Monday, April 21, 2014

Cappuccino Cheesecake

Human nature is such a funny thing. Why is it that when we know we can't have something, we want it that much more?

When I found out I was pregnant, I gave up coffee. Yes, I know it's considered safe to have one cup a day, but that's like telling an alcoholic to just have one drink--this would have to be an all or nothing approach. The withdrawals weren't too bad because I'd been slowly weening myself off the strong stuff in hopeful anticipation of that little pink plus sign, and for the first few months, I didn't miss it much at all.

Once morning sickness subsided and hunger was renewed, however, I began experiencing severe coffee envy every Sunday when my husband's fragrant mug wafted tantalizing aromas from the cup-holder next to mine on the way to church. Such a bummer.

I'd been craving cheesecake like crazy, too. Now cheesecake, as long as it's been cooked through and is fairly fresh, is not so much a pregnancy no-no. But I am lactose intolerant, and while not as bad as downing a glass of milk on an empty stomach, cheesecake has been known to make my tummy rumble both before and after consumption. Double bummer.

After a few weeks of experimenting with goat-cheese cheesecakes and ordering decaf soy lattes (both totally delicious but not entirely craving-curbing), I finally decided I had to risk a little tummy trouble and give in.

A cappuccino-inspired cheesecake was the answer to both callings, and it did not disappoint. With less than one serving of coffee spread among eight servings of cheesecake, I get all the flavor and none of the worry. And as for my lactose issues, well, that's my incentive not to eat all eight servings at once.

Cappuccino Cheesecake
8 oz plain chocolate sandwich cookies (I used Newman's Own, but homemade would be excellent as well)
2 T butter, melted
10 oz full-fat cream cheese, softened at room temperature for at least 30 minutes
1/2 cup freshly brewed, dark-roast coffee or espresso
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
whipped cream, cocoa powder, and ground cinnamon for garnish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Very lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 6-inch springform pan, and wrap the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil so that the foil comes up just under the outside rim of the pan, not extending to the inside.

Place the chocolate sandwich cookies in a food processor and process into fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and process or pulse to combine, making sure to scrape around the bottom at least once for even mixing. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. Set aside.

Beat the softened cream cheese until completely smooth, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary to ensure even beating. With the mixer on med-low speed, VERY GRADUALLY stream in the warm coffee, pausing to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl about halfway through. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar and beat until there are no visible lumps. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, just until completely incorporated.

Pour the cream cheese mixture into the prepared crust and place the springform pan inside a tall-sided roasting pan. Very carefully add enough water to the roasting pan so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the springform pan--be sure not to splash any water into the cheesecake.

Bake for 55 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the cheesecake to remain inside the turned-off oven as it cools (at least one hour, up to two).

Very carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and lift the springform pan out onto a dry kitchen towel. Gently unwrap and discard the foil. Place a dry paper towel over the top of the pan (not touching the surface of the cheesecake) and cover with a clean sheet of foil. Place in the fridge to chill until serving, at least one hour, up to five days.

To garnish, dollop or pipe little stars of freshly whipped cream (sweetened to taste with powdered sugar and vanilla) over the top of the cheesecake. Place about 1/4 tsp cocoa powder and a dash of ground cinnamon in a fine mesh sieve and gently dust over the whipped cream.

Serves approximately 8.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Individual Peanut Butter and Jelly Pies

If you read the last post, you saw solution number one to Hoosband's peanut-butter-pie deprivation issues: Individual Peanut-Butter S'mores Pies.

Today I present variation number two: Individual Peanut Butter and Jelly Pies.

Not exactly a novel concept, but easy and delicious all the same.

I have to admit, growing up I was never a fan of the peanut-butter-and-jelly combo. Peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches were the pride of my lunchbox--no jelly allowed.

But somehow, over the years, as I've sampled variations on the PB and J (especially variations that include chocolate) I've grown to find the combo not only appealing but down right addictive.

This recipe layers strawberry jelly, simple peanut-butter-custard filling, and easy chocolate ganache in homemade graham-cracker crusts to create perfectly portioned pies that effortlessly elevate a childhood favorite to something truly party worthy.

Individual Peanut Butter and Jelly Pies
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (preferably homemade)
2 T dark brown sugar or coconut palm sugar
3 T melted butter
1/3 cup strawberry jelly
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup peanut butter (I used Jiff Natural)
2 egg yolks (the whites can be frozen and thawed for later use if desired)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Guittard Extra Dark)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 12-cup, standard-sized muffin pan with muffin liners.

Use a fork to thoroughly combine the crust ingredients. Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared cups, and use your fingers to press the mixture firmly into the bottoms and up the sides of the liners. Place a rounded teaspoon of jelly into the bottom of each prepared crust (use the bottom of the spoon to gently spread out the jelly blob if desired). Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the condensed milk, peanut butter, and egg yolks until very thoroughly combined. Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared crusts, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

While the pies are cooling, place the heavy whipping cream in a two-cup, microwave-safe bowl or Pyrex measuring cup. Microwave on high for one minute. Add the chocolate chips and stir until completely smooth--this will take a few minutes. Divide the chocolate mixture evenly among the pies and allow to cool completely at room temperature before placing in airtight containers to store in the fridge. The pies will keep, stored this way, for up to one week.

Makes 12 Individual Peanut Butter and Jelly Pies.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Individual Peanut-Butter S'mores Pies

I can't remember what we were watching, but Hoosband and I saw some reference to peanut-butter pie on TV a couple weeks ago, and he got that dreamy look in his eye. There might have also been an audible tummy response and a rogue drop of drool making a run for his chin.

"Oh man, I used to make peanut-butter pie all the time," I reminisced. 

He looked at me as if he'd learned I'd been skimming half his income into a private account in the Caymans. "And you've been keeping this from me?" the betrayed inquired.

My penance was clear. 

A bag of homemade graham crackers leftover from creating a fresh chevre cheesecake for a Mother Earth News post sat on my counter, so the timing was perfect for pie.

Now a custard-y peanut-butter filling in a crumbly homemade graham cracker crust is a fine thing on its own, but I wanted to have a little fun with it. I settled on two variations, and since I'm only really fond of one of my pie pans, I decided to make a bunch of mini-pies instead of two large ones. Portion control is an added bonus.

I knew right away I wanted to do a Peanut-Butter S'mores Pie, but I didn't have time to make homemade marshmallows, and I really didn't want to go to the store to get the Jet-Puffed variety.

Then I realized I had a perfectly marshmallow-y substance right at my disposal in the two egg whites I'd be reserving from the filling. Since crunchy-on-the-outside, marshmallow-y-on-the-inside meringues are an all-time Hoosband favorite on their own, I figured it was a fair swap out.

What do you think?

Individual Peanut-Butter S'mores Pies

~for the crust~
2 cups homemade-graham-cracker crumbs
2 T dark brown sugar or coconut palm sugar
3 T melted butter

~for the filling~
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup peanut butter (I use Jiff Natural)
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup chocolate chips (I used Guittard Extra Dark)

~for the meringue~
2 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar (I used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 12-cup, standard-sized muffin pan with muffin liners.

Use a fork to thoroughly combine the crust ingredients. Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared cups, and use your fingers to press the mixture firmly into the bottoms and up the sides of the liners. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the condensed milk, peanut butter, and egg yolks until very thoroughly combined. Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared crusts, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and wait about two minutes for the filling to settle before evenly distributing the chocolate chips among the pies. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer and beat on medium speed until foamy, voluminous, and just able to hold very soft peaks when the beater is lifted out of the mixer. With the mixer on, beat in the vanilla and one tablespoon of sugar at a time until the mixture is extremely white and glossy and able to hold stiff peaks.

Transfer the mixture to a large piping bag, and pipe the meringue in a climbing spiral over the top of each pie so that no chocolate or filling is showing.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and bake 20 minutes more.

Remove pies from the oven and allow to cool completely before very carefully lifting them out of the pan--a fork may be helpful in this process to avoid cracking the meringue.

Store the pies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, and stay tuned for variation number two, coming soon!

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A few More Thoughts on "Selfless Motherhood"

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was working as a cheese buyer for a major specialty foods retailer. You don't get a job like that without a well-documented fondness for cheese.

During my pregnancy, one of our vendors was clearing out what was left of a limited-release cheese from one of my favorite creameries, Cypress Grove Chevre. The cheese, generally too cost-prohibitive for me to bring home for dinner, was suddenly on sale at a ridiculously affordable price. And, since it was a special, commemorative, limited release for the creamery, once it was gone, it wasn't coming back.

Naturally, I wanted to stock up--or rather, chow down, as this particular cheese had a shelf life of about a week.

There was just one problem: beautiful, gooey, slightly funky, soft-ripened goat cheeses such as the one in question are solidly on the no-no list for the prego.

I could sample and sell this cheese all day long to the lucky customers at my counter, but enjoyment by proximity was as far as my love affair could go.

Now I am pregnant again.

There's a bottle of my favorite cheap "champagne" hanging out in my kitchen closet that beats me in a staring contest every time I put away a mixing bowl or retrieve a sippy cup.

I'd love to chill that bad boy down and enjoy a little bubbly while I get my fix of The Middle on Hulu.

I'd love to eat a massive rib-eye, seared on the outside and bleeding in the center. I'd like a raw-oyster appetizer and a Caesar salad on the side, made the real way, with raw egg yolks, if you please. And why not add a full carafe of coffee to go along with dessert?

But all that will wait till baby number two is breathing his air out here with the rest of us.

Am I a selfless mother?


But like it or not, pregnancy and motherhood entail making sacrifices.

I'm not any less of a food-lover or occasional adult-beverage enthusiast during these nine months, but I recognize the need to put certain preferences on hold for a while. I can manage.

Furthermore, I realized something during my first pregnancy:

These long gestational months of awkward body changes and forced sobriety are such a blessing.


Because I am selfish. Deeply, deeply selfish.

And no matter how many sacrifices I choose to make for my children, sacrifices will be made.

Sleep will be lost.

Stretchmarks will be gained.

Shirts will be ruined.

Showers and a general sense of personal hygiene will occasionally be forsaken.

My sanity will at many times be utterly up for grabs.

It's going to happen.

But God knows what He's doing.

He gives us nine whole months of semi-sacrificial living to get us used to making sacrifices. To begin, if ever-so-slightly, to chip away at our deeply rooted selfish natures so that by the time our slimy, screaming, bloody bundles of joy pop out we are in some way ready to tackle the poo and the spit-up and the nipple-biting and embrace the moody, beautiful enigmas that are our children.

This post and the previous one were inspired by another blogger's post, titled, "My Doctor Judged me for Wanting to Have Sex, for Not Being a 'Selfless Mother,'" which can be read here. Neither of these posts are meant to be an attack on that post, but rather further exploration of the concept of the Selfless Mother. I would love to hear your thoughts on these posts or motherhood in general if you would like to share!

In Defense of Selflessness

I subscribe to a e-newsletter from a women's blogging network called BlogHer.

A while back, one of the headlines in the email caught my attention, so I clicked the link and read the post. 

I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. 

The post, titled "My Doctor Judged me for Wanting to Have Sex, for not Being a Selfless Mother," bemoans an apparently archaic and anti-feminist female archetype, The Selfless Mother. 

The author/subject of the post  was confronted with her male obstetrician's expectation that she embody this archetype when given the choice between what was most pleasing to her (continuing to have sex with her husband as desired) or what was most beneficial to her growing baby (holding off on sex for several weeks until her low-lying placenta could be re-checked).

The doctor's request infuriated her. 

He told her that "it wasn't just about her" anymore. She felt she was, as she says, ". . .very subtly being criticized for being a mom-to-be with a sex drive."

She continues, "I think American society has a ridiculous notion of what a mother should be. We are sent the message that we should, as the doctor said, forget about ourselves and make it all about the baby. But in doing so, what's the benefit?" 

Earlier in the post she elaborates on the archetype of her frustration:
"Most women (parents or not) are probably familiar with the image of the selfless mother. You might, in fact, be so familiar with it that you don't even think about a mother without automatically assuming how selfless she is. After all, the American ideal seems to scream that we women should think of nothing but our children once they are born."
Her own take on motherhood is a little different:
 "Though I feel all baby-high, awesome, and marvel at my expanding belly, I have also managed to somehow keep my head about me. I still pay attention to my husband, and being a selfless mother has never even crossed my mind because I am a person, too.   . . .Selfless mother? I am not. Nor do I want to be." 
Okay. Deep breath.

I think I get where she is coming from, in a way. As mothers, and even just as women, there are so many ideal images out there that we think we have to live up to. The Donna Reeds of today fill the blogsosphere and various boards of Pinterest with their seemingly perfect homes, crafts, food, parenting wisdom, and uncanny blend of creativity and organizational skills. It's easy to come away from an Internet session feeling like if you don't have the time-management skills to whip up breakfast, lunch, and dinner from scratch, redecorate your house, and teach your two-year-old how to read the classics before the sun goes down, you don't deserve the mommy badge you so expertly appliqued to your self-crocheted sweater. And what are you doing on the Internet, anyway? Don't you have a homemade diaper-rash cream to whip up before nap-time is over?

Honestly? I love that stuff. The frenzy of inspiration.

I wish I could be half the super-mom I dream of being.

I can't.

No one can.

No one, not even the most pinned, most "liked," most re-tweeted (or non-blogging but seemingly flawless) mom out there has it all together the way she wants to in her head.

And that's fine.

We cannot be perfect, and we cannot be selfless.

But does that mean we shouldn't try?

Recently I've been confronted with the realization that many of the things I do in the name of being a better mom are more selfish than selfless.

I want to make homemade play-dough.

I want to train my daughter to pick up her toys and say please and thank you and obey upon first request.

If she doesn't fuss in public, counts to thirty in Spanish by the time she is three, reads proficiently by the time she is four, and recites the New Testament by the time she is five, look like I know what I am doing, like I deserve that Super-Mom cape.

If I'm spending all that time training my daughter to be intelligent and Godly and well-rounded, seem so selfless.

But my pride will not be denied.

I yell at my daughter.

I get so angry and frustrated.

I set the kind of example I would never let her watch on TV and that I would never want my friends (let alone strangers) to see.

Why? Because it's all about me, of course. Because if she messes up, if she doesn't obey, if she doesn't "get it" when I'm trying to teach her something, I am failing. Hang up the cape and call it a day.

Right now, my daughter is watching Dora and hanging all over me, pulling up my shirt to talk to my enormous baby bump. Incessantly. Her sippy cup is making that slurping sound that means it's running low, so any second now she is going to request that I get her more milk, and I will request that she say please. She woke up early from her nap, and I didn't get my full allotment of "me" time.

I want to tell her to give me some space and let me type.

And maybe that's the more evolved, feminist thing to do.

But I'm going to make an effort to calm my spirit, to invite Jesus into the equation, and remember that the computer will be here later. No one is waiting on this post. It can take all day or all year or stay in draft mode eternally.

But my daughter? She will be in this stage of life for a moment. A fleeting, vanishing moment. And to me, that's worth giving selflessness a shot.

Below is the link to the post I referenced. My post was not meant in any way to be an attack on that one (or on any type of mother for that matter), but just to express additional views on the idea of the Selfless Mother. What are your thoughts?