Every year I have this dilemma.  I start rummaging through my hundreds of recipes, cookbooks and foodie magazines seeking inspiration for the big meal, the meal of all meals, THANKSGIVING DINNER!  Why I even spend time doing this is a mystery to me because there are absolutes that I MUST make every year or my family will revolt.  I guess I should feel flattered that they like what I’m putting out there that much but sometimes you just want to mix it up a little.  Except when you do and then it’s not as good as what you were doing before, you feel like a schmuck and wish you would have stuck with what works.

Well, after spending almost a whole day last weekend watching The Food Network with my 7-year old aspiring chef of a middle daughter, we have decided to mix it up a bit on the desserts but keep all the other old favorites.  Sounds like a winning compromise.  Except for the fact that I can’t decide which dessert to make, they all sound so good!  I posted my top three selections as my status on facebook one day and got so much feedback, I promised to blog all three recipes.  I think I’m going with the Pumpkin Cheesecake and the Pumpkin Rum Pie.  Let me know what you decide! 

  Pumpkin Rum Pie

(this is from Paula Deen and Johnnie Gabriel)

1 (9-inch) premade- pie shell

1 (15 ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided

1/3 cup sour cream

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

pinch ground cloves

pinch ground nutmeg

pinch salt

2 Tbsp. dark rum

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup Praline Pecans, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Partially bake the pie shell, according to the package directions. 

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the pumpkin puree, eggs, brown sugar, melted butter, 1 1/2 cups of the cream, sour cream, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, dark rum and vanilla.  Pour into the shell.  Bake for 10 minutes,  and then reduce the heat to 300 degrees.  Continue baking for 35-45 minutes.  Cool to room temperature and refrigerate until ready to serve.

With the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, whip the remaining cup of heavy cream on high-speed until the cream starts to froth.  Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and whip on high until the cream stands in peaks. Either spoon or pipe the whipped cream around the edges of the pie and garnish with Praline Pecans.

Praline Pecans

2 Tbsp. butter

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans

In a small skillet, melt the butter and sugar over medium heat.  Add the pecans, stirring until bubbly; about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and pour onto aluminum foil.  When the pecans are cool, crumble into small pieces and sprinkle the topping on top of the whipped cream.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

Crust

30 gingersnap cookies

6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Filling

4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature

2 cups sugar

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

2 Tbsp. flour

2 tsps. vanilla

3 eggs

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Add the gingersnaps to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until crumbly.  Transfer to a large bowl and add the melted butter.  Stir until evenly mixed.  Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with 3-inch sides.  A cool trick I learned on the Food Network is to take your flat-bottomed measuring cup, wrap it in plastic wrap and use it to press the mixture into the pan.  Your hands don’t get dirty and it does a very even, nice job of it!  Bake the crust until golden brown, about 10 minutes.   Remove from oven and let cool completely while you prepare the filling.

Change oven temperature to 450 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Mix in the sugar, flour, salt, spices and vanilla to blend.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stir in pumpkin and blend.  Add sour cream and blend thoroughly.  

*I have never baked this particular cheesecake recipe in a water bath but saw it on the Food Network and decided to update this recipe with this technique because you certainly don’t want cracks in your beautiful cheesecake!

Wrap the sides and bottom of the springform pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Pour the filling into the prepared pan, smooth the top and put it in a small roasting pan.  Pour hot water into the roasting pan, filling halfway up the sides of the springform pan, about 1 1/2 inches.  Bake in 450 oven for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 250 and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes longer.  Turn off oven; cool completely in oven with door ajar.  Chill for at least 4 hours before serving. 

The Neelys (Food Network again) served their version of Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Cinnamon Whipped Cream that sounded yummy.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream, chilled

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Pour the heavy cream into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until thick and frothy.  Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and cinnamon and beat until medium peaks form. 

Apple Pear Cranberry Pie

Your favorite double pie crust recipe (try my Short Pastry under desserts/tarte tatin)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. ground cardamom or cinnamon

3 medium apples, such as Macintosh

3 ripe but firm pears, such as Bartlett

1 cup fresh cranberries

3 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 400.  In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar and cardamom or cinnamon.  Set aside.  Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/4-inch thick wedges.  Peel and core the pears, cutting the wedges slightly thicker.  Add the fruit, including the cranberries,  to the flour mixture.  Toss gently to coat.  Pour filling into prepared pie crust and dot with butter pieces.  Top with your 2nd rolled out piece of pie dough and crimp edges to seal.  Prick with a fork or cut out a decorative design in the center of the dough to vent while cooking.  Bake 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue baking until pastry is golden brown and fruit is bubbly about 35-40 minutes.  Serve with ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

 

 

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Soccer cupcakes

Chocolate-Cream Cheese Cupcakes (adapted from Nordstrom Friends and Family Cookbook)

 

Filling

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (3 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (I like to use the mini)
 
Batter
1/2 cup (3 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup water
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard-sized muffin pan with paper liners.  To make the filling, in a bowl, using a wooden spoon, mix together the cream cheese, sugar, egg, salt and chocolate chips until well blended.  Set aside.
 
To make the batter, melt the chocolate chips using your preferred method (I follow the microwave directions on the bag or you can use the double boiler method).  Set aside to cool.
 
In another bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.  In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, egg and vanilla.  Stir in the melted chocolate.  Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and stirring until smooth.  Spoon batter into each of the prepared muffin cups, filling them half full.  Spoon about 2 Tbsp. of the filling into each cup and top with the remaining batter. 
 
Bake the cupcakes until they are puffed, slightly cracked on top, and baked through, 20-23 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool slightly.  These are wonderful served warm with or without frosting but they also work great just out of the fridge or served at room temperature.  Makes approx. 16 cupcakes                                      
 
Cream-Cheese Frosting (enough for 24 cupcakes or a 2-layer cake)
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 
5-6 cups confectioners’ sugar*
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
juice of 1 lemon (optional)
 
Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.  Slowly sift in confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated.  Mixture should be free of lumps.  Stir in vanilla and lemon if you use it.  Tint if desired.
 
*I don’t like my cream cheese frosting super sweet so I only use 5 cups but it works either way. 

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Can someone tell me when snacks become such a huge part of childrens organized sports? It seems as if someone somewhere along the line sent out a national mandate about snacks where kids athletics are involved.

Each parent must provide a really good (the definition of good will be in most cases determined by your child and accompanied with whining about how so and so’s mom brought cheetos, so in other words junky) snack and drink for every player for at least one game during the season.

I’m really not complaining because I like to bake, cook, etc., but I’m just curious and (forgive me) about to get on my soap box just a teensy bit… I wasn’t hugely involved in team sports as a kid but I did do my time playing Park and Rec basketball (yes, my nickname was Scrappy), Pop Warner cheeerleading for years, high school cheerleading (it wasn’t really a sport then, it is now). But I’m pretty sure that parent-provided team snacks were not part of the deal back then. What happened? Can kids not go for more than 1 hour without eating anymore?

Maybe that’s part of our childhood obesity epidemic. Even the kids that are running around getting some exercise are fueling up afterward with Krispy Kreme doughnuts (yes, two different parents brought these as a “snack” to my daughters soccer game) and sugary juice or “sports” drinks. I don’t know about you but after I run or exercise, if I can even stomach the thought of eating it certainly isn’t going to be a fried piece of sugar dough that I want to put in my body. Water good. Fruit great. Protein, even better.

I am really not anti-snack nor anti-goodies. Promise. I just really believe in moderation and I’m pretty sure doughnuts and juice are the greatest post-game snack. Nor do I like the idea that we are rewarding kids for doing something fun and physical with the promise of not so great for you food at the end. These kids (mine included) seem to play the game FOR the snack! There’s just something not so good about that. It seems we’re getting them started for a lifetime of looking at food as a reward when instead it should simply be fuel for our bodies. Now you know I don’t mean that fuel shouldn’t taste really good, because I do not by any stretch of the imagination think you have to sacrifice flavor for health.

My point here is simply if providing a snack is indeed part of being a soccer mom/football dad, maybe we should all try and do our part and make sure what we are giving are somewhat healthy snacks and drinks. I know just as well as anyone, life is crazy busy and not everyone has the time or desire to make homemade snacks. Cheese sticks are great. Fruit – bananas you don’t even have to cut them up. Low sugar granola bars with no High Fructose Corn Syrup please. Pretzels. Shoot, throw a cookie out there but balance it out with some fruit or carrot sticks. Water makes a wonderful post game drink. I just really don’t think doughnuts belong anywhere near an athletic field. Maybe if we all banded together and stuck with it, they wouldn’t even miss the junk and soon be begging us for carrot sticks.  One can dream.

To prove I am not a complete snack nazi (no snack for you!), I’m going to post the recipe for the cookies I brought when it was my turn for soccer snack for one daughter and the cupcakes I baked for the soccer party at the end of the season. They are not healthy whatsoever.  But they are homemade so at least I know what’s in them and none of it is an ingredient  I can’t pronounce or spell.  R requested our special “Brown Sugar Cookies” that have become our signature cookie together. I don’t blame her for wanting to share these with her teammates. These are darn good cookies. But to temper the fact that we were bringing cookies for a snack, we also brought cut up orange wedges and bottled water for all the girls.

And the cupcakes, well, what’s an end of the season soccer party without cupcakes?  It is a party after all!

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If you love caramel and/or butterscotch, these cookies are for you.  I truly think these are one of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted.  America’s Test Kitchen recipes are the bomb!  Failproof and delicious.

Brown Sugar Cookies (from America’s Test Kitchen, Cookie Jar Favorites)  makes 2 dozen cookies

14 Tbsp. (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups packed brown sugar (make sure to use fresh so the cookies won’t be dry)
2 cups plus 2 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
 
Heat 10 Tbsp. of butter in a 10-inch skillet (don’t use a non-stick or dark interior – it will be too hard to gauge the color) over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes.  Continue to cook, swirling the pan constantly until the butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes.  Watch it constantly as you want it browned, not burnt.  Remove the skillet from heat and transfer the browned butter to a large heatproof bowl.  Stir the remaining 4 Tbsp. butter into the hot butter to melt; set aside for 15 minutes. 
 
Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 large (18×12) baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a shallow baking dish or pie plate, mix the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of the packed brown sugar, rubbing between your fingers, until well combined; set aside.  Whisk the flour, baking soda and baking powder together in a medium bowl; set aside.
 
Add the remaining 1 3/4 cups brown sugar and salt to the bowl with the cooled butter.  (Be prepared to take a moment to inhale the most divine caramel, butterscotch fragrance ever.)  Then mix until no sugar lumps remain, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula; add the egg, yolk and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down the bowl.  Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined, about 1 minute.  Give the dough a final stir with the rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and the ingredients are evenly distributed.  I’m not advocating eating raw cookie dough but this dough is amazing (disclaimer:  do so at your own risk)!
 
Divide the dough into 24 portions, each about 2 Tbsp., rolling them between your hands into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Working in batches, toss the balls in the reserved sugar mixture to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart,12 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but it will take 3 batches.)
 
Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are browned and still puffy and the edges have begun to set but the centers are still soft (the cookies will have a raw look between the cracks and seem underdone), 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking.  Do not overbake and do not judge these cookies by their color – they are dark already.  When they are done, if you press on a cookie, it will form an indentation with slight resistance.  Err on the side of underdone.
 
Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes; using a wide spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool to room temperature…if you can wait that long!
I’m going to post the cupcake and frosting recipe under a separate entry titled Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcakes.

 

A Taste of Fall

October 16, 2009

Sure the dropping temperatures, shorter days and falling leaves are all tell-tale signs that autumn is upon us and winter isn’t far behind.  But for me, nothing says fall better than the air in my home redolent with the comforting fragrance of pumpkin bread, maple-glazed brussel sprouts or my new (old) favorite, Tarte Tatin. 

Sweet, gooey carmelized apples with a rich buttery crust.  Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or pure whipped cream.  Simply divine.  This recipe allows the pure, sweet flavor of the apples to be the star of the show.  Or the “Elstar” rather.

The kids and hubby went apple picking in Spokane a few weeks back and brought home the most wonderfully perfect apples for my Tarte Tatin or any other apple dessert for that matter.   Since they bought a whole box home I have been on a mission to showcase these gems appropriately.  Our favorite of the harvest is called the Elstar apple.  And it’s delicious! 

 I did a little research and found out that Elstar’s are decendants of the Golden Delicious.  I can vouch for the fact that they have a honeyed sweet taste and while crunchy, they aren’t necessarily crisp or hard.  Their skin (as you can see) is mostly blush-red and they have a lemony-white flesh.  Yum!elstar apple

Here is my recipe for Tarte Tatin.  I hope you enjoy eating it as much as we have.  Now I’ve got to run (literally) to burn off the big ice cream topped slice I hoovered down last night!  Enjoy.

Tarte Tatin (recipe adapted from Judith Ets.Hokins Homechef Basic Cooking class)
 
4 oz. sugar (about 1 cup)
3 Tbsp. water
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
5 tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
1/2 lb. short pastry*
 
Preheat the oven to 375.  Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy skillet and cook over high heat until the sugar turns to a golden caramel.  Very carefully (the caramel will be very hot) pour the caramel into the bottom of an 8″ cake pan, tilting the pan so that the caramel coats the bottom.
 
Lay the apple slices over the caramel and dot with butter. 
 
Roll out the pastry about 1/4″ thick and about 2 inches larger than the pan.  Lay the pastry on top of the apples tucking it in around the edges. 
 
Bake the tart about 45 minutes until the crust is golden brown.  Allow the tart to cool about 30 minutes, then turn it out onto a serving platter, so that the crust becomes the base, with the caramelized apples on top.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Top with vanilla ice cream if desired. 
 
Basic Short Pastry (makes 1 lb. of dough)
 
8 oz. unbleached white flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
5 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces and chilled or frozen
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
4-6 Tbsp. cold water
 
This works really well in a food processor.  Combine the flour and salt.  Work the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly.  Add the lemon juice and then the water gradually, until the dough gathers together. 
 
If done in the machine you can use right away.  If not, flatten the dough, sprinkle with a little flour and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
 

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