‘Velveeta’ Style American Cheese

Do you ever balk at the prices of those processed loaves of cheese? Do you buy them anyway, because sometimes a recipe (or a grilled cheese) demands their melty goodness and no substitute will do? This happens to me every time I purchase that cheese. Even worse, every time in the back of my mind is a nagging reminder of all the preservatives and other things in them that I should try to avoid feeding my family. So, finally I decided that somebody, somewhere, in an effort to be more frugal or in an effort to avoid all the chemicals, must have found a way to replicate this ooey, gooey cheese and would have shared their victorious recipe. After perusing Pinterest and the web for what seemed like forever, I finally found what appeared to be a winner. My boys had asked to have BLT Mac N Cheese this week and were afraid with my new REAL cheese that it wouldn’t live up to their high standards. They couldn’t have been more shocked themselves to discover this cheese made it even better. This recipe knocked the ball out of the park! It was spot on everything I was looking for and then some. It’s real food you can make at home quickly, with ingredients you can easily find (and pronounce), without sacrificing any of that heavenly meltiness. National Grilled Cheese Day (April 12th) just passed, but I will definitely be celebrating next year with the help of my own homemade cheese.

‘Velveeta’ Style American Cheese

4 Sons 'R' Us: 'Velveeta' Style American Cheese

  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
  • 12 oz Colby Jack cheese, very finely shredded (think TINY grater holes)
  • 1 tbsp nonfat milk powder
  • generous 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp 2% milk

Directions

  1. Line a small 4×5 loaf pan (I only had a full size pan handy) with plastic wrap, letting the excess hang over the sides.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the water and gelatin. Stir. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Combine cheese, milk powder, salt, and tartar in the bowl of a food processor, pulsing a few times to combine.
  4. Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  5. When milk begins to simmer, remove from heat, transfer hot milk to a measuring cup (to make pouring easier) and slowly add milk into the food processor feed tube.
  6. As you slowly add the milk, pulse the food processor.
  7. Add prepared gelatin.
  8. Turn the food processor on, and continue to stir until the mixture becomes perfectly smooth. Scrap the sides if needed and whir again.
  9. Working quickly, transfer the mixture into the prepared mold, pressing the mixture down into the pan with a spatula to help eliminate any air bubbles.
  10. Smooth surface of cheese, and cover with the overlapping plastic.
  11. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or overnight. (If pressed for time, a little over an hour and a half in the freezer will work too!)
  12. Slice, cube, or melt as needed and use as you would Velveeta or individually wrapped processed American cheese.

Cinnamon Honey Butter

Cinnamon honey butter is a delicious way to turn an ordinary piece of bread into a sure-to-please treat. It tastes just like what you’d find at many restaurants  My boys love some spread over a warm piece of toast for breakfast. They consider it a delicious dessert when it’s accompanying a slice of fresh baked bread. For snack, I’ve given them a dollop to dip their apple slices in. Have I mentioned that in addition to being delicious, it’s very versatile? Go on and give it a try today. It’s sure to add a little pizzazz to your day, and what day couldn’t use a little extra oomph?

Cinnamon Honey Butter

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cinnamon Honey Butter

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Directions

  1. Store together all ingredients until evenly combined.
  2. Serve on a moist roll or a warm piece of toast.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Soup

Are you wondering what you’re going to do with the abundance of leftovers after Easter dinner Sunday? Ham sandwiches or biscuits can only go so far. Dice that ham up and save it! This soup is delicious and is a perfect way to make use of those saved leftovers. I loved that it gave us the chicken cordon bleu taste we were craving, in a cheaper and easier form. I served it with some oatmeal pull-apart rolls, and every one of my guys had two bowls. There were no leftovers!

Chicken Cordon Bleu Soup

4 Sons 'R' Us: Chicken Cordon Bleu Soup

  •  2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, about 1 cup diced
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 5 medium russet potatoes,washed, peeled, and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 cup shredded swiss cheese
  • 1 cup shredded chicken, cooked
  • 1 cup ham, diced

Directions

  1. Place washed, peeled, and cubed potatoes into a large pot and add the chicken broth. Cover.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender.
  3. In a separate pot, or pan, melt butter. Add onions and saute until soft.
  4. Add garlic, and saute 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add flour to the pan and whisk together with the onions and garlic. Let the mixture cook about 1 minute.
  6. Slowly add the milk, a 1/2 cup at a time, whisking constantly. The only lumps you should see should be the onions.
  7. Continue adding milk and whisking constantly until all the milk has been evenly incorporated.
  8. Bring the roux to a simmer and let it heat until thickened, about 5 minutes, whisking often.
  9. Add the thickened roux to the potatoes and chicken broth in the large pot.
  10. Using a potato masher, mash potatoes in the pot until there’s minimal chunks.
  11.  Turn the heat to low, and add the chicken and ham.
  12. Add salt and pepper to soup to taste.
  13. When heated through, add the swiss and stir until melted and evenly incorporated.
  14. Serve.

Pigs In A Blanket

I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact reason, but there’s something about foods in miniature that my boys just love. It’s like they just exude ‘fun’. Anything mini I put in front of them gets eaten with gusto, and gets raved about afterwards, even when it’s larger counterparts don’t. They like fun finger foods, and I love easy. Pigs in a blanket are a match made in heaven for us. Typically, my boys request these for parties, but I also will make them for special snack supper nights. They love eating them for lunch as well, since I use homemade crescent dough and usually have enough leftover to make crescents to go with dinner too.

Pigs In A Blanket

4 Sons 'R' Us: Pigs In A Blanket

  • 1 package lil smokies
  • 2 cans crescent rolls, or 1 batch homemade crescent rolls

Homemade Crescent Dough

  • 2 (1/4 oz) packets active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shortening, or butter
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened

Directions

Making Crescent Dough

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water.
  2. Stir in sugar, salt, eggs, shortening, and 2 cups of flour. Beat until smooth.
  3. Mix in remaining flour until smooth. Scrape dough from the sides of the bowl.
  4. Knead dough, then cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1-1/2 hours).
  5. Punch down dough and divide in half.
  6. Roll each half into a 12-inch circle and spread with butter.
  7. At this point you can cut the dough into 16 wedges, or tear strips to wrap the sausages with. Strips are a little easier to work with for the tiny weiners.

Assembly

  1. Use your crescents, either homemade or canned, and wrap your sausages.
  2. Place your ‘pigs in blankets’ with the point, or end, down onto a greased baking sheet.
  3. If using homemade dough, cover and let rise about 45 minutes. Canned crescents need no rise time.
  4. For canned crescents bake according to package directions, for homemade, bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. Let cool slightly and serve.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Pigs In A Blanket

If you’re just interested in making the homemade crescent rolls. Cut the dough into 16 wedges, as suggested above. Roll your wedges up, and place them point down onto a greased baking sheet. Let them rise for about 45 minutes, then bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

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

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.