Christy Denney was living away from family when she received the devastating news that her sister had passed away. As she tried to cope with the loss, she found the peace and connection to family she was craving in an unusual place—a cherry cheese pie.
Hot gingerbread cooling on the rack, fresh pumpkin pies resting on the counter, and sugar cookies patiently waiting to be decorated are good signs that the holiday season has arrived. And while these traditional treats will delight taste buds, familiar foods can also represent something deeper: a connection to home and family. Finding such a connection was what carried Latter-day Saint Christy Denney through one of the darkest times of her life and then changed the course of her future.
In 2008, Christy, her husband, John, and their two children were living in Florida, where John played in the NFL as a long snapper for the Miami Dolphins. A native of Mesa, Arizona, Christy was shocked to receive the devastating news that her sister had unexpectedly passed away.
“It really shook me to the core. I was away from family . . . trying to cope and make sense of it all,” Christy says. In her grief, she began looking for a way to feel closer to family.
“I made this cherry cheese pie that my sisters and I used to all make for Thanksgiving. [We would] hide in the corner and eat it with just a fork, all of us, because we thought, ‘The guys don’t appreciate this.’ I’ve had that pie ever since I can remember,” she says.
It was through making that pie that Christy felt an assurance of peace and connection to her family for the first time since the news of her sister’s death. “It was just such a comfort to me to make that recipe. That’s why I started making recipes and sharing them—just hoping other people could feel that way about food,” she says.
After that experience, Christy began building a food blog, giving it a name she feels sums up her relationship with food: The Girl Who Ate Everything. While she had previously enjoyed baking, Christy didn’t have any experience creating recipes or writing blog posts. What she did have, however, was a computer science degree from Brigham Young University, which proved useful in building her website.
“Looking back at my computer science background and my love of food, I feel like Heavenly Father helped me meld the two together. I couldn’t [have] come up with a better situation,” she says.
Over the next two years, The Girl Who Ate Everything became popular enough to attract the attention of food brands, including General Mills. The company reached out to Christy and hired her to do freelance writing and recipe development. She was also invited twice to the General Mills world headquarters in Golden Valley, Minnesota.
In 2014, Christy did something she never thought was possible: She published a cookbook, Easy Family Recipes from a Girl Who Has Tried Them All, with over 100 original recipes.
“I learned so much along the way, and I had to really put myself out there, [but] to have something physical that I could hold was really a cool accomplishment—mostly for my mom,” Christy jokes.
Along her journey, Christy has been featured in a number of major media outlets, including The Atlantic, Reader’s Digest, Country Living, Huffington Post, and Good Housekeeping. Today her blog receives between four and five million views a month, and she has 867,000 followers on Facebook, 500,000 on Pinterest, and over 50,000 on Instagram.
But while Christy firmly believes Heavenly Father led her on this journey into the food world, she receives a lot of advice urging her to not share her faith online.
“They always tell you, all the bloggers, ‘Do not mix your faith with your food blogging. People don’t want to hear it. That’s a no-no [and] you are going to drive people away,’” she explains. “But I have always felt that any platform that I have I should use for good. And President Nelson has been great about encouraging us to use social media [for good] and I’ve never hesitated in doing that. . . . When I go to the temple, I post about it. When I am making recipes for a Relief Society event, I post about it.”
For Christy and her family, sharing the gospel isn’t about pushing anything on people, but being an example of people who live their faith.
“People pay attention to what you do. . . . I’m just living my life in a way that is authentic to me and to my faith. I don’t even think twice about it,” she says.
Christy enjoys sharing her beliefs with people who reach out to her online after seeing gospel-related posts. Her husband, John, was also an example of living his faith during his time with the Miami Dolphins from 2005 to 2019. Christy says that just before another player left the team, he approached John and said, “Okay, I need to know all about you. I will never forget you. What is your story? Why are you the way you are?”
A year after John was released from the Dolphins, the Denneys, whose ranks had grown to include five children, left Florida and moved to Utah to be closer to family. Now, Christy is thrilled about the release of her second cookbook, Scrumptious. She hopes this cookbook will help meet busy families’ needs while creating lasting memories.
“I always ask my readers what they are looking for, what is most important to [them]: ‘Is it a fabulous dessert you can bring to a potluck?’” she says. “But over and over I hear, ‘We don’t have time [to cook], we just need to get dinner on the table.’ I feel like this cookbook really addresses that lack of time but [also the desire] to still have a great family dinner where everyone can sit around and talk.”
Christy says none of the recipes in her book are time-consuming or hard. She even has a section dedicated to delicious dinners that can be cooked on just one baking sheet. Other pages share some of John’s favorite game-day dishes, like Jalapeno Popper Bread and Garlic Parmesan Wings.
Perhaps within the book’s pages families will find the recipes their children will look forward to year after year. They may even find a smell, taste, or tradition to rely on in a difficult time—the same way Christy once did with a cherry cheese pie. To help families on their way, Christy has shared her beloved Cherry Cheese Pie recipe, as well as two recipes from Scrumptious to try out this holiday season. Find the full recipes below.
Cherry Cheese Pie
Prep: 10 minutes | Total: 10 minutes | Serves 8
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 (9-ounce) graham cracker crust
- 1 (21-ounce) can cherry pie filling
1. In large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. If your cream cheese isn’t soft enough you will get lumps. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Mix in lemon juice and vanilla until WELL combined. This is important so that it is combined enough and will firm up.
2. Pour into graham cracker crust and chill at least 3 hours. Pour on cherries (you might not need all of them) and chill before serving.
Sheet Pan Mac & Cheese
Prep: 5 minutes | Cook: 30 minutes | Serves 12
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1. Position cooking rack in upper third of oven. Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray an 18×13-inch sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Pasta will continue to cook in oven. Drain and set aside.
3. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Sprinkle flour on top and cook for about 1 minute.
4. Slowly whisk in milk and cream. Stir in Dijon mustard and paprika. Cook until mixture thickens, about 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Remove from heat. Stir in 3 cups cheddar cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, and drained pasta until well combined. Pour into prepared pan in an even layer.
6. In a small bowl, combine panko breadcrumbs and remaining cup cheddar cheese. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture on top of pasta.
7. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and breadcrumbs are golden brown.
Raspberry Cream Cheese Puff
Prep: 15 minutes | Cook: 20 minutes | Makes 16 puffs
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 20 raspberries, divided
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Thaw puff pastry on counter while you make filling.
2. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar together. Add milk and vanilla. Mix until blended. Add 4 raspberries and mix until just broken up.
3. Once puff pastry is thawed enough to bend and be workable, place it on a clean surface. Cut into 16 equal squares.
4. Dollop 1 teaspoon cream cheese mixture in the center of each square. Place 1 raspberry in the center of the filling. Fold up corners, pressing them into the sauce. With a pastry brush, brush beaten egg on top of puffs.
5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until puffs are golden brown. Let cool while you make glaze.
6. In a small bowl, whisk together all glaze ingredients. Add more milk if needed. Drizzle on top of puffs. Best served warm.