Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gingerbread Cheesecake

I hope you had a very merry Christmas!  The hubby and I spent last weekend visiting my family and returned home in time to spend Christmas Eve and day with his family in town.

We traditionally get together with my husband's family on Christmas Eve to enjoy dinner and to exchange presents among the "kids."  Then we have a more casual day on Christmas with breakfast, more gift exchanging and whatnot.

Lately I've been kind of in a cheesecake baking mood (I made a Maple Cheesecake for Thanksgiving and a Pumpkin Cheesecake soon after for a "Friendsgiving"), so I figured a Gingerbread Cheesecake would be the perfect dessert for Christmas Eve dinner with the hubby's family.  I had this Martha Stewart recipe in the back of my mind to try for a couple of years and was glad I finally did because it was both an adorable and delicious addition to dinner.

This cheesecake takes a little more effort than most, but the result is well worth the time put in.  The crust is make from a slab of baked, cooled, then crumbled homemade gingerbread and the finished cheesecake is topped with little homemade gingerbread men.

The original recipe suggests topping the cheesecake with six gingerbread men, but I thought that suggestion, while cute, was a little impractical (the gingerbread men would have to be removed prior to slicing/serving the cheesecake).  Instead I decided to make my gingerbread men on the miniature size, perfect to top each of twelve individual slices.

Of course, if you're in a hurry, you could always substitute a crust made of store bought gingersnaps for the homemade gingerbread crust.  And, while the homemade gingerbread men topping the cheesecake are adorable, they certainly aren't necessary.  If you do have the time to put some extra homemade touches on the cheesecake, these certainly give it a lot of character.

If you're having a late Christmas celebration and need a dessert to bring, this will surely bring a "wow" factor to the table.  Or you could file away the idea (perhaps to your Pinterest board of choice) for next year.  Either way, if you get a chance to make this cheesecake, you won't be sorry.

Gingerbread Cheesecake
via Munchkin Munchies, originally from Martha Stewart
serves 12

all-purpose flour, for dusting
Gingerbread Cookie dough (recipe below)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
12 mini gingerbread men (from recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Wrap the exterior of a 9-inch springform pan in 2 layers of foil.  Optional: before wrapping pan with foil, line bottom of springform pan with parchment paper (closing it in place with the locking mechanism) and spray pan with cooking spray.  This optional step making the cheesecake easier to slice and serve later on, but certainly isn't necessary.

On a generously floured piece of parchment paper, roll 1/2 of the Gingerbread Cookie dough into a 13-by-10-inch rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick.  Brush off excess flour.  Slide dough and parchment onto a baking sheet.  Bake until firm and golden brown, about 14 minutes.  Let cool completely on sheet on a wire rack.  Break into large pieces, then pulse in a food processor until finely ground.

Combine butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 cups cookie crumbs in a bowl.  Press mixture firmly and evenly into bottom and one-third of the way up sides of the prepared pan.  Bake until set, about 10 minutes.  Let cool on a rack.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Beat cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and the vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Reduce speed to low.  Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.  Beat in molasses, salt, spices, and lemon zest.  Pour the filling in the prepared and cooled crust.

Place cheesecake in a large, shallow roasting pan.  Transfer to the oven and carefully add enough water to the roasting pan to come about halfway up the sides of the springform pan.  Bake until cheesecake is set bull still slightly wobbly in the center, 60 to 65 minutes (mine took closer to 80 minutes).  Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool in the roasting pan until the water is lukewarm.  Remove the springform pan from the roasting pan and allow the cheesecake to further cool down to room temperature on a wire rack, about 1-2 hours.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours (preferably overnight).

Before serving, remove the cheesecake from the springform pan and slice into 12 servings using a hot knife (or even better heavy white thread or unflavored dental floss).  Arrange a miniature gingerbread man on each of the slices, and serve immediately.

Gingerbread Cookies
via Munchkin Munchies

*Note: You will use half the recipe to make a slab to use for the cheesecake crust.  Refrigerate the other half for 30 minutes then roll, cut into miniature gingerbread men, and bake for cheesecake decoration.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 large egg, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar, molasses and egg on medium speed until light and fluffy.  In the mean time, sift together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Once the butter mixture is ready, slowly add in the flour mixture, beating until just combined.

Roll half the dough immediately for the crust according to directions above.  Wrap the remaining half of the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.  On a floured surface, roll the chilled gingerbread men dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out gingerbread men using a small cookie cutter (one about 1 1/2 inch tall should be a good size to top each of 12 cheesecake slices).  Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes.  Let cool on pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Once cool, you can leave the gingerbread men plan or decorate them with royal icing or melted white chocolate (my preference).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 2012 GLOSSYBOX USA

The December GLOSSYBOX was all about essentials for the holiday party season.  "This luxurious, varied collection of favorites is your secret arsenal to keeping it glamorous, glitzy and glossy this holiday party season."

In the spirit of the holidays, this month's box came wrapped with festive tissue paper and a sweet red bow.  Opening the box felt like receiving an early Christmas present.  GLOSSYBOX packaging never fails to disappoint.

This month I received seven items in my GLOSSYBOX:

Forest Essentials Luxurious Ayurveda - Madurai Jasmine & Mogra Bath & Shower Oil ($22.00/6.8 oz)
This after-bath and shower moisturizer is a seductive blend of essential and all-natural oils formulated to leave your skin smooth, with a subtle, seductive scent.  Apply this oil on wet skin to seal in moisture.

Sample size: 3.38 oz.
Sample value: $10.94

Heartland Fragrance Co. - White Tea Bath Salts ($10.00/30 oz)
Indulge in healing aromatherapy with these 100% pure Epsom bath salts.  Treat yourself to a full body boost with these herb-infused accents in your bathing routine.  Use weekly to dramatically reduce tension and refresh your skin.

Sample size: 5.5 oz
Sample value: $1.83

mark. - Lipclick Luxe Lipstick in m.powerment petal ($12.00/0.106 oz)
This limited edition creamy rose lipstick not only is luminous and hydrating but was developed to raise awareness for a powerful women's cause.  Apply, close, then "click" with the magnetic metallic pink case that "clicks" every time you close it.

Sample size: 0.106 oz
Sample value: $12.00

Pleats Please by Issey Miyake - eau de toilette ($92.00/3.4 oz)
A fashion forward fragrance inspired by world renowned designer Issey Miyake's iconic Pleats Please ready-to-wear line.  Enjoy the effervescent, sensual, and addictive notes which embody the essence of joy, femininity, and elegance.

Sample size: 0.03 oz
Sample value: $0.81

Wella - Velvet Amplifier ($16.00/1.9 oz)
Prepare your hair for virtually any look with this velvety soft styling primer.  This concentrated serum improves manageability and amplifies control for smooth, responsive styling.

Sample size: 0.05 oz
Sample value: $0.42

Zoya - Nail Lacquer in Electra ($8.00/0.5 oz)
These uniquely ornate nail lacquers will transform your nails into jewels.  The long-wearing and toxin-free formula will keep your nails sparkling all season, and looking their glossy-best.

Sample size: 0.5 oz
Sample value: $8.00

JewelMint - Dahlia Blossom Ring ($29.99/piece)
Inspired by the runway, vintage jewelry and on-trend celebrity style, offers a versatile jewelry collection each month and recommends pieces that match your personal style.

Sample size: 1 ring
Sample value: $29.99

Total box value: $63.99

This month's GLOSSYBOX definitely held a wide variety of samples to try, but I'm not over-the-moon excited about any of the samples this month.  I have a sensitive nose (strong scents give me headaches) and, unfortunately, the scent of the perfume, bath salts, and bath & shower oil are all a little strong for my liking.  The mark. lipstick is nice, but the color reminds me a lot of the Kryolan for Glossybox lipstick from the September box and the ModelCo. lipstick from the October box (all are very similar neutral rosy shades-pretty and wearable, but a little boring month after month).  The Zoya polish is a  fantastic addition, though I do already own a few similar silver glitters in my large polish collection.  The inclusion of a JewelMint piece was fun and festive, though I expect a lot of folks will be receiving pieces that aren't exactly their style (which is my case here with this ring - it's a little more earthy and Southwestern than my usual retro, ladylike style).

All in all, I do think this month had a nice variety of products.  Unfortunately none of them happen to be entirely my cup of tea.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 2012 Glam Bag

The December Glam Bag was my second bag since resubscribing to Ipsy (formerly MyGlam).  The November bag absolutely thrilled me, so I was really excited to see what the December bag would include.  When it arrived, I certainly wasn't disappointed!

Inside a gunmetal gray makeup bag, my December Glam Bag included five samples and a bonus item for being an "influencer within the Ipsy community."  The samples included:

NYX - Ultra Pearl Mania Loose Eyeshadow in Mink Pearl ($3.00/0.06 oz)
It’s not hard to sparkle with one of NYX’s ultra-shimmering loose shadow powders that can be used on eyes, cheeks, even lips. These finely-milled mineral eye shadows are high-impact, long-lasting and a little addictive! Just the sparkle you need this holiday!

Sample size: 0.06 oz
Sample value: $3.00

Urban Decay - 24/7 Glide on Eye Pencil in Zero ($19.00/1.2 g)
Creamy, forever-lasting, award-winning and waterproof, 24/7 pencils delight you with lush tropical hues, deep metallics, and unusually vibrant neutrals. The best Eye Pencil ever, ever, ever! Never before has a pencil this creamy and brilliant been waterproof, too.

Sample size: 0.8 g
Sample value: $12.67

Mai Couture - Highlighter Papier in St. Barts ($28.00/50 sheets)
Add radiance to desired areas of your face and body. The shimmering highlighter paper from Mai Couture will illuminate any dullness for a glowing complexion. 

Sample size: 25 sheets
Sample value: $14.00

Mirabella - Prime for Face and Eyes ($29.00/12.85 g)
Prime for Face and Eyes weightless, oil-free formula glides onto help promote long-wearing makeup. Vitamin E works as an antioxidant to smooth out lines as it moisturizes and protects skin. Prime provides a silky feel to the skin as it aids in repairing cellular damage.

Sample size: 12.85 g
Sample value: $29.00

Be a Bombshell - Lipgloss in Hot Mess ($14.00/3 g)
The perfect holiday “true red” lip gloss that goes on sheer! Layer for a more opaque look. This formula instantly creates the look of fuller more voluptuous lips with luminous shine. This maximum-shine, moisturizing gloss will be perfect for any haute holiday party.

Sample size: 3 g
Sample value: $14.00

Bonus Item - Urban Decay Naked Skin Beauty Balm
Minimize pores, lines, wrinkles and redness instantly. Get significantly firmer, more lifted skin in 8 weeks. 

Not yet released!  Will be available exclusively on on January 8th.

Total bag value: $72.67

I'm thrilled with this bag and thought it had a really great assortment of products.  At first glace I was afraid the red Be a Bombshell lipgloss was a little too orangey to work on my skin tone, but it's absolutely lovely!  It looks gorgeous worn sheer and layers beautifully to reach more opacity.  I'll be reaching for this gloss all winter long.  I already own and enjoy the Urban Decay eye pencil in Zero.  I'll happily keep this as a back up or pass it along to a friend/family member for Christmas.  I haven't tried the NYX loose shadow, the Mai Couture highlighter, or the Mirabella primer yet, but look forward to it!

As for my first impression of the new, not-yet-released Urban Decay Naked Skin Beauty Balm...  I think this is a unique idea!  At first I thought the product was another take on BB Cream (Blemish Balm), but after having tried the product and reading the claims and descriptions in more detail, I realize it's purpose is a little different.  (As far as I can tell) The Urban Decay Naked Skin Beauty Balm only comes in one shade.  Unfortunately it's a little dark/yellow for super fair girls like myself; however, the product is sheer and can be worn under foundation so the shade shouldn't matter too much.  Unlike traditional BB Creams, the Naked Skin Beauty Balm is very sheer and offers little coverage (though if you have lovely skin, you could probably wear it alone).  What it does offer is a slew of skincare benefits.  The multitasking formula perfects, protects, treats, primes, and hydrates the skin.  In just 8 weeks, it claims to inhibit DNA damage, firm skin, improve elasticity and fight wrinkles.  While after a quick first time use, I certainly can't say how well the product lives up to these claims.  I can say that I found the product to have a pleasant, almost minty scent and thought it felt nice on the skin (undetectably really, even "Naked").

Would I purchase it?  Probably not.  I have very oily, acne-prone skin.  Due to active breakouts and post-acne scars, I need something with quite a bit of coverage which this product does not offer.  Because I have very oily skin, I also tend to try to avoid too many unnecessary steps between my skincare and foundation as I find the extra product tends to work against my makeup lasting.  That said, I would definitely recommend those with fairly nice skin who only need minimal coverage, or those looking for an anti-aging, reparative product to give this a try.  It's a unique concept and it was a definite perk to be able to give this a try before it's release!

December 2012 Birchbox

While I have to say I wasn't wowed my by December Birchbox, at least I'll probably use all the samples I received this month.  Having been subscribed to GLOSSYBOX for a few months now and having recently resubscribed to Ipsy (formerly MyGlam), I've been less and less impressed with my monthly Birchboxes by comparison.  I do still enjoy receiving my box each month, I just feel like you get a lot more product for your investment with the other services.

That said, my December Birchbox included the following samples:

Juicy Couture - Juicy Couture perfume ($90/3.4 oz)
Juicy's signature fragrance is a blend of sweet and floral notes.  Sophisticated and feminine, it's perfect for day or night.

Sample size: 0.05 oz
Sample value: $1.32

Mox Botanicals - Pomegranate & Fig Lip Butter ($16/0.2 oz)
This eco-chic balm (in an exclusive flavor!) revives lips with avocado oil and shea butter.

Sample size: 0.1 oz
Sample value: $8

Number 4 - Clarifying Shampoo ($32/250 ml)
Get over your lather addiction.  Gentle enough for everyday use, this unique cleanser features a low-suds formula that removes build-up without stripping hair of essential oils.

Sample size: 52 ml
Sample value: $6.66

theBalm Cosmetics - Hot Mama ($20/7.08 g)
How cute is this peachy blush?  The universally flattering pigment is laced with faint golden shimmer to add warmth to your complexion.

Sample size: 1 g
Sample value: $2.82

Beauty Extra - Tweezerman Filemate ($5/1 file)
There is no greater tragedy than a broken nail.  Keep this cute patterned file in your purse to fix mani mishaps.

Sample size: 1 file
Sample value: $5

Total box value: $23.80

Certainly not a fantastic month, but I like the assortment of samples I received this month better than those from the last several months.  I've found Birchbox pretty lackluster as a whole recently.  For the first year+ of my subscription, it seemed like every other box was pretty fantastic with a so-so box or a complete dud in between.  Now I feel like I'm lucky to get a so-so box.

Since receiving my December box, I've tried out the Juicy Couture perfume (it's okay, but I definitely prefer the lighter scent of the Viva la Juicy and La Fleur versions), the Mox Botanicals Lip Butter (it's a little thin and greasy feeling), and the Balm blush (reminds me a little of Nars' Orgasm, only more bronze - pretty but not the best shade for my fair pinky skin tone).  I've yet to try the Number 4 Clarifying Shampoo, so we'll see how that goes.  The Tweezerman file is a nice extra.  I appreciate that the extra is actually beauty related this month and this will be a nice little addition to my purse.

Overall, not a bad month but not fantastic either.  Come on, Birchbox, when are you going to wow me again?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

November 2012 GLOSSYBOX USA

The November GLOSSYBOX USA was full of products to "make you a standout among the crowd of little black dresses... and keep you looking fabulous from day to night."  Afterall, 'tis the season to be glossy, you should look your best!

My November GLOSSYBOX included the following samples:

1) Illamasqua - Lip & Eye Medium Pencil in Severe ($20/.05 oz)
Designed to glide over your skin and create a long-lasting highly pigmented finish, this creamy pencil lets you write a different story with every look.

Sample size: 0.035 oz
Sample value: $14

2) Incoco - Nail Polish Applique in Sinderella ($8/.08 oz)
A nail applique strip made of 100% real nail polish including base, color, and top coat for brilliant, long-lasting results.

Sample size: 0.08 oz
Sample value: $8.00

3) Kryolan for GLOSSYBOX - Blusher in Glossy Rosewood ($9/2.5 g)
The micronized pigments in this semi-transparent cream powder allow for a vivid yet light application.  Perfect for the cheeks and can be used on the eyelids too.

Sample size: 2.5 g
Sample value: $9

4) NuMe Style - Arganics by NuMe Argan Oil ($59/4 oz)
A perfect compliment to any hair and skin care regiment, this Argan Oil is rich in Vitamin E and other beneficial fatty acids.

Sample size: 10 ml
Sample value: $4.99

5) Skin & Co Roma - Truffle Serum: Hydro-Toning Day Face Serum ($36/1.01 oz)
Give your face a boost and slow down the signs of aging using this Italian serum infused with Peptides, pure extracts of Tuber Melanosporum and Hyaluronic Acid.

Sample size: 0.50 oz
Sample value: $17.82

Total box value: $53.81

I had a few issues with my GLOSSYBOX this month.  First, when my box arrived, it was missing the NuMe Argan Oil.  After contacting GLOSSYBOX, they happily sent a replacement for the missing product.  My other major complaint was that I received the exact same blusher that I had gotten in my October box.  Personally, I don't believe that any subscription service should send repeat products to customers, ESPECIALLY two months in a row!  When I contacted GLOSSYBOX about the missing Argan Oil, I complained about the repeat blush and requested another sample be sent; however, they claimed they couldn't/wouldn't send a replacement.  In my opinion, they really should have done something to fix this mistake.

Other than those issues (the first I've really experienced since signing up with the company), I was pretty pleased with my box.  I've never tried nail polish appliques, so I'm curious to try these from Incoco.  I received some from them in a past Birchbox, but they were a hideous pattern and I gave them to a friend.  The ones I received in my GLOSSYBOX are a very lovely red with a subtle shimmer.  They'll be perfect for the holidays.  When I first looked at the Illamasqua pencil I received, I thought it was a brown eyeliner, which was disappointing as I have a TON of neutral eyeliners.  Fortunately, after swatching it on my hand, I saw that it was actually a gorgeous deep berry lip pencil!  This will definitely come in handy with some of the dark berry lipsticks I have been enjoying this fall.

November 2012 Birchbox

Unfortunately I'm terribly late posting this, my November Birchbox.  I was sick for a few weeks in November and just fell behind in blogging so my November Birchbox and GLOSSYBOX posts are a few weeks late.  Better late than never?

The November Birchbox was "all about giving: giving thanks, giving back, and of course giving treats."  I think Birchbox was aiming to include gift-worthy products for the month; however, as usual, the theme seemed a little silly and forced.

My November 2012 Birchbox included the following samples:

Atelier Cologne - Rose Anonyme Cologne Absolue ($75/30 ml)
Thanks to spicy ginger and a touch of bergamot, this sexy new rose scent is more sophisticated than sweet.

Sample size: unknown (~1.5 ml)
Sample value: unknown (~$3.75)

Lulu Organics - Lavender + Clary Sage Hair Powder ($30/4 oz)
Revive second-day locks by working this organic dry shampoo into your roots.  You'll get plenty of lift, but no residue.

Sample size: 5 g
Sample value: $1.35

Miracle Skin Transformer - Vanish Instant Imperfection Corrector ($58/1 oz)
Before applying makeup, prep skin with this serum-infused primer, which has optical diffusers that mask imperfections.

Sample size: 0.1 oz
Sample value: $5.80

ModelCo - Fibre Lashxtend Lengthening Mascara ($24 for full size)
Falsies without the fuss.  This innovative mascara uses tiny lash-extending fibers to give you a lengthy fringe.  Tip: rotate the wand inside the bottle to pick up the fibers.

Sample size: unknown (presumably full size)
Sample value: unknown (presumably $24)

Lifestyle Extra - Chuao Chocolatier Chocopod ($7.95/7 pack)
These bite-sized artisanal treats are made with premium Venezuelan cacao and come in a range of unexpected flavors.

Sample size: 1 pack
Sample value: $1.14

Total box value: ~$36.04

I was pretty happy with the samples I received in my November Birchbox.  I've only tried a few of the products so far, including the mascara which, honestly, wasn't my favorite (the fibers make my lashes look like they were covered in lint).  I'm curious to try the dry shampoo and the primer.
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