Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake for a real post, although Mrs. Smith's is still the best pumpkin pie in my opinion. I tried this recipe for a Thanksgiving potluck in law school and made it again last week for a co-worker's birthday. I keep getting good reviews, so I guess that means it's a keeper. Try it and judge for yourself. :)

Pumpkin Cheesecake

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 14 ounce can pumpkin pulp
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Graham cracker crust

1. Prepare graham cracker crust according to box directions (graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar). I added a little bit of cinnamon to the crust or you could try using crushed cinnamon graham crackers. Press the crust mixture into the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

2. Preheat oven to 375.
3. In a mixer bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add sugar, cornstarch and vanilla. Mix well.
4. Add eggs and yolks all at once, beating on low speed until just combined.
5. Fold in cream, pumpkin pulp, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
6. Pour filling into the crust lined pan. Place on a shallow baking pan in oven. I also put a pan of water on the bottom shelf (just because people say to do that, but mine cracked anyways)
7. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the center appears nearly set when shaken.
8. Cool until room temperature, and then refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving (I like to give it overnight).
9. Drizzle with caramel sauce to serve (or any toppings you like)

Cutting tip: use plain dental floss or non-colored thread - makes really clean cuts!!

Post baking thoughts:
Mine came out with a HUGE crack in it (which gradually appeared as it cooled). Some suggestions given to me were: (1) bake it on a lower temperature, (2) bake it in a water bath, not just a pan in the bottom of oven, and (3) leave in oven for 1 hour without opening door after cooking (see my regular cheese cake directions). Hopefully yours will turn out prettier than mine!

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie is one of my all time favorite desserts. I can easily eat the whole thing and it is best with a mountain of cool whip on top. I prefer it cold, but go ahead and serve it warm if you must. My mom always made the best pumpkin pies and I think now is the time to share our secret family recipe. If you have been frantically searching for that perfect pumpkin pie recipe for tomorrow, look no further. You will be very amazed on how easy it is!!

Pumpkin Pie

1. Go to the grocery store, preferably with coupon in hand.
2. Pick up a Mrs. Smith's pumpkin pie.
3. Bake according to box directions.

I told you it was easy! I remember there used to be a pumpkin custard version, but this year I could only find the original. I was a little disappointed when I took the pie out of the box because they have definitely cut back on the size, but I guess this is Mrs. Smith's way of surviving the economy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I recently took a fondant class and afterwards decided it was time to try to make the real buttercream used by bakeries. It always intimidated me a little, but it is really rather easy. I wouldn't suggest attempting this if you don't have a stand mixer, your arm will be tired by the end! I have made two batches so far, one chocolate and the most recent an Andes mint chocolate (I had to know if it would be good and it is delicious in my opinion...can't wait to try it out on others - perhaps at Val's xmas party). It doesn't have a dark color to it, but that could possibly be due to the chocolate I used. Maybe black or brown food coloring would help deepen the color to fake the extra chocolately look, or using dark chocolate.

Chocolate Buttercream (adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe)

5 large egg whites - save the yolks for something else tasty
1 1/4 c granulated sugar
4 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate, or Andes mints, melted and cooled

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine egg whites and sugar. Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (double boiler style). Whisk continuously until mixture reaches 160 degrees, about 5 minutes.
The mixture will look white and fuller after the cooking period.
2. Transfer bowl to the stand mixer and beat egg whites on high until they become thick and fluffy and cooled (the bowl will no longer be warm to the touch). This will take about 10 minutes (I time it out) hence the importance of the stand mixer. :)
This is what it looks like after:
3. Reduce speed to medium and add in butter one tablespoon at a time.
4. Reduce speed to low and add in melted chocolate.
Here's a look at the melting of the Andes mints...I used the larger sized ones so there was less to unwrap. If not using mints, just use one bag of semisweet chocolate chips.
5. Up the speed to medium-high and mix until all incorporated, making sure to scrape sides of bowl.
6. Frost your favorite cake, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. After refrigeration, let frosting come to room temperature and re-whip with mixer before using.

I made a witch's hat cake for Halloween with my first batch of chocolate buttercream. Not the most perfect hat but it was fun to try! The Andes mint version is waiting in my fridge to be used on a birthday cake for friends this week. :)

Beef Stew

I attempted and successfully made my first beef stew recently. After calling my dad and getting his full instructions on how to make it stove-top, I found Jerrie's crockpot recipe and opted to use it instead. I hope you have a crockpot because you can make cooking easier and this is a delicious meal. Perfect for the yucky rainy and cold weather we have had lately.


2lb beef chuck roast (cubed)
1/4 c flour
1 t salt (we all know I put way more than this)
1/2 t pepper
2 beef bouillon cubes - dissolved into 2 c water
1 t worcestershire sauce
garlic powder
1 bay leaf
1 t paprika
Carrots (baby carrots work well, if using regular carrots chop into big pieces)
Onion, chopped
3 potatoes skinned and cubed

1. Place meat in crockpot.
2. Mix flour, salt, pepper together and stir with meat.
3. Add remaining ingredients and stir to mix well.
4. Cover and cook on low 10-12 hours, high for 4-6 hours.
5. I had to thicken the stew up a little and used cornstarch dissolved into water to do so...use your best judgement.

Ranch potatoes

These twice baked potatoes are courtesy of my M-I-L Jerrie. I adapted it by cutting out the actual refill of the potato skin and just putting the filling into a baking dish. She thinks this is horrible as the potato skin is her favorite part, but Kris and I would rather not eat the skin (I know it is packed with nutrients). This is a great way to add some extra flavor to your potatoes, and I typically eliminate the butter the recipe calls for to try to make it healthier.

6-8 Russet Potatoes
1 pkg Hidden Valley Ranch Dip
¾ can evaporated milk (I use the fat free)
1 stick butter (I eliminate this - maybe add a little extra sour cream or milk in exchange)
Small sour cream container
Grated cheddar cheese

1. Bake the potatoes, cool, scoop out
2. Mix all ingredients (except cheese) with potatoes and stuff into skin, or a baking dish if you want a shortcut
3. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese
4 Bake at 350 until hot

Apple Pie

I have neglected the blog lately and hope I still have readers! With Thanksgiving on the horizon I figure I should post about my favorite apple pie.

Kris' hands down favorite dessert is apple pie. To be honest, I had never really given apple pie a fair shot (aka decided I didn't like it) until I went home with Kris for the first time in college. Kris' mom baked an apple pie and my mom taught me to eat whatever your hosts put in front of you so I ate the pie. I'm not sure if that was a good or bad decision in this case, because now I like apple pie, although I can easily resist it unlike other desserts. Kris on the other hand could eat the whole pie if you let him.

Here is my go-to apple pie recipe. Since Kris is not a crust fan, I use a crumb topping instead of a double crust, but you could do either. As for the apples, I typically use a mixture of golden delicious, fuji, and gala. I really dislike granny smith apples because I am not a tart fan, but use whatever you like making sure to adjust the sugar if needed.

Apple pies are also made easy due to the handy apple pie peeler/cutter that we received as a wedding gift (along with a great pie dish that makes your crust look perfect). I highly recommend this tool and can't imagine having to actually peel and cut the apples by hand!
The apples look like this after using the peeler/ fabulous!

Apple Pie

8 cups of thinly sliced apples
1/3 to 2/3 c sugar (depending on your apples...I often opt for the full amount of sugar)
1/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
Pie crust (make your own or go with the easy Pillsbury crusts in the refrigerator section)

Crumb topping:
1 stick butter (firm, not room temp)
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1 c all purpose flour

1. Heat oven to 425
2. Combine apples with sugar, flour, and spices.
3. Line pie plate with crust. Fill with apple mixture trying to fill in any holes.

4. For crumb topping, mix together flour and sugar. Cut in butter so that it remains crumbly.
5. Put pie plate on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper (the juices will bubble out so this will help with cleaning). Top the apples with the crumb topping trying to cover the entire pie.

6. Bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, cover pie with foil and continue to bake for 20 minutes.
7. Let cool to room temp or until it is still slightly warm so the pie can set up a bit. Serve with vanilla ice cream.