How to: Pumpkin Cheesecake

I don’t make a lot of desserts in general. To be perfectly honest, I’m usually a little tired after making dinner, and when I know that both Joey and I will be just as satisfied with four Oreos and a glass of milk (in some cases a dab of peanut butter is added in) as we would with, I don’t know, a souffle or something, it’s hard to gather up the motivation to spend extra time whipping something up.

But when we have guests, I somehow usually feel a bit more motivated. (You know how I feel about impressing people.)

This weekend, we had a visit from my dear friend Erin, who I first met when I was editor-in-chief of my college magazine and she was one of my favorite writers.

Erin had never seen our apartment (remember, she’s the one who is always harpingasking for pictures of it?) and really had never spent that much time with Joey before. Little did she know, they already had plenty in common. Including a love of cheesecake. (As well as an affinity for joining sides in the never-ending battle called “make fun of Justine.”)

So I decided to attempt a pumpkin cheesecake, something I had been wanting to make for some time now. I used Paula Deen’s recipe with a few minor variations because one of my sisters-in-law made it once and it was amazing. (Total disclosure: Her’s turned out much better.)

Here’s a quick breakdown of the recipe before I get into what I would change:

{ingredients}

In general, I like to make my own crumb crusts for things. (Partly because I love using my food processor, but also because it makes it feel like I did something.) For my pumpkin cheesecake, I used cinnamon graham crackers because, well, why not?

{uncrushed grahams}
{ready for the crust}

Next, you add one full stick of melted butter, 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs, 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Pour the crust mixture into the bottom of a spring-form pan and use a spoon or other flat surface to press it flat. (I sprayed the bottom of my pan with a little bit of non-stick cooking oil because my crust ALWAYS sticks, but the crust still stuck so…go with God.)

For the actual cheesecake mixture, start blending three packages of cream cheese in the mixer. (Cream cheese should be room temperature.) When it’s smooth, add one can of pumpkin puree, three eggs plus one egg yolk, 1/4 cup sour cream, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/8 teaspoon pumpkin spice. The actual recipe calls for nutmeg instead of pumpkin spice, but I prefer the pumpkin. Do as you wish.

When that’s fairly blended, add two tablespoons of flour and one teaspoon of vanilla extract. (But I couldn’t find my vanilla, so I skipped that step. No one knew.)

Once the mixture is blended smooth, pour it into your spring-form pan.

(I don’t know why it looks so yellow there…it was orange.) I wrap my spring-form pans in foil before baking, but this recipe didn’t require it. There was still some weird watery liquid that leaked out of the pan though, so that could happen. You want to bake the cheesecake for an hour at 350 degrees.

Here I have a few critiques of the recipe. First, every other cheesecake I made in the past called for a water bath (this is when you bake the cheesecake while it’s sitting in a pan of shallow water), but this one didn’t. If I made it again, I would probably do the water bath if only because I think the extra steam keeps the cheesecake from cracking. (Mine did crack.) Every other cheesecake recipe I’ve done has also called for you to bake it for an hour, then turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake in the oven for an additional hour. This one did not, and the middle part of the cheesecake was not very solid. Just things to keep in mind if you attempt it. It could be that my oven is not the most reliable (it’s not), so I’m not necessarily blaming the recipe…much.

Anyway, after baking, put the cheesecake in the fridge for four hours or so. (You’re supposed to wrap it in plastic first, but the hubs did this step for me and forgot. Oh well.)

And that’s pretty much it! I would recommend serving with whipped cream if you have it (I didn’t) because it really tastes a lot like pumpkin pie. As I said, mine didn’t bake all the way through as well as I would have liked, so I don’t have any pretty “after” photos. I do have this:

So you’ll just have to trust me it was enjoyed by all.

Lesson learned: It doesn’t have to be pretty to be delicious.

How was everyone else’s weekend? Make anything good?

Be sure to check back tomorrow for my FIRST EVER giveaway from my lovely sponsor, much love, illy! I’m beyond excited to share Illy’s pretty accessories with you — I know you’ll love them! See you then.

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The girl I was

I read a lot of blogs. Every day. But today, well, today, this one resonated:

When I think back to that time I can’t help but to steal away for a moment and sink deep into those memories. That girl was wild. She was foolish and brave and loud and eager. She made mistakes that break my heart to this day. She made other decisions that still make me proud. She took risks without a second thought that today would make me vomit on my shoes. Sometimes I’d like to go back, grab her by the shoulders and beg her to stop for a minute and just talk to me. She and I, we still have a lot in common but with every passing Thursday I realize how far apart we’ve grown.

One step closer

By the way, I just told one of my credit cards to eff off.

I mean…I paid it the eff off?

I mean…

One of my credit cards is paid OFF, y’all!!

I mean, sure, it was the one with the much lower balance, but it also had the higher interest rate…so basically…I’m awesome.

Doing the happy financial dance this morning 🙂 Think I’ll celebrate with some new boots! (I know, I make ZERO sense.)

Lesson learned: Sometimes you have to treat yo’ self 🙂

The early bird gets the wormhole…or something

I’m beginning to think it’s impossible for me to be late.

(Side note: I have an eerie feeling I’ve started a post like that before…ugh, after three years, it’s so hard to be original.)(I searched in my blog and couldn’t find that sentence. So maybe not?)(Still feeling uneasy…)

Anyway. Earlier this week, I made the decision to stop getting to work so early. Not that I planned on being late by any means, but I don’t really have to get there 45 minutes early. I’m not going to go into my reasons for doing that because I’ve already explained it, but the fact is, it’s not a crucial part of my life.

So this week, my goal was to get to work…exactly on time.

All together now: GASP!!!

I know, you guys. I. Know.

So I set my alarm a full twenty minutes later than I normally do. And guess what?

I got to work only about fifteen minutes later than I usually do. And that’s after stopping for coffee.

It makes NO sense. I’m 90% sure I’m jumping through a wormhole on my way to work.

(Side note, numero deux: Does anyone else watch the Cash Cab? Don’t lie, you know you do. Last night, Joey and I watched, like, three episodes in a row, and one of the questions was describing a wormhole, and I got it right. …that’s the whole story. Yikes.)

But on the upside, apparently really successful people tend to be early risers. I feel like that has to bode well for me.

Lesson learned: I may be a freak, but so is the CEO of Apple.

In other news, the longest week ever is finally coming to a close. (What, no one else felt like this week just dragged? I’m dying over here.) Hope you folks have a great weekend!

Quick business note (NOT a side note…too many of those already): I’m busy scheduling all of my upcoming blog giveaways for 2012. I already have the next two months booked, but if you run an Etsy shop or any other business that you would like to promote here through a giveaway, email me at justine.lorelle [at] gmail.com for more information. I’d love to work with you! This now ends this business note.


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Lesson Learned

I do this occasional thing where I’ll tweet the random terms people enter in search engines that bring them to my blog. I think it’s really interesting/hilarious to see not only what people are looking for, but also to see what Old Man Internets thinks my blog is about. (Because, honestly, for the most part I have no idea.)

I recently tweeted about how a few people had found this little site by searching for “weird life lessons.”

Is there anything more poetic about that? I often have friends who ask me what I would write a book about (if I ever get that sort-of-joking-but-it-would-be-beyond-if-it-actually-happened book deal), and usually I just say something to the effect of, “How to awkwardly navigate life? Funny stories? I don’t know.”

But what I think I’ve been trying to say is, “Weird life lessons.”

Which leads me to my new idea. I think pretty much all of my posts can be summed up into a lesson learned.

Sometimes you have to let yourself off the hook.

It’s possible to make someone’s day with a slab of chicken and the leftover Dorito crumbs in the bag.

You never know when your personal rant will become a chorus.

I think it’s time to start making some of these implied lessons bolder statements. I LOVE bold statements.

For those of you new to the blog, this is not the first time I have incorporated life lessons into the blog. So from now on, they’re just going to be my sum-up point at the end of each post.

Bonus for you: If you don’t want to read the whole post, just skip to the last sentence! Lesson. Learned. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE???)

So let’s go!

Lesson learned: It’s good to have direction. (Even if all you’re really doing is copying yourself.)


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Cheating hearts

You guys…I’ve been cheating on you.

Well, not so much you-you, but on my spending fast, which I had promised you, so it feels like I’ve cheated on you.

I’M SO ASHAMED.

You guys know how I feel about cheaters. Really, I disgust myself.

I guess the only excuse I can make is that the five things I’ve purchased, while not being technically crucial for life to go on, were still things I really need.

One was a latte. Actually, two of the five things were lattes. But they were at least a week apart, so it’s still an improvement from where things were. AND YOU GUYS. I NEEDED those lattes. (Total disclosure: I’m drinking the second one as I type this. Things be rough, yo.)

The fact is, a girl gets tired of being tired all the time. And today the weather is pretty much what the guy who invented the expression “raining cats and dogs” had in mind. I assume. It’s really hard to get into the mind of a person who sees bad weather and thinks of domesticated animals. but I digress.

Plus, work has been a little blah lately, and I haven’t had that much to write about, and the other day I was actually moved to ask Joey if I’m boring, and did I mention the weather is terrible? So…yeah. I’m calling the lattes justified.

The other things I purchased were two skirts and a dress. LET ME FINISH.

Ok, so I know. I KNOW. I bought clothes. But here’s the deal: I HAVE to wear a dress or skirt at least three times a week. Have to. And after I went through my last clothing purge, I realized I really only have about two skirts that I like wearing every day, and most of my dresses are summery. So I bought two longish skirts and a dress with sleeves. (Both of which I have been OBSESSED with this season. Seriously, check out my I Would Wear That board. See??)

Plus, all three things were on crazy sale. I got all three for under $80. So…it could have been worse?

Ugh. I sicken myself.

But I feel better confessing. This has really been weighing on my mind. And I want you to know that I’m back on the straight and narrow. No more slip-ups. I get paid tomorrow, and the only things I plan on buying until the end of the month are gas, groceries, and my Iceland boots. THAT’S IT. I promise.

As if my word means anything to you anymore. Ugh.

If it makes you feel any better, I have kept true to my word of bringing lunch every day (except the day I got FREE lunch at work) and making dinner every night. See? Last night was mini pizzas on Pillsbury biscuits!

Amazing, by the way.

I can’t be the only one who has ever cheated on a plan. Feel free to share your diet cheats, budget cheats, and board game cheats in the comments so I feel like less of a low-life.


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How to: Easy (Healthy) Chicken Parmesan

My husband’s second favorite food is chicken parmesan.

Guess how many times I have made it?

If you said never, then you correctly assume I am a terrible wife.

Ok, maybe not TERRIBLE. I mean, I’ve made his FIRST favorite food multiple times. But still. Something was lacking in my wifedom.

So on my drive home from work last night, I decided to make it right. On my big grocery trip, I had purchased several chicken cutlets with the intention of doing…something with them. Something that Joey could take for lunch in a sandwich of sort. Now I figured, why not bread those bad boys?

First, I had to find a recipe that wouldn’t take over an hour to complete. Did you know that most of the recipes take OVER AN HOUR to complete? I don’t know about you, but when I’m making dinner, it takes an hour TOPS unless it’s for a special occasion. Chicken parmesan would be no exception.

I found two recipes that I figured I could combine. One was this Easy Chicken Parmesan version. I was drawn to it because “easy” was in the title. The second was the recipe on the back of the bread crumbs tube. I liked that one because it nixed the frying step. And since I’m all for recipes that DON’T send us into cardiac arrest (again, except the favorite food…that’s a special exception), I chose to incorporate that recipe as well. I also took some liberties, if you will, with the breading. Here’s the breakdown.

Step one: In a bowl, crack one egg and 1/2 cup of milk. Whisk together. In a shallow dish, mix about a cup of bread crumbs, a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese, and (and this is the kicker) half a cup of crushed up Doritos. I went with the pizza flavor because we had a few left in a bag in the pantry and I thought, “What the heck?”

{egg mixture, crumb mixture}

Step two: Spray cooking spray on the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Take your chicken cutlets (or chicken breasts sliced/pounded to be about 1/2 an inch thick) and dip them first into the egg mixture, then coat them with the bread crumb mixture.

{chicken, breaded}

**Note: There is some debate in the world of chicken parmesan as to whether you should dip the chicken in the egg mixture or the crumb mixture first. I’ve had it both ways, but since I didn’t plan on frying this version, I decided the egg mixture first would help the crumbs stick better. I don’t regret that decision.

Step three: Bake the chicken for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees. About 3-4 minutes before the chicken is done baking, top each piece with a couple slices of fresh mozzarella.

{chicken and cheese, baking}

Step four: Serve with spaghetti and marinara. Top with additional shredded mozzarella if desired.

{chicken and cheese, baked}
{chicken parmesan}

Result: Success! We both cleaned our plates.

{clean plates}

Some of us even had seconds.

{happy husband}

And requested that we make Wednesdays “Chicken Parmesan Night.”

And you know what? Now that I have a recipe that only takes half an hour and is fairly healthy (certain slabs of cheese aside), we just might make that happen.