Category: Food

Famous Mexican Flautas

Flautas Square2I didn’t used to cook. My mom was single most of my life and working two or three jobs so I don’t specifically remember many nights of mother/daughter cooking sessions. It wasn’t until my mission where the Hispanic women took me under their wing and taught me how to make all kinds of culinary masterpieces that cooking even started to interest me. 

This is one of those masterpieces. In fact, probably the first one.

I remember spending one of our preparation days at Maria Villela’s house while she told us that her flautas were always the best and everyone thought so. That’s because instead of just plain boiled chicken, she always made a little sauce that she coated the chicken in. The sauce gives it more flavor and keeps it moist.

It took me like 2 hours to shred the chicken that day because I didn’t know what I was doing and I remember thinking she was getting a little bit antsy with me. “Who is this white girl and why doesn’t she know anything about cooking?!” 

Needless to say I’ve come a long way. Flautas are another one of my family’s favorite Mexican dinners. Yes, they look like taquitos and you go ahead and call them whatever you want. The thing about Mexican food (or any food really) is that the names, ingredients, and preparation of the same dish changes depending on where you are. To me, they’re flautas, which means “flutes.”

FlautasE4

I’m not gonna lie though, rolling these little babies sucks. If you can enlist the help of someone to take over that job while you do the rest, it’s not so bad. And if you cook for a normal amount of people it probably won’t suck so much. It just seems like every time I make these I end up making a bazillion because they get eaten as fast as they come out of the pan. 

A normal serving size of flautas at a restaurant is usually like 4. I assure you, you will eat more than 4 of these. Good luck to you to stop before 8. They’re that good.

I’ve kind of Americanized these, just a little. My favorite way to eat them is with fresh guacamole, Mexican crema, and some kind of Mexican cheese like queso fresco or queso cotija. Which is a little more traditional. Of course I always aim to please and my mom won’t eat them without the tomatillo dressing. The flauta itself is totally traditional according to my Mexican friend Maria. You choose the sides and that will determine the level of authenticity your meal takes on.

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I’ve also Americanized the preparation a little. Let me be honest and say I do not know a single Mexican woman who owns a crockpot. They will all tell you to boil the chicken in a pot on the stove, with onion, garlic, and a bay leaf. I much prefer to throw it in a crockpot. It’s soooooo much easier to shred and it can cook in the sauce so you dirty less dishes. Trust me on this one. 

Mexican Flautas
Yields 24
Chicken stuffed corn tortillas that are rolled, fried, and topped with lettuce and dressing.
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For the flautas
  1. 4 chicken breasts
  2. 2 tomatoes
  3. 1/4 white onion
  4. 1 garlic clove
  5. 1 bay leaf
  6. 1/2 cup water
  7. 1 tsp. chicken boullion
  8. 24 corn tortillas
  9. canola or vegetable oil for frying
For the tomatillo dressing
  1. 1 cup milk
  2. 1 cup mayonnaise
  3. 1.5 tbsp. ranch dressing mix
  4. 3 whole tomatillos, husks removed
  5. 2 garlic cloves
  6. 1/2 bunch cilantro
  7. 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  8. 1 small jalapeƱo pepper, seeds removed
For the possible toppings
  1. shredded lettuce
  2. Mexican crema
  3. guacamole
  4. tomatillo dressing
  5. queso fresco (or queso cotija)
For the flautas
  1. Blend together tomatoes, onion, garlic, water, and chicken bouillon to make the sauce. Place the chicken breasts into the crockpot and cover with sauce and a bay leaf. Cook on low for 8 hours (4 hours on high).
  2. You will know the chicken is ready when you can easily shred it with two forks. Beware not to overcook it to the point it becomes mushy.
  3. Flash fry the tortillas in oil so that they are still pliable. You can also heat them up in the microwave in a plastic bag but flash frying will prevent them from getting too wet and falling apart.
  4. Place about 2 tbsp. of chicken about 1/3 of the way up the tortilla and roll. Make sure the tortillas are not too full or you will have a hard time keeping them closed. Place seam side down on a platter.
  5. Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a frying pan and fry the flautas in batches (always start with the seam side down). Place enough in the pan to keep them from rolling and opening. Turn several times to ensure even browning on all sides.
  6. When finished, place fried flautas on another platter lined with a couple of layers of paper towels to soak up excess oil.
For the tomatillo dressing
  1. Blend all ingredients together in a blender.
Assembling
  1. Align flautas on a plate and top with lettuce, crema, and crumbled cheese. Use guacamole and tomatillo dressing for dipping or pour over the top.
Adapted from Maria Villela
Adapted from Maria Villela
Count the Happies http://countthehappies.com/

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What was your first major cooking experience?

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Depression: 4 Ways to Boost Your Physical Health

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**As always, these ideas are merely suggestions and if you feel you might have depression, talk to your doctor. I am not qualified to diagnose or treat any kind of mental or physical illness. 

Don’t you hate it when you go to the doctor, for anything really, and the answer they give you is: diet and exercise? I swear every single doctor I saw during my “dark days” told me to exercise and eat right. I would stare at them blankly like, “What? You want me to workout and meal plan when I can’t even muster the strength to get out of bed to go to work or school?”

I wish I could tell you that I found a way to get myself to exercise and eat right when I was deeply depressed but I can’t. Even though I knew, intuitively, that those things would make me feel better I literally felt incapable of making myself do it. However, hindsight is 20/20 and now that I’m out of the “black hole” I can see some options and ideas that I didn’t try. I have used these ideas to prevent me from getting depressed.

It took the right medication to pull me out of that dark place in order for me to feel capable of making changes to my diet and movement. But if you find yourself starting to slip into that dark place, these few ideas might be your first line of defense. Don’t ever forget how very connected your mind and body are. Taking care of your body will in turn, help take care of your mind.

1. Exercise

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I have had to consciously work on my attitude toward exercise. For a long time I didn’t count it as exercise unless it was a long run or an exhausting trip to the gym.

My new definition is “moving with motivation.” This means, hoofing it up and down my stairs to do my laundry totally counts. I love to take walks even though I didn’t use to consider it exercise. I don’t necessarily sweat that much and it doesn’t usually make me sore afterwards but it absolutely gives life to my body. Being out in the sunshine and fresh air is a definite plus. 

If you can find a buddy to just walk with you, it will give you even more reason to get out. Just be careful you don’t ask someone who is going to make you feel worse than you already do. Instead, think about someone you know who could be compassionate and if you try to bail on a walk, that will be helpful and encouraging instead of critical and judgmental. 

2. Healthy Eating

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Eating healthy is extremely difficult for someone who feels depressed because again, if you can’t hardly get out of bed how are you going to prepare a meal? The pressure to take care of our families can bring with it an added layer of failure that we feel when instead of cooking healthy meals at home, we resort to McDonalds or pizza just about every night of the week.

Instead of spending that money on take out or expensive pre-made meals at the store that are mostly junk, what if you just hired someone for a little while to cook for you and your family until you’re able to feel a little better? I doubt it would cost as much as you think it would. I’m positive it will cost less than eating out every night.

You could put up a quick ad on Facebook, KSL, craigslist, etc. Or, if that seems like too much work, ask a friend or family member if you could hire them to cook twice the amount they would for dinner to help you care for your family while you’re going through this tough time.

Chances are, they’ll want to do it out of the kindness of their hearts but if there is any way for you to afford it, I would suggest you insist on paying them. Paying them will get you around that feeling of being a burden and help you offer work to someone who could benefit from the extra money. As a bonus, hopefully the healthier food will help you work your way out of a slump. 

3. Sufficient Sleep

sufficient sleep2

Everybody responds to depression differently. Some don’t get enough sleep while others oversleep. The trick is getting sufficient sleep, not too little and not too much.

I was an over-sleeper. I could sometimes sleep for 14-16 hours a day. That’s equivalent to the amount of time we should be awake in a day! The result was constantly feeling groggy and wanting to escape my life by going back to sleep. Now that I have kids, that would never be an option. Although I have at times, gone through the day half asleep and hardly moved from the couch. 

Just like any other habit, creating a routine and sticking to it is key. Explain to your family how important it is for you to get to bed at a certain time and enlist the help of everybody to make it happen. Follow good sleep habits to ensure you get to bed and have the best chance of falling asleep on time. Then create a morning routine and give yourself an appealing reason to get up on time.

My new favorite alarm is an app called Kiwake and it literally makes it impossible for you to miss it, skip it, snooze it, or otherwise ignore it. It makes sure you’re totally awake and annoys you to the point that you have to be. Works for me!

If you can get out of bed before anyone else, try doing something you love during that alone time. Savor it to take care of you emotionally. Whether this is when you take your walk, read, write, paint, or dance around the kitchen, it doesn’t matter. Just pick something that excites you and makes getting out of bed easier.

4. Light Therapy

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Sometimes all we need to feel a little better is to head outside and let the sun’s rays boost our mood. For me, nothing brightens my day more than just being outside for a little while. It is proven that sunlight boosts our serotonin levels which helps lift our mood.

For some of us, the struggle with depression worsens during the winter months when the days are shorter and the amount of sunlight in a day drops significantly. Especially in a place like Utah where the sub-freezing temperatures keep us from heading outside most days. I know for me, cold temperatures exacerbate my anxiety which can lead me to hunker down indoors during the winter as much as possible. This doesn’t do much for my mood though and has a tendency to lead to depression.

When I returned to Utah after living in Texas for a couple of years, it was a huge climate change. I came home and went straight to the coldest place in Utah to go to school, probably a 70 degree drop in temperature from the sunny Texas weather. Clearly I didn’t think about this ahead of time.

I noticed myself slowly slipping back into the attitude of wanting to stay in bed instead of walk the five blocks to school in the snow and ice. One day after grocery shopping I saw an advertisement for a tanning salon and it occurred to me that all I wanted in the world in that moment was to be warm and to feel the sun on my skin. Against my better judgement I signed up for a punch card.

Let me be clear that I do not advocate tanning beds, we all know they can ruin our skin and give us cancer. But let me tell you, those tanning bed sessions that winter were like a healing salve to my anxious-ridden soul. It was a combination of the warmth and the light that saved me.

Since then, I have done some research and found a much healthier option. I had heard of light therapy for people with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) but didn’t realize you can buy these light boxes and have one in your home. Basically, it is a small-ish box that you can place on a table and sit in front of it for 30 minutes while it fills your eyes with light. You aren’t supposed to actually look into it but rather do something else while sitting there such as get ready, read, write, crochet, whatever. 

They don’t emit the harmful UV rays but have been proven to lift people’s mood, especially during the darker months. I haven’t tried one yet but I told my husband this is a must have for next winter. 

When our bodies are taken care of it is much easier for the mind to think rationally and to pull ourselves out of a slump. Sometimes we need medication or other therapy to get us to that point. If we consciously take care of ourselves by moving regularly, eating healthy, getting sufficient sleep, and getting outside (or at least in front of a light) we can strengthen our mind/body connection and hopefully avoid some of those traps that lead us down the rabbit hole of depression. 

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Have you seen a difference in your mood when you take care of your body in these 4 ways? Which one affects you the most and how do you make it a priority even when you don’t feel like it?

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Carnitas Tacos: Easy Crockpot Recipe

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I have an unhealthy obsession with tacos. I think moving home to Utah from Texas has made it worse. That’s probably because of the scarcity of real, authentic tacos. Since I can’t run down the street to El Tio’s Taqueria anymore where our good friend Rogelio dishes us up some amazing tacos al pastor, I’ll have to make do at home.

When I first started making carnitas it was a little bit of a disaster. I didn’t really know what I was doing but tried following several different recipes online and came up sorely disappointed. Most of the time, they just tasted like dry, plain meat. 

Then we found this amazing restaurant in Salt Lake City called The Red Iguana. Ok, if you live in Utah and don’t know about this place, I’m about to blow your mind. There are two locations right off of North Temple and please, go there. Like now. I haven’t tried anything I didn’t like yet. My husband is suuuper picky about Mexican food here in the states but he loves this place. It’s kind of like gourmet Mexican food if you ask me. And The Red Iguana gave me the secret ingredient to their AMAZING carnitas.

First, I suppose I ought to clarify. Carnitas means “Little meats” which is funny to me because that’s what I used to call diced ham at salad bars when I was little. I loved the “little meats” on my salad. And carnitas are also little pieces of pork but oh so much better than plain ham.

So my husband ordered the carnitas at The Red Iguana one time and told me, “You have to try these. They’re amazing!” He was right. They were so amazing that I asked for a menu again just so I could read the description of the carnitas to see if it provided any clue as to how they make them. Sure enough, right there in the description it said, “Tender pieces of succulent pork cooked in it own juices, with spices and orange pulp, then fried with beer and a hint of milk.” 

It sounds so exotic and strange doesn’t it? Who fries pork with orange pulp, beer, and milk? Smart Mexicans do apparently.

So I got back to my kitchen and started experimenting some more. We don’t have beer just lying around and I don’t like to buy special ingredients for one dish so I omitted it and it’s still delicious. But the orange and milk thing I did experiment with. I’m all about convenience and less trips to the grocery store. Since I don’t buy oranges very often (maybe I would if I lived in Florida or California but it’s hard to come by a juicy orange here in Utah) I used store-bought orange juice. 

And please, don’t be afraid of the bacon grease. We all cook with fat and sometimes bacon grease is really the only fat that gets the job done. I rarely waste the stuff and usually keep it in a mason jar in the fridge for just such occasions as making carnitas. And flour tortillas. It’s like my secret weapon. 

Carnitas Closeup

This is my own version of carnitas and we all love it! Me, my kids, my extended family, and even my husband. Let me assure you that if my husband loves it, it’s approved. He’s not shy about telling me where my cooking lands on his scale of “real Mexican food.” He has told me on a number of occasions that it’s too sweet because I added too much orange juice. The other night I made them again and after taking a bite he looked up and said, “That’s it.” 

There’s a lot of freedom here and I never measure of course so trying to pinpoint an exact measurement is extremely difficult. I’m going to give you some ballpark figures and you’re going to experiment on your own, mmmkay? 

My American family likes more orange juice because they like a sweeter meat. My husband turns his nose up at sweet meat and thinks Americans have ruined their pork by adding coke, brown sugar, orange marmalade and all other abominations. My family likes the meat crispier and my husband thinks it dries it out. So, you can’t please everybody. I think I’m leaning more toward my husband’s side though. Too much orange juice will make it too sweet and you lose the actual flavor of the meat. At that point, it won’t taste Mexican. If you’re ok with that, go on ahead. These are your carnitas. 

Oh, have I mentioned yet that this recipe is so stinking easy?! That’s hard to come by when it comes to Mexican food. I don’t know what it is but it feels like real Mexican food takes a lot of time and a lot of sides. That’s what’s so great about these. You’ll want to garnish your tacos with the following, and only the following if you want to be a real Mexican like me :

  • Finely diced white onion
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Splash of fresh lime juice
  • Salsa

The crockpot is your friend for this one. The slow cooking of the pork is what makes it so “succulent” as the Red Iguana likes to describe it. I love that you can throw it in in the morning if you’ve got a busy day ahead of you and fry it up when you get back home. Done and done. You can easily chop the onion and cilantro while the meat fries up and the salsa, well we always have some in the fridge. If you’re really short on time, use some store-bought although we all know, nothing compares to homemade salsa. I have a different one I usually use for tacos that is more taqueria-style but this one I’ve already posted works just fine, especially if you omit the onion and cilantro.

That’s it guys! This is a meal all on its own! I can’t wait for you to try it and for it to blow your mind. Don’t forget to let me know how it goes and if it delivered, which I’m sure it will 

Easy Crockpot Carnitas Tacos
Serves 4
Super easy crockpot recipe that delivers tender, shredded pork tacos with just a hint of sweet.
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Ingredients
  1. 3-4 pound shoulder blade or butt pork roast
  2. 4 tbsp. bacon grease
  3. 1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
  4. 1 tsp. black pepper
  5. 1 tsp. dried oregano
  6. 1/2 cup orange juice
  7. 1/4 cup milk
  8. Corn tortillas
  9. 1/2 white onion, finely diced
  10. 1/2 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
  11. 1 lime, quartered
  12. salsa
Instructions
  1. Grease the bottom and sides of your crockpot with a little bacon grease. Cut up the roast into 2 inch chunks and add the meat, salt, pepper, oregano, and the rest of the bacon grease to the crockpot. Let cook on low for 8 hours or until meat is tender and easily pulls apart. Shred the meat with two forks while in the crockpot.
  2. Working in batches if necessary, add enough of the crockpot liquid and meat to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. While frying over medium high heat, add orange juice, milk, and more salt if necessary. Stir frequently to keep the orange juice and milk from burning in the pan. Continue to fry meat for about 5-10 minutes or until there are some crispy pieces throughout. After tasting the fried meat, decide if you want to add more orange juice or not.
  3. To assemble tacos, heat up corn tortillas on a griddle with a tiny bit of bacon grease. For a sturdier taco use two tortillas per taco. Add meat, chopped onion, cilantro, lime juice, more salt if desired, and salsa for garnish.
Notes
  1. Adjust measurements of seasonings, orange juice, and milk according to your desired preference.
Count the Happies http://countthehappies.com/

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Tell me, where is your favorite place to eat carnitas? What other kinds of tacos do you drool over? 

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Easy-Peel Deviled Eggs

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One of the many cultural differences between my husband and me is the way we celebrate Easter. I will give props to my Mexican family though, they’re much less commercialized.

When my son was born I was so excited for his first Easter. I was shopping for Easter presents, coloring eggs, and all the while my husband was scratching his head. It hadn’t occurred to me that he didn’t know anything about the Easter Bunny. When he asked what this was all about, I nonchalantly explained the obvious. Before Easter, kids decorate eggs and the Easter Bunny comes in the night and hides them, leaving the kids a present after they find the hidden eggs. 

I could tell by the look on his face that he was thinking I was just as crazy as any Mexican superstition I have deemed ludicrous. 

So he pulled my ‘logically-thinking question’ on me. The same one I ask him when he throws out a ridiculous superstition that makes absolutely no sense. He said, “So tell me, what does a rabbit who magically lays brightly-colored eggs, hides them, and leaves a present behind, have to do with Easter?” 

Touche. 

I have no explanation.

But I don’t care because I love Easter!

Easter eggs1I was one of those weird kids that could eat hard boiled eggs all day, every day. I always looked forward to Easter because it meant LOTS OF EGGS! I would just sprinkle them with salt and devour. Sometimes though, the yolks were a little strong and I’d end up only eating the whites. 

My favorite way to eat hard boiled eggs, waste-free, is deviled eggs. For every single Easter, family reunion, or picnic at the park, I swear we had deviled eggs. My mom’s are the best because…everyone thinks their mom’s are the best. But for real, most people love my mom’s deviled eggs. Even my husband, who can’t stand mustard, likes my mom’s deviled eggs.

So when your kids fail to find all those hidden eggs, instead of letting the lost ones rot out in the yard, try real hard to remember where you put them and make these. You won’t regret it. Pinky promise.

Oh by the way, I totally found the fail-proof method for peeling hard boiled eggs. Believe me when I say I have tried a whole lot of “fail-proof” methods that have turned out to be more “fail-prone”. But trust me, this is the only method I’m willing to stand behind. So when you’re decorating your Easter eggs, cook them this way and then when you’re ready to make the deviled eggs, peel them like this. Then call and thank me. 

Mom's Deviled Eggs
Yields 24
An easy and delicious way to use up your Easter eggs.
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Ingredients
  1. 12-14 eggs
  2. 3/4 cup miracle whip
  3. 2 1/2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  4. 1 Tbsp. minced onion
  5. 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  6. 1/4 tsp. seasoning salt
  7. 1/4 tsp. pepper
  8. paprika for garnish
For the eggs
  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add eggs once it's boiling. Return to a boil and lower to a simmer for 13 minutes.
  2. Add eggs to an ice bath.
  3. Decorate as usual.
  4. To peel, place 2-3 eggs in a mason jar with the lid on and shake several times. Peels should almost fall off themselves. If not, add a tablespoon of water to the jar.
For the filling
  1. Cut eggs in half lengthwise and remove yolks to a medium bowl.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the yolks and mix with a fork. Continue to mix until mixture is creamy. An immersion blender helps enormously with this step.
  3. Transfer mixture to a small, plastic baggy and cut a small hole in one corner. Use the bag to pipe the mixture into the holes in the egg halves.
  4. Sprinkle with paprika.
Notes
  1. Whenever I'm making hard boiled eggs, I always add an extra egg or two in case some of them fall apart or break during the cooking process. This recipe is intended for a dozen eggs which is why I would start with 14.
  2. Feel free to adjust measurements for the filling. Depending on how creamy you want it, how much garlic and onion you can handle, etc.
  3. I used dijon mustard for these but my mom uses regular mustard. Whichever strikes your fancy works great.
Adapted from Kerrie Jensen
Adapted from Kerrie Jensen
Count the Happies http://countthehappies.com/

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Let me know if my tricks worked! How do you make deviled eggs?

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Perfect Cheesecake

Cheesecake SquareMy brother John just got old today. I can’t believe he’s 40…

This guy. This guy has taught me more about life, both directly and indirectly, than just about anybody else. He makes me laugh every. single. day. To read his story read this post.

My kids adore him, even if he breaks Liliana’s heart when he tells her “no” to watching Frozen for the fifth time in one day.

He is the most attentive and caring father I’ve ever known. 

He is also the biggest worry-wart I’ve ever met, but I’ll take it because it means he cares about us 

When I asked him what he wanted to eat for his birthday, cheesecake was no surprise. He may not be able to eat real food very often, but you can bet your butt he’s going to get some of this today.

Lacie & John

 

Trust me when I tell you this cheesecake is perfect. Don’t change a thing you guys. I tried and failed, 4 different times. 

It’s creamy, just the right amount of rich and sweet, and holds together very well. You can top it with whatever you like but we’ve been eating it plain, and I’m not one to ever order plain cheesecake. It’s that good.

Perfect Cheesecake
Yields 1
Creamy and delicious cheesecake that can be eaten topped with pretty much anything or absolutely plain.
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For the crust
  1. 1.5 packages of graham crackers (about 14 crackers)
  2. 6 Tbsp. sugar
  3. 1/2 cup melted butter
For the filling
  1. 3 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
  2. 1.5 cups sugar
  3. 4 eggs, separated
  4. 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  5. 1 tsp. vanilla
For the crust
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and cover the outside of the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with aluminum foil.
  2. Crush graham crackers by placing in a plastic bag and rolling over with a rolling pin until fine crumbs are formed.
  3. Add graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter to a medium sized bowl and mix with a fork until all crumbs are uniformly moist.
  4. Transfer mixture to springform pan and press evenly against bottom and sides with a measuring cup to form crust.
For the filling
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine cream cheese, sugar, 4 egg yolks, lemon juice, and vanilla.
  2. In another bowl, beat 4 egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into cream cheese mixture until thoroughly combined.
  3. Pour filling mixture into crust and cook in 325 degree F oven for 35 minutes.
  4. Without opening the door, turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake for another hour.
  5. Transfer cooked cheesecake to the freezer for several hours before serving.
Notes
  1. Serving Tip: About 15 minutes before serving, take cheesecake out of freezer and slice with a knife after running it under hot water. Cheesecake is much easier to slice while partially frozen.
Adapted from Stephanie from Plain Chicken Blog
Count the Happies http://countthehappies.com/

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Hope you guys love it as much as we do! Let me know if you try it and how it goes. Also, if you want to wish John a Happy Birthday, please do so on the Count the Happies Blog wall on Facebook. I’d be happy to relay the message and I’m sure he’d appreciate the love 

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