Monday, May 11, 2015

My Sopapilla Awakening

When I was a child, I was an extremely picky eater. When we went to places like the Olive Garden, a Japanese steakhouse, or even a sub-par fast food join in my eyes, my parents always had to bring in a McDonald's Happy Meal for me. I would eat most things my mother made at home, except green beans. She would regularly tell me I wasn't getting dessert until I finished them, so I would take ten minutes to eat two green beans while hiding the rest under my chair. By the time she had realized what happened, I had licked the plate clean and fled the dining room...if I had a dog as a young child, I probably could've gotten away with this more than twice. I was also a painfully shy child, and if I wasn't related to you, I hid behind the nearest parent while they conversed with you. In all honesty, I acted much like a feral cat as a child where food and strangers were involved- when no one was looking, I might creep up, take a tiny bite, and run away until the strangers left or come back for more bites if I actually liked the food (I also became very good at hiding under tables due to this). When we would stay with my dad on weekends, he would go through his regular rotation of things I found acceptable to eat- fish sticks, hot dogs, sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese. But if it was a long weekend, my dad generally tried to avoid feeding my sister and me macaroni and cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (4-year-old me and 28 year-old-me still think of this as the Holy Grail of menu planning), so we would go out to eat at one of the few places I found tolerable- Shakey's Pizza or El Chico's. I was always OK with pizza because I saw the merits of putting tons of cheese on top of bread and heating it up, and I liked El Chico's because they had curly fries and Jello (Hindsight- what the hell kind of Mexican restaurant is this?). Since I was too shy to talk to servers, my sister always ordered me the same thing I wanted, but she and my dad always tried to get me to take a few bites of their food or dessert...Jello couldn't sustain me forever, after all. On probably the fiftieth request, I finally caved in and tried a little bit of a sopapilla. The second it hit my tongue, I am positive my pupils dilated and my quest to eat everything sugary-sweet began. The sopapilla actually opened me up to trying other "Mexican" food like Taco Bell, and I consider it a gateway into not being afraid to embrace the better TexMex cuisine I have become so obsessed with. So when one of D's friends hosted a belated Cinco de Mayo party (aptly titled Ocho de Mayo as it was hosted on May 8), I knew I had to bring my sopapilla cheesecake bars to try to enlighten as many people as possible.

Te amo. Te amo mucho.
I adore these. Know who else adored these? The entire party. I made a whole sopapilla cheesecake and ended up cutting the bars to half the size above to make more bars for people. The whole tray was almost entirely demolished before dinner was even served. After dinner, well, I took an empty plate home two hours after I had arrived. To say these were a hit is like saying people like free stuff- it's just a damn fact. But what's best about these? It's a Pillsbury recipe I tinkered around with, and it only takes like fifteen minutes to make. SO SIMPLE that you too can be the life of the fiesta, or just make your family love you that much more.
Make sure you get original crescent rolls and not garlic butter crescents....

You are a mere few ingredients and simple steps away from a sopapilla awakening, my dear friend. Here's what you need:
  • 2 rolls of original or reduced fat crescent rolls (you can also just get the crescent sheets, which would be way easier, but the commissary didn't have any- whomp, whomp)
  • 2 8 ounce blocks of cream cheese (you can use reduced fat cream cheese, but...real cream cheese is just where it's at with cheesecake)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/4 cup of melted butter
  • Cinnamon and sugar mixed together for topping (I used 3 tablespoons sugar to 3/4 tablespoon of cinnamon)
Lightly grease a 9x13 pan and preheat the oven to 350. Take one tube of crescents and press them into the pan. Make sure you've pressed the seams together if you're using the rolls and not just the crescent sheet.
Mix together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in a stand mixer. Spread it on top of the first layer of crescents until everything is covered evenly. Doesn't have to be perfect, but somewhat level is a good goal to aim for.

Roll out some Parchment paper or flour your counter top and open up the second tube of crescents. Even things out and pinch together the seams before transferring to the top of the cheesecake mix.
Ahem, rotate your computer screen, and then use your hands to continue to pinch together the seams in any areas that came loose while transferring.
Place the melted butter in one bowl and the cinnamon sugar in another.
This right here- you will hear angels singing. Spread the melted butter as evenly as you can on top of the top crescent sheet, and then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top. I used a spoon and flung the mix on top of the butter. Certainly doesn't have to be perfect because it is gonna look good no matter what after you bake it at 350 for 25 minutes.
Told you so. Now let your cheesecake set in the fridge for a few hours or the freezer for one so you can cut them into bars.
I think this initially made 12 pretty decently large bars, but I did end up cutting everything in half and some into quarters again to feed the masses. You can keep these chilling in the fridge for as long as they last, but when you have them out on a table for people to eat, they will be gone before the cheesecake can even get to room temp. I promise.
My tribute to the greatness that is the sopapilla- 5 easy ingredients and 15 minutes of prep work. And there you have it- how one tiny little delicious piece of sugary-fried dessert took me from only being able to eat at McDonald's to experiencing what places other than the Golden Arches had to offer. I'd like to think that thanks to the sopapilla, I learned I could be a much braver little girl and not a feral kid cat. It took a few years, but I began eating most things or at least was not afraid to try them, and at the age of 9 or 10, I finally started speaking up and placing my own orders at restaurants instead of having my sister do it for me. I found my voice after that...and have not stopped talking since. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Thanks for the delicious cinnamon-sugar and sometimes honey-laden memories, sopapilla cheesecake bars.

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