Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake


We had a great Thanksgiving break: lots of good food, great friends (even a short visit with my best friend Karla - all the way from Oklahoma), a weekend of beautiful weather, and we just put our Christmas tree up. Needless to say we have lots to be thankful for!

Back to all that good food. One of the desserts I made for our turkey day feast was pumpkin cheesecake. The recipe is very simple, I got it from http://deestroyer.blogspot.com/2008/11/pumpkin-cheesecake.html (I made a few changes). Even though pumpkin desserts are typically served only during thanksgiving/fall, this was pretty tasty, so you might consider making it for Christmas or other holidays (or regular days)!

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Filling:
2 8oz blocks of cream cheese (I used lower fat neufchatel), softened
3/4 C. Sugar
3 Eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 Cup of Pumpkin Puree
1/4 t. Nutmeg
1/4 t. Allspice
3/4 t. Cinnamon

Crust:
6 Sheet of Graham Crackers or about 3/4 C. of Graham Cracker Crumbs
2 Tablespoons of Melted Butter
1 Tablespoon of Water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust: Put graham crackers in a food processor, pulse to make fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and water, pulse until the crumbs are all wet (alternatively use a fork to combine the crumbs, butter, and water). Press crumbs into the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan. Bake for 10 minutes, set aside to cool.

For the filling: Using a hand mixer, beat the softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup of the sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Set aside 1/2 cup of the cream cheese mixture. To the remaining cream cheese mixture add the pumpkin, the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, vanilla, and spices.

Cover the outside of the cooled spring form pan in two layers of foil. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the cooled crust. Place dollops of the reserved cream cheese on top of the pumpkin. Use a toothpick or skewer to make a decorative swirly pattern with the pumpkin and cream cheese fillings. Place the pan (on the baking sheet) in the oven. Pour water into the baking sheet until it is at least 1 inch deep (this "water bath" will prevent the top of the cheesecake from cracking as it bakes). Bake cheesecake for about 1 hour, until the middle it quite firm.

Remove the spring form pan from the baking sheet, remove the foil from the pan. Let cool at room temperature for 3 hours. Cover well with plastic wrap, cool in the refrigerator overnight. When you are ready to remove the cheesecake from the pan, run a butter knife or flat spatula around the cheesecake to loosen it from the sides of the pan, then remove the sides of the spring form pan. Slice and enjoy!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Have a happy holiday season!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quinoa Pilaf


Quinoa (pronounced keen wa) is one of my favorite "grains." Many people refer to it as the super grain because it is so packed full of nutrients. Truth be told it isn't a grain, it is a seed and a member of the spinach family. It is similar in size to couscous (sorry my picture really sucks, I had to use my camera phone b/c my camera isn't working properly), but it is a little chewier and much more nutritious because couscous is really just pasta. In the Lafayette/West Lafayette Area you can purchase quinoa at Meijer's, Sunspot Natural Market, and Nature's Pharm.

Quinoa is really easy to prepare, and cooks in only 15 minutes. I take my lunch with me to school nearly every day, quinoa pilaf is one of my favorite lunch options (usually along with some leftover chicken or a salad). Like the granola recipe I recently posted, it is really easy to personalize this dish. You can use whatever spices you like, and substitute other veggies and/or fruits. I use a fair amount of spices in this recipe, I always buy mine from ethnic stores, and so should you. You'll get a much better quality and price!

Quinoa Pilaf
1 Cup of uncooked Quinoa, rinsed*
2 Bay Leaves (optional)
1 Star Anise (optional - or try some allspice berries or cinnamon sticks!)
2 Cardamom pods (optional)
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. cinnamon
1 Cup Apple Juice or Cider (or another cup of water)
1 Cup of Water
2 Medium carrots, diced
1/2 Cup diced dried apricots (dried cranberries or raisins would be great too!)

In a medium saucepan with a lid combine all of the ingredients except the apricots. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Remove the bay leaves, anise, and cardamom. Stir in the apricots. I usually let mine chill overnight and take it for lunch the next day - it seems to let the flavors really intensify, but you could also enjoy it warm right after it's finished!

*Quinoa supposedly has a bitter coating, so you are supposed to rinse the seeds well before cooking them. Some packages say the quinoa has already been rinsed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gobble up Some Granola


I posted a recipe for granola bars a while back, but I've also been making homemade granola for a long time. Yogurt topped with this is my favorite snack - Alfred and I both eat it nearly everyday! Once every two weeks I make a big batch and store it in a plastic bin in my cupboard. I also keep a small container of it in my office at school :). The recipe below is very easy to personalize - use whatever (and however much) dried fruits and nuts you like, substitute honey for the agave, use other rolled grains in place of the oats, and substitute other spices like nutmeg or ginger for the cinnamon and cloves.

Granola:
6 Heaping Cups of Old Fashioned Oats (don't use quick cooking oats)
1 Cup Shredded Coconut
1 Cup Coarsely Chopped Walnuts
1 Cup Coarsely Chopped Almonds
1 Cup Agave Nectar
1/2 Cup Molasses
1 Heaping teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Cloves
1/4 Cup of Flaxseed Meal (Optional - and you could substitute Wheat Germ)
2 Cups Dried Fruit - I often use a mixture of cranberries, raisins, apricots and/or dates

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large mixing bowl combine the oats, coconut, and nuts. In a large measuring cup (or bowl) combine (I use a whisk) the agave, molasses, spices, and flaxseed meal. Pour the agave mixture over the oat mixture and stir to combine - this might take a few minutes, the dry ingredients should all be lightly coated with the agave. Dump the mixture onto a large, rimmed baking sheet - spread it out evenly. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and stir. Return to the oven and bake another 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and nicely toasted.
Stir in the dried fruit, and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an air tight container.

Great on yogurt, but we also gobble it up by the handful!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rosemary Honey Cornbread



It is sometimes difficult to convince Alfred to eat a vegetarian meal. In his defense, he has (after considerable persistence on my part) become less adversarial. One vegetarian meal that always goes over well is pinto beans and cornbread. How could anyone not like this southern favorite! It's also easy on the pocket book, and although the beans take a while to cook, they are very easy to prepare. On the other hand, it has taken me a while, and some experimenting, to come up with a cornbread recipe that I really love.

I (and plenty of others) have decided a couple of things make for great cornbread:
1) Buttermilk - it imparts a flavor and texture that regular milk just can't. I have had good results with powdered buttermilk - for those who don't use buttermilk very often this is a good option.
2)Stone-ground cornmeal - this whole grain cornmeal is much coarser in texture than the finely milled degerminated kind (this is the typical cornmeal) and it has a much cornier taste. Like other whole grains it is more nutritious, but it can easily go rancid, so you should store it in the fridge. Bob's Red Mill is a good brand.
3) A touch of sweetness, preferably from honey - this is a matter of much debate and it really comes down to personal preference. I don't like my cornbread to taste like cake (think Jiffy), but I find that a little sweetness really compliments the corn flavor. My granny would strongly disagree!
4) A preheated baking pan/skillet - Unfortunately I do not have a cast iron skillet. The traditional method for making cornbread requires that you heat up a cast iron skillet with some oil (typically on the stove top), then pour the batter into the very hot pan and bake. This ensures you have a nice crust. Instead I coat a round cake pan with a little oil and put it in the oven to preheat while I make the batter. Then I pour the batter into the hot pan. I will be the first to admit that my crust would be better if I had a cast iron skillet, but I have found this method to be the next best thing.

Here's my latest favorite recipe - while I rarely have cornbread without beans, this would also be a nice addition to your Thanksgiving bread basket!

Rosemary Honey Cornbread
1 Cup Flour (give White Whole Wheat a try!)
1 Cup Cornmeal (preferably stone ground)
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 teaspoon Salt
11/2 teaspoons Rosemary (optional - but really nice!)
11/4 Cup Buttermilk
1 Egg
3 Tablespoon Honey (again optional)
1/4 Cup Canola Oil

1) Preheat Oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a round cake pan and put it in the preheating oven.

2) Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, soda, salt, and rosemary

3) In a separate bowl (or large liquid measuring cup) combine the buttermilk, egg, honey, and oil.

4) Gently combine the wet and dry ingredients (preferably using a rubber spatula).

5) Pour batter into the pan you've been heating up in the oven. Bake 25-30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Enjoy one of the simple pleasure of life!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Creamy Dreamy Coconut Cream Pie


Lately my baking has been full of spices, apples, and other fall treasures. Today I decided to take a little break from these autumn inspired treats and make something tropical. I figured, if only for a few moments/bites, I could transport myself from Indiana to a beachy paradise!

In truth, tonight I'm having dinner with some friends - they are making a South Asian main course, I thought a coconut flavored dessert would be a nice compliment to that meal.

I got my recipe from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook - I altered it only slightly. It is also available online here: http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/coconut-cream-pie

The recipe is quite simple (and based on my sampling of the filling, pretty darn good). It certainly isn't healthy, but it is a great treat for special occasions!

Coconut Cream Pie:

1 Store-bought pie crust or your favorite recipe. I used Martha's Recipe for Pate Brisee - here's a link to it http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/pate-brisee-for-coconut-cream-pie

Filling:
1 Egg plus 4 egg yolks
3 Cups Coconut Milk (just under 2 cans - don't use low fat it won't taste right or thicken properly)
2/3 Cup Sugar
1/4 teaspoons Salt
5 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Cup Shredded Coconut (sweetened)
Whipped Cream (Soy or Rice based will keep it dairy free)

For the Crust:
Preheat Oven to 375 degrees. Lined a pie pan with your crust. Prick the crust all over with a fork. Line the inside of the crust with parchment paper or foil, and fill it with some dry beans, rice, or pie weights (this will prevent the crust from puffing up when you bake it). Bake 15-20 minutes, until edges are golden. Remove from oven -let cool completely.

**Leave the oven on, put 1/2 cup of the coconut on a cookie sheet and let it bake about 10 minutes (stir it a couple of times) until golden brown (you can toast more than 1/2 cup if you want - I just eyeballed it). Set aside, you'll use this later for sprinkling on top of the pie.

For the filling:
1) In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and yolks.
2) In a medium saucepan combine the coconut milk, sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Whisk constantly over medium-low heat until mixture barely simmers. Turn heat to low, continue to whisk and cook 3-4 minutes.
3) Very slowly pour the coconut milk mixture into the eggs whisking constantly as you go.
4) Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir in 1/2 Cup of the coconut. Whisk constantly over medium-high heat until mixture gets quite thick and begins to bubble.
5) Pour custard into a container with a tight fitting lid, place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming, then put the lid on the container.
6) Refrigerate until completely cold - I made this the day before and let it cool overnight.

To Assemble:
Pour cooled custard into cooled crust. Top with whipped cream, and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Slice. Eat. Smile!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Apple-Cranberry Butter


I've made apple butter (and pumpkin butter) before - but I didn't technically can it. I made a small amount and stored it in jars in the fridge - kind of like "refrigerator jam." This week I found jonathan apples on sale (49 cents a pound!) and decided to make a big batch of apple butter to give away for holiday gifts (Alfred, of course, doesn't want to share it). Because I'm not going to use it right away I needed to really can it so that it would be shelf stable. Who knew canning was so easy! I can't wait to make jam with next years berries and peaches!

I decided to make this apple butter with a little cranberry twist - for more traditional version you can use apple juice or cider in place of the cranberry juice.

To make the apple-cranberry butter:
In a large pot combine 2 quarts of peeled, chopped apples and 1 quart of cranberry juice. Simmer until the apples are tender. Puree the apple/juice mixture. Return the puree to the pot. Add 3 cups of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of cloves. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture is nice and thick and 30-45 minutes.

While the mixture is simmering away prepare the jars for canning:
Place glass canning jars in a large pot - make sure they are covered with 1-2 inches of water. Boil the jars for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and drop in the lids. Let sit at least 10 minutes or until the apple butter is done cooking.

When the apple butter is done use tongs to remove the jars from the hot water (do not dry, just drain well), fill each with apple butter (leave a little air space, around half an inch). Make sure the tops of the jars are very clean (wipe away any apple butter). Place the lid on top and screw the rim on firmly. Let cool at room temperature - you should hear a pop as the jars seal.



After mine sealed I removed the rims and put a little piece of fabric between the lid and the rim - just for pretty! This is a great way to preserve the fresh fall produce and enjoy it all winter long. In my opinion it's best on biscuit, but it's pretty tasty on toast, pancakes, or even stirred into oatmeal!