Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

I love cheesecake. I mean LOVE. I make it all the time. For everyone. For everything. For anything. I’ve been making cheesecake since I was 9 years old. Since I was a teenager it has been my go-to special occasion dessert and I’ve experimented with every kind of topping possible, including my favorites: peaches, cherries, and strawberries. However, fundamentally I always make it the same way, using the same methods: a NY style cheesecake batter poured into a delicious buttery graham cracker crust inside my trusty spring-form pan and finally, topped with whatever fruit I am craving. When I came across a sweet new twist on an old favorite of mine, I knew I had to try this. I served these petite ‘cheesecakes’ at a family birthday party and they were gobbled up almost as soon as I had set them out. Everyone loved them. The sprinkle of crushed graham cracker made them! With a perfect balance between rich, creamy cheesecake and the sweet fruity strawberries these are a must try for both cheesecake lovers and non-cheesecake lovers alike.

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

  • 1 lb large strawberries
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • graham cracker crumbs

Directions

  1. Rinse the strawberries and, using a paring knife, cut around the top of the strawberry.
  2. Remove the top of the strawberry and clean out the inside so that you’re left with a nice little hole in the center of the strawberry.
  3. Prep all the strawberries and then set them aside.
  4. In a mixing bowl beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla together until creamy and evenly combined.
  5. Put cream cheese mixture into a piping bag or a ziplock back with one of the corners snipped off.
  6. Fill the strawberries with the cream cheese mixture and arrange in a single layer on a plate or serving tray.
  7. Sprinkle generously with graham cracker crumbs.
  8. Serve.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

D.I.Y. Deodorant

There are basic toiletries that I think most everyone can agree are necessities, antiperspirants among them. Over the years, I’ve read several medical articles substantiating the claims that the aluminum in deodorants can be linked to an increased risk in women of developing breast cancer, although nothing has ever been completely confirmed. My husband and I try to buy and use as many organic products for our family as possible on our budget and organic deodorant, or even all natural, is just too expensive for us. When I came across a recipe to try making it myself, using ingredients I keep stocked in our kitchen, I couldn’t wait to try it. We, and my teenage sons, have used this for a week and it’s worked as well as anything I’ve purchased from a store. The first batch had no scent, although the coconut oil did give it it’s own faint coconut-ty smell. To the second batch we added a few scant drops of lavender essential oil which made the deodorant smell wonderful, without being overpowering. For something so easy, good for you, and cheap, is there any reason to keep paying for over-priced chemical laced sticks from the store? This deodorant is not only husband approved, but teenage boy proof! Not a single whiff of funk from any of my guys, all for pennies on my part.

D.I.Y Deodorant

4 Sons 'R' Us: D.I.Y Deodorant

  • 3 tbsp organic coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp aluminum-free baking soda
  • 3-4 drops organic essential oil for fragrance, optional

Directions

  1. In a small bowl mix cornstarch and baking soda until evenly combined.
  2. Stir in coconut oil until evenly combined.
  3. Put mixture in a container, or empty deodorant stick, for storage and use.
  4. Deodorant can stay out, but it will be more of a paste to apply. If you want a hard bar to rub on, store in the refrigerator.

Prayer Pail: Our Way of Branching Out Prayer with a Toddler

Every night before bed we say our prayers. We’ve watched our prayers with our sons evolve from a simple, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep…’ to specific prayers for people they know, things that worry them, and words of thanks and gratitude for the things in their lives. As I’ve had more children, I’ve realized the earlier I can get them acclimated to the idea as normal and second nature, the easier it becomes to connect to God and to really have a conversation with Him about the things that matter to you, and not always having the thing that matters to them most be themselves. When my youngest was 1, he’s almost 4 now, I decided to create a prayer pail. Each night before bed I let him pick out a stick, or two or three, if he feels so inclined and we say a prayer for whoever or whatever is listed on the stick. He has come to look forward to the surprise of who or what he will be praying for and excited about including others in our nightly prayers. Originally, we just did sticks for our immediate family. Now, we have sticks for everyone: extended family, the ‘lost’, and even our church. We also have a ‘thankful’ stick, so he can tell God what he is thankful for too. For us, this has been the perfect tool to teach our son a loose form for prayer in a way that even a toddler can understand.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Prayer Sticks

To make the prayer sticks I just wrote on Popsicle sticks with different color sharpies. I punched holes in them using my crop-a-dile and then threaded different ribbon into the holes and tied to give them a bit of pizzazz. Our ‘pail’ is a metal Batman pail from Target’s $ bins.

Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

I don’t know why, but I’ve been on a ‘cheeseburger’ kick lately. Soup, macaroni, now a casserole. I just crave that meaty, cheesy combo, and for whatever reason recently I’ve been going to new, experimental lengths to get my fix. This is what evolved from a lunch for the boys on a day they were home from school that was incredibly cold, when I had pulled hamburger meat out for, you guessed it, hamburgers for lunch and then realized I had no buns or sandwich bread. It was the perfect comfort food to warm us all up and put a smile on everyone’s face. There were no leftovers.

Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 can of refrigerated crescent rolls, or 1 batch of homemade crescent rolls
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 2 cups shredded mexican blend cheese, divided
  • 1 2 lb pkg tater tots, frozen
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 3-4 tbsp mustard
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Brown ground beef until cooked through. Drain.
  2. Return to skillet, add in onions and saute 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add in ketchup, mustard, and 1 cup of cheese. Stirring until heated through. Remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Grease a 9×13 baking dish, or coat with non stick spray.
  5. Lay crescent rolls out flat to cover the bottom of the dish like a crust. Press seams together so there aren’t any gaps.
  6. Spread hamburger mixture evenly over the crescent rolls.
  7. Top evenly with tater tots.
  8. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until tater tots are done.
  9. Remove from oven and sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over the top of the casserole.
  10. Return to oven cooking 5 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
  11. Let the casserole cool for 5 minutes before serving.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

Enjoy!

Crockpot (or not) Pumpkin Bread

Saturday morning we woke up to snow falling. I love snow, and so do my kids, but snow seems to make them a little bit frantic, and crazy. Sadly, even after four kids, I am still not a morning person, but there’s something about snow falling while sipping my piping hot cup of coffee that can make even the most chaotic morning  just a little bit magical. Still, there was something missing, and my coffee seemed…lonely. So I decided to use my last can of pumpkin and make some pumpkin bread, the perfect accompaniment to any snowy morning, and another pot of coffee. The kids went out to play in the snow, which wasn’t even sticking, and I waited for our bread to finish baking, soaking up every stolen minute of peace and quiet. Right about the time the troops clomped in feeling frozen the bread was ready to eat. This pumpkin bread is easy and delicious, and sure to get all the kids around the table ooh-ing and aah-ing. It’s so good, that they won’t even want to talk between bites of deliciousness and sips of milk. For a treat I threw in some chocolate chips, around 1/4 cup, and even threw a few on top for a ‘garnish’ because I find chocolate so aesthetically pleasing. I was going for magical in the midst of chaos, remember? Morning, noon, night, what day couldn’t use a little magic in it! Make some ‘magic’ of your own today.

Crockpot (or not) Pumpkin Bread

4 Sons 'R' Us: Crockpot (or not) Pumpkin Bread

  •  1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar*
  • 2 eggs (beaten)
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • chocolate chips (optional)

*To make your own easy brown sugar, add 1 tbsp molasses to 1 cup of sugar and mix together thoroughly. Just like store-bought brown sugar, extras can be stored in a ziplock bag and put in the pantry, cabinet, etc. for future recipes.

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer, blend oil and sugars together.
  2. Stir in the beaten eggs and canned pumpkin.
  3. Gradually add the remaining dry ingredients, mixing until evenly incorporated.
  4. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan.

Crockpot Cooking

  1. Add 2 cups of water to your crockpot, and then sit the loaf pan inside the crockpot.
  2. Cover the top of the crockpot with 8-10 paper towels. This is important as it traps the moisture and condensation so the bread doesn’t become ‘mushy’.
  3. Place the lid on the crockpot, keeping the paper towels securely in place.
  4. Bake on high 2 1/2-3 hours.

Oven-Baked

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bake pumpkin bread 50-60 minutes in the oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Buttermilk-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

I’m always on the lookout for easy breakfasts I can prepare ahead of time and have ready for my kids to eat on the go on busy morning. I had been eyeing this breakfast ‘cake’ recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen for awhile and decided to give it a try last month. The result was wonderful! Moist, crumbly, and full of flavor it was a real treat for the everyone. The recipe takes minimal time to prepare, which is a blessing on nights I’m scrambling at the last minute before bed to throw something together for the morning. My whole family, even the picky eaters, love this, whether we’re sitting down at the table for a relaxing breakfast, or grabbing a piece to go, hurrying to school or practice.

Buttermilk-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

4 Sons 'R' Us: Blueberry Breakfast Cake

  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp lemon zest*
  • 3/4 cup & 2 tbsp sugar (7/8 cup) + 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour, set aside 1/4 cup of this
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups frozen blueberries, thawed and drained
  •  1/2 cup buttermilk**

*If you’re using fresh lemons for your zest, go ahead and zest the whole lemon. Any extra, or leftover zest, not used in the recipe can easily be stored in a ziplock bag and frozen for later use.

**To make your own buttermilk, add 1 tbsp white vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes before using. The recipe can be halved or doubled depending on the quantity needed. Just keep the ratios between the milk the the acidic ingredient equal. Lemon juice can also be used in place of vinegar.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter with lemon zest and 7/8 cup of sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Meanwhile, toss the blueberries with 1/4 cup flour, then whisk together the remaining flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the batter a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk.
  4. Fold in the blueberries.
  5. Grease an 8×8 baking pan with butter, or coat with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Pour and spread batter evenly into the pan. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Let cool and serve.

Triple Chocolate Quick Bread

With my food guzzlers, I’m always on the lookout for a quick addition to my menu that can help top off their tanks. I love a good dessert that I don’t feel terrible about giving my family that helps keep them full until morning. This gem is one of my go-to favorites. It’s like a special edition chocolate muffin, with a hint of apples. They love a nice, warm slice of my chocolate ‘bread’ before bed with a cold glass of milk. It makes them feel all warm and fuzzy. I may, or may not, have also been talked into making this for them for a special breakfast as it contains both eggs and applesauce.  Even better, this from scratch dessert, or breakfast, or snack, is easy and takes hardly any time to whip up. Did I mention it’s versatility? So find yourself a reason to give it a try, you won’t be disappointed in the results.

Triple Chocolate Quick Bread

4 Sons 'R' Us: Triple Chocolate Quick Bread

  •  1 & 1/2 cups  semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 & 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 & 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

GLAZE:

  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp half and half
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a pot on the stove top over low heat, melt 1 cup of chocolate chips; set aside to cool.
  2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs and cooled chocolate, mix until evenly combined.
  4. Add applesauce and vanilla; set aside.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until evenly combined.
  6. Add flour mix to the batter and mix until evenly combined.
  7. Lightly mix in the remaining chocolate chips just until incorporated into batter.
  8. Divide batter evenly between two* greased loaf pans.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean
  10. Cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

For Glaze:

  1. In a small pot over low heat, melt chocolate chips and butter, stirring until evenly combined.
  2. Stir in half and half.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt.
  4. Drizzle over warm loaves, or pipe onto loaves using a ziplock bag.
  5. Let the chocolate cool and serve.

* If you’d prefer to make one full sized loaf, simply add all the batter to one full size loaf pan. Baking time will take a little over an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Typically the chocolate piping is spread between two loaves so there’s not nearly as much piled on, but the ‘breakfast’ bread I was coerced into making I left glaze free. I didn’t want too much chocolate on my mom-conscience before sending them off for school. All that chocolate on their dessert though was a real treat.

Fuss-Free Finger Painting

Have you ever had one of those moments where you have a litany of tasks that need your immediate attention, but you also have a toddler clinging to your leg and you know that if you turn your back they will immediately morph into a little ball of destruction? My 3 year old would happily entertain himself, but that always results in a gigantic mess that I then have to clean up. It’s moments like those when dinner is waiting to be cooked and homework needs checking that I have to get creative to keep the 3 year old entertained without my constant supervision. Being 3, he is full of artistic ‘flair’. Give him some paints, a coloring book and crayons, you name it, and he’s happy and pumping out masterpieces. However, I know I can’t trust him alone since his creativity has a tendency to run wild. For example, he sees newly painted white walls as fresh canvas eagerly awaiting his decoration. While he could very well be a budding artiste, a future Picasso perhaps, he and I have varying tastes on what composes harmonious home decor.

It was one of these times, with my son begging to ‘paint’ and dinner bubbling away on the stove, that I grabbed a large ziplock bag and some of his tubes of finger paint, and a genius idea was born: fuss-free finger painting! He got to ‘paint’ and none of Mommy’s things got painted on. He loved it, especially since he could magically erase his doodle and begin again. Since then, we do this all the time and have used it to practice making shapes, letters, numbers, you name it. It’s saved my sanity many a time and allowed me to be productive while keeping my son safely, and cleanly, entertained. For a busy mom, fuss-free finger painting is the way to go!

Fuss-Free Finger Painting

4 Sons 'R' Us: Fuss-Free Finger Painting

  • 1 gallon ziplock bag
  • 1 piece of blank white paper
  • 2-3 different colors of finger paints
  • masking tape

Directions

  1.  Squirt several dollops of different colored finger paints into your ziplock bag.
  2. Seal bag securely.
  3. Lay your sealed bag over top of a blank sheet of white paper onto a flat surface such as a kitchen table or desk.
  4. Tape the top and bottom of the ziplock bag to your designated work surface to secure in place.
  5. Sit your child down and let them ‘paint’.
  6. When they’re done simply detach and throw your paint-filled bag away, or save it to use again later.

No mess, and no stress!