Tag Archives: family recipes

Monday Musings: Carrying on a family tradition

9 Mar

To me, this photo means that nothing is impossible with a little extra effort, and a family tradition will be carried on.

Each year at Christmastime, my grandmother on my mom’s side would make her mini cherry cheesecake tarts. They were always a favorite dessert of mine, and for years even after she moved into an assisted living facility, she would still come to my mom’s house before Christmas and make them. Recently though, as she approaches her 100th birthday in May, it’s become impossible for her to make that trip and my mom had taken over making them. However, in recent years we’ve also been dealing with gluten and dairy food allergies at our house, so this year when my mom said she didn’t think she’d be able to make them, I told her not to worry, that I wanted to play with the recipe myself and make them gluten and dairy-free so that we could all enjoy them.

This past weekend my parents were coming over for dinner and I was thinking about what I could do for a dessert. I always like to make something special and I always like to make something with cherries at this time of year because it’s around the time that they had their first date more than 50 years ago, and my dad always says it was my mom’s homemade cherry pie with the perfect lattice top crust that made him fall in love with her. So as I thought about that, I remembered the cheesecake tarts and I decided now was the time. I’d attempt to make over the recipe.

The Enjoy Life brand has been a favorite and when I saw this new flavor cookie, I thought it would make a great crust for my tarts.

I searched online for a typical cheesecake tarts recipe to see what I was up against. The first one I found from Taste of Home called for vanilla wafers as a crust. I remembered that at the allergy-friendly bakery we go to often, they told me that they used Snickerdoodle cookies for their cheesecake crusts and that I’d done a raspberry swirl cheesecake last April for Easter and done just that, with great success. I decided to get some allergy-friendly vanilla wafers and follow the recipe. However, when I stopped at the store late last week, they didn’t have gf/df vanilla wafers, but I spotted a new flavor cookie I hadn’t seen before from one of my favorite brands, Enjoy Life. It was a crispy cookie, Vanilla Honey Graham, and it sounded like it could work. Since they were priced two for something, I bought four boxes, two to crush up and two to have on hand to eat later on.

I have used a couple of different kinds of dairy-free cream cheese for recipes in the past, and I had an unopened container of Tofutti on hand already. Any time I have cooked with dairy-free cream cheese I have had great results and most will say they can’t tell the difference between my finished product and ones they’ve had in the past. To me, that’s a sign of success.

When I’ve used dairy-free cream cheese in recipes in the past, I’ve been told that you can’t tell the difference.

On Friday afternoon I got to work on the recipe, putting the cookies into the blender and making crumbs out of them. I use a vegan buttery baking stick for butter when I bake since most dairy-free butter comes as a spread, which is fine to cook with but hard to bake with.

I keep several boxes of this on hand since I can only find it in one store near me.

I tasted the cookie crumbs and decided to throw some sugar in with them, so I threw in about 1/4 cup of sugar plus the butter it called for in the recipe, turned on the blender again and mixed it all in. My kids gave the final version a taste and said they were good to go.

From there, I followed the Taste of Home recipe below, and instead of following the recipe for the topping, I used canned cherries for the tops of the tarts, just as my grandmother always did.

When the tarts cooled, my daughter put the cherries on top and I put them in the fridge for the final chilling. We had a great dinner that my husband had cooked, and then it was time to bring up the dessert. I was so excited for the big reveal. I hadn’t told my mother that I was making them for dessert, only that I had a really good dessert on deck. I wish I had a camera to capture her expression when I came around the corner with the platter of cheesecakes. I had even chosen to use my grandmother’s platter to serve them on. That look alone made my day, but tasting the tarts, and having everyone declare them delicious made my night.

Oftentimes having food allergies can be challenging, but over time we’ve found that almost nothing is impossible. It takes some time and some research and planning, but most times it can be done. This dessert means a lot to me. It is a family tradition and it holds memories dating back to when we would eat that at my grandparents’ house and when they’d bring them to the Christmas Eve dinners for dessert. It’s something we only have this one time of year, so knowing that we are capable of carrying on tradition makes me happy. Further, I was able to combine that tradition with my nod to my parents’ more than 50 years of history that all started with that one cherry pie with the lattice topping that sealed the deal. Thank goodness for that or none of us would be here.

Below is the Taste of Home recipe just as it is found on their website before all of my modifications, and here are some photos of where my mini cheesecake tart recipe has come from, which stems from more than just an internet search.

Grandma Grello with our three daughters, just three of her many great-grandchildren.


  • 1 cup crushed vanilla wafers (about 30 wafers)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 pound pitted canned or frozen tart red cherries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Red food coloring, optional


  • Preheat oven to 350°. Combine crumbs and butter; press gently onto bottoms of 12 foil-lined muffin cups. In another bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. Add egg; beat on low speed just until combined. Spoon over crusts.
  • Bake until centers are almost set, 12-15 minutes. Cool completely.
  • For topping, drain cherries, reserving 1/2 cup juice in a saucepan; discard remaining juice. To reserved juice, add cherries, sugar, cornstarch and, if desired, food coloring. Bring to a boil; cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Cool; spoon over cheesecakes. Refrigerate, covered, at least 2 hours.


  • My parents’ wedding day, which was 50 years ago this past October 18.

    My parents celebrating 50 years together on October 18, 2019.

    Two more of her great-grandchildren, my niece and nephew learned how to make the tarts at my mom’s house a few years back.

    My brother looks on as they learn the secret of putting just the right amount of cherries on top.



Ragu Alla Bolognese

25 Apr

A couple of years back, a new extra-special meal was introduced at Grandma and Grandpa's house.

When my kids sleep over at their Grandma and Grandpa’s house they always return with tales of all the yummy things they got to eat while they were there, and although we eat pretty well over here too, they always seem to have that extra special something at their house that makes my mouth water. It makes me want to sleep over too. Maybe next time instead of dropping off, I’ll just hang out and see if anyone notices the extra mouth to feed.

A couple of years back, they started returning with tales of a new dish they’d had and loved: Pasta Bolognese. Elizabeth especially loved it and whenever anyone asked her what her favorite meal was, she’d say “Spaghetti Bolognese.” She’d constantly request the meal at home, but the only problem was, I didn’t have “the” recipe for it and I knew it was a pretty involved recipe. The last thing I wanted was to go through all the work with the wrong recipe only to have her say, “It’s good but it’s not as good….”

Until recently we didn't even have the coveted recipe for the Pasta Bolognese, much to Elizabeth's dismay.

Recently she had to submit her favorite recipe for a troop cookbook for Girl Scouts. Her first choice: Spaghetti Bolognese. I still didn’t have it. Her second choice: Spaghetti with Lobster Sauce, also a recipe I didn’t have. Her final answer: Grandma Rose’s Famous Tuna and Spaghetti. BINGO! Finally, a recipe I had! After hearing my tale of recipe woe, my mom gave me the recipe for the Bolognese Sauce they make.

One recent rainy Sunday we decided to try it out. Don’s Kitchen opened up and he went to town cooking up the recipe. The recipe itself is one my mom got from a family friend. It turned out wonderfully! We used just one part of how much it made so we froze three batches: two for our family and one for company.

Thankfully, when we asked Elizabeth for the verdict on how it came out, she said, “It’s perfect.”


Price Rite had everything we needed to make an affordable Pasta Bolgonese meal for our last April Vacation dinner.

Ragu alla Bolognese

1 and 1/2 stalks celery

2 carrots

1/2 of a large onion

1 and 1/2lb lean ground hamburger (or you can use a mix of beef, pork and veal. We used just hamburger our first time.)

3/4 stick butter

2 cans kitchen ready tomatoes (28 oz.)

2 cans beef broth, 2 cans water

6 TBS. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

optional: 1/2 cup red wine

The longest part of this recipe is just the simmering. The rest cooks up fast and easy.


Dice celery, carrots and onion very fine. (Don used the food processor.)

Brown lean meat in butter and oil. Add vegetables to meat.

Put tomatoes through the blender. Add to mixture.

Add beef broth and water, salt and pepper.

Allow sauce to come to a boil and then simmer on low heat for two hours uncovered or more.

You can skim oil off the top when done.

Option: you can add heavy cream or half and half at the end if desired, for more of a pink vodka sauce.

Makes 5 meals for two with two pounds of meat.

Does that not make your mouth water?? You know what? It was even better the second day!