Frozen Fruit Phobia

Imagine yourself wanting to make a raspberry sauce.  You toss a couple of mostly thawed bags of raspberries into the pot with some cornstarch and sugar.  The raspberries almost immediately begin to break up.  You use a spoon to stir, bringing up berries from the bottom.  You are looking for any stray ice chunks to break up.  Those ice chunks are usually darker in color..and hey that looks like a darker bit.  A really darker bit…like black.  And sweet Jesus could those be legs?!?  No…. of course not.  How could it be, let me look just a little closer. Those ARE legs.  Oh.  My.  God.
That was the conversation I had inside my head.  What came out of my mouth was slightly less articulate.   I wimpered slightly and backed away from the pot.  I kept whispering “legs..there are legs.”  A bit like a horror movie, I would point, whimper something inarticulate and shudder.  It was a ginormous beetle hanging out in my frozen raspberries.  More than an inch long.  I sealed it in a container from the recycle bin with the berries.  After all, if cockroaches can survive nuclear winter, surely this monster could survive being flash frozen?  Not worth risking it.  I kept having visions of the legs starting to twitch.  Know all that I am shuddering a bit just typing that.  I was going to feed that to people.   Imagine if it had been black berries, and I hadn’t spotted the bug?  YUCK!!

I wrote an email to the company, letting them know that bugs do not equal satisfaction, at least not in this woman’s kitchen.  They kindly wrote back offering a refund and gift certificates for more of their products.  Um no.  No, thank you.  I realize that could happen, it was probably just a freak incident of mutant black bug sneaking its way into my frozen berries.  I took a post-bug hiatus from working with frozen fruit for six months.   A couple of weeks ago, I caved.  The guys at work had been whining for a blueberry cheesecake.  Late fall in Wisconsin is not ideal berrying time, so I had to face the frozen isle.  I made them the Ultimate Cheesecake, using thinned out blueberry jam to create blueberry swirls.  I topped the whole thing with bug free blueberry topping.  The topping would go well with a variety of desserts, like pound cake or the cheesecake I made.  I can thankfully add that no giant bugs emerged from the depths of the pot and was nightmare free.

Blueberry Topping

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces frozen blueberries, thawed
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice from ½ a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a thick bottomed saucepan.
  2. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
  3. Cook until the berries break down.  I didn’t want them broken all the way down, there should still be round berries in the syrup.  This should take less than 5 minutes.
  4. Allow the sauce to cool, cover and refrigerate.
  5. Serve over the top of your favorite dessert and enjoy!

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Pumpkin Bandwagon

Congratulations to Starbucks for the creation of Pumpkin Spice Mania.  You can find that flavor available in nearly everything from beef jerky (okay I am judging-yuck), M&M’s, beer and donuts to candles and air fresheners.  In fact, since 2008 the number of pumpkin spice products has risen well over 200%.  I had a horrifying moment at the gas station the other day when I thought I saw pumpkin flavored Snickers.   After a few seconds of beginning the “They have gone too far” rant in my head I realized they were pumpkin shaped Snickers.  The real surprise there was that it shocked me to think such a thing was out of place considering how many product lines are trying to cash in on trend.

Now normally I like to think that I avoid trendiness.  I make pumpkin spice cupcakes in March, because I am a rebel.  That is right, there is no telling what I will get up to-look out world!  To my shame, I now have to admit to hopping on the bandwagon.  In my defense, it was a special request from a friend of mine and it turned out lovely.  For those of you who saw the pictures on Facebook and asked if I delivered…here is the recipe.

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake:

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter,melted
  • 16 ounces (2 blocks) of cream cheese, softened
  • 16 ounces (2 blocks) low-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 can (15 ounce) pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ nutmeg
  • 1 dash ground cloves

Directions:

  1. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the melted butter in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed.  Press the mixture into the bottom and partially up the sides of a 9″ springform pan.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325º
  3. In a large bowl beat the cream cheese, ¾ cup sugar and vanilla on medium speed until completely combined.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each just until combined.
  5. Remove 1 ½ cups of the batter and reserve.
  6. Add the pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ¼ cup sugar to the remaining batter and blend to combine.
  7. Pour ½ the pumpkin batter into the springform pan.  Drop spoonfuls of ½ the plain batter in a random pattern.  Repeat with remaining batters.
  8. Swirl with a butter knife to create the marble pattern.
  9. Place pan on the rack positioned in the lower third of oven and bake for 1 hour, 15 minutes or until almost set.
  10. Turn the oven off and crack open the door, leaving the cheesecake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven and allow cheesecake to come to room temperature.
  12. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

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Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake

Cooking sometimes feels like you take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and voila, dinner is served.  My sister, who is a baker by nature, has had to resist strangling me on several occasions.  She will call up and ask how to make something, and I start saying things like “you add a glop of this”.  I do realize that glop is not an actual measurement that you will find on any chart, even one as oddly structured as the US standard/imperial system.  The problem that we had in communicating was that I was into cooking and knew in my heart that it was an art and therefore allowed, nay encouraged, to be loosey goosey in the measurement.  She was into baking, which is a science, and knew in her heart that there were rules and measurements not to be trifled with.  With time, I have come to realize that we were both right.  Not that I am ready to admit that to my little sister.  Besides, as we have gotten older, we have grown into each others comfort zones.  As a result, I don’t make her want to strangle me nearly as often.

I still don’t always follow all of the rules, but that is due to research, not being loosey goosey.  The comfort level I gained in cooking has translated into my baking.  When I see a picture of a dessert that looks interesting, and then read a recipe that has me scratching my head, I make my own recipe to go with the picture.  A good example of this is the chocolate covered strawberry cheesecake I made for a friend’s going away party.  I downloaded the recipe on the picture alone.  When it came time to make the cheesecake I read the recipe.  It had odd ingredients like unflavored gelatin.  Sorry, there are places I just choose not to go.  Instead, I took my Ultimate Cheesecake Recipe, I left out the lemon peel and replaced the regular graham crackers with chocolate ones.  I swirled strawberry preserves that had been thinned with a bit of water into the cheesecake batter.  The step with the strawberry preserves is a good example of needing to ignore instructions.  The fist attempt was taken from a different recipe and was way too thin.  You need it to be thin enough that you can swirl it and but not so thin that it is watery.

Once the cheese cake was done and had spent the night in my fridge (ahh the night life of cheesecakes), I poured chocolate ganache over the top and let set.  I needed it, as the swirls of strawberry tend to create fissures in the cheesecake.  Gotta love ganache, delish and cosmetic all in one.  All that was left to do was add the chocolate covered strawberries.  Hopefully, you can use this to find inspiration of your own, despite the bad picture (operator error).  It is the opposite of the good photo, bad recipe that inspired me!

Terrible photo, yummy cheesecake

Terrible photo, yummy cheesecake

Salted Nuts and an Illicit Love Affair

I feel the need to confess something I am not entirely proud of.  For the last year or so I have been carrying on a not-so-secret affair with Captain M.  Mon Capitan is the boyfriend of my dear friend, Carolyn.  Don’t get me wrong, Carolyn is fully aware of our extracurricular activities, how can she not be?  She is the one passing our messages of affection to each other, and sometimes she even participates in our activities.  What can I say?  Captain M gives me things the Marb Man never could.  Not only does he profess his love 100% more often, he also can eat and enjoy any baked good that comes out of my kitchen.

Yes, it is all cupboard love.  What kind of girl do you think I am?  Aside from being allergic to the “L” word, the Marb Man is a Type 1 diabetic.  This prevents him from enjoying all of the yummy, sinfully rich, and decadent sweets that my evil mind comes up with.  Every once in a while I have a need to hear appreciation for my baking from a loved one.  As the Marb Man cannot provide this, and my mother is obviously biased in my favor, I turn to other loved ones to indulge me.  As I adore Carolyn like a sister, and through her, Captain M…they are my stand ins for this need.

For Christmas this year I made Captain M a turtle cheesecake.  I used the Ultimate Cheesecake recipe.  I left out the lemon peel and substituted salt for the sugar in the crust.  I topped it with chocolate ganache and once the ganache set, I used a squeeze bottle of caramel to ring the chocolate.  For those of you hissing about the caramel sauce, please note I had been baking for 8 hours..I was exhausted.  I had already dirtied (and washed) every dish I owned three times.  I did take the time to salt and toast my own pecans.  There is something amazing about roasted nuts that makes them indescribably addicting.  Even without a cheesecake underneath them, they were pretty tasty.  The response from Captain M and Carolyn?  More please!  I used a small portion to top the cheesecake, but if you were making them as a snack for a football game, it easily doubles or quadruples and can be used with different types of nuts.  Enjoy.

Roasted Pecans

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 pound pecan halves
  • 1 tablespoon cold salted butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 300°
  • Spread pecans evenly over baking sheet.
  • Dot the nuts with the butter and then sprinkle evenly with salt.
  • Bake for 10 minutes then turn the nuts over.
  • Bake for another 10 minutes or until the nuts become golden and fragrant.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Roasted Salted Pecans, cheesecake optional

Roasted Salted Pecans, cheesecake optional

Joy of Cheesecake

It was through a kind gesture that I came to own The Joy of Cooking (and many others books but my cookbook hoarding is a therapy session for another day).  This book is fascinating to me, like some kind of odd cooking magic eight ball.  It may shock none of you that I get a lot of random trivial questions passing through my head.  I now grab this tome of cooking knowledge and learn more about subjects then I ever thought to ask.  I love cookbooks that provide more than just a collection of ingredients, but also direction and tips and above all, reasons.  My own dear mother also contains much cooking knowledge, but she doesn’t have an alphabetic index nor does she always share the whys (could be a little of that “because I said so” leaking through).  None the less, I am lucky to have her and so for her birthday this year I made her Joy’s Cheesecake Cockaigne.  For those of you too lazy to Wiki the answer, Cockaigne is apparently an imaginary land of plenty, which seems to perfectly fit in with cheesecake.  The secrets of cheesecake  are to have all of the ingredients at room temperature, to not over-mix and to let your cheesecake sit for 24 to 48 hours in the fridge before eating.  Do this and you will have a cheesecake that is so good that your mom’s lactose-intolerant-cheesecake-hater of a boss will eat four slices of.  Enjoy!

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Crust Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Crust Directions

  • Combine the graham cracker crumbs and sugar together in a medium bowl.
  • Add butter and combine
  • Press the mixture into a springform pan and chill for a half an hour

Cheesecake Ingredients

  • 3 8oz packages of low-fat cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3 eggs

Cheesecake Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°
  • Beat cream cheese until creamy (yeah I know how weird that sounds), about 30 seconds
  • Gradually beat in sugar and vanilla and lemon zest
  • Add eggs one at a time and beat just until incorporated, scraping the sides of he bowl to make sure everything gets thoroughly mixed to the same consistency
  • Pour the batter into the springform pan and smooth the top
  • Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, the center should barely jiggle when the pan is tapped
  • Remove the cheesecake from the oven and cool for 15 minutes, meanwhile make the following sour cream topping

Sour Cream Topping Ingredients

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Sour Cream Topping Directions

  • Beat the egg white until frothy
  • Add sugar and beat until soft peaks form
  • Fold sour cream in until blended
  • Spread the topping over the cheesecake and return to the oven for 15 minutes
  • Turn the oven off and crack open the door and let cool for 1 hour
  • Remove cheesecake from oven and cool completely
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours

For Mom’s cheesecake, I added strawberry coulis:

  • Puree 1 pint of fresh strawberries, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • Pour over cheesecake and defend from Mom’s boss