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S’mores Cheesecake Bars

3 Jun

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The opportunity to bake a sinful treat arose this past week as my client site had a cookout.  While I didn’t have to do anything besides contribute $5, I really wanted to make a new treat.  Bryan loves when these inspirations hit me!  I thought something s’mores related would be a win.  I found a number of s’mores bars that I wasn’t all that jazzed about, but then I came across a s’mores bar WITH CHEESECAKE recipe.  Thanks to Annie’s Eats, I had some happy co-workers.  Thank goodness too because these  phenom bars involved the labor of love!  This recipe yields about 12-16 bars which was not enough for the crowd I was making them for.  Thus, I doubled this recipe.  Still, not a big deal until you 1) only have one 8 x 8 pan 2) arrive at the grocery store at 10 pm to gather ingredients and 3) don’t begin making them until 10:30 pm on a Wednesday night.  I felt accomplished as I climbed into bed at 1:30 am! 

In the spirit of being a balanced bean, I lightened this recipe ever so slightly by using reduced-fat versions of cream cheese and sour cream.  Probably did not make a world of difference, but I feel good about that choice and how the taste was not compromised in the slightest 🙂

Ingredients:

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For the crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup light sour cream
½ cup marshmallow cream
2 tsp. cocoa powder
¾ tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs

For the topping:
1½ cups mini marshmallows
Milk chocolate chips, melted (optional)

Directions:

To make the crust:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line an 8×8″ baking pan with enough foil for the edges of the foil to be easily pulled out (this matters later on!); spray lightly with cooking spray.
  2. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter in a small bowl.  Stir together with a fork until well combined.  
  3. Press the mixture in an even layer into the bottom of the prepared baking pan.  Bake 10 minutes; transfer to a wire rack while you prepare the filling.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325˚ F.

To make the filling:

  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Heat until melted and smooth, stirring occasionally.  Alternatively, place chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe dish and microwave for 30 second increments at 50% power, stirring each time.  Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.  
  2. Using a standup or hand mixer, combine the cream cheese, sour cream and marshmallow cream.  Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and well combined, 1-2 minutes.  Blend in the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and eggs until incorporated.  Stir in the melted chocolate until well blended.  
  3. Pour the filling over the graham cracker crust and smooth the top with a spatula.  
  4. Bake about 30 minutes, or until the center is just set (does not jiggle when shaken gently.)  Remove from the oven.                                                                                

To make the topping:

  1. Evenly top the cheesecake layer with the mini marshmallows.  Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes, just long enough so the marshmallows begin to melt into each other.  Transfer your foil pan to a wire cooling rack.  
  2. Using a kitchen torch, lightly brown the tops of the marshmallows.  Alternatively, this can be done underneath the broiler with a very watchful eye.  I used the broiler for exactly one minute, but I watched it for every one of those 60 seconds!
  3. Once the cheesecake has cooled to room temperature, drizzle with melted milk chocolate if desired.  (TIP: Placing melted chocolate chips in a ziplock bag and cutting a tiny tip of the bottom off creates a great little piping bag for drizzling the chocolate)  
  4. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill 2-3 hours before slicing and serving. This is important because it sets the cheesecake.  It will look like this before you begin to slice and serve:IMG_20130530_090626_777
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Pepperoni Dip on the Lighter Side

1 Mar

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I had made this dip back in February for a Super Bowl party (YAY RAVENS!), but I certainly think it is fabulous for any sort of entertaining/ large gathering event you may come across.  I am labeling this as a “sinner meal” even in spite of lightening it up from my friend’s original recipe on her blog, Table for Two.  Reason being that I think it is good to be real with yourself that lighter does not mean light.  Cheese and pepperoni are certainly amongst ingredients you want to be moderate with in your diet.  So make this, eat it, and enjoy it- all while remembering that moderation guiding principle!  Shout out to Table for Two one of many doozy recipes.  I’m certain your palette will be pleased!

Ingredients:

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  • 2 (8 oz.) packets of reduced-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream (or plain greek yogurt)
  • 1 cup reduced fat mozzarella cheese, shredded, plus more for topping
  • 1 cup pepperoni, sliced to half moons, plus additional whole pepperoni slices for topping
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream (or greek yogurt), mozzarella, pepperoni, basil, and olive oil.    IMG_20130203_175449_601
  3. Spread mixture in a rectangular casserole dish and smooth out the top using a spoon.
  4. Cover the top with more mozzarella cheese.
  5. Arrange whole pepperoni rounds on top of the mozzarella.              IMG_20130203_180300_096
  6. Bake for 25 minutes, or until mixture is bubbly and cheese is good and melty.
  7. Serve hot with tortilla chips or sliced bread.  Be cautious not to burn your mouth!

Holiday Oreo Truffles and No-Bake Jumbled Cookies

19 Dec

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This is the spread that threatened my waist line a few weekends ago.  From snickerdoodles to s’mores bars, maple frosted pumpkin white chocolate chip cookies to Buckeyes, and coconut ganache bourbon balls to Oreo truffles, this holiday cookie exchange sent every lady home with a smile.  In addition, we all left with a full tupperware (or two) of assorted cookies and a serious sugar high.  This was a fantastic get together during the holiday season so think about hosting one next year like my fabulous friend Emily decided to.  The jist?  All of the participants bake around 2 dozen cookies/ dessert bars or so and comes equipped with extra tupperware.  Then, everyone introduces their respective cookie and you around the table grabbing a cookie at a time until the table was cleared out.  Genious!

My contribution included holiday Oreo truffles and no-bake jumbled cookies.  Both recipes are simple, yet crowd-pleasing.  The Oreo truffles seem like a fancy chef made them.  I can guarantee you’ll love them! The jumbled cookies came into my life courtesy of my former roomie, Lisa.  So thankful we met (Lisa and I as well and me and the cookies!)  Let’s take a look at the how-to’s.

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Oreo Truffles

Ingredients:

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  • 1 package Oreo cookies
  • 1 block of cream cheese, room temperature (regular or RF)
  • a few boxes of Baker’s white chocolate baking squares
  • 1 package of peppermint starlight candies
  • green sprinkles or green sugar

Directions:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Crush up the bag of peppermint candies fairly fine (see photo of truffles above)
  3. In a food processor or blend, process the whole package of oreo cookies.  This works best if you break the cookies up a bit and process in waves.
  4. Add all of the cookies crumbles back into food processor or blender and add cream cheese.  Blend well.                         IMG_20121207_232846_514
  5. Roll the truffle into around 1 inch balls.
  6. Microwave your white chocolate as directed and immediately begin dipping the balls into the chocolate to coat and transferring each to the baking sheet sprinkling each chocolate-coated truffle with the peppermint candy and some green sprinkles/sugar if you have it.
  7. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow white chocolate shell to harden.

No-Bake Jumbled Cookies

Ingredients:

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  • 2 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • 2 cups marshmallows
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 bag of chocolate chips
  • 1 bag of white chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine Rice Krispies and marshmallows. Set aside.
  3. In a double boiler or a DIY make-shift one,  melt entire bag of white chocolate chips until creamy and smooth.  Remove from heat.
  4. Stir peanut butter into the melted white chocolate until well-blended. IMG_20121208_010137_847
  5. Add the white chocolate and PB combo into the bowl of Rice Krispies and marshmallows and stir until all is well-coated.    IMG_20121208_010606_321
  6. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes and then add your chocolate chips.  You want to avoid the chocolate chips melting and streaking so the cooling period prevents that.
  7. Drop ice cream scoop or large spoonfuls of the cookie on the aluminum foil.  Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.

December Cooking Club’s MUST Ingredient: Maple Syrup

3 Dec

2012-12-02_12-34-56_899Are you drooling over this spread?!  This photo depicts yesterday’s maple syrup-infused brunch gathering for our December iteration of cooking club.  This cooking club was a little different than past ones.  Lauren and Bryan, our fantastic hosts this month,  decided the format would be like Iron Chef.  Here were the rules bestowed upon the group.

Iron Chef Rules:

1.       All competition dishes must be “mostly homemade” and include the spotlight ingredient

a.       December spotlight ingredient: maple syrup

2.       Participants can enter up to two dishes in the competition

3.       Entries can be food or drink

4.       Dishes will be judged on a scale of 1-5 in each of the following categories: taste, presentation, and originality

5.       The winner will receive the coveted Iron Chef Champion trophy to be kept until the next competition

a.       The winner is responsible for adding at least one upgrade to the trophy before it gets awarded to the next champion

The result?  Candied maple bacon with assorted dipping sauces, pumpkin bread pudding, creamy maple polenta, baked maple french toast with praline topping, maple glazed potatoes, and my maple pecan coconut breakfast quinoa.  It was not simply bragging rights that were on the line here.  A gold plated gnome trophy you see sitting on the middle of the table taunted us all.  Claire and Grant ultimately won the competition with their fantastic bacon entry, but I don’t think anyone’s dish was short of tasty, presentable, and creative.  Here’s a picture of the winners and the gnome they get to don in their home for the next month:

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A good nap on the couch happened that afternoon- that’s when you know you were well-fed!  Another successful edition of cooking club.  Next month we are looking at a ginger ingredient theme.  Ironically, I made this suggestion but am not too familiar with cooking with ginger.  Any suggestions out there for me?

A quick look at my contribution.  I followed this recipe for Maple Pecan Coconut Quinoa and added raisins within the quinoa as well as coconut flakes for a topping option.  It turned out great and I recommend it wholeheartedly for a balanced breakfast option.  You’ll get protein, fiber, and healthy fats out of this meal.  Further, it is dairy and gluten free so even those with dietary constraints can enjoy this.  I hope you’ll give it a try.  I can see it becoming an addition to my breakfast staples for sure! 

Ingredients:
Serves 6
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  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 can light organic coconut milk
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup pecan halves
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • coconut flakes, enough to sprinkle

Directions:

  1. Pour coconut milk into medium saucepan and put over high heat. Add quinoa and heat until boiling. Once mixture is boiling, stir and lower to a simmer. Cook covered for 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  2. Fluff quinoa with a fork and add maple syrup as well as raisins. Stir.
  3. Serve with pecan halves and coconut flakes.2012-12-02_10-38-34_76

I’m Thankful For Green Bean Casserole

26 Nov

Adapted from Food Network’s version, I contributed this Green Bean Casserole to my family’s Thanksgiving spread.  I’ve made this casserole a few times now and it has been equally tasty each time.  While I am pro making my own cream of mushroom soup for the dish, I am okay with cutting corners with the topping.  I use a container of French’s French Fried Onions instead.  I find them to be absolutely delicious although not the healthier of topping options thus my not designating this as a saint meal option.  I’ll give a homemade topping a try someday (there are several great options I’ve seen out there), but I’ve had no complaints with this method so far from the groups I’ve made it for.  My family actually requested it make another appearance in the menu lineup for this year’s Christmas dinner!  Bryan liked it so much that we’ve discussed cutting the recipe in half and having as a side to every day type meals.  You don’t have to wait for a special occasion either 😉  Have a great week- if you’re like me settling back into the work grind will be tough so I wish you the best of luck.  Eat some delicious things to make it easier maybe?!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 medium container of French’s French Fried Onions

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. To prepare the beans, bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half-and-half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.    
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in all of the green beans. Top with the onions. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Thinking Ahead to 2013

23 Nov

Hello All!  Did you have an awesome Turkey Day with family and friends?  I sure hope so!  My Thanksgiving is intimate and delicious- exactly what I need.  It’s just myself, brother, and parents.  I’ll share our normal staples and what I decided to make soon.  I imagine many of you are out taking on the Black Friday deals or possibly napping after your shopping adventures.  If that is the case, hope you made a serious dent in your holiday shopping.

I mainly wanted to post today to ask for my readers’ feedback.  As I look ahead to blogging in 2013, I am curious what you all want to see more of.  Please feel free to leave comments as well as that will help me greatly.  I appreciate your candid feedback and want to share posts that really appeal to you.  If there are things about the blog page, organization, etc. that would make your experience better I am all ears to those thoughts too.  Thanks very much in advance for taking a few minutes to share your input with me.

On deck for lifeasabalancedbean is my Chicago trip food recap.  You probably recall how much I loved my Vegas and NYC food excursions.  I just may have enjoyed Chicago EVEN MORE.  Stay tuned!  Enjoy the remainder of the holiday weekend.

Boo! Halloween Highlights

5 Nov

Having a few days at home due to Hurricane Sandy closing the federal government led to more opportunities to cook things.  I had planned to bake a brownie-based baked good for Bryan and then make it fabulously Halloween-themed.  I did some perusing on Pinterest and Google and arrived at Graveyard Brownies being THE one.  There were a bunch of versions so I simply pulled from several to end up with exactly what I wanted although some people poked fun at my “grass” (green-tinted coconut flakes) layout being illogical (Yeah, Mike I’m talking to you).   I grabbed the most fudge-laden brownie mix box possible, followed those directions, leaving most of the work to decorating scene.  Overall, I was thrilled how it turned out.  The only lessons learned were changing up the “grass” layout and buying a thicker/more substantial cookie.  The Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies had the texture and squared off shape that I wanted for the tombstones, but they were too thin and eventually toppled over from, I suspect, the moisture of the brownies.  Milanos would likely fare better.  I hope you’ll make something like this next year!

Halloween night was particularly fun. Why stop at a pan of Graveyard Brownies when you can tap into your inner child dressing up and heading out for trick-or-treating. Our cover was that we were 18 year old high school students. We got some laughs and comments, but didn’t affect the candy going into the bag. It was a lot of fun running up with toddler – 10 year olds. A friend of mine had recommended this one street in our neighborhood where the whole block does it with Halloween decorations. She was not kidding!  There were haunted houses set-ups, houses with various full-on themes like a pirate ship, houses with 25+ carved pumpkins (like the super difficult designs not your typical jack-o-lantern faces), and more.  These people were spending $1,000s upon $1,000s on their decorations.  The street was absolutely packed too so I can only imagine how much candy they bought.   One house said 650 trick-or-treaters had already come by and this was at probably 7:45 pm!  It was fun to revisit the experience and we have some good loot to pick from in the coming months.  I was a highway patrol officer and Bryan was a Son of Anarchy character.  Here are the photos of our sweet costumes:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 box of Duncan Hines fudge brownie mix
  • eggs (See brownie mix directions)
  • vegetable oil (See brownie mix directions)
  • 1 can of Chocolate Fudge frosting
  • Pepperidge Farm cookies (preferably Milanos, I used Bordeaux but not as stable)
  • Black or brown writing icing
  • 1 pack of ghost Peeps
  • Green food color
  • Coconut flakes
  • Mellocreme pumpkins
  • Chocolate cookie crumbs (I used Thin Mints, but Oreos would work well too; not pictured)

Directions:

  1. Follow directions on brownie mix box, baking in a 9 x 13.  Let cool 15 minutes before icing the whole pan.
  2. Tint about 1/2- 1 cup coconut flakes with a few drops of green food coloring and stir well.
  3. Crush cookies in a ziplock bag.
  4. Write RIP on one side of the top of your cookies.
  5. Decorate your pan of brownies like a graveyard!