Monday, January 28, 2013

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes

These cheesecakes are a great Valentine's treat, my valentine(s) sure loved them last year! I mean, they're sweet AND red.  Bella loves anything with strawberries. I love cheesecake more than I love most.. things, but at most restaurants its filled with a ton of fat and sugar. Which is fine because it's DESSERT, but what isn't fine is the giant serving sizes that make you up waste your entire day's calories on one item (I'm looking at YOU, cheesecake factory!). These cakes are super sweet yet contain no sugar (I used Baking Splenda) and are cupcake sized so you get to enjoy your treat while still watching portions. Some people are really opposed to using fake sugar (Aspartame) but my valentine who is also a chemist assures me I would have to eat a LOT more Splenda to see any negative effects. I know that I don't normally listen to his scientific ramblings but this one benefits me :) I've also made these cheesecakes with non-fat cream cheese and while they tasted pretty good, the consistency was just terrible. So don't make my mistakes, okay? Learn from me.


  • 16 oz. Cream Cheese. (You could use half low-fat cheese here and still be okay)
  • 1 C. Splenda for Baking + 1/2 C. for topping. Note: you could use regular sugar here if you so desire, just know the calories will be higher.
  • 2 Eggs
  • 12 Vanilla Wafers
  • 2 Cups Fresh Strawberries
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Tbs. Orange Juice
  • Dash of Salt
To Make Topping:
1. Cut strawberries into bite-size pieces. 
2. Coat with 1/2 C. Baking Splenda (you may not use all of the splenda).
3. Mix 2 tbs. orange juice and 1 tsp. vanilla into strawberry mixture. Add dash of salt.
4. Cover, refrigerate for at least an hour.

To Make Cheesecakes:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place a muffin cup into each of 12 muffin tins and put a vanilla wafer (flat side down) in each.
3. Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add in 1 C. baking splenda and 1 tsp. vanilla extract, beating well. Add in eggs one at a time, beating well after each.
4. Spoon into muffin tins. Bake for about 20 minutes.
5. Let cool completely then put in refrigerator for at least an hour.
(note: my cakes were cracked after baking but after putting them in the fridge, they sort of welded back together. Plus, once you put the strawberries on top, you can't tell. stupid high altitude)

Before serving, spoon strawberry topping on the cakes and enjoy! Or give them away as presents so you don't eat them all, which has been my strategy :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Shrimp Spring Rolls

I've always been hesitant to try any Asian recipes because whenever I look at the ingredient list, I have no idea what they're talking about (just wait for my post on Miso Soup)! I finally decided to get over this fear and try my hand at one of my favorite appetizers/light lunches-- Spring Rolls. Did I mention these are really healthy? These are really healthy.

This all started when I decided on a whim to take a trip to the Asian grocery store. I used Yelp to find one close to me that had good reviews (although I didn't know what to make of the reviews because most people were praising ingredients I had never heard of). If you live in Salt Lake, I highly recommend (based on no other experience whatsoever..) the South East Supermarket on 422 East and 900 South.

In retrospect, I REALLY wish I had taken pictures while at the market. It was completely overwhelming as most of the labels aren't in English (duh) and I didn't know exactly what I was looking for.The good news is that this store had LOTS of help on staff who were very knowledgeable and friendly. I also noticed that the produce was ridiculously cheap, especially the fresh herbs. Score.

I googled some of my favorite sushi restaurant's menus and looked at the ingredients for their spring rolls and then just went to town buying up ingredients.

Recipe: Spring Rolls

  • Bell Pepper
  • Sprouts
  • Mint
  • Rice Noodles
  • Rice Paper / Wonton Paper
  • Shrimp
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Chives
  • Bok Choy

This was also my first time deshelling, deveining, and cooking shrimp. It was no where near as hard as I thought and have no idea why I was so intimidated before.  I used this tutorial and was done in no time. Anyway, start with your raw shrimp. I used a half lb. I recently went wade fishing with my family, and my boyfriend had to put the live shrimp on the hook for me because it was just too gross. So it took a bit of courage for me to work with these shrimp even if they are dead. I think it's the eyes.

Peel and devein. It's kind of gross but just remember the shrimp are already dead and can't feel anything. That helps me, anyway. You should have seen Bella's face when I pulled the heads off. I was like," Listen, don't look at me that way. I am not a monster!"

Next, boil the shrimp until they turn.. shrimpy-colored. Like this:

Now they don't look so awful! Now I want to eat them. I also hear you can boil them with shells ON for maximum flavor. I'll have to try that next time.

Next, it's time to make the rice noodles (aka vermicelli). Follow the instructions for  your noodles and cook. Drain and set aside. Very easy. Here's a picture of mine in case you don't know what to look for.

After you have the shrimp and noodles cooked, it's time to start chopping veggies!  Chop 'em up and pull the leaves off the herbs. Make sure to use small portions, you don't want to bite into a big chunk of anything. I didn't have it but you can also use basil instead of/in addition to mint. Doesn't this look beautiful? A rainbow of goodness.

Carrots, Chives, Bell Pepper, Cucumber, Bok Choy, Sprouts, Mint, Shrimp, Rice Noodles.

Now for the fun part! And by that, I mean the intimidating part. I was pretty anxious about rolling up the noodles and working with rice paper, but once again, it was for nothing. Grab a bowl of warm water for dipping the paper into. Make sure you have everything you need readily accessible so you can work quickly. You can buy rice paper frozen or ready to go. Here's what I used:

Submerge the paper in warm water for about a second or two and place on a flat surface (I used a cutting board.) I put down a layer of rice noodles, veggies, and topped with shrimp along one of the edges. Now roll like a burrito! That means you pull the sides in, then roll up. You'll see that the paper is very sticky and pliable. Much easier than a burrito, actually.

Yum! How pretty do these look? Cut in half and dip into some peanut sauce. You can buy it from the store or make your own. The Asian grocery store had SO many kinds. I didn't love the recipe I tried so I won't be posting it. Sorry.

Ta-da! They tasted delish and were fun to make once I got the hang of it. A Spring Roll Rolling Party seems like a great idea to me. Everyone could pick whatever ingredients they want and make their own dinner. Any dinner where the guests cook for themselves is always a good idea, right?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

Is there anything better than a fresh from the oven, hot, buttery, buttermilk biscuit? If you've ever been to the South, you know there isn't.

Growing up, I have fond memories of visiting my grandma's house in the carolina's and eating her homemade biscuits for breakfast (and let's be honest, lunch and dinner). Though we didn't visit often because of the distance, I remember very distinctly that these were special. I always looked forward to them and loved helping her make them, though, sadly, she died when I was about 8 and I never got the recipe.

You know how when someone dies whatever it is that they did becomes even MORE special? That's how it was with Grandma and her biscuits. One day, we were eating at KFC when I declared that these hot biscuits were "almost as good as Grandma's!" My dad was VERY offended and declared that they were not even CLOSE to as good as Grandma's were.

Now that I'm older (and ironically, despise KFC biscuits), I don't know what I was thinking when I made that statement! Homemade biscuits are so so so much better. Living in Utah, I began to really crave buttermilk biscuits but didn't know how to make them and neither did my mom (but she does make awesome flour tortillas--stay tuned). I began searching the web and trying different recipes.

In my research, I learned that it mainly came down to the flour used. The best flour you can use is White Lilly Southern Self Rising Flour. It's sold in grocery stores all along the South, but can be hard to find in other states. You can buy it online though! I promise it's worth it and a bag should last you awhile. I've tried other recipes using regular flour and cake flour (cake flour is a close second) but the White Lilly flour is simply the best in my opinion.

Now, if you have White Lilly flour, then you only need three ingredients and to follow the directions on the back! You'll need flour, salted butter, and buttermilk. I learned quickly that successful biscuit-making isn't so much about ingredients as it is about process and technique. Here are some tips I found useful from friends, relatives, and, of course, the internet.

1. Use cold butter and milk. There are scientific reasons behind this, but I am not the scientist (that would be Cody) and won't bore you with that nonsense useful information. I measure out the milk and stick it back in the fridge and cut up the butter into chunks and stick it in the freezer.

2. To begin, preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Add the butter chunks into the flour by either cutting them in (with your fingers or two knives) or using a food processor. I use a food processor because it takes me too long with my fingers and the butter gets melty (remember, the butter needs to be cold! and your hands are hot!). You want it resemble crumbs but  with a few chunks still present. NOT TOO FINE.

3. Very slowly, add the cold milk to the crumb mixture. Don't add it all at once. Slowly stir it in (I use a wooden spoon) until the dough all sticks together and then don't stir a second longer! The less you work with the dough, the fluffier your biscuits will be. If you added too much milk, the dough will be very sticky so just add a little flour.

4. On a floured surface, turn over the dough and knead about twice. Gently flatten your dough, touching as little as you can. Use a biscuit cutter or glass or jar to cut your biscuits. Press firmly and don't twist. This is usually the point in the process where Bella jumps in to "help" (so she has an excuse to sit on the counter and get flour everywhere) and I painfully watch as she twists the biscuit cutters around. Salvage what you can from your toddler and then put the biscuits on a greased cookie sheet.

5. With the remaining dough, try to form biscuits by squishing the dough into a circular shape instead of patting it down again and cutting. Even so, these second round biscuits won't be quite as fluffy because you touched them more. Stop touching the biscuits! How many times do I have to tell you, Bella?

6. Place the biscuits so that their sides are touching. This will keep them soft and make them rise higher.

7. You can choose to brush with melted butter before or after baking. To me, brushing before baking will just help them brown a little more and look more appealing. Tastes the same either way. Cook for 7-9 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.

8. There are many variations you can make with this recipe. My favorite is to just add shredded cheddar cheese and top with melted garlic butter. Just like red lobster, maybe better!