Friday, December 25, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice

I have waited for this day and am soooo happy it has finally arrived: Winter Solstice. Now I know why the Mayans and Aztecs and other aboriginals in different parts of the world celebrate this day--it's the mark of longer days to come!

The snow doesn't bother me. It's not so bitter cold here. In fact, I think it's just lovely--although, I'm not the one shoveling the drive way (hee hee). But the absence of sun is driving me bonkers; so much so, I think I have season affective disorder (self-diagnosis, of course). So CHEERS for the WINTER SOLSTICE and the breaking of the dawn.

Stay warm with some cocoa!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake

This Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake is responsible for the aquisition of my mixer. It is the cheesecake that convinced Secret Agent Man of all the wonders my magic mixer will bring him. The irony here is that *anyone* can make cheesecake--with or without a mixer.

This recipe is made up by me but if you have a favorite cheesecake recipe, you can use that recipe with these techniques. An easy recipe is the one found on the Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese. Just know that my recipe makes a huge cheesecake--one 9-inch springform AND a 9-inch pie. I usually make the springform size to bring to potlucks and parties during the holidays and Secret Agent Man gets upset when we get home because there isn't any cheesecake for him. Hence, the extra 9-inch pie. So,here we go...

Graham Crackers- enough to make 2 cups of crumbs
1/4 c. Granulated (white) sugar
6 Tbsp. Butter
1 tsp. Cinnamon

5 pkg. (2.5 lbs) Cream Cheese
1 c. sour cream
1 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
4 eggs
2 egg yolks

1 can (15 oz) 100% Pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 Tbsp. Cinnamon plus any other spices you like: ginger, clove, nutmeg

1. Make sure all of your ingredients are room temperature. If you need to, place the eggs (still in their shells) in a bowl of warm water. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Crumble your graham crackers. Use a food processor or your fingers. You should make enough crumbs to measure out about 2 cups. This is not precise and it's better to have more crumbs than not enough.

3. Add 1/4 c. sugar and cinnamon to crumbs. Mix.

4. Melt 6 Tbsp. butter and pour into crumb mixture. Mix. You may need to add more butter until the crumbs looks like wet sand.

Remember Apple Pie #2? This graham cracker crumb mix will smell fantastic. Control yourself.

5. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with oil.

6. Dump crumb mix into pan and spread around evenly. Then, take the bottom of a glass, measuring cup, or in my case a candle holder and press down on the crumb mixture firmly working from the middle outward. When you get to the edge, push down and against the side of the pan. It'll make the crumbs climb the side and stick up.

7. You are going to blind bake this crust. Meaning, stick the crust into the oven and bake it for about 10-15 minutes. You will know when to take it out when you smell the crumbs toasting.

8. Meanwhile, dump your softened, room temperature cream cheese into a big bowl or mixer. You may need to microwave your cream cheese for a few seconds (*hint* take off the aluminum wrapper) if the temperature of your room is around 30 degrees.

9. Beat the cream cheese for about 1 minute until creamy. Add sugar. I decided to use brown sugar instead of white sugar here (told ya, I make this up as I go along).

10. Add one cup of sour cream to mix and make sure that everything is well incorporated before adding eggs--one at a time.

***We interrupt this regularly scheduled program with this important message: Do NOT whip or beat the cream cheese mixture from this point on. If you are using your mixture, turn it down low so it basically stirs the mix. The more air you whip into the mix, the more likely you will have an uneven cheesecake and one that sinks after it cools. Be patient and add one egg at a time-stirring the mix. And now we return to your program***

11. Add the egg yolks to the mix, one at a time. Set aside.

12. In a large bowl, empty a can of pumpkin puree. Mix in spices of your choice, like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice and/or nutmeg.

13. Add one more egg to the pumpkin puree and mix well. Add one half of the cream cheese mixture to the pumpkin mixture and fold it together.

14. Dump the rest of the cream cheese mixture directly into the crust.

15. Now, spoon the pumpkin mixture over the cream cheese mixture. Be very gentle. You want the pumkin to float on the cream cheese.

16. Smooth out and put into the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

17. You will have left over pumpkin/cream cheese mixture. You can put this in the refrigerator for later or you can bake it in a second pie plate at the same time.

18. I mis-timed my cheesecake but you want to turn off the oven before the cheesecake is completely done to avoid cracking. How do you know when this is? Obviously, you would be asking the wrong person since there's cracks in my cheesecake--most people won't care about the cracks so don't worry. Basically, you want to gently shake the cake. If it's still jiggly in the middle but firm around the sides (about 1 hour in the oven) then turn off the oven and allow the residual heat to continue cooking the cake and slowly bring the temperature down. Once you pull it out of the oven, run a knife around the edge.

19. Let it cool for another few hours in the pan. You may stick it in the refrigerator once it is cooled completely to room temperature. When you are brave enough, unmold your cake. Take off the ring and run a knife under the cake to loosen and slide onto a plate. It's easier if you have a cake cardboard to slide under the cake then transfer to a plate.

20. Serve this baby up--look at those lovely layers! The best way to cut a cheesecake, is to use a chef knife and run it under hot water after each slice. Learned this from a chef friend about 12 years ago. Never failed me yet!

Final words...this seems like a lot of work and super complicated but it really isn't so difficult. You can definately stop at the cream cheese mixture and leave out the pumpkin. It's also easier to bake this in a 9x13 glass pan or a 9-inch pie pan. You won't have to worry about cracking tops and it only takes about 45 minutes to bake at 300 degrees. This is really flexible and difficult to mess up. One last work--have fun with it! Try replacing the graham crackers with oreo cookies (minus the cream centers--trust me). Yum.

Now, go and impress your friends.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How I know...

...that Secret Agent Man loves me. He services my mixer--easily one of my most prized possessions.

How he knows I love him? There was nothing wrong with the mixer and I still let him open my baby up....and I didn't say a word (except here).

Show someone you love them!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let it snow!

Here are a few more pictures of the lovely snow around these parts. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

That cow is a lot bigger in real life than in this picture.

As if this wasn't enough snow, here's Secret Agent Man making his own snow using a water sprayer. He actually got it to work at some point but then it would clog up because it was too cold.

Stay Warm!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hello, Winter

We went to sleep on a chilly Friday night and woke up to this on Saturday morning *ahem* uhh...afternoon. No judging, people.

I was just thinking how I needed it to feel more Christmassy so with the snow, our tree, and the Christmas radio station, we're all set to start baking, making, and sending gifts!

Stay Warm!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hunting trees and making ornaments

We typically don't get a Christmas tree. Secret Agent Man feels that it's ecologically wrong (besides being a waste of money). But THIS year, we decided to support the local farm around here and purchase a Christmas tree. Besides, I need to feel a little Christmas-ey.

So, we went a-huntin' for our tree.

Look at all these different trees! We chose a Frasier Fir and harvested it ourselves.

And here we have it back home doing it's job!

The ornaments in the foreground were made for my ornament swap. Can you tell what it is? It's a santa beard and I made it so that the recipients can change out the ribbon with elastic to actually wear it!

Now, on to the gift making and festivities!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Apple Pie #2

This is the cheater version of an Apple Pie and definitely a little less heart breaking than this. You can also use the blueberry bar recipe for an excellent Apple Pie Bar!

Apple Pie #2 is fast and will be an easy party pleaser (or sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and stuff your face pleaser).

Apple Pie #2

6-8 Apples
1/4 c. Brown Sugar (not packed)
2 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1 Tbsp. Cinnamon
1 tsp. Nutmeg/Ginger/Cloves (your choice)

2 c. Graham Crackers, crushed
5 Tbsp. Butter
1/4 c. Brown Sugar (not packed)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap graham crackers and crush. You may use a coffee grinder, blender, food processor, or the poor man's tools: your fingers.

2. Crush well and measure out about 2 cups of crumbs. You do not need to be accurate.

3. Add scant 1/4 cup of brown sugar. You could use less sugar or white granulated sugar if you like. Doesn't this look lovely?

4. Melt about 5 Tablespoons of butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

5. Pour butter into the graham crackers and mix. Mix until it looks like wet sand. This will smell wonderful. CONTROL YOURSELF.

6. Line muffin tins and put in a tablespoon or so of crumbs.

7. Here's a great tip: take a shot glass, drinking glass, or candle holder in my case, and use the bottom to tamp down the crumbs. If the bottom isn't covered, add more crumbs and tamp down some more.

8. Stick the crust into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. It'll smell fabulous. After 8-10 minutes take out the crust. In the mean time prepare the apples.

9. Wash about 8 apples. Two important points here: choose a mix of apples and if you ever want to get rid of that old unappetizing mealy apple sitting in your fridge for the past three months, now is your chance. So take your apples and roughly peel them.

10. If you have one of those apple cores, have a field day. Me? I'm poor and deal with a TINY kitchen. So I use a knife. Plus I'm faster this way. Just make a slice just on the right side of the core. Make a quarter turn counter-clockwise and make a slice. Just follow the pictures:

Then you are left with just the core.

Then slice all the pieces into equal sizes.

And, those of you who know me, know that I totally nerd out on apples. Check this beauty out:
Picked it up at the local orchard!

11. In a bowl, toss the apples with some brown sugar. You can use regular brown sugar but I had some raw sugar so I tossed that in.

12. Add spices (your choice) and cornstarch. You can uses regular flour or tapioca flour instead if you prefer.

13. Toss into a pan and cook it down, gently stirring. By-the-way, use a bigger pot.

14. Cook it down until some of the apples are syrupy and gooey but still firm--you don't want apple sauce.

15. Pile the apples high onto crust.

16. Top with some of the extra crumbs you have left.

17. Bake in oven for about 30 minutes. You will see the apples happily bubbling.

18. Take it out of the oven when crumbs are browned and let it cool. Let it cool down enough so you don't feel like you just tossed molton lava down your throat...but don't wait too long.
Your pets are watching.