Tag Archives: Taste of Home

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.



Fun Friday: So Many Strawberries!

4 Jul
What to do with more than ten pounds of strawberries?

What to do with more than ten pounds of strawberries?

We went strawberry picking!!

I had not been strawberry picking since I was a child. Each year it seems, we’d miss the season between the end of school and the start of summer. This year, when a friend posted her picture of her strawberries on Facebook, I decided that I was going to go that same week. I knew my kids would love it and I knew there was lots that I could do with fresh-picked strawberries.

We went on a beautiful, picture-perfect day. There were just a few clouds in the sky, the sun was bright and the temperature was an even 75 degrees; not too hot, not too cold. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Within an hour we had picked a basket full of strawberries. I was beyond excited!

As we drove home, I began to consider that full basket of berries that was sitting in the back of my car. I could smell them.

I started to think of all the things I wanted to do with all those berries. I knew that although it seemed like there would be a never-ending supply, I’d have to be strategic and prioritize because eventually they’d run out. I also knew that the berries were fresh and “ready,” which meant they’d turn quickly. I only had a day, two at most, to make use of them.

Right off the bat when I got home, I sliced the berries and put sugar and orange juice on them for strawberry shortcake. I used this recipe from Taste of Home for my biscuits and my berries, but I did add more sugar to my biscuits after taking a quick taste of the batter. I like mine sweet! That would be our dessert for that very night.

This recipe from Caramel Potatoes was so delicious!

This recipe from Caramel Potatoes was so delicious!

Next, I started prepping a dessert recipe I’d seen just days before, on the Caramel Potatoes blog for Strawberry Crumble Pie. I get their email every day and the recipe for the pie looked right up my alley. I happened to have a pie crust in the freezer and I now had plenty of berries.

The pie chilled overnight and we cut into it the next night for dessert. It was amazing!

From there, I needed to think ahead. I knew that part of my goal was to have plenty of berries on hand frozen for smoothies, since that’s something we use a lot of all year long. I had no idea the best way to freeze them, so I Googled how to freeze fresh-picked strawberries and found simple instructions for freezing both whole and sliced from Taste of Home, once again. I decided to do both. The whole would be for smoothies, and the sliced would be for a future strawberry compote, maybe even on July 4th for our breakfast!

The following day I picked one more recipe that I wanted to make as I tried to stretch my berries just a little further: my mother in law’s recipe for Strawberry Bread, one which has always been a favorite of mine. I love that it makes two breads, and we usually freeze one and eat one. This time I put chocolate chips in the one we ate that day and left them out of the one we froze.

There are so many things you can do with strawberries, and the summertime is the very best time to do them. Although picking season is just about done for strawberries, eating season can be all year long between using frozen and fresh, if you can find them. Now that we’ve frozen some, we’ll have the taste of summer once again in the fall or winter, if we can hold off that long!

If you’re looking for additional strawberry recipes, you can find several more here on my blog, just by searching Strawberries in the search bar. There are recipes for desserts, breakfasts, shakes and even a strawberry salad!

And then, before we know it, it’ll be blueberry picking season!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: An April Fools Day Dinner!

2 Apr
Not for pranks, but just for fun, an April Fools Day Dinner

Not for pranks, but just for fun, an April Fools Day Dinner!

If you’re a fan of The Whole Bag of Chips, you know from reading over the years that I incorporate creativity into our meals whenever the opportunity exists, whether it’s green smoothies for St. Patrick’s Day or creating a special cake for a sleepover birthday party. I always try to make things fun whenever I can.

But I don’t love April Fools Day and I never commemorate it in any way at home. In general I don’t love pranks, especially when they’re mean, but last year specifically, we had a terrible April Fools Day, with a funeral in the morning and a wake in the evening. It had been such a sad day all around, and yesterday I was thinking back to that day and all that took place throughout, and I was thinking of those two families one year later in their own lives, as well.

As sad a day as it was last year, I decided that I’d do something fun this year. For the first time ever, I’d acknowledge April Fool’s Day with some mealtime antics.

For once, we didn’t have to be anywhere before or after dinner and it was a beautiful day outside. I clicked over to Pinterest, and I searched for April Fools Day Dinners. There was certainly plenty to choose from! I quickly assessed what was offered and thought about what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to have candy or dessert for dinner, so that ruled out all of the neat ideas for making things that looked like dinner, using candy. As cool as that sounded, I wanted dinner to be dinner. I saw lots of ideas for using meatloaf and mashed potatoes for cupcakes and cakes, which I thought would have been perfect, had I not just made Shepherd’s Pie last week, and a whole lot of it, enough for leftovers a couple of times. We were meatloaf and mashed potato’d out, but it’s something I’d consider for another year.

I finally found something I could pull off: an April Fools Cake recipe that looked like a cake but was actually similar to a pizza. It was from Taste of Home, and it called for using a bundt pan, of which I only have a heart-shaped one, but I thought that’d add to the fun. At first I thought I’d do this to surprise the kids, but then I decided that time-wise that wouldn’t work out very well since I’d have to do it while they were all here. I opted instead, to let them in on the fun and give them all a job to do in creating our “cake” for dinner and they could in turn, surprise their dad when he got home from work. The months of March and April are pretty insane for an elementary principal, with lots of dinner-less late nights, and I thought this would brighten his day as well as give the kids something fun to do.

I also decided to make “Dump Cake” for dessert so that they could then say we were having cake for dinner and cake for dessert. I had them help out with that also, but that’s a post for this week’s Fun Friday! You’ll have to check back in a few days to see that post!

The recipe was an easy one and I had to modify it to use what I had at home because I didn’t want to go out to pick anything up or spend any additional money on ingredients. Their recipe called for a Bisquick type of mix, which I had here. It called for three cups, and when I measured what was left in my box it was *exactly* three cups. That was pretty great. It called for sausage and pepperoni in the “pizza” type of filling but I opted to use meatballs instead, since everyone likes them. I also threw in olives. It called for slices of mozzarella cheese for the “frosting,” which I did not have. I had shredded instead. I decided we’d be “drizzling icing” instead of frosting our cake. It worked out fine.

Overall, this was a fun recipe for April Fools Day dinner. I don’t know that it’s something I’d incorporate into our regular menus throughout the year, as we regularly make some kickin’ real pizzas that I like much better. But, it was fun, and the kids liked surprising their dad, and he liked playing up the surprise as well. He enjoyed the meal. We followed dinner by a long walk outside until after dark, and came in for our Dump Cake dessert, which was really just a perfect day to replace my memories from last year. Now next year when I look back on April Fools Day, it won’t have such a dark shadow in my mind. Instead, I’ll remember this day, which was much, much better. No sadness or pranks, thankfully, but some great, great family memories.

And I’ll take that ANY day of the year.

Below is the Taste of Home recipe as they have it on their site, with all of my modifications in italics. Their recipe served as my inspiration, but I adapted it to suit our needs quite a bit. Next year, when April 1 rolls around you might want to give it a try too!



  • 1 jar (14 ounces) pizza sauce
  • 1/2 pound Johnsonville® Mild Ground Italian Sausage, cooked and crumbled  *I used meatballs and olives*
  • 1 package (8 ounces) sliced pepperoni *I skipped this*
  • 3 cups biscuit/baking mix
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted *I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter*
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt *I had to make my own with garlic powder and salt*
  • 5 to 6 slices mozzarella cheese *I used shredded mozzarella for icing instead of frosting*


  • In a bowl, combine the pizza sauce, sausage and pepperoni; set aside.
  • In another bowl, combine the biscuit mix, milk, eggs, butter and
  • garlic salt. Spread half of the batter on the bottom and up the
  • sides of a greased 10-in. fluted tube pan. Spoon meat mixture over
  • batter; cover with remaining batter.
  • Bake at 375° for 35-40 minutes or until browned and a toothpick
  • comes out clean. Invert onto a baking sheet. Arrange cheese over
  • cake. Return to the oven for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
  • Using two large metal spatulas, transfer cake to a serving platter;
  • serve immediately. Yield: 8 servings.