Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

This recipe is from my mom.

1 1/2 cups crushed ginger snaps [about 32 cookies]
1/3 cup melted butter
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 8-oz packages of cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sugar
3Tbsp all purpose flour
2 tsp grated fresh ginger or 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
2/3 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a food processor, turn approximately 32 store-bought gingersnap cookies into crumbs.  Combine with butter and flour, then press into the bottom and up the sides of a spring form pan.  My pan is 9 inches, but you can really use any size.  Refrigerate this while you're working on the filling.
Beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar, flour, ginger, and vanilla and continue mixing.  Mix in all 4 eggs at once until combined, then stir in the milk.  If you feel like it's lumpy, you can run it through a sieve before moving on to the next step.  However, as long as the cream cheese is at room temperature it shouldn't be lumpy.  Remove 2 cups of the initial filling mixture and pour it into the crust.  To the remaining filling, add pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Careful spoon pumpkin mixture on top of the plain filling that you've already put in the pan.  Swirl with a knife, being careful not to touch the crust.  Tap out the air bubbles.  Place pan on a cookie sheet and bake until set, about 1 hour.  Cool for 30 minutes and then chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sweet, Sweet Caramel

If you're like me, you're well into the holiday baking season.  If not, it's time to get your butt in gear!  I have the perfect recipe to get you started.  Caramel is versatile and although it seems kind of scary, try it!  I don't know about you, but I stay away from anything too involved when it comes to cooking.  Candy thermometers?  Count me out.  I discovered that making my own caramel is actually pretty darn easy, and you don't even need a candy thermometer.
First you'll add 1/2 cup white sugar and 2 Tbsp of water into a sauce pan.  Heating on medium heat, you want it to get violently bubbly just like this.  Do not stir it.
Since what we're doing is burning the sugar, you want to let it get kind of an amber color.  At this point, you can gently swirl the sugar around in the pot.  Then, go ahead and take it off the heat.

If it gets this dark, throw it out and start over.  You heard me.  I went through with it and it was bitter and completely ruined.  Just play it safe and stick with the lightly burnt sugar.
When you take the sugar off the heat, whisk in 3 Tbsp of butter and 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  Yes, heavy cream [not milk].  Whisk it until it's all disolved. 
Smooth, right?  It's thin, but it will thicken as it sets.  A couple of important hints: First, make sure you have all the ingredients ready before you start making it.   Once the sugar starts to turn golden, it will all happen pretty fast.  Another helpful thing to do is warm the cream for 20 seconds or so in the microwave so that it doesn't seize when it hits the boiling sugar. 
Now...what should you do with this caramel?  You can put it in a nice jar, tie it with a ribbon, and give it as a gift.  Put it on ice cream or cheesecake.  I like to add it in my hot chocolate for a much cheaper version of Starbucks' salted caramel cocoa.  Or, you can do this [my favorite Christmas cookie]:

Shortbread cookies topped with caramel and sea salt.  Oh. my. stars. 

Before you put the shortbread cookies in the oven, poke a pretty deep hole in them.  You may have to mold the sides a little because shortbread is pretty delicate, but it's worth it.  As soon as the come out of the oven, use the end of a spatula to form the holes more cleanly.  Then fill with caramel and 3 or 4 granules of sea salt. 
You will win friends and influence enemies.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Comfort Food

I should probably preface this by saying that all food, to me, is comforting.  I am, admittedly, an emotional eater.  Not in the sense that I eat all the time, no, but I like to eat because of the feeling it gives me.  After working hard to prepare a fresh meal for my family, I enjoy the satisfaction of sitting down and eating it together.  The most comforting foods are often the simplest.
Whenever I feel under the weather [such as today] I just want to eat eggs.  Weird, huh?  I'm notorious for always screwing up the eggs so my husband is the designated egg cooker in our house.  However, it never fails that when I feel sick he isn't home.  I've learned to manage scrambling the eggs, but tonight I wanted something different.  I decided to try poaching.  What follows is a photo journey of my attempt at poaching eggs freestyle [read: I don't have a poaching pan].  It is by no means a tutorial because I'm pretty sure no one else would want to eat them. 
So, from what I read from Alton Brown and remember from the movie Julie and Julia, I filled a [cast iron] skillet with 1 1/2 inches of water.  I added in 1 tablespoon of vinegar as well.  When it started to steam, I began swirling the water, which I think I saw on tv but I'm not sure if it's necessary.

I put each egg in a custard cup.  Holding the cup as close to the water as possible, I slowly dropped the eggs into the swirling water.
Yikes.  I'm glad Alton wasn't here.  [Have I mentioned that I used to go to church with him, and that he once almost ran over me in his Volvo?]  This looks kind of gross.  Even grosser now, actually, looking at the picture than I had realized.  If you want to stop reading, I understand.  But I want to encourage you to be brave when it comes to cooking.  And if you'll stick with me, you'll see that even though it looks kind of hairy right now, it turned out ok.  There are more appetizing photos to come.

This is not one of them.  You'll notice, first of all, that the egg yolks are cooked.  I think with traditional poaching the yolks are left completely runny.  Yuck, I say, yuck!  I decided to be brave and undercook them slightly, though.  I wanted to show you this picture because Alton Brown says that after you remove the eggs [with a slotted spoon] you should place them on a tea towell to absorb excess water.  Anything you say, Mr. B!
So what to do with these eggs?  A variation on bacon and toast.  Ciabatta with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and 2 slices of smoked ham.  Please ignore the foil on the baking sheet.  I'm a lazy cook; have I mentioned that?  I just baked them in the oven until it got kind of crispy.

Looks good, right?  Well, I know the eggs look kind of wonky but you could trim up the edges if you care about that stuff.  When it's just me, my plate, my pjs, and my couch, I don't care about aesthetics. 

About the runny yolks...I kinda liked it.  That's all for now, folks.  I'm going to finish watching the past couple episodes of Sarah Palin's Alaska.  Politics, schmolitics.  I think she's fascinating. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gingerbread Pancakes

from The Gourmet Cookbook

1 cup AP flour [or split with whole wheat]
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
3 Tbsp regular molasses
1 large egg
1 cup sour cream
3 Tbsp whole milk
2 Tbsp melted butter
*Note: I didn't think it was quite sweet enough with just molasses so I added 1/4 cup of brown sugar to the dry mixture

Mix together all of the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  In a larger bowl, mix together all of the wet ingredients.  Then add the dry to the wet and mix until just combined.  Cook your pancakes like you normally do.  I recommend a cast iron skillet/griddle for the perfect texture, and of course using butter to coat the pan.  If you need a tutorial on making pancakes, let me know.  Mine don't always turn on perfectly, but they taste good all the same. 
For the syrup, I like warming some maple syrup, a tablespoon or two of butter, and a shake of cinnamon.  Another option is powdered sugar that has been sifted gently atop your perfect pillows of delight, landing like snow on a winter's morn.  But I digress.  Either one makes a perfect topping!