I am not a professional chef. I do not hold a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu, nor have I been an understudy to the most prestigious chefs in history. I am, however, a seasoned military spouse and hold a degree in Homemade Meals 101… cooking and baking up recipes for my Air Force husband. Add on producing meals for two of the pickiest kids around, and presto, I have my own virtual cooking show.
Growing up, my mother (who was also a military spouse) made the kitchen her second office. Most children have parents who beg them to go to the library. This was not the case with me. My mother’s cookbook collection was my library. I remember spending countless hours thumbing through and reading all those recipes that graced our family table every night. I never imagined I would someday be in her shoes and that those same cookbooks would follow me into adulthood.
My husband and I married 11 years ago. The words “I Do” didn’t even have a chance to marinate before he was off to prior service orientation for the Air Force (having served five years in the Army before we met) and then off to complete eight months of tech school. Our first anniversary was spent over the phone (there was no such thing as Skype back then) as we opened the gifts we mailed each other a few weeks before. Eventually PCS time came and before we knew it, we were heading to our first duty station. The night before we were due to leave, my mother took me aside and suggested I take as many of her cookbooks as possible, telling me that I would need them on our new journey as a military couple. Boy was she ever right!
Our move took us to a base that was 17 hours away from my parents by car… 5 hours away by plane. While we were on the road, I started thinking, “Who is going to cook for us on the weekends? What will we do without all those homemade meals to get us through the week?” I knew how to make the basics, but I was definitely not America’s Next Top Chef. I pictured myself standing in our future kitchen, wooden spoon in one hand, holding a cookbook in the other, all the while staring at an overflowing pot of boiling water on our stove.
Eating at restaurants or having my husband cook the meals just seemed easier. A few months into our new life, though, I discovered neither of those choices were going to be sustainable. Not to mention, Hamburger Helper and Ramen were wearing out their welcome. Once I realized this, I decided to deal with things head on. If there was an onion to be chopped, I would chop it. If there were noodles to be boiled, I would boil them. And darn it, if there was a chicken to be roasted, I would roast it.
I studied my mother’s cookbooks like I was back in high school studying for the SAT. When payday rolled around, I scoured eBay for the cheapest deals on any four- and five-ingredient cookbooks I could get my hands on. Dare I say I was turning into my mother?
My newfound positive attitude couldn’t have come at a better time because this was also around the time my husband and I started attending barbecues and get-togethers. I volunteered to make most of the desserts for these special events and figured this would be the perfect time to test out some recipes on everyone.
That is how I came across this recipe. It was the first dessert I ever made, for the first barbecue we attended, at our first duty station. The recipe stuck with us for years in our little, tight-knit group of friends… and before each barbecue someone would always request these bars to be made. When I make these now, I think back to that time in our lives when we were just starting out and I was a new military spouse trying to chase away her culinary fears. It always makes me smile to see how far I have come.
As for my mother’s cookbooks, I still have them. They represent a timeline of my life and my marriage… keepsakes that I will pass on to my children when they are old enough to understand, just as my mother did with me all those years ago J.
Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars
1 (30 oz.) pkg. of pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough (you can also use homemade dough)
2 (8 oz.) packages of regular cream cheese, at room temperature
1 egg (or egg substitute)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (or no-calorie sweetener)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. of caramel syrup (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut chocolate chip cookie dough in half.
3. Cover the bottom of an ungreased 13×9 inch baking pan or casserole dish with half of the dough, forming a crust.
4. Bake for 10 minutes.
5. While baking, beat the cream cheese, egg (or egg substitute), sugar (or no-calorie sweetener), vanilla, and caramel in a bowl until well blended.
6. Take the crust out and spread the cream cheese mixture on the top, being sure to cover the entire top. It will blend with the crust and this is ok 🙂
7. Take the other half of the cookie dough and crumble it on top of the cream cheese coating, being sure to cover it all.
8. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
9. Cool in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. Due to the cream cheese in the recipe, it is recommended that you store these in the fridge.
Libby’s Notes: You can also use other cookie dough flavors, instead of chocolate chip, like peanut butter, M&M, etc.