Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stuff and Links {April 2014}

I hate it when I don't have a recipe prepared to share. Especially when it causes a lag in posting. For the record, when that happens it usually means I've been too busy cooking to go through the many, many steps required to put together a blog post, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Either that, or I've been super lazy, which happens on occasion as well.

But not having a recipe doesn't mean I don't have something to say. I almost always have something to say -- just ask my husband.

I haven't done a "Stuff & Links" post for a while, so I thought I'd put together some of what's been happening in both my food and non-food world!

Things I've Eaten:

Have you seen these? I happened upon them at Target and had to pick one up -- mostly because I'm a sucker for cute packaging and I happened to enjoy theirs. It's basically apple sauce. Chunky applesauce with fancy flavors. I liked it so much that I was slightly shocked. I was also shocked that the price was $2.50 per packet... but I guess it's either cute/tasty or cheap/unimpressive. You can't have it all.

I cannot get enough of tomatoes, cucumbers & hummus lately {my favorite is Aramouni -- it's a local brand they sell at my Whole Foods. I don't know what they put in it, but it's addictive.} And pineapple, grapes and frozen bananas {I use them for making the creamiest, most delicious "shakes" ever.} I love it when my food cravings happen to be healthy.

I figured out how to make the tastiest "DIY Instant Oatmeal". I don't have the exact measurements for you {otherwise, that would probably be the recipe I share today}, but basically I combine quick oats, chia seeds, cinnamon, and a tiny bit of brown sugar with almond milk, zap it for 90 seconds in the microwave, and add in yummy things like walnuts and bananas. So good. Not difficult. No weird additives. Score.

Things I've Been Cooking/Baking

I made this Strawberry-Coconut Tart for a friend's birthday last week. Isn't it beautiful? I adapted it from Willow Bird Baking's Strawberry Coconut Cream Pie Bars recipe and it worked out perfectly.

Have you ever made a gougere? Don't be fooled by the French name -- it's a cheese puff. It is probably one of the easiest  fancy-sounding things you can make. They're so good, and you can shape them however you want. Like these that I formed into "carrots" for Easter. I loved how they looked. Here's a basic recipe for them. {I made mine with Cabot sharp cheddar and fresh chives.}

I made a cake for Easter. It's King Arthur Flour's Chocolate Cassata Cake. I was thrilled with how quickly it was coming together, and then I somehow read the measurements wrong and used way to much milk, which I decided to "correct" by adding extra flour. In the end, it came out more like a brownie than a cake, but it was still ok. The frosting though... good grief. I could have eaten it off the cake with a spoon. I think I will find other things I need to frost so I can make it again soon.

Other Random Things

- I have mastered the art of dismantling a pineapple with minimal waste. Is this something you'd be interested in learning? Because I don't want to bore you, but man, has life gotten easier ever since I figured it out.

- In just a few short weeks, I'll be joining a bunch of food bloggers in Miami for BlogHer Food 2014! I can barely contain my excitement.  My last conference was almost exactly a year ago in Orlando for Food Blog Forum. I can't imagine anything could top that fun, but I will give BlogHer Food a chance to try. ;) Prepare yourself for some long recap posts and an Instagram feed full of foodie celebrities!

Photo Source
- Three of my recipes were selected for the next Foodie Recipes Cookbook App! You should check it out if you haven't already, it's fabulous! I also have a few recipes being shared in upcoming issues of a few magazines... I'll share more about that when I have them in hand! It's so surreal when I get to see my hard work in print, or even digitally by some respected sources. I can't thank you enough for the support you give me that gives me the confidence it takes to continue reaching for my dreams. :)

See? I told you I'm never at a loss for words. If you're ever curious about what I'm up to when I haven't been posting on the blog, you can follow along with my daily musings over on Instagram where I keep things pretty current! And since we're talking social media, don't forget that my Facebook page also still exists though there's not nearly as much action over there as there used to be thanks to algorithms I don't care to understand. :P

I hope everything is well in your world and hope to have a recipe to share soon! xo

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lemon-Basil Cookies

We have officially entered the time of year when I am filled with jealousy over your budding herb and vegetable gardens.

I am not afraid to admit that gardening skills are not among the characteristics I was blessed with. It is a sad but true fact that I am forced to deal with year after year as the garden-fresh recipes, Instagram photos, and actual plants "crop up" all over the place.

I have had advice given to me by the greenest of green thumbs, everything from the "easiest" plants to maintain to tips and tricks for ensuring that you don't wind up with a pot of withered weeds. But it is all lost on me.

The closest I've gotten to growing anything was recently when I experimented with placing the root ends of scallions in a glass with a little water until they began to regenerate. I was able to keep them going for a few weeks with minimal care, and the sheer joy I experienced from "growing" my own -- well, garnish, let's be real -- was a little sad.

But that doesn't stop my from reaping the benefits of herbaceous goodness. Thanks to my local produce store {yes, the one I can't seem to stop talking about}, I'm able to get bundles of fresh herbs whenever I want them without any self-deprecation. Big, abundant bunches of aromatic basil, mint, cilantro, rosemary... whatever my little herb-lovin' heart desires for just pennies. {Unlike those so-called "bunches" of herbs you can buy at the grocery store in those little plastic containers. Such a rip off.}

I am grateful for green thumbs, even if that means I must accept my limitations.

These Lemon-Basil Cookies are a showcase of one of my favorite herbs. I just can't get enough of basil. Most of the time, savory preparations come to mind when using basil. But over the past few years I've discovered that basil does wonders in sweet things, too.

The scent of lemon and basil mingle together beautifully in this buttery, simple cookie. They're a cinch to make, too -- just toss the ingredients in the food processor, pulse and roll into balls. Give them a little squish with the bottom of a glass and bake for a fragrant, springy treat.

If the Easter Bunny were into cookies like Santa is, I'm thinking these would make a nice welcome for our garden-dwelling  pal. But something tells me they'd be a favorite among the non-cotton-tailed crowd as well. :)

Lemon-Basil Cookies
Adapted from Bon Apetit

1 cup flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 stick {8 tablespoons} cold butter, diced
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves {about 5 large leaves}, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoons sea salt
Optional: Sparkling sugar for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining with parchment or non-stick cooking spray.

2. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture begins to clump together and form a dough.

2. Pour out into a bowl and make sure everything is well incorporated. Using a 1 tablespoon measure, scoop out dough and roll into a ball. {If the dough is too sticky, chill the dough for about 20 minutes or dust your hands with powdered sugar before rolling.}

3. Place dough balls a few inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Dip the bottom of a drinking glass in powdered sugar before pressing down lightly to "smash" the cookies into a disk. {Note: I think I smashed mine a little too thin. If I did it again I'd leave them a little thicker, but if you like thin, crisp cookies, smash away.}

4. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar if desired, and bake for about 10-12 minutes or until the edges just begin to turn golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before moving {they'll be crumbly and hard to move when they're warm}.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

#PizzaWeek: "Greek-za!" Mediterranean Pizza

I have never met a person who doesn't like pizza in some way, shape or form. {And if I did, I might be suspicious...} I mean, c'mon... bread, melty cheese, and toppings of your liking? Pure comfort in a convenient, hand-held slice.

When my buddies over at NoshOn.It reached out and asked if I'd be interested in participating in their #PizzaWeek, saying yes was a complete no-brainer.

Pizza is a great unifier. I am convinced that, done correctly, it could bridge generation gaps and end world conflict. Ok, maybe that's a bit excessive. But I can't imagine not being anything but supremely happy when sitting down to split a pie with another.

In fact, some of my absolute favorite memories have pizza involved -- family pizza nights at home as a kid; 3:00 a.m. mushroom pizzas with my roommate in college; finding the ultimate pizza place when Steve and I moved to Dallas {it was our first meal in Texas, eaten among moving boxes}; my father-in-law's famous homemade pizzas; and finally, learning how to make amazing pizzas myself over the past few years.

You just can't go wrong no matter what type of pizza you enjoy the most.

One of our favorite Friday night pizzas at home is what I've lovingly started to refer to as "Greek-za"... a pizza with Mediterranean toppings.

It is so, so good. Can't turn down another slice, kinda good.

When I made the "Greek-za" this time, I rolled out the dough really thin to make it more of a flatbread. Not only does it cut down on carbs this way {because we all know you must be very worried about that if you're eating pizza}, but then you're also getting more toppings than bread, which is never a bad thing in my book. The spinach, tomatoes, Greek olives and red onion intertwined with a variety of bubbly cheeses and sprinkled with fragrant herbs is drizzled with syrupy-sweet balsamic vinegar...it's easy to see why this recipe tops my list of favorites.

If you like pizza as much as I do, be sure to check out the other #PizzaWeek posts being shared today by the following talented bloggers:

Roasted Veggie Pizza by Dine & Dish
Mini Cauliflower Pizzas by The Fitchen
Berry with Arugula & Prosciutto Pizza by FoodieCrush

And if you still haven't gotten your fix, head over to Pinterest and follow the "Pizza Pizza!" board where you can find a variety of pizza recipes to suit any and all tastes!

"Greek-za!" -- Mediterranean Pizza 
Yield: 2 thin crust personal pizzas

Your favorite pizza dough recipe {I used this one} or store bought pizza dough, cut into quarters*
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated
1 cup baby spinach
1/2 cup favorite grated Italian cheese blend
1/2 cup favorite mozzarella, grated
1 roma or plum tomato, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup red onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup Greek olives, pitted and sliced
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 teaspoon dried mint
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
*I also use a sprinkle of Alessi Dipping Spice -- I love this stuff.
For Drizzling: Good quality balsamic vinegar, or balsamic glaze

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place pan or pizza stone in oven to heat up as well.

2. Meanwhile, combine the olive oil and garlic in a small microwaveable cup and heat on high for 30 seconds or until the garlic is fragrant and begins to sizzle. Remove from microwave and set aside.

3. Cut one of the quarters of the pizza dough in half.* Set aside the other half and keep covered. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to desired thickness -- for this version, I rolled mine out quite thin to about a 12x6 inch oval. Repeat the process with second piece of dough to make 2 personal pizzas.

4. Carefully move rolled dough to hot pan or stone. Brush the crusts with the garlic oil and bake for 3-6 minutes {depending on thickness} or until the crust is beginning to turn golden brown in some spots.

5. Remove from oven and top each pizza with spinach leaves, Italian cheese blend and mozzarella. {Doing it in this order helps the leaves stay in place, but you can arrange it as you like, of course.} Place tomato slices, sliced red onion and olives on top of cheese; sprinkle with crumbled feta. Sprinkle dried mint and oregano {or whichever spices you choose} over top.

6. Return pizzas to oven and bake for another 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the edges of the pizza are crisp and browned. For a crisp underside, I like to move the pan to the very bottom rack of the oven for the last minute or two of cooking. Just make sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn!

7. Remove pizzas from oven and drizzle with balsamic syrup if desired. Slice and serve hot.

*Most 1 lb. dough balls will make 2 large pizzas, 4 medium pizzas or 8 individual thin crust pizzas. It's up to you how you want to divide it up, but for the this particular recipe, I've listed enough ingredients for 2 individual thin crust pizzas or 1 medium pizza. Hope that isn't too confusing! :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Avocado + Grapefruit Salsa with Baked Coriander Chips

I spent about 2 hours outside in direct sunlight this weekend while we walked around a local Seafood Festival and, in doing so, I came to this conclusion: It is too, too hot already. Like, had to use a paper towel to blot behind my knees because I was sweating profusely kind of hot. Ew.

This is certainly not unusual around here, but I can tell you that I'm already craving thirst-quenching and refreshing things to eat and drink. Partly because they help you cool down, but also because they are generally better for you and will not make you feel as bad when it's time to start wearing less clothing. I'm not saying the "B" word just yet {bikini} because I know many of you aren't ready for that kind of language. But it's coming, folks. It's coming.

Anyway, after nearly melting into a puddle, I woke up feeling like I wanted to whip up something fresh and healthy.

Mondays are my favorite food day of the week because, most of the time, it means that I have a replenished supply of fruits and veggies at my disposal. Lately, my husband has been in charge of going to the produce store solo and picking out our fruits and veggies for the week. It makes sense with our weekend schedule for him to stop at the store and pick things up first thing in the morning right after the gym. At first, this made me a little nervous because 1. I am a control freak, and 2. I don't like surprises.

But I have to admit, he's been pretty good with fruit and veggie selection. Sure, we have about 258,353 onions and lemons because he doesn't always check what we've got before he heads out to the store. But for the most part, I can't complain.  {And I happen to like onions and lemons.}

You know what he's really good at? Picking out avocados. I love, love, love that our local produce store has avocados at a price so affordable that we can pick up enough for the entire week without spending our life savings. And that's exactly what he does. He even tries to select them on a ripeness spectrum so that there's one ready for each day of the week. Isn't he adorable? {It obviously doesn't take much to win me over.}

So, after finding a sad and lonely grapefruit sitting in the fridge and then spotting a perfectly perfect avocado on the counter top, this was only logical:

I can put away serious amounts of chips and salsa... but I try not to because, you know, skinny jeans. But this light and refreshing salsa made me feel like I was actually doing my body a favor with juicy pieces of bright, citrusy grapefruit, gorgeous tomato and creamy avocado. And baking up some crispy coriander-spiced tortilla chips in the oven was the best accompaniment for this snack -- nothing creepy or fried out of a bag.


Ok, Mother Nature, feel free to turn up the heat.

Avocado + Grapefruit Salsa with Baked Coriander Tortilla Chips
1 grapefruit, segments removed & juice reserved
1 avocado, pitted and diced
1 Roma or Plum tomato, chopped
2 tablespoons red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed mint, or 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh mint
Sprinkle of sea salt

1. Place grapefruit, avocado, tomato and red onion in a medium bowl.

2. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the juice from the grapefruit with olive oil, mint and salt. {I was able to get about 1/4 cup after removing the segments. If you don't have enough juice, you can use a lime instead.}

3. Pour vinaigrette over the avocado mixture and toss together gently, careful not to squish the avocado too much. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For Chips:

4-5 corn tortillas {I used these}
Olive oil or olive oil spray
Sprinkle of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set aside.

2. Spray or brush each tortilla with olive oil on both sides. Stack the tortillas and cut into 6 wedges with a sharp knife. Place wedges onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and ground coriander.

3. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the tortillas are crisp and lightly browned.

Serve warm with cool avocado salsa.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Brown Butter Zucchini Cornbread

Ahem, not to brag or anything, but I've managed to get THREE posts out this week. Why, yes, I am patting myself on the back. ;)

Where the last few weeks felt like a complete waste of perfectly good time, this week has felt uber-productive. Isn't that a nice feeling? Not only have I been able to wrap up a bunch of loose ends I've had nagging at my task list, but I've also been able to help a friend who is getting married in just a few short weeks as she crosses some things off her "To Do Before I Do" list.

Being a part of wedding planning madness {several times over the past year} has made me think about how awesome it is when two people who are right for each other come together. In my friend's case, she and her fiance balance one another in lots of ways: She is high speed/high voltage, energetic, scattered and passionate; he is deliberate, calming, organized and logical. Watching them do things together can be somewhat of a comedy show, but only because it's sort of magical how she makes up for where he lacks and vice versa.

I find the same in my own relationship with my husband. When I'm up in arms and all in a tizzy, he talks me back down to reality and calms my irrational fears. When his head is in the clouds and he's having a hard time putting dreams into action, I help him think realistically. I keep us organized, and he keeps me from labeling everything in the house and living in an OCD wonderland. It takes a little bit of him and a little bit of me keep things balanced in our household. We're a good team, as are the newlyweds-to-be.

Some things just work well together. Like this:

Know what it is?

No, you don't. You probably think you know what it is. "It's cornbread!" "It's zucchini bread!" ...

It's both!

It's Zucchini Cornbread. The result of a harmonious union of two common favorites, with the added flavor of brown butter.

What's brown butter, you ask? Well, it's butter that's cooked until it's brown. {Um, you asked.} Why is that special? Because when you cook butter until its brown, it gets this interesting, nutty smell and flavor that makes things taste even better than when you're using regular butter... if you can believe it.

I love regular ol' cornbread, but there have been times when certain recipes have left something to be desired because they're too dry or crumbly. But guess what? When you add in shredded zucchini, the moisture from the veggie refuses to allow anything but incredibly perfect bread to happen. Add in that amped up flavor from brown butter, and you've got yourself a pretty above average loaf of yumminess.

Basically, it's a marriage made in heaven. And who can't appreciate one of those?

Brown Butter Zucchini Cornbread
Barely adapted from Epicurious

1/2 cup {1 stick} unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup cornmeal, medium-grind
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large zucchini, coarsely grated

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan by spraying with cooking spray or coating in butter. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Once melted completely, reduce the heat slightly and allow to simmer until it becomes a golden-brown color and smells nutty and fragrant. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cornmeal until uniformly mixed.

4. To the cooled butter, add the buttermilk and eggs and whisk together until well combined. {I just did this right in the saucepan as not to have to dirty another bowl.} Mix in the shredded zucchini.

5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold together until there are no more dry spots, but try not to overmix. The batter is going to be very thick; it should be.

6. Scoop the batter into the prepared loaf pan and spread it as evenly as possible. Bake for about 55 minutes to 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. {It's a moist bread so it may have some sticky crumbs, just make sure that it's not uncooked batter and you should be fine.}

Remove from oven and cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before removing and slicing.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

{No Bake} Tropical Energy Bites

Let's talk about snacks. {Baby, let's talk about you.and.me. What? You totally thought the same thing.}

What do you reach for when you're feeling snacky? Probably whatever you can get your hungry little hands on, right? Which is not always the healthiest of options, I'm sure. I'm not judging. I'm just sympathizing with the throes of poor hungry decision-making.

I try not to buy unhealthy snacks because, naturally, if they're not around the house, I won't eat them. But the downside of healthy snacking is that it can get sort of expensive.

KIND bars are one of my favorite, throw-it-in-your-purse-and-go snacks. So are Pamela's "Whenever Bars" {though, for the love of Pete, I wish they'd revamp their wrappers & packaging}. When I'm needing salty, I like Blue Diamond Nut Thins {although truthfully they contain a few ingredients I could live without}, which keep me from diving head-first into a bag of Doritos. But those little bitty snacks? They add up big time. Is it just me, or do you find that the healthier the snack, the less they put in the bag and the more they charge for it? Maybe keeping the volume at 75% air is what really keeps it healthy? Who knows.

Anyway, after taking inventory of my pantry {Read: raiding the shelves for something to snack on} last week, I realized that I probably have enough random ingredients in there to make my own healthy snack without spending any extra money. So, of course, I started experimenting.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that... a whir in the food processor and, VOILA!, Tropical Energy Bites.

Made with dried mango, cashews, banana chips and flaked coconut, you can feel confident knowing that there's nothing creepy lurking in your snacks. {Just be careful when purchasing dried fruit and make sure that the ingredient list is up to par -- some of them can get very heavy on the sweetness.} Yes, there's some sugar in these as I just used what we had on hand, but I still consider these better than devouring a row of Oreos. Additionally, it is possible to find dried fruit with no added sugar if you look hard enough {I'd start the search at Whole Foods or another health food store for best results.}

This recipe {which makes a small batch} made 30 bite-sized energy balls that are ideal for tossing into a snack bag and taking for the road, but you could easily double the recipe for a treat that will last a little longer or feed more people.

I'm pretty proud of myself for whipping up something healthy with stuff I already have -- a penny saved is a penny earned, after all. And I'd rather spend my pennies on something cute, like this. :)

{No Bake} Tropical Energy Bites

1/3 cup roasted, unsalted cashews
1/3 cup banana chips
1/4 cup dried mango {unsweetened if possible}
1/4 cup unsweetened dried coconut flakes
3 tablespoons almond butter
2 heaping tablespoons honey

1. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until mostly ground and combined. A ball should start to form with the mixture.

2. Once ground to desired consistency, scoop out the mixture by the teaspoon-full and roll into bite-sized balls.

3. Refrigerate to harden a bit if desired. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins

Did you think I disappeared? Was abducted by aliens seeking Earthling recipes? Tried a new cooking technique and sent my kitchen up in flames? {Did you even notice I was gone??}

Nope. I'm still here! The truth is that a jam-packed schedule combined with some tummy troubles and a few big baking projects have contributed to the lull in posting and a very boring social media feed. I mean, who's up for pictures of a sickly, frazzled baker?

While some couch time and a break from posting was exactly what I needed, I figured I'd spare you and wait until I had something a bit more fun to share. You're welcome. :)

Grocery shopping after a bout of not feeling like eating anything is like walking through a candy store after a few weeks of sugar deprivation. Suddenly, everything calls out to you and beckons to be placed in your shopping cart. Shiny, colorful and particularly fragrant things stand out above all.

So, strawberries. Three for $5 strawberries, to be exact. Plump, vibrant red and as potent to the senses as those scratch-and-sniff stickers you couldn't resist as a kid. {Or, in my case, even as an adult. I'm not gonna lie. The teacher in me still lives when it comes to stickers & office supplies.}

In restocking my fridge after my trip to the store, I became sheepishly aware that I had *maybe* gone a little overboard with the strawberries. Especially because there are only two of us and strawberries are infamous for going all fuzzy before you can say "shortcake."

With strawberry season peaking in the springtime, this is the perfect time to stock up and use them in just about everything!

Sometimes I'll have an idea for a recipe and Google it to see if anyone else has come up with the same thing. Most of the time, it's been done in one way or another. Many times, I start off with someone else's recipe as a jumping off point, and heavily adapt it to suit my taste. But when I Googled "Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins" and came across this streuseled version from The Recipe Critic, I knew there wasn't much I would change {except for the streusel}.

Tender vanilla-scented muffins are speckled with bright bits of ripe strawberry, and a surprise layer of cheesecakey yumminess. Together, they make such a perfect, springy combo. I added an extra flourish of additional cheesecake batter at the top of the muffins, and finished them off with a little sparkling sugar.

Are there there any springtime fruits or veggies that make you fall all over yourself at the grocery store? {Or am I the only crazy chick with 10 pints of strawberries in her basket?} ;)

Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins
Slightly adapted from The Recipe Critic

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup milk of your choice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries

For "cheesecake" filling:

4 oz. {half a block} of cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of beaten egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
{Optional} Coarse or sanding sugar for topping

Beat together all ingredients until smooth. Set aside until ready to use or transfer to a zip top bag for easy pouring.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a muffin tin with liners. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder & salt.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, sugar, oil, milk and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and stir until just incorporated into a batter {try not to overstir}.

4.  Fill each muffin liner with about a tablespoon of batter. Sprinkle a few strawberry bits over top of the batter, then top with about a tablespoon of cheesecake mixture.* Top with another tablespoon of muffin batter & a few more strawberry bits. {At this point, I had cheesecake batter left over so I drizzled a tiny bit on top & swirled it in with a toothpick. This is optional. The cupcake liners will be pretty full, so just be careful not to add too much.}

5. Bake muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, checking for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center and making sure it comes out clean or with moist crumbs.

6. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes before placing on a cooling rack. Sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired.