, many of us have plans over the long weekend that might include cookouts or gatherings with friends.

In my job as a reporter, I’ve had the honor of attending many Memorial Day remembrance ceremonies over the years, and I like to take the time to remember the reason why we have a long weekend, the reason why we have a Monday holiday here in the United States.

Although I enjoy the long weekend and I look forward to our annual traditions, I will not forget those who have died, especially those who have died defending our country, our rights and our freedom to celebrate with friends.

Enjoy the weekend and enjoy the day, and God Bless those who have gone before us as well as those who protect us now.